Experienced Perfection With a Down-throttle
Due to personal reasons this unboxing has been delayed. Sorry to those whom have expected it sooner!
I have been excited for this. The Huawei P20 Pro have been on my wish-list for phones to try since it was announced. I never got to it though, but with the Mate 20 Pro I didn’t feel like playing skip-day is an option.
Pretty much everything about Huaweis latest flagships makes me excited, although the physical fingerprint sensor/home button on the bottom bezel was kind of off-putting on the P20 at first sight. Moving forward towards in-display fingerprint sensors and 3D facial unlocking I think Huawei are really going places. Not to mention that they, in comparison to the competition that’s playing it safe, looks to take charge.
This review will not be followed up by a full review. Therefor I have tried to pack as much as I can into a short-term impression.
Unboxing is pleasant. Unfortunately, everything is not.
So here goes, let’s unpack the phone and boot it up!
The clean presentation of the phone is not unlike unboxing an iPhone. The black box gets a few extra points from me though. It’s also textured, which is nice. Under the phone lays a warranty/support card as well as the IMEI codes for both SIM-trays. I am so glad that Huawei didn’t taper these to the phone, as other manufacturers tent to do. In the bottom we find the charger brick, USB-C cable, and the USB-C headphones. This is the new 40 W fast charger from Huawei, promising to be among the fastest charger-solutions out there. Inside the folder I found a warranty manual as well as some pointless informational cards. But no case, am I missing something? I thought Huawei were including a clear case in the box, like so many other Chinese manufacturers are doing. The supply for cases are small in Sweden so far, making it sad to lose the out of the box protection. With the curved screen, I forsee screen protectors taking a hit as well.
The device it self is really well built, and seems to place itself nicely in my hands. It is larger than I am accustomed to though, seeing as I’ve been using the iPhone XS for over a month now.
I am not a fan of curved screens. Being the new cool thing when Samsung did it back in the day, I find no actual benefit in this design. Quite the opposite, it only makes it harder to protect the display. Making it less ideal to survive a fall as well as unable to utilize standard screen protectors. I picked up the Twilight color, as I wanted to see it with my own eyes, and it’s refreshing. I love that they [Huawei] created a darker gradient this time, making it go from black through purple to blue. The frames are made from aluminium, and feel good. They’re glossy, matching the back-side’s gradient, and I fin d a surprising admiration in cleanliness achieved from not having speaker-grills.
The back, while looking good, is however a fingerprint magnet. My device smudged up immediately, as shown in the last picture.
Apple’s iPhones are always subjected to the so-called “gates”. Issues in 2018 like “Beauty gate” or “charge gate” that plague the devices early on. The “gate” name-tag comes from the political scandal, Watergate, and indicates that Apple messed up.
With the Mate 20 Pro, Huawei are being subjected to a gate of their own. Amusingly named Gluegate, it refers to a large badge of units affected by a green hue that mostly appears on gray backgrounds at a low screen brightness. The issue is at first not noticeable if not sought out, but reports do claim that it gets worse over time. Huawei licences OLED-panels from Both LG and BOE, with the former manufacturer’s displays being the most affected. According to oled-info the issue comes from assembly issues involving the screen’s adhesive, making the Glue-Gate pronoun befitting.
Well, being curious I decided to check my Mate 20 Pro’s display for this error early on, downloading a dark-gray image [link] and lowering the brightness to it’s lowest. To best test the display you should try this in a pitch-dark room. I also opened the image I used on my iPhone XS to make sure that the picture wasn’t fake in any way, but a single colored gray one.
Investigating further I found that my device was manufactured with a display-panel from LG. Following the Pixel 2 XL complaints from 2017 it’s hard to see LG being able to keep this up. Although it should be said that Huawei might be accountable as well if the device is manufactured badly.
I tried the same thing with the Netflix app, as it has a non-black but dark background which also showed signs of green. Following the claims that the issue gets more pronounced after usage, I decided to head back to the store (Swedish retailer Webhallen). The cashier didn’t recognize the issue, and couldn’t confirm it in their well-lit locale. Therefor, I had to return the Mate 20 Pro for a checkup.
Here’s the sad of it. While some sections of Huawei have commented on the issue and said that replacements shall be given out, Huawei Finland did this for example, several countries are still left with no official statement. Seeing that employees in stores don’t know about this either is a pretty bad sign. Some sources claim that the second batch, that is supposedly now being shipped out, is free from the issue. But there’s still no official statement, in Sweden at least. Actually, according to a second source the first batch is still being shipped out in full bloom.
