Huawei Mate 20 review: Huawei’s cut-down flagship

Alex Kidman 13 November 2018 NEWS

Huawei slices out a few features from the Mate 20 Pro to make the slightly cheaper Huawei Mate 20, but it's overall an exceptional handset for those on a tighter budget.

Quick Verdict: The non-"Pro" version of the Huawei Mate 20 Pro drops the camera quality, screen display and charging features of the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. It's not quite the flagship that the Huawei Mate 20 Pro is, but at its price point, it's a superb phone anyway.

The good

  • Great camera
  • Easy two-day battery life
  • Kirin 980 processor performs well
  • Teardrop notch is unobtrusive

The bad

  • Proprietary storage format
  • No wireless charging
  • No water resistance
  • You can get it in black, black or... black


The Huawei Mate 20 Pro grabbed the headlines with its inbuilt reverse wireless charging, Android market-leading Kirin 980 processor and, of course, that amazing camera.

The Huawei Mate 20 is, as you'd expect, the "light" version of the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, offering many of the same features dialled down, but with a suitably cut-down price point to match. If you're after a premium phone but blanch at the prices they command in 2018, it's a very good choice.


Huawei Mate 20: Design

  • Teardrop notch
  • Aussies only get the black model
  • Has a headphone jack
  • LCD rather than OLED

Most manufacturers tend to make their "flagship" phones as large as possible, with the second-tier model a little smaller. That's not the thought process at Huawei it seems because the Huawei Mate 20 features a 6.53-inch LCD display compared to the 6.39-inch AMOLED display you'll find on the Mate 20 Pro.

That means that the Huawei Mate 20 is just a touch larger than its more expensive sibling at 157.8 x 72.3 x 8.6mm to the Mate 20 Pro's 157.8 x 72.3 x 8.6mm. There's a scant 1g weight difference between them, with the Huawei Mate 20 weighing in at 188g to the Mate 20 Pro's 189g.

So what has Huawei cut out to meet the Mate 20's asking price? First and foremost, the Huawei Mate 20 features an LCD display where the Mate 20 Pro gets a much nicer AMOLED display. With a resolution of 1080x2244, it's a little less sharp than the Mate 20 Pro's 1440x3120, although that's something you won't notice unless you've got them side by side.

Huawei's made a few other design changes between its two flagships as well. The Huawei Mate 20 features a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, something that's completely absent from the Mate 20 Pro. Where the Mate 20 Pro fires its speaker audio out of its USB-C port, the Huawei Mate 20 has a standard mono bottom-firing speaker. Neither approach is great, so you should use a set of headphones or a paired Bluetooth speaker if your phone is your music source.

Notches are a divisive design element, and that's still true when you shrink them down.

The Huawei Mate 20 features a notch for its front-facing camera, but where the Mate 20 Pro's notch is a standard blocky rectangle, the Mate 20 uses a teardrop design for a smaller notch effect. There aren't all that many teardrop notch phones in the Australian market just yet, although more are coming from makers such as Oppo.

Notches are a divisive design element, and that's still true when you shrink them down. I tended to notice the teardrop notch more than I would a standard rectangular notch, simply because rounded elements stand out on what is otherwise a rectangular display, but your own tolerances may vary. If it bugs you as much as it did me, you can opt to darken the sides to obscure it entirely.

At the rear of the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, you'll find the square camera grid, which is apparently meant to remind you of Porsche headlights. Huawei does offer up a Porsche Design variant of the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, although there's no word as yet as to whether we'll see those phones Down Under. There's no shortage of dual camera lenses on smartphones these days, so Huawei's design here really stands out.

Just underneath the camera array you'll find a standard fingerprint sensor. Huawei embeds that sensor in the glass of the Mate 20 Pro, but it's on the back of the Mate 20, although this isn't all bad news. There's something very cool about tapping your screen to unlock your Mate 20 Pro, but it's a slower process because the read takes longer and requires more force. The rear-mounted fingerprint sensor on the Huawei Mate 20, on the other hand, is lightning fast to unlock.

