Huawei Mate 20 First Impressions

Posted on November 9, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Android with 25 Comments

Huawei’s hardware designs have always impressed, and the Mate 20 continues the tradition with its stunning design, gorgeous edge-to-edge display, and unique triple camera system. There is one caveat, of course: Like Huawei’s other smartphones, the Mate 20 is not available in the United States, at least not officially.

So let’s get that out of the way first.

Last year, Huawei planned to finally enter the U.S. smartphone market with the excellent Mate 10 Pro. But threats from the xenophobic Trump administration scuttled those plans, with both AT&T, Best Buy, and Verizon all dropping plans to offer the product to customers.

Since then, Huawei surpassed Apple to become the number two smartphone maker in the world. This is particularly impressive because the firm cannot sell its phones in the U.S., which is the second largest smartphone market in the world after China. And it’s only a matter of time before Huawei surpasses Samsung, which has struggled in recent years to maintain growth and attract new customers.

Then, in late October, Huawei announced its Mate 20 series of smartphones and confirmed that they would not be made available in the United States either.

“We are not planning to sell the Mate 20 Series in the U.S.,” a Huawei statement noted. “While international variants of the Mate 20 Series may be available on some US online retail sites, we encourage individuals to carefully read the details about the warranty and network compatibility before purchasing.”

So here’s the thing. If you do live in the U.S. and you’re a tech-savvy consumer, you should still consider Huawei’s tremendous offerings, assuming you understand the support risks. And if you live outside the U.S., say in Western Europe or anywhere else that Huawei maintains a presence, you have no excuse. These phones have to be on your short list.

And I do mean phones: The Mate line has grown tremendously this year to encompass a high-end flagship (the Mate 20 Pro), a phablet (the Mate 20 X), and an affordable model (the Mate 20 Lite). And then there’s what I think of as the Goldilocks model, the one that’s just right. The iPhone XR of this year’s Mate lineup, if you will.

It’s called the Mate 20.

Styled almost identically to its higher-end Mate 20 Pro sibling, the Mate 20 differs from that flagship in only a few ways, none of which I feel detract at all from the desirability of this handset. Indeed, some features unique to the Mate 20, like its tiny, tear-drop-shaped notch, are actually nicer than their equivalent on the Mate 20 Pro (which features a bigger and wider notch with FaceID-like functionality).

And the Mate 20 is, of course, less expensive. Where the Mate 20 Pro will set you back €999 in Europe, the Mate 20 costs just €799. (To be clear, these prices would be $999 and $799 in the U.S. and not the converted prices.)

So, what does that €799/$799 get you?

Most prominently, a 6.53-inch 2244 x 1080 edge-to-edge LCD display, as opposed to a 6.39-inch 3120 x 1440 OLED display with an IP68 waterproof rating on the Mate 10 Pro; this difference explains my iPhone XR reference. But the display is gorgeous, with bright colors and a very sharp clarity. And this handset may have the smallest bezels I’ve ever seen. It makes Apple’s “all screen” claims seem even more ridiculous.

The Mate 20 is powered by the same Kirin 980 chipset as its more expensive sibling (which further hammers home the iPhone XR comparison). This is a 7nm design that compares quite favorably to the Samsung Exynos 9810 and Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 given its more modern Cortex-A76 microarchitecture. For now, at least, this is the most powerful and efficient chipset, overall, that is available in any Android device.

Internally, you’ll find 4 or 6 GB of RAM, depending on the model, compared to 8 or 8 GB of RAM for the Mate 20 Pro. And 128 GB of storage with microSD expansion to another 256 GB; the Mate 20 Pro ships with 128 or 256 GB of internal storage. (The review unit has 6 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage.)

Like its more expensive stablemate, the Mate 20 supports dual-SIMs via a handy double tray, and a wide range of worldwide network bands. That said, I don’t believe U.S.-based CDMA networks like Verizon and Sprint are supported. It ships with 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5, and NFC as expected. There’s a fingerprint reader on the back, of course.

The Mate 20 provides stereo speakers and, despite the small notch, the balance is correct. Unlike, say, with the more expensive Google Pixel 3 XL. And yes, God love ’em, there’s a headphone jack too.

The camera system is of particular interest, and it’s an odd-ball design that visually resembles a spider’s eyes. There are three lenses—a 12 MP wide-angle lens with a f/1.8 aperture, a 16 MP ultra-wide-angle at f/2.2, and an 8 MP telephoto at f/2.4. This system is identical to that of the Mate 20 Pro, but that more expensive phone also includes a front-facing 3D depth-sensing camera for FaceID-like facial recognition that the Mate 20 lacks. The Mate 20 does have a 24 MP front-facing camera with a f/2.0 aperture for selfies.

Aside from one-upping market-leaders like Apple and Samsung, each of which ships dual camera systems in their flagships, the triple camera system in the Mate 20 works in tandem with Huawei’s AI capabilities to provide what could be market-leading shots across an array of scenarios. Yes, I am very eager to test this.

Finally, the Mate 20 includes a very large 4000 mAh battery, though the Mate 20 Pro’s 4200 mAh unit is even bigger. But it does support fast charging, and it reportedly jumps to 60 percent of capacity in just 30 minutes. There’s also wireless charging, of course.

The Mate 20 is available in Midnight Blue, Black, and Twilight (a kind of color-shifting purple tone), whereas Mate 20 Pro buyers can also choose Emerald Green. The review unit is the blandest of those colors, Black. But I’d be covering it with a case anyway, so worries there.

