We’re just about to reach the halfway point of 2018 and we’ve seen a great tussle at the top of the pile when it comes to flagship smartphones. Most of the major OEMs have already dropped one or two of their latest smartphones since the Mobile World Congress in March. A notable theme has emerged from the battle for supremacy in 2018, and it comes down to how many features the rear-facing camera is able to produce and how well it performs when it comes to taking snaps in all sorts of conditions. A few months ago, we attended the launch of Huawei’s take on the modern smartphone and we finally managed to get our hands on the triple camera threat that is the Huawei P20 Pro.
Build and Design
Another clear theme from the crop of 2018 smartphones is the trend of trying to outshine the competition. Literally. Over the past few years, the glossy and glass rear finish appeared to be the norm amongst the heavies, which has been switched to the gradient rear. This type of finish encompasses a type of pearlescent undertone and finished with a glass covering to create an extremely shiny appearance that can almost blind passes by if not careful. The Huawei P20 and P20 Pro offer a few variants of this, which adds just that little bit extra over many other glossy finishes. The front and rear glass casing are built upon an aluminium frame holding the two sides together by means of a rounded build. Thankfully, for those who find the pearlescent look a bit overwhelming and not to taste, much as with cars of the same detailing, there are a few low keys options with simpler, monotone colours to choose from.
Huawei has fitted a fingerprint scanner below the device’s display and is seemingly a lot faster than many other unlocks, and quite impressive to use. As with Samsung and Apple, Huawei has also fitted the unit with a facial unlock feature, which works equally as fast. At times I wonder whether it hasn’t already pre-scanned my face before I hit the power button to indicate my intention – and I’m pretty sure it does. Unlike the IR scanners of most other OEMs, the P20 uses the high-res front-facing camera to capture and recognise your facial features to confirm it’s you. And it works, even in low light conditions.
There aren’t many other features to write home about the P20 Pro’s build and design over the previous iterations of the P9 and P10 smartphones. If there is one noticeable aspect, it’s that the unit manages to keep a slim design besides its large size and the big battery, measuring just 7.8mm. To round off the build, the unit includes a Type-C USB charging port, doesn’t include a 3.5mm audio jack, and has a water-resistant IP67 rating.
Screen and Display
Again, as with many smartphones of late, the design elements extend into the screen design. And the P20 variants have a very noticeable ‘feature’ when it comes to the screen’s finish. This comes in the form of the iPhone X-esque “notch”. It’s interesting that Huawei has chosen to keep a bezel at the bottom of the screen, rather than the top, and have to add in the notch, which had been taunted and turned into memes for that fitted on the Apple device. The notch, in actual fact, is useful in housing the front-facing camera, an IR camera, a dot projector and proximity sensor, amongst others.
The screen measures 6.1″ for its AMOLED capacitive touchscreen, which has a 1080x2244px resolution, which isn’t the highest by any means. The resolution is an indication of the display’s strange aspect ratio, which is stretched to 18.7:9. This makes it slightly wider than the 18:9 screens such as that on the flagship Samsung Galaxy smartphones. The unit has a 408ppi pixel density, which also isn’t great compared to other leading devices.
The screen representation is quite beautiful, with great colour reproduction, bright screen, and very deep blacks. There’s little to no colour distortion or saturation, and all comes across rather crisp and clear. Despite its lower resolution on a larger display, there’s no pixelation to speak of. Users have a choice of colour palette and saturation to choose from, switching between warmer and cooler variants. One of the standard features of the display is its auto-adjust of this setting, which switches the colour temperature depending on the type of ambient light at the time.
It may also be worth pointing out that the P20 devices are fitted with a screen protector straight out of the box, which means you don’t have to suffer through ridding your installation of air bubbles that more than not make their way into the application thereof. This is a nice inclusion by the team, and a small detail that many others may take note of in future releases.