Huawei makes the Mate 20 in what it calls "four vibrant colours". There's Black, Midnight Blue, Emerald Green and Twilight, which is the shifting colour pattern we first saw on the Huawei P20 Pro.

However, don't get too excited by that colour range because the only shade that Huawei will release officially in Australia will be the less exciting Black finish. If you want a more extroverted Huawei Mate 20, you'll have to import one.

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Huawei Mate 20: Camera

  • Triple camera has been dialled down, but is still very good
  • Good night-shooting capabilities for its price range
  • Camera AI mostly works
  • Portrait lighting remains clunky and daft
  • No monochrome lens

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro is, hands down, my favourite camera phone right now, and that put the Mate 20 into an unenviable position when it came to testing it out. While it shares the same square shaped physical array as its bigger sibling, it's with a cut-down range of actual sensors in play.

Specifically, what you get with the Huawei Mate 20 is a 12MP f/1.8 wide sensor, a 16MP f/2.2 ultra-wide lens and an 8MP f/2.4 telephoto lens. It's still a potent combination, especially at the Mate 20's price point, but the dialling down of camera capabilities does have an effect on overall picture quality and feature set. You're limited to 2x optical zoom where the Mate 20 Pro offers 5x, although it's downsampling its 40MP sensor there, so it's not really "optical" zoom. You can digitally zoom with the Mate 20, as you can with many phones, but the results get markedly worse the further you push it.

Huawei provides the same AI-assisted camera capabilities as found in the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. Huawei's AI-driven camera software has improved markedly in 2018, with rapid identification of scenes and a mostly-pleasing approach to parameter setting as a result.

Like the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, there's still something of a pause while it works out whether to engage the ultra-wide lens for super macro mode, which is mildly annoying. I'm still hoping Huawei updates the camera app to incorporate a dedicated super macro mode for those times when you want to shoot up close.

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro also impressed with its low-light camera capability, although we are seeing an increasing number of phone cameras use multiple stitched exposures to handle the same kind of capability. I was curious to see how well the Mate 20 would compare, so I took both of them out for a little low-light shooting.

First up, here's how the Mate 20's inbuilt AI camera chose to shoot a local park pathway after dark:

Here's the same shot taken by the Mate 20 Pro:

Here's the Mate 20's take on that scene with night-shooting mode enabled:

And here's how the Mate 20 Pro handled it with its 40MP-assisted night mode:

The Huawei Mate 20 does a solid job in low light, even in its basic AI mode, but it's not quite as capable as the Mate 20 Pro, which is still the best overall camera we've tested to date. However, for its price range, there's really not much to match the Huawei Mate 20.

At the front, Huawei packs in a 24MP f/2.0 single camera behind that teardrop notch – the same as the Mate 20 Pro. Huawei's basic selfie shooting is just fine, but like the Mate 20 Pro, it also features some downright ludicrous lighting modes.

So, for example, this is a fine, if not entirely flattering, regular selfie taken with the Mate 20:

Whereas this is the effect that I want to roll over the opening credits if I'm ever lucky enough to land the lead role on Doctor Who:

Like the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, you also have to be very careful with the portrait lighting modes because your choice is set as the default until you change it, and it's not always apparent that this is so. Unlike the Apple iPhone XS, you can't post-edit your lighting choices, so you're stuck with whatever was in place when you took each portrait shot from the front or rear cameras.

Huawei Mate 20: Sample Photos












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Huawei Mate 20: Performance

  • Kirin 98 provides excellent performance
  • Still a shadow over Huawei's benchmark honesty.
  • EMUI is still divisive
  • NM storage card format
  • Lacks water resistance

The recipe for the Huawei Mate 20's internals is functionally identical to that found on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, with Huawei's own Kirin 980 processor paired up with 6GB of RAM. That's for units sourced locally, although it's worth noting that Huawei is building some Mate 20 units with just 4GB of RAM if you were looking to import one from overseas.

