Smartphone that raises the bar of camera phones: a review of Huawei P20

Huawei introduced the top-end cameraphones of 2018: P20 and P20 Pro. They have glass backs, monobles, 2 and 3 (!) Cameras respectively, as well as neural networks that control performance and resources and blur the line between professional and amateur photography. And this is not an exaggeration. Ruler P is aimed at lovers of photography.


Last year, Huawei spent more on R & D than Apple, but less than Volkswagen and Intel, – according to this indicator, the Chinese company is the sixth in the world. It is rapidly evolving, and when it seems that Huawei is equal to the others in terms of innovation, the manufacturer literally breaks through the wall and tosses something new.

The model P20 received RGBW LCD-display with a diagonal of 5.8 “. Exactly the same diagonal for the iPhone X and  Galaxy S9 , but the largest screen area is exactly the novelty from Huawei. At the same time, the LCD display is brighter than the OLED in the iPhone X.

“Little monobrow – more information”  – with this motto came to Huawei to the screen with “ears”. In the monobrovy itself, a 24.8-megapixel self-camera, a sensor and a round speaker are hidden. The phone is protected from moisture and dust according to IP53.

The device is running the Kirin 970 processor. The eight-core platform has four Cortex A53 cores with a frequency of 1.8 GHz and four cores Cortex A73 with a frequency of 2.4 GHz. A single crystal is produced using a 10-nm process technology, this is a processor with a separate module of the Neural Processing Unit. It provides hardware support for artificial intelligence and machine learning. The device can recognize objects and languages ​​without understanding the context of the owner’s work. The processor is not the most productive, but it looks decent against the background of the novelties of 2018.

The Chinese paid special attention to the “degradation of productivity” at a distance of 18 months. A big role in optimizing the smartphone is assigned to AI: it learns from the user’s actions and can allocate additional resources for the owner’s characteristic behavior.

The phone is quite light, it does not feel fragile. We got a black P20 for the test. Fingerprints are clearly visible on it, but in comparison with competitors, the brand is moderate. It should be noted that this is the only coloring with matt, not glossy edges.

Other colors of the hull of Huawei smartphones are special, gradient, look very impressive.

It is noteworthy that the P20 is a little thinner than the iPhone X and Galaxy S9, but got the most capacious battery. It should be understood that the best ratio of battery and dimensions to Huawei devices was achieved by “amputating” the memory card slot and 3.5 mm headphone jack – in the package there is a “viscose” type adapter. Also worth noting is the support for Hi-Res Audio via Bluetooth.

At the bottom of the P20 display, the proprietary “Home” button with a built-in fingerprint sensor and gesture recognition is preserved. A sort of small touchpad.

In Huawei, it is noted that buyers like it very much. Navigation is pretty fast and frees the bottom of the screen from the standard Android panel.


On the front of the device in the monobrovy hidden 24-megapixel camera with technology Light Fusion. Unlike the iPhone X, it did not receive a complex Face ID recognition system, but this is the first Huawei smartphone with the Face Unlock option, which uses only the camera. And this function works, perhaps, twice as fast as the Apple flagship.

If you are sensitive to monobrovi, Huawei has a software solution for masking this part of the screen, which works especially well with OLED-display P20 Pro. The backlighting of the RGBW screen in the P20 still leaves this element barely noticeable. When viewing photos and videos, it is hidden by default. In any case, monobrow is not so terrible as the conversations of those who saw it only on the pictures of people. We are used to monobrovy iPhone X for one day, and in the case of the P20 on it almost do not pay attention.


How important is the P20 in the smartphone? So much so that the only inscription “Huawei” is read correctly only when you hold the device with a horizontal grip.

The P20 model received a new sensor, and it’s obvious that it’s not from Samsung, but from Sony. Technologically, it is more perfect than the sensor in the Galaxy S9. Sony is the main innovator in this business. To overtake the Japanese, the Koreans had to dodge patent infringements and leave the lithographic process on old rails. Therefore, Samsung’s flagship removes HD-video with a frequency of 960 frames per second.

The company Huawei promises in its smartphones professional quality images as a mirror, which you can receive with ease.

As before, the photomodule has two Leica cameras: 12-megapixel color and 20-megapixel monochrome with aperture of F1.8 and F1.6, respectively. These sensors work in tandem: monochrome allows you to get an additional mask of brightness. It transmits significantly more light and can successfully shoot at lower ISO values.

We emphasize that Leica does not produce photomodules for the P20, but the layout of the lenses and signal processing have undergone strict German control. Contrast, deep black and high contrast of medium tones – the strong side of the photos of Huawei’s flagship. Also, the device can shoot 4K-video with H.265-compression.

The manufacturer tested the novelty in DxOMark: the model bypassed the quality of all photos, but the video gave a little bit to Google Pixel. Consequently, the work of stabilization in the French test bureau was evaluated seriously.

The P20 has a matrix of 1 / 2.3 “(iPhone 1 / 2.9” sensor, and Galaxy S9 + 1 / 2.55 “). It is these sensors used in the vast majority of digital soap boxes, which have been successfully sold for the past 10 years. It’s hard to believe, but the mobile phone is finally equal to them in quality. And the computing power of a modern smartphone is left far behind even flagships. Feel this historic moment: compact cameras have almost no right to be removed from the shelves of stores.

