Huawei’s P20 trio of phones follows on from 2017’s rather average P10 – in my opinion, the P10 design was stale compared to the S8, which was a marvel in comparison. Huawei has opted for three sizes of handset for this year’s lineup (similar to last year), with each ascending model having some extra features compared to the model below. First up, is the P20 Lite, the most affordable of the P20 range, with an RRP of £300.
At first glance, each of the handsets in the P20 range look almost identical to one other, with a notched screen dominating the front of each device.
One key difference between its bigger siblings, is the placement of the fingerprint sensor on the back of the Lite, compared to the P20 and Pro which has a more traditional placement on the front under the screen. Having lived with the S8 and S9 over the last year or so, I’ve gotten used to the rear mounted sensors, but I still think I prefer the front sensor to allow easy unlocking while the phone is lying on a desk. Placement aside, the sensor works well: it’s quick and accurate and I’ve rarely had a print reading fail.
The rest of the phone is designed well enough. Huawei describe it as “metal and glass” but it definitely doesn’t feel as premium as other phones with a similar description. The “glass” back feels distinctly plastic-y (in fact, I think it is plastic,,,), with a hollow, cheap sound when tapped, especially when compared to the S9. On the bottom of the phone we have a USB C port and a 3.5mm jack (huzzah!). One noticeable omission is the lack of water resistance – there’s not even a mention of splash protection, never mind looking for the industry standard IP rating.
The P20 Lite is equipped with a 4.8” LCD display, with that aforementioned notch prominently displayed in the centre at the top. The resolution tops out at 1080 x 2280, in a slightly odd 19:9 ratio. This causes some apps to not fully fill the screen (much like what you will find on the S9 with its even stranger 18.5:9 ratio).
Huawei has included an option in the settings to “hide” the notch by keeping the background of the notched areas black at all times. This means it only shows status icons and notification icons in the areas above the main screen area. I’m starting to see this option creep into more and more notched Android phones – the OnePlus 6 also has this option.
I’ve found that having the notification icons filling the left notch section only, the space is quickly used up, not allowing you to see more than two or three notification icons at any one time. This is especially annoying if your operator has a longer name (looking at you, Vodafone), as this is also displayed in this section, along with the signal indicator. Huawei does give the option to switch off the operator name mind you, but it’s squirreled away in the settings and not enabled by default.
The P10 Lite is equipped with a dual camera setup on the back of the phone. It’s nice to see even the lowest tiered P20 model getting a piece of the dual camera action, however not a true dual camera as the second 2MP lens is only used to capture depth information, and to allow the main 16MP camera clever bokeh effects. This isn’t exactly a new feature (the earliest phone I remember having a similar setup was the HTC One M9 way back in 2014), but it does allow for some nice effects.
Image wise, the P20 takes some nice shots considering the price of the phone. Of course, the images are nowhere near the quality of the P20 Pro, but colours and details on some of the photos I’ve taken have been nice. I’m not a huge fan of Huawei’s camera interface, with some settings that I’d imagine to be easy to get to buried away in multiple menus and behind other screens.
The front facing camera on the P20 Lite is a large, 16MP sensor, with 1.1μm size pixels. I’m not a huge user of this camera (to the point that I wouldn’t notice it if it was missing) but the quality seems decent enough, I’ve certainly seen worse at this price!
The P20 Lite is powered by Huawei’s own HiSilicon Kirin 659 processor. This is the same processor that can be found in last year’s P10 Lite. Whilst this could be seen as lazy on Huawei’s part, the octa-core processor performs pretty well, with modern games such as The Room and PUBG working fairly well. Combining this with 4GB of RAM and this provides a fairly snappy real world experience whilst navigating the phone and downloading apps.The phone allows for expansion of the 32GB internal memory by using an SD card up to 256GB, so plenty of storage if you’d like to fill it up with movies!
On top of that processing power, the P20 Lite runs Android Oreo out of the box, with Huawei’s own EMUI launcher being the interface of choice. In my opinion, I’m not a great fan of EMUI for a number of reasons. Firstly, the software is initially set up with no app drawer, and all the icons from apps sitting on multiple home screens, similar to how an iPhone arranges its apps.
Secondly, Huawei is guilty of duplicating a lot of stock Android apps with a very similar own-brand app variant and shipping the phone with both installed. This requires the user to go through and delete one of the versions (with me, always the manufacturer version), or else have the phone filled up with useless apps all over the place.
Indeed, these points are quite minor as a bit of fiddling with the user can eliminate them. However I generally find the rest of the software a bit messy and generally not as crisp and clean as most of the other manufacturers’ offerings. Admittedly, I’m a bit of a sucker for pure Android (or as close to it as you can get, looking at you OnePlus!), and EMUI is probably one of the furthest from that from an aesthetic and design point of view. This will definitely be a matter of opinion though, and I have a few friends that use Huaweis and really like it.
All in all, this is a decent offering of phone for the price. The screen is large and bright and squeezed into a fairly compact body. It’s impossible to compare the camera on the Lite to the setup on the Pro, but in isolation, the phone takes decent photos, and generally is quite a nice phone considering its place in the market. EMUI may not be to my taste, but it is to plenty others, and is easy to replace with something else if you really hate it. However, looking at the competition, you may get more (or the same) bang for your buck with one of the other more up and coming Chinese manufacturers like Xiaomi or Oppo, there’s certainly some decent alternatives if you look around.