Huawei Mate 20 X Review: Huawei Goes Big On Mobile Gaming

By Holly Brockwell on at

The Huawei Mate 20 X launched alongside the regular Mate 20 and the Mate 20 Pro in October. It felt like a bit of an afterthought following long and detailed launch presentations on the main phones (plus a random live gig, because Huawei), and didn't get nearly as much of the attention in the resultant media or social commentary.

Yet the Mate 20 X is probably the most interesting phone of the three. The Mate 20 and 20 Pro are strong handsets, no doubt, but they're expected flagships – the 20 X is a bit of a maverick. It's got a giant screen – 7.2 inches – and beefy specs including the Kirin 980 chipset and 6GB of RAM, all of which makes it ideal for gaming.

That fact was underscored by Huawei comparing the 20 X repeatedly to the Nintendo Switch during the launch. That's what they think its biggest competition is – handheld gaming devices, not other smartphones. Considering the Switch costs under £300, though, it's safe to assume people would only be buying this £799 smartphone if they wanted the best of both worlds.

So, does the massive Mate 20 X measure up? Let's find out.

Specs

  • 85.4 mm width, 174.6 mm height, 8.15 mm depth
  • 232g
  • Midnight Blue
  • 7.2 inch OLED display (1080 x 2244)
  • Huawei Kirin 980 chipset (2 x 2.6 GHz + 2 x 1.92 GHz + 4 x 1.8 GHz)
  • Android 9 Pie with Huawei EMUI 9.0 overlay
  • 6GB RAM
  • 128GB storage with nano-memory card expansion up to 256GB
  • Leica triple back camera: 40 MP (wide angle lens, f/1.8) + 20 MP (ultra wide lens, f/2.2) + 8 MP (telephoto, f/2.4), AIS (AI Image stabilisation)
  • 24MP f/2.0 front-facing camera
  • USB-C charging and headphone port (combined), 3.5mm headphone jack
  • 5000 mAh battery
  • £799

Design

Alrighty, let's start with the elephant in the room. Which is this phone. It's massive.

For that reason alone, the Mate 20 X isn't going to appeal to a lot of people. It's actually a really good demonstration of why we need the foldable phones everyone's coming out with this year: we all want loads of screen space, but also a phone that'll fit in our hands and pockets. The Mate 20 X does one, but not the other.

Currently, the 20 X only comes in one colour: Midnight Blue. Props to Huawei for not going safe with black or silver – the blue is textured with diagonal lines and more matte than the shiny versions of the Mate 20 Pro. It reflects the light in a classy way that doesn't lead to fingerprints everywhere, and it's also a better texture for grip. Nonetheless, there's a clear case in the box if you want it.

On the front, we've got that huge screen with a teardrop notch in the centre – and that's pretty much it. You'll find the fingerprint pad on the back: no in-screen sensor on this one, unlike the Mate 20 Pro. It's centred below the dice-like treble camera enclosure, rounded out with the flash to make a nice, neat quad. Said quad does sit a little high on the phone, though – if you prefer your cameras without a big bump, you probably won't love this design.

The Mate 20 Pro (left) and Mate 20 X (right)

There's some relatively subtle Leica and Huawei branding in silver on the back, but overall it's a classy and minimal design befitting the phone's price point.

The sides are a little thicker than on many flagships, but the overall handset doesn't feel heavy. It's well balanced, though still hard to operate with one hand because it's just so damn big.

On the top end we've got a speaker grille and the 3.5mm headphone jack, which they've included despite the USB-C charging port also accepting headphones. Nice touch.

The second speaker grille is on the bottom, beside that USB C port.

The left side holds the SIM tray, and on the right we've got a volume rocker and a textured power key below it, with a red edge highlight that reminds us of the Google Pixel.

Overall, it's an attractive and well-built phone that feels and looks premium, although of course the thing that gets noticed most often is its sheer size. Get used to your friends commenting on it – all mine did, and it looks downright gargantuan next to the smaller iPhones. Still, it's really easy to pick your phone out of the lineup of your mates' handsets, or find it in your bag.

Display

OK, we know the screen is huge, but is it any good? Well, yes and no. It's a bright, colourful AMOLED panel, which means better power efficiency, true blacks and strong colour reproduction. However, compared with the other phones in the Mate 20 range, it's a little disappointing.

