Huawei P20 & P20 Pro Review - Notch Your Average Smartphones

Gorgeous design and the best smartphone camera yet.

Huawei’s success in the international market hasn’t lulled itself into complacency if its latest flagships are anything to go by. The Huawei P20 and P20 Pro are two phones that pack nearly identical specs, albeit slightly different sizes, designs, and camera configurations, and are ready to take the world by storm. Sporting some incredible new camera technology, particularly on the P20 Pro, and plenty of features in EMUI 8.1 to boot, Huawei is showing it can continue to impress with every flagship release. Is this the new gold standard for flagships? Let’s break it down.

Specs

Huawei’s P20 series shares plenty of similar specs, but the Pro model ups the ante in many areas, including the size. Both phones sport the latest Hisilicon Kirin 970 SoC, made up of a quad-core Cortex A73 CPU at 2.36Ghz, and a quad-core Cortex A53 CPU at 1.8GHz. An i7 Neural Processing Unit acts as the co-processor for AI-related tasks, and a Mali-G72 MP12 GPU running at 767MHz handles the graphics side of the house. Both phones ship with 128GB of internal storage, but neither feature microSD card support. Both devices ship with EMUI 8.1 running atop Android 8.1 Oreo, and both devices ship in Twilight Purple, Black, Midnight Blue, and Pink Gold colors. For this review, our P20 Pro is the Black version, while the P20 is the Pink Gold version. Both phones sport a single USB type-C port at the bottom, and neither packs a 3.5mm audio jack. Huawei’s SuperCharge is supported on both phones for ultra-fast charging, but neither feature wireless charging abilities despite having a glass back. NFC is on both phones for standard mobile payments via Google Pay, or other favorite mobile payments platform that utilizes NFC payments.

Huawei’s less expensive P20 retails for €649 throughout Europe, with other availability worldwide as well. The P20 sports a 5.8-inch screen with 18.7:9 aspect ratio and a resolution of 1080 x 2240 pixels (428 PPI). 4GB of RAM and a 3,400mAh battery are inside. The P20 measures in at 149.1mm high, 70.8mm wide, 7.65mm thin, weighs 165 grams and carries an IP53 water and dust resistance rating for splashes of water and light dust resistance. On the back, you’ll find a dual camera setup made up of a main 12-megapixel RGB sensor behind an f/1.8 lens, paired with a 20-megapixel monochrome sensor behind an f/1.6 lens.

The P20 Pro is a bit more expensive, retailing for €899 throughout Europe. The P20 Pro features a 6.1-inch screen with the same 18.7:9 aspect ratio and a resolution of 1080 x 2240 pixels (408 PPI). 6GB of RAM and a larger 4,000mAh battery are inside, upgrading some essential internals for this higher priced phone. It measures in larger as well at 155mm tall, 73.9mm wide, 7.8mm thin, weighs 180 grams and carries an IP67 water and dust resistance for up to 30 minutes under water. Huawei’s P20 Pro sports the world’s first triple camera system on the back, with a main 40-megapixel RGB sensor behind an f/1.8 lens, paired with a 20-megapixel monochrome sensor behind an f/1.6 lens, and finally an 8-megapixel RGB sensor behind an f/2.4 telephoto lens. The P20 Pro also ships with an IR blaster up top.

In The Box

While Huawei shipped the Mate 10 Pro with a clear TPU case inside, no such case is included with either P20 or P20 Pro. Despite not including a case, there are still plenty of extras in the box though, including a 3.5mm to USB Type-C adapter, as well as a quality pair of USB Type-C earbuds. You’ll also find a USB Type-A to USB Type-C cable for data or power transfer, and a Huawei SuperCharge outlet charger at 5v/4.5a for maximum charging speed. Outside of this, it’s the usual manuals and SIM tray ejector tool inside underneath the phone.

