Huawei P20 Pro review

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Huawei P20 Pro review

Paying this much for a Huawei phone may seem a tough sell. But great battery life, top specs and the most compelling use of computational photography seen in a phone yet make the Huawei P20 Pro one of the most interesting phones available.

The Huawei P20 Pro is one of a growing number of mega-phones. We’re not talking about the speakers that protesters chant into, but very expensive phones that incorporate new tech, for those willing to pay big for it.

Top rivals in this class include the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus and iPhone X. Huawei may be the least powerful brand of the three, but the cost is lower too.

For the Huawei P20 Pro’s price you could only get a 64GB iPhone 8 Plus, not an iPhone X. There are some quirks to the Huawei design and software to get used to in return. 

However, the remarkable work done on the camera makes this the most versatile phone photo-shooter out there, regardless of price.

The Huawei P20 Pro is on sale in the UK from April 6 at a cost of £799 (around $1,110, AU$1,450), however it’s not set to be sold in the US and there’s no confirmation yet of Australian availability.

If you’re interested in the Huawei P20 Pro, there’s a good chance it’s because of the camera array. There are three cameras on the back, one 40MP main sensor, a 20MP black and white one and a 3x zoom 8MP camera.

You can shoot at 3x without digital zoom, and even get good results at 5x. The real star here is low light performance, though. Standard night shooting just about matches the best, but a dedicated night mode lets you take low light shots with dynamic range to rival an APS-C DSLR.

The Huawei P20 Pro also has a very high-resolution 24MP front camera for detailed selfies and reliable face unlocking.

Other parts of the phone are a little more conventional. We get the Kirin 970 CPU used in the Huawei Mate 10, 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage.

Like other recent higher-end Huawei phones, the P20 Pro makes quite an impact with its highly reflective glass finish. And it has a much larger battery than most, 4,000mAh, without any obvious added bulk to the shell.

Huawei has clearly tried very hard with this phone. The result is a mobile more interesting than the Samsung Galaxy S9 or S9 Plus, particularly if you’ll make full use of the camera’s high-end features.

‘Shiny’ is the word that sums up the Huawei P20 Pro’s design best. Yes, it’s big. Yes, it has a notch. But sheer reflective spangliness makes this phone stand out.

It’s two big plates of rounded-off Gorilla Glass with a filling of metal finishing off its sides. This metal is aluminium, but it has a polished rather than anodized finish, and looks more like steel.

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For the most part you’ll probably see the black and blue versions of the Huawei P20 Pro sold in the UK, but there’s also the more eye-catching gradient version. Purple at the top turns smoothly to a greenish-turquoise at the bottom, the sort of finish you see more often on a supercar than a phone.

This will be a bit of an audience-divider. If you find it a bit much, the other finishes are lower key. All are highly reflective, though. The Huawei P20 Pro is also a little prone to fingerprint smudges and the slightly raised camera housing picks up dust fairly quickly.

The Huawei P20 Pro has a larger battery than its peers, but you can’t tell from its feel. This phone is actually slimmer and lighter than the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus at just 7.8mm thick.

However, the Samsung does a slightly better job of appearing to be ‘all screen’ front-on, because the Huawei’s screen does not curve around at the sides. Only the glass does, and just the last millimeter or so at that.

The Huawei P20 Pro – along with the standard Huawei P20 – is also the first Huawei phone with a notch, the display cut-out made famous by the iPhone X. Apple’s excuse for the notch is it is required for all the tech used for the phone’s face unlock feature: a normal camera, an IR camera, a dot projector, proximity sensor and more.

Huawei doesn’t have quite as good an excuse, as there’s just a high-res camera and speaker on the Huawei P20 Pro’s front. However, the notch is smaller. Notches may end up being a Crocs-grade “what were we thinking” move in hindsight, but they seem to be in fashion right now.

You’ll most likely forget it’s there after a couple of days, particularly as when watching standard 16:9 video there are black bars where the notch sits anyway.

Huawei has also followed another trend, as the Huawei P20 Pro does not have a headphone jack. You get a USB-C to 3.5mm adaptor in the box, or you can use wireless headphones. We would, obviously, prefer a real jack.

The phone is water resistant to IP67, meaning it can handle submersion in one meter of fresh water for 30 minutes. But don’t start dunking it for fun.

There’s a fingerprint scanner below the Huawei P20 Pro’s display and, like those of every recent higher-end Huawei, it’s extremely fast. It takes you to the home screen in a heartbeat.

Its face unlock is exceptionally fast too. Rather than using clever IR techniques like the iPhone X, the Huawei P20 Pro simply reads the high-resolution feed from its front camera to recognize your face.

It works, in our experience, every time. And even holds up well in lower light. This does suggest it is built for speed rather than security, though.

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You don’t even need to press the power button to make Face Unlock work. While there’s no proximity sensor to tell when your face is in front of the screen, the Huawei P20 Pro’s gyroscope senses when the phone has been picked up, or taken out of your pocket. It then immediately starts scanning for your face.

As Huawei’s phones still don’t have the innate desirability of a Samsung or Apple, raw outer hardware was never going to be the top selling point of the Huawei P20 Pro. However, Huawei has done well here. The phone feels and looks expensive, and about as slim and light as we could hope for given its screen size.

Like most other high-end Huawei phones, the P20 Pro does not have the highest display resolution in its class. This is a 1080 x 2244 AMOLED screen.

The numbers sound unusual, but this is really just a Full HD screen stretched out to an 18.7:9 aspect ratio. That’s right, it’s even ‘wider’ (or longer) than most other 18:9 screen phones.

Pixel density of 408ppi isn’t even close to the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus’s 529ppi. The only time you’re likely to notice though is when using a phone-based VR headset. And if that fad isn’t dead, it is at least dormant.

Okay, if you look close you can see slight evidence of the PenTile fizz that affects Samsung OLEDs that don’t have insane pixel density. This is caused by Samsung OLED’s pixels sharing sub-pixels, reducing perceived resolution a bit.

The Huawei P20 Pro’s display quality is excellent though. Blacks are perfect, there’s minimal blue cast when the phone is tilted, which affects some less advanced OLED displays.

You also have a choice of color profiles. Standard color looks a little more saturated than old industry standard sRGB, but offers a fairly natural, relaxed look. Vivid color deepens tones a little, with a slight subtlety trade-off.

Like other Huawei phones, you can also tune the color temperature to your liking, although the default setting is pleasant.

The Huawei P20 Pro also has a few more unusual tweaks. Its display can change the color temperature on the fly to suit ambient light conditions and the top part of the screen can be blacked out to completely hide the notch. This looks particularly neat as this little area can still be used for notification icons when blacked out.

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