As we roll towards the end of the year 2018, we have perhaps seen the last of this year’s Android flagship smartphone battles. But not without one final shot. A loud and well-aimed shot. It was a rather smart move by Huawei. They waited, bid their time, assessed what Samsung, Google and the rest were doing, before loading its ammunition hardware and emerging from the shadows, all guns blazing. The Mate 20 Pro will make you stop dead on your tracks to reconsider, if you were on your way to the shops to plonk down your money on a Galaxy Note 9, a Galaxy S9+, a Google Pixel 3 XL, a fully loaded variant of the OnePlus 6T, a Vivo NEX, an Oppo Find X or even any one of the Apple iPhone XS or iPhone XR for that matter. With a Rs69,990 price tag, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro will deserve serious investment from your end. And from what we have experienced thus far, it’ll be safely classified as ‘money well spent’. This is, by far the geekiest Android flagship phone we have seen thus far.
Design: Lots of beauty, and a lot of brains
The Mate 20 Pro arrives at that stage in the evolution where Huawei has already experimented with some very exciting designs and also some rather run-of-the-mill stuff. This is perhaps what we can classify as a mature design, which is by no means indicating that it is not exciting. For a large phone, the Mate 20 Pro is surprisingly pocketable. It sits lightly in the pocket (though the pocket wouldn’t have many pennies in it anyway after walking out of the store owning this). The spec sheet will tell you that it weighs 189 grams, but hold it up, and it is deceptively light. The same cannot be said for a lot of Android phones we have named above, which immediately puts the Huawei Mate 20 Pro at an advantage. In many ways, the Mate 20 Pro does remind you of Samsung phones—and we mean absolutely no disrespect by that. The display glass curves on the sides and cascades beautifully into the side spines. Overall, this is a great phone to hold and use—it also has the now often seen blend of metal and glass, but everything has been put together well. That said, you might initially find the design a tad too curvy, particularly where the curved front display glass meets the sides, and chances are you’ll hold the phone with a feeling of trepidation.
That said, the glass on the back panel is quite prone to catching fingerprints. And if you aren’t careful, this is one phone which wouldn’t need a second invitation to tumble earthward. The colour we are getting in India right now is called Twilight. It isn’t one colour all through, and instead, there are multiple hues spread across the length of the back panel—lighter at the top, slightly darker in the middle and darker near the base.
What is inside: A story of excesses, and we love it
If one is to talk about the Mate 20 Pro’s geekery excesses, what first comes to mind is the wireless charging capability. No, what are referring to isn’t the standard ‘put your phone on a wireless charger to charge’, but instead how the Huawei Mate 20 Pro can become the charger itself. If you have a second phone which supports wireless charging, you simply need to hold that phone with its back touching the back of the Mate 20 Pro, and voila, the charging starts. Inside is a 4,200mAh battery, which relies on artificial intelligence (AI) to understand which apps you don’t use often and which ones you do, to keep the unnecessary ones at bay. Then there is the Kirin 980 processor, which also has a 7-nanometer architecture—the Apple A12 Bionic which powers the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max and the iPhone XR run the only other chip in the industry to have been built using the 7nm architecture. There are advantages in terms of powerful and more frugal power consumption, as compared with the other smartphone chips that run the 10nm architecture—the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 included. This is also the first phone with the LTE Cat.21 support, which means it can support LTE speeds up to 1.4Gbps. Huawei has packed the Mate 20 Pro with the fastest of fast charging features—a fully discharged battery can be topped up 70% in 30 minutes. The wired charger method supports a maximum power rating of 40-watts, while the wireless method goes up to 15-watt. The wireless charger will be a separate accessory that you’ll need to buy.
Performance: Is that even up for debate?
In the world of Android phones, the Kirin 980 processor is the most advanced silicon you will find right now. This includes Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 processor and the Samsung Exynos chips that power the Galaxy S9+ and the Note 9. The performance is, well, an absolute delight. The Kirin 980’s credentials are very much on show, with smoothness and fluidity being the name of the game. Irrespective of how many apps you load on the phone, there are no signs of sluggishness or slowdowns. Multi-tasking is just a walk in the park, and the back panel doesn’t even betray any minor signs of heating stress.
Gaming is also given a major boost by the new silicon. This is by far the best gaming phone. To get to that understanding, you need to get beyond the initial phase where almost all flagship Android phones do fairly well. But after stressing out the hardware for a bit, the thermal throttling kicks in, and that is where a lot of phones suffer. We are yet to experience the Asus ROG gaming phone in detail, but thus far, the Mate 20 Pro offers the slickest load times and the smoothest graphics for marathon gaming sessions—at least in the Android ecosystem.
