Smartphone manufacturers take flagships very seriously, primarily because these devices represent their full potential. So when a new flagship is launched, we generally see stunning displays, powerful processors, and improved cameras. Manufacturers also love adding unique stand-out features that give these devices an edge over the competition. For example, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ (Review) which launched earlier this year had a physically variable aperture that helped it take better photos in various lighting conditions, and Sony gave the Xperia XZ Premium (Review) a 4K display, as a trump card over its competitors.
Now, Huawei has joined the list by launching the first phone with a triple camera system on the rear, and has partnered with Leica to achieve this. The Huawei P20 Pro sports powerful camera hardware, never seen on an Android smartphone before, but does that push it ahead of its competition? We put it to the test to find out.
Huawei P20 Pro Design
One of the first things that grabbed our attention when Huawei first showcased the P20 Pro was its gorgeous Twilight gradient finish. which is one of the coolest colour options we've ever seen. Sadly, this option isn’t available in India at the moment, and Huawei has launched the phone only in Midnight Blue. Huawei has used glass at the back for the P20 Pro, and the blue shade reminds us of the HTC U11 (Review) and HTC U11+ (Review). The glossy rear is a fingerprint magnet, and you will need to keep wiping it to get rid of smudges. Huawei offers a plastic case in the box, but considering the Rs 64,999 price tag, a leather case would have been better.
The Huawei P20 Pro has a 6.1-inch OLED screen. Huawei has gone with the current notch trend, but the notch is smaller than the one on the Apple iPhone X (Review), and as a result, you get larger sections of the display area on either side of it. The screen has thin borders at the top and sides but there's a thicker chin at the bottom. This is primarily because of Huawei’s decision to put the fingerprint sensor on the front.
Huawei has gone with a highly polished metal mid-frame which resembles that of the iPhone X. Antenna lines are visible at the top and the bottom. The power and volume buttons are positioned on the right of the device, and are also made of metal. The power button has a bright orange highlight in the center. We found that the volume rocker is positioned slightly too high and requires you to stretch your thumb.
The Huawei P20 Pro has a USB Type-C port at the bottom, between two grilles, only one of which is a speaker. There's an IR blaster at the top which can be used to control appliances. Huawei has kept the left side for the SIM tray that is also made of metal and has two Nano SIM slots. Sadly, this phone misses out on wireless charging, which is becoming standard in this segment.
Turn the phone around and you will see the highlight of the Huawei P20 Pro, its three rear cameras. There's one 40-megapixel sensor, one 8-megapixel sensor with a telephoto lens, and one 20-megapixel monochrome sensor. The phone also has a Huawei logo at the back in landscape, just so that people know what phone this is when you are taking photos - and you will be taking a lot of photos with it.
Pick the phone up and you will notice its heft. It isn’t too heavy, but it's just about right to give you the impression that it is solidly built. On the scale, it weighs 180g which is within acceptable limits for a smartphone. It isn’t too thick either, at 7.8mm, which is good considering that there's a 4000mAh battery inside. The P20 Pro ships with a Huawei-branded fast charger in the box along with Type-C in-ear headphones and a Type-C-to-3.5mm adapter.
Huawei P20 Pro specifications, software, and features
Flagship devices are meant to be loaded to the gills, and the P20 Pro isn’t an exception. Huawei has put in its latest Kirin 970 SoC, an octa-core processor with four cores clocked at 2.36GHz and the other four clocked at 1.8GHz. Huawei has matched this with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage. You don’t have the option to expand storage, but we found 128GB to be adequate for ourselves.
The OLED screen on the P20 Pro measures 6.1 inches and has a resolution of 1080x2240 pixels which translates to 408 PPI. This seems low considering the price of this phone, and the fact that other flagships use QHD panels. However, the screen is vivid and has good viewing angles. You also get multiple options to tweak its settings. The P20 Pro has a colour temperature sensor at the back which helps the display maintain a natural-looking output based on ambient conditions. We also found it to be legible when outdoors. The resolution is switchable and you can choose between FHD+ and HD+ to save battery life, or set it to auto to let the phone decide.
If you aren’t a huge fan of the notch, Huawei gives you the option to "turn it off". What that does is change the status bar to black, and since this is an OLED panel, it manages to hide the notch quite well. You still get all the essential information such as signal strength, the battery level, and pending notifications in the display area on either side of the notch.
