Ubergizmo was in Paris on 3/27 for the launch of the new Huawei P20 Series of high-end smartphones with the Huawei P20, Huawei P20 Pro, and the Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS editions. All three models share a common SoC platform based on the HiSilicon Kirin 970, and the same software framework. This series will constitute the new tip of the spear for Huawei in the high-end segment ($650+) and will compete with the Galaxy S9, iPhone 8/X, Google Pixel 2, etc…

Huawei P20 vs. P20 Pro vs. Mate RS: the main differences

Huawei P20

The P20 (~$680) is the baseline version of this new hardware. It defines a new design language and form factor (5.8” display), along with an improved software interface which has evolved from last year’s Huawei P10. The P20 has 4GB of RAM and an IP53 rating, which means that it is splash-resistant, but not submersible.

Huawei P20 Pro

The P20 Pro (~$920) is, in my opinion, the real star of this show. Created to address the large-display market (6.1” and ~11.5% more surface area), it improves over the P20 significantly in several areas. It has an OLED screen, a significantly larger RGB camera sensor with 3.3X more pixels and a third 3X optical zoom camera. Finally, it has a much larger battery (+18% capacity) and 6GB of RAM. These are the most critical differences in my view. The P20 Pro is IP67 rated and can survive a short immersion in water.

Porsche Design Huawei Mate Rs

The Mate RS (~$1800) could be viewed as a “deluxe edition” of the Huawei P20 Pro. Although the Mate Series is supposed to be different, there is much in common this time. The differences are that the Mate RS gets integrated wireless charging (with ~0.7mm of additional thickness), more storage (256GB vs. 128GB), dual-SIM and a lot of great accessories (better earphones, leather case, VIP card, etc…). The Mate RS is also IP67 rated and also has 6GB of RAM.

Industrial design: a leap forward

With the P20 Series, Huawei has launched a significant design change. Last year’s Huawei P10 was built with an aluminum unibody design with a sturdy all-metal chassis. In 2018, the P20 Series gets a dual-glass design and an aluminum metal frame.

This type of design was popularized (if not introduced) by Samsung with the Galaxy S6 series and is known to be very difficult to manufacture. The glass back makes the handset look “more premium” in the eye of many consumers, and the pull is so strong that even Apple switched to something similar with the iPhone 8 and iPhone X.

Huawei made the right choice by following the trend and adding its own twist with a stunning “Twilight” dual-tone blue/purple coloring. This is by far the most beautiful version of P20, and it will surely make people talk when your phone is on a desk/table. The Huawei P20/P20 Pro have rounded edges, but do not have the glass curve -as much- onto the edge of the phone. The fingerprint reader remains in front of the device -arguably the best location- but Huawei still manages to get 80.3% and 82% of screen-to-body ratio, a very high number.

The advantage of not having the curved glass and screen is that the phone should be less prone to glass cracks than the Galaxy Series 7-edge/8/9 and Note 8 phones. However, it may be a tiny less aesthetically pleasing to some users and the screen may appear a bit less “borderless.” You decide.

Huawei has removed the 3.5mm audio connector, and although the earphones are USB-C or there will be an adapter, this move might upset some potential customers. This is still a controversial topic.

Durability

With an IP Rating of only IP53, the Huawei P20 is not “waterproof.” The IP53 rating means: “Prevents moderate amount of dust from entering but is not dust tight. Protected against sprayed water at an angle of up to 60 degrees (from the vertical). Tested for 5mn at 0.7L/mn at a pressure of 50-150 kPa (no water immersion)”.

For the P20 Pro and Mate RS, IP67 means: Dust tight, no dust can penetrate. Up to 1-meter immersion for a limited duration won’t harm the device. Tested for 30mn.

None of the P20-Series handsets have passed the MIL-STD 810G certification. You can open the link we added to learn more, but this standard is a series of test used to ensure that military gears can survive a certain level of shocks and vibrations.

Looking at the design of the new P20-Series, we can say that it is at a similar risk of “glass crack” than many other “2-sided glass” high-end phones such as the V30, iPhone 8/X, etc… however, the Galaxy S8/9 series would be even more at risk because of the glass found on the Left/Right edges of the phone. Keep in mind that this is from a statistical point of view. All it takes is one severe drop in the real world.

Display

At first glance, all three displays have a high image quality, but there are significant differences, especially when it comes to sharpness (pixel density) and image quality.

