Huawei Mate 20 Pro Review: Finally, a Phone That Stands Out for All the Right Reasons

By Holly Brockwell on at

There was a lot of excitement when Huawei unveiled the new Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro at a long launch event that also included loads of other stuff and an unexpected live gig (classic Huawei). The Mate 20 Pro in particular had a whole bunch of exciting new features, including three rear cameras with extra tricks up their sleeves (which is particularly exciting considering how good the cameras on the P20 were) and the ability to wireless charge other devices (whaaat).

The Mate 20 Pro is now released and on sale, and we've been using it as our daily driver to find out how it really performs day-to-day, how it stacks up next to the other big phones of '18, and ultimately whether we think it's worth your £900. Here's our in-depth Huawei Mate 20 Pro review.

Specs

  • 72.3 x 157.8 x 8.6 mm, 189g
  • 6.39-inch OLED display, 2K+ 3120 x 1440, 538 PPI (with notch)
  • HUAWEI Kirin 980 (2 x Cortex A76 2.6 GHz + 2 x Cortex A76 1.92 GHz + 4 x Cortex A55 1.8 GHz)
  • Android 9.0 Pie with EMUI 9 overlay
  • 6GB RAM, 128GB storage plus nanoSD up to 256GB
  • 3 x rear cameras (40MP + 20MP + 8MP), 4K video at 30fps, slow-mo 720p at 960fps
  • 24MP selfie camera with portrait mode
  • Face unlock
  • In-screen fingerprint sensor
  • 4200 mAh battery with fast charge, wireless charging, reverse wireless charging
  • Dual SIM support
  • Water and dust resistance to IP68
  • No 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Available in Black, Midnight Blue, Emerald Green and Twilight
  • Costs £899, available now

Design

While not everyone loves the dice-like appearance of the camera quartet on the back (the fourth bit is the flash), there has been a lot of love for the overall look of the Mate 20 Pro, particularly the wide and wonderful selection of colours it comes in.

Our review unit is Twilight, which looks kind of like the laser finish on the Honor 10 (also from the Huawei stable). It's a metallic gradient that blends from petrol blue to royal purple to black, and it is gorgeous. It is, unfortunately, also a fingerprint magnet, and very slick, so you'll want a case if you don't want it sliding its way off tables and desks.

There are three more colours currently available: black (duh), Midnight Blue and Emerald Green. The latter two colourways have a textured finish that makes the phone grippier, and also avoids the fingerprint problem. But if you're a gradient fan, you'll have to make do – at least your finger oil sort of adds to the iridescence. Yay.

Some serious wiping went on before this was taken

While the display on this phone definitely enters 'phablet' territory, the handset itself doesn't feel massive, mostly because of the lack of bezels and the double-curved shape of both the screen and the back panel. The handset has enough weight to feel solid and well-built, but not enough to feel heavy. It's also very comfortable in the hand because of that curved back, which helps it to nestle into the palm.

The left-hand edge of the handset is devoid of features, while the right has the volume rocker and power key, the latter of which is highlighted in fuchsia on our device. It's a nice little design touch, but there's no texturing to help you find it by feel.

The top end of the phone has the IR blaster and a microphone (no headphone jack on this device), and the bottom end has more mics, the USB charging port and, unusually, the SIM tray. This isn't amazing design, because the SIM tray requires one of the tiny poke-y tools to open, and there are two other holes of the same size on the bottom edge, plus one on the top right where you'd more commonly find a SIM tray. We dread to think that someone who hasn't had their coffee yet might jam the SIM poker full-force into a microphone.

The SIM tray is interesting in its design, too: rather than two SIM slots beside one another, it's double-sided. The second slot can be used for a nanoSD card, which is a proprietary format Huawei announced with this phone (no word on price or availability yet). The Mate 20 Pro can either do two SIMs, or a SIM and a nanoSD up to 256GB: no standard microSD, and no dual-SIM-plus-card as some phones can.

The double-sided SIM tray. This is the nanoSD side.

If you're wondering where the speaker holes are, there aren't any: the downward-firing speaker is built into the USB-C port. Clever eh? The speaker above the screen also kicks in when you play music or other audio out loud, together making stereo and sounding really good (for a phone). The second speaker also helps with not killing the vibe if you accidentally muffle the USB-C with your hand, which is relatively easy to do. However, brilliantly, plugging your charger in barely affects the sound at all.

Spot the speaker

You get a USB-C to 3.5mm dongle in the box, and it comes with some USB-C earphones too. They're fine, but nothing special.

