Huawei Mate 20 X review: Android gaming, super-sized

Gaming phones are suffering something of an identity crisis.

On the one hand, you have phones like the Asus ROG Phone and Nubia Red Magic Mars — handsets that have been built from the ground-up to look, feel, and play like a pocket-sized, handheld console.

On the other, there’s the traditional Android flagship brigade which has slowly begun adopting a handful of gaming-centric features, such as the Samsung Galaxy S10’s Unity optimizations and cooling system.

The distinction between a dedicated gaming phone and a top-spec phone that just so happens to be pretty good for gaming is more vague than ever.

Having tentatively dipped its toes into the gaming waters via its sub-brand with the Honor Play, Chinese giant Huawei is going all-in with the Mate 20 X — a 7.2-inch monster phablet Huawei infamously claimed is a better portable gaming machine than the Nintendo Switch.

But is the largest member of the Mate 20 family a true gaming phone or just another pretender? Find out in this Huawei Mate 20 X review!

About this Huawei Mate 20 X review

I wrote this review after spending two weeks with a Huawei Mate 20 X review unit supplied by Huawei. The phone (model EVR-L29) ran EMUI 9 (build number 9.0.0.113) and Android Pie with the October 2018 security patch. I used it mostly on my home Wi-Fi network, as well as O2’s 4G network in the U.K. Technically, the software on the review unit was non-final, but Huawei said it is indicative of the final release software.

Huawei recently announced that a new variant of the Mate 20 X is on the way with 5G support. However the version we’ve reviewed is the original model released in late 2018.

Design

Huawei Mate 20 X vs OnePlus 6T vs Google Pixel 3 XL

Huawei Mate 20 X (middle) vs OnePlus 6T (left) vs Google Pixel 3 XL (right)

Let’s get right down to it: the Huawei Mate 20 X is absolutely massive.

Large phones are nothing new, but the Notes, Pluses, XLs, and Max’s have nothing on Huawei’s behemoth. At 174.6mm tall and 85.4mm wide, the Mate 20 X engulfs other phablets and larger-sized phones in side-by-side comparisons.

The Mate 20 X immediately reminded me of the super-duper-sized phones of yesteryear, like the Sony Xperia Z Ultra, Samsung Galaxy W, and Huawei’s own MediaPad X2. The most relevant modern comparison is the Honor Note 10.

There are practical issues with carrying a “mobile” phone that’s this huge.

As with the Note 10, the Mate 20 X benefits from Huawei’s FullView display design, which decreases the amount of redundant bezel space and maximizes the screen real estate — and let me tell you, there’s a lot of screen to play with.

It seems a little redundant to criticize a phone whose whole existence is basically defined by its gargantuan build, but there are practical concerns when carrying around a “mobile” phone that’s this huge.

The simple fact is the Mate 20 X is a two-handed smartphone. If you can wrestle the phone into the right position, those with larger hands will just about tackle sending a quick message or hitting the back button with a single thumb. But, unless you’re ET or Freddy Krueger, there’s no way you’re reaching the notification bar without drafting in another palm. Huawei has added a One-Handed UI mode to combat this issue, but that does require a few extra gestures just to perform simple actions.

It narrowly passed the pocket test when I was wearing jeans, but my coat and bag pockets couldn’t contain the Mate 20 X’s sheer mass without exposing the frame and part of the display.

Huawei Mate 20 X vs Google Pixel 3 XL

Huawei Mate 20 X vs Google Pixel 3 XL size comparison

If you’re thinking of buying the Mate 20 X, my advice would be to either handle it first or at least cut out a bit of cardboard with the same dimensions for a scale. While it still feels big to me, I could quite happily use it as my daily driver without much issue. That’s a different case entirely for my partner who, despite usually preferring larger phones like the Samsung Galaxy Note and Pixel XL series phones, quite literally couldn’t get to grips with it.

