Phones

Big is beautiful

The big and functional Huawei Mate 20 X looks good, takes great pictures and its 5,000mAh battery lasts almost two days

The term "phablet" was first coined to describe smartphones with large displays. But it is largely meaningless nowadays as most smartphones are phablets.

But there are phablets and there is the Huawei Mate 20 X. With a massive 7.2-inch display, it looms large over the competition. Its Oled screen is gorgeous, an impression aided by its slim bezels and a small, unobtrusive, teardrop-shaped notch for the front camera.

Huawei says it is a wide-colour-gamut display that supports high-dynamic-range (HDR) videos, like the screens on the other two Mate 20 models. Netflix HDR videos are supported, though the app does not make full use of the notched display, treating it like a screen without a notch. YouTube videos can be zoomed in to fill the screen.

Its screen resolution is 1,080p, lower than the 1,440p on the flagship and more expensive Mate 20 Pro. There is a hint of pixelation when you look at text up close. But I had no reason to do so because the default text size is so comfortably large that I can read a webpage with the phone at arm's length.

It does take a while to adjust to the phone's size. A one-hand mode can be easily triggered with a swipe if you need it in a pinch. But I found myself enjoying its big screen. Other phones look puny compared with the Mate 20 X.

Inside its weighty dual-glass body are the same triple-camera system and Kirin 980 processor that are in the Mate 20 Pro. The phones have the same amount of memory (6GB) and internal storage (128GB). They both have an infrared blaster to control home gadgets such as the air-conditioner or television set.

There are some differences which may explain why the Mate 20 X ($1,148) costs less than the Pro ($1,348). Firstly, the Mate 20 X has no wireless charging, much less the Pro's fancy reverse wireless charging feature that can charge another device wirelessly.

  • SPECS

    PRICE: $1,148

    PROCESSOR: Kirin 980 (dual-core 2.6GHz, dual-core 1.92GHz, quad-core 1.8GHz)

    DISPLAY: 7.2-inch, Oled, 2,244 x 1,080 pixels, 346 ppi pixel density

    OPERATING SYSTEM: EMUI 9.0 (Android 9.0)

    MEMORY: 128GB (nano memory card expandable to 256GB), 6GB RAM

    REAR CAMERA: 40MP (f/1.8), 20MP wide angle (f/2.2) and 8MP telephoto (f/2.4)

    FRONT CAMERA: 24MP (f/2.0)

    BATTERY: Non-removable 5,000mAh batteries

    RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 5/5

    PERFORMANCE: 5/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 5/5

    OVERALL: 5/5

But I do not mind the omission, especially when the Mate 20 X has Huawei's SuperCharge feature that, in my testing, replenished the battery by 35 per cent in half an hour.

I would have liked the same degree of waterproofing as the Mate 20 Pro (IP68 rating) though. The Mate 20 X is only splash resistant.

While it has a speedy face-unlock feature, the Mate 20 X lacks the infrared sensor on the Pro that lets it do so in the dark. The Pro also has a trendy in-display fingerprint sensor, while the Mate 20 X comes with a standard rear fingerprint reader.

Call me old-school, but the Mate 20 X's tried-and-tested standard features work better than the Pro's new tricks. For one thing, the normal fingerprint sensor feels more accurate than the in-display version. Also, with the rear reader, I don't have to look at the screen to place my finger. The Pro's infrared sensor also necessitates a larger notch than the teardrop one on the Mate 20 X.

In fact, the Mate 20 X has some advantages over the Pro. The Mate 20 X retains the headphone jack.

To power its sizable screen, the Mate 20 X has a larger, 5,000mAh battery, compared with the Pro's 4,200mAh version. This 5,000mAh battery lasts almost two full days before it needs to be charged. In a video-loop playback test, the Mate 20 X lasted 16hr 17min.

Much has been said about Huawei's Leica-branded triple camera system, which is one of the best in a smartphone now. It takes great photos for most occasions and does very well in low-light conditions.

The camera app offers many modes and features, some of which are unavailable on other phones. For instance, the Aperture mode enables a bokeh effect with background blur without a human subject, while its wide-angle lens is useful for landscape and group shots.

Its built-in artificial intelligence feature switches to the most suitable camera mode for each situation. From my experience, it mostly works, though it can be a tad slower than if I were to do it myself.

Its Kirin 980 processor is the current king of the hill among Android smartphones, beating Qualcomm's flagship Snapdragon 845 chip. The Mate 20 X runs smoothly and is responsive in daily usage.

It probably helps that Huawei has streamlined its EMUI interface with the latest 9.0 version, which is based on the newest Android 9.0 Pie mobile operating system.

It looks slightly cleaner, though it still retains Huawei's own add-ons, such as the use of knuckle gestures to take a screenshot or enable split-screen for multi-tasking.

At its launch, Huawei touted the gaming prowess of the Mate 20 X, thanks to its large screen, powerful processor and loud Dolby Atmos-powered speakers.

Less prominent, but just as important, is its graphene-based vapour chamber cooling system. When playing games such as PUBG Mobile, the Mate 20 X felt only slightly warm on the outside.

Bundled with the phone is the M-Pen stylus, which supports 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity. I did not manage to test the stylus as it wasn't included with the review unit. Take note that the stylus cannot be stowed inside the phone.

The Mate 20 X is not quite perfect though. It lacks a notification LED, which means I have to unlock the phone to check for notifications. The vibration for the haptic feedback system for taps and other touches is not as refined or as tight as in some other phones.

But these are quibbles on what is a very good smartphone. Given a choice, I would probably pick it over the Mate 20 Pro.

•Verdict: Big is beautiful with the Mate 20 X. Its mix of features and performance is just right, though its size is not for everyone.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2018, with the headline 'Big is beautiful'. Print Edition | Subscribe