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Huawei P20 Review: Slick hardware, smart software

The Good

  • Lush design
  • Brilliant everyday camera
  • Decent battery life

The Bad

  • Occasional glitch
  • No expandable storage
  • Not fully water resistant
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Huawei’s super-smart 2018 flagship phone is a seductive blend of gorgeous hardware and intelligent software, which makes for a very satisfying everyday experience. Here’s our full Huawei P20 review.

This past week we’ve been utterly seduced by the Huawei P20 Pro. Huawei’s super-premium smartphone boasts a bonkers tri-lens camera and some serious software smarts. But now we turn our attention to the standard P20, a “more compact” model which packs many of the same specs and features. Although here, the camera tech has been scaled back to a dual lens snapper.

That said, the Huawei P20 is 200 quid cheaper than the Pro model. So does that make it a smarter purchase?

Huawei P20 Review

Huawei P20 Review: Design

The P20 is one of the most attractive Huawei smartphones so far, matching most of its rivals when it comes to looks.

It’s a rather big blower at 5.8-inches, although that screen stretches to almost every edge to keep the dimensions as slim as possible. That includes the top end, with the speaker and selfie camera sat all snug in an iPhone X-style notch.

Shiny metal edging gives way to a gorgeous glass back, one of the highlights of Huawei’s design work to date. Most impressively, the pink gold model boasts the company’s ‘Gradient’ finish. This is where the colour actually changes as you tilt the handset. It’s definitely the best version to grab, if you get the chance.

Huawei P20 Review

So far the P20 seems pretty hardy too, although we’re a bit too terrified to drop the thing in case that glass surfacing shatters. And unfortunately this standard model isn’t fully water resistant, unlike the Pro version. Instead it makes do with a basic IP53 rating, which means that it’s ‘drip resistant’. We’d recommend not getting this thing too moist, just in case.

Huawei P20 Review: Screen and media

One of the first major differences between the standard P20 and the Pro model is the screen tech. While the Pro offers up a 6.1-inch OLED panel, the P20 uses a 5.8-inch RGBW display instead.

You get the same Full HD+ resolution and 18.7:9 aspect ratio, so images are pleasingly crisp. There’s also next to no letterboxing when enjoying a flick on the go. However, the P20’s viewing angles aren’t quite as strong as the Pro’s, while the maximum brightness is a little weaker also.

Huawei P20 Review

Still, once again you have complete control over the display output. You can tweak the colour warmth to just your liking, or have the P20 automatically scale the visuals depending on the environmental conditions. There’s also a toggle between realistic and vibrant colours, although we prefer the latter. This gives a real punch to the visuals, making them very easy on the eye.

As for audio, the Huawei P20 boasts Dolby Atmos support although there’s no stereo speaker setup here. Sound is blasted from the dual speaker grilles housed on the bottom edge, and that’s just fine for enjoying some Netflix or YouTube. If you want to rock to some tunes, you should definitely switch to headphones though.

You can connect wirelessly via Bluetooth 4.2, or stick in a wired pair using the bundled 3.5mm adapter. Sadly there’s no headphone jack on the P20’s gorgeous body. That said, Huawei has at least thrown some Type C ‘phones into the box. These work fine in a pinch, if you don’t mind scraping your ear flesh to bits.

Huawei P20 Review: Features and OS

As far as the software experience goes, there’s no difference between the P20 and that Pro model.

Once again you have Huawei’s own Emotion UI 8.1, slapped on top of Google’s Android Oreo OS. Although it’s recognisably Android, the EMUI overlay does change up the look and feel. This gives the P20 a unique Huawei flavouring.

P20 Pro review

For instance, you can ditch the on-screen navigation buttons and simply use the fingerprint sensor to zip around the UI instead. This isn’t necessarily a better method but it’s amazing how fast you adapt to this way of doing things. You also get plenty of gesture support and voice controls, as well as a nifty one-handed mode. As far as ease of use is concerned, the P20 is definitely a star.

You also get a whole bunch of bonus apps, most of which help you to setup the device or keep it running smoothly. Phone Manager, for instance, offers a handy number blocker as well as storage cleanup and virus protection. There’s also a perfectly fine Health app which is a good way for casual exercise fans to track their daily motions.

For more on the Huawei P20’s software and interface, have a gander of our P20 tips and tricks guide.

Huawei P20 Review

Beneath the display you’ll find a slender fingerprint sensor, which is beautifully responsive and rarely fails to recognise your digit, despite its dinky size. However, the real star is Huawei’s facial recognition tech. This works impressively well, swiftly unlocking the phone even when it’s pitch black.

Sadly there’s no microSD memory card support, although you can slip two SIM cards into that pull-out tray. And as you get 128GB of storage packed into the P20, chances are you won’t run out of space any time soon.

Huawei P20 Review: Performance and battery life

Huawei’s own Kirin 970 chipset is the brains behind the operation, offering impressive power and energy efficiency to rival other Androids.

The Huawei P20 can smash through the latest games with ease, and we’d be shocked to see any kind of slowdown any time soon. That said, we did notice a couple of unexpected stutters and stammers during everyday use. That’s likely thanks to some funny software glitches which will hopefully be sorted out ASAP in an update.

Huawei P20 Review

While the Pro model crams in a mighty 4000mAh battery, that’s been scaled back to a 3400mAh cell in the standard P20. This doesn’t offer the same two days of life between charges, but we still managed to get a day and a half of quite intensive use. And if you do find yourself running low on juice, you have bloody tons of saver modes and other tools to get the most from those dregs.

Huawei’s brilliantly named SuperCharge tech allows you to power back up to full in around 90 minutes. And the P20 remains reassuringly cool throughout.

Huawei P20 Review

Huawei P20 Review: Cameras

While the Pro version of this phone offers three lenses packed onto the back, the Huawei P20 makes do with a more traditional dual-lens setup.

The 12-megapixel RGB lens and 20-megapixel monochrome lens may not be joined by a third telephoto shooter, but we found that everyday snaps still looked fantastic in almost any conditions. You can still shoot up to 4K resolution video too, as well as Super Slow Motion video at 960 frames-per-second.

We’ve fully tested the Huawei P20’s camera and directly compared with the Pro model, so go check out our P20 camera review for our in-depth thoughts.

Huawei P20 Review

Huawei P20 Review: Verdict

The Huawei P20 is a brilliant flagship blower, offering sleek design work paired with some really clever hardware and software. There’s no tri-lens camera tech, but that dual lens snapper still captures great-looking photos and home movies. And besides the occasional weird software glitch, it’s difficult to find anything to complain about.

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