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Huawei Mate 20 Pro: Better, faster, wider but is it a Note9 killer?

Huawei Mate 20 Pro First Impressions Malaysia

Since the very first model, the Huawei Mate series is always about having a large screen and a huge battery on a smartphone. In Huawei’s smartphone lineup, the Mate is positioned as a business phone while the P series is focused on photography.

When Huawei announced the P20 Pro with a large 6.2” FullView display and a massive 4,000mAh battery, the line that separates the two series is becoming less clear. Here’s what I think so far of the Huawei Mate 20 Pro.

Mate 20 Pro is the most powerful Huawei smartphone yet

Let’s get the basics out of the way. The Mate 20 Pro is no doubt the smartphone that will compete directly with Apple’s new iPhone XS and the Samsung Galaxy Note9. It gets a newer 7nm Kirin 980 processor which doubles on its AI performance by having two NPU (Neural Processing Unit). Similar to last year’s model, it also comes with 6GB RAM and 128GB of storage. This time, the storage is expandable, but it uses a new NM card format. This is basically a microSD card that’s shrunken into the size of a nano SIM.

In terms of design, the Mate 20 Pro looks and feels like a Samsung Galaxy S9+. You get a premium 3D glass surface for both front and back that’s accompanied with a flush metal frame that’s smooth to touch. The front features a vibrant 6.39” dual-curved OLED display pushing a Quad HD+ resolution of 3120×1440 pixels.

Because of its taller 19.5:9 display aspect ratio and thinner bezels, the Mate 20 Pro is able to fit a larger screen in a similar footprint as a 6.2” Galaxy S9+. Unlike Samsung, there’s a large notch at the top which houses the selfie and 3D depth-sensing cameras. This is different from the standard Mate 20 which features a smaller “teardrop” notch on a larger 6.59” display.

The display which also supports HDR offers excellent viewing angles and images appear vibrant as you would expect from an OLED panel. For those who dislike the notch, you can “disable” it and it basically turns the background colour of the top bar to black. This makes the entire viewable display area look symmetrical like Samsung’s “Infinity Display”.

On the rear glass panel, Huawei has added fine textured lines which they call Hyper Optical Pattern. Not only it’s noticeable but you can actually feel it as you run your fingernails on it. This apparently makes the device less slippery and fingerprint smudges less noticeable.

As usual, Huawei is manipulating a variety of colours to make their handsets stand out. You also get the popular gradient Twilight option as well as Emerald Green and Black. Water resistance is also improved, and it now comes with a higher IP68 rating.

After introducing a pressure-sensitive in-screen fingerprint sensor on the Porsche Design Mate RS, Huawei is finally making this feature available on the Mate 20 Pro. Setting it up is pretty easy and although it isn’t as fast as a typical fingerprint sensor, it worked reliably well. From my experience, I’ve no problems unlocking the device and I think it works better than the vivo NEX.

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To unlock the device even quicker, there’s also 3D Face Unlock. For the fastest setup, you can enable lift to wake and direct unlock to bypass the extra slide up step. It’s so quick that it unlocks the phone before you can use your fingerprint on most occasions.

Triple-camera with ultra-wide-angle lens

Last year’s Mate 10 featured a dual-camera setup with a distinctive stripe and for 2018, Huawei is going for a unique 4-point camera array design that comprises of 3 cameras and an LED flash. This sophisticated camera setup is similar to the P20 Pro but there are some notable differences.

On the Mate 20 Pro, it still gets a large 40MP f/1.8 main camera that utilises a large 1/1.7” image sensor and you can get 3X optical zoom with its 8MP telephoto f/2.4 lens. The telephoto lens has optical image stabilisation while the other two cameras are assisted by AI Stabilisation (AIS).

For the first time since its collaboration with LEICA, Huawei has ditched its monochrome sensor on the Mate 20 series in favour for a 20MP f/2.2 ultra-wide angle shooter. With a 16mm focal length, you can take really wide pictures which is great for scenery and group photos. This is also very handy if you need to take a shot in a very tight spot.

According to Huawei, their past smartphones had included a monochrome sensor to capture more details and this is no longer necessary with the latest advancements in imaging. The Chinese smartphone maker is confident that most of its users would appreciate the switch to an ultra-wide-angle lens for greater versatility.

For black and white enthusiasts, this could be a letdown. However, the Mate 20 Pro still retains a dedicated monochrome camera mode and from what I can tell, it still takes great black and white photos.

1X Normal Wide-Angle

3X Optical Zoom

5X Hybrid Zoom

10X Digital Zoom

The camera experience and performance is just as awesome as the P20 Pro. You still get the crazy good Night Mode that allows you to take sharp handheld long exposure shots with very minimal noise. There’s also hybrid zoom up to 5X without losing much on detail. Although the main camera is 40MP, it shoots 10MP in default as it combines 4 nearby pixels to create a detail-rich image. For video recording, it finally has image stabilisation when you shoot in 4K and you can also shoot videos using the ultra-wide angle lens.