Display

While Fall 2017’s Huawei Mate 10 Pro expanded Huawei’s screen ratio size up to 18:9 and took up more of the face of the phone than ever, Huawei has expanded the screen ratio to an even more full 18.7:9 ratio. This makes it one of the tallest screens available, all because Huawei has expanded the display all the way up to the top bezel, leaving a notch in the middle of the top portion of the screen. This notch is the exact height of Android’s status bar up top and doesn’t make the status bar taller the way Essential did on their phone last year. The notch is definitely a con for many people, make no mistake, especially given the fact that there’s a chin on the phone as well. For both aesthetic and practical purposes, it would have been better for Huawei to move the front-facing camera to the chin, like Xiaomi did on the Mi MIX 2 for instance, as it feels like wasted space having the notch as well as a chin.

Still, there’s a good argument that you don’t need the entire status bar up top, and Huawei has taken strides to disallow any actual content from displaying on the status bar, keeping only things like the time and various status icons displaying on top, and all content below. Even 18:9 content fits perfectly in the display outside of the notch, meaning apps and content that have been updated for the taller/wider 18:9 aspect ratio screens will not be affected by the notch in any way. Huawei offers a way to “hide” the notch by tinting the status bar black at all times, found in display settings, but this changes the aesthetics of apps that support the colored status bar option in Android. It also cuts off the area that is normally used to display information up top, forcing apps to use the pop-down style notifications instead of the scrolling bar. If you’re someone who prefers the scrolling bar style notifications, this will probably drive you nuts.

Content isn't covered by the notch

The quality of the rest of the display is simply impeccable and represents some of the absolute best display quality you’ll find out on any mobile device. While it’s not the highest resolution screen available on a smartphone, anything over 400 pixels-per-inch density looks incredible at any distance, and you’ll likely only notice the difference between this and a higher resolution panel in VR content, where you face is centimeters away from the display. Everything else about this OLED panel is superb, from color accuracy to white balance, viewing angles to brightness. It’s incredibly easy to see in sunlight, a combination of actual high brightness levels and a contrast trick that Huawei has implemented. Contrast is dropped artificially to allow for easier sunlight viewing, something that’s rather obvious at higher brightness levels, and may get on purist’s nerves when viewing content, but ultimately makes it easier to see in the bright environments.

Always on display is basic

Huawei features an always-on display, but it is extremely basic when compared with the likes of Samsung, as it offers no real customization options and little information outside of the time and date. Huawei’s digitizers continue to be the best in the industry though, offering the ability to detect the difference between finger and knuckle input. Using knuckles on the screen allows for quick gestures to launch any app or function you’d like. By default, many of these gestures are disabled, but can easily be enabled in settings. Supported gestures are the letters c, e, m, and w, where you can draw any of these letters at any time on the screen to launch a specific app of your choice. Splitting the screen in half with a line will launch split-screen multi-tasking, while double tapping with one or two knuckles will take a screenshot or record the screen on video. It’s ultra convenient and is more practical than many other gestures offered by other OEMs.

Hardware and Build

Both the Huawei P20 and P20 Pro look incredibly similar from any angle but do feature a few key differences in the design that are worth noting. Both phones feature an all-glass back with an aluminum frame, however the P20 sports a flat glass back and only IP53 water and dust resistance, while the P20 Pro has a “3D” glass back with raised rounded edges and IP67 water and dust resistance. The P20 Pro is a larger device all around and weighs slightly more, giving it a more substantial feel, but neither phone is heavy by any means. This is rather impressive given the battery size difference between Huawei’s phones and most other flagships, where Huawei packs at least a 20% higher capacity battery into both P20’s than most flagship phones.

Despite the stand-out possible negative design decision of the display notch, Huawei’s use of color on both phones certainly seems to stand out more, and it’s a positive decision all around. Two colors, in particular, Twilight Purple and Pink Gold, feature NCVM optical coatings that give these two colors an incredible sheen and brilliance that phones really haven’t had until now. Pink Gold, which we have on the P20, is an incredible color that doesn’t just shine and change color in different light and at different angles, it’s got that unmistakable iridescence of a pearl. While we don’t have the Twilight color to accurately display for the review, it’s pretty clear that this unique implementation of a green to purple fade is far more unique and gorgeous than most phones could ever hope for.

