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Huawei Mate 20 Pro review: This is the best smartphone of 2018

By James Lu - 2 Feb 2019
Launch SRP: S$1348

Display, Audio, and Software

Display: A huge and gorgeous display

The Mate 20 Pro has a 6.39-inch AMOLED display with a 19.5:9 aspect ratio and an impressive 3,120 x 1,440 QHD+ pixels resolution (~537ppi). This gives it a higher pixel density than the Pixel XL 3 (~439ppi), iPhone XS Max (~458ppi), and Note9 (~514ppi). The display itself is gorgeous with excellent clarity, great contrast, vivid colors and wide viewing angles. The screen is bright too, and is easy to read, even under bright sunlight. The display is HDR10 compatible and will play HDR content on Netflix, YouTube and Amazon Prime Video.

While the display is curved, Huawei doesn't offer any extra functionality like Samsung's Edge Panels, and the curved screen is more for aesthetics than interactivity. Unlike most of Huawei's phones, the Mate 20 Pro does not come with a factory-installed screen protector.

The notch in the display is about the same as the one you'll find on the iPhone XS - which is to say, it's quite large. If you hate notches, you can hide it with an effect that turns the sides black, while still letting you display information like the clock, signal strength and battery life there.

As usual, there's also an option to turn the display into an always-on display, which will show the date, time, and any notifications on the lockscreen.


Audio: The hidden USB speaker is neat, but needs work

The Mate 20 Pro has a stereo speaker setup with one speaker in the notch (which also doubles up as the earpiece) and the other speaker hidden in the USB-C port. Audio quality is decent but not as good as the speakers on the Note9 or iPhone XS. There's enough volume, and there's clear stereo separation, but the earpiece speaker is noticeably quieter than the downward-firing speaker, especially at max volume, resulting in a lopsided audio effect. Additionally, plugging a cable into the USB port dampens the bottom speaker, although, this does actually result in a more evenly balanced overall sound, so there is that.


Biometric Security: The best of both worlds

The Mate 20 Pro has the best combination of biometric security available on any smartphone today, boasting both an in-display fingerprint scanner, and a true 3D face recognition camera.

In-display Fingerprint Scanner

The in-display fingerprint sensor works well, and is both fast and reliable, although it does require a bit more pressure than conventional fingerprint scanners. Once your finger is enrolled, a fingerprint zone will pop up about two-thirds of the way down the screen whenever you look at the screen or press the power button. It's not as easy to unlock the phone by feel alone like you can with a physical fingerprint scanner, but it's certainly more convenient than a back-mounted sensor or face recognition when your phone is lying flat on your desk.


3D Face Recognition

While previous Huawei phones have had face unlock, this is the first time it's the real deal, using an IR camera and an IR flood illuminator (housed in the notch) to project 30,000 infrared dots onto your face, which scan your face in 3D for millimeter-level accuracy. This is exactly the same setup Apple uses for FaceID, and the two systems are functionally identical. They're both accurate, they both unlock instantly, they both can't be fooled by a picture of you, and they both work in the dark. You even enroll your face the same way (by rolling your head around in a circle).

The only advantage FaceID has is that you can enroll two faces in it. The Mate 20 Pro will only accept one (like the original iPhone X).


Software: EMUI still isn't stock Android, but it's cleaner and faster than before

Other than Google's own Pixel phones, the Mate 20 Pro is one of the only phones running on Android 9.0 Pie out of the box at the time of publishing. Of course, it's also been skinned with Huawei's own EMUI 9.0 OS, which makes it fairly different from stock Android.

Huawei has made some improvements to EMUI, cleaning up the general interface and simplifying the notifications shade by hiding rarely used settings under a pull-down tab.

As usual, the default home screen removes the app drawer, with all of your apps on the home screen, iOS-style. However, you can easily restore the app drawer in the 'Home screen style' settings menu. 

All of Huawei's usual OS enhancements are here, from gesture control to Knuckle Sense, which lets you knock on the screen to take screenshots or, knock-and-slide to enter multi-screen mode.

Huawei also includes a dozen or so of its own pre-installed apps, which range from simple tools like a calculator, flashlight, and voice recorder, to its own Translator app, which is basically Huawei's version of Google's Translate app. Oddly enough, the welcome screen on Huawei's Translator app says that it's powered by Microsoft, so maybe it's just a re-skinned version of Cortana? One nice feature in Translator is a Phrasebook with a list of common phrases you can quickly select that you might need on holiday (such as "Where is the toilet?") for about fifty or so languages.

Huawei Share, Huawei's version of Apple's AirDrop or Google's Files Go, has also been improved, and can now also share files with a PC and print documents wirelessly.

Keeping up with the new trend for digital wellbeing, there's also a new Digital Balance app, which is basically Huawei's version of Apple's Screen Time and Google's Digital Wellbeing apps. Digital Balance tracks your screentime and app usage stats, and allows you to set limits accordingly. It also includes parental controls for limiting your child's phone usage.

Huawei is also doubling up on AI with a new HiVision feature, which is an AI-assisted object recognition app similar to Samsung's Bixby, or Google's Google Lens. HiVision currently has three categories: Food, Art, and Landmarks. Open up HiVision and take a picture of something with the rear camera and the app will display information on it. For example, when HiVision identifies food it can show you a calorie count or other nutritional information.

For a closer look at HiVision, check out this article.

  • Design 9
  • Features 9
  • User-Friendliness 9
  • Performance 8.5
  • Value 8.5
The Good
Classy, modern design
IP68 build
Gorgeous curved AMOLED display
Long battery life
Super fast charging
Kirin 980 processor on par with Snapdragon 845
True 3D Face Recognition
In-display fingerprint scanner
Versatile triple rear camera setup with great image quality
More competitively priced than a Note9, Pixel 3 XL, and iPhone XS
The Bad
No headphone port
Proprietary memory card
Unbalanced stereo speakers