Huawei are no longer a company who are sitting on the sidelines letting everyone else steal the show. Since the P9 their devices have really been impressive and put them on the map.
Now everyone is sitting up and watching as the company are producing some of the best hardware available today, with an impressive range of specs to go with it.
We are lucky enough to have friends of the site, Three UK, come to the rescue with a loan of the P20. I’ve used it for quite some time now so I can tell you just how good it really is.
In Paris recently, Huawei announced the new phones to the world, the P20 and the P20 Pro, both with stand-out features and pricing which make them well worth considering if you are looking for a new phone.
Our P20 was used on the Three UK network, so we also had SuperVoice 4G calling along with WiFi Calling which means we got the best network experience available.
Design and display
The P20 range of phones all have the same design language, a large bright screen with a notch up top and well made body as well as a beautiful glass back.
There are three colours available at present. Black, which is the version we got to review, Midnight Blue and Pink Gold.
Unfortunately the Twilight version was reserved for the P20 Pro and is the colour that most people like.
Weighing in at 165 grams, the P20 is actually very light to use, just a tiny bit larger than the Samsung Galaxy S9 which is a good thing considering all the glass and internals to power it.
Sadly the P20 is not classed as water resistant which means the odd splash in the rain will be ok, but anything else is not recommended. This is a shame as the bigger P20 Pro does feature IP68 water resistance.
The front display is made from Gorilla Glass 5 which makes it more resistant to cracks and scratches than ever before, but many of you will want to install a screen protector as this screen does scratch. You do get a plastic protector applied out of the box and I advise keeping this on until you can get a replacement.
Up top, there is a huge front-facing 24 megapixel camera that allows for decent selfies and video calls, I tried using as a vlogging camera and got some great results, also a well known tech writer Joshua Vergara uses a P20 Pro (same selfie camera as the P20) on his recent vlogs.
The front-facing camera also uses Auto HDR to help boost the brightness and colours to produce a much better and more detailed photo.
There is no dedicated front camera flash, but with the screen bright enough this helps boost brightness and does a decent job.
The front panel is pretty much taken over by the 5.8 inch TFT display, and yes before you mention, it does have the famous notch cutout. Some people like this some people don’t, however I think we all need to start getting these.
Phones with notches at least have the option in settings to hide it by turning the notch area into a single black bar which then hides the fact it is even there in the first place.
I personally don’t mind it and it kind-of makes the design of the phone what it is.
As mentioned before, the display is 5.8 inches in size using TFT technology and has a 1080p resolution. Whilst it might lack that fancy Quad HD that some people would like to see, the fact it is 1080P helps improve battery performance and most people would not notice the difference in resolution anyway.
Below the screen you have a fingerprint reader. This is not a button, it’s just a fingerprint sensor.
It’s no longer on the back, like the P10. If it was then this would have meant a nice clean finish to the front of the display, however due to the technology for the cameras as well as the glass back a fingerprint reader on the back would not have been practical but also impacted the beautiful design.
Moving over to the right hand side and, as you would expect, you have the volume up and down button. The power button sits slightly below it, near the middle.
It was disappointing to see no dedicated camera shutter key especially, considering this is such a camera-focused device (no pun intended), in fact only Sony seem to like putting dedicated camera keys on their phones.
Looking over to the left hand side all you have is the SIM tray which, as with most things these days, is ejected by using the little tool in the box. However if you lose this you can also use a paperclip but be careful not to bend it.
In the slot you have the nano SIM tray for the SIM card but unfortunately no expandable storage to be found.
This is for the UK model, however some devices are actually dual SIM which would allow you to use two SIM cards in place should you want to.
Up top there is not much to talk about, in fact there is only one thing – a small hole for one of the microphones. This is used for capturing audio when recording video or using the audio recorder, but also helps with noise cancellation in voice calls.
When it comes to the bottom of the phone, the P20 has done away with the headset port and this is disappointing for many, but it wasn’t there on the P10 either. There are lots of people out there who still have not made the switch to a Bluetooth headset and it would be an additional cost to go get some Bluetooth headphones.
In the middle you have the USB-C charging port, this features quick charge technology and is also quick for data transfer. There’s also one of the key features from the P20 – a desktop mode. I will cover on the Software section of the review.
