It’s easy to see what Huawei are doing. While everyone is grabbing at a seemingly ripe for the picking Apple, the Chinese company is playing a game of deflection. Ape Apple, while taking the fight to your competition on all of their traditional strong points.
What am I talking about? Stack the new Huawei devices against the latest from Samsung and then ask the question again. Sizes are almost identical, but the P20s retain a sensibly placed, front mounted fingerprint sensor/home button. And the pair of devices gain a notch at the top of the display.
The notch is a blatant iPhone X rip-off, but does serve a purpose as a place for the persistent status bar information without encroaching on screen real estate. There’s no notch with a full screen YouTube video, for instance. And the notification shade comes down no matter which side of the notch your pull down from. In short Huawei’s implementation of the camera cut out is there to give the user more display area on screen. It’s a gorgeous design whichever way you slice it and a bold step forward for Huawei.
But the design isn’t the showstopper, it’s the camera. Oh my gosh, it’s the camera.
Building on the AI powers debuted on last year’s Mate 10 Pro, the latest generation Leica-tuned dual camera on the standard P20 benefits from a bigger colour sensor sitting behind an f/1.8 lens and a monochrome sensor with an f/1.6 lens. I’m still confused about mating the wider aperture with the sensor that pulls in more light, but it works well. This is the new reigning monarch of low light photography, unseating even the mighty Samsung Galaxy S9.
It isn’t a straightforward victory, though. Shooting in automatic mode will still see the S9 resolve more from low light conditions because of its processing and f/1.5 aperture, but Huawei leverages the Kirin 970 chipset to enable a Night Mode long exposure setting that works really well when held in hand. You need a steady subject, but the 4-second exposure doesn’t degrade to a blurry mess because of shaky hands.
That processor also lends a hand in the 960 frames per second super slow motion feature. Sony and Samsung achieve this time-stopping feat by building RAM into the camera sensor for the images to buffer. Huawei took the hard road of using faster memory chips and speeding up its processing through hardware acceleration. The setting only records 0,2 second bursts at 720p, but is comparable to Samsung’s implementation on the S9 family.
This is where I’m supposed to start writing about the 5x hybrid zoom on the P20 Pro, you know the feature where Huawei use a combination of cropping into the 40 MP RGB sensor and the 8 MP optical zoom (3x) telephoto camera. It’s a wild solution to a sometimes problem – I really don’t use the zoom when on the iPhones and Galaxys equipped with it – and speaks to Huawei’s absolute dominance in the camera innovation game. But I can’t talk about that because I was gifted the standard P20 because of a regional distribution quirk I don’t fully understand.
But even in basic trim the P20 is far ahead of last year’s range-topping P10 Plus. The design is better, proportions are more palm friendly and the images are far more crisp. And that’s all down to proper use of the Kirin 970 AI prowess as well as improved sensors. I’m also happy to report that the AI assistance in the camera app I hated so much in the Mate 10 Pro can be switched off in settings now. Although, I don’t think you’d want to because it hits the mark much more often than it misses. Plus there are 19 automatic scenes it recognises now, an improvement over last year’s 14, and the system has been upgraded with all the new data gathered on the Mate 10 Pro – it even recognises my Australian Cattle Dog as a dog now.
The standard P20 has the conventional 20 MP monochrome and 12 MP RGB cameras, 4 GB RAM, 128 GB internal storage and only light splash resistance (IP53) versus the P20 Pro’s triple cameras, IP67 rating and 6 GB RAM. P20 Pro also bumps up the screen size and swaps the standard model’s RGBW LCD for an OLED display from LG. My preference for smaller handsets makes me lean a bit more to the compact P20, but I will invest in the P20 Pro to give you a better understanding of the amazing technology.
Huawei did everything expected of it with the P20 and then far exceeded expectations with the P20 Pro. The company has also aligned itself more closely with Google (Messages is the default and only messaging app loaded on the phone and Google Assistant handles voice assistant duties) which is ultimately great for consumers. These are phenomenal devices in a time when every manufacturer is putting out great smartphones.
No, it doesn’t benchmark as well as the devices powered by the latest chipsets, but the great camera + big battery + eye-catching design combination will be tough to beat. And the pricing is surprisingly sensible with R15 900 getting you in the mobile photography pound seats of the P20 Pro. A mere R13 000 buys you a standard P20 (but you could probably get a better deal comparing on pricecheck.co.za).