Probably the final flagship we’ll see in 2018, this could be the case of saving the best for last. Huawei isn’t holding back any punches.
It’s time we faced the fact that there’s nothing like too many lenses on a smartphone. Inspired by nature and its hues, the Twilight coloured Huawei Mate 20 Pro tops out at a respectable 3 lenses along with a flash unit to make for a unique square camera module that is bound to become the brand signature for its future flagships. Of course, there are more cameras up front, hidden inside the now customary notch but we shall talk about them later.
Cameras: three cheers
A primary 40MP RGB camera is coupled to a 20MP ultra-wide and an all-new Leica designed 8MP telephoto module. This is a change from the camera module on the P20 Pro too and the dedicated monochrome lens has been swapped for the 20MP ultra-wide angle lens. Coupled with Master AI, the Mate 20 Pro will automatically switch you from one lens to the other depending on the focal length you’re shooting at. There is a slight jump when this happens, not jarring, but enough to tell you that the AI has worked to put you in the right mode. Add HiVision to the mix and you can unlock a whole host of features, some of which are gimmicky and some, really useful. The point and translate being one of my favourites, especially while travelling and looking at a restaurant menu. You could also identify objects, open shopping links directly by pointing the camera at them or scan QR codes.
The photographic quality itself is still ace, most of the times. The P20 Pro that still resides in our office arsenal has served well to cover many big-name events without the need for a professional photography crew. In some cases, we have also printed the results in the magazine without anyone realising that they are smartphone pictures! The Mate 20 Pro certainly tops the P20 in terms of outright performance, but you need to be either patient or hands-on with it. By this, I mean that while the Night Mode is extremely effective in making a dark scene perfectly lit and legible, it keeps the shutter release time between 4-6 seconds, during which you obviously have to remain dead steady and possibly hold your breath for optimum results. There is AI stabilisation but it won’t work miracles. The Aperture mode works like the Portrait mode but over a longer distance so you’re not limited to humans that are within 2ft of the phone. This one led to some very interesting and arty looking pictures that can look straight out of a fashion magazine if you get the lighting right. The generous amount of on-board filters in the native camera app mean that you’ll seldom feel the need to go to Snapseed or Photoshop Express.
One of the new and credible improvements is the macro mode that allows you to get as close as 2.5cm to the subject without losing focus for some great detail. Move away and the triple lenses will shift amongst themselves to fit the entire Kapoor khandan in a single frame too!
While exposure calibration isn’t as good as the iPhone or Pixel, the 40MP resolution means that is plenty of detail so you can edit the picture to your heart’s content and won’t lose much detail. In fact, increasing sharpness just a smidge and with good, evening lighting, the Mate 20 Pro clearly outperformed the iPhone XS Max in terms of sheer detail.
Possibly the biggest poster boy for the Kirin 980 SoC is the AI colour mode in video recording where only the subject is kept in colour while the background is in B&W. All this happens in real time at 30fps which really requires serious processing horsepower and the Mate 20 Pro delivers. It keeps the subject locked in focus, making it ideal to single out your loved ones on a stage performance, for example.
The 24MP selfie cam isn’t as impressive but simply adequate. Compared to the Pixel 3, it lacks detail and smoothens the skin way too much, even with the beauty filter set to its lowest setting. Portrait selfies are much better, without the artificial smoothening and improved detail too. But you’ll have to make sure your tap on the screen at different points to achieve correct exposure values. By no means is this is a poor selfie cam but compared to the rear cam, it simply can’t match up in terms of capability.
Design: The best Mate so far
While the triple lens system designed in conjunction with German legend Leica is the showstopper here, the rest of the spec sheet looks more akin to a 2019 flagship too! Huawei has thrown everything at the Mate 20 Pro and claims that this device has been years in development. Pick it up and the initial reactions are positive enough to believe their claim. The curved glass drops off the edges, similar to a Galaxy S9 while the unusually tall screen with an iPhone-ish notch is as sharp as they come. The chin is kept to a bare minimum, thanks to the in-screen fingerprint reader that frees up more space for screen rather than bezel. Keeping the design smooth and without any interruptions was key to achieving Huawei’s goal of nature-inspired industrial design and UI. The headphone jack has been sacrificed in order to achieve the svelte dimensions. So much so that even the speakers are invisible, concealed within the USB-C charging port. While this means that audio quality isn’t as crisp, loud or detailed as some of its rivals, it gets the job done, even while you have it plugged in to a charger!
