Huawei P20 Pro review: Now you have my attention
Overview & Design
Note: This article was first published on 11th April 2018.
Huawei, you had my curiosity, but now you have my attention
Huawei has steadily been improving its smartphones for the past few years now, but they've always been just out of reach of being a serious threat to Samsung and Apple's dominance. With the release of the P20 Pro though, that might finally change. Last year's Mate 10 Pro, with its dedicated neural processing unit and AI camera features had tons of potential, but it's the P20 Pro that finally realizes that potential, thanks to its incredible triple Leica camera setup.
First, the specs:
To notch or not to notch
After Apple released the iPhone X last year, a notch in your display has become the hottest trend of 2018. Basically every Chinese manufacturer, from ASUS (okay, ASUS is technically from Taiwan) to Oppo has a notch in their 2018 smartphone display, and we expect more to come. Huawei is no exception, with the P20 Pro having a small notch at the top.
Fortunately, if you're not a fan of notches, there's actually an option to hide it - which really just turns the sides of the notch dark so it's not as obvious.
The phone has a small chin on the bottom, with a home button in it, so with the notch 'hidden', the phone looks more symmetrical, and more like a Samsung Galaxy S9.
The P20 Pro measures 155 x 73.9 x 7.8 mm and weighs 180g, which makes it both thinner and lighter than your average flagship smartphone. For comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ is 8.5mm thick and weighs 189g. The phone has an IP67 dust and water resistant rating, which means it can be fully submerged in 1m of water for up to 30 minutes.
Design-wise, Huawei has opted for a safe but elegant look that obviously draws some inspiration from the iPhone X - and I don't just mean the notch. You get a a rounded aluminum frame with contoured 3D glass on the back that feels very much like a larger iPhone X in hand. Huawei says that both the front and back glass have oleophobic coatings, but that doesn't seem to help much against fingerprints. The front of the phone has a factory-installed screen protector, but it scratches very easily, and you'll probably end up having to remove it after a few weeks. The back of the phone has a metallic, high gloss finish with a mirror-like shine. The finish is quite similar to Huawei's Mate 10 Pro, and also reminds me of the HTC U11. It's worth noting that while the phone has a glass back, it does not support wireless charging.
The design elements on the rear of the phone are landscape-oriented to mimic the look of a camera. Back here you'll find the first ever Leica co-engineered Vario-Summilux-H f/1.6-/f.24 triple lens camera module. The triple lens design is split into two modules: the larger double module contains the 40-megapixel f/1.8 RGB lens and the 8-megapixel f/2.4 3x optical zoom telephoto lens, while the standalone third lens is the 20-megapixel f/1.6 monochrome lens. The double module has one of the biggest camera bumps I've ever seen (it's even larger than the one on the iPhone X), while the monochrome lens sit fairly flush with the rear of the phone.
On the bottom of the phone there's a USB Type-C port, flanked by two speaker grilles - which unfortunately means the phone doesn't have a 3.5mm headphone jack (although a dongle is included in the box). The design down here looks almost identical to an iPhone X and, like the X, only the right speaker grille is functional. However, the phone does actually have stereo speakers, with the microphone in the notch doubling up as the second speaker.
Both the power button and volume rocker can be found on the right-side, while the dual nano-SIM card tray is on the left. Unfortunately, like the Mate 10, Huawei has removed the micro SD card slot, so you're stuck with the 128GB internal storage. This is actually pretty disappointing for a phone that's so centered around photography.
The P20 Pro is available in three colors: Black, Midnight Blue (pictured) and Twilight. Internationally, there's a fourth color, Pink Gold, but in Singapore, that color is exclusive to the P20. The aluminum frame is matte black on the Black model, but is shiny silver on Blue and Twilight. Twilight is probably the most interesting color, due to its color gradient that changes from purple at the top to blue at the bottom.
What's up with that home button below the display?
The P20 Pro is unique among bezel-less smartphones as it keeps the home button below the display. The home button itself is very slim, and the chin on the P20 Pro isn't any larger than the button-less Samsung Galaxy S9 and ASUS ZenFone 5 - and it's actually smaller than the one on the Sony Xperia XZ2. I would have preferred a completely chin-free design, with a bigger display, like the iPhone X, but so far, only Apple has managed to pull that off.
The home button is also smarter than usual, as it also doubles up as a navigation sensor. Unlike other Android phones with a physical home button, there are no capacitive buttons on either side of the home button. Instead, you press the home button to return to the previous screen, or long press it to return to the home screen. You can swipe along it to view the recent apps screen.
Personally, I feel like it would be more intuitive to have swipe be the back button, and long press to view recent apps, but unfortunately there's no option to customize the navigation sensor. If you can't get used to it, there's also an option for on screen buttons in a variety of layouts like I have below:
If you don't want to use the fingerprint scanner, the P20 Pro also includes a Face Unlock option. On paper, Huawei's Face Unlock should be exactly the same as the face unlock option you find on most other Android phones, using the front-facing camera to compare against an image it saved when you setup the feature.
However, after testing the phone for a week, I can confidently say that Huawei's version is way better than any other phone I've used not called the iPhone X - possibly due to a combination of the P20 Pro's 24-megapixel camera and Huawei's excellent AI image recognition. It's lightning fast, unlocking the phone instantaneously, and it works really well in low-light conditions too - I'm not even sure how because it doesn't use IR (sorcery?). In absolute darkness, it takes a bit longer to work, because it waits for the display to turn on first, then uses the light from the display to illuminate your face and unlock the phone. As for security, I wasn't able to fool it with a picture or video recording of myself, but Huawei still won't let you use it for Android Pay (like every other Android-based face unlock system).