Great-looking phones at affordable prices is Honor's raison d'etre. If you can't afford a proper flagship, but want similar styling punch and a few of the same features, Honor usually has something for you.

That's the idea behind the 20 Lite, a taster of what the brand has in store for its affordable flagship Honor 20 due later this month. It's got skinny screen bezels, a triple-lens camera (sort of), hardware that punches above its price and a gorgeous colour scheme.

The only problem? Huawei got there first with the P30 Lite. The two phones are nearly identical, save a few features. And the small matter of £80.

Time to find out if the Honor is a steal at £250, or whether you should stump up the extra for the Huawei.

DESIGN & FEATURES: LOOKS THE PART

Like a lot of Honor phones, the 20 Lite is all about faking it until you make it: it looks like a premium handset, with a design that mimics the glass-and-metal sandwich favoured by top-money rivals.

Only here things are made from plastic to keep costs down. You'd only know when you pick it up, as from a distance it looks the bee's knees, with a 90% screen-to-body ratio, skinny bezels, and an ultra-shiny rear panel in eye-catching Phantom Blue hues.

It has a reassuring heft, despite the plastic build, and isn't so big that small hands will struggle to wield it.

The triple camera array sits to one side, bulging out a little but not enough to catch every time you slip it into a pocket. There was even room in the budget for a fingerprint sensor, which is conveniently placed on the back right where your index finger sits. It's quick to unlock, too, giving it the edge over much more expensive (but still early) in-display tech.

DISPLAY & SOUND: DO THE DEW

With a stretched aspect ratio and miniscule camera bump Honor calls a 'pearl-like dewdrop', the 20 Lite is about as on trend as it gets right now. Not bad at all for a sub-£250 phone.

The 6.21in screen is ever-so-slightly larger than the Huawei P30 Lite's panel, with a few more pixels to make up the difference. 2340x1080 is essentially Full HD with space at the sides, so photos and videos look detailed enough.

You get LCD at this price, not OLED, so darker scenes of videos tend to look more washed out and with less contrast than they will on a more expensive handset. Probably not one for watching Game of Thrones on, then. Otherwise, colour reproduction is pretty good, and you can even tweak the colour temperature in the settings menu if you like things to look a particular way.

Brightness could be a little better, not quite getting high enough to see perfectly clearly outdoors on a bright summer day. Stay in the shade, though, and you'll have no problems.

Mono sound is par for the course at this price, with the skinny speaker grille next to the notch only used for voice calls. It can sound rather sharp and shrill if you really crank the volume, so headphones are the way to go for anything other than a quick YouTube clip.

CAMERA: TRICKY TRIPLE

Flip the 20 Lite over and you'll spot three separate lenses in its camera array - but only two of them are actually usable.

That's because Honor has added a 2MP depth-sensing sensor, which is used purely for creating fake bokeh blur when you turn on portrait mode. The effects aren't always perfect, coming undone by fine detail and loose hairs, and seeing how a lot of other phones can do just as good a job in software, it feels like adding features for the sake of it.

The second snapper is an 8MP ultra-wide, handy for squeezing even more into each photo, but you have to accept a sizeable quality hit when you do. Fine detail takes a dip, and is particularly noticeable in landscapes, so works best for middle-distance shooting.

You'll spend most of your time with the main camera, a 24MP sensor with f/1.8 aperture and Honor's AI scene-recognition, which boosts saturation, contrast and sharpness depending on what you point the lens at. It's worth leaving on, as it improved most of our test photos with added clarity and more punchy colours, even if it reduces the pixel count of the final image.

Given the price, image quality really is rather good, with largely accurate exposures and realistic colour.

HDR isn't always able to cope with particularly bright or dark parts of scenes, and the 48MP Huawei P30 does a better job all-round, but that's why it costs £80 more.

Low-light shots show a lot more noise, with fewer crisp lines and a general lack of detail, though colour processing is more true-to-life than many budget phones. A dedicated night mode requires a steady hand, and is nowhere near as effective as the one found on the flagship Huawei P30, but still gives better results than the auto setting can manage.

It's the 32MP selfie camera that really stands out, capturing an impressive amount of detail in good lighting conditions and managing a largely accurate colour balance. If you snap more photos of yourself than anything else, you'll find plenty to like here.

