Thursday, 1 November 2018
Huawei Mate 20 Pro
There are so many of these devices out there in Reviewland that I really don't think there's much point in my going over the base specs and the usual tour of the device, so I'll launch straight in with my observations. This is not a review of the phone I'm presenting here, but more like my thoughts on how on earth I could live with it!
So let's start with the out of the box experience. You do get the chance to refuse to install a bunch of third party apps, though if the user is excitedly clicking through without paying attention, many of them are ticked by default and will then install. As it is, even for those paying attention, there's still loads that they can't do much about. Some can be uninstalled, some force-stopped, some disabled. This is just yet another shocking cludge of apps and services that the uninitiated and unknowledgeable will be 'defaulted' into.
The Flavour of Bloat
Facebook, eBay, booking.com, SwiftKey, Microsoft Translator, but to name a few. Then there's all the Huawei ones - half of which mimic the Google ones and can't be got rid of. Calculator, App Gallery, App Assistant, Huawei Backup, Compass, Email, Files, Health, HiCare, HiVision, Mirror, Notepad, PhoneClone, Recorder, SmartRemote, Support, Themes, Tips, Weather, the list feels like it is endless. And bringing what? The kind of apps and services that are just not needed. Doing deals with third parties in order to reduce the cost of the device, I get to keep cost to the buyer down, making it more attractive on price. But this phone is £900! How does that sit? Is it just greed? Incidentally, if you want reviews of all those Huawei apps mentioned above, you'll need to look elsewhere.
Setting or App?
Furthermore, there are installed apps which don't need to be an app at all! Like Software Update, for example. Why is this an app? Surely the user can go to Settings and find the route to Software Updates - if indeed any of the apparent target audience will actually give two hoots about software updates! Talking of which, right at the top of the Settings page is a fixed reminder that you need to open a Huawei account, which doesn't go away unless you give in and open one!
I really thought that the Samsung Galaxy S9+ I acquired recently was bottom of the pile for 'likely to see my SIM Card' status. This slips underneath! I'll continue with the speakers arrangement, which is something of a joke, I feel, given the price. The sound coming out is in my view tinny and low in volume, the Dolby is on by default (and can't be switched off, for using speakers) and does nothing at all to make the poor speakers and arrangement any good at all. It's a weak sounding device at best and to top it all, one of the speakers is inside the charging port which gets (partially) BLOCKED if you plug in a charger!
Alright - the first thing that hits you when you hold the phone is how tall it is. It's an odd ratio of 19:5.9 with a 6.39" screen. It sounds much bigger than it is because it's so tall. That 'big' screen, corner-to-corner, is really not that big at all. Held against my Moto Z3 Play, it's only just a bit taller but it's significantly narrower, when you take into account that the 'curves' round the left and right are included. This trend of curving the screen round the edges is really becoming boring. I know I banged on about the Nokia 8 Sirocco having this feature and how nice it was, but Nokia seemed to have done it much better on a 16:9 screen. Here, along with the aforementioned Samsung, it just looks daft, particularly when consuming media and the top and bottom of your picture disappear round the edge. Flat screen please. Stop this nonsense. It's impractical...
Not Another Notch!
...as is the stupid Notch! At least Samsung didn't do that! I know, yes, I can hide it, but watch those Notifications slide down from the top with their square edges if you do! Again - badly implemented and designed. The Always On screen is present and although it has no options to change the look, like Samsung/LG does, it does the job and has a scheduler, gives the user a digital clock, date, time, battery but the only Notifications that make it to the off-screen are Missed Calls and SMS! If you use Huawei's Music Player, what is playing is also echoed on the Off-Screen but there's no controls - and it doesn't work with any other player that I've tried - including Google Play Music. Bizarre. Anyway, the sound is so horrible and tinny, you won't miss it much as you won't be playing music.
