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Huawei P20 Pro Hands-on: Triple Threat

Huawei is kicking off its 2018 flagship lineup with a bang, most notable thanks to the new Huawei P20 Pro, which sports a sexy new glass-backed design and a somewhat excessive-sounding triple-sensor primary camera.

It launches alongside the smaller and more conservative P20, but if you’re looking for the company’s true iPhone X/Galaxy S9 competitor the Pro looks to be it. It borrows a few key design and hardware elements from 2017’s Mate 10 Pro but also embraces some newer trends and sports some technology we’ve never even seen on a Huawei handset.

Huawei P20 Pro Hands-on: Design

The Pro is one of the largest Huawei handsets in recent memory (dwarfed only by 2015’s P8 Max), at least when it comes to sheer screen size. The 6.1-inch panel on the front is surrounded by the thin bezels of the rounded cover glass which blend seamlessly into the metal frame running the phone’s edge.

Unlike last year’s P10 Plus (and more like the aforementioned Mate 10 series) the P20 swaps out a metal back for a pillowed glass one. Like pretty much every other glass-backed handset, be ready to spend a lot of time looking at, or buffing out, fingerprints if they bug you.

Despite the material change, the P20 series doesn’t appear to embrace wireless charging, but for what it lacks in functionality, it makes up for in style. Huawei has introduced a series of new colourways for these latest handsets and there are two standout inclusions featuring special gradated patterns; Pink Gold and Twilight.

Even with such narrow bezels, Huawei has still decided to nestle a fingerprint sensor in beneath the display on the phone’s front. It also features USB-C and boasts IP67 certification, something that the smaller P20 loses out on. The only real omission? A complete lack of any headphone jack; although you can at least expect an adapter in-box.

Huawei P20 Pro Hands-on: Display

The screen is easily one of the phone’s biggest talking points. It sports the same 2244×1080 resolution as its smaller sibling but benefit from an OLED panel that side by side with the LCD on the P20 looks better in every way. Expect vibrant colours, great contrast and HDR support out the gate.

The unusual resolution comes from the screen’s 18.7:9 aspect ratio, which ensures an excellent screen-to-body ratio at the expense of adopting an iPhone X-like notch at the top of the display. Thankfully, Huawei gives you the option to hide it behind a black notifications bar if you don’t want to have to stare at it all the time.

Huawei P20 Pro Hands-on: Software and Features

If you’ve used the Mate 10 Pro or any of Huawei’s devices running EMUI 8.0, you’ll notice that on the surface there aren’t that many new additions when it comes to the P20 software experience. Running on Android 8.1 Oreo with an updated release of the company’s own Emotion UI (also version 8.1), Huawei has focused on updating some existing native features with a few new AI smarts.

The gallery can now automatically tag images based on 100 different categories and it rates your photos with an aesthetic score for reasons that are not yet fully clear. The phone may well use these to decide which is the best shot to recommend from a burst of snaps or suggest which snaps come out on top from a day’s shooting.

P20/P20 Pro owners can also expect faster Huawei handset-to-Huawei handset wireless transfers, as well as easier wireless file management between your handset and a Mac or PC.

The new Huawei Clone is also now on hand to allow speedier device migration. With 32GBs worth of files able to be shifted across to a new device in 19 minutes, which sounds pretty impressive if it works as promised.

Huawei P20 Pro Hands-on: Performance

The brain of the P20 Pro is the same Kirin 970 found inside 2017’s Mate 10 Pro, complete with its assistive neural processing unit (or NPU) for AI-centric tasks. The Pro benefits from more RAM than the standard P20, which considering it’s driving the same screen resolution, should mean faster everyday performance.

Here’s how the P20 Pro compares to its smaller sibling, the standard P20:

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
4G Yes. Dual SIM Cat 18 LTE
Battery 3400mAh  4000mAh
Colours Black, Champagne Gold, Twilight, Pink Gold, Midnight Blue Black, Midnight Blue, Pink Gold, Twilight
Extra IP53-certification IP67-certification

From the table above you’ll notice that both phones offer super-speedy dual-SIM 4G support, plenty of internal storage (but no expandability) and sizeable batteries. The Pro’s larger footprint has allowed Huawei to fit in a more capacious 4000mAh cell which benefits from the company’s own SuperCharge fast-charging technology too.

Huawei P20 Pro Hands-on: Cameras

Where Huawei is clearly looking to stick it to the competition is with its new flagships’ camera experience. In our initial camera tests, between the P20 and P20 Pro it’s clear that the latter is the phone to pick if you’re after some serious photographic clout.

The most obvious inclusion is a new third sensor that’s completely absent from the standard P20, not to mention the main sensor receives a serious megapixel boost on the Pro too. You’ll find a 20-megapixel monochrome sensor paired with a whopping 40-megapixel RGB sensor within the same dual camera module, between the two sensors lies an integrated laser autofocus array, whilst further down the phone’s back sits an additional 8-megapixel sensor with optical image stabilisation (OIS).

So why are three sensors necessary? Huawei’s combined a whole heap of skills that we’ve seen from a number of different photographically gifted phones over the years into one camera experience.

Not only is this the first smartphone with a Leica zoom lens, it packs in an improved colour temperature sensor, something called Pixel Fusion technology, which collates the data from four pixels into one to help reduce blur and noise, spitting out a 10-megapixel image.

In manual mode you can also crank the ISO up to a whopping 102400, you get five times lossless hybrid zoom functionality and thanks to its new AI smarts, the P20 Pro is the only phone we’ve encountered that lets you capture long exposure shots (up to seven seconds long) without the need for a tripod.

On the video side of things you can also expect up to 4K recording at 30fps, 960fps super slow-motion burst recording at 720p HD resolution and selfie addicts will appreciate the 24-megapixel front-facing snapper too.

Huawei P20 Pro Hands-on: Price and availability

There’s an obvious disparity between the standard P20 and the P20 Pro, with the latter receiving the lion’s share of the new and most interesting functionality. It’s also far more competitive when going up against the obvious rivals in the market right now.

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