The Mate 20 Pro offers a 6.39-inch display with a resolution of 1440 x 3120, which comes out to about 538 pixels per inch. The Mate 20 X has a 7.2-inch display with a resolution of 1080 x 2244, which comes out to 346 pixels per inch. That's a big difference, and it really shows when the two phones are side by side.

Of course, the Mate 20 Pro is also a little more expensive than the 20 X (about £100), and including a similar pixel density on a screen that size would be hard on the profitability and power efficiency of the device.

The 20 X's screen compares much more closely with the standard Mate 20's, which measures 6.53 inches with the same resolution (2244 x 1080). That comes out to 381 pixels per inch, but that's still higher than the 20 X offers. The Mate 20, 20 X and 20 Pro cost £699, £799 and £899 respectively, so we would expect screen quality on the X to sit roughly in the middle, or at least not be the poorest of the three.

However, we should consider the audience for this phone – gamers. A full HD+ resolution might not mean eye-wateringly beautiful top-end games, but it does mean good compatibility with titles old and new, and power performance that won't have you hanging onto a battery pack all the time.

The teardrop notch is also a big bonus for the screen, because of course it increases the amount of actual display you're getting. It's not quite as unintrusive as the corner-mounted punch-hole cameras we're seeing on 2019 flagships, but it's pretty close, and in daily use we didn't notice it was there. You can add a black status bar in the settings to mask it if you must, though.

The display is coated with Gorilla Glass, but there's no mention of which version. In daily use, we haven't had any problems with scratching or smashing (and as you'd expect with a massive handset, we've dropped it a fair few times).

If you want to use the 20 X's capacious screen for digital art or note-taking (or you're the last person still playing Draw Something), it's compatible with the Huawei M-Pen stylus, which recognises 4096 levels of pressure.

If you press the M-Pen on the locked phone screen, it opens the Memo pad directly, which is handy. However, the stylus doesn't come with it, and you don't have a channel to slot it inside the phone as you do with rival phones like the Samsung Galaxy Note 9.

Software

The software section of any Huawei (or Honor) review starts with a sigh of resignation. The EMUI ('Emotion UI') Android overlay the company uses is divisive at best. Well, we assume it's divisive – we've never actually heard anyone say they like it, but we assume if we put "it's rubbish," ten thousand Huawei superfans will turn up to tell us otherwise.

The first thing you'll notice on setting up your Mate 20 X is that the Android app drawer (the menu of app icons) has vanished. Huawei doggedly insists on making you keep all your app icons on the home screens or in folders, like on an iPhone. Thankfully, they did eventually add an option to switch back to the app drawer, which you can do in Settings > Home Screen & Wallpaper > Home Screen Style > Drawer.

While you're there, you can turn on the Always On Display if you want – it does dent the battery a bit, but since there's no notification LED on this phone, it's more necessary than on other handsets.

Once you've started installing apps and actually using the phone, you'll notice two things. Firstly, that the phone is constantly bugging you about apps draining your battery, which is a function you'll turn off immediately if you want to get anything done. Secondly, that there are a whole load of Huawei apps and services you didn't ask for. Some you can get rid of, but many you can't.

For instance, there's the customer service app HiCare, which can't be removed. There's the Huawei App Gallery, which can't be removed. There's sponsor app Booking.com, which can be removed. There's Huawei's Health app, which it says can be uninstalled but actually just replaces it with the factory version. And so on.

Most of the extra apps can be ignored – never open them and they won't bug you. But for some reason that we will never understand, Huawei set its HiTouch AI shopping assistant to launch when you put two fingers on the screen. Which means it will pop up every time you try to pinch-zoom a photo. We turned it off immediately for that reason.

HiVoice also gets annoying – it often accidentally launches when you're trying to quick-launch the camera, because it stupidly also launches via the volume down button. To get rid of it, go to the Dialler, then Settings, then Voice Control, and turn Quick Calling off.

Huawei's included its own version of Android Pie's Digital Wellbeing tools on the Settings menu, called Digital Balance. It's intended to help you manage your screen time, and see what you've been spending all your hours on (cat videos).

There's also a new password manager in EMUI called Password Vault. Really, when everyone's questioning whether Huawei is trustworthy, you're going to overtly ask to store people's passwords? 'Kay.

Speaking of security, Face Unlock has been included on the Mate 20 X, but do be aware that it uses the selfie camera rather than any iPhone-style face mapping. That means it's less secure, and you're probably better off using the fingerprint sensor on the back, which is mega-fast and easy to reach.

