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Three months with the HUAWEI Mate 20 Pro: Still worth the money
We were pretty happy with the phone in our original HUAWEI Mate 20 Pro review back in October, but how does the phone hold up to real-world usage? Well, I ended up buying one shortly after release, and here are my thoughts after using it since then as my daily driver.
For this real life HUAWEI Mate 20 Pro review I used the single-SIM (LYA-L09) model in Twilight running on the Cell C network in South Africa, packing 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. It’s running EMUI 9.0.0 with build number 18.104.22.168 (C316E11R1P16) and the December 2018 security patch.
The Mate 20 Pro’s overall design is still aesthetically pleasing after all this time — at least when it’s out of my flip case. Between the curved OLED screen, relatively thin form factor, and the Twilight glass back, it certainly feels like a premium device. I would’ve loved to see the hyper-optical pattern back here, with its neat texture and oleophobic nature. Speaking of oleophobic, the Twilight back definitely attracts prints, but keeping it in a cover is a simple solution.
Since I started using the Mate 20 Pro, I’ve dropped it a couple of times, but always while using the flip case. Thankfully, the phone doesn’t look worse for wear for the most part. I’ve also taken the phone into the pool several times for a few selfies (don’t judge) and it hasn’t shown any signs of trouble. So it doesn’t seem fragile if you take the proper precautions.
Durability is pretty solid then, but I have noticed that a super-slim rubber lining of sorts (between the display and bottom frame) has appeared and received some wear in the bottom left corner. I’m not sure if this lining is related to water resistance, the display, or something else, but it’s definitely odd. For what it’s worth, I only noticed it when shooting the linked photo.
The Mate 20 Pro’s notch was one of the dominant design decisions back at launch, and it felt out of date even back then. I’ve hidden the notch since I received the phone, and the only time I see it briefly is when swiping down the notification shade. However, the addition of 3D face unlock means even a “removable” notch is a small price to pay. I enabled the notch at the time of writing this Mate 20 Pro review for the fun of it, and all I can say is I’m sure glad I can hide it.
Aside from the notch, I also shared the feelings of our own Bogdan Petrovan in his original Mate 20 Pro review on the power and volume keys being too close together. My initial time with the phone saw me accidentally taking screenshots (or hitting volume) when I meant to press the power button. Fortunately, I’ve adapted pretty well since then, and haven’t given it a second thought.
Something I didn’t get used to, however, is the lack of a 3.5mm port. I would usually switch between listening to stuff on my work laptop and the phone, but the constant dongle juggling made me think it was only a matter of time until I lost the adapter. Since USB-C is a mess right now, you’re better off going with Bluetooth or using 3.5mm-equipped headphones via the dongle.
Software and performance
Performance is one of the biggest factors to look out for in a longer term review, as the phone’s storage tends to get clogged up. The Mate 20 Pro still feels just as fast as the day I received it. Whether you’re flicking through home screens, hitting the home button during a game, or scrolling in Chrome, I never really saw any jerkiness or slowdown. The same applies to games, as Hitman Sniper, Nascar Heat Mobile, and PUBG all turned in smooth performance.
This speed extends to 3D Face Unlock, which is still extremely fast and accurate in almost every condition. Just make sure to toggle the setting that requires eye contact to unlock the phone, so people can’t unlock your phone by pointing it at your face while you sleep.
EMUI itself tends to get a lot of hate from Android enthusiasts due to HUAWEI practically tweaking everything. It’s been toned down lately, and the Mate 20 Pro’s skin isn’t nearly as offensive it used to be. Between the app drawer toggle and Google feed, you should actually feel at home if you’re coming from a Western brand. It’s got handy features like scrolling screenshots, app and file locker integration, screen recording, a dark theme, and a Samsung-style password vault.
The HUAWEI Mate 20 Pro has certainly enjoyed software support too. I’ve received at least two significant updates since launch. The first update delivered AI video filters and AI Zoom, while the second offered improved photo quality and biometric authentication. My unit still doesn’t have updates like the one with a dedicated super macro mode, but I hope my network catches up soon.
