Huawei Mate 20 X review: A powerful giant-screen phone with…


The Huawei Mate 20 X is the largest of the Mate 20 Series of handsets. I really liked the Mate 20 Pro, and my US colleague Matthew Miller took a shine to the Mate 20. The Mate 20 X shares some top-end specifications with these two handsets, combining them with a massive 7.2-inch screen. It costs £799 (inc. VAT), undercutting the Mate 20 Pro by £100.

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The inelegant term ‘phablet’ was once applied to handsets with 6-inch screens, but Huawei’s Mate 20 X really does approach the size of a small tablet. It measures 85.4mm wide by 174.6mm tall, is 8.15mm thick and weighs 232g. The most comparable handset is probably the 6.9-inch Xiaomi Mi Max 3, which measures 87.4mm by 176.1mm by 7.99mm and weighs 221g.

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The 7.2-inch, 232g Mate 20 X may be too much of a handful for some users.


Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

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You can shrink the display for easier access — the mini screen can be on the left or the right.


Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The Mate 20 X is an absolute beast to hold. I felt it was too big for me to grip securely and I was always worried that I would drop it. The weight does it no favours in this respect, and because the phone doesn’t nestle in the palm it can feel top-heavy.

A 7.2-inch handset poses some other usability problems. It might not fit into your coat or jacket pocket easily, for example, so it needs to be extracted from a bag whenever it’s required. This quickly becomes irksome.

It will also be tricky for many people to reach across the screen for one-handed use. There is a tweak in software that allows you to reduce the screen size by sweeping across the touch buttons at the bottom of the screen. But this seems like an awkward and contrived feature. If I choose a big-screen phone I expect to take advantage of its size and live with any usability issues. Also, obviously, the hardware remains the same whatever you do to the display and I still found stability an issue whatever the screen size I was interacting with.

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On the plus side, the hardware controls — a power button and a volume rocker, both on the right side — were easy to use one-handed.

The handset has a glass back, which is less slippery in the fingers than you might expect. It’s engraved with an etched pattern that you can feel when you run a fingernail across it and has a finely-striped finish. This fingerprint-resistant coating works quite well — I did leave fingerprints, but not as many as I would otherwise expect to on a glass-backed phone. My review handset was Midnight Blue, incidentally: the other available colour is Phantom Silver.

It’s worth noting that Huawei has kept the footprint as small as possible, with an impressively minimal-bezel design. The notch at the top that caters for the single front-facing camera is smaller than many, offering plenty of room for icons, and can be integrated into the main display (where software supports this), or turned into a darkened strip if you prefer. The screen-to-body ratio is an impressive 87.6 percent — the highest we’ve recorded to date.

The 2,244-by-1,080-pixel AMOLED screen is vibrant, but the 7.2-inch screen’s pixel density is just 346ppi — compare this to the 6.39-inch Mate 20 Pro’s 538ppi (3,120 x 1,440 pixels). Still, with an aspect ratio of 18.7:9 the (non curved) screen here is great for reading text and web pages in portrait mode, and for watching video and gaming in landscape orientation. 

A major advantage of the large screen is a big keyboard. Although two-thumb tapping is still required, writing emails and even drafting documents into cloud apps is a lot easier than it is with smaller screens. Obviously it’s not as efficient as using a real keyboard, but it is workable where you only have your phone to hand and the need to write is pressing.

The stereo speakers are positioned towards one end of the short edges, so you’ll need to hold the phone with the USB-C port on the left to make sure they aren’t silenced by your palms when grasping the handset in landscape mode — when playing games, for example. The speakers pump out plenty of volume, but the audio quality could be better — it’s lacking in bass richness, particularly at higher volumes.

The Huawei Mate 20 X has a 3.5mm headset jack, so those with a favourite set of wired headphones should be happy. However, it only has an IP53 rating for dust and water resistance, so be careful where you use it.

Huawei eschews the in-screen fingerprint sensor of the Mate 20 Pro in favour of a reader on the back of the phone, Mate 20-style. I found this to be efficient to use one-handed. Face recognition is also available for login.

Like the Mate 20 Pro and Mate 20, the Mate 20 X runs on Huawei’s 7nm Kirin 980 chipset with dual NPUs (Neural Processing Units) and 6GB of RAM. The processor is fast, and the handset supports the same ‘Performance mode’ that allows it to max out, at the expense of battery life and a little extra heat output.

I ran two sets of Geekbench 4 tests. The first, without Performance mode switched on, turned in a three-pass average of 9919 in multi-core mode and 3364 in single-core mode (compared to 9763 and 3302 for the Mate 20 Pro). With Performance mode enabled, the multi-core average went up to 10117 and single core to 3397 (compared to 10073 and 3581 for the Mate 20 Pro). I did not notice enough processor heat to cause concern — perhaps thanks to the Mate 20 X’s Supercool technology, which uses “a combination of graphene film and vapor chamber to deliver outstanding cooling performance”.

The Mate 20 X’s 5,000mAh battery delivered 14 hours and 55 minutes of life on the Geekbench battery test in standard mode, and 12 hours 29 minutes in performance mode. These were simple rundown tests and real-world usage will deliver different results. I easily got through a day’s use in standard mode, and didn’t even think about charging until halfway through a second day. I could probably have got a full two days’ use on some of my typical light-workload days. 

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Support for fast charging via Huawei’s SuperCharge system makes it easy to deliver a quick power boost if required. Wireless charging is not supported though.

There is 128GB of internal storage, and 14.93GB was used out of the box, leaving 113.07 free. Up to 256GB can be added if you’re prepared to sacrifice one of the two SIM slots and invest in Huawei’s proprietary Nano Memory (NM).

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AI Shop identifies an object and delivers purchasing opportunities.


Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

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EMUI 9’s split-screen mode.


Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

There are plenty of AI-enabled features. AI Vision, for example, allows you to photograph something and then search the internet for information about it, while AI Shop provides the ultimate in consumerism — linking something you can see right in front of you to a buying opportunity. It is scarily accurate.

Meanwhile AI also comes into play with the three-camera setup, which Huawei says can recognise 1,500 scenarios and 25 categories, automatically applying appropriate settings for what it thinks it’s looking at. The ability to switch into wide-angle mode by tapping the screen really helps when taking mid- and far-distance shots, and I was very happy with the general quality of my photos.

The triple camera setup with Leica optics seen previously in the Mate 20 Pro comprises 40MP wide-angle, 20MP ultra-wide-angle and 8MP telephoto cameras. Just as with the Mate 20 Pro, I found macro shots among the most pleasing to take. The front-facing camera is a 24MP unit that delivers as good a selfie as you’re likely to need.

The quirky AR Lens feature is also here; this uses an avatar instead of your face to create a 3D emoji head that moves around, blinks and flexes its mouth in time with your own movements.

The Mate 20 X runs Android 9 with Huawei’s EMUI 9.0 overlay on top. This delivers a range of services and extras over and above the AI features, including the screen resizing noted earlier. There are colour temperature settings courtesy of Huawei’s Eye Comfort feature, gesture controls such as sweeping up to go home, and drawing a line across the screen with a knuckle to enter split-screen mode, something that is more usable on this larger screen than is usually the case. 

Conclusions

The 7.2-inch Huawei Mate 20 X is a beast to carry around, and it’s tricky to use one-handed. But its big screen makes it well suited to media-rich tasks like video viewing and games playing, as well as reading documents and ebooks. While I was reviewing this phone I hardly needed to use my tablet at all. Its long battery life is a real winner, too.

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