There are some gesture controls built in that you can activate on the phone's settings menu, but we didn't find we needed them. The navigation bar has a Recent Apps button that you can long-press for a split-screen app view, and with a screen this big it's actually quite useful.

There's also App Twin, which allows you to have two versions of the same app with different accounts logged in, which is a brilliant idea.

If you don't love the look of EMUI, there's a Themes app with about a billion other choices, but be warned, there's lots of gaudy crap in there. Some nice stuff too, of course – it's just a bit of a TK Maxx situation in the amount of sifting required to find something good.

Hardware

The Mate 20 X is intended to compete with handheld gaming consoles, so you won't be surprised to hear it's got some excellent hardware under the hood.

The 7nm Kirin 980 chipset is paired with the Mali-G76 MP10 GPU and 6GB of RAM, all of which performs admirably with demanding mobile games. We pushed the phone pretty hard and it barely warmed up, which is presumably down to the slightly-bonkers Huawei Supercool liquid cooling system inside. Apparently, it's the first time a vapour chamber and graphene film have been used together to cool a smartphone. It works.

Pushing the phone even further is the Turbo 2.0 mode built into EMUI 9.0. It's a joint hardware and software effort to increase framerate on games like PUBG while reducing power consumption per frame.

The old Game Booster function has been renamed and is now bafflingly hidden in Settings > Apps > AppGallery Assistant. There you'll find the toggles for Game Acceleration (which improves performance at the expense of power) and Uninterrupted Gaming (which hides notifications while you're playing).

The extremely creepy mobile version of Bendy & The Ink Machine

If you want to really max out the phone's hardware, enable Performance Mode. It burns through your battery and warms the phone up much more than normal, but it does considerably boost performance for intensive tasks. It's also the mode Huawei uses for benchmarking, unsurprisingly.

The dual SIM tray of the Mate 20 also appears on the 20 X, which can take either two nano-SIM cards or one nano-SIM and one nano-memory card. The nano-memory card is a Huawei invention, and currently rarer than hen's teeth. You've got 128GB onboard the phone though, so you shouldn't run out anytime soon.

Sega Heroes 

The speakers on the Mate 20 X are surprisingly brilliant. Perhaps we shouldn't be so surprised, given that it's a phone for gaming and media, but loudspeakers don't tend to get a lot of love on most handsets. The 20 X has two Dolby speakers, one at either end, and they go loud (for a phone). They put out strong, clear, bassy and well-differentiated sound that made the Hamilton soundtrack sound like Lin-Manuel Miranda was in the room (if only).

It's also nice to see an IR blaster on the 20 X. Admittedly, lots of people never use them, but there's a Smart Remote app included which makes it extra-easy to control all your stuff by phone.

PUBG Mobile

Despite investing in lesser-loved features like these, Huawei has bafflingly chosen to leave out the notification LED. There just straight-up isn't one. You can use the Always-On Display as a sort of substitute, but there's really no reason not to have included a light like every other phone ever.

Thankfully, there is some level of waterproofing, though not to the IP68 level of the Mate 20 Pro. The 20 X is rated to IP53, which means it's fairly dust-resistant but rather than being submersible, it can only handle splashes and sprays. It'll be OK in the rain, basically, but don't take it in the bath.

Camera

A definite high point of this phone is the Leica-branded triple rear camera. It's the same one as on the Mate 20 Pro, which costs £100 more, and gives the same superb results.

You get a 40MP wide-angle main shooter with f/1.8, a 20MP super-wide with f/2.2 (amazing for skylines), and an 8MP telephoto with f/2.4 (for things further away). The fourth circle on the rear camera enclosure is a dual-tone LED flash.

On the front, it's the same selfie camera as both the Mate 20 and Pro: 24MP with f/2.0.

You also get the excellent Huawei AI camera app, which tries to identify what you're photographing and maximise the settings accordingly. Sometimes this works beautifully – as with outdoor scenes where the blue sky and green grass come out balanced and not blown out by strong sunshine – and sometimes it doesn't, as with the many things it's misidentified as a "stage performance," including this photo of my cockatiel.

The app includes lots of modes, many of which are genuinely useful. Too many camera apps could be stripped down to the handful of modes you always use, but not this one.

There's Aperture, which lets you adjust the focus after you've shot the photo, and also takes beautiful shots of close-up things with that classy bokeh look.