Huawei has stuck with the front-facing fingerprint scanner on both P20 and P20 Pro, sort of a design hallmark of the P-series anyway, which makes better use of the chin than the Mate 10 Pro did when it launched last Fall. It’s still unfortunate that Huawei couldn’t find a better way around the notch than implementing the front-facing camera and speaker in it, but some users may prefer having a front-facing fingerprint scanner as a whole, and no obstruction of the camera with fingers as happens on the Xiaomi Mi MIX 2. A front-facing fingerprint scanner can also be more convenient in certain cases, as it doesn’t require picking up the phone to authenticate with a fingerprint in the way a rear-facing one would, but it’s also slightly less comfortable because of the size and height of the phone. Huawei still hasn’t upgraded its vibration motors to HD-quality, ultimately leaving the heavy vibration motors making the phone feel a bit on the cheaper side when compared to the soothing vibrations in the LG V30, or the soft and deep vibrations of the Galaxy S9.

Huawei packs an IR blaster up top on the P20 Pro, and neither P20 phones feature a 3.5mm audio jack. Both sport two speakers on the bottom, with a USB Type-C port in-between. On the right is a power button, placed slightly above the midpoint of the phone, and features a distinctive red line in the middle. A solid volume rocker sits above that, and the left side only holds the SIM tray. Along the back you’ll find vertically oriented camera modules, sitting at the top left of the device. The primary dual camera modules are encased in what appears to be one big camera hump on both phones, while the P20 Pro’s third camera module sits below and is a smaller hump, with the dual-LED flash below. Both phones are ridiculously slippery, especially the P20 Pro with its rounded glass back, and likely will need to be put in cases to help with this.

Performance and Memory

Huawei debuted the Kirin 970 SoC with the Mate 10 Pro a few months ago, and it felt like a bit of a rough start. As we noted in that review, the phone struggled to keep the experience smooth, with animations that often stuttered and slowdowns throughout the use of the phone. Huawei has since ironed out the issues that were present on the Mate 10 Pro, and you’ll find a buttery smooth, lightning fast experience on the P20 and P20 Pro all around. This time around there is far less hitching or stuttering, although the initial setup and first day had its fair share of these issues. After that, however, things eased up, and it was about as rare as a blue moon to see such stuttering or hitching.

Performance in more intense tasks like graphically rich mobile games is about as good as you can ask for. Every game we tested ran as good as it would on any other mobile phone, including demanding titles like Player Unknown Battlegrounds (PUBG), Grim Souls, and Shadowgun Legends. These titles all represent some of the best visuals in mobile gaming, and all three rely on more than just local processing resources; they all utilize wireless networks to connect gamers worldwide, and could be unplayable if any needed component weren’t up to snuff. There’s no support for Android’s AR Core platform at this time, however, so AR apps that might otherwise require a lot of processing power won’t be available to put this phone to the test.

Huawei is utilizing the built-in NPU co-processor for AI-based tasks, and it’s using it more than ever on the P20 and P20 Pro. Aside from the new Night Mode on the camera, which utilizes AI-driven tasks to help stabilize long exposure images, Huawei is also utilizing similar tasks for things like smart noise cancellation while on the phone, and predictive focusing methods on the camera side as well. All of these tasks utilize the co-processor, freeing the main processor for other tasks that it might be better at while allowing the specialized NPU to do what it’s best at.

Android Oreo continues to enhance Huawei’s great multi-tasking abilities by adding in the now-standard picture-in-picture feature within Android, meaning apps that support the functionality will automatically minimize into a floating window when the home button is pressed. Google Maps and YouTube are prime examples of this, but this is an Oreo feature, not a Huawei one. Huawei also supports split screen running of two apps, which is easily called up via swiping across the screen with any knuckle. Swiping up and inward from the bottom left or right bezel will make the screen smaller for easier one-handed use.

