Smartphones have gone far and beyond their call of duty.
Think about for a minute. Today’s flagships are wondrous in so many ways. Enough grunt to match computers, gaming prowess only consoles should possess, photography skills of a DSLR, I could go on. Oh, I almost forgot, you can use one to make calls and send texts too.
In this day and age of phenomenal flagships, it’s hard to genuinely excite the audience let alone jaded journos such as myself. Until of course, something like the P20 Pro comes along. To add to the intrigue, it comes bearing a familiar badge. Goes by the name of Huawei.
Better still, its party piece is a supercharged snapper courtesy Leica. And it’s all wrapped neatly in a psychedelic dress for the occasion that the brand proudly proclaims as Twilight.
Forget the Pixel 2’s single cam or even the iPhone X’s tag team snappers. This right here has a triple lens setup for a three-punch combo. Good enough for you?
CAMERA: THRICE AS NICE
No really, three cams? Like the Pixel 2’s astounding single lens wasn’t good enough? Surely that’s overkill, you’d say. Me too. In fact, I’d call it unnecessary if it wasn’t absolutely astonishing.
The Pixel 2 has the finest set of brains in the business at the helm of its hardware. While Huawei can’t boast of such intellectual superiority, it more than compensates by ramping up the horsepower under the hood. Case in point? I see your single lens, Google, and I raise you three. And the end result is plain as daylight.
By cramming together an 8-megapixel telephoto sensor, a 20-megapixel black-and-white sensor, and a main RGB sensor that clocks in at a ginormous 40 megapixels the Huawei P20 Pro is capable of some simply incredible photos. While most rivals like the iPhone X and Galaxy S9+ top out at 2X zoom, the Pro leapfrogs all of the above with 3X optical or 5X ‘hybrid’ zoom of its own.
A lot of the heavy-lifting is taken care of by the amount of light that the 2μm camera lets in. That truly threatens the Pixel 2’s throne in poor lighting conditions in particular, apart from every other scenario you throw at the device. Sample shots we’ve brought back from the P20 Pro’s global unveil in Paris are proof of how good the phone is at capturing the Eiffel Tower even at night.
Its point and shoot shenanigans are nothing to be toyed with. Where the device does falter however, is software skills. Huawei’s built-in Master AI function is meant to tweak settings to portray the subject of your photos in best possible way. What you see on the other side of your clicks are photos ramped up to Samsung levels of saturation. Anyone accustomed to the Pixel 2’s natural photography will turn the feature off immediately, just like I did. Flip over to the front cam, and you’ll wonder who’s even in the frame till you bring ‘Beauty Levels’ all the way down to zero.
Overall, the only chink in the P20 Pro’s photography armour is consistency. Photos you capture are almost always epic. But when they’re not, things go just as far in the opposite direction. Of course, if you like your captures in motion, the P20 Pro pulls off 4K in 30FPS or some truly cinematic 960FPS slow-mos in 720p.
DISPLAY: THE ONLY WAY IS OLED
If you’ve been fortunate enough to get a taste of an OLED screen, you’re familiar with the disappointment that follows with any other kind of display. Your senses are spoilt for good and once you go (OLED) black, you never go back. Lucky for you, Huawei concurs and chose to fit its flagship with just that type of hardware.
The 6.1in 2240x1080p screen is big, but boy is it beautiful. While it doesn’t support HDR, we’ll let this one slide given the choice of smartphone-friendly content that takes advantage of such tech. Once the initial excitement wears off, you will start to sense some more Samsung-esque saturation levels. I’m glad to report, a quick flip of the switch in display settings tones everything down to natural levels.
I’ve been a huge fan of always-on displays ever since Motorola’s Active Notifications hooked me in a few years ago. If you feel the same, you’ll want to switch on the option for maximum benefits. Having a quick glance at the time and a number of notifications add immense convenience to the mix. It’s turned off by default for power savings but in this case, I’d say the trade-offs are well worth it.
What I can’t rave as much about is the tiny yet intrusive notch up top. While it lacks the biometric tech that powers the iPhone X, it executes Face Unlocks relatively well when you aren’t using the ultra quick fingerprint scanner at the bottom.
