Launched in the UK last week, the Huawei P20 Pro is the most well-designed piece of hardware the company has yet created. Just look at it. All sleek and silky smooth, with long glassy lines and a pearlescent, polished metal finish. Huawei might lag way behind Apple and Samsung in terms of brand desirability, and ease of pronunciation, but it’s neck and neck in terms of capability and design aesthetics.
The P20 Pro – like almost every other new high-end smartphone – imitates the conspicuous notch of the iPhone X, that odd little moustache at the top of the screen that houses the front-facing camera and a speaker. Unlike the iPhone however, which has a uniformly thin bezel all around, the P20 Pro has a noticeably chunkier bottom bezel (a feature the industry has decided to name a “chin”) to house its fingerprint scanner. Top-end, kitchen-sink phones are all about chins and notches now, so get used to saying those words. The upcoming OnePlus 6 is rumoured to have a notch and no chin, for example, and ZTE is even working on a chinless phone with two notches, one at the top and one at the bottom.
Flip the P20 Pro around and, once your eyes adjust to all that gnarly purple-green bedazzlement, you’ll spy no fewer than three cameras adorning the rear. While this would seem to be altogether too many cameras, the phone uses them all in conjunction with one another – with the help of some clever software – to produce some outstanding photography.
In Night Mode the P20 Pro can shoot long exposures of still scenes, soaking up several seconds worth of photons while somehow mitigating hand-shakiness, and spitting out remarkably clear night-time images. One of the lenses, I won’t pretend to know which, facilitates an impressive 3x optical zoom. Another is a black-and-white sensor that allows the main lens to gather more detail in terms of contrast and sharpness. Which is to say that the P20 Pro is a brilliant camera in a wide range of situations, if not quite up there with the Pixel 2 XL and Samsung Galaxy S9.
A longstanding issue with Huawei phones has been its frightfully tacky EMUI operating system, which over the years has evolved from the interface equivalent of a knock-off Burberry handbag, to a shameless but decent iOS clone. In the P20 Pro, the software is better and less ostentatious than ever, running a custom Android OS that’s subtle enough to complement the refined styling of the hardware that houses it. There are still some quirks and hangovers – labyrinthine menu screens and an incongruous camera interface to name two – but it’s no longer an OS that has you mildly embarrassed to unlock your phone screen.
The P20 Pro features whip-fast face unlocking too, outpacing the iPhone X by using the gyroscopic sensor to know when the phone’s been picked up, and then scanning constantly for a face that it recognises. That high-speed unlocking suggests there are fewer security checks happening in the background (also evidenced by the fingerprint scanner still being used for more sensitive kinds of verification) but it’s convenient for everyday use, and works in the dark to boot.
Huawei always gets the basics right, and so fundamentals like battery life and screen quality have been nailed. You’d have to work extra hard to run the juice down by bedtime (I ended most days with around 50 per cent battery). And while those with an eye for fine detail will fret at a barely perceptible pixelation around the screen’s curved corners, the overall quality of the display is high, with none of the lurid saturation of the S9, nor the earthy-dull tones of the Pixel 2.
At £799 the price is right. The P20 Pro is Huawei’s best phone yet, marking a maturation of the company’s style and sensibility that’s been a long time in the making. If you’re cool with the notch (and even if you’re not – it can be concealed with a black bar on-screen), the P20 Pro is a phone that stacks up against leading rivals, and makes clear in-roads with our Apple-minded western tastes.
Price and website:
Release date: April 6 (UK)
Type: HUAWEI Kirin 970
Frequency: 4x2.36GHz (Cortex A73), 4x1.8GHz (Cortex A53)
Android 8.1, EMUI 8.1
Internal: 6GB RAM, 128GB Flash
Rear: Leica Triple Camera, 40MP RGB f1.8, 20MP BW f1.6, 8MP RGB f2.4, 5x Hybrid Zoom, AIS, dual-tone LED
Front: 24MP, f2.0
Charging time: about 1.5h
Standby: about 22 days
Talk time: about 25h
WiFi: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, 2.4GHz&5GHz
Bluetooth®: BT 4.2, aptX™, aptX™ HD, LDAC and HWA are supported
USB connector: USB Type-CTM
USB type: USB Type-CTM, USB 3.1 Gen 1
USB features: OTG, MTP, PTP, Audio, PD, DP, Charging
Product (including battery): 180 grams
Box and product (including battery): 515 grams