While I unboxed the device on Friday and returned it the same morning I received an email a few days later describing that the store didn’t find any issues with my display. The question is, did I imagine it? Did reading internet forums make me paranoid, or maybe they’re just not qualified to test for this (strangely enough) unknown issue?
The store did mention that I can return the phone but that I shouldn’t buy a new one if I’m displeased with the display. That’s just a funny way to handle it. I’m not displeased with the display itself, but with the quality control.
I replied to the retailer, asking for an explanation of how the phone was tested, but I wasn’t holding my breath for a satisfying answer. Right I were, as they simply replied that the phone was found to be free of issues as they had previously written and that the store was able to take a return if I didn’t want it.
So what do we have?
An expensive flagship with what is now a widely known display issue.
A manufacturer that abstains from making a public statement on said issue.
A bunch of retailers with employees that don’t know about the issue and don’t get official guidelines from Huawei.
My phone, that was tested for something other than the issue at hand. On my receipt it actually says that I experience “Greenish Screen Bleeding”, which is something else entirely.
My biggest concern is the fact that Huawei haven’t made any official comments on the situation, and that they don’t even communicate with the retailers supplying the phone. People like to bring up Samsung’s Note 7 incident, and for good reason. LG is still blamed for bootloops that happened years ago, and no one mentions the Note 7’s explosion-tendencies for other reasons than when they’re making a joke. Samsung handled the situation, and no one is holding a grudge.
I think Huawei need to get a handle on this situation before they lose the respect of the tech community. After all, a large portion of the population still think of the manufacturer as a lesser known budget-manufacturer, which in many ways is a sad fact. The techies of the world will help spread positive words, as long as the company takes complaints seriously.
The Second Chance
So Today, Tuesday, I picked up the phone again at lunch time. They asked me if I wanted it, or if I wanted to return it. I replied questioning if I can return it again if it get’s worse, which they confirmed. All is good so far right? I accepted the phone back to think about it. I really would like to review the phone, but mostly I took it back to at least finish this unboxing.
Unboxing it yet again I notice that it’s not reset to its factory settings. I was concerned that they checked it for a normal light bleeding issue instead of the glue-issue. My concerns were affirmed by the fact that a web-page that explains how to check for light bleed was opened and I can only assume that this is what’s been tested in-store. This test includes staring at the screen with a pitch-black image to see if there are errors. But here’s the deal, following what I wrote earlier that the Gluegate issue only shows on gray images at first. So not only are they ignorant about the issue, they also didn’t listen when I explained it, nor did they investigate the proper problem online. When looking at the phone with the dark mode enabled I found that, to my amusement, a lot of accents are in gray. So I actually think I can notice the issue in the system UI as well.
With my review-budget, I am going for the OnePlus 6T instead, at least until Huawei gets this under control. I simply can’t afford to review a phone that I’ll have trouble selling after my testing.
I do think that anyone with afflicted devises should try to get it replaced, or return it. The only way to stop situations like this is if the manufacturer can’t sell the phone with said issues. Also, it’s way to expensive for me to be ok with it being defective.
My Opinions on the Mate 20 Pro
Setting Gluegate aside for a while the Phone is well-built with a nice discretely curved display. It’s not over-done as with Samsungs of the past. The Twilight color has improved in my opinion, and the camera position is a fresh new take. I do however still prefer the camera design of the P20 Pro for some reason. I would have preferred a flatter display, so for my personal preference I still hope that this doesn’t become the norm in smartphone design.
The in-display fingerprint sensor works pretty good on my device, most of the time, and I love that it’s positioned higher up on the phone. This makes it easy to reach without working the thumb down to the bottom.
Face Unlock is a breeze on my device, working almost just as well as on the iPhone XS so far. I still think it’s sad that Google haven’t started allowing for Face-ID like authentication in Android though as this makes it less useful. While it seems to be mostly reliable, I have however found it to misread in different lighting-situations more than Apples version does.
Registring the fingerprint does take longer than it did on old traditional sensors. It also forces me to put my finger in stranger angles while the indicator looks to show what part of the finger it want a better read off. While taking longer, this is not an issue in my opinion but a result of being “early” on the market.
