Technology

Huawei P20 Pro: A power-packed smartphone with a DSLR in your pocket

Every Android smartphone maker always outdoes another with not only improved specs, but also improving their camera systems. How does Huawei's new P20 Pro flagship stack up against the competition?

Disclaimer: I was invited to Huawei’s Qatar launch event in May 2018. The phone was given to me as a gift. All opinions and views are my own

Major global smartphone brands have unveiled their new devices at flagship keynote events in major cities like New York and London. Though they are a staple for generating global awareness and publicity for any brand, some also supplement it with a more localised approach in introducing their devices to the market (for a quick comparison, Huawei’s Consumer CEO unveiled the Mate 9 at their CES 2017 keynote; it was already available for purchase in Qatar after its local launch weeks before CES 2017). That’s how Huawei works when they bring out their latest smartphones to the market.

With their new flagship smartphone, I decided to put the Huawei P20 Pro through its paces for at least two months, giving it a thorough workout on how it handles my daily routine from handling the most mundane to even the power-hungry and intensive use apps.

Easy setup and go

Transferring everything from my current Android smartphone (Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge) was seamless and without any hitches using the Huawei Cloud app. I was able to start using the P20 Pro as if I never even switched to a device, though some Samsung apps would just crash. It didn’t bother me that much, and I was already using it as my main go-to pocket organizer.

Using the Huawei Clone app, I was easily able to move items off my previous phone to the P20 Pro
Using the Huawei Clone app, I was easily able to move items off my previous phone to the P20 Pro. I was up and running as if I never switched phones.

Just like how Apple removed the headphone jack many others followed, Huawei followed suit as well but with one additional benefit – they’ve embraced USB type-C that provides both audio output and charging. At least someone has chosen to embrace an industry standard and ubiquitous port rather than a custom socket.

You’re probably thinking how do you even use my favourite wired headphones with the P20 Pro. Huawei has you covered with a bundled 3.5mm to USB Type-C adapter to solve that problem. Want to avoid the adapter? You can also use the bundled USB Type-C headphones, but I doubt true audio aficionados would swear by their audio clarity. However, you’ll won’t be able to charge the P20 Pro and listen to music using wired headphones at the same time.

The bottom of the Huawei P20 Pro. Notice that there's no dedicated headphone jack, but they've embraced USB Type-C to provide both audio and power charging
The bottom of the Huawei P20 Pro. Notice that there’s no dedicated headphone jack, but they’ve embraced USB Type-C to provide both audio and power charging

Power at your fingertips

All that performance and efficiency has to be located somewhere, and the circuitry leads to Huawei’s custom SoC Kirin 970 chipset. An octa-core setup where half the cores are high-performance and the other half is the power-efficient ones, making it easy to load balance depending on the task and apps being used without draining your battery. Why would you want to use the high-performance cores for something simple as checking emails or instant messaging, when the power-efficient ones would the job even better and still keep you connected?

Seeing that some level of AI is already being tapped by other smartphone makers, this chipset comes with its own NPU (Neural Processing Unit) to help offload AI-related tasks. It may sound like a gimmick, but this NPU plays a role in the Leica-powered camera system and to keep the P20 Pro running like a new machine.

All that hardware performance is glued together with Android 8.1 (Oreo) and wrapped around Huawei’s custom EMUI launcher theme. It looks clean and quite responsive, and I bet Huawei optimized it to work well with the P20 Pro’s specifications.

Face unlock is actually faster than the iPhone X. Even if you give the benefit of the doubt, I’ve found it snappier to unlock the P20 Pro with my face and I’m sure that the built-in NPU inside the Kirin 970 chipset plays a vital role in this.

Smartphone photography like a DSLR

Huawei made the smart choice of partnering with a renowned name like Leica for their camera system. Why reinvent the wheel, when you can partner with an industry leader and tap into their expertise in one field in exchange for knowledge on miniaturization?