Test photos made on Huawei P20:

The program for pattern recognition has become softer in comparison with  Mate 10 Pro : it does not pull blue over gray clouds, the contrast and colors become more natural. If, of course, P20 does not recognize flowers. Then hold on.

Novelty has proven itself in shooting in the backlight and in low light, the screen almost never shows “blazing” noise in the shadows. This is a sign that AI is clearly doing its job.

What is obviously good can be noted in the work of the camera Huawei P20?

Practically zero shutter lag (believe me, we will not rush words here) and AI-stabilization. How it works, you can only guess: most likely, the phone tracks the position of contrasting areas and combines them. On any smartphone or camera, we had never before been able to do perfectly sharp photos with hands at a shutter speed of 6 seconds (!).

The model P20 recognizes the three-dimensional shape of the face. Taking into account the constructed three-dimensional grid, the novelty is able to smooth out the skin more qualitatively and accent the edges and light-shadow figure of the face. The company Huawei (gently repeating for Apple) introduced additional modes of portrait lighting. On some of them, the person can be re-illuminated (within certain limits) after the shooting. As in the case of Apple, it works all basically so-so.

However, we do not lose enthusiasm: it’s amazing how quickly the niche solutions for professional photographers find their way to the average user. And this era of computer photography is just beginning.

The P20 recognizes 32 dog breeds and defines 500 scenes in 19 scene modes. The Chinese mentioned that they even worked with food photographers. So the device knows not only the difference between a poodle and a sheepdog, but also the difference between Asian food from burgers, desserts and other gastronomy. In each case, the neural network was “twisted” in the direction of the optimal picture.

Also in the camera mode, the composition assistant has been added: it will help level the horizon and not spoil the group portrait with poor framing.

Laser autofocusing began to beat not by 1.2, but by 2.4 meters. Therefore, now it is easier for her to follow the movement, for example, the branches twisting in the wind. It also allows the camera to predict motion in the frame and switch to macro mode automatically, if the distance to the object is reduced.

What is obviously bad can be noted in the work of Huawei P20?

In the fuse, Huawei noted that the maximum ISO for the flagships of Samsung and Apple – only 6400, and the P20 – as much as 102 400, like the full- size Canon EOS 5D Mark IV . Do not be deceived: even for DSLRs, this ISO is completely unsuitable.

Also, in the evening shooting, the phone tends to muffle the yellowness. Technically, this white balance is more correct. However, under the distribution can get a warm atmosphere and elements of the illumination of buildings, which look so spectacular.

Smartphone allows you to shoot on long exposure spectacular night frames: the camera very evenly saturates the dark areas, without losing contrast and without knocking out the light.

The P20 has a professional mode with full control of exposure parameters and the possibility of fixing them. Of course, there is a shot in RAW – it comes clear to all editors and products of Adobe .DNG-format.

With the metering on dark areas, the novelty understands that it is asked to make the photograph adequately clear, and not to lighten the dark colors right up to the gray shade. In fact, the camera in the automatic mode provides flexibility, but does not make an error.

Neural networks and AI

Huawei insists on the superiority of its own processor for neural network computing Kirin 970: they say, it is faster than Snapdragon 845 and Apple A11. The chip is three times faster processing photos in Prisma than the iPhone. This processor is also focused on recognizing the nature of the relationship between the user and the smartphone. Over time, the Kirin 970 adapts to the most frequent actions, optimally allocating resources and improving the smoothness of operations.

This is what one of the photographers of Leica Alex Lambrechts, who shot image frames for the launch of the flagships together with the Helena Christensen model, told about it.

A few days later, the smartphone realized that its user likes to take pictures and take pictures, – the battery charge began to be consumed more slowly. It was on the example of P20 to check these words for a day we did not have the opportunity, but from the experience of working with Mate 10 Pro on Kirin 970 we can say that this is true.

Also, neural nets can filter out the voice from the gusts of wind caught by the microphone.

The novelty supports sound commands taking into account the specific functions of the device. A few words were said about AR Core: here Android 8.1 and P20 can recognize the environment, evaluate lighting and track movement.

During the demonstration of augmented reality, the full-size model of the Porsche car left the stage. The girl-photographer, who was near the stage, shuddered and almost jumped aside, but in reality there was no car.

The smartphone can be connected to the monitor: it does not even need a docking station, only a USB Type-C cable. The device itself can act as a touchpad, multitasking is available.


The cameras are becoming more and better and decorating reality. The product manager of Huawei shakes the phone in his hand: “With his help, I will improve my Instagram-tape!” A murmur of approval rolls around the hall. The world from smartphone screens is becoming more “fake”. How many of your friends are traveling, because it allows you to look on the Internet as fearless discoverers of the planet? How often do we automatically try to seem like someone instead of being someone? How long on travel are you waiting for friends who look at the world not through their eyes, but through a phone camera? These are ethical questions for which we have no answer.

We will write about the features of the system and other aspects of the novelties in more detail, as soon as we have the most important smartphone of Huawei – the 3-camera P20 Pro –

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