I received this product as part of a review program in return for an unbiased review.
Before now, I wouldn’t have said I was snobby when it came to my choice of phone: after all, I’ve batted for both of the big rival teams in the mobile phone world, having owned an iPhone 4 and 6 representing Apple, but also a number of HTCs and Samsungs for Android. But perhaps I think I may have been slightly choosey, especially when it came to Android phones, sticking only to the big “high-tech” Korean and Taiwanese brands. The P20 Pro has been the first foray into the massive Chinese phone market, having, admittedly, not considered them in the shadow of the Samsungs and HTCs of the world.
And boy am I glad I did.
First off, let’s dive into the main reason that one may consider the P20 Pro: the cameras on this thing are astonishing. The phone is equipped with the world’s first triple lens system, which I’ll try and explain here. The first lens is the daddy of the three: a 40MP sensor under a nice big f/1.8 aperture (to let lots of light in) and a 27mm focal length (an average zoom, close to the human eye). This is the main sensor for taking pictures.
This is paired with a 20MP black and white sensor, at the same focal length with an even wider f/1.6 aperture to let even more light in. This sensor aids the primary sensor by providing much more accurate brightness and contrast to complement the detail and colour the first sensor captures.
Finally, the third sensor is a 8MP telephoto (read: zoomed in) lens at 80mm focal length, with an f/2.4 aperture. This sensor allows the for bokeh effects (in other words, lets you take those artistic photos with the background blurred but the subject kept crisp and in focus.
Combining the tech of these lenses allows for some incredible zoom performance, up to 10x (digital, only 3x optical using the telephoto lens) when taking the photo itself. The 40MP sensor allows for a large amount of digital zooming without the large drop in quality, due to the big pixel count to start with. Take a look at some of the zoom comparison photos in this article and see what you think. The crispness of the 10x zoom photos is also a testament to the excellent optical image stabalisation system found in the device. At large zooms, any shaking in your hands is multiplied, and I found the stability of the images to be pretty good at maximum zoom.
Outside of the raw performance of the camera, there are all the usual bells and whistles that you might expect to find on a camera-focussed (pardon the pun) flagship, including 960fps slow-mo video, a pro mode, HDR etc. One thing I was not a fan of was the camera interface. It was far too busy (especially on the pro mode) and some options that I’d expect to be a mere click away (like turning HDR on for example) is hidden away behind setting screens and the like. It somehow just didn’t feel as intuitive as camera software from other manufacturers.
For the phone itself, Huawei has gone with a glass back and front panel, which is very in-trend for 2018. For this reason it feels like it has quite a heft to it. The glass back also makes it the single most slipperiest phone I’ve ever used. It turns out that surfaces around my flat that I long thought were level actually have a slight gradient to them, evidenced by the P20 Pro sliding slowly off everything in one way or another. If you are reading this and thinking of buying this phone I cannot recommend a case more highly, else a smashed screen or back is pretty much guaranteed.
Elsewhere on the body of the phone, we’ve got a large, 6.1” notched AMOLED display (we’ll come back to this), with the fingerprint scanner positioned below the screen on the front. In an effort to maximise screen real estate on the front of the phone, this is an unusual placement for the sensor these days. However, in saying that, it is my preferred place to put it, to allow for easy unlocking on a desk. Until fingerprint sensors under the screens become mainstream (they’ve just arrived!) then this is the next best thing.
On the bottom of the phone, we have the USB C port, supporting fast charging (58% in 30 minutes), the usual absent 3.5mm jack (c’mon!), and one of the two stereo speakers – which should be a staple feature for every flagship handset in my humble opinion. Inside, there’s a nice big 4,000 mAh battery to power everything. While we’re at it, battery life on the P20 Pro was pretty good in my experience. Definitely enough juice under the hood to last a whole day of medium to heavy use at work followed by a fair bit of browsing Reddit in the evening (or whatever takes your fancy).
Back to the screen, whilst it’s an AMOLED panel, I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised to hear that it was an LCD. Colours seemed to be a bit drab and lifeless coming from a Samsung S9, though I am aware that Samsung has been accused in the past of over-saturating their screens. However, I definitely wasn’t blown away with the P20 Pro like I have been with other phones in the past. Even comparing how I felt when I first picked up an iPhone 6 (which, incidentally, is only an LCD), it just didn’t pop out at me like I thought it would. Shame.
One thing the AMOLED panel does allow, is an always on screen which was one of my favourite features on the S8 and S9. Huawei’s implementation isn’t quite as robust as Samsung’s (it isn’t interactive), but it lets me see the clock and if I have any notifications without touching the phone, which is a really neat feature.
The notch on the Pro is not as annoying to me as it was on the Lite. The main reason for this is due to the larger screen, the comparative space on the status bar that the notch occupies is much smaller, allowing for more notification icons to be displayed. I’d like to have been able to toggle certain items off the display like OnePlus allows you to do, but unfortunately you can’t, so there’s usually more items on the right “shoulder” of the screen than there is space (especially if you always have Bluetooth on and an alarm set).
Under the hood, we’ve got Huawei’s own HiSilicon Kirin 970, paired with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. The processor really impressed me with how it handled real world tasks. Things like general navigation of the phone, opening and closing apps, switching between apps, and – the one that really bugs me when it’s slow – downloading and installing apps all blazed along at pace with no hints of slowdown. Take a look at the gif below, that’s 15 seconds going from no app on the phone to searching the Play Store, downloading the app, installing, and opening. Pretty awesome.
Sure, in the “benchmarks” the processor can’t topple the best that Qualcomm has to offer, but this may only be apparent when the phone is pushed to its absolute limits playing the latest games, something most of the population does not do. That said, it handled a few games that I installed (PUBG and The Room if you must know) absolutely fine.
I’ll refer you to my P20 Lite review for the software side of things as things are exactly the same for the Pro. TL;DR, I am not a huge fan of EMUI, though it is functional enough, and most of the annoying quirks can be changed/disabled by the user.
In conclusion, Huawei has a serious contender on their hands here for Phone of the Year. The camera system is the best one I’ve used since the incredible Lumia 1020 (RIP Xenon flashes), and is probably the best one on the market for a number of reasons. The problem that Huawei may face is one of brand recognition. Time will tell if they are able to successfully convince consumers to avert their gaze from the S9, and give someone that they may not have considered before a try.