If we are to tell you that Huawei has packed in a 4,200mAh battery inside the Mate 20 Pro, you probably won’t believe us. That is how light the phone feels to hold up. The optimizations and the artificial intelligence working in the background has clearly had a very profound impact. One hour of watching Netflix shows reduced the battery by just 2 percent. If you feel that is unheard of, 30 minutes of Asphalt 9: Legends (free with optional in-game purchases) reduced the battery life by just 5 percent. You will need to be an extremely heavy user—and by that we mean you must live your entire day on the phone with calls, use the camera a lot social media, gaming and lots of videos—to make the Mate 20 Pro blink and demand it be charged up again.
Software: The weakest link?
Despite fantastic performance, software on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro is clearly not what you would expect from a top-notch Android flagship phone, which also has the Apple iPhone in its sights. The EMUI customizations, are an attempt to make its software stand out in the world of Android. However, the idea kind of stumbles a bit if the implementation isn’t exactly premium. For starters, the interface doesn’t look any different from the other Huawei phones—this isn’t the positioning you want to give to the flagship, we would believe. Some of the customizations absolutely don’t make any sense. For instance, Huawei believes that a user of this premium Android phone would be delighted to use SwiftKey as the default (and only preinstalled) keyboard app. There might be fans, but we aren’t too enthused by this keyboard app, and it is not ideal to make someone download Google Gboard keyboard. Then there are issues with navigation. For instance, there are times when you swipe on the lock screen to unlock, you will end up changing the wallpaper instead. The ability to interact with notifications is quite limiting too, and a blast from the past.
Display: A new benchmark canvas
The 6.4-inch display (3120 x 1440 resolution, 19.5:9 aspect ratio, 538ppi pixel density) which the Mate 20 Pro brings to the table is competing closely with the 6.4-inch Super AMOLED display (2960 x 1440 resolution, 18.5:9 aspect ratio, 516ppi pixel density) on the Galaxy Note 9. Till now, the general consensus was that the Note 9 was the display to look up to as far as Android phones were concerned, but there is now a new benchmark in town. The Mate 20 Pro’s display has a higher resolution, has denser pixel count and just looks as good in every single way, if not better. The Mate 20 Pro has the advantage of looking a tad sharper when it comes to viewing media, but is at par with the Galaxy Note 9 as far as text reproduction is concerned. Huawei has added the Natural Tone mode in the display settings, which automatically understands the colour and temperature of the ambient lighting and alters the colours on the display to match that—the idea is to reduce eye strain. This works exactly like the True Tone feature on Apple iPhones. Yes, this does mean that colours on the screen don’t look the most accurate if you look very closely, but then again, unless you are editing photos, you really won’t care.
Camera: Are more cameras really better?
Huawei is clearly towing the same line as Samsung, for instance, and believes that more cameras in a phone are better. What the Mate 20 Pro gets is a primary 40-megapixel RGB sensor, paired with a 20-megapixel ultra-wide and an 8-megapixel telephoto sensor. This is the biggest change in terms of the implementation, and replaces the monochrome sensor which was a part of the multi-camera setups thus far. The Master AI feature automatically detects the scene that you are shooting, and switches between these automatically. If you look closely, you will notice when the switch takes place after the scene detection and before you click a photo. Huawei has given you the option of turning off the AI detection and enhancement, though you might want to leave that on considering it improves most photos in subtle ways.
The good thing is that Huawei has not tried to redesign the wheel with the Mate 20 Pro’s camera but instead is an evolution over the already excellent P20 Pro. The 40-megapixel resolution photos pull in excellent amount of detail, which really come in handy when you are editing them later. Daytime and good light photos are crisp and vibrant, though surprisingly we noticed a slight additional boost of certain colours if the Master AI was turned off—AI actually brings out more realistic colours, and when that check isn’t there, Huawei’s default algorithms tend to become a tad too excitable. Compared with the P20 Pro, the real improvements are with the Night Mode. We had noticed this on the Pixel 3 XL as well, and you need to have really stable hands for the 3-5 second duration Night Mode takes to process after you tap the shutter. It is worth the wait, because on the other side are pristine images with significantly more visible details without noise or distortions.
The reality is that this is definitely an improvement over the P20 Pro, and the extra megapixels in every photo means it trumps most of its rivals in terms of outright detailing. As far as the AI prowess battles are concerned, the Google Pixel 3 XL still sets the benchmark—even more creditable since it has only data from one 12-megapixel sensor to work with. But the Mate 20 Pro is truly a phone worth considering if you need some serious camera prowess.
Verdict: A tough mission doesn’t bog it down
The Huawei Mate 20 Pro started out in life with a rather tough mission—better the Samsung Galaxy Note 9. In many ways, it comes close. And yet in other ways, it is actually better—the camera being one of the certainties. This is packed with rather unique features, something that used to be Samsung’s party piece at one point. And yet, Huawei have managed to bring all that together without it resembling a mess. The Huawei Mate 20 Pro is one of the best looking, best performing and best photography phones you can spend your precious money on.