The Mate 20 Pro is the first phone running Huawei's EMUI 9.0 software, which is like an unnecessary topping on an already sweet Android 9 Pie. Huawei's skin is starting to look dated, especially when compared with the stylish, clean Material Design of stock Pie. You can personalize EMUI with various themes, icon packs and so on, but it still feels like it's stalled where stock Android design has kept moving forward.
Just as Google has made mostly subtle improvements to Android in the latest version, such as the digital wellness feature that lets you monitor and cap your own usage, Huawei's kept its skin update lean. Aside from making the settings menu a bit neater, the company says most of what's new is invisible, speeding up performance and responsiveness compared with the last EMUI build.
Huawei has similar things to say about its new octa-core Kirin 980 processor, which is one of the first 7nm mobile chips. In layman's terms, this means it's smaller and more tightly packed than your average CPU. Just the physical size of the thing improves performance and reduces power consumption compared with standard 10nm chips, like last year's Kirin 970. The eight cores also work together in clever ways to make everything as efficient as possible.
Those with the lowest clock speeds take care of simple tasks like background processes, the fastest ones make sure games play at their best and middle-of-the-road cores handle everything else. Apart from any AI processes, that is, which is what the two neural processing units (NPUs) are for. These NPUs are designed specifically to deal with things like object recognition, so the other cores don't have to. Theoretically, having two of them means the camera can identify scenes or a translator app can distinguish text that much quicker. But Master AI, at least, isn't noticeably quicker on the Mate than the P20 Pro, which has just one NPU.
It's all about balancing speed and efficiency, but the Mate 20 Pro has an above-average battery capacity to begin with. Everything comes together with satisfying results. I'm a relatively heavy user as it is, no more so than when I keep coming back to a review unit to check settings, test features, take pictures and the rest. Even under these conditions, I haven't been rushing to a power outlet towards the end of the day. By paying it a normal level of attention, you can squeeze two relatively full days out the battery. Not quite the good times of Nokia candy bars, but it's progress.
When it comes to refueling, you have a couple of options. The Mate 20 Pro supports 40W fast-charging, which is very fast. It is on paper, anyway, but I can't verify claims that a 70 percent charge is possible in 30 minutes because my review unit included a European two-pin plug, not the UK one I need. I saw results closer to 70 percent recovery in double the time with the plugs and cables I have to hand.
The Mate 20 Pro also supports 15W wireless charging, which again is faster than the industry average (the new Pixels max out at 10W with approved pads, for example). Wireless charging is notoriously slow, so any improvement here is welcome, not that I have hard stats to share since I don't have a wireless charger that outputs at 15W. Perhaps the craziest thing about the Mate 20 Pro, period, is that it can wirelessly charge any other phone that supports the Qi standard. Enable this in settings, put the two phones back to back and marvel at this strange act of digital parasitism. Chances are you will rarely if ever find use for this, but it's a feature that doesn't exist on any other phone, and that's kinda cool.
Back to that Kirin 980 chip. Efficient power management is not secondary to performance here. I honestly don't feel there's anything between the big-name flagships these days. The user experience is incredibly fast and fluid across the board, and that's true of the Mate 20 Pro as well. It's as rapid and responsive as you need it to be, and you'd expect that from a $1000+ phone. There's even a high-performance mode you can enable in settings that forgets all about battery life, but I don't know when you'd need it.
Annoyingly, PUBG Mobile isn't fully compatible with the Mate 20 Pro at the moment, for reasons unknown. It's still playable, you're just not able to push the graphics settings to their highest. I've messed around with several other graphically challenging games, though, with zero issues to report. Taking performance, efficiency and other things like Cat 21 LTE (up to 1.4 Gbps), WiFi 802.11ac Wave 2 and fast 2,133MHz LPDDR4X RAM support into consideration, the Kirin 980 in the Mate 20 Pro is certainly a competent chip.
Depending on your region, the Mate 20 Pro comes with 6GB or 8GB of RAM and 128GB or 256GB of storage. That's plenty of space for most people, and technically the storage is expandable. Only, like an ill-conceived joke, Huawei created a proprietary memory card for the Mate 20 Pro, and presumably for its subsequent phones. It's the same size as a nano-SIM, which is to say it's a bit smaller than the microSD cards most people are familiar with.
It makes for a slightly neater dual-SIM/memory card tray, but undoubtedly its primary reason to exist is so Huawei can squeeze a bit more money out of consumers. Shame on you. These cards don't appear to be cheap at first glance, either. On Amazon UK, a 128GB "NM Card" sells for just under £55 (roughly $70), which is more than double the price of an equivalent microSD card. The listing in question doesn't look all that official, though, so it could be an import with a wildly inflated price. Only time will tell.
You'll know many of the biggest names in smartphones have unleashed their latest flagships over the past few months. The field is rife with strong competition for the Mate 20 Pro at the moment, whether that be from Samsung's Galaxy Note 9, Apple's new iPhones, Google's new Pixels or LG's V40 ThinQ.
LG's new device isn't priced in the UK yet, but almost every other flagship mentioned above is at least as expensive as the £899 (roughly $1,150) Mate 20 Pro. Google's Pixels start at £739 (a few bucks shy of $950), and I must admit the smaller Pixel 3 is cute and stylish. Still, we're working within a relatively narrow, high price range, and the Mate 20 Pro is a front-runner in this category.
You can't ignore the newly announced OnePlus 6T, though. Yet again, OnePlus has pulled together a near-flagship package for an attractive price. The 6T features an in-screen fingerprint reader just like the Mate 20 Pro, but it doesn't have quite as many bells and whistles. That said, with prices starting at $549/£499, you can't argue with that kind of value for money.