Huawei Mate 20 Pro review: Feature-packed flagship joins the smartphone elite

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  • Editors' rating
    9.2 Spectacular
  • $1,309.00

Pros

  • Beautiful hardware design
  • Sharp, clear OLED screen
  • 3D Face Unlock and triple rear cameras
  • Efficient in-screen fingerprint recognition
  • Wireless charging and fast charging
  • Great battery life
  • IP68 dust/water resistance

Cons

  • Curved screen edges make text a little 'fuzzy'
  • Proprietary Nano Memory card expansion format
  • No 3.5mm headset jack

Not long ago I reviewed the Huawei Mate 20 Lite, noting that it was strange to see a 'lite' version of a handset before the 'pro' version, but that the new flagship handset was imminent. Just a month later, here it is -- the Huawei Mate 20 Pro.

Huawei hasn't simply pushed the boat out with the Mate 20 Pro -- it has launched an armada, with a range of technical firsts resulting in a handset that's a delight to hold and to use. The price is high, but there's no doubt that the Mate 20 Pro should be on the list of 2018's top flagship smartphones.

Huawei has put some serious thought into the design of the Mate 20 Pro, and there's a lot to like here. The screen is huge at 6.39 inches, and it fills almost the entire front of the phone, curving into its long edges (more on that later). The handset is just 72.3mm wide, and fits neatly into my small palm. However, this is a tall phone at 157.8mm, and it doesn't nestle easily in a pocket. Users will likely want to protect it with a case, and even the thinnest and lightest of these will add to the size and weight. For the record, the dimensions are 157.8mm by 72.3mm by 8.6mm and it weighs 189g.

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The 6.39-inch, OLED-screen Mate 20 Pro is slim enough to grip comfortably even if you don't have large hands.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

Curved long edges at both the front and back create a comfortable feel. Huawei is making a great deal out of the glass back, which it says has a non-slip texture and anti-fingerprint coating. It's certainly a relatively secure hold. But it does attract fingerprints, although not as readily as some handsets.

There are four colour finishes -- Black, Twilight, Midnight Blue and Emerald Green. The latter two feature something called Hyper Optical Pattern, an etched patterning which gives a slightly textured finish. My review sample, Twilight, lacks this, instead having graded colouring running from blue at the top though purple to black at the bottom. I think I'd have preferred an Emerald Green review unit -- a superior colour and finish in my view.

As if all this panache is not enough, Huawei has added a red standout colour to the power switch, which is a little odd but no big deal. At the back the array of three cameras (yes, three cameras), plus a flash unit sit in a black quadrant that's very slightly raised from the backplate (more on the cameras later). The handset is water and dust resistant, meeting 'most of' the IP68 specifications, says Huawei.

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Two things are notably absent from the design. There's no 3.5mm speaker jack, as wired sound output is handled via the USB-C port. Huawei provides a USB-C to 3.5mm converter for those that need one. The other notable absentee is a visible fingerprint reader.

Fingerprint login is present, but, as with the earlier Porsche Design Mate RS, the scanner is built into the screen. The registration zone appears on the lock screen so users know where to press. There is an advantage to having the fingerprint scanner on the front of the phone as it's more convenient to unlock when the handset is sitting on a desk or the arm of a chair, or indeed any surface where access to the back is blocked.

I registered a thumb for use when holding the phone and a finger for use when it's on a desk and had no trouble at all unlocking with both. You do have to press rather than tap, but that's easily accommodated. Login was fast and accurate every time, and much more intuitive to use than fingerprint zones on the backplate. Be warned that some third-party services might not fully support this technology, so it's advisable to check with providers before taking the plunge.

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You can use a fingerprint or password to access the Mate 20 Pro's secure PrivateSpace.

Images: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

Those who prefer just a PIN can go for that, and face login -- which Huawei calls 3D Face Unlock -- is also available. This uses the front camera array to project over 3,000 points to create a face image that can unlock the handset. Face recognition, fingerprint or a password can also be used to provide access to a 'PrivateSpace' on the handset, where personal info and locked apps are stored. You can move images, video and audio to and from the private space, and make various other accessibility settings.

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The OLED screen is simply stunning. I've already noted that it provides almost full coverage of the front of the handset. Video can be zoomed to fill the entire screen and sent back to its original dimensions with pinch and squeeze gestures respectively. The notch is rather wide (to accommodate the 3D Face Unlock technology), but its presence had no effect on usability for me. If you dislike it, you can cover it in black pixels. The display resolution is a generous 3,120 by 1,440 pixels, delivering 538 pixels per inch (ppi). Colours are vibrant.

As usual Huawei provides an 'eye comfort' setting that filters out blue light and can be started manually or on a timed schedule. There are also the usual Huawei colour temperature tweaks so you can personalise how colours look. Meanwhile the 'natural tone' setting will adjust colour temperature based on ambient light. It's a shame, among all of this, that there's no true 'reading mode' or monochrome setting for ebook reading, although you can configure a greyscale setting for use at night. I'd like Huawei to rename or expand the use of this and allow access to it in the display settings.

