Huawei’s big phone upgrade for 2018 is the jump to three cameras on the rear of the Huawei P20 Pro, but for some reason that upgrade isn’t coming to the standard P20 model.
The upgrades for the P20 over last year's Huawei P10 include a glass back, new colors, an AI-toting processor and some other under-the-hood spec upgrades, but everything here is a little limited considering the company decided to call this the P20 and not the P11.
So do our initial impressions mean we think it’s worth buying the P20 when the P20 Pro looks to be such a significant upgrade? We’ve been hands-on with the P20 to find out what's improved.
Would you like to see the Huawei P20 in action? Here's our video hands on review
Huawei P20 release date and price
The Huawei P20 has just been officially unveiled alongside the P20 Pro, and you're able to buy it from today but only in certain markets.
In the UK, we've seen EE offering deals for the phone at £34 a month with 1GB of data and an upfront cost of £10. If you want to buy it SIM-free, it'll cost £599 (about $800 / AU$1040) from Carphone Warehouse.
Huawei has confirmed you won't be able to buy this phone in the US, so don’t expect the P20 to appear on shelves there, but it’s confirmed for the UK, and is likely to come to Australia too where we expect the price to be around AU$1000.
- Want to buy the phone in the UK? Check out our best Huawei P20 deals
Design and display
The design of Huawei’s flagship has changed a lot since the last iteration of the handset. It now has a glass back, which you may think means it feels less premium than the all-metal P10, but we found it to have quite a high-end feel in the hand.
The edges of the phone are metal, with the glass curving down toward those edges so it feels like this handset sits better in your palm than some others, in particular the Huawei P10.
The 18.7:9 aspect ratio display is similar to a lot of flagship phones in 2018, and there’s also a notch at the top of the display. The interesting feature here, which we've not seen on other phones with notched screens, is that you can effectively turn the notch on or off.
By default the notch is on, and looks much like the notch on other recent phones such as the iPhone X and Asus Zenfone 5: it juts into the screen, with the time and your notifications displayed on the screen at either side.
Turning the notch 'off' hides it by replacing the screen on either size with a black on-screen bezel. The time and notifications are displayed in the same place, but the notch effectively becomes invisible – you'll lose a little in terms of overall screen, but you may prefer the cleaner lines at the top/side of the display.
The 5.8-inch LCD display on the front isn’t as gorgeous as the 6.1-inch OLED on the P20 Pro, but it still has a fairly high resolution of 1080 x 2244. It’s only Full HD, so doesn’t look as stunning as phones from the likes of Samsung or Sony, but it’s still sharp enough to look like a flagship product.
Huawei is attempting to go for a bezel-less look here, but there’s still a thick black band at the bottom of the phone that houses the fingerprint scanner. We feel it would have made more sense to put the scanner on the back (as on the Huawei P20 Lite), giving the front of the phone more screen and a nice look.
Another interesting element is the absence of a 3.5mm headphone jack on the Huawei P20. The larger P20 Pro also loses the headphone jack, but that phone has an IP67 rating, which means you can put the phone in water, and removing the headphone jack may have been necessary to achieve this.
The P20, however, is only IP53 rated, so it’s not waterproof, and there’s seemingly no justification for not retaining the headphone jack. If you want to be able to use wired headsets with your phone you’ll need to use a dongle that plugs into the USB-C port at the bottom of the handset.
For color choices you’ve got the option of black, champagne gold, midnight blue, pink gold and twilight. The two final colors there have what the company is calling a gradient effect – there's a spectrum of colors, which change depending on the lighting and viewing angle, and it gives the phone a unique look.
These are by far the standout colors for the Huawei P20, and look particularly bold if you’re after something that catches the eye.
Performance and specs
Under the hood of the Huawei P20 is the company's latest Kirin 970 chipset, which previously featured in the Huawei Mate 10 Pro and which performed well in our testing.
The chip features a neural processing unit, and that’s one of the big elements Huawei is pushing on the P20, as it imbues the phone with artificial intelligence. This essentially means the phone is better at predicting your actions before you complete them.
The easiest way to explain this is within the automatic camera mode. If you point your camera at a dog, for example, the camera will detect that you’re taking a picture of an animal, and will automatically play around with the settings to optimize the camera for taking photos of animals.
There’s 4GB of RAM at work here too, which should be more than enough for most tasks, although it's less than the 6GB inside the P20 Pro.
The P20 comes running Android 8.1 Oreo software in the form of Huawei’s own Emotion UI 8.1. That means the interface looks different to a lot of other Android phones, but you get all of the features you’d normally get with the latest version of Android, as well as Huawei-specific ones like the company’s Share app, which helps you transfer files between your phone and PC.
The P20 comes with a generous 128GB of built-in storage – there are no other options. It’s admirable that Huawei has opted to drop the 16GB/32GB and 64GB options for its flagship, and there’s still microSD support if you want even more space for your apps and media.
The battery in the P20 is a 3,400mAh unit. Huawei’s own fast-charging technology is present too, so it shouldn’t take you too long to charge up your phone if you’re in a hurry.
If you’ve heard about the big camera upgrades for the Huawei P20 Pro, don’t expect all of those on the P20. It’s still just a dual rear shooter here, with a 12MP f/1.8 RGB sensor and a 20MP f/1.6 monochrome one.
There are a few improvements, including new ‘AI’ modes, which we touched on earlier and which allow for a better automatic camera on the rear of the phone, but there are no telephoto features like on the Pro – that means the zoom probably won’t be anything to write home about.
That said, the camera was already impressive on the Huawei P10, so these slight software improvements should make a strong offering better. The hardware has also been slightly improved, notably in terms of the aperture size.
There’s also now a 960 frames per second slow-motion mode that records at 720p, but while the technology works well we found it difficult to time our slow-mo shots. You’ve only got a very small window of time in which to press the button, and you need to time it perfectly to get an effective shot.
That’s a criticism of most slow-motion phone tech we’ve used, but it does restrict the videos you can make with the feature.
It’s also a little behind the best slow-mo shooters considering the latest phones from Sony can record at 960fps in 1080p. If you’re looking for a phone with a really great slow-motion mode you’ll likely want to take a look at Sony’s latest handsets, such as the Xperia XZ2.
On the front of the Huawei P20 there’s a whopping 24MP selfie shooter, which can capture in exquisite detail every pore, pimple and other facial detail that you probably don’t want to share on social media.
The Huawei P20 is far from the most exciting phone we've seen this year, and upon first impressions is actually something of a let-down.
The company's P20 Pro has all the new features that are worth getting excited about, including that powerful rear camera, and while the screen looks a touch nicer on the P20 compared to the P10 it’s not the most compelling of upgrades.
Everything here is slightly improved, but if you’re looking for a real upgrade over the Huawei P10, and you don't mind paying for it, you’ll want to go for the Huawei P20 Pro instead.