I’ll be honest: New smartphone releases don’t excite me the way they used to. As much as I enjoyed using the Mi Mix 2S and Galaxy S9 as my daily drivers for most of early 2018, they’re practically the same as their predecessors.
It takes something special to win me over. The massive gold-trimmed Mi Mix did that for me in 2016, and so did the notch-pioneering Essential Phone last year (once its price dropped, of course). But let’s be real: Neither of these phones had decent cameras. As pretty as they were to look at, in no way could they replace my mirrorless camera on trips.
Now, I don’t want to sound like a Huawei bandwagoner, but the P20 Pro has been doing it all for me, and I’m not just talking about the fantastic cameras. Having spent significant time with both the Pro and non-Pro versions, they’ve been my go-to phones midway this year.
P20 Pro versus P20 (not) Pro
Before having the privilege of using the P20 Pro as my current daily driver, I had the regular P20 in my pocket. While this may have been for OOTD purposes, it became the basis for my experience with the Pro, and a reference to Huawei’s current-generation capabilities.
Isa already wrote her comprehensive thoughts on the P20, which largely reflect how I feel about the non-Pro model. It’s sized just right for hands both big and small; the cameras are above the competition (in most cases); and its color options are simply gorgeous in person.
The P20 Pro is all that and a little more. Since it’s larger, there’s more screen real estate from its 6.1-inch 1080p OLED display and it houses a more generous 4000mAh battery — both of which are much-appreciated upgrades for power users.
Other differences aren’t as significant, like the stereo speakers and stronger waterproofing on the Pro model, but are again features that add value to the more expensive variant. Are these enough to justify the added premium? Not really, yet we haven’t touched on the main reason for buying a P20 Pro: the Leica-infused triple-camera setup on the back.
The mooore, the merrier
There are a total of four cameras on the P20 Pro, three of which are on the rear. They are: a 20-megapixel monochrome camera, an 8-megapixel sensor for additional zoom, and a primary shooter with 40 megapixels at its disposal. What does this all mean? The best imaging capabilities on a smartphone by a long shot.
People (us included) have become skeptical of DxOMark’s ratings and how they affect potential users’ perception of the best camera-phones, but there’s some truth in the soul-crushing dominance the P20 Pro experiences at the very top of their mobile chart.
Although it’s a given that every smartphone generation delivers a decent upgrade in image quality each year, none have dotted their exclamation point as much as Huawei has. It’s already been three whole months since the P20 Pro was unveiled, and no newer handset till now has even come close to dethroning its cameras’ performance.
I’ve already taken the P20 Pro across the world and used it to document my trips. I rarely say this, but this phone can definitely replace my consumer-grade mirrorless camera. Like the cameras, there are three things they specialize in, namely incredible image quality, unmatched zooming abilities, and nighttime photography like no other.
Whether I’m taking shots at night or under broad daylight, with or without color, the P20 Pro absolutely delivers. I can’t count how many times I’ve been amazed by the results and thankful that I left my dedicated camera at home.
Even the zoom comes in handy when I’m traveling or shooting at an event. With a dedicated lens for this purpose, the P20 Pro can optically zoom up to three times. What’s even more impressive, however, is the image quality at 10X zoom.
Using a mix of optical and digital zoom (and some advanced software tricks), photos shot at the maximum length turn out usable, which is something I can’t say for the majority of cameras out there.
While the 24-megapixel front camera seems like another recipe for success, it doesn’t hit the same high notes. Not that it’s bad by any means — and trust me, I’ve had worse — but selfies simply don’t match up to anything the main cameras produce.
Downsides? There are a couple.
For one, I find the Master AI feature, which chooses the best mode for you using artificial intelligence, cumbersome to use. Although it gets the settings right most of the time, it adds a few seconds to the process, and there will be instances wherein it’ll experiment on its own, leaving you forced to watch it switch from one mode to another.
I simply leave this feature turned off and do the scene selection on my own. Need a good nighttime pic? I simply go to night mode and take a four-second handheld exposure. Want to blur the background behind my subject? I’m already in portrait mode. Artsy-fartsy time? There’s monochrome mode for that.
On the other hand, video mode isn’t that great. Even though Huawei managed to improve the stability and clarity of videos, they missed a golden opportunity to massacre the competition outside of just photography.
If you try the super-slow-mo mode, you’ll see how unrefined it is compared to what the likes of Sony and Samsung have done. Yes, it shoots HD videos at 960 frames per second too, but it’s nowhere near as fun or as intuitive to use.
It does almost everything else
Of course, this is first and foremost a smartphone, and we can’t sell it solely on its shooters. But even if the cameras weren’t this good, the P20 Pro stands as one of the most impressive handsets of 2018 thus far.
Give me a moment to be a little technical:
Its Kirin 970 processor, though a bit behind in terms of raw power compared to this generation’s chips, is still a beast for everyday tasks and playing the latest mobile games; the generous battery is more than enough to power through a day of heavy usage with mobile data or Wi-Fi constantly on; and the OLED display, while not the brightest or sharpest out there, has been serving me well.
So, what’s there to consider three months later? Does it truly get better with age?
To get a pure feel of the P20 Pro, I decided to not use a case or any form of protection for it. Fortunately for me, its glass and metal body held up well. It doesn’t pick up scratches easily and the frame of my black variant has a matte finish, providing more grip than I’m used to on slippery glass phones.
And even if the rear cameras protrude a great deal, they don’t show signs of wear and tear after all this time. Their placement is annoying, however; the phone wobbles with every press on the screen while laid flat on a table.
Another constant gripe is Huawei’s uncertainty about going truly wireless or not. As you may already know, there’s no audio port for your headphones, forcing you to use an adapter or wireless earphones. Nothing we can do about that since that’s the direction all brands are heading toward, but having no wireless charging despite there being a compatible glass back seems counter-intuitive.
On the bright side, charging to full takes less than two hours, but that’s if you use the bundled SuperCharge adapter. It’s a proprietary standard, meaning you won’t be able to get SuperCharge speeds with chargers from non-Huawei phones.
The phone will simply indicate “fast charging” when using other adapters and slow down the top-up considerably. As someone who brings multiple devices with me at a time, it bums me to carry a dedicated charger just for the P20 Pro.
Software-wise, EMUI has grown on me. Despite feeling like it’s based on an older version of Android and not the Oreo it’s actually running on, I appreciate the fluidity of the animations and convenience of the quick settings. After uninstalling all the bloatware upon setting the phone up, everything has been fine and dandy since.
I can’t say for certain if it truly got faster the more I used it — Huawei’s machine learning tech is supposed to kick in for this — but the phone does feel as fast as when I first took it out of the box.
And no, the camera notch doesn’t bother me. I’d take it over the mechanical sliding cameras popping up lately.
Is this your Huawei P20 Pro?
There’s little to dislike about the P20 Pro. The only strong argument I have against it is to save your money by considering the regular P20 instead. It’s significantly cheaper in most markets, and lots of users will appreciate the handier form factor.
But if you do end up with a P20 Pro: Congrats! Smartphone cameras don’t get any better than this, and they happen to be on a mostly complete handset.