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The screen's curved edges feel good, but can cause issues with text.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The curved long edges are a bit of a distraction. They cause a little change in colouration and some text distortion. Mostly it passes unnoticed, but if, like me, you read a lot of text on a handset, the slightly 'fuzzy' text might be an irritant. That's an issue that Huawei would do well to address.

Sound quality through the speakers is good enough for video watching, and when sent to my favourite wireless headset was richly toned and good for music listening and movie/TV catchup.

Huawei has equipped this flagship phone with a real powerhouse chipset. It is the first to sport Huawei's own 7nm Kirin 980, which supports the many AI features this handset boasts including camera features and smart power use designed to keep the battery running for longer. There is 6GB of RAM.

I benchmarked the phone twice. Fresh out of the box it delivered a three-pass average Geekbench 4 multi-core score of 9763 (see how it compares to other flagship handsets here). Then I enabled 'performance mode'. The on-screen warning telling users they are going to deplete the battery quicker and that the handset might warm up in use is enough to know this really pushes the processor. This time the three-pass average was 10073. I did note some warmth around the camera lens block at the rear in this mode. In everyday use, the Mate 20 Pro simply flies along with no waits even in standard mode.

I haven't used the Mate 20 Pro for long enough to gauge how the two different power modes affect battery life. I've spent most of my testing time with performance mode switched off, and life from the 4,200mAh battery is very good indeed. My average usage pattern includes email, streaming, some mobile GPS use, browsing and tweeting both over wi-fi and the mobile network. I'm depleting the battery about 60 percent from morning to night. Fast charging means the 4,200mAh battery will get up to 70 percent in just 30 minutes, so a quick charge at a café should solve a lot of power problems.

The Mate 20 Pro supports Qi wireless charging, and in one of its 'firsts' can also be used to charge other Qi devices. Just put another device back to back with the Mate 20 Pro and it'll charge. This 'reverse wireless charging' might be a good way to give a friend's handset a small boost, although I do wonder if it's more gimmick than useful feature.

There is 128GB of internal storage, of which 14.97GB was used in my review handset out of the box. Users can add more via Huawei's proprietary Nano Memory (NM) card storage, which was announced along with the handset and occupies the second SIM slot. NM cards are yet to hit the streets, and it remains to be seen whether this proprietary format will be a hit or a miss. It does seem odd to replace a popular, readily available format with something proprietary in this way.

Huawei's EMUI overlay is here again, now in version 9.0 alongside Android 9 (Pie). Huawei adds a lot of apps and software tweaks to Android, many of which take advantage of AI capabilities, and there's plenty to discover as you move around the phone.

Examples include the ability to photograph something and have the handset find opportunities to buy it from online stores, scan foreign menus for a quick translation, scan paintings and local landmarks for info about them (handy for tourist trips) -- even scan something edible and find out how many calories it contains. The 3D animated emojis I mentioned when I reviewed the Mate 20 Lite are augmented here by the ability to create a personalised AI model from something you scan with the front camera array.

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The Mate 20 Pro has a distinctive rectangular arrangement of its three-camera system and flash unit.

Image: Charles McLellan/ZDNet

So, to the cameras. The rear array comprises 40MP wide-angle, 20MP ultra-wide-angle and 8MP telephoto cameras with Leica optics. I've only been able to test the handset for a few days, but already I find the macro mode one of my favourite things: it's possible to get within a couple of centimeters of the subject and take a focused close-up photo.

Portrait mode shooting comes with a bevy of lighting filters, while the AI attempts to identify what's being shot and alter settings accordingly. This has been surprisingly accurate so far, with the presets delivering perfectly acceptable photos. There's bokeh of course (sharp subject, blurred background), and a night shooting mode that, in my limited testing, takes shots I wouldn't mind sharing. There is a lot more evaluation to do with the Mate 20 Pro's camera system, but it does seem to offer very capable and flexible 'point-and-shoot' features.

Conclusions

Huawei has thrown everything including the kitchen sink at the Mate 20 Pro, which costs €1,049, and for the most part the results are pleasing. It has a great screen (although the long-edge curvature needs some attention), super battery life, a very good camera system, good in-screen fingerprint recognition, a very fast processor and plenty of internal storage.

There are niggles, of course. The proprietary NM card expansion format seems an unnecessary innovation, and I'm not sure that reverse wireless charging of other handsets will prove useful in practice. But overall, Huawei has put itself right at the top of the flagship handset pile.

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Specifications

Cellular
Type Smartphone

Where To Buy

Top ZDNET Reviews

Where To Buy

Huawei Mate 20 Pro

Part Number: 51093ATQ