AFTER STUNNING us with the Huawei P20 Pro earlier this year, with its good looks and incredible camera, it was always going to a tough act to follow.
The Autumn-dwelling Mate series of phones has traditionally been the more ‘executive’ range, but with the Chinese company on a roll, why stick to pigeon-holes and paradigms? As a result of Huawei’s willingness to bend the rules of its naming conventions, the Mate 20 Pro manages to be more than an incremental update, a P20 Pro S, if you will.
Oh no. This is something else. It’s powerful. It’s stylish. It’s fun. It’s a beast.
The Mate 20 Pro sees Huawei really embracing the curved glass unibody vibe, with a curved screen that creates an illusion of virtually no bezel. In truth, the bezel is spectacularly thin anyway. The notch is here, whether you like it or not, though there is a setting to switch it off if it really sets your teeth on edge.
Huawei’s crown of ‘slipperiest smartphones in tech town’ isn’t about to go anywhere. This thing is smooth. You might want to get a case because although the phone is IP67 rated, it might help you keep a grip on it.
The camera arrangement on the back replaces the vertical line of lenses with a 2×2 arrangement right in the middle – you may well have seen the leaks. It’s perhaps a little in-your-face, but given the company’s recent track record with cameras, why not make a point.
The embedded fingerprint reader on the Pro glows slightly under the display to guide you in. By comparison, the Mate 20 has a standard fingerprint reader like the Lite, on the back below the camera.
And so it came to pass that because the Mate 20 screen is not curved, and the Mate 20 Pro screen is, the Mate 20 is actually slightly bigger than its big sibling, the Pro.
The display is beautiful, capable of up to WQHD+ (3120×1440) and with a crispness that you didn’t realise wasn’t there on the P20 till now. The rear design continues the ‘optical illusion’ theme with a range of colours that change with the light.
Other than that, two downward firing speakers, the SIM tray, which hides its own secrets inside, USB C port and a few hardware buttons. It’s unnervingly like a flat pebble. But in a really good way.
Let’s get this out of the way early. The camera is still awesome. The monochrome lens from the P20 has been replaced by a wide-angle one which alongside the borderline ludicrous 40MP Leica array is going to win the Mate 20 Pro a lot of fans outside the boardroom domain of previous Mates. To this end, there’s also 3DMoji, because it was only a matter of time before Huawei users decided that they too needed to be able to animate their facial movements to look like a cartoon cherry.
The Huawei Mate 20 and Pro come with EMUI 9.0, the company’s fork of Android 9.0 Pie. The whole thing zips along with buttery smooth scrolling and without a hint of lag. The responsiveness to tasks like opening apps is strikingly better than even six months ago. Even full of app data, it absolutely zips along.
The new Kirin 980 chip revealed at IFA this year is the beating heart of the Mate 20 Pro, and everything just feels faster. As well as huge speed boosts and the GPU-Boost patch offered to Huawei phones this year, the 980 also boasts two NPU – neural processing units. In other words, the AI has two brains.
This means that it can preempt you, at least a little, in terms of which apps to put near the top, which is a nice to have. The AI in the camera is now set to ‘off’ by default as some people felt it over-synthesised the results. It does seem to have been tightened up in all the right places though and along with some new settings, improved portrait mode, more photo subject training (panda mode anyone?) and the wide angle options from the new lens, it does feel like not only the AI is learning, but Huawei is too.
Alongside the embedded fingerprint scanner, the other big addition to the Mate 20 Pro is wireless (Qi) charging. Huawei has been somewhat tardy on this feature, but of cours,e has to go one better – its wireless pad, when used with an official Huawei SuperCharger, can churn out 15w – twice the current standard. That means that, although not as fast as plugging it in, the wireless charger may have come of age.
But that’s not all. The Mate 20 Pro can also reverse charge. In other words, if your mate has a flat battery, you can give him some of your juice. Equally, if you have a headset with Qi charging, it can be charging up from your phone, in your pocket. There was some talk of wireless earbuds with Qi being released alongside the handset, but they’ve been postponed for now.
The battery, already bolstered by the efficiencies of the Kirin 980, clocks in at a whopping 4,200mAh. As this review goes to bed, our review unit still has 34 per cent left on it, after being off charge and in heavy demand for 18 straight hours. The all-day battery seems to be finally an achievable dream even for those of us who live with devices glued to our faces.
One other feature of note – Schrodinger’s feature if you will – is so shrouded in mystery that we haven’t been able to get enough information to form a valid opinion. The Mate 20 Pro sees the reintroduction of support for external memory cards, missing from the P20 range. However, instead of microSD cards, Huawei has gone for a proprietary solution – the NM card, smaller than a microSD and so elusive that we know nothing about them.
We can’t, therefore include it in our considerations. In theory, it will take the 128GB RAM up by further (up to) 256GB. But let’s pretend it doesn’t. We’ll treat this on the merits of the same 128GB as the P20 Pro. Anything else is gravy.
It’s always a thankless task reviewing the follow-up to something you’ve raved about. To find fault would be a disappointment, but to find perfection risks sycophancy. So when we say that the Mate 20 Pro dethrones the P20 Pro, released just half a year ago, then rest assured, we’re as surprised as you. There are a few alarm bells – will the UI stay as nippy as it is right now? And how much is an NM card going to set me back?
But there’s no denying that the Mate 20 Pro is a brilliantly executed phone from a company that seems to learn from every experience and comes back with something even more unexpected. A triumph.
Incredible performance, great battery life, Qi reverse charging is an inspired idea.
NM cards could be expensive.
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