Huawei Technologies Co. overtook Apple Inc. in August to become the second-biggest seller of smartphones globally, with just Samsung Electronics Co. left to beat. And on Tuesday it revealed the Mate 20 Pro—a flagship device to rival the iPhone Xs Max and Galaxy Note 9.All three devices share similarly large screens, powerful processors and sleek designs; and each represents a different country’s technological prowess on the world stage: the iPhone for the U.S., the Galaxy Note for South Korea, and the Mate for China.
So how do these powerful new devices square up?
Screen and Design
All use a variation of an OLED display in their high-end models, which deliver sharp images, vibrant colors and deep blacks. The Mate 20 Pro, Galaxy Note 9 and iPhone Xs Max offer comparable screen sizes of about 6.5 inches and weigh within a few grams of each other.
But of the three, only the Note 9 avoids using a “notch” at the top of the screen. Both the iPhone Xs Max and Mate 20 Pro feature a small cut-out that houses a front-facing camera and other sensors, whereas Samsung’s display is an uninterrupted rectangle.
Some people will highlight this as a deal-breaker. However, the notch did little to harm sales of the iPhone X, and its existence allowed Apple and Huawei to bake in advanced facial recognition features, which map the human face to unlock the phone and certain apps.
The Mate 20 Pro includes one feature neither Apple nor Samsung used: a fingerprint sensor built into the screen itself. However, with the industry moving away from fingerprint security—Apple ditched it entirely for the iPhone X—this addition is unlikely to sway too many buyers.
Physically all three models are slightly different. Apple’s is the thinnest, with a depth of 7.7mm, but because Huawei gave its model a taller screen it was able to make its phone narrower, at 72mm across compared with the Phone’s 77.4mm. Smaller hands may benefit from the Mate 20 Pro’s design as a result.
Cameras and Photography
Apple and Samsung’s models both include two camera lenses to the rear—one wide-angle, one telephoto—which capture pictures at a resolution of 12 megapixels. The setup lets users snap pictures from greater distances, or create a blurred background effect, known as bokeh, which historically was a quality confined to professional cameras.
Huawei went one step further: the Mate 20 Pro has three rear-facing cameras, co-developed with Leica Camera AG: a master lens with 40-megapixel resolution, an ultra-wide one with 20 megapixels, and a telephoto option shooting at 8 megapixels.
The use of three separate cameras may seem excessive, but it’s part of a growing trend that shows no sign of letting up. Last week Samsung announced the Galaxy A9 smartphone, which has four lenses on the back.
Buyers should examine the actual pictures and not purchase on megapixels or total lenses alone, but it’s obvious photography is an arena where Huawei is determined to show it’s innovating.
Features and AI
Because there are so many variables, measuring and comparing the raw horsepower and speed of a phone is difficult, and often pointless. But Apple, Huawei and Samsung’s flagships all contain some of the most cutting-edge silicon available to mobile products, with specifications and capacity that mirror—or exceed—those of many laptops. It’s fair to assume all three will run any app you load onto it.
Samsung appeals to hardcore productivity fans with its use of a stylus, and the ability, via a cable, for the Note 9 to be connected to a computer monitor to run desktop applications as would be expected on a laptop. It also runs on Google’s Android, which is more flexible than Apple’s iOS.
Huawei’s competitor is also based on Android and offers the PC-like functionality too, albeit wirelessly, but lacks a stylus. The Chinese company chose another path of differentiation: its wireless charging feature works in two directions, meaning a pair of compatible headphones or even another phone can be charged by placing them on top of the Mate 20 Pro. Its processor, which, like those in the iPhone that were designed by the phone-maker itself, goes all-in on artificial intelligence features to enhance what’s possible with object recognition in a video while it’s being recorded, or scene analysis to generate on-the-fly visual effects.
Not being able to use a phone as the basis of a desktop PC, or having a stylus on hand at any time for handwriting and annotation, hasn’t stopped Apple from selling hundreds of millions of phones. Instead, with the iPhone Xs Max, the U.S. company continued to focus on relative simplicity and a tightly integrated ecosystem of hardware, operating system and apps, which has historically been seen to give its siblings an edge in terms of performance consistency. This ease of use comes in lieu of the manufacturer padding out a specification sheet with technologies nobody asked for and few people use.
Verdict and Availability
With a starting price of 1,049 euros ($1,216) in Europe, Huawei has presented a phone at the top end of the current flagship market pricing spectrum. On the continent it’s cheaper than the rival iPhone, but more costly than the Note 9. It’s packed with every cutting-edge technology the Chinese company could throw at it, and on paper at least will appeal to hardcore gadget lovers for good reason. But familiarity (and marketing savvy) will no doubt work in Samsung and Apple’s favor, as both companies know better than to deviate from their tried-and-tested formulas.
While Apple can expect Huawei’s new model poses little threat to its most important product—particularly in the U.S.—that may not be as true for Samsung. The Galaxy Note 9 and Mate 20 Pro are both expensive Android devices to upgrade to, but with so many of the Note’s key features available in the Mate 20 Pro — along with a number of Apple’s — Huawei’s latest effort could be a head-turner.
It goes on sale Oct. 16 in Europe. U.S. availability has not been announced.
– Nate Lanxon