The HONOR View20 is arguably one of the most unique looking phones on the market; a far cry from the phones of 2018 that almost all looked identical in every way. HONOR has chosen an incredible beautiful chevron pattern for the back of the phone, which is present on all four color choices of the phone as well. This creates not only a gorgeous gradient fade as the phone is tilted, but also a distinctive visual pattern that’s immediately identifiable. A clear TPU case included with the phone will also offer minimal drop protection and added grip without ruining the aesthetics of the device.
The biggest downsides include a lack of IP-rating for water and dust resistance, as well as no support for wireless charging. The rear-facing fingerprint scanner is probably the only design piece that could be considered to “mar” the design, but this design of fingerprint scanner is still the best and most efficient available, and it works beautifully. The vibration motors are also significantly improved over the Mate 20 series which were themselves a significant improvement over Spring 2018’s Huawei and HONOR phones. These vibration motors aren’t the best on the market, but they feel far more elegant and high-quality than previous generations.
Flipping the phone over continues to surprise, as the front-facing camera is now located within a “punch-hole” on the top left of the device. This punch-hole design on the top left, in particular, places the camera in an area that’s both less obvious and less obtrusive, shifting the connection icons just slightly to the right. These connection icons are used far less than the clock or battery percentage, which are strategically located in the top right corner of the screen and, once again, help keep the camera out of sight and mind. This punch-hole is also significantly smaller than even the smallest notches on the market, about half the surface area, and even with the sliver of screen around the camera, takes up far less space than any notch.
The worst part of the front is the display itself, which is a drab, old-feeling IPS LCD display with the typical poor black levels and slow refresh rate of LCDs. Motion trails are very obvious on high contrasting elements moving on screen, and lack of decent black levels is extremely apparent in all but the brightest of lighting conditions. These bright conditions are the only place the display shines, as the LED backlight is able to pump up the brightness significantly when needed and is certainly bright enough to see in any outdoor situation.
Amazing Battery Life, Not So Great Sound Quality
Having virtually no bezels and no notch is already an achievement in and of itself, but HONOR has also packed a giant 4,000mAh battery inside the svelte 8.1mm chassis that only weighs 180g, and yet still was able to keep the 3.5mm audio jack around on top of everything else. It almost feels like a slap in the face of other OEMs, including parent company Huawei, who have taken the 3.5mm audio jack out of their most premium devices, somehow offering more options for less money.
The downside with the View20, in particular, is that sound output is not the greatest quality in the world. Surprisingly, the audio quality coming out of the 3.5mm audio jack is quite bad with an overall flat sound that feels cheap in every way. It’s also oddly quiet, and I found that I had to turn the volume up on my car’s head unit up by around 50%, which produced overly harsh audio that hurt my ears after just a few seconds of listening. Using a typical 3.5mm to USB Type-C adapter on the phone’s USB Type-C port produces significantly better quality audio in every way, including volume levels, but still falls flat when directly compared to other phones in this price range.
HONOR didn’t skimp on the battery prowess of the View20 though, something that easily competes with the best phones on the market. The Kirin 980 is already an incredibly power efficient, yet powerful SoC as it is, but the generous battery size rockets the phone experience to new heights. I regularly forgot about charging the View20 in daily use, which often lasted two full days on a single charge, leaving me to worry about more important things in life. Even when it had to be charged, the 22W charger included in the box jumps the battery up to around 55% in just 30 minutes, with a full charge achieved in just over an hour.
Performance and Software
Huawei’s Kirin 980 SoC is packed to the gills with cutting-edge technology that’s both powerful and power efficient, including dual Neural Processing Units (NPU) for AI-driven tasks. These coprocessors are designed to efficiently handle specific computational tasks found throughout the OS experience, from the camera to certain apps, and even inside the OS itself. Google has begun to design the stock Android experience with some AI-driven logic, and HONOR has worked to further this work in its own version of Android as well.
