Tuesday, 24 September 2019

A Humongous Huawei Mate 20 X Review

Is that a Phone in your Pocket?
Guest Reviewer Ivor Biggun, otherwise known as Adrian Brain!

THINK DIFFERENTLY they told me! So I did. Rather than automatically ordering the new iPhone, I thought "Which are my favourite phones of all time?".
A few outstanding phones sprang to mind, but one was my Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 (because of its 6.3" display, obvs). Back in 2013 when the average screen size was about 4" this was called ludicrous, outlandish and down-right ridiculous, dwarfing the gargantuan 5.7" screen of the contemporaneous Note 3. Sadly, the Mega was underpowered in the RAM & storage department (app2SD was a daily feature of life with it), but it was always a joy and I used it for several years (without a SIM) as a mini-tablet. I eventually replaced it with the Sony Z3 Compact Tablet (basically the Sony Z3 Compact phone, another of my favourites, but pneumatically expanded).

Recalling the Mega experience, I had a scout around for the biggest, current phone I could find. The best of the bunch seemed to be the Huawei Mate 20 X, from early this year. John Lewis are selling them in a bundle with a smart case and S-Pen (sorry, M-Pen) for under a monkey, meaning the dent in the iPhone 11 Pro budget still leaves room for an iPhone 11. Or maybe the ROG 2 phone if it ever hits these shores.

Oh My Word
The scale of this thing is immense. For reference, the iPhone SE screen is smaller than the screen shown through cut out "smart case"! Huawei haven't hampered the phone with under-par specs; a Kirin 980 (same as this year’s P30 Pro flagship), 6Gb RAM chipset, 128Gb storage, triple-camera system phone. With dual SIM (or SIM plus NM card), IR blaster, correctly located rear FP scanner that is virtually instant to unlock, 3.5mm jack and a 5000mAh battery that lasts 2 days with ease this phone will eat whatever you throw at it. HDMI out, Desktop (Dex-like) mode etc. are all present and correct, & you even get a serviceable gel case in the box. The only features missing are Qi charging & an FM Radio, and it's only IP53 resistant, so avoid the temptation to use it as a surf board.

The screen is a lovely 7.2" AMOLED panel, and with no "waterfall" edges you get to see it all without hesitation, deviation or repetition. The teardrop notch is relatively tiny on this massive display & can be forgiven.

The back of the phone has an unusual ridged glass surface. I'm not sure how one YouTube reviewer managed to hold the phone almost vertically without it sliding off his palm, but it's certainly not the usual "bar of soap dunked in melted butter" slipperiness of many modern glass-backed phones. The finish isn't as flashy as some recent Huawei devices, but it's certainly handsome for such a big phone. The on/off button is also attractively ribbed, so you can distinguish it from the volume controls very easily.

But can you carry this behemoth in your pocket?
In average trousers or jeans, the phone is surprisingly pocketable. The hot weather this weekend gave me opportunity for the shorts test too, and it turns out it is possible to carry it around in shorts, though going up some stairs I found my hand going to the phone pocket, just in case it were to pop out.

At under 240g, it’s not heavy for the size (about 10g heavier than an iPhone 11 Pro Max), though you’ll probably want to stick with slim cases. As we approach the autumn and jackets, the size is actually a benefit – less fishing around in inside jacket pockets to pull it out.

Cinemascope
With that 7.2" display video is an absolute joy, web browsing so much nicer and it’s even quite viable to spend a lot of time reading Kindle books (if you tweak the settings to avoid the inevitable eye-strain). The screen still too small for comfortable magazine viewing, at least without a lot of pinch & zooming, so Readly fans will still need a larger device.

Lenses. Lots of them.
The triple camera setup is apparently identical to that on the much-praised Mate 20 Pro. I've not had much time using this, but it seems as exceptionally good as my P30 at the usual snaps. I've yet to investigate video, selfies, portraits and night mode, but I'm not expecting any surprises or sub-par performance. Some sample shots below showing wide, normal and 3x zoom lenses, and a panorama for when wide isn’t wide enough. Note that the Mate 20 X is large, but it’s not as large as the Walkie Talkie building.

Big Music
Audio is great - the speaker setup gets annoyingly loud and is reasonable quality - it's not a ROG or Razer but is still good. Things take a step up with the 3.5mm audio output - extremely good, which is unusual for a Huawei. Apparently, it's a 32bit, 384KHz sample rate DAC. To my ears it's almost as good as my quad-DAC LG V20 on wired cans, and I suspect it will have no problem driving high impedance headphones. Dolby Atmos is present, though curiously cannot be turned off for the speakers (only with headphones).

OS UX
Yes, it's a Huawei, but I've grown to quite like EMUI. It's nowhere as hideous as it used to be, and you can re-theme it with a few taps. Dark mode is present & fairly pervasive. There were loads of sequential updates to apply after booting up, & Huawei have promised Q to arrive for the Mate 20 X as a beta in December, with a full release sometime after that. Currently it's on P, 1st August 2019 security update.

Out of the box the UI deos feel inelegant, but a few tweaks in Settings to reduce font and tile size and it feels like you’ve got acres of useable space to work on.

There’s bloatware of course, but the most offensive stuff like FB can be uninstalled. The Huawei calendar, browser, music & photos duplicate of Google apps continue to irritate, but if you start the Huawei browser in the vicinity of a Huawei laptop it enables handoff & AirDrop like capabilities between the phone and a Huawei laptop which is handy.

Another thing worth a shout is Huawei's phone clone transfer software - it replicated my P30 onto the Mate 20 X sublimely well & also very quickly via an ad hoc WiFi network; scan the displayed bar code on the source phone, choose what you want to transfer and 20 minutes later 50Gb of data, settings and apps has been transferred, even sideloaded apps. The only thing that went AWOL was the BBC Sport app. SMS, screen settings, call logs & even notification icons layout went across without a glitch. Impressive stuff.

The Bad
There are some downsides, but these relate to the bundled accessories rather than the phone itself. The M-Pen seems restricted to unlocking directly into the Notes app, which is serviceable, & for making cut-out screenshots and swiping to hop into dual screen mode quickly (rather good). It also doesn't attach into or onto the device itself, and neither the smart case, so it's an item that will certainly get lost.

The Smart Case, also part of the bundle, isn't too smart either - you must close the cover twice to get the AOD to adapt to the hole in the case, and then it turns off after a minute, making it seem a bit pointless. Without the Smart Case, you get the usual Huawei AOD display. It’s not bad as it is, but the next version looks more feature complete.

Conclusion
I have to say, so far, I’m completely smitten with this unusual device. You may need big pockets for the Mate 20 X, but you don’t need deep ones.

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