Phones

Huawei Mate 20 Pro: Versatile pocket shooter

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro features a flash module and three Leica-made cameras on its rear.
The Huawei Mate 20 Pro features a flash module and three Leica-made cameras on its rear.

The camera set-up of the Huawei Mate 20 Pro covers all the bases for both casual and professional smartphone photographers

The latest flagship from Chinese smartphone maker Huawei, the Mate 20 Pro, is set to cement the new wave of three-camera phones, with it leading the pack.

The $1,348 smartphone, launched last Saturday, does not come cheap, but buyers do get their money's worth with impressive photography features, powerful processors and a premium design.

Huawei also launched a cheaper Mate 20 smartphone with a lower-resolution display and cameras with lower megapixel count.

But it is clear that Huawei is pushing the Mate 20 Pro as its primary flagship phone for the year, as it comes with all the bells and whistles expected of one.

The Mate 20 Pro's crowning glory is the three Leica-made cameras on its rear, which are placed next to a flash module to form a symmetrical square design on the phone's back. There is the slightest bit of a camera bump, but nothing as noticeable as the one on the latest Apple iPhones.

This is the best smartphone camera set-up of the year, with three lens that cover all the bases for casual and professional smartphone photographers. It comprises a 40-megapixel standard camera, a 20-megapixel wide-angle camera for swooping, expansive shots and an 8-megapixel telephoto camera for portrait mode.

This combination of cameras makes the Mate 20 Pro an incredibly versatile pocket shooter. Landscape and architecture shots benefit from the wide-angle lens, while the telephoto lens lets you take beautiful shots of people with a soft, creamy background.

It is not the first phone to feature this combination - the LG V40 also has the same mix of lenses, but with a lower overall megapixel count and it has yet to be launched in Singapore.

  • SPECS

    PRICE: $1,348

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

    DISPLAY: 6.39-inch, Oled, 3,120 x 1,440 pixels, 538PPI 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; 8MP, telephoto f/2.4

    FRONT CAMERA: 24MP, f/2.0

    BATTERY: Non-removable 4,200 mAh

  • RATING

    FEATURES: 5/5

    DESIGN: 5/5

    PERFORMANCE: 5/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 5/5

    OVERALL: 5/5

The Mate 20 Pro takes great photos in a variety of situations. Its low-light capability is impressive and it excels in portraits and photos with people in them. Photos turn out sharp and detailed. The phone's only weak point is that it sometimes does not get the colour of the scene right and its dynamic range is not as wide as it could be.

I found that it tends to overexpose photos in auto mode, making them brighter and less colourful than in real life. While that can be adjusted while framing the shot by lowering the exposure, that is an extra step that should not be required when in auto mode.

Huawei has been making inroads in artificial intelligence (AI) and the Mate 20 Pro has a new feature called HiVision that supercharges the phone's camera capabilities using AI.

It can recognise paintings and display the artwork's name by drawing upon existing databases. It might not be able to recognise obscure pieces, but can do so for relatively popular ones like, for example, Dutch painter Rembrandt's portraits.

Point the camera at a food item and the Mate 20 Pro will try its best to tell you what it is and how many calories it has by estimating the volume of what is on your plate.

It still has some way to go, though - it mistook my basket of sourdough bread for chicken and informed me that it would set me back 900 calories.

All of these AI functions are powered by a new processor chip, the Kirin 980, along with 6GB of RAM. The phone easily keeps up when running multiple apps or resource-intensive games like PUBG Mobile, and remains smooth and responsive.

It comes with 128GB of internal storage and has expandable storage of up to 256GB.

However, there is a catch. The Mate 20 Pro does not accept the traditional microSD card that is the current standard for expandable storage.

Instead, it is possible to add more external storage only through Huawei's new nano memory card, which is a slight annoyance for those who already have data on existing microSD cards.

The phone is one of the first to ship with the latest Android 9 operating system, with Huawei's EMUI skin tacked onto it.

But even the latest iteration of EMUI is still not as clean as other skins or the stock Android one, as there are a number of settings hidden within menus and sub-menus that take some time to delve into.

The front of the phone takes a heavy design cue from Samsung, as the display has curved edges that round off at the sides for a nice edge-to-edge look.

The 6.39-inch Oled display is the perfect size for watching videos and playing games.

It holds up even under bright sunlight, although you will have to crank the brightness up to the maximum. Even then, I still wish the display could be a little brighter.

There are a few small design flourishes that I appreciate, like the pop of colour on the power button. More distinctively, the Mate 20 Pro comes in three colours - black, emerald green and twilight.

The latter two have a subtle gradient that changes colour depending on the light.

The phone's back is plain, except for the camera lens, as Huawei has dropped the rear fingerprint sensor for an in-display one.

It is impressive to press a thumb onto the display to unlock the phone. However, the in-display sensor is not as fast as a rear fingerprint sensor and I also miss having a physical fingerprint sensor that I can easily locate by touch.

I prefer to use Face Unlock to unlock the phone. The feature is fast, with the phone unlocking as soon as I glance at it.

With the Mate 20 Pro, Huawei is sticking to the design trends of sporting a notch - which can be switched off in the settings - and excluding the headphone jack.

The phone has impressive battery life due to its 4,200mAh battery.

In my two weeks of testing, it consistently ended the day with about 40 per cent of battery life with moderate use, which is a feat.

One cool feature of the Mate 20 Pro is that it doubles as a wireless battery pack.

If you need to wirelessly charge a phone, such as the iPhone 8 or iPhone X, the Mate 20 Pro can do so if you switch on this feature by placing together both phones with their backs facing each other.

It is a neat trick in which you can top up 10 to 20 per cent of battery life in a pinch.

• Verdict: Powerful cameras, top-notch performance and a premium design make the Huawei Mate 20 Pro a contender for one of the top Android smartphones this year. While there are some minor user interface quibbles and camera performance is just shy of perfect, the Mate 20 Pro is a feature-packed phone that is worth its price.

• Lester Hio is a freelance writer 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2018, with the headline 'Versatile pocket shooter'. Print Edition | Subscribe