Huawei P20 Pro review: Huawei’s three-lens beast is getting cheaper
DEAL ALERT: Through EE, you can get a 128GB handset with a 30GB data allowance for just £33 a month, with no upfront cost. That adds up to a lifetime cost on the phone of £792. You can head to the uSwitch website to nab this EE deal.
Meanwhile, Vodafone is offering a deal for 5GB of data with unlimited texts and calls, for £26 a month at just £35 upfront, bringing the total cost over two years to £659.
If 1GB data is enough for you, however, then EE is offering a deal for £15 a month and a £309 upfront cost – £669 over two years. Even cheaper on a month by month basis is O2’s deal for 3GB data at £24 a month and £127 upfront. This amounts to £703 total cost over two years, which is still a decent deal.
Best Huawei P20 Pro contract and SIM-free deals
Alan’s original review continues below.
If you’ve read our Huawei P20 review, you might be feeling a bit wary going into this one. The P20 Pro may be £200 more expensive but its big selling point remains the same: a widely hyped camera. With the P20, that turned out to be hyperbole.
Fortunately, the P20 Pro’s camera is very different. To kill the suspense early, the P20 Pro’s camera is up there with the very best of them. That, along with a couple of other small but significant upgrades, makes the P20 Pro an easy recommendation.
Huawei P20 Pro review: Design[gallery:1]
In looks, the P20 Pro is a (slightly) larger version of the P20. That means it inherits all of the positives and most of the negatives; most, rather than all, because the Pro version gets full IP67 dust and waterproofing, rather than the weak IP53 its smaller sibling has to make do with.
Let’s get those remaining negatives out of the way first. There’s no room for expandable storage, no wireless charging and no 3.5mm headphone jack. The first point is less of a problem as the P20 Pro is only available with a generous 128GB of internal storage but the last one remains an infuriating trend increasingly adopted by high-end smartphones, Samsung and OnePlus aside.
Everything else, however, is gleefully positive. The Huawei P20 Pro goes from nice looking to the most beautiful smartphone we’ve ever seen, depending on the colour scheme you buy. The plain black and blue is nice enough but the multi-colour shimmering twilight finish is genuinely heartstopping.[gallery:2]
Whichever you opt for, though, the rest is the same. It’s slim and stylish with next to no bezel at all. And yes, it does have an iPhone X-style notch but a) it’s quite a bit smaller and b) it can be switched off in the settings, blacking out to become part of the bezel. When you do this, though, you can still have it display your battery life and notifications.
The only real downside to the phone’s design is that the glass back is quite slippery. Huawei provides a transparent jelly-like case in the box which does solve this problem, although I’d be lying if I said it didn’t lose style points in collateral damage.
Huawei P20 Pro review: Screen[gallery:3]
Thanks to the now popular 18.7:9 aspect ratio, phones are increasingly tall, rather than wide. So while, at 6.1in, the P20 Pro sounds like a phablet it doesn’t feel like one in your hand – unless you have shallow pockets that is.
I said the P20 Pro is bigger than the P20, but it’s not that much larger: just 0.3in across the diagonal. That does mean the P20 Pro with the same screen resolution of 1,080 x 2,240, is slightly less sharp, with a pixel density of approximately 408ppi but this is not something you’d notice without a microscope. And in any case, in every other way, it’s a better screen – in fact, it’s one of the best we’ve encountered ever.
For starters, it’s an OLED display, rather than the IPS one found on the regular P20. That means you’re looking at inky black and perfect contrast with the added bonus that it’s generally kinder to battery life. Image quality is simply brilliant, too. It covers 99.9% of the sRGB colour gamut when set to “normal” display mode (the default is the more garish “vibrant” setting), and its Delta E score is 1.11, meaning superb colour reproduction across the spectrum. Peak brightness hits 387cd/m2 – dimmer than the regular LCD P20 and a lot less bright than the Samsung Galaxy S9, whose OLED display can reach blinding levels in some circumstances. It’s perfectly readable in most conditions, though, so unless you’re a desert dweller this shouldn’t be too much of an issue.[gallery:5]
One final note: the P20 Pro does come with a screen protector on it, but not a terribly good one, and ours was showing signs of scratching after a few days. Worse, because it has a hole cut out for the front-facing camera, you’re constantly catching your finger on it when you pull down the notifications bar. It’s nice of Huawei to install one out of the box, to avoid the annoyance of trapped air bubbles but it could (and should for the money) have gone with a better one than this.
Huawei P20 Pro review: Performance
The main specifications of the Huawei P20 Pro are very similar to the regular P20. Both have a HiSilicon Kirin 970 processor clocked at 2.4GHz and both have 128GB of built-in storage to make up for that lack of microSD card. The key difference is that the Pro model benefits from an extra 2GB RAM.
It’s debatable whether smartphones really need 6GB RAM at this point (the Galaxy S9 makes do with 4GB, while the iPhone X is perfectly happy on 3GB) but it does go some way to explaining the price discrepancy between the P20 and P20 Pro. In terms of actual performance though, there’s very little between the two phones, which means that the processor is fast, but not the very fastest. In fact, the Huawei P20 family is more of a match for last year’s Snapdragon 835-powered flagships than this year’s 845 beasts.