  • P20 Pro (6.1”): 1080×2240, ~408 PPI
  • P20 (5.8”): 1080×2244, ~429 PPI
  • iPhone X (5.8”): 2436×1125, ~463 PPI
  • Galaxy S9+ (6.2”): 2960×1440, ~531 PPI
  • Mate RS (6.0”): 2880×1440, ~537 PPI
  • Galaxy S9 (5.8”): 2960×1440, ~568 PPI

Both P20 and P20 Pro have an elongated version of a 1080 / FHD display. That results in the PPI (sharpness) numbers above, which are very decent, but certainly not the best. That is why the Mate RS has a 2K display: because it is supposed to have the best of everything.

The next difference between P20 and P20 Pro and Mate RS is the OLED screen on the more expensive models. Huawei didn’t say if the P20’s LCD was using IPS technology or, not. However, even if it did, OLED is still generally better.

OLED is a radically different display technology (than LCD) that has been widely available to handsets mainly thanks to Samsung. The primary difference between OLED and LCD displays is how light is emitted. With LCD, there is a small number of white light emitters (1-2 for handsets, 2-100 for TVs) and black pixels are created by “blocking” the white light with a filter.

Unfortunately, using a filter leads to “light bleeding” and “black color” that is actually dark-gray. With OLED, every pixel emits its own light. This also means that creating a black pixel means merely leaving it OFF. As a result, black color is indeed black, and other colors are more straightforward to control without using complex filters and color control technologies such as Quantum Dots and Nano Dots. You can read our complete LCD vs. OLED article which goes deeper into the details.

At this point, it is difficult to compare the OLED screen Huawei uses against those in different handsets. In general, some difference in brightness can be easily detected, while color and saturation are much more difficult to spot without specialized equipment. This also means that the superior black-levels are the primary thing users often notice with the naked eye as it is quite uncommon to see horrible OLED displays (at least in US-sold phones).

Camera: three cameras rear camera system

The Huawei P20 Series has one of the most complex camera system available on the market. It comes with up to an impressive three-camera combo in the rear, and a 24 megapixel selfie camera in the front. In addition to this, Huawei is using multi-frame noise reduction to unprecedented levels and claims to use artificial intelligence (AI) in many other features. The P20 has two rear cameras, while the P20 Pro and Mate RS have three.

It is important to understand that mobile photo has two foundations of considerable importance: Software and Hardware. The software is usually very secretive, and it is very hard to gain good insight to determine its quality through a fair process. Also, photography is not just science. It is also art.

The camera equipment is the other area which is more measurable. Camera hardware is potentially a substantial limiting factor to mobile photography performance. Even if you use the best algorithms on it, the quality of the input signal data still plays a significant role in the final photo outcome.

Camera #1: 12 to 40 MP RGB Camera

The P20 has a good 12 Megapixel RGB camera with a f/1.8 aperture. The P20 Pro and Mate RS have a 40 Megapixel RGB camera at f/1.8.

This camera’s aperture by itself is not impressive since competitor may feature f/1.5 (S9), f/1.6 (V30) or f/1.7 (S8). But with the iPhone X having a f/1.8 aperture, we know that it’s possible to take excellent pictures with that (the iPhone X isn’t currently the absolute best camera on the market, but still in the top 5).

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/87/Aperture_diagram.svg

The next paragraph (Camera #2) is relevant as for why the aperture should not affect the Huawei camera system so much. A larger aperture is typically used for two reasons: first, let more light come in and secondly to get more natural bokeh (or out of focus blur). With Natural Bokeh being out of the question on a tiny phone lense, “more light” is the primary reason for a larger aperture. (Remember, f/1.5 is a MUCH larger aperture than f1/8 – don’t let the small numerical difference fool you)

The RGB Camera is here to capture the color and details of the image with as much fidelity as possible.

Camera #2: Light / monochrome

This 20 Megapixel f/1.6 (monochrome) camera is dedicated to capturing the brightness (light intensity) of the image. Removing the RGB layer from the sensor and thus making it monochrome enables more light to hit the sensing areas. This camera module supplements the RGB camera, and its image will be combined with the RGB image to improve its brightness accuracy. This is why Huawei thinks it doesn’t need a larger aperture on the RGB Camera. The additional detail from this camera could also be (somewhat) integrated into the final photo.

The concept is sound and favored by some OEMs, but we remain cautious of this approach because it is very complicated to execute. Introduced with the Huawei P9, this concept had a hard time beating single-lens solutions (read our Huawei P9 review and check the photo samples).

The Huawei Mate 10 was the first dual-lens phone that showed signs that this principle was paying off, and this 2018 Huawei P-Series is starting to take the lead in some areas of photography. That’s from a few hours of hands-on experience with the handset. We need to try it over a more extended period of time, but it’s safe to say that Huawei can displace Apple, Samsung, and Google in some instances.

