Huawei P20 Pro review: The Galaxy S9 killer

40MP, the world’s first triple camera, 5X Hybrid Zoom, artificial intelligence in all the ways, and the most unique color on any smartphone ever. These are just some of the features Huawei is hoping will make you check out its new flagship, the Huawei P20 Pro.

This isn’t the first 40MP smartphone — Nokia had the 808 PureView and Lumia 1020 in 2012 and 2013, respectively — but this is the first time we’ve seen such numbers on an Android smartphone. We crowned last year’s Huawei flagship Mate 10 Pro as the best smartphone of 2017, but does the Huawei P20 Pro pick up where its sibling left off?

With the standards set by smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus and Google Pixel 2 XL, Huawei has a fight on its hands. Let’s find out how it stacks up in our full Huawei P20 Pro review.


 Huawei P20 Pro

The Huawei P20 Pro borrows several design cues from the iPhone X, with a vertical camera placement on the back and notch atop the screen. It stands out with three cameras and the unique twilight color, which awakens everyone’s inner wish for a real-life unicorn.

There are four or five colors depending on which model you choose, with the regular P20 coming in a champagne gold color that’s not available with the Pro. For the P20 Pro, Huawei offers black, a majestic midnight blue, and pink gold. The twilight color offers a new kind of color gradient — it actually shimmers in the light. The pink gold version also has a gradient, but its range is much more muted. Whatever your palate, Huawei probably has a P20 color for you.

Beneath the screen is Huawei’s fingerprint sensor, which is flat, wide, and allows you to unlock your phone while it’s laying face up on a table. I’m normally a bigger fan of Huawei’s rear-mounted fingerprint sensors thanks to their added support for summoning the notification shade, but the P20 Pro’s scanner is still fast and reliable and supports gesture controls for navigation.

The power and volume keys on the right offer nice feedback and the power button has a nice accent color. The bottom houses a speaker, microphone, and USB Type-C port. There’s no headphone jack, but an adapter comes in the box. I’m not an audiophile so I usually pick convenience over function, so I’m fine with Bluetooth audio. It’s the easiest solution and the Huawei P20 Pro works well enough in this regard.

The back of the Huawei P20 Pro in twilight is stunning. It’s my favorite smartphone color ever. Despite that, the glass back feels fragile, and I kept mine inside Huawei’s official black rubber silicon case — hiding the glorious color. The camera bump at the top left has a lot of sensors, though it hides them well. The laser for the autofocus is hidden inside the black bit in the middle of the main camera module. The flash also contains a color temperature module. It’s a clever design from Huawei, and gives the appearance of things happening by magic, which fits with how AI comes into play throughout the phone.

The Huawei P20 Pro brings a different design language to previous P-series devices, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It looks stunning, feels great in the hand and helps the phone establish an identity of its own.


The Huawei P20 Pro offers a 6.1-inch AMOLED display with a rather awkward 18.7:9 aspect ratio. That extra 0.7 is due to the notch. Let’s get this out of the way: I’ve used the iPhone X for months and after a while, the notch just doesn’t matter. More phones are adopting the notch design, and you’ll have to get used to it eventually. If you really hate it, you can also turn it off on the P20 Pro, rounding the corners and turning off the extra pixels for a more standard-looking experience.

The P20 Pro’s got a great panel, offering the vibrant blacks and deep colors all AMOLED panels do. The biggest issue for me is the resolution. Like with the Mate 10 Pro, Huawei opted for a Full HD+ panel. Huawei CBG CEO Richard Yu has told us several times the company chooses Full HD+ over Quad HD+ due to battery life concerns, but there’s likely another reason.

Considering how the Mate 10 Pro also had a Full HD+ display, it seems Huawei saves a few features for its luxury flagship. On top of the better fingerprint sensor position, the Mate RS has a Quad HD+ AMOLED panel.

 Huawei P20 Pro

We put the Huawei P20 Pro through its paces in our testing lab and it’s bright — very bright. Its top brightness of 600 nits under bright lights bests the Galaxy S9 by 26 percent, which achieves just 475 nits. Most surprising, the LCD display on the P20 is actually 23 percent brighter than its Pro counterpart, albeit with a cooler display. The Huawei P20 Pro achieves a color temperature of 7,212 Kelvin. The P20 is 9 percent cooler at 7,841 Kelvin. After testing Samsung’s latest flagships, we found Huawei’s displays are set to be about 200K warmer than the Galaxy S9s.

Samsung is known for having the best displays, but the AMOLED panel on the P20 Pro is up there as one of the best on a smartphone. It’s a pleasure to use and ticks all the right boxes. The eye comfort mode works really well. Despite only being a Full HD+ display, it’s fantastic for anything you throw at it. As always, there’s a bevy of color-tuning options in the settings if you don’t like the look out of the box.


The P20 Pro is packed full of the hardware we’ve come to expect from a flagship Huawei device. It’s powered by HiSilicon’s Kirin 970 chipset and, like the Mate 10 Pro, has a lot of AI features thanks to the built-in NPU. It’s backed by 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, alongside the Mali-G72 MP12 which handles most tasks well. The GPU isn’t quite on par with the Adreno 630 in the Snapdragon 845 on the Galaxy S9, but it held its own in our Huawei P20 Pro review testing. The regular P20 drops the RAM to 4GB, which doesn’t have too much effect on performance, at least according to the benchmark scores.

The P20 Pro beats the best flagships of 2017, including the Mate 10 Pro and OnePlus 5T, but the Galaxy S9 produces results from another world. A large part of this is likely to be the Snapdragon 845 CPU, as the Galaxy S9 results are on par with our initial testing on Qualcomm’s latest processor. The P20 Pro’s benchmark performance is great right now, but it’ll likely be bested many times in the coming months. A lot of devices are going to launch with the Snapdragon 845, so we’ll have to wait until Huawei’s next Mate device to see how good its 2018 performance can get.

These benchmarks show how good the performance of the Snapdragon 845 is. Like our initial benchmark scores, the Snapdragon 845 sets a new standard for AnTuTu performance. The Kirin 970 inside the P20 Pro is significantly better than the same processor inside the Mate 10 Pro (which scored 178466), but as a generation older, the Kirin 970 can’t keep up with the Snapdragon 845.

Huawei P20 Pro review: The Galaxy S9 killer Huawei P20 Pro review: The Galaxy S9 killer

These two benchmarks show that while there is a gap between the performance scores of the Snapdragon 845 and the Kirin 970, it’s a smaller difference than it has been in previous years. In particular, the Mali G72 GPU inside the Kirin 970 is close to the performance of Qualcomm’s Adreno 630 GPU, and this is reflected in actual usage of both devices.

In day-to-day usage, the P20 Pro never misses a beat. The phone is fast regardless of what you throw at it. 6GB of RAM usually results in about 2.5GB to 3.5GB of free RAM at any given time. I’ve yet to see the phone stutter at all, even with a lot of apps running in the background. Huawei claims the AI allows it to remain fast over a longer period compared to other flagships, but we’ll need a longer time with the P20 Pro to confirm if this is true.


The P20 Pro doesn’t have expandable storage. If 128GB isn’t enough for you, Huawei hopes you’ll spring for the Porsche Design Mate RS, which comes in 256GB and 512GB variants. The P20 Pro is IP67 certified, offering dust and water resistance up to 1 meter for 30 minutes. The regular P20 is only IP5X rated, so it’s splash proof, but doesn’t offer anywhere near the same level of durability and protection.

There’s no headphone jack, which may be a deal breaker for some users, but personally, I don’t mind. The phone comes with USB Type-C headphones in the box, which offer crisp sound but are otherwise unremarkable. There’s also a USB Type-C to 3.5mm adapter so you can use your existing headphones. If wireless headphones are more your preference, like me, there’s support for Sony’s LDAC codec and HWA 990 Kbps high-res audio over Bluetooth 4.2.

There are also stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos support. These speakers are pretty good, and deliver loud volume without too much distortion. I find them a little louder than the Galaxy S9, though Huawei’s silicon case muffles audio a little. Dolby Atmos is a useful addition and offers a stereo-like effect during audio playback.

Like other Huawei phones, the P20 Pro comes in dual-SIM flavor. Dual-SIM functionality isn’t new to most smartphone ranges, and even the Galaxy S9+ has an optional dual-SIM variant. Unlike most others, you don’t need to get a different variant of the P20 Pro to get two SIM card slots. When you do have two SIM cards in play, both can access 4G LTE, and you can customize which is used for data and for calling.

Like previous Huawei devices, the P20 Pro allows you to disable the on-screen keys and use gestures on the fingerprint sensor to navigate if you prefer. A tap on the sensor takes you back a screen. Pressing and holding takes you straight to the home screen. A horizontal swipe launches the recent apps overview. Personally, I don’t like this and have stuck with the on-screen keys.

Huawei backs up the fingerprint sensor with its face unlock feature. It’s not as secure as Apple’s Face ID, so it can’t be used for payments and other secure transactions, but it’s lightning fast. In almost any condition, including pitch black, it unlocks your phone so fast that you don’t even see the lock screen. We tested it in the back of a moving taxi, in a dark room with little to no light, and in day-to-day usage, and it’s the best way to unlock your P20 Pro most of the time, assuming you’re OK with the heightened security risk. With direct sunlight behind you, however, the face unlock doesn’t work — just like Face ID on the iPhone X.


