We haven’t even seen the Mate 20 or the Mate 20 Pro yet, but breaking from tradition, Huawei has decided to skip ahead to the Mate 20 lite, a high mid-range smartphone announced at IFA 2018.
It isn’t the first time we’ve seen this phone - Vodafone announced it would be ranging it a week ago, but this is the first time we’ve had a hands-on opportunity to see if this glass backed Mate with dual front cameras is a promising introduction to the Mate 20 series.
Update: The Huawei Mate 20 Lite is now on sale in the UK, and we'll be getting it in for our full review very soon.
Price and availability
The Huawei Mate 20 Lite price is set at £379 (around $500 / AU$665) in the UK, where it's already available to buy.
In fact the Huawei Mate 20 Lite release date in the UK was September 5, and we're still waiting to hear when (if at all) it will be available in the likes of the US and Australia.
In the UK the Mate 20 Lite is available at Vodafone and Carphone Warehouse first, with EE ranging it shortly after.
With the Honor Play having just launched for £100 less SIM-free, it’s a tough sell given this phone has an inferior processor, but when you consider the Mate 20 Lite’s better in-hand feel and richer, more mature aesthetic, its positioning starts to make sense, especially on contract.
Offering a premium in-hand feel, the Mate 20 Lite pairs a glass front and back with a rounded metal frame and a large 6.3-inch screen.
Available in a range of colours, we got our hands on the black and gold versions, with the latter looking significantly richer.
The dual-camera set-up around the back is surrounded by a striated decoration while the front dual cameras are housed in the notch at the top of the screen, making the focus on selfie-photography clear with just a glance at this phone.
The Mate 20 Lite is big, though it doesn’t feel unwieldy thanks to its relatively slender body and comfortable weighting. Fans of smaller phones should look to the Honor 10 or other similarly sized devices.
So while the spec sheet doesn’t scream flagship, the look and feel definitely isn’t far off and the inclusion of a headphone jack will please many.
The IPS Full HD+ display measures in at 6.3-inches and comes complete with a notch up top. Not the sharpest screen around, in the flesh, content showcased doesn’t look pixelated either.
The bezels are also nice and slight with the fascia sporting a respectable 81% screen-to-body ratio.
Viewing angles seemed good and brightness was fair, though we didn’t get to try it out in sunny conditions and really put it through its paces.
Running Android 8, it’s a shame we’re not seeing the latest flavour of Google’s mobile OS on this phone. Huawei has said that an update will be rolling out, but hasn’t give a timeframe.
Over the top of Android sits Huawei’s custom interface, EMUI 8.2. This loads up Huawei specific features like knuckle gestures and more advanced camera modes - but the key message being pushed on the Mate 20 Lite is AI.
Huawei’s AI Game Suite for example is able to orient power so gaming can be enjoyed interruption free. The AI Gallery can auto-sort photos and the smart AI scene detection introduced on the Mate 10 series is present.
Marketing jargon? Absolutely. Some of the features, however, are handy to have.
In our short time with the phone, the interface seemed snappy and multi-window multitasking performed well, though we didn’t try out gaming, which also offers GPU Turbo for a better PUBG, Mobile Legends and Asphalt 9 experience.
Four cameras and lots of pixels
The Mate 20 Pro’s dual front and rear cameras feature the same resolution, with the primary cameras packing 24MP sensors and the secondary cameras clocking in at 2MP.
The secondary camera is exclusively for depth effects, meaning the front camera can take bokeh mode selfies that should rival the quality of photos taken on the rear camera.
Huawei’s extensive list of camera modes are here, from AI scene detection through to full manual and light painting. This is good, though the AI Stabilisation as introduced on the Huawei P20 Pro isn’t here, so long exposure and low light shots will need a steady hand or a tripod.
A new playful selfie AR camera mode is onboard - Qmoji - a direct response to Apple’s AR Emoji with much the same functionality though less polish. There’s also a 3D lighting effect for after the shot advanced selfie editing.
On first impression, the camera is competent in terms of shooting modes and performs just fine in good light, despite occasionally aggressive saturation in AI mode.
Lower light paired with its high pixel count and lack of OIS produced grain we’d have sooner expected to see from a sub-£300 smartphone though.
This being an early sample, we’re holding off on the final judgement until our full review is complete - but it’s clear the camera isn’t the key selling point of this phone.
Less power, more affordable
What really sets the Mate 20 Lite apart from other premium Huawei phones is the power under the hood.
Featuring a Kirin 710 octa-core processor paired with 4GB RAM, it doesn’t quite stack up to the Kirin 970 found in the P20 and Mate 10, or even the cheaper Honor Play.
For casual users, this shouldn’t raise any eyebrows, especially given the fact there’s an ample 64GB storage onboard and the Mate 20 Lite takes microSD cards up to 256GB for all your movies and photos.
With a 3,750 mAh battery, there’s a lot of juice here. In the same breath - there’s also a lot of screen, so while we’re expecting it to get you through a day, with Huawei quoting 17 hours of video playback, and 23 hours of voice calling, how it stacks up to the competition remains to be seen.
For £379, you get a phone that looks and feels like a big-screened flagship, but doesn’t quite deliver flagship experiences when it comes to the camera and brute force.
Huawei is clearly targeting the selfie takers and a younger demographic than older Mate devices did in one respect, but also a design-oriented, casual user in another.
As a result, while the Mate 20 Lite’s SIM free price may be a little steep - this is the kind of phone you’d see in a store and be impressed by on first impression. The pixel-count also reads well and the screen looks great.
Could you get better value for money? Absolutely. Would it look this good? Probably not.
That’s our first impression - check back in the coming weeks for the definitive verdict when we test the Huawei Mate 20 Lite out in our full review.