The smartphone high-end has been dominated by Apple and Samsung for a few years with many pretenders and no real contenders. Well Huawei is aiming their new P20 Pro right at that duo.
Huawei has just released the P20 series, jumping from last year’s P10 series to P20 as they feel the improvements made are huge. Steven Ambrose tests the P20 Pro and reports back.
Huawei has risen very quickly from a manufacturer of other peoples smartphones to number three smartphone vendor in just a few years, with a global market share percentage of 10.7% for the last quarter of 2017, per IDC research. Colossal marketing budgets may have helped. However the range and quality of devices have also expanded exponentially with a product at every level and price point.
The latest device from Huawei is the flagship P20 Pro. Huawei maintains that their research into consumer needs have highlighted the photographic ability of a smartphone as a critical ingredient for top-end devices and together with Leica have pulled out all the stops on the P20 Pro.
We had just started to get used to two cameras on the rear of our phones, and now Huawei has included three rear cameras on the P20 Pro. The inclusion of their latest Kirin 970 AI enabled processor, an AMOLED screen and beautiful construction round out a device that aims at the very top of the market.
The Huawei P20 Pro stands out from all other mobile devices currently available for its use of three rear-facing cameras.
The purpose of three cameras is not a gimmick, and Huawei together with its collaboration with Leica has turned out one of the most advanced and functional cameras setups on a mobile device.
In my opinion, the advanced use of computer-aided photography along with the three camera setup on the P20 Pro is one of the best available, rivalling stand-alone cameras in some respects.
Huawei has not forgotten the other vital aspects of the P20 Pro. The screen is a 6.1-inch AMOLED display, another first for Huawei, which stretches across the entire front, even introducing a notch for the front speaker and camera similar to but smaller than the Apple iPhone X.
The screen follows the current trend with an 18:7.9 aspect ratio which is taller and slimmer than prior devices and there is a front-facing fingerprint reader on the base of the phone.
The screen resolution is not the highest available, but I think that is a good choice as it is high enough that you will never see any pixilation and battery life benefits from not having to control all those extra pixels. The AMOLED screen offers excellent colours and blacks are perfect. There is a touch of off angle blue tint, but this never becomes very noticeable.
The rear is very made of beautiful iridescent glass and comes in a variety of colours including Midnight Blue, Black, Twilight, my favourite, and Pink Gold. The aluminium frame is a minimal affair with excellent finish and detail. Overall the P20 Pro feels premium with the right balance of weight and finish. It lacks a little of the solid feel of the Samsung Galaxy S9 and iPhone X, but matches these rivals in all other aspects of fit and finish.
There is no wireless charging and no headphone jack; the former is standard on all its rivals while the latter is becoming far more scarce. The P20 Pro featured the latest in Bluetooth standards and compatibility and worked flawlessly with all the Bluetooth headsets I tried. A USB C to 3.5mm headphone adaptor is included for those that want to use the high-quality corded headphones.
The Kirin 970 processor with its built-in AI NPU subsystem is used to good effect with 6 GB Ram and 128 GB storage. The P20 Pro is fast fluid and never misses a beat no matter how many apps are open or what games you play. It does get a bit warm on the top when running flat out though.
The other standout feature is the 4000 mAh battery fitted into the slim body. I managed a full day of taking photos navigating and using the P20 Pro as a mobile hotspot and still got home after 11 pm with 20% power in reserve. In far more normal use two days of heavy usage is easily achieved. Of all the high-end device I have used this is by far the best battery performance.
The Huawei P20 Pro has three rear cameras which have different specifications and functions. There is an industry leading 40 MP main sensor along with a 20 MP black and white sensor for low light and definition capabilities, and a 3X zoom 8 MP camera. There is also a very high resolution 24 MP front camera used for selfies and face unlocking.
