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Huawei P20 Review - The BEST Affordable Flagship for Photography?

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In our first impressions, we called the P20 Huawei's answer to the affordable flagship niche with nearly all of the P20 Pro features for PHP 10K less!
Huawei P20 Review - The BEST Affordable Flagship for Photography?
The BEST affordable flagship for Photography?


Display Quality

Bright display with a small notch
Bright display with a small notch

The P20's IPS 5.8-inch FHD+ 2244 x 1080 resolution w/ 3D curved glass and Gorilla Glass protection at 428 ppi is wide. Really wide. I came from the Huawei Mate 10 and honestly, I thank Huawei for using the 19 by 9 aspect ratio as it is a lot easier to hold the phone with one hand.

The IPS display is vibrant, bright and sharp. It is bright enough to be visible under direct sunlight and can be dim enough to be readable at night.

It is one of the few flagships that don't rock a QHD display but honestly, we would give up the extra resolution for the better battery performance, any day.

There is  a small notch on top that contains the earpiece/speaker, notification light and selfie camera. The side has almost no bezels; however, the bottom has a bezel to fit the fingerprint reader in.

Huawei offers the option to lower the resolution to HD+ should you want to save more on battery. It even has the smart resolution mode where it lowers it automatically if you don't need the 1080p resolution.

It has a 10 point multi touch display that is quick, accurate, and responsive  that we've never had problems or concerns with the touch gestures.

Audio Quality

The P20 has two speaker grills at the bottom but only the right side works. The other speaker is at the notch where earpiece is. The bottom speaker is noticeably more powerful but the second speaker adds that stereo effect that gives out a better listening experience.

Even though the speaker at the bottom can be muffled when a finger covers the speaker grills, at max volume it can still be heard.

The details are clean and crisp with good emphasis on bass and mids. The trebles are acceptable. This is one of the better speakers in a phone in a while. A little bit of improvement and it can catch up with the Mate 10 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S9+'s stereo speakers.

Huawei never mentioned the DAC that was installed in the phone though when used with the stock USB Type-C headphones, we were very happy with the experience.

I just wish the sound stage to be bigger.

Again, it needs some tweaking to be on par with the Samsung Galaxy S9+'s AKG earphones. This doesn't mean it's bad, it's very good. It is just when compared to the S9+, it can reach it if tweaked some more.

With the dongle, it can power My RHA S500i and produce beautiful and balanced audio experience with a wide range.

It was so loud that we maintained a 50% to 60% volume when using our third party earphones.

The mids, trebles and bass are balanced while the sound is punchy with good separation, isolation and clarity. 

The phones dual microphone setup is great for calls and decent for recording voices. It isn't the best but it is better than the average.

Battery Life

Huawei P20 battery life
Huawei P20 battery life
The P20 has great battery life! Not once has it died on me or went passed the 10% battery mark on a busy workday with LTE, messenger, social media, texting, calling, YouTube streaming and Chrome surfing. I comfortably go through my day with 15 to 20% battery left after unplugging at 8AM and getting home at 7PM.

The P20 has great battery life!

We ran the PC Mark Battery and we got under 10 hours which is consistent with heavy LTE usage. We can't emphasise enough how good it is to have a flagship that actually lasts through your day.

The Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro were the first phones to be awarded the TÜV Rheinland certified Super Charge tech. This means that not only do they charge fast but they passed rigorous safety standards like multiple drop tests, massive temperature changes and the like. 

It also has the A.I. studying your smartphone behavioural use. It will then notify you of apps that are consuming more power than usual. It will also turn off apps you left open when the phone is left idle.

Huawei's Super Charge is second only to Dash Charge tech in speed!

It comes with the Huawei Super Charge with 5V, 4.5A or 4.5V, 5A charger that charges the phone under 90 minutes. It is second only to Dash Charging from OnePlus and it never gets warm when charging!

Camera

Dual Leica cameras
Dual Leica cameras

The P20 has the 20MP f/1.6 monochrome sensor + 12MP f/1.8 RGB sensor dual Leica camera set up with 4D predictive focus, AIS, 5x zoom, 4K video recording, 960 fps slow motion, and dual tone LED flash.
Camera features
Camera features

It includes modes like time-lapse, watermark, panorama, HDR, 3D panorama, slow-mo, pro mode and filter. 
Pro mode
Pro mode

Our favorites are light painting and the document scanner. Light painting allows you can create light trails from traffic lights and silky water pictures. The document scanner uses the A.I. to identify that you are taking a picture of a document or a calling card and automatically changes the perspective to lay the image flat for easy reading. When scanning a calling card, it scans the texts and saves it as a new contact.

Related: Huawei P20 got a really good score of 102 points at DxOMark!

The pro mode is also robust with controls for ISO 50 to 3200, Shutter Speed of 1/4000th to 30 seconds, Focus, metering mode, and white balance. 

The UI of the camera app scales well with the smaller size of the display compared to the P20 Pro and thus each UI element is placed at a more convenient location. 

Arguably, the best new mode is the updated night mode wherein you can handhold a shot for 4 seconds and the it will use A.I. and post processing that creates amazing low light images. It works 4 out 5 times and when it works, it works and when it fails, its noticeable.

The P20's dual camera set up is the second best smartphone camera out right now. Second only to the P20 Pro. The hardware and the software post processing work so well that to our eye, it beats the Galaxy S9+. In fact, this is the smartphone camera we recommend if you are looking for a smartphone camera worth PHP 35K.

The images are stunning. The way it renders details and the way it process the colors and the contrast is eye catching each time. Yes it is sharp; too sharp because of the over sharpening in post process. The colors are also very vibrant. There are times where it looks perfect and there are times where it is warmer than real life. So it is a matter of preferences whether you like warm, neutral or cold images.

