One of the lesser known Huawei Mate 20 Pro features is an underwater mode for the camera application, so you in theory can easily take snaps under water (who would have guessed?!).
Does it really work in practice though? Well, we took it to the beach to put it through the steps. And while there is certainly a practical feature in the water, Huawei still has many improvements to make.
What do you know first?
Switch to the mode and the camera program will appear with a warning, requesting you to use an official underwater when walking in the water. It's just one problem, but the official case isn't widely available outside of China yet. Don't be afraid though, because I have a generic waterproof smartphone case and Mate 20 Pro fits nicely (save that navigation keys are cut off).
When the mode is enabled, you will find that the volume button controls images (press for an image, hold for a burst), while the volume down button controls videos. Press the volume down button and you want to start recording a video, but you can also press the volume up button to stop the video (or press volume down again to finish it completely.)
To exit By this mode, you have to press and hold a specific area under the viewfinder for about a second. It is the area marked "hold for exit" if you are not sure.
Some improvements to make
I checked the phone after about 30 seconds of swimming, only to find that I was staring at the settings menu. Yes, the water disturbed the screen and caused it to leave underwater mode. Hisens' robust phones also have an underwater mode, and the firm's approach to ending the mode is to double-click the power button. CAT phones also have another way to disable underwater mode, and require users to tap the screen and drag a padlock from one end to the other to disable the mode. Either route seems better than the Mate 20 Pro solution.
A reliable way to stay underwater mode is not the only improvement area for Huawei. The company does not allow the use of telephoto or wide-angle cameras in this mode.
It is unclear why the company decided to use other cameras in this mode. It may potentially be due to streamlining, as there should be another function mapped to a physical button. Another possibility is that Huawei just felt that the quality of these cameras was not good enough when they went underwater. Still, you can't always see the viewfinder well enough when you're underwater, so switching to the wide-angle camera would have made life easier.
Another disadvantage is that you cannot switch to the self-image camera in this mode, forcing you to blindly fit your head into the main camera if you want to take selfies. This would not be much of a problem if the wide-angle camera was available, but here we are …
We would also like to see video recording quality options as well. The phone registers in 1080p in this mode, but you cannot switch to 4K or even 1080p / 60fps instead. It is unclear whether there is also significant video stabilization that takes place under water, so please see if you are recording in the sea without special equipment.
Take the phone to the swimming pool, and things are a little better. The lack of waves and currents, combined with (hopefully) clear water means you should be able to get relatively clear snaps and decent video footage. You don't really need an underwater shaft either, due to the lack of salt water and the phone's IP68 rating. But again, the inability to use the camera in front or the other cameras is still very annoying in this situation. That doesn't mean you can't get lovely selfies (or unpleasant selfies in my case).
This mode cannot be a phone seller as it is right now, especially when it only offers basic functionality and does not allow you to use more than one camera. It does not help Huawei pull its feet to bring the official submarine case to multiple markets. But with a few improvements and tweaks, there may be another nice trick in Huawei's repertoire, along with features like light painting and the smooth night mode. As it is now, there is a mildly useful feature that needs more attention in the future.
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