The flagship segment of the smartphone market has always seen cutthroat competition and manufacturers like Apple and Samsung have almost monopolized this segment with their offerings. We’ve often seen well-established companies like Sony, LG and now even Nokia struggle to offer value in this segment as the competition and the expectations are both high. Huawei has been trying to establish themselves as a premium smartphone maker and the with the Huawei P20 Pro, they’ve gotten as close as they possibly could.
Each time a flagship is announced by the top manufacturers, they undergo a lot of scrutinization from the reviewers, minute aspects of the display, the peak performance, and the optics are thoroughly compared with the other offerings from different brands to see where the device stands and how well it competes with the rest of the market. While Samsung added a variable aperture to its primary camera and apple added a notch to the display, Huawei decided that the three-camera setup on the smartphone should be their USP.
The Huawei P20 Pro sports one of the best camera hardware that has been seen on an Android smartphone, in this review we test out the performance, the optics and the overall build of the device and draw our opinions.
The Design – Color that gradiates
The first thing that caught our eye when we started reviewing the phone is perhaps one of the most attractive features of the phone, the back panel with a gradient color. When we first saw the company showcase the twilight gradient finish, we almost instantly fell for the uniqueness, however, that particular variant isn’t available in India and we got to test out the Midnight blue variant. The back panel is made up of glass and comes with a glossy finish that makes it a complete fingerprint magnet. Although we used the free case that came in the box, scratches and fingerprints were evidently visible when we took it out of the case.
The front of the device is a 6.1-inch OLED and adheres to the notch requirement, while the notch is significantly smaller than most other devices, it only holds the earpiece, front camera and a few sensors that give it the luxury of space. The notch on the display helps the company bring the 19:9 aspect ratio and for those few that detest the notch, the software offers an easy way to hide it. While the bezels are mostly thin on most sides of the smartphone, the chin still exists and the reason for this could just be the presence of the fingerprint sensor on the front.
The polished frame doesn’t shy away from the Antenna lines that are visible on both the top and the bottom of the device, the power and volume buttons are efficiently positioned on the right of the device that offers excellent tactile feedback. The power button also has a nice bright orange highlight that doesn’t serve much of a purpose anyway. Turning to the rear of the device is the triple-camera setup with the primary 40-megapixel camera doing most of the work, the 8-megapixel sensor is the secondary telephoto lens and there is also a 20-Megapixel monochrome sensor on the device for the sharpest details.
The bottom of the Huawei P20 Pro has the USB Type-C port between the grilles that house the speaker and the microphone. On the top is the IR blaster that can be used to control the appliances using the built-in app, Huawei has retained the positioning with the SIM tray and it still is on the left where you can pop in up to two Nano SIM cards.
Display – Brilliant but not Samsung!
The Huawei P20 Pro comes with a 6.1-inch AMOLED display with a FullHD+ resolution. The device has an 18.7:9 aspect ratio that brings in the resolution on the device to a pleasant 1080 x 2240 px. The brightness of the Huawei P20 Pro is about 580 nits which can be experienced by setting the brightness to auto. The device has an excellent display and the colors appear very bright and vivid, the P20 Pro also has a wide selection of color modes and you can further modify and choose between default, warm or cold for both Normal and Vivid color modes.
While the display is very well shaped and takes up most of the front area with vibrant colors, there is a slightly noticeable difference when putting side by side with the Galaxy S9+, Although the Huawei P20 Pro tries hard, the latest from Samsung inches to victory. This is mostly not even noticeable to the general eye unless compared side by side, the colors and the contrast on the Huawei P20 Pro are still one of the best we’ve seen given the AMOLED upgrade over the last year’s variants.
Performance – that matters
The Huawei P20 Pro is powered by their in-house chipset, the Kirin 970 which is an octa-core processor with four cores clocked at 2.36GHz and the other four clocked at 1.8GHz. This is paired with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage with no option for expandable storage. The Kirin 970 comes with Mali-G72 MP12 GPU that handles just about any game with ease. As obvious as it is, we couldn’t notice any lag or delay throughout our extended usage across various apps. Coming to the benchmarks, the Huawei P20 Pro scored a solid 208,644 in AnTuTu and the Geekbench 4 single score averaged around 1900 across tests while the multi-core score averaged around 7720.
While the benchmarks scores aren’t the most impressive and there are certainly many other devices in the same segment that out beat the scores on the Huawei P20 Pro by a huge number, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the P20 Pro. Huawei hasn’t really concentrated on making the P20 Pro an ultimate performer in terms of the benchmarks or the gaming performance, however, where the device really excels is the real-life performance. The Huawei P20 Pro comes with a dedicated NPU or Neural Processing Unit that harvests the power of AI from the hardware level and combines this with the proficiency of software optimizations to make the device lag free and this helps the device age gracefully while also improving significantly as it learns the user’s requirements.
Camera – An Optics masterpiece
Huawei was one of the first people to have a dual camera setup on the phone and most of their flagships have had it for a while now, this year Huawei decided to “up the notch” with the triple camera setup on their Huawei P20 Pro. They have been consistent in using their color + monochrome sensor setup on the devices and have always done a very good job with the cameras, the P20 Pro keeps up with the legacy and doesn’t disappoint its ancestors or the customers themselves. The Primary image sensor is a 40MP sensor with a 1/1.7” huge sensor compared to the 1/2.6” sensors on the newest Samsung, HTC and Pixel devices.
