Huawei Mate 20 Pro Review

9

March, 2019

Smartphones | Review | Huawei

Huawei’s latest and greatest smartphone grabbed my attention and made me buy my first ever Huawei phone, the Mate 20 Pro, but what do I think about it after a few months of use?

On November 5, 2018, I drove to the local electronics store to check out the brand new Mate 20 Pro (also referred to as M20P) from Huawei. If I recall correctly this was the launch day for the device, but they didn’t have it on display. I fumbled a little bit with the Huawei P20 Pro, the younger cousin of the M20P. I played around with the software, cameras and tried to familiarize myself with EMUI. Many thoughts later I was very close to pulling the trigger on the M20P but decided to go home and sleep on the thought.

The very next day I drove back to the store and told the clerk to harvest a M20P for me. I have always had black phones, but the Twilight finish on the Huawei phones looks amazing so it was a no-brainer to get that.

Huawei P20 Pro on display at the local electronics store.Photographed by Vegar Henriksen using a Google Pixel XL.
Huawei Mate 20 Pro on the checkout counter at the local electronics store.Photographed by Vegar Henriksen using a Google Pixel XL.

I eagerly drove home excited to see if it lived up to all the hype. After a lot of drooling online I was thrilled to have it my hands. I was ready to give Huawei a proper chance after seeing the success of the P20 series. I intended to use the phone as my daily driver and really get to know its quirks and features. Without further ado it's time to unbox this bad boy.

Unboxing and first impression

Let's kick it off with the obvious; the unboxing experience! The sleek black box was very satisfying to open. When lifting off the rectangular top it slowly let go of the bottom part revealing the front of the M20P. The very first thing that you notice is just how shiny it is and how reflective the dark screen is. The phone is covered in a plastic wrapping, keeping it as clean, pristine and scratch-free as it will ever be. When removing the plastic wrapping you can instantly feel how sleek the phone is. It is like a huge thin sheet of glass. The next thing you will find after removing the phone is the SIM card ejector tool and then a box with a quick start guide and some paperwork. Strangely enough there were no clear case bundled with the phone, which many other owners got. Moving on you get the blazing fast 40W USB-A charger, an USB-A to USB-C cable, a 3.5mm jack to USB-C and then some USB-C earbuds. Overall a very pleasing unboxing experience highlighting the beauty of the phone instead of the paperwork. Check out the gallery below for the complete unboxing experience.

The box of the Huawei Mate 20 Pro chilling in the snow.Photographed by Vegar Henriksen using a Google Pixel XL.
The front of the huge Huawei Mate 20 Pro.Photographed by Vegar Henriksen using a Google Pixel XL.
The back of the huge Huawei Mate 20 Pro.Photographed by Vegar Henriksen using a Google Pixel XL.
The contents of the box.Photographed by Vegar Henriksen using a Google Pixel XL.
The paperwork that comes with the M20P.Photographed by Vegar Henriksen using a Google Pixel XL.

Design, build quality and feel in the hand

With a beautiful unboxing experience comes a beautiful smartphone. The next section of this review is the design aspect. Let's get cracking!

When you first lay your eyes on the back M20P you are met with a stunning finish that changes color based on how the light reflects of it. The twilight finish is a very unique and a great contrast to other phones on the market. It helps make the phone unique instead of just blending in. However, in order to keep this finish beautiful you need a case or a microfiber cloth permanently attached to your hand. The fingerprints are very noticable in almost every lightning situation and somewhat ruins the beautiful aesthetics. The back of the phone also has a centered and squared camera array right in the middle. I think it looks much better than many other solutions out there. Overall a beautiful back on the M20P.

However, when your flip the phone over to the front my first complaint comes. The first thing you are met with is a huge obtrusive notch. The worst part about it is not that it is there, but rather that it is a true copy of the iPhone X series' notch. It is just as wide, just as tall and has the exact same curvature. Very unoriginal, but not unexpected from a Chinese company. I totally get that it houses multiple sensors that makes facial unlock possible, but I would much rather have a bezel equal in size to the chin. I also get that there is a chin due to how expensive it is to curve an OLED screen, but speaking of size, for some reason the notch is taller than the chin. This becomes somewhat of an issue when you hide the notch in the settings. It makes the top bezel thicker than the chin and makes the design look uneven and unbalanced. Very strange and I'm not a fan at all of that design decision, but I guess that's what you can expect from a 2018 smartphone. To recap; the bottom bezel is stolen from a Galaxy S8 and the notch is stolen from an iPhone X. Shame on you Huawei... Stunning back, but disappointing front.

