The Mate 20 & Mate 20 Pro Review: Kirin 980 Powering Two Contrasting Devicesby Andrei Frumusanu on November 16, 2018 8:10 AM EST
Conclusion & End Remarks
For Huawei, the Mate 20s represent large improvements in the company’s flagship line-up. But as we've seen, there are some hiccups along the way.
Design-wise, both phones present new, interesting, and attractive designs. The Mate 20 follows the Mate 10 in terms of offering a slightly wider and bigger form-factor, but now gets rid of its bezels for an essentially full-screen experience, with the exception of a very minimalistic teardrop style notch which houses the front camera.
The Mate 20 Pro is more exciting for Huawei, as the design clearly departs from anything the company has produced before. It’s plainly obvious that the new phone took design cues from Samsung, as its overall build with the curved display as well as curved back are extremely reminiscent of Samsung’s S8 and S9 industrial designs. And I do think this works fantastically for the phone, as along with its slightly reduced size compared to the Mate 10 Pro, makes this one of the most ergonomic phones I’ve come to use. Design and ergonomics aren’t just its strengths, as Huawei was also able to build an extremely solid feeling phone, which I think represents Huawei’s best hardware to date.
The Mate 20 Pro also differentiates itself in terms of its unlocking methods: While the Mate 20 has a regular capacitive fingerprint sensor on the back, the Mate 20 Pro integrates an under-screen fingerprint sensor. I felt like this implementation on the software side was a bit unfinished, as it lacked any kind of feedback, and while it was accurate, it wasn’t always the fastest.
Huawei also gives you the option to use face unlocking: The Mate 20 Pro integrates a wider display notch than the Mate 20; similarly to the iPhone X, Huawei’s new phone integrates a dot-projector, flood illuminator as well as an IR camera to achieve 3D face identification. For me this worked pretty flawlessly and the recognition speed is extremely fast.
The regular Mate 20 retains an LCD screen, and this generation comes with an RGBW layout. This can be a bit of a stretch for some people as the resolution has remained at 1080p, so it’s not the sharpest display at closer distances. While viewing angles and brightness of the display are great (for an LCD), the issue here lies more in its color calibration. Unfortunately there’s no way to get an “accurate” sRGB color mode without suffering from an overabundance of red, including reddish whites. Remaining in the “Vivid” mode on the other hand makes things oversaturated in most applications, while being too blue. Here Huawei does provide ways to adjust colors to your liking, but the mechanism isn’t able to achieve actually accurate colors.
On the Mate 20 Pro, Huawei instead uses an OLED screen. This isn’t the first one from the company, but it’s the first 1440p screen in a smartphone from Huawei. Unfortunately the display panel has some very obvious issues. The usual hue shift from different viewing angles in OLED displays is notably more pronounced on the Mate 20 Pro, much more than any other OLED screen I’ve come to use. It’s something that you can get used to, but I know some people are especially sensitive to this aspect of OLED phones.
The color calibration of the Mate 20 Pro is better than that of the Mate 20, here you can just set it to “Natural” mode and by default you’ll get a good D65 sRGB calibration. In Vivid mode, you’ll get a close Display P3 D65 approximation when using the “Warm” sub-mode. What did bother me more on accuracy is the fact that the display has large swings in brightness depending on content. This CABC mode cannot be disabled, and also seemingly can create some issues with gamma accuracy.
The worst aspect about the Mate 20 Pro screen is its power consumption: The review unit I tested uses an LG display (Huawei also dual-sources from BOE), and as we’ve seen in some other devices with LG OLED panels, the Mate 20 Pro also suffers from a battery regression because of this. To make things worse, HiSilicon had also confirmed that the SoC to display connection consists of dual MIPI lanes, as opposed to a single MIPI lane with compression, which is the more efficient way to achieve 1440p resolutions. Both these factors put the Mate 20 Pro’s battery life below where you would expect it to be.
Talking about battery life, these are two very different devices. The regular Mate 20 is pretty much the uncontested flagship smartphone when it comes to battery life. The new chipset’s increased efficiency, along with a very efficient screen and large battery capacity make for a killer combination when it comes to the longevity of the phone.
The Mate 20 Pro, while its battery life in absolute terms isn’t inherently bad, is below that of what you would expect when you consider it has a 4200mAh battery. Here the big battery and efficient SoC largely just compensate for the very inefficient screen.
The new Kirin 980 SoC is an outstanding new SoC. Finally, HiSilicon has been able to bring out a new generation flagship SoC that has manufacturing as well as IP in sync: The new 7nm process node along with the new Cortex-A76 CPUs bring an immense performance jump to the platform, all while improving energy efficiency. The Kirin 980 will serve as an excellent platform for Huawei and Honor’s 2019 lineup, and I’m sure it’ll remain extremely competitive with Qualcomm and Samsung’s next-gen offerings.
Camera-wise, Huawei seems to like to keep things quite complicated. Here we have to come to two conclusions on the Mate 20 Pro and Mate 20:
The regular Mate 20’s camera is largely unimpressive and struggles to differentiate itself much from the competition. Only in terms of processing does the phone have an edge sometimes, but other times it can also be a big negative as the we’ve seen the phone blur out details both in daylight and especially in low-light scenarios. The telephoto lens is about in line with the competition, but again sometimes can suffer the same lack of detail due to the processing. In low-light shots, night mode saves the Mate 20 from underperforming other flagships.
On the Mate 20 Pro, we largely see the same camera hardware as on the P20 Pro. The differences here were again in terms of the processing. Unfortunately more often than not, in daylight scenarios the Mate 20 Pro managed to capture slightly worse pictures than the P20 Pro, as it doesn’t always go into the same very high dynamic range mode as its predecessor. This is something that can be rectified by software, but it’s not a good start for the phone. The telephoto lens with its 3x optical and 5x hybrid zoom is still the best in the market, although again there’s processing differences to the P20 Pro which aren’t always positive. The core negative in daylight is again the fact that we have a 40MP sensor that in the vast majority of times is only really usable in its 10MP mode. Here I hope Huawei in the future goes with a more regular camera module setup, and includes OIS that can also then benefit video recording.
The key new feature of the new cameras are of course the wide angle lenses. Here Huawei did a great job, although there are differences between the two phones. The Mate 20 Pro’s 20MP camera sensor produces excellent results, and there’s really no competition here bar the regular Mate 20. Huawei only really had to beat LG here, and the latter’s image processing failure this year has made things very easy for the Mate 20’s. Shooting wide-angle pictures is really a different experience, and I’m personally a great fan of it. The regular Mate 20 still beats out LG in terms of quality, but its module doesn’t showcase as great of a dynamic range and detail as its more expensive sibling.
Both phones offer excellent low-light performance through their night modes, and are only recently outclassed by Google’s new night sight update for Pixel phones.
Overall, the Mate 20’s are a big step forward for Huawei. However, I feel like there’s some issues on the Mate 20 Pro that prevent it from really being an outstanding device. The Mate 20 Pro comes with a launch price of 1049€, and at this price range we really expect a no-compromise device. Unfortunatly, I feel like the issues with the display as well as only average battery life represent notable compromises. Supposedly the units with BOE screens have far fewer issues, but this isn’t much of an argument if you have to play the device lottery in order to get a good unit.
The regular Mate 20 makes for a much more interesting buy, and the one aspect where the phone just outright dominates is battery life. I’ve really no real substantial negatives about the phone, other than I wished its cameras performed a bit better. Here I think most buyers will be extremely happy with their purchase, and I think Huawei offers an overall good package.