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The Mate 20 Pro underwater mode is a nice idea, but it definitely needs improving
One of the lesser known Huawei Mate 20 Pro features is an underwater mode for the camera app, allowing you, in theory, to easily take snaps underwater (who would’ve guessed?!).
Does it actually work in practice though? Well, we took it to the beach to put it through the paces. And while it’s certainly a handy feature in the water, Huawei still has plenty of improvements to make.
What to know first?
Switch to the mode and the camera app will pop up with a warning, imploring you to use an official underwater case when going into water. There’s just one problem though: the official case isn’t widely available outside of China just yet. Never fear though, because I’ve got a generic waterproof smartphone pouch and the Mate 20 Pro fits fine (save for the navigation keys being cut off).
Once the mode is enabled, you’ll find that the volume-up button controls photos (tap for a photo, hold for a burst), while the volume-down button controls videos. Hit the volume-down button and you’ll start recording a video, but you can also press the volume-up button to pause the video (or hit volume-down again to end it completely).
To exit this mode, you need to press and hold a specific area below the viewfinder for roughly a second. It’s the area marked “hold to exit” in case you’re not sure.
A few improvements to make
I checked the phone after about 30 seconds of swimming, only to find that I was staring at the settings menu. Yes, the water interfered with the screen and caused it to exit underwater mode. Hisense’s rugged phones have an underwater mode too, and the firm’s approach to exiting the mode is to double-tap the power button. CAT’s phones also feature another way to disable underwater mode, requiring users to tap the screen and drag a padlock from one end to the other to deactivate the mode. Either route seems like better than the Mate 20 Pro’s solution.
A reliable way to stay in underwater mode isn’t the only area of improvement for Huawei. The company doesn’t allow you to use the telephoto or wide angle camera in this mode.
It’s unclear why the company decided against using other cameras in this mode. It could potentially be due to streamlining, as it would have to be another feature that gets mapped to a physical button. Another possibility is that Huawei simply felt the quality from these cameras wasn’t good enough when going underwater. Still, you can’t always see the viewfinder well enough when underwater, so switching to the wide angle camera would’ve made life easier.
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Another downside is that you can’t switch to the selfie camera in this mode, forcing you to blindly fit your head into the main camera if you’d like to take selfies. This wouldn’t be much of a problem if the wide-angle camera was available, but here we are…
We would’ve also liked to see options for video recording quality too. The phone records in 1080p in this mode, but you can’t switch to 4K or even 1080p/60fps instead. It’s unclear if there’s any significant video stabilization taking place underwater either, so expect shaky footage if you’re recording in the ocean without specialized equipment.
Take the phone to the swimming pool, however, and things are a little better. The lack of waves and currents, combined with (hopefully) clear water means that you should be able to get relatively clear snaps and decent video footage. You don’t really need an underwater case either, owing to the lack of salt water and the phone’s IP68 rating. But, again, the inability to use the front-facing camera or the other cameras is still mighty annoying in this situation. It doesn’t mean you can’t get gorgeous selfies (or awkward selfies in my case).
This mode isn’t going to be a phone seller as it is right now, especially when it only offers basic functionality and doesn’t let you use more than one camera. It doesn’t help that Huawei is dragging its feet in bringing the official underwater case to more markets. But with a few improvements and tweaks, it might be another neat trick in Huawei’s repertoire, joining features like light painting and that slick night mode. As it is now though, it’s a mildly useful feature in need of more attention in the future.