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Huawei Mate 20 Pro review: Almost too much

Filled to the brim

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When I first got my hands on the Mate 20 Pro, I wondered to myself: Where do I even start?

Even after spending over a month with the phone and checking out its less feature-packed sibling, I still can’t help but be amazed by how much tech Huawei jammed into this thing.

It’s not even debatable; comparing the Mate 20 Pro to any other phone released this year would make the opposite side look stale. Inside and out, this is the most complete smartphone ever assembled.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. While Huawei focused so hard on one-upping its fiercest rivals, some old weaknesses showed up and new issues arose in the process.

Going through every single feature would be too much for a single article, however. I could easily surpass the monstrous word count of our iPhone XS review if I were to get overly thorough and technical.

Instead, it’s best to evaluate the Mate 20 Pro by its most impressive, as well as its most jarring, traits. Let’s begin with the usual: design.

I honestly wasn’t a fan of the stove-top arrangement of the rear cameras and excessively thick notch in front, but they eventually settled into my taste and I realized the purposes they served.

In short, I don’t have to deal with an awkward camera bulge on the rear, and the faster, more secure face login became a great alternative to the intuitive yet comparatively slow under-display fingerprint reader.

I also wasn’t interested in the curved edges at first, but I eventually missed them when switching to flatter phones. The way the curves mold into my hand and give that overflowing feel are actually more comfy than what I experienced on the Galaxy Note 9, which has a thicker and more unwieldy feel to it.

And despite the larger size, the proportions feel more ergonomic than the P20 Pro’s. In addition, the Mate 20 Pro’s Twilight gradient is a lot more appealing to me. It may be personal taste, but I’ve had a handful of people express the same opinion.

On the downside, the audio port is missing — something the regular Mate 20 has — and I find it strange that one of the stereo speakers has to come out of the USB-C port. This easily gets blocked when using the phone horizontally, especially when I forget that Huawei decided to place it there of all spots. It’s a sore point coming from the front-facing implementations of the Razer Phone 2 and Pixel 3.

Oh, and there’s an IR blaster in case you want to control your TV. Strange to see it on such a premium device, but I guess there’s a market for this, and maybe for those who like messing with televisions on display at the mall.

The 6.39-inch AMOLED screen itself is gorgeous. Colors pop and I love the super-dense 1440p resolution. Combined with the loud speakers and fast processing of the Kirin 980 chip, both video watching and gaming are a pleasure on this phone.

On that note, Huawei’s latest chipset is a marvel on its own. The 7nm architecture is no joke; it’s speedy AF and doesn’t overheat under pressure. Seriously, I threw the most demanding games at it and multitasked in between — nothing fazes it. It helps that I got 6GB of memory and 128GB of storage to play with. On the downside, the latter can only be expanded by Huawei’s (for now) proprietary NM Card slot. More on that here.

It’s a shame then that the EMUI skin is so behind compared to other interfaces. The Mate 20 Pro is one of the first phones to come with Android 9 Pie out of the box, but aside from a few additions like Digital Balance (the equivalent of Google’s Digital Wellbeing) and better volume controls, it’s a lot like Huawei’s clunky older software.

For one, you still need to tap an icon from the home screen to open the app drawer. This is one of the few skins that still makes you do that; others have a more intuitive swipe-up gesture to free up space on the app dock.

Want to activate your camera by double-pressing the volume down button while listening to music? Good luck with that, because doing so will simply lower the volume of your tunes. Again, other phones require a smarter double-press on the power button.

Another thing: I don’t adore the Mate 20 Pro’s always-on display. It’s nowhere near as informative as the ones found on the Galaxy or Pixel series. Sure, you’re provided with the date, time, and battery percentage, but getting a glimpse of notifications is frustrating at times, making me just go to the lockscreen to see what I’m receiving.