As I said though, the sensor itself works well, and being up front as well as higher up makes it more convenient than any other fingerprint sensor I have tried.
I have however found it to misread my prints if it’s cold outside. The in-display sensor on the OnePlus 6T seems to handle this better, or at least just as good, which is kind of amusing considering the price differences. Also, the Huawei sensor reuqires that you press down on the display to activate it, which seems less intuitive. Especially since there’s no haptic feedback to indicate that it’s reading. On a positive note, Huawei made it so that the display only lights up underneath your finger when the screen is off. This helps with the complaints of sudden increase of brightness on the OnePlus 6T.
The speakers are pretty good, but not on the same level as the iPhone XS’. The phone uses the earpiece for mids and highs while the USB-C port houses the bottom-firing speaker for the louder “bassier” sound. They do however come off as un-even, which is less satisfying than when the iPhone takes charge.
The display is, as I said a good display with satisfying colors and details. It’s just the Gluegate issue that makes it hard to enjoy. Fun fact though, the chin is larger than I would have expected from the marketing images. I still don’t mind it, but coming from the iPhone, again, it is noticeable at fist. With more manufacturers reaching the $1000 price-tag, I think it’s time for them to also manufacture the bottom bezel like Apple does. For an in-depth display review, I’d recommend AnandTech. Taking from his review, I’d say green hues aren’t the only problem originating from LG’s OLED panels.
Huawei is first at launching an Android phone with a 7 nm processor and as far as I can tell it flies through the user interface. The battery got an improvement of 200 mAh, making it a 4200 mAh battery all-together.
There is also quick charging at 40W, claiming around 70% in 30 minutes as well as wireless charging at 15W. The most impressive gimmick of the Mate 20 Pro is the Reversed Wireless Charging though, which as it sounds let you charge another phone from the back of Mate 20 Pro. Most people won’t use this as a regular thing, but it is really cool nonetheless.
EMUI Quick Impression
As far as Android goes, one of the biggest complaints remain manufacturer skins. Well, that’s not fair because there are a lot of people out there that prefer them to stock as well. EMUI used to be called an iOS-wannabe skin but have come into its own over the last few years. I tried the Honor 8 in the spring of 2017 and from what I can recall it was far from a bad experience. Things have progressed since then and to be honest, the time I had with the Mate 20 Pro was limited but overall positive.
Huawei didn’t have an app-drawer for their phones before the end of 2016. When it finally arrived it was through the old-school button layout. Seeing as several Android manufacturers have followed Googles idea of accessing the drawer by swiping up I find it kind of boring that Huawei still uses an icon. I guess it feels old. Folders on the home screen looks pretty much just like your average iPhone or Galaxy device.
Using the phone without a drawer would have been fine for me, but seeing as there are several options for customization in Android I actually find it confusing to be back. I know it’s only been a little over a month since I switched to iOS, but I don’t quite know what to do about all these icons. I don’t mind not having an app-drawer, but it has to make sense. The iPhone XS is small enough so that having the icons on top is fine. On the Mate 20 Pro that just looks ridiculous.
I give credit though, for Huawei to implement the Google Feed into the launcher. It’s placed on the far left page, where it should be. The ability to hide the notch remains. But while it might have made sense when the chin was larger, it now kind of ruins the point of bringing symmetry. Still, I don’t hide the notch, so I don’t really care.
Huawei have also created their own version of Digital Wellbeing, letting the user limit apps on a daily basis and set events for night-time like making the screen go black and white or disabling most apps. I still think this is kind of a goodwill move though, as it doesn’t really help much in reality. Still, it’s a nice addition when aiming for being the most feature packed modern smartphone out there.
While I said that the User Interface is smooth, it is not without hiccups. Unfortunately I have during my limited time with the device encountered more frame-drops than I ever have with the iPhone XS. Swiping down on the home screen to access the search feature is for example one of those instances that feels more janky than useful. I don’t think it is lag however, but a lack of polished animations. As if the system itself might object to the action. Swiping it away is even worse. Since this is an iPhone feature copied I do think it is in place to compare it directly, and looking at the two phones only the iPhone manages to handle both swipe down with finess as well as when swiping up again. I think this is a combination of animation failure and Android being to slow to open the keyboard resulting with the phone trying to compensate by just making it appear.