Apple may have introduced the two-camera system with the iPhone 6 Plus, but Huawei takes it further with a three-camera system co-engineered by Leica – an 8 MP telephoto @ f/2.4, a 40MP main lens @ f/1.8, and a 20MP monochromatic lens @ f/1.6. It almost looks like you’re carrying three cameras with you, but fits in one thin chassis. The front-facing camera is a 24MP f/2.0 sensor, which should make your selfies look even better.

In addition to still photography, you can also capture video in FullHD (1920 x 1080 px) and 4K. I’ll tell you this that video footage still looks great, and I’ve got the IG TV videos to prove it.

I’ve been astounded by the quality from the photos I’ve captured, especially when the built-in AI optimizes the settings to preserve the details or help pop-out colours based on the scene.┬áDon’t believe me? See the below gallery for yourself, untouched and taken directly from the device.

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Working cohesively with the Kirin 970’s built-in NPU, the camera easily corrects colours and sharpens other details so that you can easily capture that moment in pristine detail. This works for both daytime and nighttime scenes, and you c an easily toggle the option if you don’t like it.

Since Apple introduced the DSLR-like Portrait mode as a beta with the iPhone 7, so many others have worked to implement their own version and you’ll definitely find one here. It works on both the rear and front-facing cameras, and you’ll be surprised by the results.

The real test also comes in night scenes, and the below image from my recent trip to Penang easily shows the vivid detail on land and up in the sky. I could barely see any grainy noise, a by-product of low light scenes when you bump up the ISO sensitivity.

My only gripe is with the native Camera app, cause some of the functions are hidden away rather than being quickly accessible when I need them (Monochrome option requires me to swipe and then select it). Minor gaffe, but I’d love to have things easily reachable when I would unexpectedly need them.

You’ll also have to contend with the camera bump in the back, but the complimentary plastic case easily makes it flush by adding some extra thickness in the back.

Still runs like its a new device

Majority of us perceive that our phones start slowing down after some time, and you would point your finger towards all the photos/videos and apps stored on it. You would likely blame the OS for it due to software updates, but I haven’t experienced one bit of sluggishness nor slowdown after these many months. Even with all the official OS updates released by Huawei, the P20 Pro still runs fresh as if I just unboxed it.

The built-in NPU is likely learning from my usage habits, ensuring that I don’t perceive any slowdowns when I use the P20 Pro cause it keeps a log of which apps I use so that they are prioritized. I guess this makes it an ‘intelligent phone’.

20180519_135047993_P20 Pro back

Don’t get me started on the battery life – it lasted me for a whole day when I used in the following scenarios: mobile hotspot for 2+ devices (when I’m not near any Wi-fi networks), checking up on emails and social media accounts, snapping some photos and videos, editing photos and videos, syncing my Fitbit Charge 2 via Bluetooth, and playing about 3 different games. I’d end up having about 12% remaining before I go to bed and just see 1% used when I wake up the next day.

What’s my verdict?

First-time users would be intimidated by the sheer feature set packed into this smartphone, yet equally excited to explore every submenu and app. My recommendation is to be patient, as the phone learns from you while you learn more about the phone.

I still feel that I’ve only scratched the surface of the Huawei P20 Pro, in spite of using it as my everyday phone. It does have the notch, but that can easily be covered with a simple toggle switch in Settings.

If you want a powerful Android device that will still be your trusty camera wherever you go, don’t question the P20 Pro and just dive in. You’ll probably be dazzled at all the photos you capture, and how much work you accomplish while on the move.

Here is what lies inside the box when you buy the Huawei P20 Pro:

  • Huawei P20 Pro smartphone
  • A transparent plastic case for the Huawei P20 Pro
  • SIM card pin tool
  • A 3.5mm to USB Type-C adapter
  • USB Type-C to USB type-A cable
  • UK-standard wall outlet power adapter
  • Headphones
  • Quick start guide
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