Another design complaint is the speakers. Someone over at Huawei thought it would be a great idea to put the speaker inside the USB-C port. While this is true a lot of the time for many, it sadly is not for me. This is because I use a magnetic charger that uses a little magnet in the USB-C port. I leave this in 24/7 and it causes the speakers to get very muffled and tinny. Not a huge deal to many, but it is worth pointing out. The earpiece gives out a decent sound picture, but it is not as detailed and full as the bottom speaker, making the sound somewhat unbalanced.

Other than that the sim tray is in an odd location at the bottom, where they could have put the speaker. The power button and volume rocker is a the same side of the phone, but I due wish the power button was over the volume rocker instead of under as this causes many unintentional presses. The power button also has a different color than the rest of the phone which is an interesting design choice first seen on the Pixel 2.

The phone feels premium and sturdy in the hand and has a nice heft to it. Both the front and the back of the screen is curved along both sides of the phone creating a sleek look. However this follows with another complaint. The curvature is not a problem in itself, but it quickly becomes one when you realize that the glass is not entirely flush with the metal. There is a small gap on both sides of the metal edge where you can put a fingernail in it. This sadly makes the phone very uncomfortable in the hand due to the gap and the sharp edges digging into your hand. It may not be as noticeable first, but after using it a while, especially in bed, you can really feel it. This may vary on the size of your hands, but I found it very uncomfortable to hold, even for just checking notifications. This is a huge design oversight in my opinion and I am sure this wouldn't have been a problem if the glass was flush with the metal the way it is on smartphones like the Pixel, Galaxy and iPhone.

To sum up this segment I can say that there are some aspects that I really like and some aspects that I like less. There is definitely room for improvement here and I think there are better designed phones on the market.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro shining in the sun highlighting the stunning twilight finish.Photographed by Vegar Henriksen using a Google Pixel XL.
Huawei Mate 20 Pro leaning on a rock.Photographed by Vegar Henriksen using a Google Pixel XL.

Specifications and features

Next segment up is the specifications and the features. This phone is packed to the brim with awesome technology, powerful processing power and innovative features. Let's take a look!

  • Android 9.0 with EMUI 9
  • 128GB storage (or 256GB)
  • 6.39" 1440x3120p OLED screen from LG or BOE
  • 189 g weight
  • 157.8 x 72.3 x 8.6 mm
  • HiSilicon Kirin 980, 7nm and a Mali G76 MP10
  • Corning Gorilla Glass 5
  • IP68 dust and water resistant
  • 6GB RAM (or 8GB)
  • Nano memory slot
  • 4200 mAh
  • 40MP, f/1.8, 27mm wide camera
  • 20MP, f/2.2, 16mm ultrawide camera
  • 8MP, f/2.4, 80mm telephoto camera
  • 24MP, f/2.0, 26mm selfie camera
  • EIS and OIS
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • NFC
  • 40W fast charging
  • 15W wireless charging
  • Reverse wireless charging
  • Facial unlock
  • Optical fingerprint reader under the display
  • Stereo speakers

The 40W fast charging is absolutely insane. It charges at incredible rates and gets you a lot of juice very fast. If you forget to charge your phone overnight you can plug it in for just a little and get a full day of battery.

Reverse wireless charging is a very cool feature that has never been seen before. It allows you to wirelessly charge other wireless devices. Albeit slow, but it definitely works. It is a massive help if your friend is out of juice or you need to charge some of your wireless accessories like earbuds or a smartwatch.

The facial recognition from the iPhone has made its way over to the M20P and it works great. It helps you quickly unlock your phone even in the dark. Secure and effortless unlocking.

The optical fingerprint reader is another very cool feature. It is a fingerprint reader under the OLED display which lights up when you put your finger on it. It is a bit slower than a traditional fingerprint reader, but it works great.

Cameras

The next segment is the most anticipated one; the cameras! The M20P features three rear facing cameras and one front facing camera. Let's take a deep dive into the cameras!

The M20P brings innovation to the smartphone photography game with the best feature from LG phones; the ultrawide camera. I can't stress enough of how much I love a wide angle lens on a smartphone. I find it much more useful than a telephoto lens. Thankfully, the M20P has a telephoto too which with some magic can zoom to 10x. Which is crazy on a smartphone. It also sports a 40MP main shooter. Sadly, you need to be in the 10MP resolution mode in order to switch between the different cameras. This means that everytime you want to take a 40MP photo, you need to go into camera setting and set the resolution to 40MP. It would be much better if it just had its own mode for 40MP shots. I will come back to camera modes in the software segment where I'll cover the camera application and its features.

Without further ado, let's take a look at the sample photos! All the photos below are shot in auto mode and they have not been edited in post.

The ultrawide shooter at 0.6x.Photographed by Vegar Henriksen using a Huawei Mate 20 Pro.
The main shooter at 1x.Photographed by Vegar Henriksen using a Huawei Mate 20 Pro.
The telephoto shooter at 3x.Photographed by Vegar Henriksen using a Huawei Mate 20 Pro.
The telephoto shooter at 5x.Photographed by Vegar Henriksen using a Huawei Mate 20 Pro.
The telephoto shooter at 7x.Photographed by Vegar Henriksen using a Huawei Mate 20 Pro.
The telephoto shooter at 10x.Photographed by Vegar Henriksen using a Huawei Mate 20 Pro.

As you can see the harmony between the three different cameras working together yields in a very versatile focal length range. The 10X zoom is incredibly sharp and I have never seen anything like it on other phones. I am insanely impressed by the software here, and the preview is also super stable due to the electronic image stabilization and the optical image stabilization working together. This is by far the best trio out there and much more useful than a monochrome lens or a depth camera. All of these photos were shot in the 10MP resolution mode.

Now let's take a look at some 40MP photos!

40MP photos from the M20P.Photographed by Vegar Henriksen using a Huawei Mate 20 Pro.

The next bundle of photos are taken using the 10MP resolution mode at various focal lengths. Most of these photos are everyday photos I have taken while using the M20P as my daily driver.

10MP photos from the M20P.Photographed by Vegar Henriksen using a Huawei Mate 20 Pro.

The M20P clearly has a very capable and versatile camera system. I am impressed by what Huawei has accomplished here and these photos turned out great. However, I can see a very clear pattern in these photos. While the hardware is fantastic, the processing on the photos is the biggest shortcoming. It tends to oversharpen, boost the clarity too much, oversaturate and crush shadows. The best example of this is the snow pictures. You can see how much contrast there is in the photos and how the HDR didn't do much to secure a wide dynamic range. This makes the photos look disappointing compared to other smartphones out on the market. While it is a great shooter, it falls a bit short in my opinion.

Since my previous phone was a Google Pixel XL from 2016 I obviously have to compare it to the Mate 20 Pro. The Pixel has been praised for the amazing pictures, and I can absolutely vouch for that. I made a blind comparison video a while ago if you would like to see a direct comparison.

When it comes to video shooting the M20P is no slouch here either. The video stabilization is also very impressive, but the video is capped at 30fps in 4K. The phone produces beautiful high resolution video and being able to record using the ultrawide camera is a huge benefit. Overall a very pleasing video shooter, but I really feel that Huawei should have enabled 60fps video recording.

Setup and software

The next segment I will be covering is the setup and the software on the M20P. To me, the software is the most important part of my phone experience. If I don't like the software then I most likely will not enjoy the phone very much. For the last few years I have been using stock Android on various different phones. It will be interesting to see Huawei's take on Android and how the controversial EMUI stacks up against stock Android.

Let's start with getting the phone setup!

Step 1: Chose language

Step 2: Accept terms of use

Step 3: Chose if you want to import data

Step 4: Connect to a network

Step 5: Checking for updates/info

Step 6: Sign into Google

Step 7: Getting Google account info

Step 8: Accept Google services

Step 9: Initializing Google Assistant

Step 10: Setting up Google Assistant

Step 11: Setting up Huawei ID

Step 12: Chose if you want Huawei cloud backup

Step 13: Setting up device protection

Step 14: Choosing if you want enhanced services

Step 15: Choosing if you want to participate in the user experience improvement program

Step 16: Chose if you want to install popular applications

There are quite a lot of steps, but that is pretty standard on an Android phone. Some of these steps are unnecessary, but not particularly worth picking on. Overall a respectable setup process which asks you exactly what you want and doesn't just enable a lot of services by default. This shows that Huawei wants you to be in control of your personal data.

Next up is the general look and feel of the M20P right out of the box. This means stock applications, stock launcher and stock settings. Here is a gallery highlighting EMUI 9:

The Huawei Home launcher

Page 2 on the Huawei Home launcher

Recents menu

Notification menu and tiles

Settings

Second page of the settings

Google Discover

Phone manager application

As you can see the UI is rounded and follows the Android 9.0 Pie theme. The Ui is very clean, minimalistic and showcases simplicity while also adding a splash of color.

You can see a lot of Huawei apps on the home screen which isn't surprising since Huawei wants you to use them instead of third party apps. The launcher is called "Huawei Home" and sadly offers very little customization.

EMUI 9.0 also features a system wide dark theme, which is fantastic to see:

Dark mode

Dark mode

Next we are going to take a deeper dive into the settings to find out what type of customization EMUI 9 allows and what features it sports. Let's take a look!