The Mate 20 Pro is water-resistant to the IP68 standard, which means it's completely dustproof (that's the 6) and shouldn't die if you drop it in water a metre deep (the 8). However, Huawei's website is a bit cagey about this (emphasis ours):

"Water and dust-proofing are not permanent, and resistance may decrease as a result of normal wear over time. Do not charge the phone when it is wet or in moist environments. Refer to the manual for cleaning and drying instructions. Submersion in liquid and the resulting damage is not covered by the warranty."

So while in theory the phone should be able to survive a dip, that is apparently "not permanent" and might not work when you've had the phone for a bit (hmm), plus any damage you get from dropping it in water isn't covered by the warranty, which somewhat defeats the object of it being water-resistant to IP68. Realistically, this wording is probably Huawei being legally cautious, but it's still something to be wary of if you're likely to dunk your phone. (We've contacted Huawei to clarify this and will update when we have a response).

Display

The 6.39-inch OLED display on the Mate 20 Pro is glorious. It has a 2K+ resolution of 3120 x 1440 (that's 538 pixels per inch, maths fans), and for those unfamiliar with OLED, can power pixels individually rather than backlighting the whole panel – this means black pixels aren't just dark but actually off.

The Mate 20 Pro has a pretty sizeable notch

Colour, clarity and brightness are all excellent, and the curve helps to give the screen an immersive effect that's ideal for forgetting you're on a train to Shoeburyness while watching a film. However, as with all curved screens, it does make the phone a little prone to accidental touches – if your fingers are wrapped around the back, you will sometimes find yourself accidentally activating things at the edge of the curve, especially if you have big hands. It's not a dealbreaker, but some people hate it.

The Mate 20 Pro has Glove Mode, which will come in handy in Britain

The 19:5.9 screen also has a pretty exciting feature in the form of its built-in fingerprint scanner. That's not a fingerprint scanner in the bezel below the screen, you understand, but a portion of the actual screen that you tap your digit on to unlock it. It's not the first phone with this feature – that honour went to Vivo – but Huawei is early to a trend that'll soon be coming to lots of flagships including the OnePlus 6T.

When the screen's off and you move the phone, a greyscale fingerprint appears to show you where to tap

The scanner works very well. When the screen is off, it's completely black as usual, but as soon as you move it, a greyscale fingerprint in a circle appears where the scanner is. That's to show you the right bit to tap, because it's about a third of the way up and not especially large, so you do need the marker. You press your finger directly over the top of the greyscale icon, and if all's well, some ripples appear around it as if you've just pushed in the screen itself, and it unlocks.

Unlocking the Mate 20 Pro with the in-screen fingerprint scanner

The Mate 20 Pro does also have facial recognition, but it's not the best we've seen. While the selfie camera does have dot projection capabilities like Apple's Face ID cameras, the process of enrolling our faces was, to be honest, a complete faff. Just like on an iPhone, we had to rotate our faces in a circle, but while this works in seconds on an Apple device, the Huawei took ages about it and kept telling us we weren't moving in the direction that we definitely were. The phone does unlock quickly once enrolled, but had some recognition issues and was just generally not a great experience. We'll stick with fingerprints.

Face unlock on the Mate 20 Pro is not as good an experience as on the iPhone

Software

Always a low point of a Huawei (or Honor) device, this. The Chinese firm insists on using its own 'Emotion UI' (EMUI for short) over the top of Android, and while it's not as bad as it used to be, it's still pretty poor compared with vanilla 'droid or some of the other, lighter-touch manufacturer overlays. It's also very Apple-like in places.

The Mate 20 Pro does actually run Android 9.0 Pie – ie the latest version – but because it has EMUI 9 over the top, it's not really noticeable.

Yep, that's the Android Pie Easter egg. It's very bright. And doesn't feature any pie. Or a game.

The first thing you'll notice on setting up your phone is that all your icons are on the homescreen, iPhone-style, with a Settings icon and no app menu (or 'app drawer' in official Android parlance). This can now be fixed, unlike on previous versions, by going to Settings > Home screen and wallpaper > Home screen style > Drawer, but then you have a big circular icon in the middle of your quick-launch bar to get to the app tray, instead of just swiping up as you usually would on Pie. Not a dealbreaker, but unnecessary and irritating, especially when phone reviews since the dawn of actual time have bemoaned Huawei's insistence on doing things this way.

That circular button in the middle is your app tray

EMUI also has its own distinctive look, particularly for native app icons. There's a Themes app where you can download new wallpapers, and different skins for the app icons. Quite a few of the latter are ugly, but there's enough to choose from that you should find something that won't offend your eyes. Still, there was nothing wrong with the Android designs, Huawei!

