A few years ago, when Huawei introduced their first smartphones in South Africa, they were seen as nothing more as imitations and cheap knock-offs of much more powerful and sleek flagships. At the time, the likes of BlackBerry and Nokia were still around, on top of the smartphone market and no sign of their impending doom. The turnaround has been nothing short of miraculous, all things considered.
It’s been roughly five years since its humble beginnings, entering the market with the Huawei Ascend P6. Fast-forward to 2018 and the company has new ambitions, seeking to replace the likes of Samsung and Apple as the number one selling smartphone in the South African landscape. But, in order to achieve that goal, the smartphone manufacturer has to be able to deliver on its promise to continue to produce great devices.
Having released the Huawei Mate 20 Pro only a few weeks back, the OEM has managed to break new ground, offering a host of industry firsts along the way. So, with that in mind, is the Mate 20 Pro the device that finally puts Huawei on the top of the industry?
Build and Design
Looking back through the many iterations of Huawei flagships over the years, there’s been a distinctive look about their devices. At first, they would be compared to the likes of the Apple and Samsung units. With the Mate 20 Pro, the company comes into its own. There are still hints of other OEMs featured on the unit, from the iPhone Xs and Galaxy devices, but the unit is put together in a sleek, lightweight casing that looks and feels great.
The Mate 20 Pro is the thinnest and shortest of all the devices, and yet it has the same size screen as the Note 9, which is pretty impressive.
At first glance, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the unit for the earlier-released Samsung Galaxy S9 smartphone. The Mate 20 Pro has more pronounced curves all around, from the four corners, the four edges and even the screen. The unit feels a lot smoother in hand, as it fits quite nicely into your palms.
It would be more precise to compare the unit’s size to that of the S9 Plus and Note 9. The Mate 20 Pro has similar dimensions and weight compared to those units. The unit measures 8.6mm in thickness with the S9 Plus at 8.5mm and the Note 9 at 8.8mm. It also weighs the same as the S9 Plus at 189g, while the Note 9 lags a bit behind at 201g, possibly as a result of the added S Pen insert. The full dimensions of each device are 157.8×72.3×8.6mm, 158.1×73.8×8.5mm and 161.9×76.4×8.8mm, respectively. The Mate 20 Pro is the thinnest and shortest of all the devices, and yet it has the same size screen as the Note 9, which is pretty impressive. But more on the details on the screen in the next section.
While the design of the Mate 20 Pro may resemble the Galaxy devices, upon closer inspection you’ll notice quite a number of changes. For starters, all the button is fitted to the righthand side of the devices, with the power button closest to the centre and also has a red metallic coating. Each of the buttons is within an average thumb’s reach. This also includes the under-display fingerprint sensor. This feature isn’t new to Huawei, having previously launched the capability on the, albeit on the Mate RS Porsche Design, a much pricier smartphone. The fingerprint sensor works almost perfectly, unlocking the devices in less than a second when detected. It also includes FaceID unlock if you need additional security.
The fingerprint sensor works almost perfectly, unlocking the devices in less than a second when detected. It also includes FaceID unlock if you need additional security.
There are a host of quite nice build features added to the unit, which includes the reintroduction of the infrared port, for additional capabilities. In addition to this, there is no speaker grille to speak of. Instead, Huawei has fitted the speaker behind the Type-C port at the bottom of the unit, through which sound is projected. It may not sound all that useful, but it makes for a cleaner design while also having fewer holes to seal for the IP-68 rating, which allows for submersion of the device in water up to 2m deep for 30 minutes.
While most flagship smartphones these days do offer some or other IP-rating, Huawei includes an underwater mode for its camera, allowing users to snap photos while enjoying themselves in the pool. It’s worth pointing out that it’s not recommended to spend too much time taking underwater photos without a protected casing.
Overall, I was more than impressed with the build, design and features added to the Mate 20 Pro and is definitely one of the more comfortable units to hold in-hand.
Screen and Display
As with many other features, the likes of Apple and Samsung has always led the way when it comes to their world-class screens. In 2018, Huawei has stepped up its game with the panel fitted to the Mate 20 Pro. For starters, the screen matches that of the Note 9 in size, measuring in at 6.39” compared to the 6.4” on the Note 9, 6.2” on the S9 Plus and 6.5” on the iPhone Xs Max. Where the Mate 20 Pro stands out, however, is that it has one of the smallest frames, which gives it an impressive 87.9% screen-to-body ratio, the highest among the leading OEMs
Huawei has replaced their previous LCD panel on 2017’s units, switching it out for an AMOLED panel.
