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Huawei Mate 20 Pro review: An elite phone with the looks to match

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The Good The Huawei Mate 20 Pro goes above and beyond with exciting new features and an eye-catching design.

The Bad You can't use microSD cards to expand the storage. The main loudspeaker hidden in the charging port is muffled when you plug the phone in.

The Bottom Line The Huawei Mate 20 Pro's impressive list of features puts it unquestionably among the top phones of the year. Shame you can't buy it in the US.

9.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 9
  • Camera 9
  • Battery 10

"What did you think of it?"

"It's pretty badass."

That's what I told my CNET colleague Eric Franklin, when he asked what I thought of the new Huawei Mate 20 Pro.

And I meant it. This phone not only has a spec list that's the equal of any flagship phone out there, but it comes with enough new features to make it a truly exciting phone. And excitement is something the phone world's sorely lacking.

Mix in the P20 and P20 Pro's sleek, colourful and water-resistant design, the awesome display and the solid camera and you have a phone that's not just "good for Huawei" -- it's a bloody brilliant phone. Full stop.

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Josh Miller/CNET

Earlier Huawei phones such as 2014's P7 were entirely forgettable, but the company has upped its game with subsequent launches and is now the second-biggest phone manufacturer in the world. With the Mate 20 Pro, Huawei is firmly cementing that position. It's absolutely up there with current flagships such as the Samsung Galaxy S9 ($720 at Amazon), iPhone XS ($1,199 at Amazon) and Google Pixel 3 ($799 at Amazon Marketplace).

At £899, SIM-free in the UK with 128GB of storage, this device doesn't come cheap, but it will still cost less than the iPhone XS, which starts at £1,099 with half as much storage. It's also more affordable than the Google Pixel 3 XL ($999 at Amazon Marketplace), which clocks in at £969 with 128GB of storage.

In Australia, the Mate 20 Pro can be yours, SIM-free for AU$1,599. Live in the US? Bad news for you as Huawei's ongoing turmoil with the US government means this phone won't be officially available to buy there, though adventurous American shoppers should eventually be able to find it online (likely without a warranty). For reference though, that £899 price tag, minus tax, converts to just under $1,000.

What about these new features?

The Mate 20 Pro is one of the first phones we've seen to use an in-screen fingerprint scanner, which is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of having a dedicated fingerprint scanner on the back or the bottom of the phone, a patch of the actual display is able to scan your print. You can't see the sensor with your naked eye, and there's absolutely no way of telling it's there when the screen's on. A little fingerprint icon lights up when the screen's locked to tell you where to place your pawprint.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

It recognised my fingerprint as quickly and accurately as almost any other fingerprint scanner I've used and Huawei says it's just as secure. It's positioned about a third of the way up the phone's screen and is comfortable and convenient to use. But Huawei's also gone the Apple route of building face unlock into the Mate -- that gives you two unlocking options. 

Face unlock works just like Apple's Face ID. You register your face on the phone first and it'll automatically scan to unlock when you wake the phone up. It's still great to have the fingerprint reader as a backup, especially for situations when it's inconvenient to hold the phone to your face.

The Mate 20 Pro's face unlock feature also works well, and recognised my face more often than not -- even with a hood over my hair and with or without my glasses on. Like Apple's Face ID, it scans your face in 3D, which gives an extra depth of complexity and means it can't be fooled into unlocking by showing it a 2D picture of your own face. (Yes, I tried.) 

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

You can't use it yet to authorise payments however, nor could I use it to log into my bank, both of which I can do using the fingerprint scanner. It's likely that individual services will need to enable the face unlock to work for authentication -- much like with Apple's Face ID. I've asked Huawei to confirm whether it's working with banks and other services to allow face unlock to work, but the company has yet to respond. At the moment then, it's best to see the face scanner as a convenient way to unlock the phone and nothing more. 

But there's more in the "quirky new features" category. The Mate 20 is the first phone we've seen with two-way wireless charging, effectively turning the phone into a power bank for another device. Switch the function on, and you can place another phone onto the back of the Mate 20 Pro and that phone will draw power as if you'd placed it on any wireless charging pad.

It's a neat idea, though whether you'll feel generous enough to donate your own power to a friend who's running low is a question you'll need to answer for yourself. It worked with my iPhone X and apparently will work with any device that supports the Qi charging standard. I found it a little awkward to turn on, since you have to dive into the settings menu to activate it -- Huawei should turn this into a quick settings toggle if they want people to use it. The feature will also turn itself off after a while, so you'll need to keep an eye on it if you're desperately hoping to give more power to a second phone. A little finessing would make this feature a handy addition.

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