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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