Unlike other products that clumsily try to appeal to gaming fans, there are no pulsing LED strips, gaudy accents, or glowing logos to be found. Instead, the Mate 20 X is an almost identical replica of the vanilla Mate 20 only with inflated dimensions. It has the same divisive square camera module, “waterdrop” notch, rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, and even the same red-accented, textured power button.

Related: Huawei Mate 20 vs Mate 20 Pro: Past meets future

The phone is surprisingly thin relative to its overall size at just over 8.2mm. While it’s a lot heavier than your regular flagship phone at 232g (for comparison, the Mate 20 weighs 188g), the weight distribution is fairly uniform so it won’t tip in your hand.

This is helped by the curved glass and tapered aluminium frame, though there’s no escaping it’s an incredibly slippery customer, even in spite of the etched diagonal lines on the rear panel. I had similar concerns with the Mate 20 Pro, but that same smooth, glossy finish paired with the Mate 20 X’s extra size and weight is a hazardous combination.

Huawei Mate 20 X review unit bottom

The Mate 20 X has a dual-SIM slot on the left side and a power button and volume rocker on the right. On the bottom is USB Type-C port and speaker, which is joined by a second speaker on the top of the phone next to an IR blaster and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

The unit I’ve been playing around with is the Phantom Silver version, which is exclusive to the Mate 20 X within the wider Mate 20 series and has a metallic tinge and green and purple hues. The phone is also available in Metallic Blue.

Display

Huawei Mate 20 X in hand

Remember when tablets with 7-inch displays like the Google Nexus 7 seemed so much larger than our phones? The Mate 20 X adds an extra 0.2-inches onto that in a much smaller overall form factor and hits an intimidating ~87.6 percent screen-to-body ratio.

Putting aside the fact it can be cumbersome to handle a phone this large, the actual display is a joy to use whether you’re playing a game, taking a photo, or just flicking through a thread of massive WhatsApp speech bubbles.

The AMOLED panel delivers suitably deep blacks and rich colors, although Huawei oversaturates everything a little out-of-the-box. Thankfully, you can tweak the color mode, temperature, and schedule a blue light filter in the display’s settings menu.

Huawei Mate 20 X vs Nintendo Switch 2

Huawei Mate 20 X (bottom) vs Nintendo Switch (top) display comparison

The Mate 20 X outputs at 1,080 x 2,244 as standard, but this can be manually dropped to HD+ (720p). You can also ask the phone to adjust the resolution automatically to save power.

Compared to the Mate 20, the Mate 20 X upgrades from LCD to AMOLED, although it’s disappointing to see Huawei stick with Full HD+ rather than Quad HD like the Mate 20 Pro. You’ll still have to peek closely to see those pixels, but if 1080p and 381ppi sounds low for a screen that’s 7.2-inches, that’s because, frankly, it is.

This is by no means a poor display, however. It’s bright enough to play mobile HDR content and the 18.7:9 aspect ratio means you won’t always be plagued by black borders in landscape mode.

Finally, if the notch is something that’ll bother you, Huawei has included the option to black out the notification bar.

Performance

It may well be surpassed when the rumored Huawei P30 series hits the market, but for now the Chinese giant’s most powerful silicon is still the Kirin 980.

We already know from our extensive tests that the Kirin 980 — paired with a Mali-G76 GPU with a 10 core configuration — is an incredibly capable SoC and that carries over to the Mate 20 X’s performance. It also doesn’t hurt that the largest member of the Mate 20 series comes with 6GB RAM as standard.

