“It’s just too beautiful!”
It was, I remember, a rainy late spring afternoon this year when the tech and lifestyle media from all over the world, myself included, gathered at the Grand Palais des Champs-Élysées in Paris for the launch of what would be the flagship smartphone of the global Chinese company Huawei, the P20 Series, “co-engineered” with the legendary German imaging expert Leica.
Notwithstanding the fact that at the time Huawei was already firmly ensconced as the No. 3 smartphone brand worldwide, behind only Samsung and Apple, certainly a cause for no small celebration given the number of established global brands it had to leapfrog to get there, the company was reeling from negative press brought about by the US and a few other governments banning their agencies from using phones and devices manufactured by Huawei and other Chinese manufacturers due to alleged security concerns.
It was, however, not a defeated Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei, who took to the stage at the grand Grand Palais, as he squarely addressed what the company dismissed as unfounded security concerns, brandishing about onstage the P20 Pro—a marriage of software and hardware in a supremely slick package that drew cheers from the gathered media. And even more cheers as Yu, along with other top executives from Leica, Google and more talked up all the strengths of the flagship series. Since that spring launch, the P20 Pro has gone on to win such honors as Phone of the Year at the TechRadar Mobile Choice Consumer Awards, Best Smartphone at European EISA Awards, and Best Photo Smartphone at the TIPA World Awards, among others.
The ban from the US government remains in play, but Huawei has gone on to not only win a slew of international awards but also overtake Apple as the No. 2 smartphone brand in the world, the improved standing no doubt spurred by the global success of the P20 Pro.
What, then, is the company to do for an encore? Last October in London, Huawei revealed just that, unveiling a flagship trifecta, the Mate 20 Series, which is bound to not only win similar acclaim and awards but also set the standard in flagships for every other player in the smartphone landscape. While I was unable to attend the London launch, I did get to have in my grubby mitts the Mate 20 Pro, Twilight edition, not long after.
“It’s just too beautiful!” The earlier quote, by the way, could easily apply to the Huawei P20 Pro, which remains to be one of the most handsomely crafted phones. But it was made breathlessly by a man whose opinion I deeply value, and who is not easily impressed—and it was uttered the first time he saw the Mate 20 Pro in my hands.
Of course it could be said that the Twilight gradient color finish first seen on the P20 Pro—inspired by the atmospheric spectacle known as the Aurora Borealis, which Huawei achieved by applying several layers of nonconductive vacuum metalizing (NCVM) optical coatings underneath the glass back—has lost none of its appeal in its iteration in Mate 20 Pro, and the assertion would be totally valid. The special color finish continues to be an utterly captivating piece of eye candy, the colors deeper this time, less flashy, less in-your-face, but all the more more mysterious and seductive.
There is, however, more than just a stunning color finish that makes the Huawei Mate 20 Pro the most compelling smartphone choice in the market, and I’ll get around to that in due course.
With a display that measures 6.39 inches, you’d be inclined to think the Mate 20 Pro is just right about there skirting phablet territory, meaning that it’s big and unwieldy and incapable of being handled in one hand. The raw numbers of the phone’s dimensions hint otherwise: 6.21 x 2.85 x 0.34 inches, making it smaller, narrower and and slimmer than the Samsung Note 9, but with a better screen-to-body ratio (87.9 percent for the Mate 20 Pro versus the 83.4 percent for Note 9). With the Mate 20 Pro, Huawei pretty much consigned bezels to the dustbin of smartphone history, the screen curving into the edges leaving only a bit of a chin). These dimensions allow the user to be able to work the phone with one hand, although these days most people have embraced the two-handed approach to working their social-media and messaging accounts.
That compact frame notwithstanding, the Mate 20 Pro packs some bleeding-edge hardware including the all-new HiSilicon Kirin 980 processor with the newer 7nm architecture that’s not only smaller but also supposedly more power-efficient, and has two neural processing units (NPUs) to handle real-time photo manipulation, live translation, and other AI-reliant tasks without breaking a sweat. No doubt the 10-core Mali-G76 graphics chipset and the 6GB RAM (which is what comes with the 128GB storage variant, while the 256GB model packs 8GB RAM; user storage can be expanded by way of the a new type of expandable storage called Nano Memory, which fits into the second nano SIM slot) also help keep thing churning along smoothly.