Low-Light Performance and ultra-long exposure

With what we just described above, the Huawei P20-Series seem ready to take on the most drastic low-light scenes. From our initial tests, we are excited and sometimes impressed by the photos. We look forward to challenging the camera further and compare it to the best (mobile) shooters out there, but it looks like Huawei will become a permanent contender in this space and sometimes a clear winner.

In addition to the above, Huawei is also introducing an ultra-long exposure of 4 seconds for low-light photos. The principle is based on a variant of the multi-frame noise-reduction technique and HDR photography used by many top phones such as the Pixel 2 and S9: take a lot of photos with low ISO and fast shutter speed, and combine them into a bright, low-noise final image.

"HANDHELD ULTRA-LONG EXPOSURE IS AN EXTRAORDINARY ABILITY"

Typically, the camera driver will shoot a dozen or so photos to do this. Because of minute handshakes, a sophisticated algorithm is used to re-align photos as accurately as possible to avoid loss of sharpness. Huawei seems to be shooting a considerable number of photos over several seconds and manages to re-align them and produce a sharp photo. This is an excellent idea, and so far, we have seen extraordinary sharpness preservation in our early tests — that is, for static scenes.

Handheld ultra-long exposure is an extraordinary ability, and the potential for this technique is enormous because it can be entertaining to do long exposure-style photos, but without using a tripod. There are potential caveats to this, and we’ve already seen some blur issues when people/things move. Also, it doesn’t magically make all scenes better when compared to a regular top camera-phone. However, we think that in many scenes, it could be a very unique tool.

Camera #3: 3X Optical zoom (5X Hybrid Zoom)

As you know, Apple introduced a 2X optical zoom with the iPhone 7 Plus, followed by Samsung shortly after in the Note 8. Huawei is outdoing both of them by integrating a 3X optical zoom in the P20 Pro and Mate RS. With this new lens, Huawei is able to create a 5X hybrid zoom (optical+digital) which beats everything the competition has to oppose.

When it comes to Zooming, especially in good lighting conditions, nothing beat the optics specifications. 3X optical zoom is simply sharper than 2X. It is really that simple.

Misc

"HUAWEI IS A PRIMARY FORCE BEHIND AI MOBILE PHOTOGRAPHY"

There are many other aspects of the new Huawei P20 Series that we might go back to later, but things like Super Slow Motion at 960 FPS and Artificial Intelligence (AI) driven photo are on the menu. For the most part, the AI photo is an evolution and extension of what was introduced with the Huawei Mate 10. That is most of it consists of setting up the camera (in auto-mode) as well as possible depending on the scene.

It is true that photography has a lot of sub-domains (food photo, scenery photo, portrait photo…) and you can see this in how (human) photographers advertise themselves. The addition of AI in photography can leverage this kind of knowledge but in a completely automated form. In its ideal form, AI photo *should* be as powerful as “Pro Mode,” but in full-auto mode. We’re not quite there, but I like where this is going, and Huawei is a primary force behind AI mobile photography.

Selfie camera

In addition to the impressive array of Cameras in the back, the front-selfie is a 24 Megapixel camera on all three handsets. The 24 Megapixel number doesn’t define quality in itself, especially in low-light conditions. We think that because Huawei uses the screen as a soft-flash, it thinks that increasing the pixel count at the cost of having smaller pixels (0.9 µm) and a smaller aperture (f/2.0) might strike a better balance. It’s an unusual stance, and we will have to put it to the test.

For example, the Galaxy S9 has an 8 Megapixel selfie camera (-66%), but a significantly larger aperture (f/1.7) and larger pixels (1.22 µm, or ~35% larger). This shows very different assumptions on how selfies are taken (no flash / screen flash) and shared (social media, without the need for ultra-high resolution).

Software

The Huawei P20 Series will ship with Android 8.1, and of course with EMUI 8.1. EMUI is Huawei’s user interface layer on top of Android. EMUI is a vast topic that we should cover in an independent series, but suffice to say that it is sufficiently different from most Android phones such as LG, Samsung and pure Android handsets that should you should a look at it.

Here is a good video to have a taste of what EMUI is about if you have never experienced it.

I will update this article with more AI features, because some of the new ones would deserve an explanation, but I don’t want to delay this article further because of it.

Battery

"THESE HANDSETS CAN SERVE AS REFERENCE FOR BATTERY CAPACITY"

The battery capacity of P20 is 3400 mAh, which is very good in its category. The P20 Pro and Mate RS have 4000 mAh, which is excellent in the high-end category and they can serve as reference high-end handsets in that respect.

