Hands On: Does Huawei’s Mate 20 Pro live up to the hype?

Short answer? Yes. But it might look more than a little familiar

Huawei used to be a relative unknown in the consumer mobile market. But a successful marketing campaign and some strategic partnerships later, the company is moving up the ranks of smartphone makers.

How? Through concentrating on cameras and battery life, two important considerations for consumers. Huawei signed a deal with Leica in 2016 that would bring the camera company's technology to its smartphones. That has yielded impressive results for the firm, and it has clawed its way up the smartphone charts.

The latest: the Huawei Mate 20 Series, with the Mate 20 Pro the first (and more than likely only) one of the range to come to Ireland.

Due to go on sale early in November, the phone will cost you a cool €1.049 to buy it sim-free. The crucial question is: is it worth the money?


You could argue that there are few phones that are worth spending €1,000 and more on, if any. Phones are designed to be obsolete within a short period of time, and in two years you’ll be back to weighing up the pros and cons of spending most of a mortgage payment on a piece of technology that will only last a matter of months.

But most of the flagship phones are now aiming for prices around that point, so this is where we are.

Huawei is pitching its new phone as a more intelligent device, heavily relying on artificial intelligence to make its camera stand out from the pack, for example. So should you buy the Huawei Mate 20 Pro? After a few days with the device, here are some first impressions.

The looks

No, you aren't imagining it. The Mate 20 Pro looks a lot like the current crop of Samsung Galaxy flagship phones. In fact, if it wasn't for the notch on the Mate 20, it would be very difficult to tell the two apart. Huawei has gone for the curved screen, and the overall effect is one of a polished, high end smartphone. On the rear, the camera array and flash have been arranged into a square, which Huawei's Richard Yu says was inspired by race cars. Whatever inspired it, it looks different.

Huawei has put the volume controls next to the power button on the right side of the screen.The SIM tray is on the bottom, right next to the SUB C jack and the “invisible” speakers. It means once again there’s no headphone jack, so it’s either USB C headphones or bluetooth. It’s probably pointless to protest this trend, with more and more manufacturers ditching the jack it’s a futile exercise.

The display

The Mate 20 Pro has a 2K curved display that measures just under 6.4 inches. It’s Super AMOLED, tech-speak for “really very good”. And yes, there’s a notch. It’s not quite as deep as the iPhone Xs or the Pixel 3 XL, but it’s still there. It seems that the notch is now becoming a thing.

The fingerprint reader is now part of the screen, but it’s not a case of putting your thumb anywhere on the screen to unlock it. You still have to hit a certain spot on the screen, with a fingerprint symbol flashing up on the display to guide you to the appropriate spot.

The camera

The camera is what we’re really here for. When it comes to cameras in phone, the combination of Leica and Huawei is proving hard to beat. Huawei has been churning out some decent cameraphones in recent years, with the P20 Pro earlier this being arguably the best out there thanks to its amazing low light performance. So for the Mate 20, Huawei had to up its game a little. It’s achieving this through artificial intelligence, bringing the technology into the camera to not only figure out the best settings for each type of photograph, but pick out human subjects in a video and apply a colour splash effect. Like Samsung’s latest crop of photos, it also uses artificial intelligence to translate text through the camera. The Mate 20 Pro will also give you shopping recommendations based on a photograph - a hit or miss feature to be honest - and calculate the calorie content of food you point the camera at.

There are the usual camera modes, including that excellent night setting and a portrait mode that will give you a bokeh effect and blur the background. The latter can be customised to include hearts, for example.

Both the front and rear cameras can apply beauty effects to faces, although I don’t recommending overdoing it or you’ll end up looking a little like a smooth skinned alien.

The front facing camera has another function: it can use your face to unlock your phone, similar to Face ID on an iPhone. It’s fast, and if the phone can’t quite read your face, a double tap on the screen will prompt another attempt.

The battery

Smartphones are tough on batteries. It’s just the way it is. You have all these functions crammed into a phone, with a huge touch screen that has millions of colours, and then we expect the battery to put in the same performance as a feature phone with a screen a fraction of the size. But Huawei has been working on this problem, and it has crammed a 4200 mAh battery into the Mate 20 Pro that will ensure you get all day out of the phone even if you are a heavy user.

The best thing about the Mate 20 Pro is that it’s not averse to sharing. You can turn your phone into a hotspot for another wireless device, and charge the second device by placing it back to back with the Mate 20 Pro. It’s a very handy feature that could get you out of a tough spot or two. There are some limitations though, chiefly that that the reverse wireless charging will turn off if the Huawei’s battery is lower than 20 per cent. Sometimes a bit of selfishness is warranted.

A full review of the mate 20 Pro will follow. But so far? It gets the thumbs up.

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist