[First Cut] Huawei P20 Pro: Saying cheese to the Premium Segment
It is a tough time to be a premium Android phone these days. If that sounds difficult to believe, just ask the folks at Sony, HTC, LG and yes, even Google. Thanks to the invasion of budget flagships spearheaded by OnePlus, justifying a hefty price tag is becoming an increasingly difficult task with only the likes of Samsung being able to command a premium without too much debate. Huawei’s decision to get into the premium segment of the smartphone market in India, therefore, is a brave one. At Rs 64,999, the Huawei P20 Pro is easily the most expensive phone to have come with the Huawei brand name to Indian shores and goes right up against the Samsung S9+ and the Google Pixel 2 XL (yes, yes, there will be comparisons, stay tuned).
To be fair, the phone does look rather premium – it looks a lot more classy than the Pixel 2XL. The front has an AMOLED 6-inch display with 18:9 aspect ratio, with a tiny notch in the middle for good measure, housing a 24.0-megapixel camera, and some sensors too. The bezels on the side are narrow, but the one below the display is a bit on the larger side, mainly because Huawei has squeezed in a fingerprint sensor below that display. It is a slightly odd design decision, because the scanner is small, and the phone does have face unlock. But it also means that you can be dazzled by the curved glass back which literally shines like a mirror, and will turn heads. We got the Midnight Blue edition and well, it is magnificent but also tends to pick up smudges and scratches very easily indeed – there is a clear plastic case in the box to protect it, but honestly, we just think it is such a pity that a device that is so pretty needs to be shielded. Oh the dusty times we live in! The shiny happy people will like the blue shade but we suspect the quieter types will opt for black – no, Twilight Blue ain’t coming to India. Not just yet. And not on the P20 Pro as far as we know.
The back also contains the biggest highlight of the device in spec terms – the three cameras (the P20 Pro is the first to sport that many on its back) – a 40.0-megapixel RGB sensor (f/1.8 aperture), a 20.0-megapixel monochrome one (f/1.6 aperture) and an 8.0-megapixel telephoto sensor for 2x zoom. And they all come with Leica’s blessing and a promise to redefine mobile photography as we know it. Both Huawei and Leica are mentioned on the back of the device, which makes sense we think as the back is more likely to be noticed. There are speakers at the base (stereo speakers) and a USB Type C port. The right side has the volume rocker and a power/display button which is orange in color. On the left is the SIM card tray, which houses dual SIMs.
The phone has a very curve-y feel to it and thanks to all that glass is definitely on the slippery side (note: use that case!). And at just 155 mm in length, it is surprisingly compact (it is shorter than the iPhone 8S Plus, which has a smaller display) and impressively slim at 7.8 mm, considering all the hardware it packs. At 180 grams, we would not call it lightweight, but when you consider what it has inside, the weight is acceptable.
Which of course brings us to the hardware part of matters. And this is where the P20 Pro runs into a slightly odd zone. Yes, the cameras make it unique. But that apart, it seems to concede ground to its rivals. The 6.0-inch display is full HD+, which is a bit off the quad HD+ displays on the Galaxy S9+ and the Pixel 2 XL. There is also the matter of octa-core Kirin 970 processor which we know is an excellent performer but is actually also available on the Honor V10, which costs less than half as much as the P20 Pro. Yes, the 6 GB RAM should ensure very good performance, and we do think that 128 GB onboard memory is good enough to assuage the feelings of those offended by the absence of expandable memory. The phone also ticks all connectivity boxes: 4G, GPS, NFC, and Bluetooth are all there. If there is one feature on the spec sheet – apart from those cameras – that marks the P20 Pro as different, it is the battery: the device packs in a very big 4000 mAh battery, which is a rarity in the premium smartphone segment, where battery life is often sacrificed on the altar of slimness. It comes with support for Fast Charging too.
Huawei is also betting on some software magic to sway matters in the P20 Pro’s favor. The phone comes with Android 8.1 with Huawei’s EMUI 8.1 out of the box, and there is a fair amount of AI at work, especially in the photography section, where the camera can identify situations and tweak settings accordingly. The phone also becomes the first notable Android flagship we have seen which offers the “Portrait Lighting” mode made famous by (well, of course)the iPhone, on both front and rear cameras. And of course, this being Huawei, there is a bevy of shooting options in the camera app – no stock Android Plain Jane this!
It is very good looking and claims to be a photography powerhouse. And we increasingly suspect that it is the cameras that are going to determine the fate of the P20 Pro, for while its other hardware is excellent, it is hardly exceptional when you consider the price segment in which it is waging war. Will they help the P20 Pro say cheese to the premium segment? Stay tuned for our review.