The coolest feature Huawei packs into its phones has to be the PC-like desktop projection feature, which was included with the Mate 10 Pro, but also ships on the P20 and P20 Pro. Plugging the phone into a monitor or TV via a USB Type-C to HDMI or DisplayPort will bring up a desktop-like interface on the larger display, turning the phone into a laptop-like touchpad. This allows you to use any app installed on the phone in a desktop UI, with options to use the apps in either windowed or full-screen modes, and interface with any app in the way you would on a computer. Not everything will work well this way, such as games that are designed for a touch screen’s input for instance, but most apps are pretty awesome when used this way, and it only takes a single cable to run with zero configuration at all.

Wireless Connectivity and Sound

Huawei has been building its phones for the international market for some time now, and you’ll find the Huawei P20 series supports basically every carrier’s spectrum out there, including most US networks. There’s no support for WiFi Calling out of the box, which is certainly a disadvantage for Huawei, but they do support Voice over LTE (VoLTE) and other HD quality industry audio standards. Signal strength and speed are as good as they get, with some of the absolute fastest radios around, supporting Cat 18 LTE and 4x4 MIMO for up to 1.2Gbps theoretical speeds. Bluetooth connectivity is at the top of its game, with Bluetooth 5.0 and support for all available Bluetooth quality codecs, including aptX, aptX HD, and LDAC.

Huawei is once again not shipping the phone with a 3.5mm audio jack, despite having an IR blaster on the P20 Pro, but does include a USB Type-C to 3.5mm audio converter in each P20 or P20 Pro box. Huawei also has an annoying little notification saying that USB Type-C audio is preferred and you should use the USB Type-C headphones included in the box, which is cute but ultimately impractical for many people. Regardless of your wired headphone or output choice though, the P20 series outputs impeccable 32-bit sound that sound rich, full and simply incredible. It’s not overly bass-heavy out of the box like Samsung and many other OEMs tweak for and delivers a much more balanced output as a whole.

There’s not much in the way of tweaking, however, as Huawei has left it up to the minds at Dolby to automatically tweak the output for all audio sources via the built-in Dolby Atmos support, by default automatically adjusting audio as it sees fit. You can also toggle the preset between movie and music, which adjusts various pitches to better suit the audio style, but there’s no granular EQ or other adjustments available. The included USB type-C earbuds generally sound great and are a far better experience than the vast majority of pack-in earbuds. They provide a good range of sound, good bass response, and a comfortable fit, although without rubber earplugs on the end they’ll always feel like a bit of a loose fit. Ours had a firmware update that was automatically updated upon first plugging them in, which was a bit of a surprise to see from such simple looking earbuds.

To go along with an enhanced audio experience all around, Huawei is now utilizing the earpiece to create a stereo experience while watching videos and other media on the phone, automatically changing between stereo sound while in landscape orientation, to using only the single bottom-firing speaker while in portrait mode. Sound quality is generally great, but not the best in the industry, although it’s still better and more full sound than any phone with just a single bottom-firing speaker without a doubt. Huawei did include this feature on the Mate 10 Pro, and it's great to see them sticking with it here. Oddly enough though, stereo speakers are only an option on the P20 Pro, however both the P20 and P20 Pro feature Dolby Atmos virtual surround sound. Without a proper stereo setup, however, the P20 is simply a bit lacking in oomph.

Battery Life

Battery life as a whole is simply stellar on both phones. My wife used the P20 as her daily driver for over two weeks, and I used the P20 Pro in the same time frame, and both of us regularly got a full day’s use out of it without needing a top-up at all. My wife uses her smartphone a bit more than me, and even 6+ hours of screen on time (SoT) was a simple task for the P20, even during a very full day. The P20 Pro will likely see the best battery life of the two, as it features a 600mAh larger battery (15% larger) but only a 0.3-inch larger screen (5% larger). If all scales evenly, it’s pretty clear you should be able to get slightly better battery life out of the P20 Pro because of this. In fact, you'll find that 2-day battery life is easily achievable on the P20 Pro, in particular, especially when using the system-wide dark mode to further enhance the battery saving abilities of the OLED Display. During the review period, I found myself charging the phone every other day rather than every single night; a big difference from the average flagship smartphone.