It should be noted that the benchmark results that follow were obtained with “Performance Mode” turned off. Huawei got into a bit of hot water last year for enabling the mode as standard during benchmark tests leading to overinflated scores. The mode can be toggled on in the Battery menu (for baffling reasons only the EMUI designers will ever know), although I’ve yet to see any meaningful performance improvement or higher battery drain with it turned on.

uawei mate 20 x geekbench benchmark
uawei mate 20 x geekbench benchmark
uawei mate 20 x geekbench benchmark

The Mate 20 X came out at 3,337 in the Geekbench 4 Single-Core test and 9,813 in the Multi-Core test. For comparison, the Asus ROG Phone scored 2,521 and 9,224. The regular Mate 20 scored 3,371 and 9,891.

uawei mate 20 x antutu benchmark
uawei mate 20 x antutu benchmark

The Mate 20 X struggled in the Antutu tests, resulting in a score of 273,720 — well below Xiaomi’s Black Shark gaming phone (291,099) and the ROG Phone (288,715). The screenshot on the right shows the leap when Performance Mode is turned on, which is almost identical to what we found when reviewing the Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro.

uawei mate 20 x 3dmark benchmark
uawei mate 20 x 3dmark benchmark
uawei mate 20 x 3dmark benchmark

Things improved slightly with 3DMark, but the 3,873 Sling Shot Extreme result still falls well below even the demonstrably cheaper Pocophone F1 (4,216).

Gaming

Huawei Mate 20 X games

So we know the Mate 20 X is a powerhouse phone with an enviable specs sheet, but what is Huawei’s new gaming phone actually like to play games on?

Let’s start with the good stuff, starting with that gargantuan display.

It sounds obvious, but playing Android games on a screen this large is ridiculously enjoyable. Sure, you can technically play Android games on larger screens with Android TV boxes, tablets, Chromebooks, and even PCs via an emulator, but when it comes to playing Play Store games on an Android phone, the Mate 20 X has a clear advantage over the competition.

Editor’s Pick

Virtual buttons and sticks are far easier to use with more space between them, menu text is clearer, and you’ll likely spot tiny design and art details in your favorite games that you’ve never noticed before.

I mentioned earlier that if you squint you can see the drop from QHD to FHD+ and while it is noticeable up close, it’s far from a deal breaker.

A lot of the graphical blemishes and visual artifacts that get exposed on the enlarged screen can’t be blamed entirely on Huawei either, as so many games on the Play Store (mostly 3D games and especially Unity/Unreal ports) are terribly optimized for larger displays. The best visual results come from games with unique, colorful art design like Brawl Stars, Alto’s Odyssey, and Agent A.

As for gaming features, the Mate 20 X has a cooling system with a vapour chamber and graphene film Huawei calls SuperCool. Huawei says this is more effective than other cooling solutions and I’m inclined to believe it as the phone never got hot enough for me to really notice despite extended play sessions.

The Mate 20 X’s stereophonic speakers are a bit lacking in the bass department but they do lend the phone an added immersion factor over other phones when gaming. Unfortunately, the speakers’ placement on the top and bottom of the phone is far from ideal. Unless you flip the phone to rest on its right side you’ll cover both speakers with your palms and even then it’s very easy to muffle them with your index fingers. With this much real-estate to play with it’s a crying shame Huawei didn’t opt for front-facing speakers.

There’s also plenty about the Mate 20 X that will appeal to video game fans in general. Watching YouTube and Twitch is a dream. I’ve watched hours of Overwatch League VODs on my Huawei Mate 20 X review unit and you’re as likely to spot big brain plays from esports pros on the Mate 20 X’s large screen as you are a PC monitor. The 3.5mm headphone jack also makes using voice comms apps like Discord far less awkward.

Huawei Mate 20 X media

#IonThePrize

There’s just one fairly major problem: the Mate 20 X isn’t really a gaming phone.

If you weren’t aware Huawei had marketed the phone as a Switch-killer, there’s no way you’d guess it has any gaming features at all at a glance. The fact that gaming is now the fifth subsection of the Mate 20 X’s official store page is telling — it may be a solid phone for gaming, but Huawei never truly designed it specifically for playing games.

It all starts with the UX, which buries all gaming options into a web of sub-menus and doesn’t provide any extra apps or software tweaks you can’t also find on any recent Huawei/Honor phone. Aside from the aforementioned cooling system, it’s the same story on the hardware front too.

