MOST smartphones of today lack personality. Drab designs are wrapped around an ivory slab. Most manufacturers then slap on some staple finishes, dream up some colour variants, and call it a day. Then there’s the Porsche Design Huawei Mate 20 RS.
The folks at Huawei, you see, have a long-standing partnership with German design firm Porsche Design (yes, affiliated to the automakers). This sees the latter stepping in to style the latest model of Huawei’s executive- and power user-focused range of smartphones, the Mates. To supplement the refined designs, Huawei usually kits out the already feature-packed Mates with a few additional functions. Bam, a new class of product, aimed at those who find even the highest-end Apple products becoming homogenous.
Bringing the sexy back
What’s striking about the Mate 20 RS release is that – even by the premium line’s standards – it’s outdone previous incarnations of the Porsche Design Mate.
Turning to a material that no other smartphone brand (outside of the freshly resurrected Vertu) has dared to work with recently, Huawei’s incorporated top-grain leather into the phone’s rear panel. The twin strips flank the central glass spine, which itself sports inlaid racing stripes that emphasise the phone’s connection with the sports cars.
Elegant as the phone now looks, the leather is there for more than just style points. Added texture from the semi-aniline top-grain lets the curved edges of the phone sit comfortably and firmly in the nook of your hand, thanks to the extra grip and tactile suppleness. Fingerprinting is reduced to a minimum since the most susceptible areas no longer pick up dirt or oil. The surface also doesn’t scratch as easily as glass, so you can actually do without the provided leather flip case.
If the Porsche Design Huawei Mate 20 RS is the first leather-backed phone you’ve picked up, you’ll have started off spoiled. Other brands have attempted lining the case with faux or “genuine” leather. These are generally culled from scraps remaining after full- and top-grain leather have been harvested.
This phone, though, employs top grain leather. That’s second only to full-grain, but it is a conscientious choice. Full-grain leather requires meticulous care and occasional oiling – steps you do not want to undertake for an all-purpose and heavy-usage tool like the smartphone, particularly in Singapore’s humid weather.
When combined with semi-aniline dyeing methods, you get a protective, easy-to-clean sheen that can withstand the rigours of daily use, while the backing itself remains supple, luxurious and “organic” to the touch (as opposed to the sterile and cold surfaces of faux leather).
Given enough time, you may also notice your Mate 20 RS developing a patina unique to you. How’s that for character?
Sharp-eyed individuals will also note that unlike most of the smartphones out there – the Mate 20 Pro included – there are no ridged edges surrounding the back camera of the Mate 20 RS. The entire triple-camera setup is baked into the glass, meaning there are no protrusions to worry about when pocketing the phone.
This enlightened configuration, combined with the fact that they’ve committed to dropping the rear fingerprint sensor entirely, completes the slickness of the revamped rear. Of course, this design decision exacts a small toll, but it’s one that you won’t notice: the Mate 20 RS is barely a millimeter thicker than its mainstream counterpart.
If there’s one caveat to the indulgent rear backing, it’s the question to how all-weather capable that leaves the phone. While the electronics of the phone remain protected with its IP68 water resistance classification – which means you can submerge it (or film videos) in a hotel pool for up to half an hour – we don’t really expect rainwater to do the leather any favours.
Then again, this class of phone will, like its owner, most likely be cocooned in the comfy confines of car cabins, hotel suites, and boardrooms, with little reason to hazard rain on a regular basis.
Under the hood extras
Contrary to what most of your friends will proclaim if you ever do pick up this model, the additional quid you’ll fork out for a Porsche Design Huawei Mate 20 RS goes beyond the skin-deep improvements.
Functions such as dual voice over LTE (VoLTE) empowers heavy business travellers to skip around the inferior call quality that plagues their secondary SIM cards. The Mate 20 RS is one of the few commercially available phones to ship with this feature even as at end 2018.
Understated, too, is the 2GB leap in RAM (for a total of 8GB RAM) between the base models of the phone. That’s a whopping 33% increase, and it will basically allow you to be frivolous with the number of apps you multitask and/or leave open. We were surprised, for example, at switching back to a 3D-intensive game we’d put out of sight for an entire two days, only to have it come alive exactly as we left it, without restarting or missing a beat.
Ditto that for the 256GB storage in the Mate 20 RS – it’s actually the more expensive option on the Mate 20 Pro, but it’s bundled with the baseline Mate 20 RS. With the amount of high-quality pictures and videos you’ll be capturing on this baby, that extra space will turn out to be a no-brainer prerequisite in retrospect. A 512GB option is available.
The whole package
What started out as buzz is now approaching matter-of-fact status: the supremacy of Huawei’s smartphone cameras (on its high-end models, that is) now frequently sets the gold standard during smartphone release cycles across all brands. The Mate 20 RS is based off the exact same camera configuration as the baseline Mate 20 Pro, and leverages on the same advanced AI-abetted software that elevates even the most amateur photographer’s work.
You will notice, however, that the controversial notch makes a return on this edition, but it’s offset by the absence of the Porsche design text logo that took up real estate in its predecessor, the Mate 10 RS. As with all models, the ability to “remove” the notch by enabling a black status icon bar remains, though we look forward to the day it can be ditched forever.
It may be a while yet; while Huawei’s sister sub-brand Honor just revealed a “hole punch” design which places the single camera at the top-left corner of the screen, that would probably detract from high-accuracy 3D facial recognition present on the Mates and Ps.
Other staples such a rich dual stereo speaker setup and a gargantuan 4,200mAh power reservoir remain unchanged. It’s even got the IR blaster – what many brands deem an antiquity – so you can fire remote signals at your Smart TV, Apple device or air-conditioning device. Executives and power users will relish the 40W SuperCharge function, which operationally means being able to juice up a dying phone to a half-tank or so in a matter of minutes.
Oh, and if you haven’t caught the ubiquitous marketing campaigns by now, you ought to know that the both the Mate 20 RS and Mate 20 Pro can actually “beam” battery life to any other wireless-charge enabled smartphone, regardless of brand. Our advice? Share this information wisely and only to people you like – you don’t want to feel obliged to juice up just anyone’s mobile device at dinner.
You cannot start a conversation about this phone without addressing its S$2,298 price tag. But that’s part of its allure. Basing the brand’s apex product on the top-of-the-line flagships and further elevating it with enviable features and a refined design is exactly Huawei wants to do for its high-end customers. The distinction’s clear from the outset that no serious buyers from the intended audience will be splitting hairs over the purchase. You won’t even be able to buy the phone in any Southeast Asian country outside of Singapore..
As a matter of fact, all previous Porsche Design alumni considered, this iteration goes the furthest in setting itself apart from the corresponding Mate. It’s a yes from us.
The Porsche Design Huawei Mate 20 RS retails at S$2,298 and is available in Black at select Huawei Concept Stores, as well as online.