Following are a few samples that are toned down from original size. Check out this folder for the full res pictures – Click here.
The 40MP sensor is meant to capture the same image in two different exposures simultaneously and merge them to produce better looking 10MP images. The 40MP primary sensor is stabilized and has a f/1.8 aperture which isn’t the best in direct comparison to the f/1.5 on the S9 and the f/1.6 on the LG flagships but it is certainly an achievement on the much larger image sensor that the Huawei P20 Pro comes with. The camera module is huge and houses the 8MP sensor that has a f/2.4 aperture. The choice of the company might be questionable to a few but it helps capture 3x zoomed in images at 10MP with the telephoto camera that works in collaboration with the wide-angle 40MP sensor.
Along with the two sensors is the 20MP monochrome sensor that has made their presence be felt for a long time on Huawei flagships. The monochrome sensor comes with a f/1.6 aperture and the company has retained their previous partnership with the German optics specialists Leica. This is a joint effort on the part of both the companies to work and make the software as well as the hardware aspects better. The Huawei P20 Pro implements a compensation of depth detection from the three cameras, contrast and phase detection autofocus along with the hardware laser focus that works for up to 2.4m for precise and accurate focusing. There is also a light temperature sensor that helps with the temperature and white balance settings in the auto mode of the camera app.
The front camera on the Huawei P20 Pro is a whopping 24MP sensor comes with a f/2.0 aperture and surprisingly doesn’t have an autofocus. The images taken with the selfie camera were extremely good but the end results look extremely retouched. The front camera adds the beautiful touch to soften the skin and improves the color tone and most pictures end up with you looking like a life-sized doll. The camera app on the device has come a long way and you no longer have to swipe left or right to navigate between the different modes, the complete design has been improved for the better.
There is also a 1x button in the viewfinder on clicking of which you are taken to the 3x magnification and a second tap on that will result in a 5x zoom. In the 5x zoom, all the cameras work in harmony to deliver a sharp and detailed image. The monochrome sensor can be accessed by swiping in the mode selector to the more position, here you should be able to access the Monochrome, Panorama and HDR modes.
Apart from the hardware and the raw software, the company has also added a Master AI component that is enabled by default in the settings, this has the ability to recognize 500+ individual scenes and adjust the different photo parameters accordingly to make the image appear more vibrant. From our experience, the images turned out amazing with the Master AI toggle set to on position, however, a few images might look too artificial with respect to the colors and the scene recognition does take a moment and the images look very different once the scene is recognized.
The Pro mode in the app allows you to mess with the ISO manually that can be varied between 50 to 3200, the shutter speed has a range of 1/4000 second to 30s that helps you capture some excellent shots on a stabilized setup. You can also set exposure compensation from -4 to +4 in increments of 1/3 each. The focus mode options are single, continuous and manual with the metering modes being matrix, center-weighted or spot. Coming to the bokeh or portrait mode, the P20 Pro has a portrait and an Aperture mode that lets you simulate an aperture ranging anywhere from f/0.95 to f/16. On the contrary, the portrait mode only allows you to toggle the background blur to on or off or simulate lighting.
The Huawei P20 Pro supports video recording in up to 4K, 30fps with no support for 60fps at 4K. You can also record in 720p at up to 960 fps using the regular slow-mo mode or use the regular slow motion for up to 1080p in 120fps. The videos in regular slow motion have no upper cap on the recording while the super slow-mo videos can only be recorded for up to 10 seconds with only 6 seconds of slow motion in it.
Software – Latest but skinned
The Huawei P20 Pro comes with the latest Android 8.1 Oreo and runs on EMUI 8.1. The device has a notch but if you aren’t all gaga about it then you have an option in the software to hide the notch and not be distracted by it. The device is powered by the EMUI software and comes with all the gimmicks from the past while also adding new features. While there is a navigation bar on the bottom of the device, you can ignore it and opt to use the inbuilt fingerprint sensor to navigate through the device software. There is also a face unlock if you are into that type of an unlock option.
Built-in options include App cloning, App lock, and Private Space. There is also a Huawei phone manager app that helps you manage the battery, permission and mobile data control along with the virus scanner powered by Avast security. Huawei has still retained their Gallery, Music and few other apps that do a good job anyway, there is also an IR Remote control app to make use of the inbuilt IR Blaster in the device.
Battery – Lasts on and on
The Huawei P20 Pro comes with a mammoth 4000mAh battery and we greatly appreciate the choice made by the company in using up the residual space around the camera and avoiding a larger possible camera bump. This is much higher in capacity when compared to the 3000mAh on the Galaxy S9 or the 3500mAH on the S9+. The battery is rated to last about 13 hours on a video loop test and did very well in our experience. We got over a day and a half on regular usage with the device and this combined with the Supercharger makes a good companion for any heavy user. The SuperCharger in the box can charger the device from 0% to full in straight 90 minutes.
The P20 Pro is a power packed phone. It, actually, is a perfect one catering to the power users and it does offer things that you expect from a flagship, but the only let down of the phone is its pricing. While we might argue about the triple camera offering being one of the best in the class and in fact, there is no smartphone offering this kind of arrangement offering optical zoom to that extent, but paying over Rs. 60000 for a phone that tries to get into the leagues of Samsung and Apple is hard when you trust phones based on their brands. Otherwise, this is a mighty good smartphone and a honestly good attempt from Huawei.