I have to make a quick mention about the gestures too. While seeming smooth enough, I feel like the animation closing the app back into its icon activates to quickly when swiping up to go home. Like if the movement of my finger is forced down. Strangely looking, it kind of bugged the feeling of this standard gesture that I otherwise have come to love. Also, swiping up and holding to access the recent apps menu seems to require a a longer pause than it should making it feel less fluent as well. I had a hard time locating the menu were you switch to gestures, leaving me forced to search for it. That’s a first, but I might just be stupid. To simplify for others, it is located under system settings.
On the topic of gestures I like the back-swipe in iOS, where you swipe in from the left to go back, or in web-browsers the right to also go forward. Huawei made their gestures just like the ones on Xiaomi’s MIUI were a swipe in from either side goes back. This is very functional, and pretty logical, but it also interferes with swipe-typing on keyboards like Swiftkey and the side menus in Android. So when typing (I mostly swipe) I have to make sure that the “A” key is pressed before starting to move my finger. Otherwise I just as well might end up closing the keyboard. While I called it logical, I do think the idea of going back by swiping from curved edges are better than the reality. I do however like the idea of swiping up from the edges to access the Google Assistant. It would have been fine working through the power button, but this way you don’t have to handle the phone as much.
I like that Huawei offers a true Dark Mode, allowing for OLED-black colors in the system UI. This is good for battery-life as well as having design-elements for those who don’t like the fully white backgrounds. The notification tray and quick settings are kind of standard for Android, although they lack the round quick-setting icons that Google re-designed this year.
I feared it, and it came true. I kind of miss 3D Touch. I know it can be emulated, sort of, with a long press but it will never be the same thing. Also counting that the Home Screen doesn’t use the haptic feedback engine when long-pressing makes it even less immersive.
Now, forgoing most of the nice things I said. While the Huawei Mate 20 Pro handles it’s operations with smoothness and finess, there’s something about EMUI that feels bugged down. Like with the gestures, where the home swipe feels like it’s being pushed back because of the animation, or where the swipe and hold for recent apps gesture requires an unruly amount of holding to actually activate, the system itself also feels like it’s sometimes slowing itself down, though not to the point were it ruins the experience. About the recent app’s gesture, this is due to the system waiting for me to stop my finger. I tried it endlessly until I realized that it didn’t matter how far up I swiped, but that I stopped moving my finger upwards. After I figured that out the learning curve took care of the rest. Still, comparing it to the OnePlus 6T or the iPhone XS’s gestures, it feels unnecessary and I have to actively think about pausing.
Huawei have been working on their camera app for generations now, and while I appreciate the list of feature modes, I can’t shake the feeling that it too requires some learning. I guess that’s due to me frequenting phones that make this stuff easy for the user.
Overall though, I’d be hard set to recommend this phone to a Google purist. It’s obvious that Huawei, whilst trying to do better, still cannot compete when it comes to software perfection. If the user interface is key to your experience, the iPhones, Pixels, or OnePlus’ of the world are still a better bet.
This is the number one reason why people pick up the Mate 20 Pro, its camera setup. As a follow-up to the P20 Pro, Huawei took away the monochrome sensor in favor of a ultra-wide angled lens while marketing that software can create black and white photos that are satisfying today and that the camera is good enough not to need its help.
So the phone packs three cameras: one being the main shooter at 40 MP f/1.8 aperture, one being a 3x telephoto zoom lens at 8 MP f/2.4 aperture, and the third an ultra-wide 120 degrees lens at 20 MP f/2.2 aperture, with the ability to shoot macro-photos at down to 2,5 cm.
Just another quick mention when it comes to the camera app. Is it just me, or does it go against every modern cue of software design to make the camera dashboard look like fake leather?
Overall quality is great, the 40 MP main shooter bins pixels down to 10 MP as a standard setting. You set it to its native resolution, but most people will probably benefit more from the pixel binning. The telephoto lens can be used in conjunction with the main shooter to capture 5x hybrid zoom pictures, which still retains a lot of detail. LG, the father of ultra wide angled lenses on smartphones use three little icons to switch between the different focal lengths. Huawei implemented a single zoom button that can be clicked to toggle presets or dragged from 0.6x (ultra wide) to 10x (digital zoom). This way actually feels a lot better.