We’ve recently seen phones hit the market with intuitive game library apps, trigger buttons (both physical and pressure sensitive), variable refresh rates, and apps that measure CPU/GPU clock speed and frame rate counters. The Mate 20 X has none of these.

This would almost be acceptable if the phone could take on the best gaming phones in the performance stakes, but for gaming the Mate 20 X’s Kirin 980 setup is inferior to pretty much every Snapdragon 845 phone I’ve tested and will be massively outmatched by the upcoming wave of Snapdragon 855 handsets. For all Huawei’s bluster, there’s still a significant gap between Mali and Adreno graphics — this is something we’ve delved into on several occasions here at Android Authority.

GPU Turbo has become Huawei’s get out of jail free card.

While it’s far from a dreadful experience to play Android games on the Mate 20 X, there are noticeable frame rate drops in graphics-intensive games like Fortnite, as well as more minor issues like lagging menus in Pokémon Go. Likewise, while GPU-hungry emulators like Dolphin can technically run Gamecube games on the Mate 20 X, the experience is almost always too choppy to get any enjoyment out of it.

Of course, this isn’t the case if you play one of the six games supported by Huawei’s GPU Turbo technology (now GPU Turbo 2.0), which boosts power efficiency and delivers higher frame rates.

GPU Turbo has become Huawei and Honor’s get out of jail free card for delivering phones that are ostensibly gaming phones like the Honor Play, but the same technology is already available on a heap of phones (many cheaper than the Mate 20 X) from both Chinese brands.

With three MOBAs (Vainglory, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, Arena of Valor), two battle royales (PUBG Mobile, Rules of Survival), and a single sports game (NBA 2K18), there’s also a crippling lack of variety in the minuscule number of games that enjoy GPU Turbo support.

Read more: 10 best game apps for Android

The millions of other games on the Play Store are stuck with basic Game Booster optimizations that simply don’t offer tangible improvements. The Game Booster option is also hidden away in EMUI’s maze of menus under AppAssistant, which you’d never find without having to use Settings search. Once you do find it you have to provide a ton of (slightly questionable) permissions to get it to even run.

It’s even worse for Performance Mode which, as previously mentioned, gets lumped in the Battery section. It’s almost like the Mate 20 X’s UI has been reversed engineered to be a gaming phone. Because it has.

Huawei Mate 20 X Android games

My final gripe is the lack of shoulder buttons. Much like the lack of front-facing speakers, the Mate 20 X has more than enough bulk to accommodate a pair of triggers that’d make playing shooters infinitely more enjoyable.

Huawei’s solution at launch was an attachable, left-sided controller with a thumbstick, D-Pad, and a single trigger button, but the peripheral isn’t included with the phone and is nowhere to be found through Huawei’s official store or recommended retail partners.

Thanks to a preset in AppAssistant, I learned the accessory is called the Betop G1 which can be bought at Amazon in the U.K. via a third-party retailer for 37.99 pounds ( ~$50). I haven’t tested it myself, so buy it at your own risk.

Hardware

Huawei Mate 20 X camera

Huawei has made great use of the phone’s size in the battery department by cramming in a mighty 5,000mAh cell. Even with every setting I could possibly think of turned up to max and put under heavy usage for games and video streaming, the Mate 20 X review unit almost always hit 1.5 days before hitting zero.

With an average screen-on-time of 12-14 hours during my tests, if you’re only using the Mate 20 X for social media and browsing the web there’s a good chance you could easily squeeze two or possibly even three full days out of this beast.

Editor’s Pick

The Mate 20 X supports Huawei’s SuperCharge technology for fast charging, but rather than the 40W version enjoyed by the Mate 20 Pro the Mate 20 X is stuck with regular 22.5W charger.

It also doesn’t support wireless charging or the Mate 20 Pro’s reverse wireless charging functionality.

