The Huawei Mate 20 Pro arrives in Canadian stores today, fueled by positive reviews from industry observers. Priced at tier-one levels, the $1,200 phone, loaded with a bagful of camera features and artificial intelligence to boot, is hoping to disrupt the market, which is dominated by Apple's iPhone and Samsung Galaxy devices.
But can the company succeed in snagging a notable piece of the pie? After all, how many Canadians have heard of Huawei, or can even pronounce it? (By the way, it's "wah-way.") The Chinese phone made waves last year with smartphones that use multiple Leica cameras and rudimentary AI.
To be clear, the Mate 20 Pro is not your run-of-the-mill imported smartphone. It's loaded with prime materials, design, features, and technologies that are still on the drawing boards of more familiar brands.
I first tried the Mate 20 Pro a few weeks before it launched in London, U.K. It only took me a few hours to realize that Huawei had a winner. I have since spent a week with a review model. It walks the walk, but you have to get used to the ever-present AI, though it can be turned off when in camera mode if desired. When you pick up the device, it looks and feels like the birth child between an iPhone and Samsung Galaxy. Freaky? It has seemingly been inspired by features from both, but with worthy improvements.
Take the curved front screen edges, for example. They are more steeply curved than the Samsung Note9, although not as functional as Samsung's several generations-old edge models. Its Biometric security-like 3D Face Unlock is similar to what's available with the latest iPhones, but it's virtually instantaneous and works great, even on bright sunny days, which has historically been a challenge for the competition. The gorgeous 6.39" FullView 3,120 x 1,440 OLED curved screen display overall is impressive.
Now, let's talk drawing board technology. The Mate 20 Pro features an in-screen fingerprint sensor that appears when you first turn the phone on. It's finally in the most ideal location, where your thumb rests. The 3D Face Unlock is so good, I have turned off the fingerprint sensor altogether. The 4,200mAh battery can charge to 70% in 30 minutes. The Mate 20 Pro also has reverse charging, so you can use it to charge other wireless-capable charge phones by simply holding the phones together. Wow!
Speaking of batteries, the Mate 20 Pro features deep battery management from power saving mode that can add an additional 90 hours to a half-charged phone. Conversely, Performance mode puts the phone on overdrive for intense functions like gaming. It scored an amazing 300821 on the AnTuTu Benchmark, surpassing the newest dedicated gaming phones. That combined with onboard GPU Turbo 2.0 makes the Mate 20 Pro a speed demon. It also passed the benchmark's stress test with ease, even when the normal 24 Centigrade cruising temperature almost doubled.
Huawei claims the phone's 7nm mobile AI chipset, Kirin 980, delivers 75% better CPU performance and 58% better CPU power efficiency over its previous model. How? By splitting up the CPU cores into high and low performance needs, wasting minimum power when completing minor tasks, and targeting the more powerful cores for the phone's real magic, like AI (Artificial Intelligence) combined with the three rear and one front selfie Leica cameras.
Huawei has managed, unbeknownst to users, to instantaneously recognize 1,500 scenarios across 25 categories for best colour (thankfully more subdued than previous models) and use a combination of a two of the three camera lenses to achieve a remarkable first in a camera phone. It essentially lets you tap or swipe zoom from extreme 107-degree wide 20MP to 10MP 3X optical zoom for normal scenes to 5X zoom for telephoto photography. That's an 8.4 zoom range!
Night photography is amazing, and this is coming from a pro with half a century of shooting experience. Again, AI manages backgrounds to handheld candle light photography, even with slight movements during a several seconds long exposure tightly building up a sharp image. No other phone can do that, although the single lens Pixel 3's upcoming rumoured Night Mode software upgrade sounds promising.
Selfie mode is also on steroids, shooting 24MP images that are cruelly sharp, showing every facial skin texture. Thankfully, Portrait mode not only uses soft Bokeh with a variety of shaped patterns replicating real lenses with different number of aperture leaf blades, but it adds softness to your face. Note the Bokeh effect of objects in front of me as the background.
The rear cameras offer Portrait for people and Aperture mode for objects, with Bokeh softness that can be adjusted after the photo is taken from the camera folder. Nice! AI kicks in throughout the phone functions even during charging. When the screen is off, Spotlight Reel picks short scenes from video and stills to create sharable montages, based on dates and location.
A fast and hard to get 4K video frame capture at 5X zoom during a live concert.
AI kicks in Super Macro mode during the entire zoom range if you place the phone close to an object, allowing you to fill the screen with a large coin. The screen tells you what scenes the camera recognizes, an assurance the cameras are locked and loaded to shoot what you want.
One of the three rear cameras with a 40MP-capable 1/1.7 inch sensor, twice as large as the iPhoneX or Galaxy S9 , takes prosumer DSLR quality photos and also contributes to the cameras telephoto modes.
There are some annoyances with the phone, like the proprietary 256GB Nano Memory Card. But the included 128GB built-in storage should please most. The lack of headphone plugs is a sign of the times, but the included USB-C dongle helps. Like other new phones, the rather large top screen notch housing several sensors and camera, can be covered.
Compare a cropped single candle light scene photo taken with the Huawei Mate 20 Pro (left) with the same image taken with a Fuji X-T10 DSLR a. The Mate 20 Pro has considerably less digital noise, and was taken handheld compared to the tripod-mounted DSLR photo.
Would I buy it? Yes. With several previous successful models, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro has earned its stripes. If you want a gorgeous two-speaker phone with curves on all eight sides, to faithfully record the video and still photography of your life, travels, and special moments, look no further. There simply is no other phone like it.
Super Macro mode at 3X zoom lens setting was used to take this photo of Canadian pennies
If you don't want to pay full price for the device outright, several Canadian carriers will be offering the Mate 20 Pro for $250 to $850 on contracts, based on plan options. For example, on a two-year plan with Telus, the phone is $250 upfront with a $115/mo. plan, $450 for $105/mo., $650 for $95/mo. and $850 for $85/mo. Note that while the black finish is stunning, the Twilight colour option is absolutely to die for, so it might be worth the wait if you're particularly design-conscious.
Steve Makris is a frequent consumer technology contributor. Read more from him at www.techuntangled.ca.
At top: 3D Face Unlock projects 30,000 dots on the user's face, recognizing the owner within 600ms, with a false acceptance rate below 1/1,000,000.