 

 

OS & SOFTWARE: ONCE MORE WITH EMOTION

Used a Huawei or Honor phone in the last few years? Then you'll know the story here. If you haven't, EMUI is the brands' take on Android, with plenty of iOS-inspired additions that not everyone appreciates.

Things have been toned down a bit from previous years, with some of Google's new Pie-flavoured additions like digital wellbeing also making the cut. You can swap the onscreen keys for gestures, and add an app drawer if you prefer to keep your homescreen looking uncluttered.

This is well worth doing, as out of the box the 20 Lite can overwhelm you with the number of preinstalled apps. We counted 30 on top of Google's usual selection, with a lot of them simply duplicating things like Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Photos.

Fair enough if you live in China, where Google is severely restricted, but they're so popular here in the UK that you'll spend your first fifteen minutes with the 20 Lite just clearing up apps you're never going to use. The pre-installed third-party apps are irritating, too, but at least you can delete them.

PERFORMANCE: MOSTLY SMOOTH SAILING

It's a budget phone, so expectations should be kept in check, but the 20 Lite feels responsive enough thanks to its Kirin 710 octa-core CPU and 4GB of RAM.

Apps load pretty quickly, swapping between multiple apps doesn't force then to reload, and the Android home screen looks free from stuttering or slowdown. More demanding apps and games do take a few seconds longer to load than a more premium phone might manage, but not so long you'll be left twiddling your thumbs.

While you can run 3D games at their highest detail settings, stuttering and slightly unstable frame rates can raise their heads - better to stick to the defaults if you want your Asphalt 9 races to look as smooth as possible.

You'll have plenty of room for apps and games, with a whopping 128GB of on-board storage and a microSD card slot for adding more later. Some budget handsets still skimp on space, so it's great to see so much here.

BATTERY LIFE: LETTING THE SIDE DOWN

With 3400mAh of juice to keep it ticking over, the 20 Lite can comfortably last a full day of average use - say music streaming, social media, a few camera snaps and an hour spent falling down a YouTube rabbit hole before bed.

Hit the games hard and you'll want to top up before bedtime, which is when the 20 Lite's fatal flaw presents itself: it's stuck with microUSB instead of the now-ubiquitous USB-C.

There are barely any phone makers still using this old format for anything other than true bargain basement handsets, and its presence here feels like the Huawei mothership demanding Honor leaves a little bit of wiggle room between the 20 Lite and the almost-identical Huawei P30 Lite.

It means you can't fast-charge, so you're stuck waiting around if you need to refuel during the day. Don't expect wireless charging at this price, either.

HONOR 20 LITE VERDICT

Funny how skimping on one tiny thing can spoil your impression of an otherwise stellar budget phone. The 20 Lite gives you three rear cameras (even if one of 'em is really only on depth duties), a standout design and plenty of storage - so why did Honor hobble it with microUSB?

It's last-gen features like this that remind you this phone is a second-class citizen, compromised to make room for parent company Huawei and its P30 Lite. Similarly-priced rivals like the Moto G7 Plus managed to find room in the budget for USB-C, and have a vanilla version of Android to boot.

That's a shame, because the 20 Lite's eye-catching colours and the prospect of pin-sharp selfies have real appeal. If you've not thrown out all your old microUSB cables just yet, and want a sub-£250 phone that looks like a much more expensive one, this should still make your shortlist.

Tech Specs 
SCREEN
6.21in, 2340x1080 IPS LCD w/19.5:9 aspect ratio, teardrop notch
CPU
HiSilicon Kirin 710 octa-core
MEMORY
4GB RAM
CAMERA
24MP, f/1.8, 8MP, 2MP rear, 32MP front
STORAGE
128GB on-board, microSD expansion
OPERATING SYSTEM
Android 9.0 Pie w/ EMUI 9
BATTERY
3400mAH non-removable
DIMENSIONS
155x74x8mm, 164g
Stuff says... 

Honor 20 Lite review

Stripping back a few features sounds like a sound idea, but the Honor 20 Lite still feels beaten to the punch by its Huawei sibling. Still a steal at this price, mind.
£249
Good Stuff 
Design and screen punching high for the price
Decent mid-range performance
Plenty of features for those on a budget
Bad Stuff 
Hobbled to leave room for Huawei
Wide-angle camera not fantastic quality
Not a leap forward from last year