On the biometrics front, the rear fingerprint sensor may be a little hard to reach but it’s fairly accurate and much faster than any in-display alternatives currently available. The Mate 20 X also supports face unlocking. However, without the fancy 3D mapping sensors on the Mate 20 Pro, what you’re getting here is a less secure, software-based variant.

The Mate 20 X comes with 128GB internal storage as standard, although this can be expanded up to 256GB by taking up one of the dual-SIM tray slots. Unfortunately, the Mate 20 X only supports Huawei’s proprietary nano memory cards which cost twice the price of an equivalent standard MicroSD card.

Aside from the headphone jack and handy IR blaster, the only other notable hardware feature is the IP53 rating for protection against dust and splashes of water. If you want full water resistance you’ll have to stump up the extra for the Mate 20 Pro’s IP68 rating.

Software

Huawei Mate 20 X EMUI

Huawei’s software has come a long way in recent years, culminating in the Android Pie-based EMUI 9.0.

There’s plenty to like if you prefer heavily customizable Android skins and neat tweaks that build on Pie’s solid foundations. These include excellent gesture controls, a system-wide dark mode option, and Huawei’s own take on Google’s Digital Wellbeing called Digital Balance.

EMUI 9.0 doesn’t feature an app dock as standard, which means your homescreen will be a bit cluttered if you’ve downloaded a bunch of games. Thankfully you can add a dock in Settings, but as with everything in EMUI’s cluttered menus, actually finding the option is an exercise in frustration (it’s in Settings > Home screen & wallpaper > Home screen style, in case you get lost).

One feature you will want to find is One-Handed UI, which lets you temporarily shrink the screen size to something far more manageable in a single hand. This is accessed by swiping diagonally from the bottom corner of the phone, or by swiping left or right on the home button if you’re using three key navigation.

The Mate 20 X also has software support for Huawei’s M-Pen, but the stylus doesn’t come with the phone as standard.

Having used Huawei phones in the past I knew what I was getting myself into with EMUI 9.0. I also knew it wouldn’t be too long before I’d switch to a different launcher (in this case Nova) so I could distance myself as much as possible from the illogical menus, duplicate apps, bloatware (who uses a Mirror app, seriously), and the pointless HiBoard feed.

Huawei is definitely on the right track with EMUI 9.0, but it still stumbles on the basics.

Camera

Huawei Mate 20 X camera 2

The Mate 20 X features an identical square-shaped, triple-lens camera module to Huawei’s flagship Mate 20 Pro, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that it delivers a solid and incredibly versatile photography experience.

Those three cameras are a primary 40MP lens (f/1.8 aperture), an 8MP telephoto camera (f/2.4 with OIS), and a 20MP ultra-wide shooter (f/2.2 aperture). The selfie camera, meanwhile, is a single 24MP camera (f/2.0).

huawei mate 20 x camera sample statue
huawei mate 20 x camera sample statue 3x zoom
huawei mate 20 x camera sample statue 5x zoom

The setup enables up to 3x optical zoom and 5x hybrid zoom, detailed bokeh-style portrait shots, as well as impressive ultra wide shots to get more scenery or family members in a single frame. That’s a lot of options to work with and the Camera app lets you switch between the three lenses with quick taps or a single swipe.

huawei mate 20 x camera sample normal
huawei mate 20 x camera sample wide angle
huawei mate 20 x camera sample 5x hybrid zoom

The Mate 20 X’s 40MP sensor uses pixel binning to combine four physical pixels into one large 2µm pixel for better light capture and dynamic range. The resulting 10MP shots are mostly fantastic. Below are some sample shots and you can see the full resolution versions here.

