What is the Huawei Mate 20 Lite?
The Huawei Mate 20 Lite is a mid-range phone, and a cheaper alternative to Huawei’s Mate 20.
It offers greater power, and a more advanced camera than the unit that features in the Motorola Moto G6 Plus, while keeping the price below £400. As such, it undercuts Trusted Reviews’ favourite handset at this price, the OnePlus 6.
Good battery life, a sharp-looking design and solid camera make the Huawei Mate 20 Lite a good buy for those wanting high-end style at a sensible price. However, as is often the case with Huawei phones, sister brand Honor’s similar device for less money is hard to ignore.
The Honor Play is £100 less, and while its design and cameras are lower-end, it’s actually a far more powerful phone.
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Huawei Mate 20 Lite – Design
Like many mid-range handsets, the Huawei Mate 20 Lite could easily pass for a high-end phone. Its glass rear and colour-matched aluminium sides offer no clues that it costs half the price of some devices.
The finish is far more conservative than Huawei’s P20 Pro, for example, but many will prefer such a look.
A few little visual touches are specific to this model. The Mate 20 Lite’s dual cameras look like little portholes and protrude from the rear by around 1mm. The camera area is denoted by a series of subtle lines that sit beneath the rear glass, and won’t wear off following six months of hard labour in your pocket.
The Huawei Mate 20 Lite is an inoffensive, easy-to-handle phone. It’s light for its size at 172g, slim at 7.6mm thick, and while the screen’s 6.3-inch spec sounds large, this inch count is boosted by the use of a notched, ultra-long 19.5:9 display.
All the features I’d look for in a device at this price are present too. There’s a 3.5mm headphone jack: no adapter or wireless set required. Plus, 64GB storage means you’re unlikely to need a microSD card. You can add one in the SIM tray if you like, however.
Typical of a Huawei handset, the fingerprint scanner sits on the rear of the device rather than the front. It’s perfectly positioned and works quickly, kicking in from screen-off just from contact with your finger.
Face unlocking is an option, too, alongside a “pick up to unlock” mode that uses the accelerometer to just as it says on the tin. This is slower than the finger scanner, though, and without IR help can struggle in dark rooms. You may want to stick with finger scanning.
Huawei Mate 20 Lite – Screen
The Huawei Mate 20 Lite has a 6.3-inch, 19.5:9 aspect LCD screen with a notch. It’s a fairly wide and deep notch, similar to the one that sits on the iPhone X but with less tech crammed in.
I used the Moto E5 prior to this phone, and the Mate 20 Lite is definitely a display upgrade in just about every respect. Colours are richer, and with 2340 x 1080 resolution, it’s significantly shaper too. The phone actually uses a “Smart Resolution” mode as standard, which switches between native resolution and upscaled 720p to save battery. However, it doesn’t seem to impact the sharpness of the Android interface.
You have a choice of two colour modes: normal and Vivid. Saturation with the latter isn’t off the charts, instead displaying an excellent balance between punch and a natural look. There’s minimal loss of brightness at an angle and, while not OLED-grade, contrast is good. The Huawei Mate 20 Lite has an admirable LCD screen.
Notches not your thing? Not to worry: on the Mate 20 Lite it can be blocked-off with a black bar, leaving just the time and notification icons in the blackness.
Huawei Mate 20 Lite – Software
The Huawei Mate 20 Lite has the same style of software found in Huawei’s other high-end phones – and it’s up-to-date, too.
You get Android 8.1.0 with EMUI 8.2. Not everyone is enamoured by Huawei’s take on the Android software, but over the past few years, I’ve turned from a sceptic into a bit of a fan.
It lets you choose whether to have a scrolling apps page or just homescreens; plus you can pick how many rows and columns of icons to fit into each screen. And the slight Huawei strangeness that used to characterise EMUI has finally been eliminated.
There’s still a default lock-screen made up of generic images that are akin to artworks sold at IKEA. But their pretty inoffensive.
General performance is decent, with apps loading marginally quicker than they do on the Moto G6 Plus, for example.
However, the Huawei Mate 20 Lite does suffer with a fair amount of bloat. I’ve since added enough to make them disappear in the sea of colourful circles. But including a bunch of low-rent games to a not-exactly-cheap phone such as this does seem borderline cheeky.
Huawei also adds digital card wallet, App Gallery and Party Mode (sharing music over phone speakers) apps that few will use. However, most can be uninstalled – and the inclusion of 64GB means storage isn’t scarce.
My time with the Huawei Mate 20 Lite hasn’t been 100% problem-free, however. Google Chrome has crashed an unusual number of times, prompting a full hard closure to get it working again. Clearly, there are a few glitches that need addressing.
Huawei Mate 20 Lite – Performance
The Huawei Mate 20 Lite has a Kirin 710 processor – a mid-range model with four Cortex-A73 cores and four Corex-A53s. As such, it’s more powerful than the Moto G6 Plus, but significantly less powerful than the Honor Play.
The Honor Play has a Kirin 970 CPU with a much faster graphics chip. The Kirin 970 was used in the Huawei P20 Pro, which originally cost £900. That the Honor Play costs £100 less than the Mate 10 Lite is both confusing and disappointing.
