With the P20 Pro, Huawei has not only proven that it can compete with the likes of Apple and Samsung, but can beat them in many ways. Three cameras really are better than one (or two).
Having established its name on value smartphones, Huawei has recently ventured into the premium market with products like Mate 10 Pro and P10 last year. They were of high quality and had all the features you would expect from an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy S. But until now they had not captured the same sense of luxury.
The P20 Pro has a 6.1-inch Full HD + OLED screen, larger than even the Mate 10 Pro, but is compressed in a compact body with small bezels that rival Apple’s iPhone X and Samsung’s Galaxy S9 +. It also has a notch at the top: a cut on the screen that contains a 24-megapixel front camera, the headset speaker and several sensors.
The screen is bright and colorful, although not as dense as its rivals, and the text is not as clear when viewed from side to side. It is a beautiful screen that is close, but not as good as the best Samsung or Apple.
Unlike its rivals, Huawei has kept its best fingerprint scanner on its front, compressed in an oval shape at the bottom of the screen. The back is made of glass with curved edges that blend perfectly into the rounded and polished metal band around the sides. The camera modules protrude from the back in a similar way to an iPhone X, which means it does not sit on a desk.
With 7.8 mm thickness and 180 g of weight, the P20 Pro feels thin with a luxury quality. It is 0.7mm thinner and 9g lighter than the Samsung Galaxy S9 +, but 0.1mm thicker and 6g heavier than Apple’s iPhone X. All of which is to say that the Huawei combines well.
The P20 Pro is also water resistant to IP67 standards, which means up to 1m of water for up to 30 minutes, good enough to survive a trip down the toilet or bathroom.
- Screen: 6.1in FHD+ OLED (407ppi)
- Processor: octa-core Huawei Kirin 970
- RAM: 6GB of RAM
- Storage: 128GB
- Operating system: EMUI 8.1 based on Android 8.1 Oreo
- Camera: Triple rear camera 40MP colour, 20MP monochrome, 8MP telephoto, 24MP front-facing camera
- Connectivity: LTE, Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth 4.2 and GPS (dual-sim available in some regions)
- Dimensions: 155 x 73.9 x 7.8 mm
- Weight: 180g
Charge it every two days
The P20 Pro has the same processor and memory configuration as Mate 10 Pro: Huawei’s own Kirin 970 octo-core processor and its neural network processing unit, and as such is as fast and powerful as the previous phone, keeping pace with their rivals.
The P20 Pro lasts much longer than the best charges between Apple and Samsung, but not as much as the 50 hours that the Mate 10 Pro lasts. The P20 Pro always lasted more than 39 hours on a single charge without having to activate any savings mode of energy. That was with two sims, using the smartphone as the main device, browsing and using applications for five hours a day with hundreds of emails and messages, 60 minutes of Netflix, the place of navigation on Google maps, shooting around 30 minutes photos and listen to around four hours of music through Bluetooth headphones.
There is no wireless charging, but the P20 Pro charges fairly fast with the supplied power adapter and the USB-C cable, despite having a comparatively large battery.
The P20 Pro runs the modified Android version of Huawei called EMUI 8.1, based on Android Oreo 8.1, which updates it at launch.
It behaves very similar to EMUI 8 running on the Mate 10 Pro: there is a Google feed on the home screen and offers the option to have an application drawer or force each application to have an icon on the home screen to Apple’s iOS.
Several energy-saving features are included, including a system to prevent dishonest applications from destroying battery life. Huawei’s ultra-energy-saving mode can significantly extend battery life by disabling features and limiting the number of applications you can use, if you really need your smartphone to last four days.
EMUI handles the notch well on the screen, acting more like a screen with two ears on top than one with a disruptive cut. Notifications and other icons are easily adjusted on each side of the notch in the status bar, which by default is transparent or matches the color of the content on the screen. There is also an option to make it black all the time, effectively hiding the notch completely.
The big difference between the approach used by Huawei and Apple for the iPhone X is that when the content or applications are displayed on the screen, the area on each side of the notch is blocked so that it does not interfere in what is onscreen. .
Some will simply hate the idea of the notch, but they will be narrow and will use space on either side, since the status bar is actually a good compromise.
The P20 Pro is the first smartphone that does not have one, not two, but three cameras on the back, all working together to provide a multilayer camera experience.