The latest Kirin chip has been dubbed in the tech media as the most powerful processor around for smartphones, citing the solid scores they got from all kinds of benchmark testing they threw at the device. I haven’t been able to perform such benchmarks, but I will say that from my typical-to-heavy usage daily, which includes multitasking with video and application updates running in the background, plus upward of 76 tabs open in Chrome, the Mate 20 Pro has yet to exhibit any sluggishness.
All that powerful hardware has been shoehorned into a body exquisitely crafted in metal (that would be the frame) and glass (for the front and back), with each material curved resolutely flush into the other that—unencumbered by any extraneous flourishes with the exception of the volume rocker and the power button (given a striking red finish) on the right side, the USB Type C port and dual SIM slot at the bottom, and the very slight camera bump in the back—the Mate 20 Pro feels like a polished piece of shimmering glass in the hand. Of course the material choice of glass (an unspecified version of Gorilla Glass) makes the phone quite the fingerprint magnet, but it’s an issue that can be easily addressed by the myriad of cases now available in brick-and-mortar stores and online retailers.
No doubt one of the defining features of the Mate 20 Pro is that massive/not massive 6.39-inch AMOLED HDR display that is one of the most dazzling panels to be seen on a flagship smartphone. Yes, there’s a notch and it is bigger than what was on Huawei’s P20 Pro, but that’s only because the company has added another sensor for more reliable and more secure face-unlocking. (And on the occasion Face Unlock gets a tad fussy, the phone also offers in-screen fingerprint reader that you won’t find in any of even the top-tier Apple or Samsung handsets, while the Mate 20 Pro’s is wicked-fast.) This notch issue is something the tech media has blown out proportion, or it could just be me, but the notch—be it on the iPhone X, the Huawei P20 Pro and, now, the Mate 20 Pro—is a nonissue, as it never detracted from my experience with the phones cited here.
With a 1440 x 3120-pixel resolution, 19.5:9 ratio, and 538 ppi density (the Samsung Note 9’s 6.4-inch panel has a 516 ppi density), the Mate 20 Pro’s screen reproduces colors that just pop with brilliance plus blacks that are the deepest blacks. Even with the brightness set at only medium levels, the panel pushes enough nits to make it readable on a sunny day, and it certainly makes for a fantastic platform with which to indulge your YouTube, Netflix and gaming addictions.
That massive and brilliant screen may be what will instantly grab everyone’s attention, but the Mate 20 Pro’s imaging strengths, again co-engineered by Huawei and Leica, will also be a never-ending source of pleasure. Huawei has relocated the triple camera system from being arrayed on the top left side of the back, as it is in the P20 Pro, to right smack in the top middle part of the Mate 20 Pro. Arrayed symmetrically in a slightly raised square, the camera system is comprised of 40 MP, f/1.8 wide shooter, a 20 MP, f/2.2 ultra-wide lens and a 8 MP, f/2.4 telephoto snapper, all of which come together to bring the user the best camera experience to be had from a smartphone. Meanwhile, the selfie camera on the front is a 24 MP, f/2.0 affair that will delight even the most demanding social-media influencer (or whatever it is such creatures like to call themselves) who live in and off Instagram and Facebook.
No, the monochrome sensor that helped the Huawei P20 Pro become a multi-awarded imaging beast has been jettisoned in the Mate 20 Pro, but don’t fret. As in the P20 Pro, the camera system of Huawei’s new flagship also deploys all three sensors to provide data in creating the perfect image—and, boy, does this phone yield such excellent snaps, whether you’re shooting using the rear camera trifecta or the front-facing sensor. And, yes, the phone takes excellent night shots, as evidenced in the cityscape shown on this page.
Users will also be thankful for the Master AI technology Huawei has put in place to complement the Mate 20 Pro’s camera system. First seen on the P20 Pro, Master AI is a souped-up auto mode that intelligently configures the image settings depending on what the lens is pointed at. Essentially, what all this means is that you won’t have to fiddle with exposure settings or choose the suitable scene mode to capture images worthy of being not just posted on Instagram but even hung on your wall.
I’m close to hitting my character-count limit for product reviews but here we are, well over 10,000 characters and there’s still so much to write about—even gush about—the latest flagship smartphone of Huawei. Suffice it to say that with a fabulous massive/not massive screen, the best camera system to be found on any smartphone, plus the newest Android OS out of the box (that’d be Pie), and a massive 4200 mAh battery that lasts for a day and a half, and can be charged quickly and wirelessly, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro is the best smartphone in the market. Nothing comes close.
Image credits: KWANLO