About phone

Software update

Screen time

Simple mode

Huawei beam

Huawei share

PrivateSpace

Safe

Remote control

Backup & restore

Phone clone

Huawei pay

Default apps

Security & privacy

App permissions

Text & display size

Sounds

Home screen & wallpaper

Storage

Smart assistance

This is just some of the settings pages in EMUI and it it very pleasing to see that Huawei offers ton of customization and options. I'm sure you can spend an entire day in here tweaking stuff to your liking. This is exactly what Android is made for and Huawei nails this aspect. There are also a ton of features which you can toggle. Choices are awesome!

You can also chose to hide the notch and switch to a gesture based navigation system which is fantastic to see.

You can choose if you want the notch or a black bar along the top

You can also choose if you want to use button navigation or gestures

The gestures are very well done and very similar to Apple gestures, but sadly nowhere near as smooth. This can also be said for animations. There is something weird about the animations on the M20P which makes it feel clunky and not very smooth. They are drawn out and try to hard to be smooth. The best example of this is swiping through notifications which just does not feel responsive at all. You notice the same behavior all over the UI and especially when switching between apps. It feels like the phone is lagging behind your touch input.

Next up is the first party applications. I am glad Huawei asks you for permission in order to use various features such as the camera and the microphone in their apps instead of just having these allowed by default. Let's get cracking.

Themes

Music

Videos

Email

Gallery

Dialer

Messages

Support

Clock

Calendar

Files

Notes

Recommended apps in Huawei Store

Huawei Store

Tips

Calculator

Voice recorder

Flashlight

Compass

Downloads

While there are many first party applications they at least match the rest of the UI. All of the applications follow a clear design trend, but it is weird to see that some of the applications have a dark background.

I honestly don't have much to say about these apps as I haven't really touched them, haha. I'm sure they are great for people that can find a use, but apps like the flashlight and the videos seem unnecessary. There is also a mirror app that I don't even dare showcase as it is plain horrible. It is using the front camera with a ton of beauty effects, filters and strange stuff.

Next we're going to take a quick look at the lockscreen and a feature called "magazine unlock". It is a feature that is on by default and that changes the lockscreen wallpaper every time the screen turns on. This means that you have a fresh look every time you go to use your phone. f you swipe up you can either access quick button like the flashlight, or you can open the camera.

Lock screen

Quick functions

Camera application

Magazine unlock

Now we're finally going to cover the camera application. It is by far the app I have used the most other than third party apps. It is packed to the brim with features, shooting modes and settings. You can see below which modes the M20P sports and I have never touched many of the modes. It's quite overwhelming and I have no idea why every photo needs its own mode. As I talked about earlier I think the 40MP shooting mode should have its own mode instead of "watermark".

When it comes to settings the M20P does not lack in that department either. While I appreciate the assistive grid, timer and GPS tag I really can't vouch for the Master AI. It was the first thing I turned off when I entered the camera application. Master AI analyzes what is in your photo and then applies a different look to the image. Often boosting the saturation out of this world.

A very versatile range from 0.6x to 10x

Video mode features cool AI effect including realtime background blur and a color mode that grays out everything but the main subject

Camera settings

The M20P has many camera modes

Resolution

Moving picture

Translation, shopping and QR code scanner as well as AR

GPS tag

While the camera application may be a tad bloated, this is not something unfamiliar with the M20P. The M20P comes with a bunch of applications pre installed and reminds me of a Windows 10 machine. This is by far the thing I like the least about this phone. I'm glad you can disable and uninstall most of these apps, but you really shouldn't need to uninstall Microsoft Translator or Booking.com. I think you should get an option to install these in the setup of the phone and not just have them be installed by default. Shame on your Huawei...

Let's take a close look at all the apps that comes bundled with the M20P out of the box.

The M20P features a bunch of applications pre installed and in the last image you can see that there is an entire folder on the home screen dedicated to installing and recommended applications. I can't stress how much I dislike this practise. Consumers have already paid a bunch of money to buy your phone, so why include applications to earn even more money? I understand a very few amounts of applications that brings advantages like promotions and trials to users like Spotify and Netflix, but this is just straight out bloatware. This also makes it much easier to disable first party Huawei application since you're already in the disable apps list. Not cool Huawei. Not cool.

Display & battery

Another controversial topic regarding the M20P is the AMOLED display they are using. Huawei uses two different display manufacturers to supply panels; LG and BOE. We've seen multiple times before that LG struggles to make good phone displays and sadly for some reason Huawei didn't get that memo. This means that there were a bunch of users reporting that their screen had a very noticeable green edge. Of course, my unit was the worst one out of the bunch and it looks absolutely hideous. It is also a big shame to see that so many owners were affected, and all of them had the LG display.