The P20 Pro has one major advantage over other 2018 flagships up its sleeve — a 4,000mAh battery. Most flagship devices come equipped with a battery ranging from 3,000 to 3,5000mAh battery. The P20 Pro brings the same battery capacity as the Mate 10 Pro, which we crowned as the best smartphone for battery life last year. It’s great to see a company not conform to battery capacity norms.

The P20 Pro has one major advantage over other 2018 flagships up its sleeve — a 4,000mAh battery. Most flagship devices come equipped with a battery ranging from 3,000 to 3,5000mAh battery. The P20 Pro brings the same battery capacity as the Mate 10 Pro, which we crowned as the best smartphone for battery life last year. It’s great to see a company not conform to battery capacity norms.

Huawei P20 Pro review: The Galaxy S9 killer

Our Huawei P20 Pro review testing numbers also reveal a similar story. Overall, the P20 Pro offers better battery life than any other device we’ve tested, including the Mate 10 Pro. Our Wi-Fi browsing test cycles the same set of webpages and drains the battery from 100 percent to 0 percent, with the display set at 200 nits brightness. The P20 Pro lasted 11 hours and 28 minutes, which is better than the P20 at 10 hours and 17 minutes, but not as good as the Mate 10 Pro which lasts for 13 hours straight.

In our video playback test — where we loop a 1080p video at 200 nits brightness — the P20 Pro lasted 12 hours and 21 minutes, while the regular P20 lasted for 10 hours and 20 minutes. The P20 Pro proves to be much better than the Mate 10 Pro and Galaxy S9 Plus here, which lasted for 10 hours and 40 minutes and 11 hours and 16 minutes, respectively. Interestingly, last year’s LG V30 also proves to be a champion here, lasting for 12 hours and 20 minutes.

Samsung phones are known for offering a ton of features, but battery life has always been a concern. The P20 Pro offers 11 percent more average battery life than the Galaxy S9 Plus, which is actually less than we expected, given the 12 percent larger battery and lower resolution display. Huawei has improved battery life with updates in the past, though — the Mate 10 Pro battery life got significantly better after its first update — so we’d expect the Huawei P20 Pro battery to improve with age.

Overall, the battery life is arguably the best we’ve seen from a flagship smartphone to-date. Whatever the task, the battery will easily last you a full day or two. For many users, it’ll last much longer. During our time with the Huawei P20 Pro, using the camera didn’t seem to have too large an effect on the battery as we spent three hours shooting with the phone in Paris with the display at full brightness and the battery only drained 18 percent.

The P20 Pro comes equipped with Huawei SuperCharge, which charges your phone to full in just 90 minutes. The P20 also has SuperCharge and is even more impressive, charging to full in just 72 minutes — faster than any smartphone we’ve tested. In 30 minutes, the P20 Pro charges to 54 percent, while the regular P20 charges to 65 percent. In 60 minutes, they charge to 87 percent and 95 percent respectively. By comparison, the Galaxy S9 Plus and S9 take 96 and 93 minutes respectively, despite both having 500mAh-smaller batteries than their P20 counterparts.


They say big numbers help sell phones. If that’s the case, Huawei has plenty of these to lean on in the P20 Pro’s camera. There’s the world’s first triple camera, a 40MP main sensor, 3X Optical Zoom, 5X Hybrid Zoom, 4D Predictive Focus, 102,400 maximum ISO, 2μm pixel size, 4-in-1 Hybrid Focus system, 960 frames per second slow-motion recording, and more. The camera also has Huawei’s new AI-assisted stabilization (AIS), which lets the P20 Pro take long-exposure shots without a tripod.

The three cameras combine to make an incredible trio that produce great shots in all conditions.

Each camera serves a different purpose. The main 40MP sensor captures rich color, the 20MP secondary monochrome sensor captures additional details, and the third 8MP telephoto lens is used for zoom and additional focal length.  They make for an incredible trio which produces great shots in all conditions. Kris goes into more depth on the make-up of the camera in the video review, and Adam has rounded up all the facts on Huawei’s triple camera in our walkthrough below.

The 40MP main sensor will be a draw for many users. I remember working retail when the Nokia 1020 was launched. I experienced first-hand how many customers came into the store asking for the phone with the 40MP camera. The P20 Pro’s camera will likely have the same effect for Huawei, at least outside the U.S. where it will appear on store shelves, but without the turn-off of Windows phone OS.

By default, the camera shoots images at 10MP, which is where the 2μm pixel size kicks in. The main camera actually has 1μm pixels, but by default, the P20 uses a process called pixel binning to combine the light information from four 1μm pixels into a larger 2μm super pixel.

