Huawei P20 vs Samsung Galaxy S9: the weigh-in

Can Huawei's iPhone X-like stunner take down the reigning champ?

Samsung already notched the year's biggest smartphone debut to date with the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+, but there's something oddly familiar about both. Oh, right: they're exactly like the Galaxy S8 models before them.

Now the Huawei P20 has debuted, and you might recognise its aesthetic from another high-profile phone. That's right: Apple's iPhone X, camera notch and all. Even so, there's plenty to be excited about with Huawei's new core flagship, including that screen-heavy front, dazzling design, and plenty of power.

The Galaxy S9 is our current pick for the world's best phone, but will Huawei's new handset disrupt Samsung's rule? Here's how the comparison shakes out, now that we've been hands-on with the P20.

Design: Both beauties

As suggested above, the Galaxy S9 doesn't make any major strides over the Galaxy S8, and that's true when it comes to style too. It's a dead ringer, really: the only visible difference is the repositioned fingerprint sensor on the back (which is definitely an upgrade).

Even so, this is still one of the best-looking phones in the world. It's all curved glass and aluminum with very little bezel on the front, and it looks and feels sufficiently premium all around.

As for the Huawei P20? Well, it really does look a lot like the iPhone X, albeit with a smaller notch on the front but also a lip below the screen to hold the fingerprint sensor. But it's a very sleek-looking phone, especially with the amazing Twilight gradient colour. If you're getting a P20, get that one.

Both of these are very impressive and stylish-looking phones, and ultimately this comparison will probably come down to personal preference – and whether you're bothered by the notch. In other words, just like the Galaxy S9 vs the iPhone X.

Screen: Dual dazzlers

It's a battle of bold and beautiful OLED panels here again. The Galaxy S9 sticks with a 5.8in, extra-tall 18.5:9 display like last year's, albeit a bit brighter now. At Quad HD resolution, it's still the best screen we've ever seen on a phone. Really dazzling stuff.

As for the P20, our first impression is very strong: it has the same punchiness and stunning contrast as the Galaxy S9, and this 18.7:9 5.8in display is slightly taller albeit with the notch in the middle up top. There's another key difference, too: it's lower resolution at 1080p.

We expect that Samsung will have a slight edge when they're put side by side, but the P20 screen looks plenty fine all the same.

Camera: Looking good

If this were the Huawei P20 Pro, then we'd be raving about its innovative triple-camera system on the rear, which bundles in a whopping 40-megapixel telephoto lens for stunning shots, not to mention 5x hybrid zoom. Based on our first shots, it's properly amazing.

But this isn't the P20 Pro, and the standard P20 sticks two measly cameras on the back: a 12MP RGB lens and 20MP monochromatic one. Even so, our early test shots packed in plenty of colour and detail, and the P10 likewise did well with its camera setup. We're expecting great results once we get into proper testing with the production model.

As for the Galaxy S9, we already know that it offers one of today's best smartphone cameras – and it only has the one camera on the back. It has a 12MP camera with dual-pixel autofocus and optical image stabilisation, and it adds variable aperture into the mix as well.

It'll pop between f/1.5 and f/2.4 settings on the fly, opening up for lower-light scenarios and then tightening up when you have plenty of light to work with. That ensures that you almost always get pretty fabulous shots, and while we think the Pixel 2 is just a bit better overall, the Galaxy S9 hardly disappoints. Once we get the P20 in for review, we'll see just how well it compares.

Performance: No weaklings here

You can't go wrong here either way. The Galaxy S9 packs in Samsung's newest Exynos 8910 chip in the UK and many other territories, or the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 in the States – those are the two newest, heavy-hitter Android chips, and they're incredibly fast. You'll have no issues running any kind of game, app, or media either way.

The Huawei P20, on the other hand, uses the same Kirin 970 chip from last year's Mate 10 Pro, but it's still pretty recent and super swift overall. Both of these have 4GB RAM onboard, and while benchmark tests might show some slight differences, we doubt there will be any big speed variance between them when it comes to common day-to-day usage. They're both powerhouses.

Battery and perks: Key differences

Like the phone before it, the Galaxy S9's 3,000mAh battery pack can get the job done for the average user, typically lasting a full day with moderate usage – but we wish it could be pushed a bit harder before needing a top-up.

Maybe the P20's 3,400mAh cell will fare better, then. Not only is it larger, but it's powering a lower-resolution screen to boot. However, the Galaxy S9 offers wireless charging, which the P20 lacks.

The Galaxy S9 ships with 64GB of internal storage, but offers a microSD slot for expandable storage. However, the Huawei P20 sadly kills the microSD support this time around, yet they give you 128GB storage to work with. Your call on whether that's a fair trade-off.

Elsewhere, Samsung has some nice perks not seen with Huawei – like the Gear VR headset and the newly revised DeX Station, which lets you plug in a computer monitor and use your smartphone like a proper PC. Those are both somewhat niche, very optional things, but they help add to the sensation that you get a lot of bonus benefits by going Samsung.

And the P20 lacks a 3.5mm headphone port, which the Galaxy S9 still maintains.

Initial verdict: S9 or P20?

The Huawei P20 feels like it's built to split the difference between the Galaxy S9 and the iPhone X, and while that's not the most ambitious or original approach, the early results look great: this is a slick-looking, powerful handset that can seemingly hang with the flagship elite.

On the other hand, while the Galaxy S9 is essentially just an enhanced Galaxy S8, at least it was Samsung's original design to start with. And it's still a hell of a design at that, with the Galaxy S9 taking its predecessor's place as the world's must-have flagship.

We'll reserve a final verdict until we can spend a lot more time with the Huawei P20, but based on our first impression, we're not sure that Huawei's flagship will wow us enough to shake up the rankings. The P20 Pro could well do that, however – again, we'll have to see how review testing goes.

Even if Samsung ultimately holds down its top spot on our list, the Huawei P20 looks like a potentially fantastic contender for your smartphone cash (assuming Indian price will be lower than Samsung's S9 cost), and quite possibly Huawei's best base flagship phone to date. We'll find out soon and update this piece accordingly at that point.