As you browse the phone, you'll also notice numerous Huawei app inclusions, and extra features. Some are useful, but some are downright irritating – if you use Instagram, you'll notice HiTouch the first time you go to zoom one of your photos. It's a shopping feature that's been configured to launch in fullscreen when you do a two-finger screen pinch, which is something used by tonnes of apps. You can turn it off in Settings (Smart assistance > HiTouch) but it shouldn't have been put on that gesture in the first place.

Grumping aside, there are some useful inclusions, like Huawei's App Twin feature. This lets you have two versions of an app with different accounts installed, so you can have two WhatsApp accounts on the same phone, for instance. Not many people will need it, but it's good to have the option.

Similarly, there's an Easy Projection feature in Settings for casting your phone screen to a nearby display. Another not-so-mainstream feature, but a nice-to-have.

Hardware

The Mate 20 Pro packs the 7-nm Huawei Kirin 980 chipset, the first 7-nanometre chipset on an Android phone (Apple has the A12 Bionic, which is also 7nm). It's an octa-core system-on-chip including 2 x Cortex A76 cores at 2.6 GHz, 2 Cortex A76 cores at 1.92 GHz and 4 Cortex A55 cores at 1.8 GHz. In other words, it offers a split of low, middle and high-power cores for energy-efficient handling of different tasks, and includes two neural processing units for AI capabilities. You also get the new Mali-G76 GPU, and an LTE cat 21 antenna.

On the version of the Mate 20 Pro available here (ie not the super-fancy, really ugly Porsche version) you get 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, expandable by as much as 256GB if you can find one of those proprietary nanoSD cards.

Huawei PR was quick to point out to us that we should enable Performance Mode before running any benchmarks on this phone. That's because the company previously got in hot water for automatically detecting benchmarking software and enabling Performance Mode itself, without user input, to get the best possible score. Now you have the option to turn on what is essentially a 'turbo' mode, which maximises performance at the cost of faster battery drain and increased handset warmth.

It makes a big difference, too: our Geekbench 4 multi-core score was 9,657 without Performance Mode, and 10,011 with. By comparison, the Galaxy Note 9 scores in the region of 8,900, while the top-end iPhones are all over 11,000.

Camera

This is the killer feature on this phone – the big sell. And so it should be, because the cameras on the Mate 20 Pro are superb.

There are three Leica snappers on the back: a 40MP RGB wide-angle lens with a f/1.8 aperture, a 20MP ultra wide-angle lens with a f/2.2 aperture, and an 8MP telephoto lens with a f/2.4 aperture. All three lenses have both phase-detection autofocus and laser autofocus, while the telephoto lens offers 5x optical (yes, optical) zoom and Huawei's AI image stabilisation.

There's also a dual-tone LED flash; the usual extras like HDR, panorama, night mode and so on; and the ability to record 4K video at 30fps or 1080p (full HD) at 60 or 30 fps. Slow-mo shoots up to 720p HD at 960fps.

The front camera is a solo 24MP shooter with f/2.0 and the ability to film up to 1080p HD at 3ofps. Since this is the camera that does the face identification bit, it also has 3D depth-sensing ability, but from our experiences so far it doesn't appear to match up to Apple's tech in this arena.

The Huawei camera app is as feature-full as ever, including Aperture mode for shallow depth of field, the excellent Night mode, Portrait modes on both the front and rear-facing cameras, Pro mode, panorama, monochrome, slow-mo, time-lapse, 3D panorama, light painting, and some extra downloadable ones including a food filter and document scanner.

For selfies, there's a comprehensive Beauty mode including 0-10 sliders for skin smoothing and face thinning, as well as 'warmth' options for making yourself more tanned or English-rosy.

If you're shooting with bokeh light points in the background, there are options to turn those into hearts, swirls and various other things, and there's a whole raft of iPhone-style selfie lighting options that are honestly all terrible, including the particularly baffling Stained Glass (this was taken on the sofa):

The camera has AI tech built in as well, because of course it does. It's actually pretty good: we've seen it before on phones like the Honor 10, but the Mate 20 Pro apparently recognises more than 1500 photography scenarios in 25 categories, as well as being able to identify multiple scenarios in the same photo and maximise each one. What this means in practice is that if you're taking a photo of, say, a cat in front of a bush with the sky visible, the phone will recognise the cat, the leaves and the sky, and optimise each one separately.

It'll unnerve some people to point their phone at a dog and have it turn on Dog Mode automatically, but it does seem to result in better pictures. It can also be turned off by tapping 'Master AI' in the camera settings, but we think it genuinely is useful to have suggestions and presets for a better photo.

Similarly, when you're taking a photo of something like a skyline, the phone recommends wide-angle mode to take advantage of that wide lens, and it makes a huge difference. One tap changed this:

Into this:

Handy, eh?