The unit also has an impressive 1440x3120px display, which has a 538ppi pixel density. Unfortunately, part of the display includes the much-disliked notch to accommodate the front-facing camera, speaker and additional sensors. But, unlike the other devices that include the notch, the Mate 20 Pro has the option to remove the notch by disabling the top section of the screen so it looks a lot more streamlined. Whether you’re all about maximising the display area, or in search of a sleeker look, Huawei’s software allows you to customise your look.
Interestingly, there’s a little more to the screen than specifications on paper. For starters, Huawei has replaced their previous LCD panel on 2017’s units, switching it out for an AMOLED panel. It’s not the Super AMOLED fitted to Samsung’s leading devices, but it still gets the job done. The colours are crisp, bright and the contrast is great. This is definitely one of the better-looking screens fitted to a Huawei unit.
Another plus point for the unit is that it has HDR support, creating higher contrast and more vivid colours, which looks great for apps that support such features. This makes videos and images captured with the onboard camera amazing to look at.
Performance and Battery Life
One of the biggest talking points, since it launched, was the benchmark comparisons of the Kirin 980 chipset to other, leading OEM SoCs. As I’ve said many times in the past year or two, all-out CPU performances are no longer where the smartphone war will be won, but rather how it uses what it has under the hood, however little. Huawei’s new 7nm architecture ups the game over previous Huawei units, but still falls a bit short of the mark when compared in outright performance to the likes of Samsung and Apple’s latest chips. With a score of around 9700 on Geekbench 4, the unit is only below that of the Note 9 and iPhone Xs and Xs Max, the latter which lead the pack.
…as a Mate 20 Pro owner, you can select a mode, which allows you to charge another smartphone that supports wireless charging…
Huawei, however, has made some improvements to how the processor is used, which includes GPU Turbo mode, which boosts performance when playing high-end games. What this does is pull all the available resources from other apps and focus it on providing the best performance for the game you’re running. This also cuts down overheads from other apps to more efficiently run the phone, which also allows it to keep heat to a minimum even while boosting frames per second. The feature is still limited to a handful of games, but Huawei is working on adding new apps every month. Another interesting feature about the mode is that it optimises the loading times as well, which makes the overall use of supported apps even better. At this stage, Huawei has made the gaming mode their own, offering the best performances in this area over any other smartphone on the market.
In terms of the full list of specifications, the Mate 20 Pro includes a HiSilicon Kirin 980 chipset, Octa-core CPU (2×2.6GHz Cortex-A76 and 2×1.92GHz Cortex-A76 and 4×1.8GHz Cortex-A55), Mali-G76 MP10 GPU, 6GB RAM on 128GB variant and 8GB RAM on 256GB unit. The unit also includes a non-removable, Li-Po 4200mAh battery, which is one of the leading in the industry and 5% more than the Galaxy Note 9.
With the Note 9’s performance setting the benchmark, Huawei was looking to outperform their rival with another tick on the list. With both phones easily able to last a full day of operation, those are already quite impressive from both. I found that both devices had sufficient charge to last well into a second day under normal performance, with relatively similar results. There is, however, one feature that makes the Mate 20 Pro stand out over any other device on the market, that being its reverse charging capability. What this means is that as a Mate 20 Pro owner, you can select a mode, which allows you to charge another smartphone that supports wireless charging. This is a very impressive feat. Despite the charge being relatively slow in comparison to the normal charging modes, it is quite useful to those around you.
One of the more contentious aspects about the Huawei smartphones has been their devices’ software and EMUI firmware. Things have changed quite significantly with the previous few releases, with Huawei taking things up yet another level with the release of the Mate 20 Pro. One of the things many Android users would complain about is the lack of app drawer, preferring to distance the device from the Apple approach.
Huawei has made a marked effort to boost its security features from both a hardware and software point of view.
Huawei allows users to choose between the single interface and app drawer layouts, which is a great feature for all. In addition to this, Huawei has also trimmed down the interface quite a bit, leaving only a few pre-installed Huawei apps, many of which are quite useful in any event.
Having been released the most recent of all the non-Google commissioned Android smartphones, the Mate 20 Pro is one of the first to include Android 9.0 Pie (Sony Xperia XZ3 being the first). There are quite a number of small changes implemented, both natively and from Huawei themselves. One of my favourite additions to the software is the new wireless desktop capability. Originally introduced on last year’s Mate 10 units to compete against Samsung’s DeX software, Huawei has stepped up their game by going wireless, upping the game and making everyone sit up and notice. I’ll have more on the wireless desktop with a full review.
