Huawei P20 review: DeVito to the P20 Pro's Schwarzenegger

The P20 is a fine phone, but it's outshone by both its bigger brother and the competition

Price
£499
  • Snappy performance; AI enhancements; Low price
  • Below average battery life; No wireless charging; Better options on the market

Most flagships launch alongside a 'Plus' model these days and the term doesn't just refer to size; they often come with neat extra features. With the Huawei P20, the larger Pro model has cast a shadow over its smaller sibling thanks to its triple-lens rear camera array, impressive OLED display and greater water resistance rating.

However, if you don't think those extras are worth an extra 200, the smaller P20 is still a neat high-end device and a clear improvement upon the P10 (P's 11 to 19 all seemingly failed to make it out of the Huawei labs).

The P20 is a great smartphone, but how impressive is it next to the Samsung Galaxy S9, the iPhone X or the superb OnePlus 6?

Huawei P20: Design

At first glance, you could mistake the P20 for the iPhone X with its rounded chrome edges and annoying notch at the top of the display, but a closer inspection will tell you that it's even sleeker and more stylish than Apple's handset. The all-glass back has modest Huawei and Leica logos printed in landscape, presumably to highlight Leica's partnership with Huawei in developing the camera.

The device is deceptively compact considering it has such a large screen, and it's easy to operate single handed despite being a little heavy. One reason the P20 is so compact is that there is no 3.5mm headphone jack. Instead, wired audio connectivity is provided via the USB-C charging port, which is flanked on either side by five little speaker holes that give the phone a neat and minimalist finish.

The P20 comes in a regular black which does little for the imagination, a midnight blue that's only a slight improvement and the now-standard pink offering. Most flagships have a rose gold option, but the P20's 'pink gold' variant is particularly eye-catching with its two-tone purple and blue effect.

P20: Display

Unlike the Pro, the P20 has a smaller 1,080 x 2,244 TFT-LCD panel with a pixel density of around 428 PPI, instead of the illuminating OLED display in the Pro. However, the contrast compares well with other phones with IPS screens. It's not the best you can get and colour accuracy is only acceptable, but colour coverage is excellent and it's still bright and vivid enough for quality images and video content - although maybe not for VR, where a higher pixel density remains helpful given the proximity to your eyes.

The panel's brightness peaks at 456cd/m2 making it highly readable in bright conditions. The display also features the ability to automatically set the white balance of the screen depending on the ambient light, similar to Apple's True Tone technology, making it easier on the eyes.

Notches on big displays aren't always welcome (especially in our book) and despite putting one in its flagship device, Huawei has recognised this. So if you don't want a phone that looks like it has a widow's peak, you can go into the settings and have the arches filled in black, which actually makes the icons in the notification bar more visible.

P20: Specs and performance

While the majority of this year's high-end flagships are powered by speedy Snapdragon 845 chips, Huawei has as usual opted for a HiSilicon Kirin CPU. In this case, it's gone for the Kirin 970 processor on the P series, which does put the P20 behind the competition in terms of raw performance.

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However, the Geekbench tests we use for phones are deliberately intensive and given the 1080p screen, it's hard to imagine a scenario where you'd be pushing the processor to its limits.

Both the Galaxy S9 and the iPhone X scored considerably higher on the Geekbench CPU tests for single-core and multi-core tasks, but there is no noticeable lag in the P20's real-world performance and it's perfectly competent for multi-tasking or using intensive apps. It's fast and responsive where it matters, with both the fingerprint reader and the face-unlock feature working instantly.

The P20 has 4GB of RAM and a rather generous helping of built-in storage at 128GB, but this makes up for the fact that there's no microSD card slot, so you won't be able to expand that allocation.

P20: Battery life

The 3,400mAh Battery is below average and only gave us 13hrs 16mins of battery life when tested on a video loop, which, although not much of an improvement on the P10, is not far behind the Galaxy S9 at 14hrs and 38mins and ahead of the iPhone X, which lasted a pitiful 9hrs and 36mins.

On a full charge, it will get you through a working day, but you will struggle to make any late shifts without a charger if you are prone to using your device for multiple tasks and opening lots of tabs. Sadly, there is no wireless charging - perhaps another reason to opt for a Samsung Galaxy S9.

P20: Camera

The P20 doesn't have the Pro's much-hyped triple-rear camera and only offers a Leica dual 12-megapixel colour snapper and a 20-megapixel monochrome sensor, which is used to apply depth-mapping to portraits, capture detailed black and white photos and to improve the appearance of coloured photos as well.

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The specifications are fine: the 12-megapixel camera uses a 1/2.3in sensor with pixels that are 1.55um in size, compared to the Samsung Galaxy S9 which has smaller 1.4um pixels. However, Samsung counters this with a much bright maximum aperture of f/1,5 and results in stunning, vivid photos, whereas the P20 falls significantly short with pictures lacking in sharpness and having softer edges.

But it's not all bad; the P20's built-in A.I. is put to good use on the camera with image and scene recognition. It's particularly useful when recognising text, an example of which is the ability to capture business cards and upload them to your contacts without having to type in their details.

P20: Features

There are some surprising features on the P20 - ones that have strangely not received much mention in its marketing, but which actually make this device much more attractive.

For example, by hooking the device up to a monitor via USB-C to HDMI cable, you can transform the P20 into a desktop PC and mirror your display or work in dual screen mode without the need to buy a docking station like Samsung's DeX.

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You can add a keyboard and mouse via a hub or over Bluetooth, and like the DeX Pad, the P20 can be used as a trackpad. While this is not for everyone, it is a small step towards having one machine for everything.

Most apps work well on the bigger screen and appear in the same style as desktop applications. Gaming and streaming apps transfer the best, with Netflix and iPlayer looking just as good as they do on your TV.

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One of the other clever AI functions Huawei has included in the P20 is that it can distinguish between your voice and background noise and drown the latter out for clearer phone calls. We tested out this feature on one of London's busiest streets, where there was a loud busker, and it worked like a charm in drowning out the excess noise completely.

For those that are on the go, it only has a comparatively low IP53 dust and water resistance rating, which means it's fine for rainy weather but not for dropping in puddles or toilets.

P20: Verdict

It's stylish, it's quick, it's packed with useful features and it's relatively cheap at 599 - but ultimately it's the runt of this year's flagship offerings. This isn't even the best Huawei phone of 2018; the Mate 10, released earlier in the year, is a cheaper phone that has a better battery. And, as we have already mentioned, it is vastly inferior to its bigger sibling. The P20 range is like the 1988 classic Twins; if the P20 Pro is Schwarzenegger, then the regular P20 is most certainly Danny DeVito.

If you want something that looks like an iPhone X for half the price, then the P20 is the device for you, but for a little extra cash, you could have the Galaxy S9 or even the P20 Pro, both of which are superior phones. However, if you don't want to go above the 500 mark, the OnePlus 6 is also a better option.

Huawei has made solid improvements to the P series, but having put the majority of them into the Pro, the P20 is a bit of a disappointment.

Verdict

The P series is improving and the P20 is an impressive device, but its still behind the likes of Apple and Samsung and having made the Pro so vastly superior, Huawei leaves us to wonder why you should buy the P20.

ProcessorOcta-core 2.4GHz Hisilicon Kirin 970
Screen size5.8in
Screen resolution2,244 x 1,080
Rear camera12-megapixel, 20-megapixel
Storage (free)128GB
Wireless data4G
Dimensions149x70.8x7.7mm
Weight165g
Operating systemAndroid 8.1
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