While there’s no wireless charging, despite the glass backs, Huawei packs a 5v/4.5a Supercharge brick in each P20 series box, which charges the phone from empty to full in just over an hour. This also means top-ups are all but guaranteed to add enough juice to get you through the end of the day if you somehow need it. Huawei’s method is proprietary, which means that you’ll need to purchase official Huawei accessories that support Supercharge to get the fastest charging available, however, both phones fully support fast charging via USB Type-C standards, opening up the gates to 3rd party chargers but ultimately not delivering the fastest charging possible on the phone.

Software

Huawei’s renumbering of its EMUI skin with the launch of the Mate 10 Pro some months ago brought about a little more sense to the system, and you’ll now find an easy way to recognize what version of Android the phone is running. The Huawei P20 series launches with EMUI 8.1, which as you can guess runs atop Android 8.1 Oreo. Much like the update from Android 8.0 to 8.1, there aren’t a ton of new features to speak of in EMUI. As a whole EMUI has improved considerably over the years, moving from a heavy, limited Android skin, to a much more modern, feature-filled skin that’s truly worth taking a look at.

New to EMUI 8.1 are a handful of navigation options that allow users to customize the way they move around the phone. Folks who are fond of the stock Android navigation square, circle and triangle buttons will be pleased to know that this is the default navigation out of the box, and it works exactly as expected. If you’d rather use the physical fingerprint scanner below the screen, Huawei offers this ability with the following modifiers to the usual three-button setup, since there’s only one physical button: short press for back, long press for home, and swipe left or right to bring up the Overview multi-tasking window. Swiping up on the bottom bezel will bring up Google Assistant. Huawei also offers a navigation bubble that floats around the screen and can be used the same way, or a strange navigation “pill” that takes up a portion of the software navigation bar but functions identically to the physical button option.

Huawei has also made some interesting design decisions in regards to UI scaling. There are more UI scaling modes in EMUI 8.1 than were available in 8.0, including proper UI and text scaling as stock Android allows. What’s interesting is that Huawei doesn’t scale the notification shade or the software navigation buttons at all, and both remain rather large compared to other OEMs implementations of scaling. While this may be a positive thing for some users, it’s definitely going to be an annoyance for others. You’ll also find that notifications don’t always behave the way they do on other Android skins, including lacking the ability to turn off the dreaded “this app is displaying over other apps” persistent notification that Google seems to annoyingly packed into Oreo.

There are still issues with notifications not appearing in a timely manner, or at all for that matter, and this is an issue that’s been around for a very long time in EMUI across various phones. While Huawei has improved the false detection rate for keeping apps sleeping in the background, it’s still too complicated to fix this problem if and when it crops up. For instance, I had an issue where Hangouts wouldn’t give me any messages until I opened up the app, where I would all of a sudden be flooded by messages the second I started the app. My wife wasn’t getting notifications on her WearOS watch due to the WearOS app being put to sleep erroneously. Heading over to battery settings in the system and changing the “app startup” section to manual fixed the issues we were both having, but this is something most users either won’t have the knowledge to figure out, or more likely just don’t want to be bothered with such trivial issues when phones ship with such large batteries as the P20 series does.

Huawei has built in some new security features in the P20, most notably a new facial recognition unlocking mode that runs as soon as the screen turns on. Registering your face with the phone takes just a few seconds, and unlocking is highly accurate and fairly quick. Picking up the phone from a table or taking it out of a pocket or bag will automatically turn the screen on, by default, thus starting facial recognition without needing to press any buttons at all. It’s convenient, but ultimately annoying at times, as I found myself micromanaging the power button quite often, as this feature is a bit sensitive and turns the screen on more than I would have liked. Facial recognition can be ‘too good’ at times, if you will, and in these quick moments where you just pick up the phone to move it or place it in your pocket from a table, may find the phone unlocked the second it saw your face, and you’re suddenly pocket dialing someone on accident. Face unlock also cannot be used for any of the more interesting security and privacy features, such as private space, app locker, or file safe.