The Kirin 980 had already showed itself to be a very capable performer, and the best processor in an Android phone this year, and it remains so within the Mate 20's slightly cheaper frame. Here's how it compares using Geekbench 4's CPU test:

There's really nothing between the Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro here, although there's more of a benchmark gulf when we switch to 3DMark's Slingshot Extreme test:

Both the Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro score very highly on the Vulkan API test, but there's a note of caution here, and not a happy one for Huawei fans. Huawei was found to be overclocking its phones, specifically for the 3DMark benchmark with the Huawei P20 Pro when it was released.

Huawei says it's learned a hard lesson there, but I lack the precise tools to check if this is absolutely true this time around. Certainly, benchmarks aren't the only picture of performance, and in general day-to-day usage, the Mate 20 is slick and responsive.

Huawei's own EMUI overlay is present on top of Android 9 ("Pie"), and it remains something of an odd mix. There's a lot of smart work in EMUI, but it's unevenly applied and rather jarring if you're used to a more "pure" Google approach.

It's something of a halfway house between the hand-holding of iOS (as aped by, among others, Oppo's ColorOS) and the full flexibility of Google's approach with its own Pixel 3 phones.

The Huawei Mate 20 has 128GB of onboard memory, and you can expand that, although not in the way you might think. Most Android phones that provide support for memory expansion do so via microSD, but Huawei's come up with its own proprietary "nano memory" (nm) card standard.

It's the size and shape of a nano SIM card, and occupies one of the Huawei Mate 20's dual SIM card slots. I'm not convinced we needed a new standard, especially as Huawei's pricing for the new cards runs to $139 for a 128GB card. You can get similar storage in the microSD format for around half that without trying too hard, making memory expansion of the Huawei Mate 20 an expensive proposition.

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro features IP68 water resistance, but there's no stated water resistance for the Huawei Mate 20 at all. It's fast becoming an expected feature for premium phones.

While the Huawei Mate 20 sits at the bottom end of the premium pricing space, it's something plenty of manufacturers in that price space can build in. The Huawei Mate 20 should be fine for small splashes of rain or sweat, but if you drop it in the pool, sink or toilet, you're likely to see it die all too rapidly.

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Huawei Mate 20: Battery life

  • Good battery life, although precisely how good is hard to pin down
  • Fast wired charging
  • Lacks wireless charging

The Huawei Mate 20 features an integrated 4,000mAh battery, quite sizeable for a phone in 2018, although not quite as impressive as the 4,200mAh power pack found in the Huawei Mate 20 Pro.

The Mate 20 Pro sailed through Geekbench 4's battery test with the single best battery life we've seen out of any phone, but for the Mate 20, it was a much more inconclusive affair.

The app frequently crashed out prior to completion, or gave results that would indicate it should have a battery roughly twice the size it does, suggesting that some components of the test were failing.

Is that the benchmark, or is Huawei juicing its phone to respond to the benchmark?

I honestly lack the ability to precisely check, but for now, I cannot trust the figures I'm getting out of Geekbench 4 for the Huawei Mate 20's battery life.

The utility of that benchmark lies largely in comparing smartphone performance across a linear test, and it's a pity I can't trust the figures the Mate 20 produced because in more anecdotal testing, it would appear to be a near match to the might of the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. Certainly it shares much of the same internal architecture, and the lower resolution display may also save it some power. Full-day battery life is very easy to get, and it's certainly conceivable that you could eke out multi-day power if your needs were more modest.

Flagship phones in 2019 tend to support both fast wired and wireless charging. Sadly, the Huawei Mate 20 only ticks one of those boxes, with rapid USB-C charging via Huawei's supplied charger.

Despite the glossy back, there's no Qi charging to be found here, which means that the reverse wireless charging found on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro can't be used to charge its own sibling phone.

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Huawei Mate 20: Should you buy it?