Performance and Battery
When it comes to hardware specifications, the P20 Pro is able to compete and stand its ground against the best. Huawei has been hard at work developing their own chipset, and the Hisilicon Kirin 970 sported on the unit is one of the best in the business. The chip has been developed specifically to include additional functionality such as artificial intelligence, which is used in your everyday apps, and most specifically that of the camera. To summarise the specs, the P20 Pro has an Octa-core CPU (4×2.4GHz Cortex-A73, 4×1.8GHz Cortex-A53), Mali-G72 MP12 GPU, 128GB internal storage, 6GB RAM, and a non-removable Li-Po 4000mAh battery. The unit is built upon Google’s latest OS, Android 8.1 (Oreo).
In terms of overall performance, the P20 Pro delivers quite a punch and is able to handle anything you throw at it. The performances on the benchmarks tests put the unit up around 10% over the P10 devices of 2017. It still lags slightly behind the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Apple iPhone X, but it continues to improve and continues to compete at the highest level. Even with the previously mention AI continuously working in the background, there aren’t any signs of lag, stutter or animation lapses to speak of at any point during the review period. But with so much power fitted to many leading smartphones of late, coupled with Google’s continuous aim to reduce the required power and memory usage.
The P20 Pro has a 4000mAh battery, which is more than capable of running at max for most of the day, which is a necessity when you consider the potential power consumption by the 6.1″ screen and triple camera. With the built-in AI, one would expect a higher battery usage, but it’s this AI that’s actually working to keep it at a minimum. The device knows when you’re using more power hungry and computationally expensive applications and tasks, and where and when to add the needed CPU. Unlike many other leading flagships, Huawei hasn’t included the wireless charging capabilities to the mix. The company has always been against this feature until it was able to add “fast-charging” wireless capabilities, which it managed to get right and fit on the Huawei Mate RS Porsche Design. Needless to say, we’ll be seeing more of this in the future from the Chinese manufacturer.
With all said and done thus far, we all know that there’s a solid reason why most consumers choose Huawei, and that comes from its camera capabilities. However strange it may sometimes be, as with the first high-resolution camera fitted to the front for better selfies, as well as the Leica partnership, the company has always been striving to up their game and outperform the competition. With the addition of the triple lens camera, Huawei has once again stepped out into territories unknown. It may, for now, be a gimmick, but the team has done well to put it all together and improve on almost every aspect the other OEMs have set the benchmark for earlier this year.
The sensors are split into a 40MP main colour sensor, 20MP black and white, and an 8MP camera, which provides the 3x optical zoom. Users can push these zoom capabilities to 5x with decent results, before the grainy effect of the digital zoom kicks in. While the 40MP main sensor may seem the star of the show, the unit’s low light capabilities are what really set it apart with 102,400 ISO sensitivity. The camera does such a good job at night time photos, I often found myself doing comparisons on a continuous basis just to prove the point. I would go even as far as to say it is able to compete with modern CDCs.
The camera also performs well under normal lighting conditions, which produces high-quality, colourful images that are a joy to look at. With the monochrome 20MP camera included, the unit also delivers beautiful black and white photos, with great contrast and detail. The front-facing, selfie camera isn’t a slouch either, fitted with a 24MP sensor to achieve clear and crisp images.
There’s a lot to love about the Huawei P20 Pro. Even with a few other features that aren’t world-leading, the triple camera surpasses any contender in its wake, delivering great images, and even more spectacular in low light in comparison. Where the P20 and P20 Pro are somewhat of a letdown, is that it hasn’t done much to improve or standout from any other flagship of 2018, even to its own 2017 predecessor.
If you’re in the market for a new flagship smartphone, there are a lot of variables to contend with these days, and the P20 Pro doesn’t offer a great deal other than two aspects – the triple camera and the AI capabilities. These two features, however, are enough to make the unit quite desirable. With the oversaturation of great smartphones with great specs flooding the market, the camera has become a make or break aspect in making your choice. If, however, you’re not a serious enough photography, or willing to put in the time and effort to perfect some of its features, the P20 Pro is not something worth considering.