Hands on with the Huawei Mate 20 Pro
I was lucky enough to get an invite to the launch event for the Mate 20 series back in October and have been using the Mate 20 Pro as a daily driver since! It is an incredibly powerful device with some truly innovative features in a market that has felt like it's plateaued a little in recent years.
That said, and no doubt due a little to early adopter syndrome, there are a few pain points with EMUI I've found which I hope to see addressed.
Lets get started.
The Mate series is no slouch when it comes to hardware generally, and the new Mate 20 Pro is no exception. The Pro naturally benefits with a spec bump vs the Mate 20, however they're not a million miles away in terms of core hardware.
With a 6.39" quad HD curved display, it's a welcome upgrade over the full HD screens of previous iterations. The display curves gently into the sides of the device, which Huawei claim are the thinnest on any device on the market today.
Under that display is the first mainstream implementation of an in-display fingerprint sensor. Allowing for unlocking without picking the device up (when the sensor is on the rear) or taking up valuable screen real-estate (when the sensor is below the screen), in-display sensors offer the best of both worlds with one caveat - it’s not quite as fast at unlocking vs a traditional sensor; not to the point of frustration by any means, but you may notice it if not when unlocking, definitely when registering your fingerprints.
Thankfully and unique to the Mate 20 Pro (vs the others in the series) above the display, or.. cut into the display is a selection of front-facing cameras, in another stated first Huawei also include a 3D depth sensing camera system into the array; a good deal more secure than the standard 2D camera recognition systems most Android devices ship with. The device unlocks incredibly quickly with this enabled, and with the option to skip swiping the lockscreen after a successful unlock, can be on the home screen literally in the blink of an eye.
There are reports online that even with the 30,000 reference points it checks for it can be fooled, so do take that into consideration.
You pay for this functionality with a much larger notch than is present on the Mate 20 and Mate 20 X, but it’s still nowhere near the landing strip the Pixel 3 ships with.
Powering the display is the Kirin 980, which is the first 7nm chip of its kind in a phone today, delivering both improved speed and efficiency (having our cake and eating it, too!) and works in tandem with a sizeable 6GB RAM.
There's a 4200mAh battery on board, and I'd just like to take a moment to appreciate this; with a sea of devices trying not even making an effort to get close to the 4K club, Huawei are setting an example everyone should be following. I can easily get more than a day of usage out of the device with no attempt to take advantage of the various battery saving capabilities both in Android and those Huawei have added into EMUI.
With wireless charging, topping up the battery is reasonably quick and convenient, at 15w (compared to the 7.5w of the iPhone) it’s nothing to be sniffed at, though doesn't come close to the speed when connecting the device to the included 40w charger - admittedly it did look more impressive at the event however in reality it's not bad at all.
The real innovation on the wireless charging front is the Mate 20 Pro's ability to reverse wireless charge, offering a much-needed boost to devices running out of juice with no ability to get to an outlet. The feature needs to be enabled and will disable after a period of inactivity automatically; it may not be the fastest but definitely helps in a jam.
Stereo speakers are onboard, via the top front-facing speaker and, interestingly, out of the USB C port on the bottom (!). Sound is decent, clear, gets certainly loud enough for me and I appreciate a stereo setup even if it isn’t front-facing.
Generally the device looks stunning, with a focus on symmetry and the twilight colour option seen on previous Huawei devices, it’s clear a substantial amount of time has been invested into trying to make the Mate series the best looking on the market.
This is the Mate 20, with a fingerprint reader on the back
The Mate 20 series ships with a triple camera system on the back, with the 40MP main shooter sat alongside an 8MP telephoto and 20MP ultrawide offerings.
The photos are good.
I find myself mostly impressed with the AI, choosing for me the best mode to take a photo with nothing more than pointing at the target I want to shoot. I adore the night mode in particular as it really brings photos in poor light to life, but I’ve made good use of the macro mode and ultrawide modes also.
Take a gander at some of the results:
More photos can be found in my album, here.
EMUI is an experience.
Being a big fan of vanilla Android (think Pixel, Android One, Motorola, etc) coming to a UI that still today looks influenced by iOS is not overly appealing to me. This extends to their bloatware and unnecessary fiddling of the underlying Android OS.
With that said, they do make an effort to offer a launcher experience closer to what you’d expect on an Android device by permitting the app drawer, and when I pick up a Huawei device it’s usually the first thing I do (before ultimately switching to a 3rd party launcher like Nova or Action, anyway).
Outside of first impressions the experience is familiar Android so it’s certainly not a learning curve, and they do add a bit of useful functionality here and there also, such as:
Screenshot a full page:
Hide the notch:
Though more and more I find usability challenges more than useful additions, for example:
- On the lockscreen normally Android devices allow for the notification bar to be swiped down. It’s not possible on the Mate 20 Pro which means I need to fully unlock the device to be able to glance at notifications (since the lockscreen only shows a couple at any one time)
- Huawei ditch Pie’s pill gesture navigation in favour of their own entirely gesture-based nav (no buttons to speak of) but the gestures don’t always work consistently (I can’t swipe back out of the app drawer, only swipe to go home), and the rotation button added in Pie is full-stop not supported for whatever strange reason.
- Other Pie features like slices, suggestions and for enterprise, the work/personal app drawer split are seemingly just not present.
- When switching between apps, if I don’t bring the app I want centre-screen (as in, try to tap an app preview on either edge of the screen) the task switcher closes without switching.
- Then there’s the whole security issue of enabling unknown sources by default for a number of applications out of the box…
I don’t understand why OEMs actively remove features of the OS, or swap them for custom implementations that don’t work as well; it offers a poor UX and really only leads to confusion and frustration when things don’t work as expected.
With such incredible hardware I really long for an Android One edition of basically any Huawei device on the market right now, but particularly the Mate series would be a dream running vanilla Android.
Huawei are a bit of a mixed bag with enterprise support, and it again ties in to the fact they customise Android so heavily. The Mate 20 Pro does have some niggles at the moment which I’m keeping a list of, but in terms of raw Android Enterprise provisioning and standard management capabilities, this device is probably the best-supported Huawei I’ve tested out of the box.
The Mate series is also Android Enterprise Recommended so has passed Google’s validation. Whether you’re an enterprise decision-maker or a regular consumer, this is a very good thing; as an AER device it is validated to support both Pie (the version it shipped with) and one letter upgrade to Android 10 next year.
What you also get are 3 years minimum of guaranteed security updates (those monthly patches that address vulnerabilities and issues on the device) within 90 days of release from Google, at least 8 hours of battery life and, should you ever as a consumer wish to take it into work as a BYO device, you can know it’ll have full Android Enterprise support.
If being considered for deployment at scale I’d certainly first test them within the environment they’re being deployed into before signing any contract, however Huawei should be a relatively safe choice.
Oh, and the issue with unknown sources is not a problem when provisioned as a fully managed (work-managed) device, so no need to worry about that.
The Mate 20 Pro is an incredible piece of hardware let down currently by a software experience that needs a bit more refinement and QA. Still, it’s very much a device to beat in many ways, and introduces some real innovations.
The camera is fantastic, the AI capabilities are genuinely very impressive, and I’d be surprised if it’s not considered one of the best on the market.
The Mate 20 Pro is available now already from many of the usual places on the high street, as well as Amazon and other online retailers.