Camera Software

Huawei has changed their interface to look more like an iPhone, very unfortunately for many reasons, but it at least made the carousel far more accessible than Samsung’s latest camera software update. To switch modes you actually have to scroll on the words of the carousel, not just anywhere on the camera interface, meaning you won’t accidentally switch modes while just trying to use the camera. The downside with this type of switching is that it takes too long to get to modes which are not listed in the carousel, and quite frankly makes it confusing to remember which modes are located in the carousel and which are located in the grid of options all the way to the right. Placing everything in the grid of options, as Huawei has done for generations, is far more logical, or at least prioritizing a few options for quick scrolling would have been fine. As it stands the Mate 10 Pro’s camera interface was more functional and attractive.

Despite the front-end aesthetics dropping a bit from previous releases, the back-end has improved quite a bit. Huawei’s AI-driven automatic scene modes are faster and more accurate than ever, and it’s still as easy to close out of an automatic mode if you prefer the unaltered look. The biggest mode upgrade is the new Night Mode, which utilizes what Huawei dubs “Artificial Intelligence Stabilization,” which seems a rather fitting name when you consider the results. Night Mode takes multiple long exposures with multiple cameras and combines the image to bring in more light, widen dynamic range, and better color grade the shot as well. It’s a genius new mode that works incredibly well on both P20 and P20 Pro, however, the sensor upgrades on the P20 Pro deliver consistently brighter, more detailed shots with less shake and jitter in this mode.

Camera launching speed is near instant basically any time you’d like, and double tapping the volume down button will launch the camera if you choose the option in settings. By default, this double-tap will take an “ultra snapshot,” as Huawei calls it, which essentially takes a picture a split second after double-tapping the button. In theory this sounds nice, but in practice it’s too difficult to get even a half-decent shot with this mode, and is better changed to simply launching the camera. Using volume down over the power button creates an annoying dichotomy while using the phone versus have the screen off, as it’ll launch the camera with the screen off, but just adjusts the volume while the screen is on. Drawing a C with a knuckle replaces this gesture, but it would ultimately be better to stick with Android’s default power button for consistency and speed instead.

Camera Performance and Results

Huawei’s AI mode is powered by the same neural processor that was packed inside the Mate 10 Pro, which analyzes the scene and attempts to enhance the shot by identifying around 2 dozen different scene types overall, including blue sky, greenery, snow, animals like cats and dogs, landscapes, cityscapes and plenty more. Each of these adjusts various qualities of the photo like saturation, contrast, ISO and shutter speed ranges and more. Sometimes this works really well, but other times it goes a tad overboard with the processing. It can be shut off in the settings if you never want to use it, or better yet, just close out of the mode in the viewfinder if it looks funny. Around say 95% of the time, however, these automated modes worked wonders for the shot, and should probably just be left on since it’s configured that way by default.

Most phones struggle to take pictures of children, but Huawei seems to have mastered the art of this difficult piece of the puzzle. As one of the stand-out pieces of the Mate 10 Pro’s camera, the P20 and P20 pro excel at this, and I got some really incredible shots of my 4-year-old son, even indoors while he was moving, with the phone again utilizing AI to decide what shot is the clearest and providing me with that shot. Multiple shots are taken constantly before, during and after pressing the shutter button, and Huawei’s software does an impeccable job of choosing the cleanest and clearest shot possible almost every time. It’s impressive, and something most phones simply cannot compete with.

As far as personal preferences go, I’ve always preferred LG’s super wide-angle lenses for the secondary camera, but Huawei’s zoom lens is making me change my tune a bit. The standard lens is wide enough to cover a good variety of subjects without warping, but the zoom capabilities of the phone range beyond what I’ve seen from most. In the standard 10 or 40 megapixel modes, zoom detail is excellent and rivals that of the Google Pixel series most of the time, although the LG V30 and Google Pixel phones do come ahead from time to time.