Magic UI, as HONOR calls it, is the version of OS that HONOR builds itself. Magic UI 2 runs atop Android 9 Pie and is, essentially, a considerably smoother, far less buggy version of Huawei’s EMUI 9 that ships with the Mate 20 series. Take all the complaints we had in the Mate 20 review in regards to Huawei’s latest EMUI build and throw them out the window, as HONOR has completely fixed the so-so experience Huawei’s software delivered at launch on that phone. That even includes the odd issues with warping while recording 4K video with image stabilization in the camera app.
Multi-tasking still isn’t as fast or efficient as previous designs, but the experience has, once again, been tweaked and smoothed out to ensure the best possible experience with the design at hand. We’ve laid out our issue with the horizontally-scrolling tall card design in quite a few Android 9 Pie-powered reviews now, and it’s simply not as fast or easy to switch between more than 2 or 3 apps at a time because of the vertical nature of smartphone screens. Still, HONOR has tweaked the experience by making card swiping more responsive, fixed the kinetic scrolling issues in EMUI, and even solved the drastic problems with gestures too.
Unlike EMUI’s buggy and oft-broken gesture system, the gestures in Magic UI 2 just work. Swiping up and holding brings up the multi-tasking carousel, swiping in from the left or right sides of the screen navigates back, and swiping up from the left or right corner calls up the default virtual assistant. It’s well designed, feels good, because muscle-memory within just a few minutes of switching to the system, and generally feels fantastic.
HONOR is utilizing the Time-of-Flight (TOF) camera on the back for some interesting, niche applications, including utilities built into the camera software as well as a Magic AR app that can be found on the Google Play Store. This app isn’t available on the US Google Play Store, since the phone isn’t technically officially sold in the US, but is free and easily downloadable in other countries. The TOF camera’s ability to accurately sense depth information without additional heavily calculation done by the SoC is a unique implementation for various camera effects.
These effects include body sculpting, which can be used to adjust the shape of faces and bodies for a more “attractive” appearance, which can be adjusted on a 10-point scale. It’s also used with the built-in HiVision app, which utilizes both the TOF sensor and the dual-NPU processors to identify objects on the fly, with advanced depth and density calculation enabled by the TOF camera. This helps it more accurately identify objects, and in practice, did an exemplary job of correctly identifying minute differences like a peanut butter cookie versus an oatmeal raisin one. It’ll also offer caloric count estimates based on internet listings of similar recipes.
The TOF camera is also used for motion gaming, similar to the Kinect that Microsoft used to offer on its Xbox platform, and can be utilized by hooking the HONOR View20 up to an external display via a USB Type-C to HDMI or DisplayPort cable. At this time only Fancy Darts and Fancy Skiing support the sensors, making this an ultra-niche feature, but the availability of such options certainly opens the doors of possibility in future apps and, most likely, future smartphones or other devices sporting TOF cameras.
HONOR’s latest flagship is an incredible mashup of cutting-edge technologies for a phenomenal price. Utilizing many of the best features from more expensive phones, HONOR has crafted a device that looks and feels premium in every way, and delivers an incredibly solid user experience that’s worthy of the term “flagship”. It’s a phone with a truly excellent camera that eclipses even the best phones on the market in most respects, much of it is thanks to that brand new generation 48-megapixel Sony sensor as well as HONOR’s generally excellent software and processing algorithms. The rest of the experience is just as solid too, from the performance of the Kirin 980 SoC, plenty of RAM to multitask between several apps at once, and a smoother, more refined UI experience than on previous HONOR phones thanks to the Magic UI 2 OS, built atop Android 9 Pie.
It’s also got incredible battery life which should last most users in upwards of 2 days on a single charge, with support for 22W super fast charging when you need a top-up. Who can forget that exterior too, which features one of the most fantastically unique designs on the planet. The biggest downside? The IPS LCD screen certainly looks like a cheaper display and the sound output quality isn’t as good as you’ll find on many other phones in this price range. It’s also not available officially in the US, although there are certainly plenty of 3rd party channels to get it through. Interested in one of the best affordable flagships around? This is more than worth a passing glance; it’s a real winner in our book.