I occasionally noticed Chrome reloading after a while, as I juggled about half a dozen apps in the recents menu. It never occurred often enough to be an inconvenience, let alone a major annoyance, but it’s not something a power user would expect from a flagship with 6GB to 10GB RAM.
What’s more annoying is face unlock seems to occasionally have a weird glitch where it takes me to the lock screen, even when I’ve set it to immediately unlock the phone. It doesn’t happen even 10 percent of the time — maybe once a week . Hopefully HUAWEI knows about this, because I feel like I’m questioning my sanity trying to reproduce the issue.
HUAWEI has tweaked the behavior of the recents menu, and it takes some getting used to.
EMUI also has a weird quirk when multitasking. Hitting the recents button doesn’t only minimize the app you’re currently in. Instead, the current app gets minimized and the phone automatically puts the previously used app in the center (rather than the current one). If you’re in the gallery, then launch WhatsApp, then hit the recents key, the recents menu will put the gallery front and center. It was very jarring at first, but it’s interesting and I’ve mostly gotten used to it. However, the lack of a toggle for this behavior is disappointing, especially if you’re coming from, say, any other Android phone.
One of the biggest reasons to get the Mate 20 Pro is its versatile triple rear camera setup, which offers a camera for each situation. Being able to go wide or get a closer shot is certainly extremely handy.
Photos taken by the Mate 20 Pro deliver plenty of dynamic range, vibrant colors and a healthy level of resolvable detail in most conditions. Use the standard camera at night and you’ll get pleasant results — even before you switch to the light-sucking Night mode.
The other two rear cameras are pretty great during the day as well. The phone’s zoom capabilities allows you to get Instagram-worthy shots you might not get on other phones, thanks to the 3x zoom factor (as opposed two 2x on standard telephoto cameras) and the 5x hybrid zoom option. Meanwhile, the ultra wide angle rear camera can deliver some great, vibrant daytime results too. You’ll want this if you’re a keen traveller (or if you want an eye-catching perspective in general).
Switching to the front, the HUAWEI Mate 20 Pro’s selfie camera often surprised me with its dynamic range. The so-called AI HDR feature meant it coped very well in backlit scenes like sunsets.
Aside from the aforementioned dynamic range, the HUAWEI Mate 20 Pro’s 24MP front-facing camera isn’t particularly great. Images can be pretty washed out during the day, and a healthy level of detail isn’t always guaranteed. You can get some bright shots at night, but I often found low-light selfies lacked detail (being blurry or having that smeared effect). You can still get decent results when the sun goes down, but you’ll need to take plenty of shots to get that one keeper. The Pixel 3 series this is not.
Moving to the rear, the standard camera is an excellent performer when the light goes down, but ultra-wide and zoomed in results are noticeably worse. This isn’t unexpected, but you will definitely see noise and a lack of detail when zooming in or going wide at night. That isn’t to say that you can’t get some pleasant shots in these situations, but you’ll want to take a shot with the standard camera too. Trying night mode with these cameras will usually deliver a brighter shot, but also reveals a ton of noise.
Sticking with the rear, Huawei’s underwater mode is a neat but flawed addition. The mode lets users take photos in a pool with your volume keys, and locks down the screen to prevent water-based interference. It doesn’t do a perfect job keeping the screen locked, but a bigger problem is the inability to use the other cameras or tweak video quality settings. It works well enough for a day in the pool nonetheless, but it could’ve been so much more.
The final minor complaint I have with HUAWEI’s camera is its Master AI mode. It’s generally reliable and delivers some helpful prompts, but it’s high time the company gives us more granular control over the mode. The ability to toggle what the mode suggests, as opposed to simply turning it off, would go a long way to catering to photographers of every skill level.
The company added an AI Zoom feature for video after launch, and it didn’t take long for me to realize it’s pretty pointless. I used it to film friends at a skate park and it often lost track of the subject. This seems to be a distance-related issue, as it often lost the subject when they moved away from the camera. Still, you’re better off controlling the zoom yourself — the automatic option can be more trouble than it’s worth.