Huawei P20 Pro
Huawei P20 Pro
Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus
Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus

You can shoot at 40MP if you want, but remember, the smaller 1μm pixels are less sensitive to light, and you can’t zoom in, so you’ll only want to shoot at full-res in well-lit conditions where zooming isn’t necessary. By using pixel binning rather than just having 2μm pixels in the first place, the 40MP camera offers more versatility. As a result, you can take rich 40MP photos in great lighting, and still get excellent low light performance when lighting conditions aren’t as good.

The 20MP monochrome lens also has a part to play in the overall pictures, as it captures three times as much light information than the RGB sensor (because it has no color filters). The result is images with more detail, increased sensitivity to light and less noise in shadows. The P20 Pro combines the data from both sensors to capture vibrant, richly colored and nicely detailed pictures, regardless of the lighting conditions.

The third lens really sets the P20 Pro apart from other smartphones. It offers 3X optical zoom and captures about a ninth of the standard frame (so if you have the grid overlay on, you’ll always know what you’ll get at 3x). In darker conditions, the smaller f/2.4 aperture results in less light sensitivity though, so even when you’re zoomed in, the P20 Pro is still using all three cameras. Just cover the telephoto lens at 3x zoom to see it in action. There’s also a noticeable shift in the colors when switching between 1x and 3x zoom.

The P20 Pro also brings the world’s first 5X Hybrid Zoom, which combines the 3X Optical Zoom with additional detail from the main sensor to achieve a 5X Hybrid Lossless zoom. It’s fantastic. From graffiti on buildings in Paris to bottles of wine in a restaurant’s wine rack, the Hybrid zoom is a lot of fun to use. I’ve spent many moments zooming into pictures, and even when pixel peeping, the result is excellent.

Many companies have claimed lossless or hybrid zoom in the past, but the P20 Pro seems to be one of the first devices to actually deliver on this feature. The 5x images naturally aren’t as good as they would have been with 5X optical zoom, but they are very similar to the level of detail from the 3x. As Kris says, it’s nice to know you can digitally zoom in a bit and still maintain image quality. The P20 Pro lets you zoom in up to 10x digitally, but we wouldn’t recommend going past 5x if you still want crisp detail.

The telephoto lens is the only one that officially comes with OIS, but an iFixit teardown seems to show  OIS in all three lenses. Regardless, the P20 Pro also uses AIS across the board. It analyzes the frame and ditches small parts of the edges to keep everything stabilized. 4D focus also predicts where a subject is moving and keeps it in focus, so you have smooth overall footage with locked-on focus. To see how AIS compares to EIS used on the Pixel 2, check out the video review above.

AIS is responsible for what both Kris and I think is the biggest highlight on the P20 Pro camera: night mode. If you’ve tried to shoot a low-light, long-exposure shot by hand, you’ll know the resulting image is usually full of noise and image shake. AIS solves this by stabilizing the image long enough for you to capture a four-second handheld long exposure at night that’s crisp and blur-free. Add in the excellent low-light sensitivity and detail of all the sensors combined, and the results are simply amazing.

On the P20 Pro display, all these images look fantastic. It’s only when you begin pixel peeping on your computer that you start to see where the P20 Pro falls down. As Kris mentions in the video, however, this raises an important question: what constitutes a good photo? Is it the one that produces the most realistic colors, or the one that makes them pop the most? Is it the one that maintains detail at the expense of added noise, like the Pixel 2, or the one that looks great on your phone but like a painting up close?

Your answer will determine if the P20 Pro is the camera for you. If you want true-to-life images with more detail when you zoom in, the Pixel 2 is the better camera for you. But if you want images that look the best before you start crawling the pixels, the kind that will look better on social media, then the P20 Pro might be for you.

The P20 Pro’s 24MP selfie camera is definitely an example of more megapixels not really translating to better photos. Millions of pixels aren’t much good if the photo captured is soft. Even with all of Huawei’s effects turned off, selfies have a noticeable smoothness that shouldn’t be there. It is possible to take some good pictures with the P20 Pro’s front camera in good lighting, but the images are too soft and artificial for my tastes. With such a reflective rear panel, you’re better off just flipping the camera over and using the back as a mirror to take the perfect selfie!

The front and the rear camera both have a portrait mode, but both are a little hit or miss. In our Huawei P20 Pro review testing, software-assisted bokeh couldn’t handle Kris’ wild hair (as most phones can’t). It faired a little better in my own test shots, but it’s not on par with the Pixel 2. However, the rear camera also comes with a feature only Huawei offers, which I got a lot of joy out of using on the P20 Pro and the Mate 10 Pro.

Slide all the way to the left in the camera and you’ll enter aperture mode, called wide aperture mode on past Huawei devices. The P20 Pro allows you to capture images using the main sensor, and adjust the focal point and aperture size both pre- and post-capture. This isn’t a new feature — The Galaxy S9’s live focus feature does it too — but the P20 Pro’s aperture mode allows you to change the aperture from f/0.95 to f/16.

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