Similarly, when you're going for a close-up, Super Macro mode turns on and improves the effect.

There are tonnes more AI features to explore, like AI Portrait Colour for arty effects where only the person is in colour:

The phone can automatically edit videos to create highlights for each face it recognises, and there's an AI Cinema Mode for 21:9 cinematic films with real-time HDR processing. There's a lot, basically.

One feature that hasn't arrived on the phone yet is the 3D scanning function that Huawei showed off at the launch. Live on stage, they scanned in a panda toy and were then able to animate it in 3D, take AR selfies and videos with it, and all sorts of other daft fun. We're not sure it'll be a mainstream feature when it does arrive on the Mate 20 Pro, but some people will no doubt love it and use it to create super-cool things.

Photo samples

To give a fair idea of what non-professional users can expect from the Mate 20 Pro camera, here are some snaps we took on Auto. We didn't take any special care or time over these, which goes to show how well just everyday, throwaway shots come out on this phone – even of fast-moving subjects like pets.

This one was taken in low light, though it doesn't show:

A bit of editing and that's a beauty.

Battery

The Mate 20 Pro comes with a very generous 4200 mAh battery. However, it does have a large and pixel-dense screen to power, so it doesn't go as far as it might on another handset.

That said, we very much doubt you'll have problems with stamina on this device. Battery capacity is like money: if you find yourself not thinking about it, that means you have enough. And we didn't have to think about it at all while using this phone: the Mate 20 Pro often sailed into the second day of use with half its capacity left.

Charging it up again is a doddle, too: you've got the option of 40W Huawei SuperCharge or 15W Qi wireless charging. This is good, as it means any Qi wireless charger will work for your phone, and that's most of them. The Supercharger is really quick: in half an hour, our review phone gained about 65% of its power back.

In short, the Mate 20 Pro has power for days and should keep even heavy users sufficiently juiced up.

Wireless reverse charging

The battery on the Mate 20 Pro also has a party trick: it can wireless charge other devices. We can't overstate how cool this is. You probably won't use it often, but imagine the smugness of being able to offer your iPhone-toting, low-battery friend a cable-free topup from your generously provisioned handset.

It works really well, too: you have to turn it on in Settings first, then just plop the other phone on the back of the Mate 20 Pro as you would with a normal wireless power pack. Charging on our iPhone XR started instantly, and while it's not the fastest, it really could be a lifesaver in social situations – or just when your AirPods run out on the bus (...if the official wireless charger ever goes on sale, anyway).

Plus, did we mention it's cool? Because it is.

Price and availability

If you're used to Huawei phones being appealingly affordable versions of the big-name flagships, you might want to temper your expectations before reading on. The Mate 20 Pro is pricey: £899.

Don't get us wrong, it's still a great phone for that price, and it's completely justified. The Mate 20 Pro includes innovations like the in-screen fingerprint sensor, wireless charging of other devices, and that triple camera setup. If this were an Apple device, it'd be well over a grand.

But it's still a lot of money, and will give a lot of people pause when they could grab a top-end Samsung – an S9+ or Note 9 – for less.

Still, if the Mate 20 Pro is the phone for you, it's available now from AmazonCarphone Warehouse, EEO2, Three, VodafoneGiffgaff, and a whole load of other places.

Overall

This is Huawei's best phone yet, but it's priced accordingly. It's beautifully-designed, waterproof, offers fast and wireless charging as well as the ability to wirelessly charge other phones, the cameras are incredible, the battery life is epic, the hardware performance is strong, there's an in-screen fingerprint sensor and the display is gorgeous.

The downsides are primarily the price and the software. You do get used to EMUI after a few days, but when switching from a Huawei or Honor phone to a vanilla Android, or a OnePlus with OxygenOS, or even just a Samsung flagship, we're always reminded how much better the software could be. It's bearable, but this phone would be legendary with stock Pie.

Still, if you have £900 to spend on a phone and you want a 2019-level phone (minus the 5G) a little early, this is a strong proposition.

TL;DR

  • Three rear cameras, one front-facing, all excellent
  • In-screen fingerprint scanner works really well
  • Looks beautiful (but Twilight is fingerprinty)
  • Very good hardware performance
  • 2-day battery life
  • Gorgeous screen (with notch)
  • Dual SIM
  • USB-C port is also a speaker
  • Water and dust resistant
  • Fast and wireless charging
  • Can wireless charge other devices

BUT

  • Huawei software still a bit pants
  • No 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Not cheap at £899.

What do you think of the Huawei Mate 20 Pro? Tried it? Getting one? Let us know in the comments.