In addition, this has to be one of the weakest implementations of gesture navigation. Apple pioneered this style with the iPhone X, wherein you could swipe from the bottom to go to the home screen and hold it to enter multitasking; several Android manufacturers have copied this well, but Huawei didn’t get this right. Choosing the traditional back-home-app navigation bar alleviates this issue, but then you lose some of that precious real estate at the bottom.

Finally, there are certain apps — Google Photos and Maps, in particular — which have this awkward lag on EMUI. I’ve experienced this with the P20 Pro, and the problem still hasn’t gone away. I looked it up and it’s not an isolated issue.

The disconnect between the quality of hardware and software should’ve been resolved long ago. It’s reasons like this why people flock to iPhones and Pixels so easily, because they know that everything melds together so well, despite the lack of certain features. Huawei still has time to fix most if not all of these issues, but having seen no improvement on the P20 Pro after all this time, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Cons aside, the added features are excellent, albeit excessive at times. One is the wireless reverse charging, which allows you to charge other Qi-enabled devices on the Mate 20 Pro’s back. It’s slow and part of a rare usage case, but it’s so cool to have when absolutely needed. Since the phone’s generous 4200mAh battery lasts two days anyway, it’s perfectly fine to share some juice with accessories like a smartwatch.

And because the capacity is so hefty, it’s only right for Huawei to enable 40W charging on this beast. This is by far the most convenient way to fill up a battery on any Huawei phone. It’s no exaggeration that it takes only half an hour to hit 70 percent from zero. Give it another 40 minutes, and you have a full charge. Going back to anything slower has been a pain for me.

Reaching this point without talking about camera quality is a clear sign that the Mate 20 Pro is more than the sum of its pixels. At the same time, they’re a highlight of the phone and must be reviewed extensively.

You can learn more about the complex camera setup in our earlier hands-on, but in essence, the trio found on the back are what you should care most about. These are the 40-megapixel f/1.8 main shooter, 20-megapixel f/2.2 extra-wide camera, and 8-megapixel f/2.4 telephoto unit capable of optical zoom.

This translates into the most versatile cameras ever equipped on a smartphone. LG and ASUS popularized ultra-wide lenses while Apple and Samsung made telephoto shooters a thing, but it’s Huawei spearheading the complete package.

The monochrome sensor will be missed; it was Huawei’s signature feature up until the P20 Pro, but one can argue that it’s no longer necessary in this age of IG filters and colored sensors becoming advanced enough to create their own high dynamic range.

Traveling with this phone as my all-in-one camera is such a joy. When out in an open space, the ultra-wide-angle camera flourishes; while at an event in need of close-ups, the telephoto looks great up to 3x zoom — even 5x if lighting is enough.

Like the overall interface, the camera software is hit or miss. Although I appreciate the ease of switching between the primary modes, the dump of less-important ones under “More” bothers my organized self. You could leave Master AI on to let it choose the right mode for each situation, but it’s not that accurate, like any AI-powered camera you find these days.

For example, as I’m about to take a portrait in Auto mode, the app would switch to — you guessed it — Portrait mode and saturate the hell out of my subject after a short amount of lag. More often than not, the AI wouldn’t correctly identify the subject, sometimes even saying that black-and-white graffiti on a wall is a panda. Go figure.

The worst part is you can’t make adjustments after the AI-altered shot is made, which is something even lower-end Honor phones can do. Again, it’s hit or miss, and I bet a lot of users would rather keep Master AI off. Using it, however, is the fastest way to access special features like Super Macro, which emulates a macro lens’ extreme close-up of an item.

Huawei’s awesome Night mode is also back, and it’s as good as it ever was. Every time I’m out in the evening, I make sure to take a few shots with it on. Like before, it gives me a four-second or so exposure while handheld; advanced processing then creates a work of art nine out of ten times.

I had a chance to compare it with the Pixel 3’s Night Sight, and I must say that the results are mixed. While the Huawei side is better at making nighttime illumination look pretty, the Pixel 3 can see better in total darkness. Both are great, and I take low-light photos with both phones whenever I can. Don’t worry, a separate article for this comparison is in the works.