Other than the green screen issue the screen is crystal sharp and very high resolution. This is very noticable when reading articles with loads of text. The display also has superb colors and accuracy and makes watching videos a pleasure. Viewing angles are great and the brightness is more than adequate. I'm sure I would have enjoyed the display much more if it didn't have the green tint.

Another thing the Mate 20 Pro is very praised about is the huge battery and the awesome battery life. I can definitely confirm that this is not an exaggeration. During my use the Mate 20 Pro was an absolute beast when it came to having plenty of juice, lasting me multiple days at times. This is also while getting many notifications everyday and using the phone quite a bit. Without a doubt very impressed in this segment!

What I was most impressed about was when I was out in -10C for hours shooting the Northern Lights. I had the Mate 20 Pro in my hands for extended periods of time, listening to music, texting and taking photos. When I got back to the car the battery percentage had barely moved compared to my expectations. The phone was freezing cold and well below freezing temperatures. Very impressed and this is easily the best part of the M20P! Well done Huawei setting the bar high.

This is what my Huawei Mate 20 Pro looks like in a darker room with lower screen brightness. It is super noticeable even in daily use. Ouch!

Huawei Mate 20 Pro with LG display.Photographed by Vegar Henriksen using a Google Pixel XL.

Summary

To sum up my experience with Huawei I can say that it has been a wild ride. I tried my best to use it as a daily driver, but after just a week I had to run back to my trusty Pixel. I've tried giving the M20P multiple chances, but it just doesn't work for me. On paper this phone looks like an absolute beast, but when it comes down to actually using it for me, it really wasn't. Let's break down exactly what I did not like about the Huawei Mate 20 Pro.

The biggest disappointment for me was without a doubt the camera. There was so much talk about it and it was supposed to really deliver incredible results. Sadly, I was pretty let down when I whipped it out to take some pictures. Having used a Google Pixel I'm not unfamiliar with great photo quality so seeing the M20P failing to deliver was a letdown. I must admit that I am a big fan of the camera hardware. The ultrawide lens is a blessing to have and is so much fun to shoot with. Having a 40 megapixel camera in a smartphone is also crazy and the telephoto lens with all that zoom made the camera very versatile. However, Huawei really needs to work on the post processing after taking a photo, because it is definitely here the issues lays. They basically need to sit down and have a serious talk with Leica. Without a doubt a good camera system, but I understand why people say that Pixels takes better photos.

I also had high hopes for the night mode in the camera app, but after I tried shooting Northern Lights with it I was rather disappointed. Night Sight on my Pixel crushed time after time, giving me much better Northern Lights photos. Of course you're not buying a phone to take photos like that, but when there are so much hype regarding the night mode you have to give it a go. The same goes for the light painting mode where I tried to shoot the stars. Leaving the phone still on the ground for like an hour yielded in a pitch black image and not a single star in sight. I'm also bummed that the time lapse mode is limited to 720p.

Another big letdown for me was the display. While it was vivid, bright and high resolution, the green screen issues definitely killed it for me. I'm sure I would have had a much more pleasing viewing experience if I got a BOE display. To top it off the display also scratches very easily. My M20P had more scratches after a week then my Pixel XL had after year. I have no idea how that's possible given I had taken very well care of it during the first week, but I guess that's one of the drawbacks of having an in-display fingerprint reader. Other letdowns were the sharp edges on the phone making it uncomfortable to use, the strange speaker position, the back being a fingerprint magnet and that EMUI is a bloated mess.

The performance from the Kirin chip and the 6GB of ram have been mostly good, but I have sometimes encountered lag/stuttering, dropped frames while doing basic tasks like scrolling through apps and accessing Google Discover. Huawei Home just felt very clunky and janky at times, even though I don't remember the phone ever getting hot. I'm also pleased to say that the camera app has been very quick to launch. To sum up, chip is very capable, but the software is holding it back.

I still think it is a good phone and I appreciate the fingerprint sensor, small bezels, facial recognition, reverse wireless charging and other cool features, but when it gets so many essential things wrong I am not left with a very good experience. It also doesn't hold the price very well on the used market, which is so strange to see given the popularity and rave reviews.

Huawei has a lot of work to do in order to catch up with Samsung and Apple, but it definitely looks like they are on the right path.

Thank you so much for reading my very long, personal and detailed review of the Mate 20 Pro! Do you agree with my opinions or do you think I am a moron? Let me know down below!