So, how could I improve things with my favourite Launcher? Pretty well, as it turns out. Nova Prime has been such a consistent help to me trying to Pixelise and Nexusise phones over the years and this presents little challenge for it. (Except for Reverse Charging - See Power, below.) You lose the swipe-right for Google Assistant Cards, unless you APK a bolt-on, but a simple Google App shortcut on the Homescreen gets you there in a tap. It's plain sailing from there making the phone look just how you want it to with Homescreens and App Drawer just like most people expect it to be. Nova lets you 'hide' the bloat apps (as does Samsung, incidentally) though that seems beyond the M20P as they really want you to set it up like an iPhone with all the apps splayed out across multiple Homescreens. So you get all the pureness of Nova and get rid of at least some of the cludge of Huawei and EMUI.
Yes, that's what it feels like in the hand. Everything rounded, glass and aluminium. It's smooth and though some colours apparently have a 'lined' more grippy back, you really couldn't use this with no case. Which it doesn't come with. Apparently. (At least for European folk, Huawei couldn't spare a couple of quid out of the 900 for a cheap TPU). The aforementioned USB-C port is on the bottom, next to a cludge of a SIM Card Tray. Cludge because Huawei have unilaterally introduced a new standard of Memory Card! Unbelievable! So microSD cards now as cheap as chips, are replaced by their new standard, the NanoSD. None available yet - and no doubt when they do become available they will have hiked up prices for the foreseeable. That just seems daft to me. I can not believe that the shaving off of 4/5mm inside the device needed a whole new industry build of different cards. Absurd! I hope it falls flat on its face.
Around and About
On the side is a volume rocker and red power button and up the top, well nothing much apart from an IR window. Certainly not a 3.5mm audio-out socket, which has not made the cut. There's a dongle in the box to take you from your old headphones into the USB-C port which, to be fair, gets you 32-bit output. The body is IP6/8 protected for dust and water (30 minutes in the drink down to 2 metres) and screen a really bright AMOLED one with a variable 1440p resolution. It's a good screen with 538ppi packed in, so there's no complaints here. Viewing angles are very good and there's no real 'LG' cast of any shade that I can see...
Brain Control Hand!
...and on the screen comes the biggest talking point of the device, probably. An under-screen fingerprint scanner. This seems to work really well though does require a certain amount of pressure and time. I don't think it's unreasonable and given that the other biometrics of face recognition are so good, it's not often needed. You do have to hit the right spot on the screen which, until you pick it up, is not indicated, but it's no big problem. Brain will control hand in good time! This is a breakthrough feature, works well and maybe goes a little way to justifying some of the ludicrous cost of the phone.
Eat My Hat!
Out of the box the device is running Android 9.0 (Pie) with October 2018 Google Security Update having arrived. That's good, though as stated above, I have no confidence going forward, with this level of bloat and segregated services to support that Huawei will keep up with any updates. If I'm wrong, in six months time I'll eat my hat! Much of the above-described is a result of Huawei's EMUI skin on top of Android, which is apparently Version 9. Not that it is of any significance to anyone. It just means that they have confused everyone by moving stuff around and not having settings in logical places, messed with power and efficiency settings, memory control and so on, for no real reason except, from what I can see, to put their 'mark' on their product so that current users know that it is theirs and to dupe switchers from iOS that it's 'just like an iPhone'. Shameless and sad.
980, 6, 8, 128, 256
The new Kirin 980 chipset flies through any task and multitasking assisted by the 6GB or 8GB RAM depending on market - much like the 256GB or 128GB versions of storage. Armed with 256GB of storage I would just about have said, sure, I don't need a dumb NanoSD, but with 128GB I might well. I have a specific use-case for plenty of storage and yes, I'll accept that this is odd and most would be OK with 128GB. A bit of a worry has been that this unit keeps failing to log onto either of my Mifi units unless a reboot is executed, told to forget the network and password put in again. Not sure what that's about but doesn't happen with a landline router.