When zooming into the distance is the primary concern, say if the subject is on stage or just far enough away to need a bit of distance detail, the dedicated zoom button on the viewfinder toggles between 1x, 3x and 5x modes. 5x is just a digital crop of the 3x zoom, but that 3x zoom is absolutely bonkers when it comes to detail. Huawei uses a composite method of the 8-megapixel telephoto third camera and the 20-megapixel monochrome camera’s incredible detail levels to form a single shot, and you can see this switch happen just a moment or two after you switch zoom levels from 1x to 3x. It’s pretty clear to see the difference between the standard RGB camera and the composite zoom images.

The combination of sensors also has given Huawei the best portrait modes we’ve yet seen from a phone, iPhone or Android. Separation of the foreground and background is incredibly impressive, and that’s not just a bulk object like some other phones do, where fine details like the space in-between fingers won’t get properly blurred, for instance. It nails the subject and makes a convincing bokeh effect that looks like it was from a proper camera lens, not just a little smartphone one.

As far as overall image quality measurements are concerned, the P20 series is among the most color accurate we’ve ever seen in a phone, and might just hold the title of most color accurate shots ever. Dynamic range is typically very good, but there were enough times where the phone clearly didn’t use HDR aggressively enough for some shots and ended up overexposing the scene. This didn’t happen nearly as often as we saw on the Mate 10 Pro, and it’s clear Huawei has done some significant work in this area, but it needs to be a bit more aggressive with HDR to truly cover the gamut we see from the Google Pixel series every time. Zoom detail on the standard sensor, likewise, could use work at times, but the vast majority of the time you’ll find zoom detail is incredible in the normal shots.

I’d like to see a little less sharpening on photos, which from time to time really made things look a bit odd when zooming in, and in general still doesn’t quite match what Google can get out of sensors with HDR+ in normal daytime lighting conditions. It’s also worth noting that switching to 40-megapixels on the main sensor will consistently get better zoom detail than the 10-megapixel mode. While this may seem overly obvious, it's because of the way the sensor handles the binning of the pixels, as the loss in detail on the 10-megapixel mode is more due to scaling than actual sensor output. Not only this but the composite zoom modes are disabled when using 40-megapixel mode, so unless you’re really going to be spending a lot of time zooming into regular shots, it’s just better to leave it at the default 10-megapixel mode.

Both P20 phones shine in lower lighting conditions, with the P20 Pro taking the crown in particular with basically every single lower light scenario you can think of. Where this sharpening during the day can cause some issues with processing, it really seems to work wonders in lower lighting conditions, as it takes composite images from both the RGB and monochrome sensors and combines them for some stunning imagery. In auto mode, there’s almost no visible difference between the P20 Pro and the P20, with both phones delivering excellent results most of the time. For the most part, the P20 series delivers the crisp detail that LG’s V30 gives, with the brightness of Samsung’s Galaxy S9, all without the dynamic range sacrifice of the LG V30 or the detail sacrifice that the Galaxy S9 can sometimes have. It’s the best of both worlds here, and while there are a few exceptions, the P20 is guaranteed to take better low light shots than either of these phones most of the time.

There were a few times where auto mode didn’t get low light right, and it’s difficult without directly comparing with another phone in these exact situations if it’s Huawei’s software, or if the scenes were just that tough. When auto mode failed, however, there was the new night mode, and boy what a massive difference this can make. Night mode uses what Huawei calls Artificial Intelligence Stabilization. Now before you go rolling your eyes, because I know I did when they announced the name, the results speak for themselves. Huawei has basically figured out a way to utilize long exposure times and multiple camera sensors to generate an image that’s brighter and clearer almost every single time. I hesitate to say every time because, like anything, scenarios differ and you may come across a situation where it didn’t make the difference you had hoped.