The same is true for graphical performance, as you can see in the graph below.
Should you care? Probably not. The Kirin 970 is still a damned fine processor, and just because the benchmarks show what’s theoretically possible, doesn’t mean that you’ll find yourself bumping against the limits of the P20 Pro anytime soon; at least not in general use.
Indeed, performance on the P20 Pro is snappy and responsive as anything else out there for every task we’ve thrown at it. Likewise, though, it’s true to say that if you insist on the most raw power out there, then the P20 family doesn’t quite offer it.
What the P20 Pro does offer is very good battery life and that’s another advantage it has over the regular P20. Huawei has managed to squeeze in an extra 600mAh of battery capacity, taking it to a grand total of 4,000mAh. The results are very impressive: in our standard battery test with a video playing on loop and brightness locked to a brightness of 170cd/m2 the P20 Pro lasted 14hrs 35mins.
After a week of use, I’ve yet to dip below 30% on the gauge and if you don’t use your phone much, it seems plausible that you could get through two days without needing to plug it in.
Huawei P20 Pro review: Camera
So far, so very good, now for the main hurdle where the P20 fell down: the camera. To be entirely fair to the P20, the camera isn’t awful, it just fell well short of high expectations when examined up close, despite ranking second place in DxOMark’s photography chart with 102 points – four more than the Google Pixel 2. The Huawei P20 Pro scored 109 points in the same chart.
Fortunately, this time around, the plaudits are fully deserved. For static images, we’re ready to declare the P20 Pro the best smartphone camera around.
It achieves this with a total of three rear-mounted cameras. That may sound confusing, but it’s actually reasonably straightforward: the main RGB camera (40-megapixel) and monochrome snapper (20-megapixel) combine to create photos with greater dynamic range when used together, while the monochrome camera can also be used to take moody black and white photographs of cats.
The third lens is an 8-megapixel 3x telephoto lens that adds optical zoom. It’s also the only one that optically stabilised.
This setup means that the P20 Pro is keen on becoming the low-light champion, with Huawei claiming it can capture decent photographs in lighting conditions of just 1 lux. And that’s true: I was able to capture this shot of a near pitch-black cinema without a flash (before the show began: I’m not a monster). I did have to hold still for a little longer than normal, so it’s not suitable for images where the subject insists on moving.
Image quality is nothing short of exceptional. Regardless of the lighting conditions, the Pro’s unusual camera array is capable of capturing everything from wispy layers of clouds to far-off brickwork and reflections in puddles. The images captured by my colleague Nathan at the launch event in Paris really do showcase the versatility of the device nicely.
It’s not perfect, though. Like the P20, in a bid to reduce noise it has a tendency to overprocess images, leading to a loss of detail. That’s a trait we’ve noticed in previous Huawei handsets. The automatic camera tools are a mixed bag, too: while it’s nice that the P20 Pro software can near-instantly identify whether you’re looking at food or a cat (my two main genres) and adapt settings accordingly, its choices aren’t always ideal and it can sometimes underexpose images as a result. Fortunately, the phone’s manual options are versatile enough that you can easily get spot-on photos with a bit of patience.
First the positive: the P20 Pro is capable of shooting super slow motion video at 960fps and 720p. That’s a nice touch, although capturing the exact moment can be very tricky and it doesn’t have an automatic motion sensor for it like the Galaxy S9.
But the real issues are with regular video capture and they’re the same problems that plague the regular P20. On paper, the features sound good: the P20 Pro is capable of shooting 4K, 60fps and stabilised video. Unfortunately, it can’t do all of these things at the same time.[gallery:6]
That means that if you want 4K content it’s capped at 30fps and it won’t be stabilised either. If you want 60fps video, then you’re going to have to drop to 1080p – but again, it won’t be stabilised. For that, you’ll need to drop to 1080p AND 30fps.
This won’t matter to plenty of people – it doesn’t to me particularly – but it’s worth highlighting because it’s a significant black mark on an otherwise excellent camera. The iPhone X manages to do all three at the same time, so why can’t the P20 Pro? I suspect it’s due to hardware limitations, so don’t expect a fix via software anytime soon.
Huawei P20 Pro review: Verdict
It’s a shame to end the Huawei P20 Pro video on a misstep because the phone makes so few of them. Video capture aside, the only serious quibbles I have are the lack of 3.5mm headphone jack and microSD card slot and those are issues that don’t seem to have done the last two generations of iPhone any harm.[gallery:7]
Elsewhere, the Huawei P20 Pro oozes quality all round. It looks great, the screen is terrific, the camera superb and it’s nippy enough not to let you down over the duration of a standard 24-month contract.
At £799, it’s certainly expensive, but keep an eye on contract deals in the next few months. If past form is anything to go by then in a few months the Huawei P20 Pro will not only be one of the best phones you can buy, it’ll also be one of the biggest bargains.
Huawei P20 Pro specifications
|Processor||Octa-core 2.4GHz Hisilicon Kirin 970|
|Screen resolution||2,244 x 1,080|
|Rear camera||40-mexapixel, 20-megapixel, 8-megapixel|
|Memory card slot (supplied)||N/A|
|Dimensions||155 x 73.9 x 7.8 mm|
|Operating system||Android 8.1|