There's Night, which takes excellent snaps of things like night-time skylines that actually look like what you're seeing – and only takes a few seconds to capture a photo if it detects you're not using a tripod, meaning you don't have to try not to breathe for 20 seconds while it takes in all the light (as on previous versions).

There's Pro mode for messing about with white balance, exposure and so on. There's Portrait mode for both the front and back cameras, with the same bonkers AI lighting scenes we had on the Mate 20 Pro (why you'd want to fake sitting near some window blinds is beyond us, but if you do, have at it). And there are even more modes on the side menu, including Slow-Mo (unlimited) and Super-Slow-Mo (6 seconds), panorama and 3D panorama, light painting, time-lapse, and even more to download if you want.

One of the big benefits of the triple camera is that you can switch between lenses. See something cool and want to zoom out a bit, without moving? Tap on the 1X and you can switch to either 3x or 5x zoomed (which, sadly, are often quite grainy) or Wide, which uses the ultra-wide lens to get more into the shot. The Wide mode is brilliant for group photos, skylines, landscapes, generally large things you're struggling to capture – it's really handy, and we wouldn't be without it now.

Photo samples

Battery

5,000 mAh is a generous battery size, even for a large-screened phone like this. And it really lasts. Using the phone as my daily driver for everything from email and social media to calls and videos, the 20 X always had between 40 and 60% left when I went to bed (past midnight, from getting up at about 8.30am).

It's one of those phones that pleasantly surprises you when you check the battery level, and quickly soothes your concerns about needing to carry a power pack or whether it'll be OK for a night out. Of course, battery performance does degrade over time and the phone is still young at this point, but it's still strong stamina compared with other brand-new phones we've used day-to-day.

The phone also comes with Huawei's own SuperCharge fast-charging technology (although it only goes up to 22.5W on the 20 X, rather than the 40W the Mate 20 Pro can handle), which purports to half-charge the phone in half an hour. In our tests, that came out about right.

There's no wireless charging on the Mate 20 X (or indeed the ability to wireless charge other devices), again unlike the Mate 20 Pro. But the phone does also have better stamina than the Pro, so it's swings and roundabouts.

UK price and availability

The Huawei Mate 20 X was released in the UK in November 2018 and is available now for £799 from retailers including Amazon, John Lewis, Argos and AO.com.

Overall

The Mate 20 X feels a bit like you Stretch Armstrong-ed the Mate 20 Pro. The screen is bigger but not as pixel-dense, the cameras are the same, and the software experience is pretty similar too. That's a good thing: the Mate 20 Pro is a terrific phone and it also costs £100 more than the X.

However, it's going to have a very limited market. Partly because its screen is just too big for most people, including us: we were quite relieved to go back to a normal-sized phablet after this handset. And partly because it's just come out at the wrong time: the buzz of the Mate 20 launch has died down, Huawei fans are busy getting hyped about the P30 and a bajillion phones are about to launch at Mobile World Congress.

The 20 X is also a vestige of something it seems we won't need much longer: fixed-form giant phones. Now that foldables are becoming a realistic possibility, why would you pick a huge phone that couldn't fold down to a more manageable size when you need it to?

However, it's good value for the money, and might well be the perfect phone for the mobile gamer. Every part of the 20 X has been optimised for gaming, and while it might not be a Nintendo Switch competitor as Huawei kept implying at the launch, it's definitely a compelling device. The hardware, performance, software tweaks, even the sound quality are perfect for for daily players.

It'd also be an interesting choice for digital artists: there's so much screen space to draw and write on, it's compatible with the Huawei stylus if you buy one, and its photographic capabilities are superb.

For everyone else, it's probably not the one.

TL;DR

  • A well-priced phone with a lot of gaming appeal.
  • Truly enormous AMOLED screen, not the highest resolution but ideal for games.
  • Strong hardware performance and the ability to boost it when needed.
  • Excellent camera and great battery life.
  • Headphone port and USB-C headphone port, plus really good speakers.
  • Fast charging and IR blaster, but no wireless charging.
  • Water resistant, not waterproof.
  • Mysterious lack of notification LED.
  • EMUI software overlay still a bit rubbish.
  • Works with the Huawei M-Pen stylus, but doesn't come with one.
  • Possibly too close to the launch of competing flagships to be a big seller.
  • Not for the small of hand.