HUAWEI also promised 3D scanning capabilities after launch, via a 3D Live Maker app. Unfortunately, it’s awful beyond words. The app calls for you to place the object on a table and then hold the phone in landscape orientation, at 45 degrees above the object. Once you’ve managed to convince the app everything is in order, you can click the button to start scanning. Unfortunately, the scanning process is incredibly buggy (with constant flickering), and the progress bar doesn’t seem to progress very far. I’ve given it a go several times and still haven’t finished a single scan.
In-display fingerprint sensor
Huawei’s latest take on in-display scanning is definitely faster than other devices I’ve tried (namely the Mate RS and vivo V11 Pro). It’s also quite accurate once you get a hang of the sensor’s location. I seldom had issues with my fingers going unrecognized.
The in-display fingerprint sensor is clearly less convenient than the traditional rear scanners of earlier devices. Between the lack of tactile feedback, the small focus area and the slightly slow nature, it’s definitely still early days for the tech.
I’ve largely grown accustomed to it, much like how I got used to the Galaxy S8‘s weird scanner placement. If you gave me a Mate 20 Pro with a standard rear scanner (the Mate 20 X, I guess?), I’d go after that in a jiffy.
Bogdan felt that the battery experience was the real selling point in his HUAWEI Mate 20 Pro review, and I agree. At 4,200mAh, the Mate 20 Pro beats most of its arch-rivals in sheer capacity.
The HUAWEI Mate 20 Pro generally has no problem lasting for a day and a half.
Real-world endurance is to be commended as well, as six hours of screen-on time is usually the bare minimum I’d get (with auto-brightness and a dark theme). However, more conservative usage (i.e. less YouTube and gaming) generally put me past the seven hour barrier. To give you a better idea of typical usage, the phone generally has no problem lasting a day and a half. In fact, I often got away with charging my device mid-morning as I never doubted that it would be off come alarm-time.
Speaking of charging, the addition of 40 watt fast charging fills up the battery from empty in just over an hour. You can reach 70 percent juice in just 30 minutes. I never really felt anxious about needing to leave the house soon and with the battery at 40 or 50 percent.
HUAWEI decided to use the USB-C port for one of the speakers, pumping out audio from this port. It’s a pretty interesting move, but muffles audio when charging. The earpiece speaker does a great job picking up the slack, but you’ll definitely notice the reduced volume if you’re listening to something soft to begin with.
Reverse wireless charging is a neat feature, but its slow charging speed means quickly topping up a friend’s phone isn’t really an option. You’re better off using this for earbuds with a wireless charging case, and your friend is better off charging his phone via a wired charger for five or ten minutes.
Am I happy with my HUAWEI Mate 20 Pro?
The HUAWEI Mate 20 Pro certainly brings a stacked list of features. It’s one of the better no-compromise smartphones out there. Between the flexible camera setup, ridiculously fast charging, long endurance, great face unlock, and powerful chipset, the phone definitely held up well after three months. It’s even received several significant updates since then, showing HUAWEI isn’t content to leave it in the lurch.
Several annoyances from our original review remain, like the inconsistent image quality (especially with the selfie camera and for close-up shots), and the lack of a 3.5mm headphone port. The company could also give us more granular control of the Master AI mode, as personalized AI camera recommendations seem like an overdue next step.
Personally, after using it as a daily driver and paying for it with my own money, I still think the Mate 20 Pro is an incredible phone. In fact, the HUAWEI Mate 20 Pro’s biggest problem after three months is that the next HUAWEI flagship is set for a reveal soon. The P20 Pro delivered a superior camera experience and offering the same battery size as the Mate 10 Pro. If you like the idea of the HUAWEI Mate 20 Pro, it wouldn’t hurt to wait six weeks or so to see what else HUAWEI has up its sleeve.
For everyone else, however, it’s tough to have buyer’s remorse when you’ve got a versatile phone that doesn’t need an overnight charge.
And that’s a wrap. Thoughts on this long-term HUAWEI Mate 20 Pro review? Let us know in the comments!