Friday 14 December 2018

Tech Review: Huawei Mate 20 Pro

€899 from Vodafone or Three; €1,049 unlocked

Huawei Mate 20 Pro
Huawei Mate 20 Pro
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

What is the ultimate high-end work phone? Indeed, what is a work phone these days?

Generally speaking, what is prized is speed, fluency, unusually good battery life and a great display.

There are a few worthy candidates out there.

Samsung has had a premium foothold for years because of its 'Note' series, marrying big screens, excellent battery life and lots of engine-power.

Apple soon caught up with its large-screen iPhones. But there's no question that the most impressive newcomer is Huawei. In its Mate 20 Pro, the Chinese firm has gone all-out on design, power and features. As a bonus, it has arguably the most impressive and complete camera system available on a phone at the moment.

I'm going to start with that feature, as it's one that I typically look to as a tiebreaker between phones.

The Mate 20 Pro has three rear cameras, arranged in a square formation on the back. But unlike its sibling P20 Pro's three cameras (one of which is a monochrome lens), this array features three separate standard (27mm, 20 megapixels), zoom (80mm, 8 megapixels) and wide-angle (16mm, 40 megapixels) lenses. This makes it the only phone on the Irish market with a dedicated ultra-wide angle focal length (like a GoPro).

For someone like me who's interested in using their phone a lot as a camera, this is an amazing feature to have. By default, I'm using the wide-angle lens most. It brings a look to photos that you simply can't get with any other handset.

The Mate 20 Pro also has the incredible 'night' HDR mode that brings night-time city shots, in particular, alive. It takes a number of photos in a couple of seconds and fuses them together for a pretty startling overall shot. (It works across Huawei's focal ranges, too: it's incredibly effective when shooting wide.)

When Huawei first introduced this mode with the P20 Pro, it was a game-changer: I still bring the P20 Pro with me as a second camera everywhere I go for this one feature.

The only qualifier to this is that Google's new Pixel 3XL has just been enhanced with a similar feature called 'Night Sight'. The Pixel 3XL does it quicker and is slightly sharper in low light than the Huawei phones. However, the Pixel only has one camera, which means it can't shoot night-time shots at a wide angle. That, together with the additional optical zoom on the Mate 20 Pro, means that Huawei's camera system is arguably now the best overall that you can get.

For anyone interested, the selfie camera is a 24-megapixel f2 lens that's big on detail. It also has a fascinating (if really difficult to use) panorama mode. However, its portrait-mode facility isn't as good as those on the iPhone Xs Max or Google's Pixel 3XL.

Other than its cameras system, the Huawei's big feature is its physical design. This is the first Huawei flagship device that can genuinely match the best from Samsung and Apple aesthetically. This is almost entirely down to the 6.4-inch phone's bezel-less, edge-to-edge curved Oled glass display and the gorgeous, slim form factor.

Sure, there's a slim notch on top which we might quibble with, but almost all new high-end phones have one now, so it's not as much of a comparative downside as it should be.

The only qualification to this is that the look and feel of the Mate 20 Pro is unashamedly derivative of Samsung's high-end handsets, particularly the curved glass edges of the Galaxy S9 Plus and Note 9. If you spotted one of these on a table, you'd first think it was a Samsung. This will annoy some people, but big phone companies purloin each other's design features all the time. And if you're going to take some 'inspiration' from a rival's product, Samsung's Galaxy series is probably the one to ape: for any of its other faults, the Korean firm has led the way in physical design over the last five years with its curved glass handsets.

Another feature that the Mate 20 Pro can take credit for is its unbelievable battery life. With a whopping 4,200mAh battery underlying the device, no flagship rival device that's available in the Irish market matches it. I haven't yet run out of juice with this phone in a single day, a rare feat.

Under the hood, the Mate 20 Pro zooms along. There's a whopping 6GB of Ram available to aid Huawei's ultra-powerful (7nm) Kirin processor. It also comes with 128GB of storage as standard, which matches Samsung's Note 9 and is better than the iPhone XS's entry level model. There's no 256GB or 512GB option available, as there is with Samsung and Apple and there's no 3.5mm headphone jack, but that's almost standard in the top phones these days.

So what's the bottom line? Is it better than a Samsung Note 9 or an iPhone XS Max? It's slightly more powerful than either and a more flexible camera system than both. It's harder to compare to the iPhone because of the different operating system. It has a smaller ecosystem than Samsung or Apple, but is now on par in terms of desirability. It's cheaper than an iPhone Xs Max but slightly more expensive (unlocked) than a Samsung Note 9.

This is an amazing step up for Huawei: it looks like they're here in the top tier to stay.

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