Your latest smartphone may well be a music player, a mini television screen and pocket-sized personal computer, but one of the first stages in this evolution was your mobile phone becoming a camera.
Though they began as low resolution cameras of limited use, most smartphone cameras are now sophisticated enough that – unless you’re a professional photographer or a dedicated hobbyist – most people will be more than happy using them to take their snaps.
For its latest flagship, the P20 Pro, Huawei is pushing how far a smartphone can go with the addition of three lenses on the back of the device.
The camera is the focus of Huawei’s design, so it makes sense to start with its unusual tri-lens setup.
A 40MP lens is supported by an 8MP telephoto lens for zooming, and a monochrome lens that helps add detail in low lighting conditions. The front camera, meanwhile, is 24MP – around three times the number of pixels on the iPhone X’s selfie camera.
While we only manage to get a few quick shots, comparing it with the dual camera on the Samsung Galaxy S8+, the P20 Pro’s performance is impressive. Even when zoomed to maximum, photos have a surprising amount of detail.
This is helped by the phone’s 4D Predictive Focus feature, in which the camera predicts where the object is likely to be. Huawei says this makes it easier to take photos of moving objects – we take some snaps from a moving taxi on a cobbled street, and our first impression is of clear and relatively sharp results.
The P20 Pro is running Android 8.1 Oreo, the latest version of Google’s operating system. Much like any other Android phone (apart from the Pixel and Pixel 2) there is a certain amount of bloatware, but it also comes with the latest Google apps built in.
With 6GB of RAM and the company’s Kirin 970 CPU – the same we saw on the Mate 10 Pro last year – the phone runs smoothly. During the short time we had with it, the P20 didn’t show any signs of lag.
That said, we’re still waiting for some apps to get optimised for the phone’s notch, as things still get hidden ‘behind’ the gap. With an increasing number of smartphones using a variety of notch styles, this is something Android is going to have to contend with more often - and you might be inclined to wait for updates before buying.
There’s 128GB of built-in storage, which should be enough for apps, photos and music, but unfortunately there’s no expandable memory as we’ve seen on other phones.
Also unlike other premium smartphones, Huawei has moved away from the bezel-less design in favour of a fingerprint scanner at the bottom.
You can also set up a Face-ID mode that unlocks the phone as soon as you look at it, however we find it disappointingly hit-and-miss if you're wearing glasses. It seems to work well in the dark – better than other Android phones we’ve tried – so it should work if you wake up bleary-eyed to check your notifications in the night.
Right at the bottom of the phone is the only port: a USB-C connection for charging and to connect the bundled headphones. The battery is the same 4000mAh one we saw in the Mate 10 Pro, so it should easily keep you going throughout the day.
More after the break
The 6.1in OLED screen has a 1080 x 2240 pixel resolution, and a claimed 16.7m colours. The P20 Pro also supports HDR, shown by an icon whenever you choose a compatible show on Netflix.
Although we don’t get the chance to properly test this phone against its competitors, the screen appears vibrant with punchy colours and a range of hues.
We watch Jessica Jones and the image looks fairly natural with regards to Jones’s pale skin tones or the bright yellows, greens and reds of Trish Walker’s apartment.
However, as we are only streaming content rather than watching any downloaded videos, the jury is still out when it comes to insight and detail.
The P20 Pro starts strongly, providing a decent rendition of the stretches on Jones’s denim jeans or the texture of the kitchen’s stone walls.
But video is only half the battle, and the P20 Pro approaches the audio side touting support for Dolby Atmos and content encoded using Dolby's AC-4 audio codec. This should give a wider soundstage than rival smartphones, and we look forward to trying it out properly in our testing rooms.
The changes between Brian Johnson’s solitary, solid vocals and the powerful guitar riffs is well measured for a sound coming from such small drivers, but we would still recommend pairing the phone with some higher-quality Bluetooth headphones.
Speaking of which, the P20 Pro supports the aptX codec for ‘CD-like’ sound when transmitting music wirelessly, so if your headphones or speakers are compatible you have the potential for a more refined stream.
The P20 Pro comes with headphones in the box, but we would suggest replacing these with something more sophisticated – such as the Award-winning Beyerdynamic Byrons (£50) – using the USB-C to 3.5mm adapter in the box.
Although we only spend a dozen hours or so with the P20 Pro, Huawei’s approach to hardware marks a change from its smartphones of last year, which were centered on their AI capabilities.
The camera, which should be the main source of interest in this handset, works well out of the box - and, despite a few design kinks when it comes to apps, the phone as a whole is easy to use.
Hopefully those should be ironed out soon, and we look forward to assessing the P20 Pro’s full performance once we get it into our testing rooms.
See all our Huawei reviews