[Review] Huawei P20 – Potent Performer

[Review] Huawei P20 – Potent Performer

Intended as the more affordable option compared to its larger, better specced sibling the P20 Pro, the Huawei P20 is a surprisingly capable phone in its own right and punches way above its weight class and price tag. Intended as the successor to last year’s P10, the Huawei P20 is a generational leap ahead in terms of design and specifications.

Gone is the machined aluminium casing from the P10 and the prominent antenna bands from last year. The new P20 comes with a sensuous multi-layered glass laminate on the back that offers up a reflective finish that’s shiny enough to act as an ersatz mirror if needs must. The sides of the phone are finished in shiny aluminium trim which classes up the whole affair.

The finish comes in your choice several different colours including a unique gradient finish that changes hue depending on how you angle it toward the light. Malaysia has your choice of either black, blue or a pinkish-gold gradient finish intuitively dubbed as Pink Gold. Our test unit came in a shade of blue that looked surprisingly good and consistently elicited looks of interest from passerby.

Unfortunately that exquisite looking reflective finish is also a slippery fingerprint magnet that will, in all likelihood, squirm out of your hand at an inopportune moment to prang on the floor. Fortunately, retail units of the P20 in Malaysia provide a free casing out of the box so you have your bases covered.

 

Huawei P20 Build and Design

 

Up front, the P20 has a 5.8-inch notched IPS LCD display with a 1,080 x 2,240 pixel resolution, exceptionally slim side bezels and a wide 18.7:9 aspect ratio. Even with such a wide aspect ratio it still manages to include a ‘non-clicky’ home button cum fingerprint reader at the base of the phone. The front is also sheathed in 2.5D glass that gently curves around to create smoothly rounded edges which let you comfortably grasp it one-handed.

The notch above the display contains the front-facing 24-MP selfie camera that has an f/2.0 aperture. If the notch proves irksome, you can go into the phone settings and remove it by blacking out the sides so that all you’d see is a conventional rectangular-shaped screen. Of note is that they’ve pre-applied a screen protector on top of the display, allowing you to use it straight out of the box.

The base of the Huawei P20 has a set of speaker grilles and a USB Type-C port though the phone only has a mono speaker which means the design is mostly for aesthetics. Unfortunately, it ditches a headphone jack though the packaging does come with an adapter for you to use a conventional wired headphone with the Type-C port if you deign to do so. To get you started, they’ve even included a USB Type-C tipped pair of earbuds to get you started.

Another somewhat unusual omission is the omission of a microSD card slot though the phone has a massive 128GB of storage to compensate for it. The left side comes with a dual SIM card slot while the right has a volume rocker and power button finished in metal.

The rear of the P20 is a smooth swath of mirrored glass broken up by a tastefully monogrammed, vertically aligned Huawei and Leica logo in a manner akin to a compact camera. Taking up the upper left corner of the backplate is the P20’s signature dual camera array and an LED flash. The larger P20 Pro includes a third camera lens with optical zoom.

Grasping the P20 in your hand is an exquisite experience as it has a delightfully balanced yet weighty heft to it that gives it a comforting tactility and a premium feel when held.  In terms of build quality and design, Huawei have outdone themselves this time around and the phone has the looks to take on the best in the industry. The only quibble here is that it lacks some niceties that have become common features – waterproofing and wireless charging. They aren’t deal breakers but the former requires a bit of extra care while the latter is a wishful and desirable bonus.


Huawei P20 Specifications and Performance


Under the hood, the Huawei P20 comes with their HiSilicon Kirin 970 octacore processor, 4GB RAM and 128GB of non-expandable storage. Unlike prior models, it has a dual SIM card slot and ditches an audio jack and a microSD card slot. Getting it started and running was a straightforward task with the phone’s EMUI 8.1 proving to be a relatively fast, user friendly user interface.

There’s still a modest bit of bloatware though with EMUI 8.1 and they’ve included a disparate bunch of preloaded games and apps as well as a Huawei app gallery that requires you to sign in with a Huawei ID to gain access; the breadth and depth of offerings available there is still behind what you can get on the Google Play store with some overlap.

You also have access to an array of themes and the option to customise your lock screen and icons too. The most interesting preloaded addition is a fitness tracker that helps track steps taken and that works with other items in the Huawei ecosystem like their digital weighing scale, smartband and smartwatches. It’s fast, nippy and relatively inoffensive with easy access to most important users settings without undue rummaging about. A seasoned Android user shouldn’t have too many problems getting around.

In terms of synthetic benchmarks, the phone yielded a score of 3,005 points on 3D Mark’s Slingshot Extreme OpenGL test and a score of 3,369 in the Vulkan test. In GeekBench, it got a single core score of 1,884 and a multicore score of 6,689. In PC Mark, it snagged a score of 7,004 while in Antutu Benchmark it got a very respectable score of 199,593 points.

The Kirin 970 octacore processor which has an integrated neural processing unit (NPU) is built on a 10nm process and first saw service late last year with the Mate 10. In terms of overall performance, it’s still in the upper echelons where flagship phones dominate though it excels primarily in 3D rendering with a markedly better score in that specific regard than the Galaxy S9. That aside, it’s still a tad behind on all fronts though this did not affect day to day performance.

In actual field tests, the P20’s generous amounts of storage and proven Kirin 970 processor proved up to the task as a primary phone for daily usage. Apps fired up in seconds and proved zippy. The phone tackled multiple open browser windows and was able to handle demanding gaming titles like Player Unknown Battleground, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang and Final Fantasy Awakening at high settings with silky smooth frame rates. It gets a bit warm under heavy loads but handled everything in an otherwise very capable fashion.

