Huawei P20 review: The Huawei P11 in all but name

The Huawei P20 is a pretty but not hugely interesting smartphone from the Chinese smartphone giant

Huawei, like every other smartphone manufacturer, has moved to a double-pronged flagship smartphone launch cycle this year, and 2018’s offering is the Huawei P20 and the Huawei P20 Pro.

Of the two, the Huawei P20 is the least interesting. It lacks the P20 Pro’s triple-camera setup and a few other features besides, but it is also likely to be the cheaper of the two, which means it’s still worth considering.

Huawei P20 review: Key features and first impressions

The cutbacks start with the internal specification. Although the Huawei P20 looks similar to its more exotic, three-eyed sibling, closer examination reveals it has slightly less substance.

There’s the same octa-core 2.4GHz HiSilicon Kirin 970 chip and 128GB of storage, but it has less RAM (4GB) and, notably, a lower degree of dust and water resistance than the P20 Pro. Indeed, the P20’s IP53 rating means the phone is protected from dust ingress but not submersion in water, only a light spray. So you’ll be okay taking the P20 out in a rain shower, but it won’t survive being dropped in the sink or toilet.

The display is smaller on the P20, too, at 5.8in with a similar resolution of 1,080 x 2,444. That’s not a problem in and of itself. What could be an issue is that it employs different panel technology to the P20 Pro. Instead of OLED, with its perfect black level and vivid colours, the Huawei P20 has an RGBW LCD screen.

This is searingly bright, thanks to the fact that every red, green and blue subpixel is also supplemented with a white subpixel, but my first impressions of it are that it doesn’t look quite as rich in colour as the screen on the P20 Pro.

I’d also be slightly worried about battery life, since the similarly equipped Huawei Mate 10 didn’t fare particularly well when I tested it against the OLED Huawei Mate 10 Pro last year. Also, the battery in the Huawei P20 is 15% smaller than the P20 Pro, at 3,400mAh compared with 4,000mAh, which could further compromise its stamina.

Still, with Huawei’s aggressive “AI” power-management profiles firmly in place, and a conservative resolution of 1,080 x 2,444 on the display, I’d still expect the P20 to deliver all-day battery life. It will be interesting to see how things play out when we get a handset in for proper testing.

The good news is that the regular Huawei P20 looks just as nice as the Huawei P20 Pro. At the front and rear, it’s clad in smooth-to-the-touch glass which is slightly curved at the edges. It comes in some beautiful colours, including the eye-catching, two-tone blue-green gradient version, pink gold, midnight blue, champagne gold and black – all edged with a coloured chrome metal frame.

The P20 has a front-mounted fingerprint reader, just like the P20 Pro, and it has the same small notch at the top of the display. This can be “hidden” in software, however, by displaying a black band across the top of the screen.

And the Leica-branded cameras on the rear, although less flexible, still look impressive on paper. There’s no third telephoto snapper here, just a pair of cameras – one colour, the other dedicated to capturing monochrome images. But as with previous Huawei flagship phones, the phone uses both in combination to produce low-noise images that are higher in dynamic range than would otherwise be possible with a single camera.

If it’s up to the level of quality of the Mate 10 Pro’s, we’re in for a treat. In fact, Huawei is promising even higher quality, claiming the pixels on its RGB camera are 1.55um in size and that the overall sensor size is 22% bigger than the one in the Samsung Galaxy S9. That, combined with an aperture of f/1.8 on the RGB camera and f/1.6 on the mono camera, should mean excellent low-light shots.

I’m not convinced that the ability to boost ISO sensitivity to 102,400 will produce anything but horribly grainy images, but the 960fps 720 video mode ought to be good for a laugh if nothing else. There’s also a dedicated colour temperature sensor here, which in theory means more accurate automatic white balance settings.

Last, but by no means least, the P20’s camera software also includes a range of “AI” functions, just as it did with the Huawei Mate 10 Pro. The Huawei P20’s camera can automatically detect different types of scene – including everything from food to dogs – and it will adjust the settings appropriately. The P20 can detect six more scene types than the Mate 10 Pro, too, bringing the total up to 19.

There’s also AI image stabilisation (AIS), which is the most interesting of the new features. Huawei says this can stabilise long-exposure shots for up to four seconds with the need for a tripod. “AI assisted composition” rounds off the new features, helping out with things such as horizon straightening and getting everyone in shot when you’re capturing groups of people.

Huawei P20 review: Verdict

The Huawei P20 is a bit of an odd fish, and I’m not sure how it will fare once we get it in for testing. Performance, I predict, will be absolutely fine, as it was with the Mate 10 Pro. That’s not an issue. How long the battery lasts with the RGBW screen might well be, though.

Plus, with a smaller battery, what looks like an inferior display and a less flexible camera than the P20 Pro, the Huawei P20 may struggle to catch the eye.

A bigger problem, however, may be how much the superb Mate 10 Pro has now dropped in price. With the Mate 10 Pro now around £500 – a phone with similar internals, an OLED display and microSD card expansion, by the way – the P20’s camera will have to be absolutely amazing to entice anyone to buy it.

Quite a few of what we can convey in this article, Huawei P20 review: The Huawei P11 in all but name, hopefully this article useful.

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