Battery life is one of the most critical features of a smartphone. A key metric is obviously its battery capacity — especially within the same ecosystem (Android, iOS or other). Battery life can be affected by many factors, but the main ones are the main processor aka SoC, display and wireless radios (LTE broadband, WiFi, the cell towers location and more). It is impossible to precisely estimate through synthetic tests how much energy drain YOUR unique lifestyle will generate. However, two things are surly always good:

  • A higher battery capacity
  • Faster charging

It is generally impossible to predict realistic battery life by running synthetic tests. Things such as display brightness, (LTE/WiFi) radio usage and distance to access points will vary too much. Also, how many apps installed and their usage is unpredictable. Battery capacity is the most crucial battery-life indicator for YOUR usage.

This product does NOT have a removable battery, which is the norm for a smartphone nowadays. Closed batteries cannot be taken out or quickly repaired, but they do allow for smaller designs and slightly more substantial battery size inside the same product volume.

This handset has a relatively standard screen resolution. Although this may be a weakness from a display quality point of view, having fewer pixels to deal with is a good thing for battery life.

Huawei is well-known to have some of the fastest-charging devices on record. We hope that our tests will reveal that it is the case here as well.

System performance

All three handsets use a HiSilicon Kirin 970 (8 Cores, 2.36 GHz) which has access to 4GB of memory (RAM) in the P20 and 6GB for the P20 Pro and the Mate RS. The amount of RAM is paramount for heavy users, or for having many apps/services on the handset. When the memory is tight, the handset may become less responsive if the OS has to read/write from the slower Flash storage instead. This used to be one of the differentiators between low and high tiers of phones, but this line is blurry now.

"3D GRAPHICS PERFORMANCE IS LAGGING"

We rated the Kirin 970 SoC as a competitor of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 chip. Since then, Qualcomm has moved to Snapdragon 845, which gives competitors some advantage from a general-computing (CPU +20%) and graphics-computing (GPU +82%) perspective. Note that we are speculating, based on Kirin 970 performance from previous handsets, and we need to confirm this by running numbers on the P20 retail units.

Snapdragon 845 also brings power-efficiency improvements, but it is not easy to compare apples-to-apples with a Kirin 970 handset. For VR/AR and 3D Gaming, Snapdragon or Exynos are still ahead.

Huawei does have a Neural Processing Unit (NPU), which is more or less a DSP (Digital Signal Processor). These units are used for many things, but the NPU is explicitly marketed for A.I purposes. At the moment, there isn’t a cross-platform benchmark and known use case to compare different vendors.

Although you can see some benefits in the form of AI features such as in-Camera scene recognition, we know for a fact that you don’t need an NPU to do so. LG has proven it with its new LG V30S Camera App. However, NPU and DSP units do allow for a better performance-per-watt (battery savings). It is tough to quantify this for now, but we are confident that the number of use cases is too limited to be perceptible from a battery-life perspective.

Extreme Broadband performance: 1.2 Gbps

Huawei is a master of 4G LTE technology, and it is not surprising to see it offer a CAT18 modem that can climb to 1200 (DL) / 211 (UL) Mbps of maximum theoretical speeds.  With 5G being rolled out next year (2019), this kind of 4G LTE speeds will become more common. If you will keep your handset for the next two or more years, this is something that should be taken into account.

Conclusion: A fast evolution

This year again, Huawei has surprised us in many ways. The Huawei P20 Series is a leap forward from an Industrial Design point of view, and the P20 Pro is an excellent representative of the new family. The new design is light and elegant, but at the same time, packs an impressive battery capacity. The thinness comes at the expense of an internal wireless charging system, but there is a market for this.

The new camera system is hugely ambitious and innovative. There are many good ideas that are very promising, and we can’t wait to take the P20 Pro or Mate RS in the field for a real-world challenge. The early indications are that Huawei will become the to camera, at least in specific areas such as zoom, and possibly more.

The P20 Series is one of the most exciting phones of 2018, and it is one that everyone should at least look at and consider at this price range. It gives both the iPhone X and the Galaxy S9 a run for their money, and we will dive deeper into this during side by side comparison to be coming later. We warned you for the past few years, and so far, all the Huawei detractors were wrong. Huawei is evolving faster than any other OEM.

Filed in Cellphones >Reviews. Read more about Editorspick, Huawei, Huawei P20.

ProductP20P20 Pro
Display Diagonal (inches)5.8" (14.7cm)6.1" (15.5cm)
Megapixel Count12 Megapixel40 Megapixel
Battery Capacity (mAh)3400 mAh4000 mAh
Processor/Soc NameKirin 970Kirin 970
RAM Options4 GB,6 GB,
Street Price$570 Huawei P20 on Amazon$840 Huawei P20 Pro on Amazon
Link to full specsHuawei P20 Full specs and detailsHuawei P20 Pro Full specs and details
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