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4 things my 3-year-old phone does better than some 2021 flagships

From flexible cameras to wired charging, here are a few things that a 2018-era flagship still does better.

Published onJuly 25, 2021

The HUAWEI Mate 20 Pro showing the home screen — my old phone that's better than some new flagships

It’s hard to argue that modern flagship smartphones aren’t impressive pieces of kit. Between the cutting-edge silicon, high refresh rate screens, ultra-high resolution cameras, and sleek designs, there’s definitely a lot to like.

In saying so, some flagship phones still lag behind much older devices in certain areas. Don’t believe me? Well, I’m still rocking a 2018-era HUAWEI Mate 20 Pro, and here are a few things this phone does better than some current flagship devices.

What my older flagship does better than some modern flagship phones

1. Fast wired charging

The HUAWEI Mate 20 Pro 40 watt supercharge charger in hand

The Mate 20 Pro was the first HUAWEI phone to offer 40W wired charging, promising top-up times of roughly an hour and 70% capacity in 30 minutes. That doesn’t sound amazing compared to new devices like the OnePlus 9 series, OPPO Find X3 Pro, and Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, which all top-up in a faster time.

However, we’ve seen loads of flagship phones offering slower charging speeds and times in the last 12 months. Devices like the Samsung Galaxy S21 series, Google Pixel 5, iPhone 12 Pro, ASUS Zenfone 8, and Sony Xperia 1 III all take a longer time to hit 100%.

Slower charging speeds do usually result in better battery health, but we’ve seen plenty of OEMs offer fast charging as well as smart charging features to slow down battery degradation. And the ability to significantly charge your phone at a moment’s notice (e.g. just before going out) is one of my favorite things about fast-charging devices.

2. Camera flexibility

My old phone that's better than some new flagships — the HUAWEI Mate 20 Pro rear view showing the camera housing

LG and HUAWEI were the first two companies to offer a truly flexible triple rear camera system, delivering the LG V40 and HUAWEI Mate 20 Pro respectively. This allows for standard shots, ultra-wide snaps, and telephoto images, making for a versatile platform.

It’s 2021, and while we have seen many flagship phones offer this kind of setup or even better, there are also plenty of high-end devices lagging behind in this regard. For example, the Pixel 5 and iPhone 12 both use dual-camera systems (ditching the telephoto camera), while the Xiaomi Mi 11 and OnePlus 9 have more cameras but lack telephoto shooters.

The 2018-era Mate 20 Pro offers a more flexible camera system than some modern flagship phones.

Some devices like the Mate 20 Pro also sport more flexible ultra-wide cameras thanks to the inclusion of autofocus. Not only does autofocus open the door for higher-quality shots in general, but it also enables macro modes that are much better than most dedicated macro cameras. We have seen these versatile ultra-wide cameras come to more devices (e.g. Galaxy S21, OnePlus 9 series), but the likes of Google, realme, and Apple haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet.

3. Water resistance and wireless charging

The HUAWEI mate 20 Pro in Twilight in hand with water on the back

Two hallmarks of premium flagships tend to be water resistance and wireless charging, and we’ve seen these features available on devices from LG, OPPO, Samsung, Sony, Google, and Apple for years now. My 2018-era daily driver is no different in supporting both features, being the first to offer reverse wireless charging too.

But there are still a variety of flagship phones on the market that lack wireless charging and/or proper water resistance. Some examples of phones lacking one or both features include the Xiaomi Mi 11, vivo X60 Pro Plus, Sony Xperia 5 III, ASUS Zenfone 8,  and the unlocked OnePlus 9.

There are a couple of reasons why manufacturers might not want to adopt these features, namely the desire to keep costs down or design considerations. In the case of the former, wireless charging and water resistance are often missing from affordable flagships. In the case of the latter, manufacturers might ditch wireless charging for a bigger battery or thinner design (aside from eclectic form factors like foldables).

4. Face unlock or fingerprint unlock? Why choose?

My old phone that's better than a current flagship — the HUAWEI Mate 20 Pro notch focus on AA webpage

The Mate 20 Pro was part of the first wave of phones to offer an in-display fingerprint sensor back in 2018, and the scanner isn’t actually too bad. It’s not the fastest to unlock, it does have read errors now and again, and the actual scanning area is pretty small. But it’s solid enough and not so slow or error-prone as to be annoying.

Nowadays, almost every flagship smartphone ships with an in-display fingerprint sensor and almost all are faster and/or more accurate than my current device. But the Mate 20 Pro still has another form of authentication in 3D face unlock.

My three-year-old phone still stands out from modern devices thanks to the inclusion of fingerprint scanning and 3D face unlock.

Face unlock like this has become less important thanks to COVID-19 and mask-wearing, but it’s still a generally fast and reliable form of authentication that comes in handy at times (e.g. if you have dirty hands). In fact, HUAWEI’s latest Mate phones are among the only modern phones supporting both fingerprint scanning and 3D face unlock.

Where this old flagship lags behind new devices

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G rear view showing the camera module, lying on a pink rug.
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

In saying so, there are a few key areas where my three-year-old flagship phone doesn’t hold up well compared to modern high-end devices. The first and most obvious area is performance, as the Kirin 980 chipset is still a good performer but lags behind when it comes to both benchmarks and tasks like emulation. Today’s chipsets like the Snapdragon 888, Exynos 2100, and even mid-range chipsets like the Snapdragon 780G all deliver more power overall.

Another area where the phone hasn’t held up as well is cellular connectivity, as 5G has quickly become a given on today’s high-end devices. 4G LTE is still fast enough for my needs when I step outside and 5G coverage is non-existent in my area, but it does mean the Mate 20 Pro isn’t future-proof in this sense.

More reading: The best 2020 phones still worth buying in 2021

Then there’s the question of software updates, as the phone is still stuck on Android 10, despite an upgrade to the EMUI 11 skin. This might be a major issue if I hold onto the phone for a few more years, as apps will target progressively newer versions of Android.

Finally, there are a variety of small features that are missing or in need of improvement on my older device, such as the in-display fingerprint sensor (2019-era devices like the Mi 9T Pro are faster), the lack of a high refresh rate, and the use of NM storage instead of microSD cards.

Are there any other ways that your much older smartphone is better than some of today’s flagship devices? Let us know via the comments section!

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