In terms of connectivity, the P20 Pro has Bluetooth 4.2, and dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11ac. It is a dual-SIM device with two Nano-SIM slots and supports 4G and VoLTE. The device has an IP67 rating which means that it can be submerged up to 1m deep in fresh water for up to 30 minutes. Finally, you get an accelerometer, ambient light sensor, Hall sensor, gyroscope, and compass.
The P20 Pro runs on Android 8.1 Oreo and has Huawei’s custom EMUI 8.1 skin on top. It looks like Huawei has toned down EMUI to some extent, bringing it slightly closer to stock Android. We were also happy to see that the device had already received the latest April security patch.
The P20 Pro supports themes and you can customise everything down to the icon pack using the Themes app. There is a fair amount of bloatware, so you get Instagram, Messenger, UC Browser, Truecaller, and Netflix pre-installed. You will also find games such as Asphalt Nitro, Kingdoms, Dragon Mania, Puzzle Pets, and Spider-Man: Ultimate Power preinstalled. If needed, you can go ahead and uninstall these to reclaim storage space.
There is gesture support on the P20 Pro. You can use your knuckles to take screenshots or start a screen recording. Similarly, you can trace alphabets on screen to launch specific apps quickly. The phone also has a couple of motion control shortcuts such as muting an incoming call by flipping it over, and reducing the ringer volume when picking it up, among others. You can even hide the on-screen Android navigation buttons and swipe across the fingerprint sensor, or use a floating Navigation Dock instead.
The P20 Pro has a Voice Control feature with the hotphrase “OK Emy” that wakes the device up and listens for your commands. This isn’t a full-fledged voice assistant, but it can execute commands such as “Accept call” and “Reject call”. You should also be able to dial a contact by saying its name out loud, but this did not work smoothly for us.
The P20 Pro has Dolby Atmos audio enhancement, and uses the earpiece and the speaker at the bottom to deliver stereo output. You can choose Film or Music modes to enhance audio output, or switch to Smart and let the phone decide what's best.
Huawei has also added face recognition which makes use of the front-facing 24-megapixel selfie camera and is fairly accurate in all lighting conditions. In low light, we saw that the phone would bump the screen brightness up to illuminate our face before attempting to scan it.
Huawei P20 Pro performance, cameras, and battery life
The fast Kirin 970 processor coupled with 6GB of RAM helps the phone multitask without killing apps in the background. We did not experience any lag or stutter when using this phone during the review period. It did not heat up, but it was warm to the touch after playing a couple of games and navigating using Google Maps. The Kirin 970 has an integrated Mali-G72 MP12 GPU that is capable of running games without any hiccups.
We ran a couple of benchmarks to see where this processor stands compared to last year's Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 and the Exynos 9810 powering the Samsung Galaxy S9 (Review) and Galaxy S9+ (Review). The P20 Pro managed to score 208,666 in AnTuTu, and 1,908 and 6,725 in Geekbench 4's single-core and multi-core tests respectively, which puts this processor in the same league as the Snapdragon 835 but still behind the Exynos 9810. In the GFXBench T-Rex and Manhattan 3.1 tests, the P20 Pro managed 60fps and 37fps respectively which is better than the competition, but this processor has fewer pixels to push on the P20 Pro's screen, compared to competitors with QHD resolutions.
Battery life on the P20 Pro is quite good, and we could get through one full day of use easily without needing to plug the phone into the charger. Our usage included WhatsApp, playing games such as Shadow Fight 3, Clash Royale and Missiles, and using GPS to navigate around town. Idle drain is low, which does help this phone stay unplugged for longer.
In our HD video loop test, the P20 Pro managed to go on for 13 hours and 13 minutes before running out. This was at FHD+ resolution with the display set to the default vivid output. You should be able to squeeze more life out of this phone by lowering the resolution to HD+ and by switching to a darker theme. When the battery does run out you can charge it up to 30 percent in 30 minutes, or 100 percent in a little over two hours.
Is three cameras a bit much for a smartphone? You might think so, but each sensor on the Huawei P20 Pro has a different purpose. The 8-megapixel sensor with the telephoto lens gives you 3X optical zoom which is quite handy when shooting subjects at a distance. The 20-megapixel monochrome sensor shoots in black-and-white and works in tandem with the primary sensor to capture better detail.
There's a shortcut that helps you take shots very quickly by double-tapping the volume button when the display is off. There's also a focus tracking function that Huawei calls 4D Predictive Focus, which locks on to a moving object to ensure a sharp image.