The front has the same, unimpressive 24-megapixel f/2 camera found on the P20 Pro. Why Huawei chose not to improve on this weak point is beyond me. With most Chinese rivals taking selfies seriously, it’s a surprise why the Mate 20 Pro feels so far behind.

Like the P20 Pro, selfies with this setup are less than stellar. Without proper autofocus or accurate blurring around the subject’s head, your face can turn into a mushy mess under poor lighting conditions and there isn’t even a way to turn off the integrated beauty mode — something which has bothered several reviewers including myself.

Still, I found the Mate 20 Pro’s selfies better than what the iPhone XR and Galaxy Note 9 produce, but not on the level of the Pixel 3 and its dual-cam design. I can only wish that the next Huawei flagship will up its self-portrait game in the same way the rear cameras have.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

In spite of all my complaints, nothing’s a real deal-breaker. The absolute completeness of the Mate 20 Pro automatically places it at the very top of the heap, awarding it our GadgetMatch Seal of Approval.

If you can ignore the lack of software optimization and polarizing design choices, you’re guaranteed to experience the best there is — this side of the Android space at least.

For those choosing between this and the regular Mate 20 or P20 Pro — which retail for the same amount in most regions now — I’d say go for the Mate 20 Pro if you value the front camera features and in-display fingerprint sensor. Its screen is also more impressive than the Mate 20’s, and the Kirin 980 chip blows away the P20 Pro’s older Kirin 970.

At the same time, the US$ 1,000 or so price point pits it against the likes of the Galaxy Note 9 and iPhone XS. To Huawei’s credit, the Mate 20 Pro is no incremental upgrade compared to the two aforementioned flagships. You’re getting a true successor with all the bells and whistles — practically no compromises this time.

If you’re willing to wait, the follow-up to the super-popular P20 Pro will reveal itself in a few months. It’ll likely have the same Kirin 980 processor, but the camera updates may be more significant and the overall software more optimized.

Reviews

Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro Unboxing & Review: About Time!

Killer specs at a reasonable price

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It seems like Google’s Pixel 5 announcement didn’t stop Xiaomi from announcing their newest Mi 10T series.

As confusing as it might be, the new Mi 10T Pro is the successor to Mi 9T Pro, last year’s popular midranger. But the thing is, Xiaomi’s newest phone isn’t a midrange device anymore.

Packed with Snapdragon 865, set of brilliant cameras, and a gaming-centric 144Hz display, the new Mi 10T Pro might just be establishing a new smartphone category with flagship-tier specs at a midranger’s price.

Curious to find out what was added and removed? Watch our review of the Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro here.

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Samsung Galaxy S20 FE Unboxing and Review: Not What You Think!

Samsung’s answer to their pricey flagship smartphones

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Galaxy S10e, S10 Lite, and the Galaxy S20 FE, three phones meant for the less tech-savvy consumers. Samsung may not be consistent with naming their phones, but they’re still consistent in giving fans the best of specs.

The Galaxy S20 FE is a follow-up to Samsung’s S20 Series — packed with no-compromise specs at a reasonable price. But in order to bring down costs, they have to make adjustments for it to have a retail value just below the US$ 700 mark.

Are these cuts acceptable for it to be called as one of 2020’s “cheapest” flagship smartphones?

You can watch our Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review by clicking this link.

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realme 7 Pro review: A real deal

Supercharging their way into the action

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realme has gone aggressive in attracting attention for their smartphones. There’s always something that they bring to the table, either new features or just an incredibly-built smartphone. Now, they have another new smartphone that will surely capture the public at lightning-fast speeds — the realme 7 Pro.

The realme 7 Pro is the company’s latest entry into a more powerful space. It’s power, like most smartphones, would come from the hardware it possesses. However, there’s much more that this phone actually offers apart from power. In essence, it strives to give you the best smartphone possible.