Face unlock works well in most circumstances but does not rival the way Apple has implemented their face recognition system. In most instances, the Huawei would unlock very quickly but could not handle hats or sunglasses, unlike the iPhone X
The number and resolution of the camera sensors is unique, but that is not even half the story. The use of advanced AI assisted algorithms and systems that combine the various rear cameras into a formidable array makes all the difference.
The combination of rear cameras offers outstanding low light photography with detail and sharpness that is outstanding. The P20 Pro features advanced AI assisted optimisations that detect the type of scene and automatically optimise the picture for best effect.
Pictures taken with the P20 Pro
An example of this is when shooting scenery, if the sky dominates the P20 Pro will instantly detect the makeup of the scene and change settings to increase the impact of the picture. Focus on trees, food, or faces, and the AI system will change the settings to offer you the best picture.
Photography purists can disable this function and take complete control of the settings to offer SLR style control over pictures. For the rest of us, the AI assistance makes for punchy pretty and excellent photos. I did find that for taking pictures of people the AI kept insisting on portrait mode which can be a little annoying, though a quick tap on the screen will disable the mode for that picture.
The rear camera setup offers Autofocus with laser-assisted phase focus and contrast focus, all making for simple easy and fast picture taking. In low light conditions, the P20 Pro took amazingly sharp pictures. The ability of the autofocus system was highlighted by the ease in which fast moving object such as footballs, birds, and children all came out perfectly focused with minimal effort.
The P20 Pro also features an AI-assisted night mode which gives sharp pictures without a tripod in very low light conditions; this also works when the extreme 5X zoom is used, the results are outstanding, sharp and detailed in almost every instance.
Full 960 frames per second ultra-slow motion is also available. The only real quirk was the front facing camera, by default it offers a medium beauty mode for selfies which makes for a smooth cartoon-like selfie with contrast a bit washed out. You can turn this off and turn off AI assistance for this mode which results in excellent, well-balanced selfies. The standard settings are a little false and unreal, those many may just like that.
The Huawei P20 Pro comes standard with Android 8.0 with all its battery life enhancements and other refinements from Google.
The Huawei interface called EMUI 8.0 does an excellent job of hiding some of Androids complexity in a smooth flat and simple to use interface. EMUI 8.0 can get a little busy and cluttered but overall most users will take no time in setting up and using the phone and its advanced features.
There is minimal bloatware apart from some Huawei added apps mostly for phone maintenance and support, and all the standard Android apps are present. The camera app is particularly powerful and useful and offers an easy way to use the advanced features and capabilities in photography on the P20 Pro.
Huawei has thrown everything possible into the P20 Pro.
The latest in processor design, cutting-edge cameras, build quality, and screen performance that rivals any another device on the market and a combination of technologies and facilities that make the P20 Pro one of the most complete mobile phones on the market, bar Wireless charging and a headphone jack.
The Huawei P20 Por has its quirks, but in actual use, the P20 Pro is a delight. It is easy to set up, and very easy to use. If you want to dig deeper and take advantage of the advanced features and AI facilities, the included software makes this relatively easy for most users and particularly easy for photography
Huawei has done an excellent job of making cutting-edge technology user-friendly, and the AI-assisted photography will flatter and make taking excellent photographs simple and consistently easy to achieve. The camera subsystem currently has no real rivals.
All other top-end smartphones can take excellent pictures in most conditions, the Huawei P20 Pro goes further in all aspects of photography and can offer performance that can rival large standalone SLR’s in a 180-gram 7.8 mm thick smartphone.
The battery life is great, radio performance in calls and using Wi-Fi is outstanding, audio performance over Bluetooth is very good, and all other aspects of the P20 Pro in daily use are simple and consistently easy to use.
In the rarefied world of top end of smartphones, the Huawei P20 Pro may be the most complete package currently available, and the other manufacturers should take notice of how far Huawei has come in so short a time. The last key feature is the price, the Huawei P20 Pro is selling for R15,799, while still high it is significantly cheaper than its competitors from Apple and Samsung.
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