Huawei P20 Pro Review: DSLR In Your Pocket?

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Does the P20 Pro really live up to the hype?

While Huawei’s been making headway into camera technologies in the past few years, they’ve always fallen behind companies like Samsung and Apple in the camera race. As nice as their phones are, nothing that they’ve released recently have been enough to take away the photography crown from their bitter rivals.

That may change today, with the P20 Pro.

Armed with a massive 40-megapixel sensor, 3 camera modules, plus an AI-powered night mode, the P20 Pro has been constantly impressing us since we got our hands on it a week ago. Huawei has given it their all in creating their triple camera monster, and the result is a phone that has the chops to finally beat their rivals in the imaging department.

Huawei P20 Pro specs

  • HiSilicon Kirin 970 octa-core processor
  • 6GB of RAM
  • 6.1-inch Full HD+ OLED display, 18.7:9 Aspect ratio, Natural Tone
  • 128GB internal storage
  • 40-megapixel f/1.8 primary Leica rear camera with 1/1.7-inch sensor, Huawei AIS, Master AI, 5X hybrid zoom, up to ISO 102400 sensitivity
  • 20-megapixel f/1.6 monochrome Leica rear camera with Huawei AIS, Master AI
  • 8-megapixel f/2.4 telephoto Leica rear camera with 3X optical zoom with Huawei AIS, Master AI
  • 24-megapixel front camera with LED flash, 3D facial enhancement
  • Dual SIM
  • WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, Fingerprint scanner, fast charge, IP67 rating
  • 4000mAh battery
  • Android 8.1 Oreo (EMUI 8.1)

Design that mimics a point and shoot

With three cameras arranged vertically on the upper left side of its glistening back, it’s easy to dismiss the design of the P20 Pro as a copy of Apple’s iPhone X.

That’s exactly what we thought when we first saw the P20 Pro, but a closer look at the design language pointed to something much deeper.

The P20 Pro’s camera placement, raised camera modules, coupled with Leica and Huawei’s branding makes the P20 resemble a high-end point and shoot when looking at it from the rear.

The P20 Pro’s frame is constructed out of metal, while the glass on the rear comes in several stunning color options. While ours was a pretty mirror-finish Midnight Blue, you can grab a P20 Pro in Pink Gold and Black. But the finish you really should be looking for is the Twilight color option, which has a really awesome gradient effect that subtly changes the color depending on how you hold it.

While the color options are great, the P20 Pro is a smudge magnet. And if you finally do get yours, make sure to grab a soft silicone case right away – our review unit already has several light scratches on the rear after spending its time in our pocket with two other smartphones.

Despite being a photography-focused phone, the P20 Pro only has two physical controls on the right side: a power and volume rocker. on the left is the microSD tray, while the top of the phone holds the IR blaster. On the bottom is the USB Type-C connector, and two speaker grilles though only the right one spits audio. Sadly there’s no 3.5mm jack, though Huawei does include a 3.5mm adapter that connects via the USB Type-C connector for audio.

The P20 Pro also has IP67 water-proofing which is great, but lacks wireless charging which is not so great. You’d think Huawei would include that particular option considering the price of the phone, but no luck here.

A display with a notch that you can turn off (sort of)

The P20 Pro comes with a 6.1-inch full HD+ OLED display, and a 18.7:9 aspect ratio courtest of a notch at the top of the display. The notch is rather small, and only houses the 24-megapixel selfie camera and the earpiece.

A borderless fingerprint scanner sits directly below the display. Navigation is done via on-screen Android keys, though you can use gestures with the fingerprint scanner to navigate the screen.

While we’re no fans of the notch, we’ve come to accept the one in the P20 Pro as a necessary design compromise to keep Huawei’s design ambition intact. Thankfully you can remove the notch (sort off) via software, which fills the space on either side with black bars, approximating the look of a regular 18:9 phone. It’s a compromise that we can get behind.

As for the actual display, it’s awesome: colors are rich and vibrant, the OLED display doesn’t use a lot of power and blacks are, well, as black as your ex’s heart.

AI-powered Kirin 970 is a welcome addition

Huawei usually introduces a new chipset every time a new Mate smartphone is announced, so it’s not surprising that the P20 Pro still uses the company’s AI-powered Kirin 970. Not that that’s a bad thing, since the 970 has proved itself with the Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro. By this time we’ve used both phones long enough to know that Huawei’s “Born Fast, Stays Fast” tagline has some truth to it, and we expect the same type of performance from the P20 Pro as time moves on. The processor is paired with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, which is non-expandable unfortunately.

The phone feels extremely fast, and just like the Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro, it’s capable of running most apps without any problems. Mobile gaming is no issue, as the GPU in the Kirin 970 chipset is more than capable of running whatever game you like with high frame rates and detail.

Audio hasn’t exactly been the focus of Huawei’s phones in the past, but that’s changed with the P20 Pro at least for its loudspeakers. The P20 Pro is capable of producing a lot of volume for a phone its size, and sound quality from the bottom speaker and the earpiece is actually pretty good. We hate the fact that Huawei tossed the 3.5mm jack for this iteration of their flagship though.

