The Huawei started their Leica dual camera onslaught three years ago with the P9. It was a slow but sure strategy to build their experience in dual camera wide aperture technology. Their rewards have paid off. With the release of the triple-camera Huawei P20 Pro, they have a mature multi-camera technology that works better than any smartphone manufacturers in the market today.
After a 3-week hands-on review, thanks to NXT Magazine Singapore (I am a contributing writer-editor there), the P20 Pro has demonstrated that I can finally live with 5X hybrid zoom implementation for my daily imaging documentation. The 40 megapixel primary sensor is one of the main reasons the Huawei can keep the image quality despite only a 3X telephoto secondary lens. It is certainly not reached the quality of a proper DSLR or mirrorless camera, but a consumer would not have the patience or the keen eye to post-process the images to impress their peers.
Mobile Camera System
So with the P20 Pro, you are able to achieve variable aperture effect with background blur control. You can also zoom-in your subjects to 5X hybrid zoom, or 10X digital zoom, to capture varying angles of view. But Huawei does not stop there. The P20 Pro is the first and only imaging device that allows you to capture long-exposure night scenes handheld. In earlier P-series, Huawei’s night mode requires you to place the smartphone on a tripod to do long-exposure capture, with great results. On the P20 Pro, you can do away with a tripod, and despite a 4-second exposure, you can shoot handheld. The image turns out unbelievably still without blur. No one can expose an image for 4-seconds handheld without any image blur, but the P20 Pro makes it possible.
When Mate 10 was announced, Huawei started making a big deal about the Neural Processing Unit and claiming the built-in A.I. processor helps the camera identify objects to select the best processing effects, like portraits, food, greenery, night scene. Actually, auto-scene detection is not new, so I was not blown away. But with the P20 Pro, this auto-scene recognition shows its true benefits. First of all, it is fast in recognising the scene. Second, its suggestions turn out to be really helpful. Say when I am shooting a close-up portrait of my daughter, it changes to portrait mode, complete with background blur. Next, when I was trying to capture some details at close proximity, the camera turns on close-up mode which activates the hybrid zoom so that I can shoot without going too close. Once at a house party, I was trying to shoot a bartender and in the frame stood a drinks menu. P20 Pro intelligently picks up the menu and turns on text mode capture. The result: a cropped image of the menu content in perfectly squared orientation. But what about the bartender? Well, Huawei keeps the original shot which you can revert from the gallery app.
The 3D Portrait mode was taken from the iPhone X playbook, but P20 Pro adds more functionality, like allowing you to adjust the light source direction and intensity to create the kind of light shadows just like the photo studio. It’s not perfect, but it does help to alter the facial shadow effects. As for the front camera, it still exhibits excessive smoothness and pink skin tone. Fortunately, the beauty mode intensity can be adjusted. Another issue: the depth of field is rather shallow, so if you are taking a wefie, the people at a distance will appear out of focus.
Video and Super Slow-Motion
Huawei also managed to squeeze in the super slow-motion feature that Sony Xperia made popular. And good thing the P20 Pro has it, because 2018 is the year of super slow-motion, with Samsung also including it in the Galaxy S9 series. But Huawei’s super slow motion is the poorest in features, because the slow-motion capture is fixed with every shutter tap, unlike Xperia and Samsung where the video can be recorded in both normal speed and super slow-motion speed. On close scrutiny, the super slow-motion quality is littered with pixel artifacts similar to the rolling shutter effect.
Other than the Camera
On the whole, I have high praises for the P20 Pro camera system, but if you do not use the camera that much, then the phone may not impress you compared to previous Huawei models. I mean, the Mate 10 has already introduced several UI enhancements, including the really useful EMUI Desktop, fingerprint gesture navigation, facial recognition. Some people seems to dislike the EMUI look and feel, but I have no issues with that. As for the notch, well, at least Huawei allows user to hide it by turning the top bar into black, which I thought is a great way to push up the notification bar out of the main window.
There will be room for improvements. For instance, the new always-on display lacks third-party app notification and cannot be personalised. Some apps like Instagram Stories end up being obscured by the notch. And there are still a few apps here and there that seem to have compatibility issues with Kirin processor. For instance, the Jabra Sound+ app could not detect the Jabra Elite 65t earbuds so it could not proceed to the main app. And in my review unit, Boomerang app refuses to save the clips I recorded, even after I reinstalled the app numerous times. And despite delivering Hi-Res audio processor, the P20 Pro lacks a 3.5mm audio port for audiophiles to enjoy their favourite headphones (the USB-C audio adapter is included in the package, though). The microSD slot is also absent.
Battery life is sufficient for the entire day of about 17 hours, with single-digit battery life remaining. Given the 4000 mAh battery size, I was expecting a longer life.
The Huawei P20 Pro is the best smartphone camera in 2018. It fulfills the desires of any mobile still imaging enthusiast. If you want to go creative with your photos, then the P20 Pro will get you there easier than any other smartphones. But if you are not a camera lover, then the P20 Pro might not be a convincing buy. Be mindful of some incompatibilities with a few apps and hardware here and there. Retailing at S$1148, it comes in Black, Midnight Blue, and the extremely popular Twilight. Get it from all the mobile telco providers, major electronic stores, and Lazada.
- Processor: Kirin 970 (4x 2.36 GHz + 4x 1.8 GHz)
- Display: 6.1-inch 2240 x 1080 OLED
- OS: EMUI 8.1 based on Android 8.1
- Memory: 6GB RAM, 128GB Storage
- Front Camera: 24MP f/2.0
- Rear Camera: 40MP RGB f/1.8, 20MP monochrome f/1.6, 8MP telephoto f/2.4)
- Weight: 180 g
- Battery: 4000 mAh
- Dimension: 73.9 x 155 x 7.8 mm