There are two Modes which appear when you plug your phone into a TV. Phone Mode and Desktop Mode. The latter creates a connected PC-like screen on the TV which allows negotiation around the phone and access to online media, for example, and anything else, using the phone's screen as a touchpad. Much like the DeX thing from Samsung you can then feel like you have an extension of the phone to use on a big screen etc. Personally I don't see the use of this, but I guess some road warriors might. More useful to me is the Phone Mode within which the phone's screen is echoed onto the TV and any stored media can be played back. The picture, in my tests is pretty low-res. but I may be able to persevere with that adjusting things - and it might also be the fault of the quality of the downloads or my TV, I guess. Unlike other manufacturers' models apart from Samsung it seems, the Qi charging continues to work when it is playing, doesn't seem to get hot even though whatever is being played also plays on the phone's screen at the same time. This is all very well, but it doesn't help me much until there's a 400GB NanoSD Card at the same price as a normal one. Not that I'll have this phone by then!
The battery in this unit is 4200mAh. I'm really not sure where they've put that as although it's tall, it's really not very fat or wide, so kudos to them for that. At this level of power, I could really relax as I head out for the day. Not only that, but you get a super-fast charger in the box (40W) which will get you 70% charged in half an hour and you have fast 15W Qi Charging as well. As if that wasn't enough, the next USP of the phone is Reverse-Charging. Out on a day out with a friend, their phone is nearly out of juice, no power socket in the cow field, place the two Qi-capable phones back-to-back and transfer some of the charge from one to the other. This is a great new feature - and one that I think will take off and all the other manufacturers will be rushing to emulate on their shiny new models. HOWEVER - beware! If you have Nova Launcher installed and in use on the Huawei, Reverse Charging doesn't work! It just keeps trying to transfer apps.
Snap, No Grin
The other selling point of the Mate 20 Pro seems to be the camera arrangements, providing for a triple-lens mega-pixel sensor setup and 5x zoom. The quality of the camera results seems to be a bit in doubt at the moment amongst the tech reviewers, some wow'ing and others shrugging! There's a 40MP f/1.8 main camera lens, a 20 MP f/2.2 wide-angle one and an 8MP f/2.4 telephoto with 5x Optical Zoom and OIS, all boasting Leica Optics. The Selfie on the front is is a 24 MP f/2 unit with a standard field of view. I have to admit that I'm pretty impressed with the camera options, range of settings and modes available, which head into useful, mostly, rather than cartoon/toy, but then I'm not pixel-peeping. To my mind, the cameras do what they should do, provide photos for casual sharing online and allow for various in-vogue effects. Maybe also for making small photos to print. The target for cameras in phones still, without pretending to replace an SLR. From what I understand from the pixel-peepers, we're still, I'm not at all surprised to hear, an awful long way from that - clever software replacing fine large glass optics ain't here!
Not a Fan
You might have gathered by now that I'm not a fan! The overriding annoyance of the device is, yet again, that they're just copying others. They have no identity or personality of their own which makes it across and past the irritations present. The market-leading feature of FPS in the screen should have done it, but doesn't. Having to deal with the bloat and inflexibility of the system is just awful as an experience, unless, which is what they hope no doubt, users just knuckle under, sign up with the company, sell their soul (and data) to them and do things their way. But beyond that, even the basics are done badly in my view, like the sound output and Always-On screen options or rather lack of.
No Style or Personality
I wish anyone paying £900 for this all the very best at getting past all this. I'm bemused and sit here, once again, wondering where on earth the AndroidOne version is, which would, at least, address a good number of the inherent problems. It's a copycat boring slab with uninspired design, in the Samsung mould. Nokia have proved that it can be done well, cleanly and with style and personality. Never have I been so pleased to get back to my Sirocco! I find it hard to believe that reviewers out there are not being positive about this device for any reason other than ensuring they get given the next model from this company staged to take over The West alongside Xiaomi.
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