Night mode also works better on the P20 Pro, where it more consistently delivered crisper and brighter images than the P20, but night mode is still a gem on the P20 regardless of the outlier situations. Sometimes night mode will not only generate significantly brighter shots but also significantly more detailed shots. Other times it just generated brighter shots, and zooming in reveals a fair loss of fine details at the expense of a brighter overall image. I’d say the split was about 50/50, and the situation is going to make all the difference in the world. Either way, this is a genius mode that’s wholly revolutionary in its execution, providing true value and enhancement to low light imagery in a meaningful way. This is the way to do good, dedicated low light photography for sure, but it’s not going to work in scenes where there’s movement, and that’s obviously why Huawei broke it off into a separate mode.

Video recording is a mixed bag, and while the P20 series delivers excellent crisp and clean 4K video, it’s not stabilized in the same way that 1080p video is. It’s obvious when recording in 4K because the shots are jerky and bumpy if there’s any camera movement at all. While these sensors are optically stabilized, we’ve gotten rather spoiled with the digital stabilization hybrids that other OEMs are doing, namely Google, and it just doesn’t stack up to what we’ve seen on phones like the Pixel 2 or the Galaxy S9 in terms of stabilized stuff. 1080p is buttery smooth, so if you're OK with recording in reduced resolution, you'll get a smoother quality output in the end.

Slow motion video has seen a significant upgrade this time around, joining Sony and Samsung with 960 frames per second video at 720p quality. The biggest positive here is the ability to use this super slow-mo video even in lower light, something Samsung’s Galaxy S9 absolutely cannot do, but the significant quality increase here is hampered by poor software design. While Sony lets you press the button over and over again to create bursts of slow-mo video, and Samsung has automatic slow-mo activation options, Huawei’s only lets you press the button once, with some seriously long processing time at the end of this lightning-fast capture. While lightning fast usually is a good thing in the phone world, this one isn’t, as it requires the timing to be far too accurate the first time, and it’s simply way too easy to miss the action with this much lead time at the end. Here’s hoping for way better software design in this mode next time around.

The Good

Absolutely gorgeous design

IP67 water and dust resistance of the P20 Pro

Tiny bezels

Screen protector and USB Type-C headphones included in the box

Lightning fast fingerprint scanner

Knuckle gestures come in handy

Incredible photo quality

P20 Pro offers enhanced zoom modes

Camera's Night Mode is revolutionary

Excellent front-facing camera

Desktop projection mode is just awesome to use

EMUI 8.1 is simply great

Android 8.1 Oreo out of the box

Excellent overall performance

The fastest internal storage speed anywhere

Amazing battery life

High-res audio output via 3.5mm adapter

All high fidelity Bluetooth codecs supported

Stereo speakers on the body (P20 Pro only)

The monochrome camera is a great addition

IR Blaster on the P20 Pro

The Bad

No 4K video stabilization

No 3.5mm audio jack

The P20 is only IP53-rated

No Daydream VR or ARCore support

Attracts lots of pocket lint and fingerprints

No WiFi calling support

Conclusion

Huawei has created two incredibly compelling packages in the P20 and P20 Pro, both of which offer very similar experiences at very different price points. The P20 is a slightly smaller package but still just as capable in almost every regard when compared to the P20 Pro, delivering fantastic cameras, lightning fast speeds, tons of awesome features and a gorgeous design with some truly unique colors. An extra €150 brings about a slightly larger screen, consistently higher quality photos, extra zoom levels for the camera, an IR blaster and actual water and dust resistance that you can count on, as well as a larger battery too. While it's certainly worth the upgrade for the Pro, €899 is a price-point that's well out of many folk's reach, and ultimately make this one of the most expensive devices on the market. This is Huawei's best devices yet, no doubt, but ultimately don't check every single box, and while they offer a better camera in most regards than Samsung's best, don't deliver quite as compelling feature-sets as Samsung's Galaxy S8 or Galaxy S9 in other areas. If you need the best smartphone camera ever, these are your phones, otherwise there are still other phones out there that offer more features for less money.

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