Huawei P20 Pro: 2018’s Phone Of The Year?

 

Samsung’s and Apple’s flagships were the subject of endless speculation before their launch. Funnily enough, Huawei’s latest, the P20 Pro arrived with minimal fuss. What makes this interesting is that the P20 Pro could be a giant killer.

Since it launched, it has received a tonne of praise from reviewers. This is great news for Huawei because despite being the third biggest phone maker, they’re still perceived as an underdog.

Now, it turns out that Apple and Samsung both have good reason to look worried. The P20 Pro is a veritable mobile powerhouse. It ticks a lot of boxes. In a nutshell, it is as desirable as anything from both Apple and Samsung.

The P20 Pro launched with 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, a slick glass body with an all screen/notch design. Adding to its desirability is its camera. It is, say the camera benchmarking gurus, DxOMark, the best phone shooter available.

The P20 Pro sports a rich set of specs and a design that’s as easy on the eyes as it is comfy to hold. Capping things off, it’s done out in a nano-paint finish that changes colour depending on viewing angles and lighting. There’s also an IP67 rating so it can take a dunking. In short, Huawei has succeeded in giving the P20 Pro a premium look and feel.

There’s been a lot of thought put into the P20 Pro’s design. This became clear as soon as I took it out of its box. Its contoured alloy sides and slightly curved back are comfy in my hand. It sports both a glass front and back, yet feels rigid and solid. That said, a case is a must-have – it won’t bounce if dropped.

Huawei should have called the P20 Pro the Tardis phone. They’ve managed to cram a whopping 4,000mAh battery inside of its petite 7.8mm deep body. This not only confers the P20 Pro with solid battery life but also gives it a satisfying amount of heft. It might have a roomy 6.1” screen on its front but its body is usable one-handed.

There are only two downsides to the P20 Pro’s design. Its rear is a fingerprint magnet and the asymmetric layout of the camera bump means it wobbles when laid flat on its back. That said, both are non-issues when a phone a case is used.

All told, Huawei’s design team deserve kudos. They got a lot right with the P20 Pro. No detail has been overlooked – there’s even a small colour accent on the inside of the power button. When it comes to look and feel, the P20 Pro sets a new benchmark that other phone designers should sit up and take notice of.

There is one design oddity. That’s the front-mounted fingerprint sensor. Earlier Huawei phones housed the sensor on their backs. This made a lot of sense as it was easily accessible and freed up screen real-estate. The front location works but requires a chunky bottom bezel.

Location gripes aside, scanning my dabs was both quick and accurate. A quick tap is all that’s needed to unlock the phone. The fingerprint sensor also acts as a home button.

It turned out, I hardly use the fingerprint sensor. This is because the facial recognition system is accurate, fast and seamless. Picking up the P20 Pro so it can see my mug is enough to switch it out of standby and unlock it. Apple fans might argue that this isn’t as secure as the Face ID baked into the iPhone X, but it who cares, it works. I struggled to trip it up in a multitude of test environments including low light and a lighting source behind me. Each time it worked fine.

Huawei’s EMUI Android user interface skin has come a very long way in a very short time, too. With their earlier efforts, it got in the way and created endless confusion. This latest iteration is a lot like stock Android but with subtle refinements that add rather than detract. I’ve come to like simple but useful features such as a flashlight accessible from the lock screen, or a phone wide search bar. Incorporating Oreo features such as a notification dot on icons plus autocomplete greatly sweetens the deal too.

Huawei have added a notch to the top of the P20 Pro’s display. I was prepared to be disappointed. I wasn’t. The ultra-fast face-unlocking technology more than compensated. If the notch gets to be too much, I also found I could also hide it by switching off the top part of the display.

All told, there is nothing about the P20 Pro’s design that irked me. Huawei have got the P20 Pro’s design right in every way that counts.

The P20 Pro sports an impressive 6.1”, FHD+ AMOLED display. Being AMOLED means that both vividness and contrast levels are superb. A 408 PPI dot pitch also means small fonts are readable.

The stars of the show, however,  are the P20 Pro’s four cameras. On the front is a 24-megapixel selfie cam. Spinning it around reveals a 40-megapixel f/1.8 RGB camera and a 20-megapixel f/1.6 mono snapper. There’s also an 8-megapixel f/2.4 telephoto lens camera. Combined, they deliver a whopping 92 megapixels of image-capture goodness.

So why all the sensors? The explanation is both simple and elegant. An image sensor needs a filter to split light into its red, green and blue component colours. Once split up, they’re captured separately. They’re then re-combined to make up a colour image. This approach works but has a downside. Filtering means some light and detail gets lost. Removing the filter allows for super crisp but monochrome images. Merging a mono (unfiltered) image with its colour (filtered) counterpart results in super crisp photos.

The P20 Pro takes this a step further. As with the Mate 10, the P20 Pro uses AI to adjust camera settings depending on what’s being photographed. Point the cameras at food and it’ll default to its food photography settings. Point it at scenery and you get scenery photo settings and so on. AI is also used to process captured images.

The results are stunning. They’re so impressive that DxOMark gave the P20 Pro’s camera top marks.

There are a few other factors that also come into play. Aside from excellent Leica optics, the P20 Pro’s main image sensor is XXL sized (at 1/1.7” it’s bigger than what is used on the iPhone X). This plus 2?m sensor elements mean that night or low light shots look great. Using manual mode and a tripod also delivers stunning results.

The third rear shooter on the P20 Pro provides 3x optical zoom, or 5x hybrid optical/digital zoom. In use it gave me more composition flexibility without compromising photo detail. Huawei say that the telephoto lens is the only one that’s optically stabilised, although a tear down by ifixit.com found all three rear cameras have optical image stabilisation, it just isn’t enabled on the colour or mono sensors. These instead use what Huawei calls AI stabilisation.

Another win with the P20 Pro is audio. Many smartphone makers ignore audio and obsess about cameras. The P20 Pro’s speaker mightn’t pack a lot of Oonst, but it delivers plenty of volume with little to no distortion.

While there’s no headphone socket, both LDAC and Apt-X support is present. This allows the P20 Pro to deliver high-bitrate Bluetooth audio. If you can tolerate using the bundled USB-C to 3.5mm dongle, there’s also Dolby Atmos which gives audio a good lift. Combined with the excellent AMOLED screen, the P20 Pro is a smoking hot media player.

Last (but by no means least) is battery life. Often overlooked by buyers, battery life has a huge impact on the usability of any smartphone. It’s a standout feature on the P20 Pro. From one charge I managed just under an astonishing 3 days! While this was only with light to moderate use, it is still nonetheless impressive.

Most phones are usually a hair under their stated battery life spec. Huawei seem to have adopted an opposite and somewhat more modest approach. They claim two days of battery life for the P20 Pro, but in my testing, it exceeded this by quite a margin, depending on usage.

While Huawei bundle a fast charger, the P20 Pro lacks wireless charging. While a shame, it isn’t a deal breaker given its super long battery life.

You’d be right to think that I’m impressed with the P20 Pro. It avoids many pointless gimmicks present on so many smartphones and stays focused on delivering where it counts. A killer camera, astonishing battery life and a well-executed design all combine to make the P20 Pro a killer flagship phone. For these reasons I’ve scored it 10 out of 10 and would’ve scored it 11/10 if that were possible. It may be early days, but the P20 Pro is shaping up to be the flagship smartphone of 2018.

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