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We can’t judge the difference with benchmarks either, since Huawei has blocked installation of favourites such as Geekbench 4.
You do get to see some hard limitations when you fire up PUBG, though. While the game runs fine, you’re limited to ‘Medium’ visuals rather than ‘High’ because it, correctly, identifies the Mate 20 Lite’s brain as mid-range hardware.
The speaker is ‘mid-range’ in quality, too. It’s a single driver on the bottom, and top volume is good. However, it doesn’t have the bass of Samsung’s S9 family of phones, for example.
Huawei Mate 20 Lite – Camera
The Mate 20 Lite does manage to claw back some credibility with its cameras, which are higher-end than those that feature in the Honor Play. The 20-megapixel sensor on the rear is joined by a 2-megapixel secondary camera for shallow aperture style shots, where the background is blurry.
The unit takes lovely images in daylight, and since there’s minimal shutter lag – even with quick-fire multiple exposures – the Huawei Mate 20 Lite’s camera is fun to use. You’ll see some purple colour noise in browns and greys in some shots, but nothing that sticks out enough to spoil a photo.
Solid looks down at the pixel level, good dynamic range tweaking, and plenty of detail make this phone a good all-rounder for capturing shots. It even fares better than most non-stabilised cameras at night.
The Huawei Mate 20 Lite retains plenty of detail in low light, although look closely and you will see noise. However, shots aren’t blurry or vague, which is great.
While there’s no don’t have any information regarding the sensor the camera uses, I do know that it has a fairly fast f/1.8 lens, which helps with night-time shots.
The Mate 20 Lite retains some brickwork detailing in the tower, but check out how noisy the sky appears
The picture isn’t perfect, but the phone maintains brickwork detail
Look a little deeper into the Huawei Mate 20 Lite’s camera software and you’ll find a few more contentious areas. Like the P20 Pro, this phone has an AI shooting mode that recognises scenes and alters the processing to suit. It can reliably recognise sea scenes, plants, old buildings and more.
This mode is all about impact rather than capturing a realistic photo, however. It consistently over-saturates colour. Bold colours may look good on Instagram, but most scenes just don’t look as they did in the real world. Use the AI mode mindfully.
AI offAI on
Aperture mode isn’t much better, either. This uses the second camera to blur out backgrounds, but since it has only 2 megapixels to work with, its ‘3D’ view of a scene is basic. Edges of objects are occasionally blurred instead of clean. That said, the Huawei Mate 20 Lite does better than most others handsets with such low-end depth sensors.
Software f/0.95 aperture
Huawei has also added its own versions of Apple’s Animojis and active light effects. While fun to play around with, they’re not a patch on Apple’s versions.
Huawei strikes back with an ultra-high resolution selfie camera. It’s a 24-megapixel sensor with an f/2 lens, and is a great combo.
The usual stumbling block of eye-catching hi-res selfie cameras is that they lose extra detail as soon as the light level goes down. However, the Huawei Mate 20 Lite performs amazingly well, even in near-blackout conditions.
When the light reaches a dim level, most of the preview display turns white, acting as a makeshift flash. Truly dark shots still look fairly bright and clear, and even fine details such as facial hairs are left in tact. It’s a very versatile selfie shooter.
For the best results, switch off HDR Pro and AI. These seem to result in softer images.
Despite all those megapixels flying around, the Huawei Mate 20 Lite isn’t a star for video. It can only shoot at up to 1080p at 60fps with the rear camera, and 1080p at 30fps with the front one. There’s no 4K.
Huawei Mate 20 Lite – Battery life
A few parts of the Huawei Mate 20 Lite dip too close into lower-mid-range territory then, particularly with rivals such as the Asus ZenFone 5 and Honor Play around. However, battery life isn’t one of them.
The Huawei Mate 20 Lite has a 3750mAh battery, which sounds about right for the screen size. In my experience, however, it outlasts the Samsung Galaxy Note 9.
After a fairly heavy day of use, with some GPS Google Maps navigation, a few hours of podcast streaming, and a good chunk of FaceBook use, the phone would consistently have more than 40% remaining by bed time.
As is often the case, Huawei seems to be more aggressive about battery-saving than most. This does have some annoying side-effects, though. With launch software, the Huawei Mate 20 Lite has a habit of stopping media playback after a while. It’s annoying if you stream a lot of music or regularly listen to podcasts.
You have to manually dig into the Settings menu to stop such battery-saving interference, which is a knock to the Huawei Mate 20 Lite’s ease of use.
Why buy the Huawei Mate 20 Lite?
It’s rare that a phone as accomplished as the Mate 20 Lite is hard to recommend. Cheaper Honor options are, as is often the case with mid-range Huawei phones, the problem.
For £100 less, the Honor Play is more powerful – if also blander and less accomplished at taking pictures. At the same price, too, the Honor 10 has slightly better cameras and greater power, but a smaller screen.
This phone isn’t overpriced in a wider context, but you can get slightly more for your money if you opt for an Honor phone instead. Huawei likes to think of itself as the ‘premium’ brand, with Honor the affordable alternative. But such a distinction across brands isn’t clear to consumers when the company includes the same software, and much of the same hardware too.
A solid, long-lasting mid-range Android – but the competition from sister-brand Honor phones is strong.