Everyone keeps hyping the cameras on Huawei's smartphones, so I tested one of its top models against the best smartphone camera we've tried so far

Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider
  • I’ve received several requests to compare Huawei’s smartphones against other phones from companies I typically cover, so I finally got a Huawei smartphone to see what all the fuss is about.
  • I tried out the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, and guess what. It’s quite good!
  • But it’s not as good as all the hype claims it is.

When comparing the cameras on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro and the best-in-class Pixel 3 from Google, I found myself confused as to how I should take photos with the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. The camera app made it difficult to compare these two smartphone cameras, as the Pixel has an automatic HDR mode, whereas HDR must be activated manually the Mate 20 Pro.

There were times where I knew that HDR mode would be good for certain shots, but seeing as turning HDR on or off manually involved extra steps before taking individual photos, I simply opted to keep HDR off.

I enabled the Mate 20 Pro’s “Master AI” camera setting to let it decide the best settings, hoping that would include HDR, but it didn’t seem to work that way.

All that jargon above is a giveaway that the Mate 20 Pro’s camera app is way more complex than the Pixel 3’s, which some people might actually like. But if you just want to point and shoot at something and get a good-looking photo, the Pixel 3 is still the best phone for that.

Want proof? Check out the photos from the Huawei Mate 20 Pro against those from the Google Pixel 3:

Both the Pixel 3 and Mate 20 Pro took great shots of my town’s totem pole, except the Mate 20 Pro chose a warmer colour setting that doesn’t quite look as good as the Pixel’s cooler colour.

The Mate 20 Pro’s 5x lens takes sharper shots than the Pixel 3’s 1x lens and digital zoom, which is hard to see in the small image below, but it’s very noticeable when the photos are enlarged.

Neither the Mate 20 Pro nor the Pixel 3 did a good job of brightening up my town’s local dinosaurs, despite the Mate 20 Pro’s AI mode and the Pixel 3’s automatic HDR mode.

I wanted to see if manually turning on the Mate 20 Pro’s HDR mode many any difference, and it helped reveal some detail on the dinosaurs.

Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

Taking things indoors to a local art gallery, the Mate 20 Pro took a photo with way more detail, surprisingly.

The same thing goes for this piece of art, where the Mate 20 Pro’s photo is significantly sharper.

The Mate 20 Pro has a third lens around the back for ultra-wide angle shots, which lets you see way more of the area where my crumpled shed is found.

I tried out the night modes on both smartphones, and each had their pros and cons.

Google’s Night Sight feature for the Pixel 3 is pretty amazing in what it can do in low-light settings. It looks like the lights were turned on in the room I took the photo above.

That said, the shot came out slightly blurry, even after tapping on the porcelain cat to focus.

The Mate 20 Pro’s Night mode didn’t quite light up the room as much as the Pixel 3, but the porcelain cat’s details aren’t as blurry.

Huawei’s selfie game left a lot to be desired…

Plus, the Pixel 3 has an extra selfie lens for ultra-wide selfies.

Overall, I like the photos that the Mate 20 Pro took, especially indoors, and I like the versatility of having a zoomed-in lens and an ultra-wide lens, too. But I can’t stand the camera app itself.

Screenshot/Business Insider

I just want to point at something and take a photo that looks good, which is what the Pixel 3 is good at. You don’t need to know what “AI” or “HDR” is. You just point and shoot.

The Mate 20 Pro’s camera app gives you all the settings anyone could possibly want, but it doesn’t make it easy for quick snapshots. You have to figure out yourself whether you want to enable HDR, potentially go into the camera app settings to enable it, then take the snapshot. But then, as what happened to me, you might find that the photo didn’t look great, so you go back into the settings to turn HDR off and take the photo again. I haven’t had so much trouble with simply taking a photo with a smartphone in a long time.

With the Pixel 3, I simply took it out of my pocket, and snapped the photo.

The Mate 20 Pro also, apparently, has optical image stabilisation (OIS), but it certainly didn’t feel that way. OIS is designed to help with micro-movements while you take a photo to prevent blurriness. But I felt like I needed to stay extra still while taking photos compared to snapping away on the Pixel 3 without worrying too much.

To sum up my thoughts on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro’s camera: Good photos, bad app.

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