The main camera is a large 40-megapixel color camera with a f1.8 lens, which joins a 20-megapixel monochrome camera with a f1.6 lens and an eight-megapixel telephoto camera with a f2.4 lens.
The system automatically uses a combination of cameras on the back to produce each shot. The monochrome camera adds more light, detail and depth information, while the telephoto camera increases zoom magnification.
The combination produces excellent detail, low noise level and accurate color capture. With good light shoots images that are impressive. In low light conditions, the P20 Pro also stands out, routinely producing better images than rivals.
But it’s the hybrid zoom that really makes the P20 Pro really stand out. Many dual camera smartphones offer up to 2x zoom, which is often quite modest. The Huawei offers a hybrid zoom up to 5x, with steps up and a button to switch between the 1x, 3x and 5x zoom. The images taken with a 3x and 5x zoom are very good, even in low light.
There are many modes to play, including portrait and aperture modes, a monochrome mode using the dedicated camera and an excellent night-time exposure mode, which works very well even when it’s on the handheld.
The P20 Pro also captures very good videos, even slow motion at up to 960 fps, and has a “Pro” mode with a lot of settings to keep most photographers happy, including RAW capture.
By default, the camera shoots 10 megapixel images, but there is an option to shoot at the entire size of 40 megapixels, which can be fun.
Huawei’s built-in AI camera performs object recognition in real time to detect the subject and switch to the appropriate mode or scene. In most circumstances, he does an admirable job, but from time to time he gets caught between scenes, like “green” and “flower” when he tries to throw a bouquet of roses. I also found some of the ways to artificially skew the colors of the image too much for my taste, making them look like retouched photos for Instagram. I turned it off for some filming and got better results.
The front selfie camera is also very good, producing very detailed and illuminated shots, completed with your choice of embellishment effects, such as the “perfect selfie” mode that models the face.
The back of the phone is beautifully smooth and rounded in the hand, but it is super slippery when placed on fabric surfaces
The P20 Pro appeared a message to indicate that it would turn off in 30 seconds when the battery reached approximately 2%, giving time to quickly send a message before it died.
Huawei says that its integrated AI will keep the P20 Pro running as fast on 365 days as it does on day one
Facial recognition in the P20 Pro is very fast and works with sunglasses too, but it is not clear how safe it is compared to a fingerprint or a long pin
The twilight color option is beautiful and really stands out against the competition
The 4G performance is a superior cut, keeping an LTE signal usable in places where most other devices have trouble connecting
The Bluetooth connectivity for a set of wireless headphones was not as good as that of a Samsung Galaxy S9 +
The lower stereo speakers are surprisingly good for a smartphone, but with little stereo separation
You have Dolby Atmos, but the Bluetooth headphones are not compatible
The Huawei P20 Pro costs £ 799 with 128 GB of storage and is available in three colors.
To compare, the 6 in Huawei Mate 10 Pro with 128 GB costs £ 699, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 with 6.3 inches with 64 GB storage costs £ 869, the Samsung Galaxy S9 + with 6.2 inches costs £ 869 with 128 GB of storage, the 6 in Google Pixel 2 XL with 64 GB costs £ 799, the OnePlus 5T 6-inch with 64 GB costs £ 449, the 6 in Honor 10 View with 128 GB costs £ 450, and the iPhone X of 5.8 inches with 64 GB costs £ 999.
With the P20 Pro Huawei has finally produced something that I would recommend about the competition, regardless of the price. While it’s not cheap, it costs £ 800, somehow you get a better experience than rivals costing £ 200 more.
But the P20 Pro is not a value proposition; it is an unlimited attempt to usurp the current kings of the high-end smartphone, Samsung and Apple. The Mate 10 Pro was great, but Huawei hit a home run with the P20 Pro.
It is a fantastic looking phone that feels better than rivals in the hand, lasts much longer between charges and has one of the best cameras available, which offers useful functions that others can not match.
There is no wireless charging, no headphone jack, EMUI has its quirks and Huawei’s registration of being up to date with software and security updates is a little patchy. But it’s really great to see a company that is not Apple or Samsung pushing the limits once again.
Pros: long-life battery, excellent design, bright camera, good screen, outstanding color options, water resistance, Android 8.1 Oreo, excellent performance
Cons: no headphone jack, no microSD card slot, no wireless charging, no screen of the highest resolution, no Bluetooth support 5