Huawei has also tweaked the software and has added Artificial Intelligence to improve photo quality. Using AI, the P20 Pro is claimed to be capable of selecting the perfect scene mode automatically. Point the camera towards a person and the phone switches to portrait mode. It can also detect subjects such as cats, dogs, flowers, greenery, and the sky.
The Camera app on the Huawei P20 Pro is quick to set the camera up for each shot, and we did not have to wait for it. If you don’t need the help, you can switch this off in the camera settings. If you know what you are doing, you can also switch to Pro mode in which you get complete control over the ISO, shutter speed, exposure, metering, and white balance. In this mode, the phone also utilises the colour temperature sensor at the back to help to set the desired colour temperature.
The camera app has a dedicated portrait mode, an aperture mode, slow-mo, time-lapse, light painting mode, and a few filters to choose from. There's also a monochrome mode that only uses the 20-megapixel monochrome sensor. The portrait mode has an iPhone X-like 3D lighting feature which uses AI to create studio lighting effects.
Photos taken with the Huawei P20 Pro are impressive, and the phone makes the most of its hardware. We found that the phone is set to take 10-megapixel photos by default, and you can switch to the sensor with the telephoto lens to get a 3X optical zoom, or go up to 5X Hybrid Zoom which uses a combination of optical and digital. If you manually switch to the 40-megapixel sensor as the default for all shots, you lose the ability to zoom in.
Photos came out crisp and quite detailed, and we were also impressed with the Huawei P20 Pro's wide dynamic range. Landscape shots turned out quite well and the phone got the exposure right every time. When shooting macros, we found that the laser autofocus came in handy and focus locked quickly on the subject. Huawei’s AI algorithms also kicked in to detect the scene and change settings accordingly. This resulted in detailed macros with good separation between the subject and the background.
Low light performance was especially impressive. When shooting in low light, we found that the camera sharpens each image. Photos still had a good amount of detail, and the P20 Pro managed to keep noise to a minimum. Image stabilisation keeps hand shaking under control, improving shaprness. The secondary monochrome sensor helped capture better details in low light giving this phone an edge over its competitors. Night mode makes the phone take multiple shots at different exposures and combines them. This helps in getting a brighter image, but since the ISO is higher, you do see some amount of noise in the results.
Video recording with the Huawei P20 Pro tops out at 4K and we found that it lacks stabilisation at this resolution, resulting in shaky output. 4K video recording has a 10-minute limit and you will need to take multiple clips if you want to go on any longer. Dial the resolution down to 1080p and you have the option to shoot at 60fps or the default 30fps. The P20 Pro also lets you shoot in the 18:9 aspect ratio at FHD+ resolution. There's no optical stabilisation but at 1080p, the P20 Pro uses electronic image stabilisation to help steady shots.
Slow-mo videos are captured at 120fps when shooting at 1080p, but you can also get 240fps at 720p. Huawei offers a super-slow-mo 960fps mode at 720p, but its implementation is a little different to what we've seen before. The Galaxy S9 lets you get a short burst at 960fps when it detects fast motion while recording video normally, but on the P20 Pro, pressing the shutter button only records a short 0.25-second burst which results in an 8-second slow-motion footage as part of a 10-second clip. Since this is extremely short, there's a very good chance of missing the action you want to capture.
The 24-megapixel selfie camera takes good shots in well-lit conditions. Switching to the selfie camera puts the camera into portrait mode by default, and you have the options to set the level of beautification and apply a bokeh effect. Selfies have good amounts of detail and you can also use portrait lighting for dramatic effects.
The P20 Pro represents everything that Huawei has to offer at the moment. It has the latest Kirin processor and makes use of AI algorithms to take photography to the next level. The camera hardware is definitely some of the best out there, which translates into excellent photos. Priced at Rs 64,999 this phone is definitely more expensive than the Google Pixel 2 (Review) and the Samsung Galaxy S9 (Review), but is a direct competitor to the Galaxy S9+.
Compared to the S9+, the Huawei P20 Pro misses out on a QHD+ display, and its Kirin 970 SoC isn’t in the same league as Samsung's latest Exynos. If you want one of the most versatile cameras in a smartphone at the moment, the Huawei P20 Pro should be your first pick. On the other hand, if you want a smartphone has great cameras but also that does everything else really well, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ (Review) is still a fierce all-rounder.
We discussed whether Huawei P20 Pro is the Android world's iPhone X, on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.