So how does the “best smartphone possible” actually stack up? Here’s what the realme 7 Pro offers:

It has a 6.4-inch Super AMOLED display

The rear cameras are powered by the 2nd generation Sony IMX682 sensor

There is an in-screen fingerprint reader at the lower portion of the display

It comes in either Mirror Silver or Mirror Blue

Provides some excellent performance across the board

It was a joy using the realme 7 Pro, and it’s not just for the most part. The phone comes with the Snapdragon 720G octa-core processor inside, which ideally grants it great performance. Whether it was browsing social media, watching videos, or playing games, I genuinely felt how incredibly fast this phone is.

Along with the 8GB of RAM given to the phone, I felt no lags doing my normal phone routine. That Super AMOLED display provided great color accuracy and a bright enough screen to bring outdoors. I was able to watch some YouTube videos and Netflix shows even with the sun shining bright.

I’d also like to give huge props to realme’s UI and how it’s fully optimized for all use cases. The enhancements it brought while I was playing Call of Duty: Mobile gave me a smooth gameplay experience. And this was already on top of the powerful processor and high-enough RAM.

Supercharging is the star of the show

This device comes with a 65W SuperDart Charge brick, which ideally charges the phone up to 42% within a matter of 10 minutes. They’ve even mentioned during a forum that you can charge it to 30% in a matter of 7 minutes. At first, to me it seemed too good to be true — until I tried to replicate these exact figures.

As it turns out, I actually got to about 29% from 0% within 7 minutes — and that’s pretty fast. I stretched it all the way to time a 30-minute charge, and I got close to 78% within that time. In essence, you can use your phone almost instantly the moment you drain it to zero. Based on my experience, it takes a long while to do that.

With a 4,500 mAh battery inside, the realme 7 Pro takes more than a day before you could fully use it up. I played games on it for 6 hours, watched high-resolution (up to 4K for some) videos, browsed social media, and listened to music on the phone. Yet, after doing all of these activities, I still had about 16% left. Basically, this is one long lasting phone that charges incredibly fast!

The camera work is just as great, and deserves some love

Perhaps the second best thing that the realme 7 Pro wants to present are its cameras. In particular, the rear camera comes with a 2nd generation Sony IMX682 sensor at 64MP. Along with a supposedly enhanced Nightscape feature, this phone can also take high quality images in the dark.

For the most part, this was the case when I took photos with it. Image quality is pretty excellent, without rendering anything in a blurred or grainy fashion. I appreciate it even more that sometimes, even when zooming in the objects are pretty clear.

Captured with HDR on

When using Night Mode and the Nightscape AI feature, it showed color-vibrant images while sacrificing some detail.

Captured with Pro Nightscape

 

Captured with Pro Nightscape and adjust brightness

The 32MP selfie camera, I’m happy to report, was also a joy to use. Again, for the most part, image quality is fantastic as it captured even small facial features. However, I don’t recommend taking selfies in relatively total darkness if you use Night Mode.

Captured with Nightscape on

As far as shooting videos, you can shoot up to 4K resolution at 60 FPS with the rear camera. Video quality is great and all due to the active stabilization features the camera offers. However, I honestly feel it’s best to have your own physical stabilizer just to be safe.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

At PhP 17,990 (US$ 371), the realme 7 Pro ticks all the boxes of a quality smartphone. It provides great performance across the board, takes really great pictures, and lasts for a long time. Even if you run out of juice, the SuperDart Charge brick simply won’t allow that to happen.

I honestly think that it deserves to have its TUV Rheinland Smartphone Reliability verified. For most common use cases, there’s really nothing else you would complain about. If anything, my only minor complaint is that the selfie camera is placed at the top left.

Overall, this smartphone offers, what is essentially, the real deal. It gives you everything you want out of any decent smartphone, but supercharges it for the best experience.

SEE ALSO: realme 7 review | realme Buds Q hands-on


BUY THE REALME 7 PRO HERE

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