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Huawei P20 Pro

Huawei P20 Pro review: The triple-camera smartphone

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
799

Huawei’s P20 Pro has three cameras, but is that really necessary?

Pros 
Excellent camera setup
Stunning new design
Long-lasting battery life
Cons 
More expensive than Huawei P10 Plus
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Following the news that Google has been ordered to stop working with Huawei after the Chinese phone maker was added to a list of companies banned in the US, the P20 Pro's future remains unclear. At the time of writing, this means that future Huawei handsets won't support the officially-licensed version of Android, and will have to make do without Google's first-party apps such as the Play Store and Google Maps. 

As for current Huawei handsets, Huawei has revealed that it will be bringing the Android Q update to the P20 Pro, in addition to "popular current devices", despite the ongoing trade ban. There's no word yet on when this update might drop, but you can see the full list of Huawei phones that are set to receive the Android Q upgrade in our dedicated Huawei ban article

Regardless, we're currently recommending staying away from Huawei's handsets for the time being just in case, at least until we receive more official information about the future of the company's relationship with the US. This is especially a shame, as you can currently pick up a Huawei P20 Pro for roughly £370 on Amazon right now, which isn't a bad price at all. 

Our original Huawei P20 Pro review continues below

Huawei P20 Pro review

Dual-camera smartphones are now as commonplace as OLED screens, octa-core processors and (sob) the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack. With secondary lenses each adding their own unique attributes such as extra zoom capabilities or added depth to your Instagram vanity shots, where can smartphone photography possibly head next?

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Huawei believes that adding another camera to the mix is precisely the thing to get futurists hot under the collar. Equipped with a total of three rear-facing cameras, the Huawei P20 Pro is far from your bog-standard smartphone flagship but is the addition of a third camera really as important as Huawei suggests?

Huawei P20 Pro review: What you need to know

Huawei’s P20 Pro is the Chinese firm’s latest big-screened flagship smartphone. The successor to last year’s P10 Plus has changed a great deal in only 12 months. It’s now equipped with a 6.1in, 18.7:9 OLED FHD+ (2,240 x 1,080) resolution display and, as you can see from my comparison pictures with the P10 Plus, it's a dramatic-looking difference.

The triple camera arrangement is the star of the show, though. The P20 Pro’s trifecta of Leica-branded rear-facing cameras includes one 40-megapixel RGB unit, one that captures 20-megapixel monochrome images and another that delivers 8-megapixel telephoto shots. The phone is powered by Huawei’s own octa-core 2.4GHz HiSilicon Kirin 970 processor, has 6GB of RAM and 128GB of non-expandable storage.

Huawei P20 Pro review: UK price and competition

Launching for £799 SIM-free, the P20 Pro is £120 more expensive than the Huawei P10 Plus’ original launch price last year (you can pick one up now for only £449).

As for competition, it’s up against the full gamut of current smartphone flagships, including Google’s Pixel 2 XL (£629), Samsung’s Galaxy S9 Plus (£869) and Apple’s pricey iPhone X (£949). The regular-sized Huawei P20 is a (slightly) cheaper alternative at £599, too.

Huawei P20 Pro review: Design and key features

Aside from the camera, the biggest change over the Huawei P10 lies in the P20 Pro’s improved physical appearance, which is uncannily iPhone X-like in design. Heck, its 18.7:9 display even has a notch eating away at the screen at the top – although it’s roughly a third the size of Apple’s version – and the vertical camera arrangement on the rear has a ring of similarity about it as well.

The P20 Pro is covered in smooth, curved glass with chrome-coated sides. Two of the phone’s colour choices – twilight and pink gold – have an ombré-style rear, with the colour gradient subtly changing from top to bottom. The other two colours – champagne gold and black – aren’t quite as fancy.

Huawei has opted for a front-facing fingerprint sensor embedded in the home button below the screen. Extra functions can be added with long presses returning you to the home screen and left swipes bringing up recent apps. It’s a handy feature but you’ll likely stick to the default on-screen navigation bar.

On the right edge of the phone is the power button and volume rocker, while the nano-SIM tray is on the left. There’s nothing on top but a USB Type-C charging port sits between dual speaker grilles on the bottom. The phone is also IP67 dust- and water-resistant.

Huawei P20 Pro review: Porsche Design Mate RS

There's also going to be a Porsche Design version of the Huawei P20 Pro (isn't there always?), dubbed the Porsche Design Mate RS. The Mate RS is the P20 Pro in everything but name, price (it's hideously expensive at €1,695 for the 256GB version and €2,095 for the 512GB model) and a couple of small design tweaks.

It has the same triple camera array – just in the centre of the phone rather than the corner – and it comes with a huge 512GB of internal storage. Perhaps the most interesting feature on the Porsche Design Mate RS, though, is that it has a fingerprint reader beneath the display at the front as well as a regular rear-mounted one.

Huawei P20 Pro review: Display

The fancy edge-to-edge display isn’t a first for Huawei. The Mate 10 Pro did this last year – but it is the first time a screen like it has made an appearance on the firm’s P-branded flagship.

Measuring 6.1in from rounded corner to rounded corner, the FHD+ (2,240 x 1,080) resolution display is gorgeous. The screen covers 99.9% of the sRGB colour gamut space on the “Normal” display mode according to our display colorimeter, with an average Delta E of 1.11, which means you can expect excellent colour reproduction across the entire palette.

The screen’s OLED panel also delivers unbeatable contrast levels – our colorimeter reported a perfect score and the P20 Pro’s maximum brightness is capable of reaching a sunlight-friendly 387cd/m2. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this display, let’s move on.

