The Huawei Mate 20 X is a strange beast. The supersized phablet, announced earlier this week alongside the regular Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro, seems to be struggling with a bit of an identity crisis.
At 7.21 inches, the Mate 20 X features the largest screen we’ve ever seen on a Huawei phone which makes it something of a dream phone for media lovers, but Huawei is also talking up the phone’s productivity suite which includes support for an optional stylus.
That’s not all though, as Huawei’s Richard Yu wasn’t shy about the phone’s credentials as a contender for the now hotly contested title of best gaming phone.
The Chinese giant’s CEO even went so far as to call the Mate 20 X the “best portable mobile gaming machine” on the market, comparing it favorably not only to other elite smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 or iPhone XS Max, but also the current hottest thing in the gaming scene, the Nintendo Switch.
Huawei, I’m here to tell you this is a terrible idea and you should stop what you’re doing immediately.
New challenger approaching
Before I get into why exactly Huawei’s decision to pit its sort-of-gaming-phone up against the Switch is such a boneheaded move, let’s first examine Huawei’s claims as to why the Mate 20 X is, to quote a line on one of Yu’s presentation slides, a “better portable gaming machine.”
During the launch (which you can rewatch here), Huawei talked up the Mate 20 X’s gaming credentials versus Nintendo’s machine, focusing in particular on the phone’s huge display, its mammoth battery, and its smooth performance.
Here are the exact specs comparisons made by Huawei in a handy table:
|Huawei Mate 20 X||Nintendo Switch|
|Battery life||6.67 hours||3.03 hours|
Sounds pretty convincing on paper. Unfortunately for Huawei, those specs mean next to nothing in the real world.
Losing the specs war
If the history of consumer technology has taught us anything it’s that having a more powerful device does not guarantee success or sales. Just look at the iPhone.
The same is true in the gaming market where (excluding the perennial appeal of high-end PCs) the most powerful consoles have traditionally lost out to lesser hardware.
In the handheld market in particular, Nintendo’s portable consoles have spent the last three decades brushing aside technically superior rival devices from Atari, Sega, SNK, and more recently Sony with ill-fated PSP and PS Vita.
Nintendo’s portable consoles have spent the last three decades brushing aside technically superior rival devices.
Whether it was the Game Boy, the DS/3DS, or the home-handheld hybrid console that is the Switch, Nintendo has dominated the portable gaming sphere by releasing affordable systems with innovative design quirks and stellar game libraries. It’s telling that Huawei didn’t touch on any of these factors in its presentation.
Starting with price, the Switch launched at 329 euros ($299 in the U.S.) compared to the Mate 20 X’s 899 euros price tag (~$1,033). Even with the additional functionality of the Mate 20 X, it’s almost three times more expensive than the Switch.
Likewise, when you start relying on the power of your gaming hardware to make a point for you, you better hope it’s up to scratch for actually playing games. Enter the Mate 20 X’s snap-on gamepad.
I can only think that someone at Huawei HQ saw the accessory a few weeks before launch and said ‘well that looks a bit like a Switch, can we push that?’ because aside from a very casual resemblance (if you squint and look at it at just the right angle) the peripheral and the Switch’s Joy-Cons are galaxies apart.
Shortly after the show finished, I had a chance to play a quick game of PUBG Mobile on a Mate 20 X with the controller attached. We’ll hopefully get some more time with it soon, but my experience was underwhelming to say the least.
Not only does it add a huge wedge onto the side of the phone, it feels cumbersome having to balance the left-sided control pad with the virtual buttons on the rest of the phone’s display. Its inherent design also means that the physical trigger sits rather redundantly on the left shoulder, which feels bizarre when playing a shooter like PUBG.
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Meanwhile, Nintendo’s Joy-Cons are one of the most celebrated aspects of the Switch. You can use them in two hands, one hand, attached to a controller grip, or slide them onto the Switch itself to make fully portable handheld. They also double-up as motion controllers and feature HD Rumble — a wonderfully accurate take on vibration feedback tech that has to be felt to be believed.
Hell, you can even stick them in some special cardboard and turn them into a steering while, a fishing rod, or a piano thanks to all the insane number of sensors jam packed into them.
While I’ll admit that there’s some merit in criticizing the Switch’s display and battery life (even if both were seemingly kept to a certain level to keep the price low), but even vaguely comparing the Joy-Cons to Huawei’s Frankenstein controller attachment is disingenuous in the extreme.
But even if we put aside the Switch’s superior price and design, Huawei’s comparison is still ridiculous for one simple reason: it’s trying to take on Nintendo.
For the record, I love mobile games. While many are heavily skewed towards aggressive monetization and repetition, there are plenty of games on the Play Store — Reigns, Pokémon Go, Monument Valley, Agent A, Rymdkapsel, Florence, Bury Me, My Love, and many more — that are uniquely accomplished in their own right.
But while the mobile gaming industry is clawing in more cash than any other industry, in terms of overall quality, the console and PC market has been kicking out bonafide classics at a terrifying rate in recent years. Meanwhile, truly timeless mobile games are comparatively few and far between.
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As far as the Switch is concerned, the nine years worth of games on the Play Store can’t even compare to the sheer number of phenomenal titles we’ve seen hit the eShop in just 19 months.
Not only does the Switch offer a seemingly endless pool of stellar indie games and even mobile ports, it’s also bolstered by Nintendo’s first-party games based on franchises, like Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda, that are beloved all over the world.
Look back at Huawei’s presentation slide for a moment and you’ll see that the only game installed on the Switch is Arena of Valor — a mobile port of a popular Chinese MOBA.
Huawei, no one buys a Switch to only play mobile ports. When your only way of making a relevant comparison is by creating such a laughable picture of the opposition, maybe you’re not being entirely honest about your competition.
It could very well turn out that the Mate 20 X is the best phone we’ve seen push gaming as a key feature so far, but Huawei’s desperate attempt to grab attention here won’t do it any favors.
As we’ve seen here, pitting the Mate 20 X against the Switch in any way that doesn’t involve a handful of carefully selected raw specs wilfully ignores why millions of people buy dedicated handheld gaming hardware in the first place.
Maybe Huawei’s team genuinely thinks the Mate 20 X is a better gaming system than the Switch, if so I have a little challenge for them…
You also have to wonder why Huawei would leave itself open to such obvious retorts. The first slide showing the Mate 20 X against the Switch caused laughter among the crowd in London, and respected tech industry analysts are already ridiculing Huawei for even suggesting the two devices could be considered as rivals.
Perhaps the volatile, heavily-regulated state of the Chinese gaming landscape has marred its judgement when addressing a global audience. Or maybe not. Maybe Huawei’s team genuinely thinks the Mate 20 X is a better gaming system than the Switch, if so I’d like to pose a little challenge for them:
Find me a game I can play on the Huawei Mate 20 X that holds a candle to the experience of playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on a Nintendo Switch on the go. I’ll wait…
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