From a software perspective, Huawei is going the same route as Samsung and OnePlus by trying to replace the stock Google user experiences with possible with its own efforts. Its system is called EMUI, and it’s based on the very latest Android version, 9.0.

I’m mostly OK with it. EMUI does provide access to the Google feed (now called Discover), unlike the Samsung and OnePlus UIs, and I do prefer that. It’s mostly clean and attractive, which is good, but there are some weirdnesses, too, especially around navigation.

Huawei doesn’t burden its phones with quite as much duplicate crapware as, say, Samsung, but then few companies do. Microsoft fans will enjoy that SwiftKey is the default keyboard.

More soon: I have to get a SIM in there and get signed and install some apps before I can have a better idea of how well the phone performs and works. So I’ll get going on that now.


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Comments (25)

25 responses to “Huawei Mate 20 First Impressions”

  1. Omega Ra

    OnePlus lets you access discover. If you press and hold the home screen hit home settings, tap left most screen, you can select google. I use it as I don't like shelf

  2. ayebang

    It's safe to say now Huawei Mate 20 Pro is the best android phone in the market with best cameras, fast response like iPhone and many gimmicks.

  3. rosyna

    I know this is ad copy and all, but it does a disservice to not mention Huawei was caught cheating on benchmarks that ran on their Mate 30 (caught by AnandTech) or if the Mate 20 suffers the same green tint issue the Mate 20 Pro does…

    (How did this text get so large?!)

  4. waethorn

    Whenever I see a Knight's shield as a security icon, I roll my eyes. It's come to that.

  5. RickyHansen

    Just to correct you on the camera specs:

    The Mate 20 Pro is the star of the show here, featuring a 40MP standard lens with an f/1.8 aperture, 20MP ultra wide-angle lens with an f/2.2 aperture, and an 8MP telephoto lens with an f/2.4 aperture and OIS.

  6. Bats

    Nice production description. You can pretty much get read the samething from the maker's website.

  7. PeterC

    ive Played with quite a few honor and Huawei handsets, they’re consistently well made and well modelled handsets in my opinion. I’ve kept my fingers crossed they’d be the first to offer an android alternative but compatible with the play store. I’m really interested to see how you get on with it.

    I did think you’d have gone with the pro version for the extra camera features but I can see your going for a straight shoot out between the iPhone XR, the Huawei mate 20, the OnePlus 6T and the samsung s9 plus. I guess your pitting EMUI v Touchwiz v oxygen v iOS too and how google services might be controllled to a degree on each.

    I like this and look forward to your findings (If your not doing it then please do) ?

  8. MacLiam

    The company makes great phones. My Huawei-made Nexus 6P is still my Android device of choice despite many opportunities to adopt more modern phones from other makers. If I could be assured that no Huawei unit has a phone-home circuit that would convey personal information (i.e., anything beyond the most basic metadata) to its maker, I'd be looking at the Mate 20 as a replacement. But I would go for the Pro because of the reportedly astonishing camera.

    Looking forward to your complete evaluation. I get it that you are mostly OK with EMUI, but if you could report on the degree to which it can be made to resemble the bone-stock Android of the Nexus or Pixel lines, I'd be interested to hear it.

    • wright_is

      In reply to MacLiam:

      The only real problem I have with EMUI is that you can't resize widgets. Other than that, there isn't much to complain about and I would use it as my standard UI. As it is, I use the Audible and Doggcatcher widgets and with EMUI they take up too much space, so I use the Microsoft Launcher.

      I rarely use the cameras on my phones (Mate 10 Pro and a P20, for home and work respectively), but they are the best devices I've used, so far. I find them better than the Samsungs and pixel phones and much cheaper.

      Hint :wait 2 months or so and the prices drop by as much as a third. The 10 Pro was 800€at launch, I got it fire 700€ and a couple of months later it was 500€.

  9. bajanx

    One Stat is off Paul. The Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro have different cameras. The Mate 20 pro like their previous P20 pro have the 40 mega Pixel camera lense. I have the P20 Pro and it is an amazing camera unit. Surprised you went for the Mate 20 and not the Pro for the camera.

  10. FalseAgent

    Huawei's phones are incredible, and they are somehow able to make their own processor chips that deliver both on battery and performance. It's not just the raw speed of the CPU but also something about the storage controller that makes their phone feel really snappy. The most surprising thing about Huawei to me was their EMUI skin, I actually find it less obtrusive and more pleasant to use than Samsung's "Samsung Experience".

  11. jdmp10

    Huawei and Xiaomi's hardware have never been an issue for me, they usually produce some very attractive offerings but it's their respective UI's that I absolutely can't stand. Before someone mentions that you can just use another launcher, that does nothing for how restrictive their default settings are for notifications. I haven't use newer versions of EMUI (Huawei) or MIUI (Xiaomi) but in older versions they took a very aggressive method to killing standard app notifications that I haven't seen any other non-Chinese vendor implement. Also simple things like expanding a notification shade and taking action on them never worked in the versions I used. I can't appreciate the hardware when the UX is horrendous unfortunately, stock Android for me is what I always resort back to if I want to make sure I have something that works as it should.

  12. prjman

    Xenophobic? There are plenty of reasons to distrust the Chinese on trade issues. Xenophobia isn't one of them.

  13. Rob_Wade

    So, how is Walmart selling Huawei phones? Not the Mate line, of course, but I'm using a Huawei phone I bought from Walmart specifically to test the assertions some have made that you can turn Android into a reasonable Windows phone replacement (the fact is, you can't). But Walmart still sells them.

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