Huawei P20 Pro review: Performance and battery life

Huawei’s latest phone also receives a healthy update to its internals, with the P20 Pro packing an octa-core HiSilicon Kirin 970 chip clocked at 2.4GHz, paired with 6GB of RAM. There’s a generous 128GB of on-board storage too, although this isn't expandable via microSD.

Performance-wise, everything is up to snuff. The P20 Pro achieved a single-core Geekbench 4 result of 1,919 and a multi-core score of 6,806 – 8% performance improvements over last year’s P10 Plus. While it still lags behind the Samsung Galaxy S9 on this front, the Huawei P20 Pro is still more than capable of tackling any Android application you throw at it.

It’s a similar story with GPU performance. Running GFX Bench’s on-screen and off-screen Manhattan 3.0 test, the Huawei P20 Pro achieved average frame rates of 55fps and 65fps at native resolution.

The introduction of a 4,000mAh battery has obvious benefits, too. With the screen set to our standard 170cd/m2 brightness and flight mode engaged, we were able to watch 14hrs 35mins of video before battery levels fell flat – a better score than last year and similar stamina to the Galaxy S9 Plus.

Huawei P20 Pro review: Triple cameras

Okay, let’s move on to Huawei’s coup de grâce: that triple camera setup. This unusual camera arrangement may sound confusing but it’s actually rather simple. The standard 40-megapixel RGB camera and 20-megapixel monochrome camera work together just like the dual-camera pairing on the Huawei P10 to deliver images of greater dynamic range with lower noise than would otherwise be possible with a single camera, while the monochrome sensor captures detail-rich black and white photographs.

The third camera – an 8-megapixel 3x telephoto lens (80mm equivalent focal length) – merely adds optical zoom. Notably, this is the only lens that’s optically stabilised.

And that’s about all there is to it.

What’s much more impressive is the P20 Pro is capable of capturing images at a maximum 102,400 ISO sensitivity; the aim being to produce better pictures in darker conditions. So dark, in fact, that Huawei claims the P20 Pro can take decent images in lighting conditions of only 1 lux.

There are software improvements to the camera as well, including "AI" image stabilisation, which allows you to shoot four-second long exposure images with little handshake or blur. It’s a technique that works surprisingly well, with the phone capturing detail-rich images in low-light, without too much visual noise.

Image quality is exceptional, too. No matter the lighting conditions, the Pro’s triple cameras are perfectly capable of capturing intricate details such as wispy cloud layers, far off brickwork and puddle reflections with ease. In fact, the pictures I snapped at the launch event for the phone around Paris are among the best I’ve ever taken on any type of camera. This camera on this phone is just great – and you can see for yourself, below.

The camera isn’t entirely perfect. however. Finer details are frequently lost due to the phone’s tendency to overprocess images in a bid to reduce visual noise. The Pro does also struggle in some instances with automatic exposure levels. Photographs are often slightly underexposed in the phone’s default auto shooting mode but in these cases it’s relatively easy to compensate using the on-screen exposure compensation tool.

Directly compare with the Galaxy S9, though, and you can see that both phones are capable of capturing just as many intricate details, with only a few discernible differences between the P20 Pro and Samsung’s standard-bearer.

The P20 Pro is also capable of super-slow motion video recording at 960fps. Just as with the Samsung Galaxy S9, the maximum resolution in this mode is capped at 720p. However, the Sony Xperia XZ2 is capable of besting the both of them – recording slow-motion footage at Full HD resolution.

This mode on the P20 Pro doesn’t benefit from motion detection either, so you have to press the shutter button at the precise moment you want the slow-motion to start, which makes it very tricky to set up shots.

The regular video mode does have 4D predictive focus, however, which helps with live video object tracking but this leads me to the camera’s big weakness – video capture. This is not a moan about quality because that’s great; it’s a gripe about features. While the P20 Pro can capture 4K video, it can’t do it at 60fps – only 30fps and you’re limited to unstabilised footage even here. And while you can shoot 1080p video at 60fps, that’s also not stabilised. In fact, the phone’s video stabilisation feature only comes into play at 1080p 30fps.

Apple’s current iPhones both streets ahead on this front, allowing owners to shoot 4K at a smooth 60fps fully stabilised.

Huawei P20 Pro review: Verdict

So, is that triple camera setup really necessary? Well, yes, but even after more than two weeks with the handset, I feel I need more time with Huawei’s latest flagship to draw any firm conclusions about its intriguing new camera getup. Following my time with the phone, though, there’s no doubt that it offers an interesting new proposition for the avid smartphone photographer but it does have its weaknesses, too.

In general, though, the Huawei P20 Pro is an exceptional smartphone. As we saw with the Mate 10 Pro last year, Huawei is really stepping things up a gear with its smartphones and the Huawei P20 Pro is no exception. It not only has a fresh new look but also internal improvements and an intriguing new camera. This is 2018's most interesting smartphone, no doubt.

Hardware
ProcessorOcta-core 2.4GHz Hisilicon Kirin 970
RAM6GB
Screen size6.1in
Screen resolution2,244 x 1,080
Screen typeAMOLED
Front camera24-megapixel
Rear camera40-megapixel, 20-megapixel, 8-megapixel
FlashDual-LED
GPSYes
CompassYes
Storage (free)128GB
Memory card slot (supplied)N/A
Wi-Fi802.11ac
Bluetooth4.2
NFCYes
Wireless data4G
Dimensions155 x 73.9 x 7.8 mm
Weight180g
Features
Operating systemAndroid 8.1
Battery size4,000mAh

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