  • A very good phone for the asking price
  • A return to more regular pricing form for Huawei

The Huawei Mate 20 is Huawei's premium phone at the kinds of prices Huawei used to charge for premium phones. That means it's a serious challenger to the Huawei Mate 20 Pro on price grounds alone, although it's very clear to see where Huawei's cut down the Mate 20 relative to the feature set of that phone.

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro remains our current favourite flagship at the time of writing because those extra features do justify the price hike over the regular Mate 20. Still, you won't be overly disappointed with the Mate 20 if that's what you opt for. Against its competition at that price point, it's got a compelling story to tell.

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Huawei Mate 20: Pricing and availability

The Huawei Mate 20 sells for $1,099 outright in Australia through JB Hi-Fi, Harvey Norman, Mobileciti and Kogan in Black only.

Huawei Mate 20

Huawei's premium camera phone

The Huawei Mate 20 gives you the power of Huawei's own Kirin 980 chip, an exceptional battery and a great triple-camera array.

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The Huawei Mate 20 is also available on contract through Vodafone. Again, you're only looking at availability of the Black model, and as with so many contract phones, it's also only a single SIM phone if you acquire it that way. Here's Vodafone's plan pricing for the Huawei Mate 20:

Huawei Mate 20: Alternatives

If your budget can stretch to it, it's worth considering the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, which is essentially the Mate 20 on steroids. You get a better camera, bigger battery, better screen and a few nice-to-have features like an in-display fingerprint sensor and reverse wireless charging. It's available on contract through Vodafone or Optus or outright for $1499.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro

Huawei's flagship camera phone

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro combines the power of Huawei's own Kirin 980 chip, an exceptional battery and a class-leading triple-camera array.

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You could also consider the Huawei P20 Pro, although Huawei has yet to formally drop the price of that handset locally. It's worth it at the right price, but at the time of writing, it's rather close to that of the Mate 20 itself. However, outside of its monochrome-only sensor, the Mate 20 is clearly a better handset:

Huawei P20 Pro

A premium phone for camera lovers

The Huawei P20 Pro features three stunning rear cameras, helping you take your mobile photography to the next level.

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In the Android space at this kind of price point, the Samsung Galaxy S9 is definitely worth considering.

Samsung Galaxy S9

The Galaxy line continues to evolve

A faster processor and a new operating system make the Samsung Galaxy S9 a worthy successor to the S8. Available for purchase right now!

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If you favour a more clean Google approach than the Huawei Mate 20 provides, consider the Google Pixel 3:

Google Pixel 3

Google's newest flagship

The Google Pixel 3 provides the best of Android and Google's own vision of a premium smartphone that's uniquely Google-centric.

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If you're after a more bargain-centric option, you could also consider the OnePlus 6:

OnePlus 6

Flagship features at a fantastic price

The OnePlus 6 packs all the amenities of a full-priced premium smartphone while clocking in significantly cheaper than the competition.

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And if you're more keen on iOS phones at this price point, the current contender would be the Apple iPhone XR:

Apple iPhone XR

Colourful and powerful

The iPhone XR gives you the power of Apple's most powerful processor at a lower price point than the iPhone XS or iPhone XS Max

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Specifications

Huawei Mate 20 Specifications

OS Android 9
Display size (inches) 6.53
Display resolution (pixels) 2244 x 1080
Pixels per inch (PPI) 381
Processor Kirin 980
Height (mm) 158.2
Width (mm) 77.2
Depth (mm) 8.3
Weight (g) 188
Battery size (mAh) 4,000
Wireless charging No
Internal storage 128GB
MicroSD expansion 256GB
Fingerprint scanner Yes
RAM 6GB
Water resistance N/A
Rear camera (1) resolution 12
Rear camera (1) aperture f/1.8
Rear camera (2) resolution 16
Rear camera (2) aperture f/2.2
Rear camera (3) resolution 8
Rear camera (3) aperture f/2.4
Front camera (1) resolution 24
Front camera (1) aperture f/2.0
Front camera (2) resolution
Front camera (2) aperture
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Network category speed Category 21
NFC support Yes
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