This is one of the best performing smartphone cameras in low light. It is clean with great detail. There are areas where it is obvious that the noise reduction is strong but the 20MP compensates for the loss of detail.

The flash could be useful at times as well.

Rear Camera Samples

Daylight 1
Daylight 1
Daylight 2
Daylight 2
Portrait
Portrait
Close-up 1
Close-up 1
Portrait close-up
Portrait close-up
Indoor
Indoor
Monochrome
Monochrome
Lowlight 1
Lowlight 1
Lowlight 2
Lowlight 2
Light painting
Light painting

The selfie camera is a 24MP f/2.0 w/ A.I. face beauty and 3D portrait lighting. This is where Huawei could focus on on their next firmware update. Even though it has a higher megapixel count than the Mate 10, it appears softer to our eyes. This could be premature software and the new 24MP hardware. We hope Huawei can address this.

Aside from softness, the colors are great while the contrast and dynamic range is good. It isn't the best selfie camera out there but it is one of the better ones.

In lowlight, it takes decent images with little noticeable noise but again it is softer than we would like. The beauty mode in the main and selfie camera are very aggressive. We find level two to be the best as level 3 and up makes the face cartoonish.

Selfie Camera Samples

Daylight
Daylight
Daylight bokeh
Daylight bokeh
Indoor bokeh
Indoor bokeh
Groufie
Groufie
Night selfie
Night selfie

See also: Huawei P20: First Camera Samples

The video on the P20 is good especially at 1080p. The footage is sharp with good contrast and punchy colors. This is passed on to the 1080p 60fps and 4K footage. The P20 Pro on the other hand produces more vibrant and sharper footage but the stabilisation is worse. In fact when compared side by side, the P20 may have inferior image quality, but the stabilisation is better in 1080p. 4K does not have stabilisation.

This is probably due to the larger sized sensor and the larger megapixel count which produces an exponentially larger amount of data that when coupled with OIS and EIS results in inferior quality because the hardware and software couldn't keep up with the high amount of data.

The selfie video footage on the otherhand is the same as the stills. It is softer than we would like but the colors and contrast are good. It is acceptable although we wish it had at least an electronic stabilisation to counteract the jitters when walking.

A great feature is that you can record video on the selfie and main camera with live beauty. Again, like the stills, we prefer up to level two only as the beautification gets too aggressive.

Video Samples


Performance

Nearly 200K!
Nearly 200K!

Huawei uses the Kirin 970 octa-core processor with NPU and i7 co-processor paired with the Mali-G72 MP12 GPU. These along with the 4GB of RAM allows for flagship speed and performance.

One of the highest benchmark scores of Q2 2018!

The 4GB of RAM makes this more than good enough for multiple tasks running as well as multiple Chrome tabs!

We were able to play PUBG at 1080p at high frame rate mode without hiccups. You can watch the video above and see how smooth the gameplay was
EMUI 8.1!
EMUI 8.1!

The P20 comes with Android 8.0 Oreo with EMUI 8.1. This version of EMUI is more integrated with Google services and apps and thus we no longer have duplicate apps that do the same thing. We now use Google Messages, Google Calendar and the like. It saves us storage space and confusion.
Some of the features
Some of the features

Huawei also added some functionality that have been staples in Huawei phones like knuckle gestures and the Huawei Health app. The knuckle gestures allow for gesture shortcuts and the Huawei Health app monitors health parameters like a pedometer and calorie counter.

There are new features like A.I. translator that uses Huawei's own translation services. We tried translating Japanese to English and It isn't perfect.

An example is when I said: 'Hajimimashite. Watashi-wa Ni-ru desu' It successfully translated Hajimimashite and Watashi-wa or It is nice to meet you. I am.... It failed to recognise my name, Neil or Ni-ru in japanese. As you can see it, it is good and it will get better over time.

The other feature is the file manager that makes it easier to browse through, interact with files inside your phone. This is a nice addition to Huawei's built in apps as the competition like Samsung has had it for a while now.

Like other Huawei phones, it doesn't have an app drawer out of the box but you can choose to have it in the settings. There are some bloatware included with the phone. They are all uninstallable though. 

The icons and the look and feel of EMUI is polarising. Either you like it or you don't. Peter likes it, I don't. I myself see why how other people like it, I just prefer the simplicity I get from stock Android. I like that EMUI has a lot of features but sometimes its difficult to find any of the settings. It isn't as confusing as Samsung's skin though. After a while you get used to it.

The fingerprint is at the front and causes the thicker bezels at the bottom. It also supports face unlock and the implementation here is fast.

I personally think that the only phone that is faster and more accurate than this is the OnePlus 5T's face unlock. Otherwise, this is one of the fastest in the market today. I don't even have to look at the phone directly.

Calling and texting are smooth and we've never had complaints from the people we were speaking too. It was WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS and NFC and all of them work quickly and accurately.

Pros - Prettiest colors, beautiful and solid build and design, best camera for the price, battery performance is Good, Stereo Speakers, EMUI now uses Google apps and services
Cons - The notch, fingerprint magnet, EMUI still needs improvements, no microSD card slot, no headphone jack

Verdict

The P20 is the best phone for PHP 35,000 because of its performance, battery life, cameras and design.

In fact, we highly recommend getting it via the trade in program so you can get it at a more affordable price. 

Though, it isn't perfect and it needs improvement in several areas. The notch and the EMUI is a love it or hate it Android skin. It can get cluttered and confusing. 

Lastly, it doesn't have an SD card slot nor a headphone jack. BUT if you are willing to accept this minor nitpicks, then the P20 is the best phone and is a great contender for the affordable flagship of the year!

Build / Design - 4.5
Display - 4.25
Audio - 4
Battery - 4.5
Camera - 4.75
Performance - 4.5
Average - 4.42 / 5
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