Huawei Mate 20 X: a new paradigm in large screen phones?

Large phones have always interested to me. I purchased the first Galaxy Note when it came out and have had the Note 3, 4, 8 and now 9. I think the Note 9 has already a pretty large screen, but I am always wondering how much larger manufacturers can go whilst continuing to deliver a device that can used for everyday smartphone tasks. Rumours are that the Note 10 will have a 6.66 inch screen (probably the same screen as the Galaxy S10 5G), but I am curious what it is like to have an even larger screen.

Late last year, Huawei announced their Mate 20 line up. I always keep an eye on these phones as they are the closest competitors to the Samsung Galaxy Note phones. Well, during the announcement Huawei presented, pretty much out of left field, the Mate 20 X. This phone has a 7.2 inch screen! Now that seems like a phone that could just be too big for its own good. I just had to try and see how it fits into daily life and whether it can be more than just a phone.

Specs

For detailed specs, check out this GSM Arena grid, but these are the hightlights:

  • 7.2 inch, 1080p AMOLED screen
  • 128GB of storage, 6Gb of RAM and a Kirin 980 processor.
  • Dual SIM, with the second SIM slot being able to be used for external storage
  • 5.000 mAh battery
  • Triple rear camera set-up from the Mate 20 Pro
  • Nice stereo speakers and a headphone jack

The only thing missing is better water proofing (only IP53 instead of IP67/68), but that is not too much of an issue, in my opinion.

Design and form factor

For its screen size, the phone is as compact as it can be, with close to 90% of the front being screen. However, it is a big screen and therefore a big phone. There is no way of getting around that. With the size of the screen and size of the battery (about which more below), the weight of the phone is up there as well, with aprox 230 grams.

One of my main worries was the ability to use it comfortably during the day… use it one-handed when necessary, slipping it in and out of pockets, easy to unlock, easy to reach buttons, etc. Well, I was pleasantly surprised in this area. Whilst this is certainly the biggest phone I have handled yet, I was able to do so without too many issues. Once in a while you can’t reach with one hand where you want to or its fit in your pocket is less than ideal, but that happens just once in a while. I found that it can fit in pretty well with my daily routine, while not completely without compromise, of course.

The fact that I can use it, certainly doesn’t mean it is for everyone. It is big and it is heavy, and it may simply be too much phone for you. These two defining characteristics of the device make it a niche device, by definition, and your millage may vary.

Besides this, the design of the phone is really nice and the build quality feels great.

Performance

This is one of the areas where this phone excels, in my opinion, and one of the main reasons to get it (besides wanting a big screen).

  • Screen: It is just so ample! It makes it really comfortable to read text, view pictures, type text, play videos, etc. It really is a device that you want to use for many tasks.
  • Battery: Wanting to use it is great, but having to charge it the whole time wouldn’t be. Well, the battery life of this phone is simply out of this world. I have never seen anything like it. On a normal day, with 4 hours SOT, I go to bed with 55-60% remaining. Even on a weekend day with 7 hours of SOT, I still had around 35% left at the end of the day.
  • Speakers: Real stereo speakers that can be turned up quite loud.
  • Fluidity: The UI is really responsive and there were no slow-downs. Very nice performance!
  • Fingerprint scanner: The scanner is comfortably positioned and really fast with few failures to read.

Software

The device comes with Android Pie out of the box, which is a great feat. The Samsung Galaxy Note 9, that was released about a month earlier, had to wait 3 months to get it. Hopefully, Huawei will keep it up to date for at least 2 years… the performance of the phone certainly indicates there is enough head room.

The software itself is fine. Everybody talks about how much EMUI has improved, and I am sure they are right, but for me it is just OK. When comparing it to what Samsung is doing, I feel like it is 1-2 years behind Samsung’s One UI. EMUI is functional and fluid, but lacks elegance and refinement.

Huawei has introduced navigation gestures in this version of EMUI. I immediately turned it on and didn’t look back. They work well enough, particularly when using it one-handed as you don’t need to reach for navigation buttons. In fact, when compared to the gestures on Samsung’s One UI, I think I prefer Huawei’s implementation.

Camera

The rear camera unit is made up of 3 cameras:

  • 40 MP, f/1.8, 27mm (wide), 1/1.7″, PDAF/Laser AF
  • 20 MP, f/2.2, 16mm (ultrawide), 1/2.7″, PDAF/Laser AF
  • 8 MP, f/2.4, 80mm (telephoto), 1/4″, 5x optical zoom, OIS, PDAF/Laser AF

These three cameras make for an extremely versatile and creative camera phone. I loved using all three cameras and have been overall impressed with the quality of the pictures as well as the camera app itself. The only think I didn’t like was that the AI often times tried to “force” portrait mode (when it sees faces) when I didn’t want it, which made for a picture with poorer quality. I figured out that you can hit the X when it tries to apply Portrait effects and then it’ll turn to taking a “normal” photo, but I didn’t like that I had to do that. Particularly as the Portrait mode is just a swipe away, if I want to use it.

I certainly look forward to more manufacturers incorporating ultrawide lenses on their camera units, and they should look at Huawei’s implementation for inspiration. Well done, Huawei, on a great camera experience!

Conclusion

One of the main questions I wanted to answer for myself is whether this phone allows for new use cases for a smartphone. The screen is pretty much the same size as Google’s Nexus 7 (mini) tablet of 2012-13, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to wonder whether it can substitute a tablet. Also, with its PC mode, can it substitute a PC? In summary, is this THE all-in-one mobile and connected device I have been waiting for?

  • The home screen launcher does not turn into landscape, which is a real omission for a device that can potentially double as a tablet.
  • None of the first-party apps that I used make use of the additional screen real-estate, in my opinion. This screen should allow for apps to use one column in portrait, but two columns/panes in landscape, as do the larger iPhones where even third-party apps adopt that app design paradigm.
  • I have a Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard that I have connected to all sorts of Android, Apple and Windows devices without issue, but I can’t connect it to the Mate 20 X. Don’t know why. I realise it is nerdy, but being able to use this as a little laptop with a mouse and keyboard would have been great. The screen real estate and the battery life make this a very compelling idea, for those that are interested in it.
  • The PC mode is OK, but I found it seriously lacking in comparison to Samsung’s DeX and even DeX can’t really compete with a “real” desktop experience. For occasional use it is OK, assuming you manage to connect a bluetooth keyboard, but don’t count on it replacing a desktop.

So, in my experience, it is not great as a mobile mini laptop, a desktop or a mini-tablet. It is simply a large smartphone. However, just being larger does have its advantages. Normally, I can’t really use my Note 9 as a video player in the kitchen while doing stuff as the screen is too small. The Mate 20 X has a large enough screen to make the experience considerably better and the speakers were loud enough to overcome the noise in a kitchen. But, admittedly, that was really the only new use case that this device allowed me to have beyond what I already get from, e.g., a Note 9.

In summary, the Mate 20 X is certainly competitive with the Galaxy Note 9 in my experience, but in the end I would prefer the Note 9. The Note 9 has more mature software features and a more refined software experience (in addition to the included S-Pen). In terms of hardware, the Note 9’s screen is better and the phone is easier to handle when on the go.

However, if you are into big screen phones, you owe it to yourself to check out the Mate 20 X. It’s a very solid device (great performance, long-lasting battery, versatile cameras and ample screen real estate) at a great price. And I hope Huawei will continue to develop this model as they are onto something.

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