The camera features more modes than a normal user would now what to do about. From the standard human Portrait Mode to Aperture Mode that seems to utilize the telephoto lens for depth sensing other objects. Speaking of Aperture mode, I initially thought it required a cropped image to create a satisfying edge detection. I have however realized that while the camera starts out at 2x, it’s fully possible to drag it back to 1x and still capture the image with the Bokeh effect. There’s also night mode, a feature that Huawei fully launched with the P20 Pro. Here the phone takes a series of photos with different exposure points and stitches the data together for a brighter, more detailed photo. While Huawei might have been first, I think it’s safe to say that Google went above and beyond with the latest Pixel phones, challenging this highly appreciated about camera feature.
The thing to note is that it doesn’t always brighten a photo, in favor of bringing out the “correct” colors it might also darken it. This is undeniably good however, as it usually leads to a more satisfyingly allrounded photo.
Huawei started the whole “AI mode” that saturates pictures to bring out the colors, and Master AI remains an option on the Mate 20 Pro. Although it can detect more scenes than possible on the P20 Pro the feature is also disabled by default on the Mate. Probably due to the backlash originating from people who found it annoying to have to turn it off. When turned on, the camera will try to detect the scene you’re watching and pick a filter that fits. Often that filter would be called Blue Skies during the day. A cool function is however that it can turn on Portrait Mode when the subject is a human being up close.
A stranger choice by the manufacturer is to limit HDR to a specific mode, like smartphones did in the past. For a phone being so camera focused it’s kind of strange that it doesn’t feature auto HDR, to take on the competition from Google and Apple head-on.
While I like the amount of details the camera can capture, I do think it sometimes makes me look strange, as if I picked up a dark filter along the way. Actually, it’s more bleak than dark. At times I think I can see this in ordinary photos as well. Portrait mode on the rear camera works great, but the selfie camera have struggled a bit at creating a good edge cut-out. It’s also strange how activating portrait mode on the selfie camera isn’t enough to actually get the effect. From what I can tell, I also need to enable an effect manually for it to actually “Bokehfy” my picture.
The front facing selfie camera comes in at 24 MP and an aperture of f/2.0. At close range I think the details are great. It seems to lag behind if I stretch my arm though so group selfies may suffer.
When speaking of videos people are still annoyed that the phone doesn’t do 4K at 60 frames per second (fps). For me this is a non-issue as I rarely shoot videos. But at the same time it’s odd that the very hyped Kirin 980 processor isn’t used for this. The phone does however come with some cool features like portrait video (blurring the background while keeping the human subject in focus) and a feature that creates a black and white background while regaining the subject’s colors in real-time.
There is also the super slow motion at 970 fps in 720p that captures a 2 second long shot in glorious slowness. 720p is a bummer though.
Conclusion and Closing Comment
I think it’s a shame that the Huawei Mate 20 Pro struggles with its display-manufacturing. In addition to the Gluegate issue, a few users also report a blue-green constant line along the edges. According to the Display Review at AnandTech the LG panel is also a battery-hog, draining the large capacity more than a Samsung display would have.
When it comes to features, the Mate 20 Pro has it all. A lot of users would be satisfied for years running this phone as a daily driver. Unfortunately, people in Sweden (at least) still see Huawei as a Chinese “cheap” company of old and I doubt these issues will help its case.
The camera is great, and very versatile. The software seems ok, although Huawei have been accused of making trouble with third-party apps because of the battery-savings they implement in EMUI. A lot of people wouldn’t mind, and for most apps it can be disabled for them to work as intended. Some users do report that it’s as bad as my experience with the Oppo Find X though.
Authentication through Face Unlock or the in-display fingerprint sensor works like a charm, and I see no reason to complain about the speed of the bio-metric sensors. On contrary, both work really well. It is however a shame that Face-ID only works for unlocking the device and for authenticating in certain Huawei apps.
I do however think a statement needs to be made. One that tells companies that consumers won’t accept half-baked products, or tech displays full of issues, and lackluster support.
If your phone shows signs of Gluegate, or the other issue, take it back. Demand a replacement.
If you’re lucky, it won’t be afflicted. If not, I guess the sad truth is that this is not the perfect phone it could have been. Some people have the patience to pick up device after device until they get a good one. For some people, this is more annoying than it might be worth. I recently heard from a source that his seemingly not green LG-panel started showing signs of gluegate after weeks of use though, so a perfect display might also become less perfect after a while.
What are your thought on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro and how do you think Huawei is handling it?
Let me know in the comment below.
This is Andreas @ The Mobile Swede, thanks for staying with me.