Huawei launches new P20 series
Dominic Sunnebo shares his first impressions having tested the new devices at a pre-briefing on 7th March. The Huawei P20 Series was launched at an event in Paris on 27th March.
When you ship 153 million Smartphones in one year, the days of being described as a challenger brand quickly fall away. Huawei is already the 3rd largest Smartphone maker in the world and has not shied away from its bold ambitions to be top dog, surpassing Samsung by 2021. Ambitions are one thing, reality often quite another, but by heavily investing in R&D (to the tune of €10.4 billion in 2017), there is real depth to what Huawei wants to achieve.
Some of the fruits of that heavy R&D investment were on display today, with the launch of the new P20 and P20 Pro Series Smartphones. The P series was due a wholesale design refresh after last year’s P10’s more iterative update and it certainly delivered. There is very little design language linking the P10 and P20. The P20 and P20 Pro sport both a beautiful all screen display, termed FullView, coming in at 5.8” and 6.1” respectively. Both devices are OLED, with Full 1080 HD resolution and support for the ever popular 18:7:9 aspect ratio. From the front, the most immediate thing you notice is the ‘notch’. Since the iPhone X release, it seems most Smartphone manufacturers feel compelled to include an iPhone X style notch. Whilst Apple included this to contain highly complex facial recognition, it is almost a pure design feature elsewhere. Whether you deem it to be a good design feature or not, is of course highly subjective, but regardless it seems here to stay. To be fair to Huawei, the notch is far smaller than on an iPhone X, meaning you would be unlikely to confuse the two devices when next to each other. The smaller size also means that when viewing media in landscape mode, the loss of screen real estate as a result is less significant. Huawei has kept the front facing fingerprint sensor at the button of the device, helping to create a further differentiated look.
The design is all glass with curved sides for excellent ergonomics. After years of blacks and greys in the industry, Huawei has gone with a bold colour palette for the P20 series, offering up Midnight Blue, Pink Gold, Champagne Gold, Twilight, and of course Black. The Twilight and Pink Gold options really stood out, incorporating what Huawei call ‘Gradient Finish’. The Twilight option moving from Purple to Blue to Green, offering up a genuinely classy and unique look.
The batteries on both devices have received a bump, with the P20 coming in at a respectable 3500mah and the Pro at a sizable 4000mah. These are both larger on paper than the Samsung Galaxy S9 equivalents (by 500mah), though whether that translates into an equivalent real world increase will depend on the efficiency of the in-house Kiri 970 processor and EMUI software. Base level memory on both devices is set to a generous 128GB with the P20 getting 4GB of RAM and its big brother receiving a bump to 6GB. Given the mega pixel size of the cameras, large storage capacity is not just welcome, but likely necessary given the file some pictures are likely to generate.
For the P Series, the main event has always been the Leica co-engineered camera and the P20 is no different. The partnership Huawei has forged with Leica has not only resulted in some real photographic innovation, but also lends some much needed brand recognition to Huawei in markets where it is less well known, such as Great Britain. The camera is where the P20 and the P20 Pro start to really separate. Huawei say they want to bring master photography to the everyday and has introduced a three (yes three) camera setup on the Pro version. The P20 meanwhile has to settle for just the two. The three camera setup entails a 8mp Tele Lens, 20mp Mono Lens and 40mp RGB Lens, meaning a maximum count of 68 mega pixels, the most ever found on a Smartphone. For those with an interest and understanding in professional photography, that also means a maximum ISO of 102,400.
As well as pushing hardware boundaries, AI (artificial intelligence) is at the heart of the P20 Series camera experience. The camera can recognise multiple different scenes such as pets, cooking, sport, fireworks and automatically adjust the settings to capture the best possible picture. AI also helps with composition, if the device notices you are trying to take a group picture, but some people are cut out, it will automatically adjust the settings to capture the full scene. The camera also includes a 5 x hybrid zoom, which in tests captured a truly astounding amount of detail (especially when compared directly to competitors). Low light shots remain a bug bear of Smartphone cameras, and it’s here the P20 saves the best till last and was the biggest step forward I’ve seen in this area. To make this leap forward, the P20 uses something Huawei term AIS, essentially a more intelligent version of OIS (which helps stabilise pictures when your hand is shaking). When professional photographers take night shots, they often use a long exposure to capture a greater amount of detail. Given it often takes around 6-8 seconds exposure for these shots, a tripod is most commonly used to reduce any shaking (which causes deterioration of the shot). With the P20 Huawei has all but eliminated the need for a tripod whilst taking these low light long exposure shots, using AIS. I took a shot of a scene of the Eiffel Tower and surrounding lights, in a room so dark I couldn’t even see my feet, and it came out better than I could see with my own eyes. It was sharp, vivid and unlike anything I’ve seen before.
The only obvious feature missing from the P Series is full IP68 waterproofing certification. Thankfully the P20 Pro now comes with IP67 certification which provides some solid resistance to dust and water, but the P20 does not. Samsung claims the upper hand here with IP68 on both the Galaxy S9 and S9+. Unlike Samsung and Apple, Huawei has chosen to leave the job of integrating a virtual assistant to the P20 to Google, with Google Assistant on tap to cater for your every whim. No mention was made of Huawei coming up with an in-house equivalent, which perhaps seems wise given how far ahead Google already is in this field.
The Huawei P20 series cements Huawei’s ability to proudly stand side by side with Apple and Samsung at the top tier of the global Smartphone market. Its heavy investment in R&D shines through in the camera, which if not the best there is, is within a whisker. The P20 series design is fresh, modern and on trend, though the addition of the iPhone leaning notch seems perhaps unnecessary for a brand as strong and successful as Huawei. There is already a stream Chinese manufacturer copying the notch and Huawei doesn’t need to follow suit. The P20 Series is likely to be a highly attractive proposition to consumers around the world, though as Huawei fights to get return on investment for its heavy research, significantly under cutting its two key competitors is no longer an option. Expect P20 prices (at least initially), to be more closely matched than ever to its Galaxy and iPhone adversaries.
The Huawei P20 series cements Huawei’s ability to proudly stand side by side with Apple and Samsung at the top tier of the global Smartphone market.