Now more than ever, it’s become more and more difficult to tell the year’s biggest phones apart. The Samsung Galaxy S9 looks like the iPhone X, which in turn borrowed its fair share of inspiration from elsewhere in the Android-verse.
Rather than sail against this identikit tide, Huawei’s P20 leans into it at breakneck speed with a visage that blends the best of both those phones with some ultra-powerful internals.
So yeah, while this is far from the most innovative blower you’ll come across in 2018, that doesn’t stop it from being one of the best. Why? It’s got pretty much everything you’d demand of a smartphone of this calibre.
With a near-bezel less screen, dual lens camera and ultra-powerful processor, we got hands-on with the Huawei P20 to find out what’s not to like about it.
Screen: notch it up
Although it almost looks like a dead ringer for the iPhone X, at least from face-on, Huawei P20’s has one crucial difference. It’s rocking a 5.8in 2244x1080 resolution LCD screen instead of the AMOLED model you’ll find on the iPhone X and even Samsung’s Galaxy S9.
So while this is still a fine display with bold colours and a good brightness that should prove the business for all your Instagram and YouTube binging, AMOLED screens tend to go one better. Hence Huawei P20 Pro’s has a 6.1in AMOLED screen for further improved colours and contrast.
Just like its big brother, the P20 still features that most curious design quirk of all: the notch. And it's less intrusive than ever before since there’s no housing of any IR sensors or other biometric scanning tech here.
Instead you unlock the P20 via a good old fashioned fingerprint scanner, which I much prefer in all honesty. Not only is a front-facing scanner more reliable than Apple’s decent enough FaceID and Samsung’s so-so Intelligent Scan, it also means you can unlock your phone from your office desk without picking it up. Praise be!
Design: art of glass
Should you need to grab ahold of the P20, you’ll find it’s a well-built phone that sits easily well in the hand. Slim without being slippery and still with a pleasing heft, it’s got that glass sandwich design with a metal middle that’s so prevalent amongst phone makers right now.
Just like the iPhone X, its dual lens camera is lined up vertically in the top left hand corner of its backside. All in all, this is a good looking phone that probably lacks a little in the way of distinctiveness.
Unless you go for the gorgeous pink-gold (read: Rose Gold) model whose glass is tinted so that it looks different depending on the light conditions around you. Just like last year’s stunning HTC U11.
On the downside, the new P20 is neither waterproof nor does it feature a headphone jack. It’s wireless buds, USB-C compatible headphones or bust with this phone.
Camera: twice as nice
As per last year’s P10, Huawei has doubled down on the P20’s camera skills with a dual lens model.
This time around there’s a 12MP RGB lens and a 20MP mono lens working in tandem to grasp even more detail from your shots, and a 2x zoom for when you’re looking to get a little bit closer to the action. You know, without having to scoot forward yourself.
Even though it’s not quite as appetising a prospect as the whopping great 5x zoom you’ll find on Huawei’s P20 Pro, I’m still expecting a great deal from the P20’s camera. Not least because the P10 already had a fantastic snapper to start off with.
Compared to its similarly-priced rivals in the iPhone 8 and Samsung S9, the P20 is somewhat unique in offering a dual lens camera. As you can see with the photos we’ve shot with it ourselves, the P20 can take a tidy picture with plenty of colour and detail.
Bearing in mind this was a pre-production sample we were using, it’s too soon to be declaring how they compare to the best that Samsung and Apple can offer.
More of a selfie fan? The P20 has you covered with a front-facing 24MP sensor, which is frankly excessive for capturing your best possible grun but will no doubt do the job for Instagram and the like.
Power and OS: baby boomer
As you’d no doubt expect, Huawei’s P20 is powered by the manufacturer’s latest Kirin 970 processor, which is broadly equivalent to the Exynos 9810 in Samsung's S9 and the Snapdragon 845 Sony’s Xperia XZ2. In other words, it’s super-fast and power efficient too.
Especially since it’s been paired with 4GB RAM, 128GB storage and a whopping 3400mAh battery. For reference, that’s almost double the size of the iPhone 8’s battery so the P20 really should go some in terms of stamina.
I’d expect about a day and half of usage judging it purely on the numbers, but that also depends on how Huawei’s EMUI 8.1 operating system fares too.
Based on Android 8.1, EMUI 8.1 brings all the benefits of Oreo such as safer browsing and less intensive notifications with Huawei’s own innovations.
Been turned off by EMUI in the past? You’ll be glad to know that its excesses have been toned down over the years so things are pretty much on par with what you’d expect from a Samsung or Sony phone.
Some of its tweaks are even quite useful too, such as the ability to get rid of the P20’s notch and replace it with a simple black bar instead.
Huawei P20 early verdict
Huawei's P20 promises to do so much that’s similar to its rivals, and judged on its specs alone you can’t really quibble with such ambitions. It’s got the design, power and camera chops to deliver in a big way.
Of course, none of this really matters if they don’t all come together to deliver a great phone for day-to-day usage, and that’s something I’ll only be able to tell once I’ve got ahold of it for a good while.
If the Huawei P20 can successfully blend the best bits of Apple’s iPhone X and the Samsung Galaxy S9, then it’ll share the same rarefied status as those fine handsets. And likely cost a little bit less to own.
Either way, it won’t be long until we find out how the Huawei P20 fares in our testing. It’s due out next month and I can’t wait to get ahold of it.