Designed around the Kirin 980 chipset that uses the latest and greatest 7nm process, the Mate 20 Pro gets a Mali-G76 GPU for gaming and AI along with the octa-core CPU that juggles between pairs of cores to handle specific tasks, utilizing every transistor right down to its microscopic bone. The effects of this are apparent in various aspects of the phone, from game loading times to transitions and even power management. The different cores are assigned various tasks that are best suited to their clock speed, optimising all the processing power of the Kirin 980.
The super-bright 6.3in, HDR-10 compatible AMOLED screen can be tweaked for cool, warm and every tone in between. By default, it appears too cool but play around with the colour temperature, eye comfort and natural tone modes and you will soon be looking at one of the best screens on a phone this year. Design wise, it looks like the best bits from the P20 Pro were fused with the Samsung Galaxy S9 and while the extreme edges are prone to refracting, the overall accuracy and immersiveness is amazing. The 19.5:9 aspect ratio could be considered extreme but it also shoots video in 21:9 format so if you’re one of the seven people in the world who owns a Philips ultra wide telly, your jaw will meet the floor rapidly.
Though the notch can be hidden, the space around it is well used for info. In full screen mode, the gestures for app switching, home screen access and killing apps work just like on iOS, making the shift to Android a no-brainer for an iPhone user. Coming in hot after using the iPhone XS Max as my daily driver for the last three months, it didn’t even feel like using Android, thanks to Huawei’s EMUI 9.0 which does add bloatware but for the most part, makes the overall experience a pleasant one. Besides emulating a lot of gestures from iOS, Huawei has thrown in a few originals as well. Extended screenshot, selective area, screen recording, all can be activated by knuckles. Yes, you read that right. While it doesn’t come naturally, contrary to the nature-inspired idea, it can make quick work of the oft-used features like scrolling screenshot.
Though it boasts of 6GB RAM, there are certain gestures and actions that feel and are visibly slower than on an iPhone. Like scrolling through the photo gallery, for instance, rapid left/right scrolls result in a jerky motion that doesn’t feel completely polished. Elsewhere too, in a head to head, PUBG took a whole 7 seconds longer to load compared to the iPhone XS Max. So, it might still not be the leader of the 7nm SoC, but it is a step in the right direction.
In a first of its kind, the massive 4200mAh battery of the Mate 20 can share its power with other Qi devices, wirelessly! Just place the hungry device back-to-back and see Huawei save the day while lasting more than a day by itself. It’s not the fastest way to juice up your dying device but it can save the day, potentially. It also supports 40W fast charging that can bump you up by 70% in 30 minutes and Huawei has been kind enough to include the charger in the box. Even wireless fast charging is supported and the optional 15W accessory will be out soon. Battery life for a screen this big and a device this slim is commendable, lasting an entire day with juice left in the tank. Again, the Kirin 980 comes to the rescue with its efficient core management and conserving power wherever possible.
Verdict: Big bang for big bucks
With a pleasing design that takes the best bits of all other flagships, the Mate 20 Pro is a towering achievement, undeniably. Huawei’s bet to pack in every conceivable feature (including an IR blaster) seems to have paid off. The 538ppi 2K screen offers fantastic resolution and pop, battery life is industry leading, the IP68 rating will soon be reinforced by a snorkelling kit and the camera is one of the best of any smartphone in the world right now. It may not be always in focus like a Pixel 3 or get the exposure just right like the iPhone XS, but you can create some real magic with its triple lens if you get it right. All this for around ₹70,000 seems like a definite bargain to our ears and makes this a winner!
Right from its design all the way to its deeply integrated AI-driven camera features, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro impresses with the kind of detail it displays. It’s not perfect, with an occasional stutter and EMUI bloatware but where it does shine is the ease of use, photo quality when used right and the incredible battery life.