The display proved bright enough to see under daylight, was pleasingly vibrant and offered crisp detail as LCDs go though the P20 Pro’s OLED display offers better performance. You’re also able to tweak the settings somewhat to change the colour tones to suit your whim and fancy though the default modes worked just fine. You’re also able to select whether you want to have the notch on or not though it’s more for aesthetics than anything else. Should you need to save on battery life more, you can optionally reduce the screen resolution too.

While the base of the phone comes with a pair of speaker grilles, it only has one actual speaker inset in the right of the phone. It does a competent, if unexceptional job with sufficient volume and a lack of detail at the higher ranges but it’s all right for the occasional Facebook or Youtube video or a quick game of PUBG.


Huawei P20 Camera Performance

 

The Huawei P20 comes with a dual rear camera array on the back unlike its better specced sibling the P20 pro that has a triple rear camera array that adds in an 8-MP camera with optical zoom to the mix.

The P20’s dual-camera setup is akin to the older P10 albeit with enhanced hardware and significant firmware refinements. The camera array consists of a 12-MP rear-camera with an f/1.8 aperture shooting in colour and a 20-MP camera with an f/1.6 aperture that shoots in black and white.  On paper, it doesn’t sound like much but there’s more than meets the eye on the P20.

Rather than a brute force approach with physical optics, the P20 instead uses their own A.I-enabled NPU to serve up convincingly steady electronic image stabilisation and computational photography to capture 20-MP and 12-MP shots in a 4:3 aspect ratio and up to 4K video capture. The phone also has a ‘lossless’ hybrid zoom up to 2x though this is only available for 12-MP resolution stills.


Firing up the camera is a swift affair with most modes accessible via a vertical scroll bar to the right of the camera interface though this is a finicky affair as the bar itself is narrow and requires a lot of swiping which will likely make you miss your shot. On offer are the usual array of modes including a Portrait, Night and Aperture mode as well as a Pro mode with significantly more settings for more savvy users.

For most casual users, you’ll likely resort to auto mode which proved to be surprisingly competent and allows for some excellent snaps off the cuff. Their vaunted AI was up to the task as it was, barring a very rare misfire or two, able to automatically select the right mode depending on the subject you’re shooting at be it food, shrubbery, scenery, people or cats.

Shots on auto are by and large excellent with great colour saturation and sharpness while mono shots remain some of the best on a camphone this year with scads of rich detail. Where it happens to surpass and even top many of this year’s camphone contenders in the market is in rendering up good low light shots.

Even without a tripod, the P20 is able to capture some truly superb shots on account of the impressively rock-steady AIS that was able to deliver judder free stills and video. The computational photography of its AI served to consistently render up very shareworthy low light shots of the Kuala Lumpur skyline without undue effort. There is a four-second interval for it to take low light shots from the moment you thumb the virtual shutter release though the results are well worth the short wait.


Videos are captured in up to 4K at 30fps and in keeping with this year’s crop of camphones, it has the ability to capture 960fps at 720k. Portraits taken on the rear or the front selfie camera also proved excellent as well which should please selfie oriented users.

Huawei P20 Price, Battery Life and Conclusion

 

When subjected to an average workload with a few minutes of calls through the day, a similar amount of Facebook and YouTube videos, data on throughout the day as well as an hour or two of web browsing and gaming, it had more than enough juice to last through the next day on its 3,400mAh battery.

If you need additional endurance, the phone has a Power saving mode and Ultra power saving mode that dumbs down the phone and reduces the resolution to drastically increase battery life. To further finetune this, you can also tweak and shut off power intensive apps as needed.

Getting it charged is fortunately a swift affair as the phone has their 4.5V/5A SuperCharge tech that, with the right cable and charger that fortunately come with the box, allows you to juice it to about half capacity in 30 minutes.

As it stands, the P20 presents an interesting quandary. Comparisons are inevitable with the higher end P20 Pro but on its own merits, the P20 is a beautifully made device with an excellent rear camera that delivers one of the best low light modes via its onboard artificial intelligence assisted image capture. The Kirin 970 SoC remains a potent processor and the package in total can take on any flagship in service today.

The P20 is a marked step down from its larger, pricier sibling the P20 Pro and trades in an OLED for an LCD screen and the triple camera array for a dual camera setup and has slightly less RAM at 4GB versus the P20 Pro’s 6GB RAM though the P20 is RM700 cheaper.

Alas, it still plays second fiddle to the larger and more capable P20 Pro and the lack of waterproofing, expandable memory and an audio jack are irksome. Quibbles aside, if you’re on a tight budget, this is one of the most affordable top-tier flagship phones that you can buy.

What we liked Beautiful heft and build quality, surprisingly good rear camera, good battery life
What we didn’t No audio jack, no microSD card slot, no water resistance
We say The Huawei P20 is well worth your consideration as it proves to be an immensely capable and beautifully crafted phone with tons of onboard storage and a good rear camera though it lacks an audio jack and expandable memory. If you have the cash to spare, the P20 Pro is a more desirable option.

Specifications
Price RM2,599
Display 5.8-inch LCD, 1080 x 2240 pixels
Processor HiSilicon Kirin 970 octacore 2.4Ghz
OS Android Oreo 8.1
Memory 4GB RAM/128GB storage
Camera 12-MP f/1.8 (colour) + 20-MP f/1.6 (mono) (rear) / 24-MP f/2.0 (front)
Battery 3,400mAh
Size/Weight 149.1 x 70.8 x 7.7 mm / 165g
*Review unit courtesy of Huawei Malaysia

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