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Huawei P20 Hands-on: Going Glass

The Huawei P20 may have become one of the most leaked devices so far in 2018 but now it’s here in an official capacity and we’ve spent some hands-on time with it to see what’s new.

Last year’s Huawei P10 was undoubtedly an underwhelming flagship when it launched at MWC 2017 but the Mate 10 Pro, which arrived nearer the end of the year, unquestionably made up for lost ground. Now Huawei has taken a similar formula to that of its Mate-series phablets and transplanted it onto its new, smaller 2018 flagship, the P20.

Huawei P20 Hands-on: Design

The biggest shift is its design, shedding the aluminium body of its predecessor and replacing it with glass. At this point, nothing new, with practically every other Android flagship also rocking a glass-backed design, however, Huawei has tried to spice things up a bit with a host of eye-catching colourways, most prominently in its new gradated options.

The glass curves over on all sides and blends seamlessly with the metal frame surrounding the phone’s edges, but the way the display sits into the body on the smaller P20 (compared to the P20 Pro) is a little less elegant. The Twilight and Pink Gold options are the only two variants that feature the gradient effect mentioned earlier, but there’s also the option of black, Champagne Gold and Midnight Blue.

Similarly to the Mate 10, rather than the Mate 10 Pro the phone sports a front-facing fingerprint sensor, nestled within the narrow bezel beneath the display, whilst on the back the dual camera sensor is now vertically aligned, similarly to Apple’s latest iPhone X.

The bottom edge of the P20 reveals a USB-C port, but disappointingly the absence of a headphone jack suggests that it has finally been quashed from all of Huawei’s premium handsets. Instead, expect a 3.5mm adapter in-box.

Whilst the larger P20 Pro benefits from hardy IP67 certification, the standard P20 has to make do with IP53 ‘drip protection’, similarly to 2016’s first-generation Google Pixel phones.

Huawei P20 Hands-on: Display

Following in the footsteps of the Mate 10 Pro, the P20 sports an elongated 5.8-inch display with a rather unusual 18.7:9 aspect ratio. It features an extended Full HD resolution (2244×1080) using RGBW LCD technology, which should ensure brighter overall visuals compared to a standard RGB panel, as well as greater power efficiency.

In its own right, the P20’s display looks perfectly capable, offering support for HDR visuals as well, however, the OLED screen employed by the Pro does appear to offer an even cleaner, more vibrant view experience by comparison.

One other thing to note is that the P20 is the first of Huawei’s phones with an iPhone X-esq notch. It’s narrower than the one found on both Apple’s and Asus’, however, you have the option to hide it completely behind a software solution that colours the entirety of the phone’s notifications bar black to match.

Huawei P20 Hands-on: Software and Features

If you’ve used any of Huawei’s 2017 flagships, there’s little in the way of new functionality that you’ll likely be able to spot out the gate. The P20 packs in both the latest build of the company’s Emotion UI overlay and the latest available release of Android Oreo; version 8.1 in both cases.

The main updates include an improved gallery with 100 automated AI-based taggable categories, making it easier to find photos you want. The phone now grades your snaps with an aesthetic score too, using on-device AI. The value of this isn’t presently clear but might reveal itself come review time.

Huawei’s also made it easier to share files wirelessly, with an improved iteration of Huawei Share that allows for speedy Huawei-to-Huawei file transfers and a software-free wireless transfer solution to both Macs and PCs. Think of it as this company’s equivalent to Apple’s AirDrop.

Huawei Clone is a newly revamped feature that helps users move to a new device faster, with 32GBs worth of files able to be shifted across in 19 minutes, which sounds pretty impressive if it works as promised.

Huawei P20 Hands-on: Performance

With the focus of the software improvements centring around AI, it should come as no surprise that the P20 now leverages the same Kirin 970 chip that we first met last year within the Mate 10 series. It’s already proven its worth as a great piece of silicon for general performance, multitasking and gaming, but the additional NPU also offloads AI-based tasks so that it has a proclivity towards those too.

Here’s how the P20 stacks up to the bigger, badder P20 Pro:

Huawei P20 Huawei P20 Pro
Screen size 5.8-inches 6.1-inches
Screen resolution 2244 x 1080
Aspect ratio 18.7:9
Screen technology RGBW LCD OLED
Thickness 7.65mm 7.8mm
OS Android 8.1 Oreo w/ EMUI 8.1
Front cameras 24-megapixels w/ f/2.0 aperture
Rear cameras Dual 12-megapixels (RGB) + 20-megapixels (Mono) Triple 24-megapixels (RGB), 20-megapixels (Mono) + 8-megapixels (Telephoto) w/ OIS
Processor HiSilicon Kirin 970
Memory 4GB RAM  6GB RAM
Storage 128GB. Non-expandable
Battery 3400mAh  4000mAh
Colours Black, Champagne Gold, Twilight, Pink Gold, Midnight Blue Black, Midnight Blue, Pink Gold, Twilight
Extra IP53-certification IP67-certification

The P20’s processor is backed up by 4GB of RAM, comes with 128GB of internal storage, dual-SIM functionality and supports up to Cat 18 4G LTE speeds. Expandability isn’t part of the equation, however.

The 3400mAh battery, paired to the phone’s Full HD+ resolution display should guarantee a day’s use per charge comfortably and there’s also the inclusion of Huawei’s own SuperCharge tech to power the phone back up quickly.

Huawei P20 Hands-on: Cameras

The camera experience on the P20 is unquestionably improved over its predecessor but it’s far less groundbreaking when compared to the new triple camera setup on offer from the Pro model.

The dual Leica-tuned array is comprised of a 20-megapixel monochrome sensor and a 12-megapixel RGB sensor. Thanks to sizeable 1.55µm pixels (the iPhone X uses 1.22µm pixels, whilst the new Galaxy S9 features 1.44µm pixels), we’re expecting great low light performance from the P20’s main camera, not least because of the f/1.8 and f/1.6 apertures at play too.

During our initial encounter with the camera, its 4-in-1 focus system (with predictive focus) really impressed, able to hold focus on a flower bobbing in the breeze almost flawlessly. You can also expect a 0.3-second sleep-to-snap time if using the phone’s Ultra Snapshot feature and like Sony and Samsung, you now have the option of 960fps burst slow-motion video recording too (at 720p HD resolution).

The AI smarts also come into play again with automated scene detection, automated settings adjustments and AI-assisted stabilisation in both still and video capture. Meanwhile, if selfies are your thing, how does 24-megapixels sound?

Huawei P20 Hands-on: Price and availability

The camera is clearly one of the phone’s biggest selling points but we can’t help but feel that in comparison to the larger P20 Pro, the standard phone is being a little too short-changed.

As for pricing, the P20 will cost £599 when it hits the market in the coming weeks (date TBC), whilst the beefier P20 Pro is £200 more expensive at £799.

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