However, if there’s one feature I’d gladly banish from the books of smartphone design, it’s notches. While they eat into screen space to supposedly improve how you access your device, they don’t quite hit the nail on the head. Anyone who’s had to lean forward to align their mugs with a smartphone on a desk will know exactly what I’m talking about.
DESIGN: TWILIGHT OR BUST
If you like your smartphone to make a fashion statement, you’ve come to the right place. Dressed in standard Black or Blue, the P20 Pro is just another slab of smart glass like everybody else. But catch a glimpse of one in its Twilight avatar, and you’ll know right then that you’re looking at a showstopper. Shifting in tone from green to purple in pearlescent fashion, it really feels like its a thing of its own. It obviously borrows heavily from the HTC U11’s outfit, but adds its own twist to it.
Bear in mind, every time you grip the device’s slender body, you’ll pay for it with the prints you leave behind. Forensic scientists couldn’t be bigger fingerprint magnets even if they tried. So, with great regret, you’ll want to slide it into a case for protection. On the plus side, Huawei’s thought things through and bundled a see-through one as part of the deal. They’ve even chucked IP67 waterproofing at it for added security.
We could go on about the numerous ways phones inspire each other but in this case, we’ll focus on the things that truly matter to you, the user. For example, if you’re having a hard time letting go the headphone jack, the P20 Pro isn’t going to make things any easier. If like us, you have excitedly waved goodbye to wires, you’ll know of the benefits the world of Bluetooth bring with it.
POWER & BATTERY LIFE: FASTEST IN ALL THE LAND?
Remember what we said earlier about smartphone’s packing the grunt of computer’s these days? Same story. Under the hood, the P20 Pro is brimming with brute force that comes from its Kirin 970 chip and 6GB RAM. You could dedicate your life to meaningless measurements like the nanoseconds it takes over / under its rivals, but in the real world where we all exist, it makes no difference.
At the end of the day, tasks are smashed out of the way without a sweat be it power gaming, binge YouTubing or furious working. It feels every bit the flagship that it should. There’s 128 gigs of space to store all that you have, which I think is aplenty. Of course, you could bicker by demanding for your beloved microSD slot but honestly, what do you really do with your phone? Not that it’s our business but it’s just not necessary.
As they say, with great power, comes great battery drainage. Ok fine we made that one up but really, isn’t juice for days the dream? While we’re far from that, the 4000mAh battery around the back is another standard setter in its category. Enough for a full day’s worth of power usage in fact. If you’re not leashed to your phone beyond necessity, you’ll even surpass a day and a half’s battery life out of a single charge.
OS: ANDROID, ONLY MESSIER
EMUI! Scared ya, didn’t we? Well, you aren’t alone. The software has been notorious for the sleepless nights it’s given many users and reviewers alike. The P20 Pro undoes some of its predecessor’s damage with a cleaner UI. Laid down on top of Android 8.1 Oreo, it’s generally easy to live this. And this is coming from a staunch Pixel 2 user, mind. Surprise surprise, it mimics iOS by swapping out an app drawer handing you a suite of Huawei apps. My favourite bit if how you can simply work your way through the settings, and set things just the way you like them.
For example, my undying rage against notches is instantly defused by a setting that lets me add a black strip to the top of the display. I can even rid myself of unnecessary on-screen navigation buttons and instead customise the physical home button the same tasks. I hereby conclude that the P20 Pro packs enough tools within its UI to make it my daily driver if I so choose.
So, what do we think of the P20 Pro you ask. Biggest upset of the year? Surely you’ve never imagined a flagship from Huawei skilled enough to threaten its colossal competitors in the smartphone game. Except, that’s exactly what the P20 Pro proudly achieves. How do we love thee? Let’s count the ways shall we? An amazing triple lens camera, dressed to impress and performance par excellence.
You could argue that it’s slowed down by the shortcomings of its software but, we’re living proof that there are tools within the device that can smoothen out the rough edges and make it truly shine. The P20 Pro stands right at the cusp of innovation and inspiration and does so with style. It’s easily the best smartphone unleashed from the Huawei stable and stands shoulder to shoulder with the best in the business today.
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