Huawei has made a marked effort to boost its security features from both a hardware and software point of view. In addition to the in-screen fingerprint sensor and FaceID unlock to improve its biometric security, there are also a few management features to provide more options and flexibility to the user. The management also extends to other aspects of the device, including memory, storage, battery and the likes, similar to how Samsung has managed their system functions.
The pre-installed apps discussed earlier include Huawei Health, HiCare, AppGallery and Translator. Other tools include a recorder, Smart Remote, Mirror, Compass, Torch and a few others. These are all very minimalistic apps, but all have a function to perform that would be useful in daily life. There are a few non-Huawei pre-installed apps, which includes Facebook, Netflix and Booking.com, as well as a few games such as Asphalt Nitro, Spider-Man Ultimate Power and Assassin’s Creed Unity, to name a few.
There are a few built-in AI features, one of which is the Digital Balance tool, which aims to reduce your phone usage over the day. This allows users to set how long they wish to use their phone when they’d want to start settling down for the night and many other such features. Many big corporates have started such work-life balance, both for devices and apps, so it’s pretty impressive that Huawei seems to be leading the line when it comes to smartphones.
Without a doubt, the biggest drawcard on previous flagship releases from Huawei has been the camera. The company made a significant statement when they joined forces with Leica to improve their camera hardware and with the release of their triple lens camera on the P20 Pro earlier this year made all the headlines. The triple camera is back again with all new improvements.
In terms of the hardware, the unit boasts a 40MP, f/1.8, wide-angle lens alongside a 20MP, f/2.2, ultra-wide-angle and 8MP, f/2.4, telephoto lens. In terms of the built-in features, the camera features a few DSLR-level support, which includes autofocus, laser focus, phase focus, contrast focus, artificial image stabilisation, and dual tone flash.
…the unit boasts a 40MP, f/1.8, wide-angle lens alongside a 20MP, f/2.2, ultra-wide-angle and 8MP, f/2.4, telephoto lens…
The camera software on the device includes a host of modes as well. These include auto camera mode, photo, night, portrait, video, pro, panorama, monochrome with the dedicated monochrome lens, time lapse, light painting, watermark and a very useful underwater mode. You can also customise a few shortcuts and triggers for shooting, quick launch and the likes.
One of the more impressive inclusions over the already feature-packed app is the new macro photography under the Aperture mode. This allows users to take nifty shots of miniatures and other tiny objects. The mode allows users to get within 2.5cm of the object while maintaining focus, with additional zoom features for even more detail. Speaking of zoom, the camera also offers 5x optical zoom with some rather impressive results.
Mate 20 Pro
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With AI playing an important part of the camera ecosystem, a lot of work is done in the background without the user realising. One such feature is the auto scene detection, which Huawei provides some indication onscreen whenever it detects a different type of shot, changing the messages to inform the user. One of the more useful of these is the recognition of text, which adds some OCR details to enhance the text on the image.
The camera is capable of switching modes automatically and detecting the light in the scene as well. If the auto flash is turned off, the camera goes into overdrive in order to take a great low-light image. In some cases, I purposefully took images in near-zero light rooms with the camera able to pick up more detail in the scene than I could with my eyes.
Lastly, Huawei has added a Qmoji feature, which aims to compete with the Samsung and Apple counterparts. With the inclusion of a 3D depth sensor on the front-facing camera, the app does a good job of picking up quite a lot of detail with the representation of your animal avatar, including tongue movement.
Last year was the year of change for most leading smartphone manufacturers, offering massive overhauls to their flagship devices. With that in mind, as well as the fact that CPU performances are trending toward equal footing, I predicted it would come down to either features or services in 2018. Samsung seemed to have underwhelmed in terms of overall improvement of the Galaxy S9, but quickly turned things around with the Note 9, which, at the time, I earmarked as the best phone of the year. The iPhone Xs Max did very little to impress and despite the performance gains over its rivals, didn’t have much new to bring to the table.
With Huawei’s latest release, the Mate 20 Pro, the game has changed. Without any doubt, the smartphone has overtaken the Note 9 as the best phone of 2018, not simply by throwing specs at it but developing a unit packed with features. It’s hard to believe that with all the device managers to pack in, it does so in a very sleek frame on top of that.
At a retail price of R18,999, it matches the price of the Note 9. Huawei in previous years was known to offer affordable devices with great features, which it still does on many of its mid-range units. The Mate 20 Pro definitely justifies its price and then some.
Huawei Mate 20 Pro
Huawei has upped their game with the release of the Mate 20 Pro, taking the smartphone game to new heights.