Night Mode – Outdoor

Night Mode – Indoor

One thing that’s worth pointing out is that MasterAI which is essentially its AI-assisted photography feature is now improved to recognise more scenes. With the new Kirin 980 chip, Huawei says that it’s quicker and more accurate than before. Interestingly, this hero feature is turned off by default as Huawei acknowledges that some users might find images taken with AI to be over processed. This can be switched on at any time in the camera settings. In case you missed it, the latest software update for the P20 Pro also has Master AI turned off by default.

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The new ultra-wide angle lens is a feature that I find to be more useful than expected. Not only you can capture a wider view, but it also makes you capture images from a different perspective. As expected, there’s some slight distortion around the edges of the ultra-wide-angle shot but generally, they look pretty good.

0.6X Ultra Wide-Angle

1X Normal Wide-Angle

3X Optical Zoom

5X Hybrid Zoom

My only gripe is that there’s no dedicated wide-angle button on the camera interface. You get a small box which lets you toggle between 1X to 3X to 5X and you’ll need to cycle through those steps before you get the ultra-wide angle option at 0.6X. Alternatively, you could pinch in to switch to wide-angle view or drag the zoom box to the right to skip straight to 0.6X. There’s a slight one-second delay when you switch from telephoto to wide-angle and other than that, the transition was pretty quick.

If you try to take a macro shot, the Mate 20 Pro will automatically switch to the ultra-wide angle lens and you can shoot as close as 2.5cm from your subject. For selfies, you still get a 24MP f/2.2 front camera which still packs a host of 3D lighting and beautification effects from the P20 Pro.

Impressive battery and charging tech

Power users will always demand for better battery life and Huawei has given the Mate 20 Pro a slight 5% bump in capacity to 4,200mAh. It doesn’t sound much but it appears to be more efficient thanks to its new Kirin 980 processor and optimisation of its EMUI 9 software. During my initial usage, I could get 4.5 hours of screen on time and I still have 25% remaining under heavy use which is pretty impressive.

Apart from putting a bigger battery, Huawei has also taken the opportunity to improve on its charging capabilities. The Mate 20 Pro introduces a newer SuperCharge 2.0 charging tech that pushes 40W instead of 22.5W on its previous iteration. 30 minutes on the cable is rated to give you 70% charge and you should be able to get a full charge in an hour. It’s worth mentioning that the new faster 40W SuperCharge isn’t available on the standard Mate 20 or on the bigger Mate 20 X.

Although Huawei had took a long time to include wireless charging on their mainstream devices, the Mate 20 Pro supports a faster 15W Qi wireless charge. That’s higher than iPhone’s 7.5W and Samsung’s 9W fast wireless charging output.

What’s probably the coolest feature is the ability to reverse charge wirelessly. You can use this to top up your friend’s iPhone XS battery by placing their phone at the back of the Mate 20 Pro. Charging the iPhone XS is super easy but it can get really tricky if you try to charge a Samsung device. According to Huawei’s representatives, the charging coils on Samsung devices are much smaller than Apple, so you really need to position the phone correctly. It took me a while to figure out the sweet spot on the Galaxy Note9 and S9+, and you have to be patient as there’s a few seconds delay before it starts to charge wirelessly.

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It’s basically a better P20 Pro

The Mate 20 Pro is the best smartphone from Huawei to date and they have made great leaps when it comes to battery and charging tech. They have taken the great stuff from the P20 Pro and simply made it better. Smartphone photographers will definitely enjoy the versatility of the wide-angle lens and it still has the best night mode and zoom capabilities on a smartphone.

Great specs aside, I wished the Mate 20 Pro came with more productivity features. Don’t get me wrong, this is a powerful device but it probably isn’t enough to sway the hardcore Note users from the Samsung camp. Apart from having the S Pen, the Note9 also has the added advantage of a microSD card slot and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The Mate, after all, is a business-centric device and I expected it to have more features to differentiate itself from the P series. Eventually, the next P model will get the same Kirin 980 processor and likely it will come with a bigger battery.

Perhaps, I’m expecting too much. When the Mate 10 series was announced last year, it managed to break new ground for productivity with its dockless Easy Projection Mode. That made Samsung DeX look very cumbersome and eventually, the Korean smartphone maker had to follow Huawei with a similar dongle solution on the Galaxy Note9. The only new major business-centric feature introduced on the Mate 20 series was an updated Easy Projection mode with wireless display support. Since there are not that many monitors with built-in Miracast support, you’ll probably stick to a USB-C to HDMI dongle.

For those looking for an alternative to Samsung’s S Pen, you might want to look at the larger Mate 20 X. Huawei Malaysia is including a free M-Pen stylus for this 7.2″ behemoth and it will be available for pre-order starting 11 November. The M-Pen also gets 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity like the S Pen which you can use for drawing, writing and quick memo. However, you have to keep the M-Pen separately as there’s no place to stow the stylus on the Mate 20 X.

So, who is the Mate 20 Pro for? We hope to answer that in our full review. The Mate 20 Pro is available in Malaysia starting 27 October and it retails for RM3,599. The more affordable Mate 20 (non-Pro) is priced at RM2,799 and that also comes with 6GB RAM and 128GB of storage.

Alexander Wong