Huawei P20 Pro first impressions: the smartphone camera reimagined, redefined, recreated

Huawei took the entire world by storm when it announced the P20 Pro. Which is incidentally, the world’s first phone with three friggin cameras on the rear! I’m sure – all things considered – calling the P20 Pro a camera beast won’t be far-fetched. 

I had the chance to check out these phones at the launch event in India and I have to say this: the P20 Pro is a marvellous piece of technology and probably the most innovative phone to launch in 2018, yet. 

Let’s get right down to my first impressions of the phone. 

Huawei P20 Pro camera: when three’s company

Let’s just talk about the insane Leica-branded triple camera setup on the rear first. The cameras are stacked in such a manner that the 8MP secondary telephoto sensor sits atop the 40MP primary one inside the same raised module. And weirdly enough, the 20MP monochrome sensor sits below it. The 40MP camera uses an aperture of f/1.8, which is incidentally slower than the f/1.6 aperture of the 20MP monochrome lens. The telephoto 8MP lens opens up to an aperture of f/2.4.

Using these three cameras you can shoot 3X optical zoom and 5X hybrid zoom images with minimal loss. Also, the software uses all the data retrieved from all the three cameras to do better portrait shots. Which is why the P20 Pro offers the feature where you can use “variable aperture” to change the intensity of the blur after you’ve taken the image. It is nothing new and we’ve seen the same feature in Honor smartphones before. But, I am guessing you will have see better results using a P20 Pro when compared to other cameras. Also, let’s not forget that the monochrome sensor – which is Leica’s forte – can capture more details than the primary RGB sensor.  This means that you will get superb depth and great dynamic range too.

All that said, let’s not forget that the main hero is the camera app’s artificial intelligence here. Huawei is calling it Master AI. Apart from intelligently detecting the scene to creating tailor-made photos for that particular shot, the P20 Pro also uses machine learning to capture good bokeh images.

Interestingly, despite the fact that all the three cameras are optically stabilised Huawei uses the power of AI to stabilise photographs. The company has christened it AIS.

 

The night mode, which uses a slow shutter to capture low light images, also makes use of AIS to ensure you don’t need a tripod to capture pictures. Huawei uses shutter speeds of up to 8 seconds to recreate these images. Which, according to other reviewers, looks great. Huawei has also thrown in an iPhone X-like Portrait Lighting mode for good measure. 

One of the reasons why the P20 Pro captures great pictures is because the primary camera uses a large 2.0um pixel size. Note this, the Huawei P20 Pro uses a technique called “Light Fusion” which actually adds four pixels to capture more light in dimly lit situations. In fact, the P20 Pro actually captures a 10MP image with a 4:3 aspect ratio by default. 

Huawei P20 Pro camera: also made for selfies

On the front is a 24MP with an f/2.0 aperture. Obviously, it can take good selfies but how good is something I shall determine in my full review of the phone.

And obviously, I didn’t have enough time to test out the full capabilities of the cameras yet. In the meantime, I’ll let you gawk at all some camera samples strewn around the article. Although, note that these are samples captured by Huawei and I am actually yet to test it out. 

Huawei P20 Pro design and display: definite by the notch and zany colours

Now, the cool thing about the P20 Pro is not only its cameras. The phone also comes in two really psychedelic-looking gradient colours. This colour scheme is so unique that you are bound to turn back and look twice. Whether it looks attractive or not is subjective. I, for one, find it appealing. But unfortunately, the twilight variants are not coming to India. 

Furthermore, there is a large 6.1-inch OLED display with an FHD+ resolution on the front. While there is a notch on the top, I find it annoying that Huawei decided to go with a bottom bezel and a fingerprint scanner on the front. Wasn’t the point of the notch to reduce the size of the bezels? Baffling really. However, you can switch off the notch if you like and it does look make up for the big chin at the bottom. In my limited time, I found the OLED display to be punchy and crisp. 

Moving on, Huawei has included a USB Type-C port but has decided to omit the 3.5mm jack. Despite including a large 4.000mAh battery inside the P2 Pro, Huawei has managed to limit the thickness of the phone to 7.8mm – that’s including the camera bump mind you. Talking about the bump, it is a little too thick in my opinion and it will cause the phone to wobble easily when placed on flat surface. 

Huawei P20 Pro processor and software: the power of AI harnessed by Kirin 970

Just like the recently launched Honor View 10, the P20 Pro also comes with a Kirin 970 chip. This is currently Huawei’s homemade flagship SoC. It harnesses the power of AI using the in-built Neural Processing Unit (or NPU) and is fairly powerful overall as well. You get 6 gigs of RAM and 128GB of internal storage as well. In whatever little time I spent with the phone at the event, I found the P20 Pro to be responsive. 

The phone runs EMUI 8.1 on top of Android 8.1. EMUI, Huawei’s custom skin, is extremely heavy-handed. However, it offers a ton of interesting features that are not currently available on stock Android. I will talk about in detail in my full review. 

Closing my first impressions of the P20 Pro

The P20 Pro is a brave new direction for Huawei. Not just globally but in India. By bringing the P20 Pro to India this early, Huawei has issued a clarion call to highlight its entry into the super premium range of smartphones. Priced at Rs 64,999, what remains to be seen is if the P20 Pro can actually put a dent in the sales of Samsung and Apple in India. 

Do stay tuned to Mr. Phone for my full review of the Huawei P20 Pro. 

 

Ershad Kaleebullah

When Ershad isn't writing, he spends time killing virtual zombies on his PS4. Having worked with a slew of renowned publications like PCWorld, Channelworld, CIO, NDTV Gadgets (now Gadgets360), MySmartPrice, The Inquistr, and 91Mobiles, Ershad brings a whole world of experience to Mr. Phone. He is trying hard to convert all the team members into Apple fans but is facing a lot of resistance. Is anyone willing to help?