Huawei Mate 20 Lite hands-on review

Fancy an aperitif before the Huawei Mate 20 Pro? That's the Mate 20 Lite

The Huawei Mate 20 Lite is a parts bin special, which doesn’t make it a bad phone, just a familiar one.
The Huawei Mate 20 Lite is a parts bin special, which doesn’t make it a bad phone, just a familiar one.
The Huawei Mate 20 Lite is a parts bin special, which doesn’t make it a bad phone, just a familiar one.

Highs

  • Slick, attractive design
  • Great selfie camera
  • Plenty of AI toys to play with

Lows

  • More expensive than competing phones
  • No U.S. release

Huawei is getting ready to launch its Mate 20 smartphone line-up, and has preempted the big release — which we expect will be the Pro version — with the early announcement of the Mate 20 Lite. Is this a glimpse at what’s to come from the Mate 20 Pro? No, probably not; but Huawei said because the Lite version is so impressive, it should make you even more excited for the main attraction.

Is this an accurate statement? There’s no doubt the Mate 20 Lite is an interesting smartphone, but it is also very reminiscent of other phones we’ve seen very recently. It’s no surprise to see it launch right now. If you’ve read our review of the Honor Play, then you’ll already be familiar with some of the Mate 20 Lite’s features. Let’s look closer.

Slick design, great display

Let’s just say up front, this is a very good-looking phone. It comes in a beautiful glossy black, sapphire blue, or platinum gold, with a glass rear panel that recalls the crisp, smart design seen on the back of the Porsche Design Mate RS. It’s the centrally stacked camera lenses and fingerprint sensor that does it, complete with an etched design surrounding them. It’s slim at 7.6mm, comfortable to hold thanks to the curvy sides, and lightweight at 172 grams.

You’re looking at a 6.3-inch notched screen with a 2,340 x 1,080 resolution, providing an 81 percent screen-to-body ratio, which matches the Honor Play. This is great news, and icat appears the panel is identical too — meaning it’s bright, colorful, and engaging.

Specs and battery

Rather than use the Kirin 970 chip from the Play, the Mate 20 Pro has a newly-revised Kirin 710 processor, along with 4GB of RAM. This is the same setup Huawei uses in the Nova 3i, which also shares the same screen size and resolution. We have not run benchmarks on the Kirin 710 to see how it compares to the Kirin 970, which is currently an upper-range processor from Huawei.

Let’s just say up front, this is a very good-looking phone.

A 3,750mAh battery powers the Mate 20 Lite, just like the Honor Play, plus the phone has the same GPU Turbo enhancements for high-performance gaming, the Game Suite mode, face unlock, and EMUI 8,2 over the top of Android 8.0 Oreo. Hold on, you’re thinking. Is this just a recycled Honor Play or Nova 3i? No, we’re getting to the differences, but it can’t be denied the Mate 20 Lite seems to occupy a small space in-between these other devices.

Camera and A.I.

Outside of the premium materials, Huawei tells us the Mate 20 Lite is great for selfies, and it is. We played around with the front camera, which features two camera lenses — 24 megapixels and 2 megapixels, with an f/2.0 aperture — and liked the results. The environment we were in was quite dark, making it hard to judge how much difference the second lens made when generating the bokeh effect, compared to the P20 Pro we also tried at the same time. The photos looked good from both, which is strong praise for the Mate 20 Lite.

Huawei Mate 20 Lite review
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Interestingly, the front camera has scene recognition, auto HDR, and an auto beauty mode. The camera also creates animated emojis, which Huawei calls Qmoji, and these were decent enough; but far from fluid as Apple’s Animoji. We can see kids having fun with them, and Huawei has made the sensible decision to let us save them as GIFs, meaning they’re easily shareable.

Artificial intelligence continues to be a theme throughout the Mate 20 Lite.

The rear camera has an f/1.8 aperture and two lenses — 20 megapixels and 2 megapixels. Again, the environment we tested the Mate 20 Lite in did not lend itself to taking pictures. There is plenty of artificial intelligence built into both the front and the rear cameras.

Artificial intelligence continues to be a theme throughout the Mate 20 Lite. It’s most obvious in the camera, due to scene recognition, but also crops up in the noise cancelation mode for calls, and in an Amazon-driven shopping experience. Here, Google Lens-style image recognition kicks in when tapping a photo of a product online, when results from Amazon are shown. The Gallery app has A.I.-driven smart search, plus the Game Suite uses A.I. to help manage power resources during gaming sessions.