While the camera can overexpose shots from time to time — particularly in lower light — the Mate 20 X produces vibrant, colorful images without switching from Auto mode. There’s also a fully kitted-out Pro mode if you want to manually tweak white balance, color temperature, and more.

huawei mate 20 x camera sample star wars figures

huawei mate 20 x camera sample cat
huawei mate 20 x camera sample models

The Mate 20 X camera also has Huawei’s patented dual NPU-powered Master AI mode that picks from a host of pre-selected shooting modes based on the subject. I haven’t really seen much benefit from using it, but when the phone tells me my cat is a cat it’s pretty impressive nonetheless.

The comprehensive photography package is rounded up by more superfluous modes like monochrome, AR lens, light painting, time-lapse, and much more, as well as beauty and lighting options for Portrait mode. It can also shoot video at up to 4K Ultra HD (3,840 x 2,160) quality.

huawei mate 20 x camera sample selfie
huawei mate 20 x camera sample selfie 2

The only real downer I have on the Mate 20 X’s photography suite is the selfie camera which has a tendency to wash out images. Turning off the AI HDR mode helps slightly but it still lacks detail and is nowhere near the same standard as the rear shooter.

Specs

 Huawei Mate 20 X
Display7.2-inch curved AMOLED
2,244 x 1,080 resolution
346ppi
18.7:9 aspect ratio
ProcessorHuawei Kirin 980
Octa-core CPU (2 @ 2.6GHz, 2 @ 1.92GHz, 4 @ 1.8GHz)
Dual NPU
GPUMali-G76 MP10
RAM6GB
Storage128GB
NM (nano memory) card slot for memory expansion
Battery5,000mAh
22.5W Huawei Supercharge
CamerasRear:
Main: 40MP sensor, f/1.8 aperture
Second: 8MP 3x telephoto sensor, OIS, f/2.4 aperture
Third: 20MP ultra-wide sensor, f/2.2 aperture, 16mm focal length equivalent
Front: 24MP RGB sensor
SecurityRear fingerprint sensor, face unlock
Headphone jackYes
Dimensions174.6 x 85.4 x 8.2mm
232g
IP ratingIP53
Software versionAndroid 9.0 Pie with EMUI 9.0
ColorsPhantom Silver, Midnight Blue

Price and availability

The Huawei Mate 20 X is available in the U.K. priced at 799 pounds (~$1,049) and selected European countries where it retails for 899 euros.

Wrap up and competition

Huawei Mate 20 X main

Initially described as the “best portable mobile gaming machine” on the market by Huawei’s CEO, it’s notable the Chinese juggernaut gradually softened its gaming-centric marketing for the Mate 20 X over time, instead focusing on the phone’s size and specs.

This should’ve been the approach from the outset, as the Mate 20 X is a bonafide media monster with an eye-popping display, killer camera, 1-2 day battery life, and enough raw power to handle almost anything you can throw at it.

Yet, those outlandish launch claims still linger in the memory and the Mate 20 X doesn’t get anywhere close to delivering on Huawei’s originally ridiculous promises that it’d crafted the ultimate gaming device.

Unless you really, really love PUBG Mobile, there’s a wider variety of games that will run more smoothly on any suitably powerful Snapdragon 845/855-powered handset. If you want a phone entirely designed for gaming on the go, however, the Asus ROG Phone is still the best gaming phone money can buy.

The Mate 20 X is a bonafide media monster.

There’s also competition from within from the Mate 20 Pro. For an extra 150 euros, the Pro model has a higher resolution display, improved waterproofing, reverse, wireless, and faster charging, and upgraded biometrics. Likewise, if you have cash to burn, Huawei’s $2,600 Mate X folding phone is on the horizon with its even larger 8-inch fold-out display.

With all that said, there’s definitely a niche market for the Mate 20 X. It’s the closest a phablet has come to balancing both the usability of a smartphone and a truly tablet-like screen so far.

I already know I’ll miss that colossal display as soon as I pick up a regular-sized smartphone, even if my pockets might be a little less sad to see it go.


What do you think of our Huawei Mate 20 X review? Let us know your thoughts on the giant phablet in the comments.

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