The P20 Pro’s fingerprint scanner is the fastest we’ve seen so far in a phone, and we’ve yet to have any issues with it during our use. The P20 Pro also uses facial recognition to unlock the phone, and just like the fingerprint scanner it’s fast and accurate. We’ve only ever had trouble with it in low-light and during times that the sun (or any sufficiently bright light source) was behind us.

That triple camera isn’t just hype, it actually delivers the goods

Time to talk about that triple camera setup. The P20 Pro has a 40-megapixel Leica color camera module with an f/1.8 aperture, 8-megapixel f/2.4 telephoto rear camera with 3x optical zoom and a 20-megapixel f/1.6 monochrome Leica camera. The color sensor has a size of 1/1.7 inches, bigger than the 1/2.55-inch sensor that’s on the Galaxy S9.

Of the three sensors, only the 3x optical zoom sensor has OIS built-in. The rest use Huawei’s AI-driven stabilization technology which is as effective as hardware-driven image stabilization.

Huawei’s also put in a range of sensors and technology to make sure that every shot you take with the P20 Pro is perfectly focused and exposed. There’s a laser AF that’s effective up to 2 meters, a seperate color sensor for better white balance accuracy, as well as phase detection AF, and depth and contrast detection. Huawei’s AI smarts come into play via a predictive focus that detects movement in a frame and predicts where it’ll be when you shoot.

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That 40-megapixel color sensor isn’t just there to pad the spec sheet, since bigger sensors usually mean better detail when capturing images in low light. Huawei says that the P20 Pro has a max ISO setting of 102,400, capable of taking photos at 1 lux, though that’ll come later on as part of an OTA update to the phone. Right now our review unit is capped at 6400 ISO in Pro mode.

Huawei’s improved on the AI component of their camera, and the P20 Pro has an expanded selection of things and scenes it can recognize and adjust the camera settings for. The camera frequently switched to “blue sky mode” when we were snapping photos of Paris’ amazing architecture that included parts of the sky, for example. It also knows when you’re trying to take a photo of a person (and switches to portrait mode automagically), images of flowers and shrubbery (greenery) and food.

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But the coolest implementation of AI is definitely in the night shooting mode of the phone. This is where the AI stabilization really comes into play. The phone takes several photos in low ISO and low shutter speed and composites them together to make an amazing shots while you’re holding the phone. Not one of the low-light shots above were taken with a tripod, yet they all look like they were stabilized in a vise.

Even better, you can use the night mode of the camera to shoot in other low-light situations, which brings out more detail compared to shooting in automatic. Granted, you’ll be getting more saturated photos out of it though the effect is worth it for some shots. The AI-stabilization also works when you’re recording video, and the phone also has slow-mo capability as well at 960FPS, but only at HD resolution.

As if that wasn’t enough, the phone also has the ability to shoot in 3x zoom and 5x hybrid zoom as well. While the hybrid zoom is technically digital zoom, you wouldn’t have guessed it by looking at the images produced by the camera. The P20 Pro currently has the longest reach of any smartphone today, flagship or otherwise, and the 5x hybrid zoom is insanely useful at taking photos of subjects and locales that are usually out of reach of most smartphones.

The P20 Pro’s selfie game is on point as well, thanks to the 24-megapixel front-facing camera.

Larger battery than most flagships

Huawei’s always made it a point to stuff in big batteries in its flagships, and the P20 Pro is no exception. Despite being slightly thinner than the S9 Plus, the P20 Plus has a massive 4000mAh battery inside of it. That, combined with the power-efficient OLED full HD+ display and Kirin 970 processor built on the 10nm process means that the P20 Pro has enough juice to last you a day and a half of moderate use with a single charge. If you do run out of juice, Huawei’s SuperCharge – their own take on fast charging tech – will fill the phone up with juice in no time.

Verdict: The phone to get if you care about photos

Huawei’s on the verge of a coup with the P20 Pro. While the triple camera may seem a gimmick at first, Huawei’s AI smarts plus clever integration of the three shooters make the phone one of the best around if you’re really serious about mobile photography. Huawei has held nothing back in the camera department when they made the P20 Pro, leveraging heavily on their AI tech. One look at the images produced by the phone tells you that the P20 Pro is simply the best smartphone for capturing images, especially in low light.

The only worrying thing about the P20 Pro is pricing: with a 899 Euro price tag in Europe, it’s more expensive than the iPhone X and the Galaxy S9 Plus. Even if you account for the price difference when the phone’s finally released here (Huawei has typically had lower prices for its flagships in the Philippines compared to Europe), that’s still a lot of coin for a smartphone. Will the P20 Pro’s insane camera performance be enough to sway customers away from Samsung and Apple’s hi-end offerings? Only time (and pre-orders) will tell.

(unbox.ph, https://goo.gl/mP2UgD)

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