Over on the back is the main design feature of the P20, you have the dual lens. This, as mentioned before, is a 12 megapixel and 20 megapixel followed by the laser autofocus for capturing crisp clear photos. You also have a dual LED flash for improving the lighting as well as the Leica brand, you also have the Huawei logo near the bottom.
Pink will be a nice choice should you want something a bit different, Blue is nice and looks gorgeous, whilst the Black, although nice, is a total fingerprint magnet and will leave you cleaning it time after time.
When it comes to the camera, this is one area of the P20 does excellently in. Although it does lack the third lens that the larger P20 Pro has, you still get an impressive dual camera setup with a 20 megapixel monochrome lens partnered with a 12 megapixel RGB lens which, when combined, produces fantastic photos.
The monochrome lens is handy for capturing all the brightness and contrast from your subject but also allows you to take some really clever and arty monochrome photos which look really cool and unique.
The 12 megapixel RGB camera also impresses. It captures a lot of detail in the colours and the shadows. Use both together and you’ll get a fantastic photo also improved by AI built into the software.
AI is built into the camera can detect a wide range of scenes from Pets to flowers, food, as well as the blue sky to name just a few.
This means no matter what condition you can still get some amazing photos, although sometimes this does look a bit fake, especially when it comes to greenery and the blue sky.
Personally though, I really like the blue sky option, it knows when you’re taking a picture and you’ve got the sky visible. This helps boost the blue instead of white or grey as it may sometimes be, and does make really interesting photos
Yes, sometimes it can look a bit fake, however most of the photos I took using the blue sky filter were really impressive. Something I came to enjoy using in the end.
The interface may be confusing for some people at first, this is due to the wide range of options built in by Huawei
As well as traditional photo video and Panorama shots you also get the night mode which is really where the P20 shines. There’s also a fantastic Pro mode for tuning every part of the camera possible.
If you have ever taken a photo in the evening where the light is going down, it can come out a little dark and it comes out a bit blurry. This is partly because you don’t have a tripod and, when you’re holding the phone, a slight wobble will turn it into a confusing mess.
However with some fantastic technology by Huawei and the camera software, the P20 is able to record night mode photos with a 4 second exposure, handheld, meaning you don’t need the tripod in evenings to get the amazing night-time shot.
You really have to see the sample photos to see just how good it is, I’ve been using it for a while now and the night photos impress me every single time I see one.
It won’t get every photo right, however when you get the right subject, at the right time, the quality of this camera is absolutely outstanding in all conditions, which is something quite rare on the smartphone.
As well as amazing night time photos from the dual camera lenses, you also get 2 x optical zoom. This lets you to get even closer to the object than ever before. This is especially great if you like taking macro photos, such as smaller animals or flowers, which often want to move when you get to close as just one example.
When it comes to video unfortunately this is where the camera is let down.
The P20 can record in both 4K resolution as well as super slow motion, however when using 4K the stabilisation is all over the place, and you often get a jumpy mess. Hopefully this can be improved with software updates but considering how slow they can be this is disappointing.
The super Slow Mo is also very handy to have but does lack when it comes to Sony that seem to lead in the Slow Motion game. Sony brought us slow motion with the Z range a few years ago and it’s got even better since. Now they offer 1080p resolution at 960 frames per second on the XZ2.
The cameras aren’t all bad though, the front facing camera is really good from the P20 thanks to a massive 24 megapixel resolution, something we don’t really see on phones these days.
Selfies are very clear, bright, and full of colour as you expect from such a good camera, it’s also a very good phone when it comes to vlogging on the move
I will stay was disappointed with video on the rear camera, but the front facing camera was very impressive.
Performance and battery
Performance on the P20 was very good – just as I expected. This is thanks to 4GB of RAM and the custom made Kirin 970 processor which is the latest version that the company makes. It’s in all of their flagship products in the P20 range.
You also get 128GB of internal storage, which is more than enough for people to store their content on, and even if it was not, Google Photos offer unlimited photo backups for free.
Network performance was also very impressive, using the Three network I was able to get speeds of around about 60 megabits per second. Although this does drop during peak times, this is more than good enough for streaming YouTube as well as other video streaming services like Netflix.
The P20 also uses the 800mhz service from Three. They call it 4G Super Voice, but is actually VoLTE with a less confusing name. It also has support for Wi-Fi calling, which again is another network service and means you can use WiFi for calling and texting in those rare moments when there’s no signal.