Price and availability

The Mate 20 Lite worked really well in our brief hands-on time. It felt very familiar though, and this is something of a problem. Not only does the Mate 20 Lite feel like Huawei on autopilot, as this is a phone it has essentially made a few times over, but it doesn’t offer masses more value over the Honor Play. While Honor is closely related to Huawei, they are two separate companies in terms of strategy, product release, and management. Therefore, it’s impossible for us not to compare the two, and the Honor Play provides a very high percentage of the Mate 20 Lite’s features, for less money.

Huawei will charge 380 British pounds for the Mate 20 Lite when it goes on sale in the U.K. this October. The Honor Play costs 280 British pounds. Huawei said it doesn’t have plans to release the Mate 20 Lite in the U.S., and the Honor Play is also unlikely to be released outside Europe.

The extra money buys you a glass body, another camera lens on the front, and a lot of AI toys. All strong, desirable features that make us like the Mate 20 Lite. However, we’re saddened by what may be a lesser processor than the one inside the Honor Play. If you value design and premium materials over sheer value for money, the Huawei Mate 20 Lite will serve you well, but for everyone else, the Honor Play will probably do just fine.

Mobile

Skagen’s new Falster 2 smartwatch is now available for purchase

In August, Skagen announced the launch of its new smartwatch to add to its lineup, and it's called the Falster 2. The device features a heart-rate sensor, built-in GPS, and more. It's also now available for purchase.
Mobile

Find out how Apple's new iPhones measure up to the most bezel-less designs

As the smartphone industry marches toward a bezel-less future, we compare the shrinking bezels on the latest and greatest devices. Find out which manufacturers have the smallest bezels on their smartphone as we measure them side by side.
Photography

The best mirrorless cameras pack all the power of a DSLR, minus the bulk

Mirrorless cameras offer a lot of photography firepower, inside a compact body. Explore the best mirrorless cameras, from the pro-level to the beginner-friendly shooters, in this guide.
Social Media

New to Snapchat? Follow our guide and go from newbie to pro

Whether you're a Snapchat addict or a newbie, our detailed Snapchat guide will help you become a pro in no time. Find out how to get started, spice up your snaps, chat, send money, and carry out a host of other useful actions.
Mobile

Huawei P20 Pro vs. Apple iPhone X: A battle of flagship smartphones

Can Huawei's camera powerhouse, with its triple lens setup, defeat the best of Apple? We compare the P20 Pro with the iPhone X in various categories to find out which smartphone is better.
Computing

The sequel to the Pixelbook is coming. Here's everything we know about it

What will the Pixelbook 2 be like? Google hasn't even announced it but thanks to rumors and leaks, we think we have a pretty good idea of what the potential new flagship Chromebook will be like.
Mobile

Invites are sent out for Razer Phone 2 event on October 10

Razer has officially confirmed that it's working on a new Razer Phone -- though that's about all we know about the new device so far. It's likely the phone will feature specs like the Snapdragon 845 processor, 8GB of RAM, and more.
Mobile

Super Slow Motion and AR Emojis come to the Samsung Galaxy Note 8

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 revamped the Note name as a follow-up to the failure that was the recalled Galaxy Note 7. The device boasts excellent specs for 2017, including the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835.
Deals

Save up to $1,000 with the best smartphone deals for September 2018

Need a better phone but don't want to spend a fortune? It's never a bad time to score a new smartphone and save some cash. We rounded up the best smartphone deals available that can save you as much as $1,000.
Home Theater

In surprise announcement, OnePlus says it’s going to make a smart TV

Smartphone manufacturer OnePlus says it will release a smart TV. CEO Pete Lau will head up a new division of the company, and has hinted the TV will be simple to use, and will feature artificial intelligence.
Mobile

Not again? A Galaxy Note 9 caught fire in New York this month

A lawsuit has been filed against Samsung by the owner of a Galaxy Note 9 smartphone, who claims the device caught fire in her bag while she was traveling in an elevator. Samsung has previously recalled a Note series phone.
Mobile

OnePlus’ ‘Crackables’ includes puzzles in both the digital and physical worlds

OnePlus and Google teamed up on a new puzzle game that exists in both the physical and digital worlds, and will lead to a winner getting the "ultimate gaming setup." The game comes a few months before the expected release of the OnePlus 6T.
Mobile

Too close to call: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus vs LG G7 ThinQ camera shootout

We take the LG G7 ThinQ and Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus to Rome for a camera shootout, photographing everything from the amazing local sights to an impressive showjumping event. How do these two excellent phones compare?
Mobile

Handy iOS 12 tips and tricks to master Apple's latest update

Apple's iOS 12 mobile operating system introduces a ton of new features, with more options to help boost productivity. But updating to it can be overwhelming, so we're here to make it easier with some iOS 12 tips and tricks.