Battery performance was also very good, this is thanks to the 3400mAh battery built-in. It does lack wireless charging, which was the only disappointing area in the battery.
However, it does feature quick charge technology which gives you plenty of battery with a quick charge on the go.
I was easily able to go a whole day using the P20 and have no worries about battery performance. This was using the camera, watching and making videos, sending text messages as well as a lot of social media use. The P20 handled everything very well, mainly because of the large battery and the custom-made processor helping everything run smoothly.
Software is one area the company seem to struggle, some people don’t mind the custom interface, however some people are really opposed to it and seem to hate it with a vengeance, which is a shame as it does have some handy improvements.
Although the good thing with Android is you could install a third party custom launcher, the basis of the design is still EMUI and this has a problem when it comes to updates further down the line – they can come along quite slowly.
Longer-term, I’ve had a P20 Pro to use for the last couple of months, and have noticed that software updates are quite slow for UK models. I was still running .110 but the European one is now on .152. This is a big difference in software version and will get quite a few owners frustrated.
If you really want the most up-to-date software experience your options are limited, you can go for a Google Pixel phone which gets the updates straight away or you can go for an Android One device such as the Nokia 7 Plus to name just one.
The P20 runs Android 8.1 – this is currently the latest version, and whilst we know Android P will be coming to the P20 range, there is no idea when this will actually happen.
EMUI is not all bad news though, there are some handy additions such as gestures and being able to run certain apps with two different accounts, handy for work and personal account, but for me the best edition was that of the dark mode which in settings can be switched on this, turns the whole interface into a dark mode and help save the battery but also looks great.
You also have Desktop Mode which allows you to plug one end of a USB-C cable into a charging port, and the other end into the HDMI of a television or computer monitor.
These cables cost an extra and are not supplied by Huawei, but there are many 3rd party ones available online.
When you get Desktop Mode come up on the screen, this is a computer-like experience which will be handy for lot of people travelling and staying over in hotels. You also have the option to use the screen as a mouse as well as an onboard screen-keyboard when needed.
However, the best option would be to pair a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse using the P20 as the computer, the display to see your information, and then using the keyboard and mouse to navigate your way around, this would be perfect for anyone using business on the move staying in hotels or wants to play big Screen gaming without buying an expensive console and not have to take a heady laptop with them.
Being a bit of a camera phone geek, I went into this review often comparing the P20 to the more expensive P20 version. That wasn’t really fair, so I took a step back and looked at this as its own device with own specs and wanted to forget the Pro version all together.
I am pleased I did this, because apart from lacking that 40 megapixel camera (the main stand out feature of the Pro), the P20 performed REALLY well and was very enjoyable to use as my daily driver device.
Huawei are becoming a huge player in the smartphone market with their own custom Kirin processing power, large battery technology, advanced networking (such as blazing fast 4G connectivity) and premium hardware at an affordable price.
Camera wise you get an impressive 12 megapixel f1.6 colour camera, with a 20 megapixel monochrome camera next to it, pairing them together gets you 2x hybrid zoom which helps get that little bit closer to your subject.
Design wise you still have a large screen with the notch up top which some people really hate, i started to get used to it and now does not make a difference to my use at all.
We were sent the black model which was a bit of a fingerprint magnet, but putting a case on easily solves that issue if you are worried. You also have a Midnight Blue version and a Pink Gold to choose from, sadly no Twilight option on the P20.
Battery performance was very good with a large 3400mAh non removable battery included but lacks wireless charging which is a shame.
I was easily able to last a full day of use including using the camera quite a bit, as well as watching some video from Netflix and making a normal amount of calls and texts over the Three network.
With Huawei making three versions of their flagship phone, there really is an option for everyone to go for and enjoy.
If having the best camera in your pocket is the most important part of a phone, I would suggest paying that little bit more and going for the Pro version, mainly due to that huge 40 megapixel sensor it has for extra detail and amazing night mode, plus the slightly larger battery.
However if you want a great all-rounder phone, still having a very impressive camera, and want to save a bit of cash, then the Huawei P20 is a great choice and one I am sure you will enjoy using on a daily basis.
Thanks to Three UK for the loan device, you can buy one right now here.