Huawei P20 Pro review - ticks all the boxes

tl;dr - it is missing 1 feature I would have loved... Qi

But seriously this P20 Pro really hits every feature you'd want in a device.  It does run you $1000 outright, but still cheaper than some alternatives and you get some features that aren't in others.

It's something that would satisfy just about any user out there.  It has everything packed away nicely in a sleek looking package.

...yet, there's just something that doesn't quite pull me over all the way, and I really can't place my finger on it exactly.  More on that later.

First up, we can't not address the elephant in the room.  Huawei has a bit of a US problem.  I've had a few people point that out to me while I used it.

Now, let's talk about what this device gets you for the $1000:
  • 6.1" @ 2240x1080
  • Hisilicon Kirin 970
  • 2.4GHz x4 + 1.8GHz x4
  • 6GB RAM
  • 128GB storage (no microSD)
  • TRIPLE CAM: Leica lenses!
    • 40MP (f/1.8, 1/1.7", 27mm)
    • 20MP (f/1.6, 1/2.7", 27mm, B/W)
    • 8MP (f/2.4, 1/4.4", 80mm)
  • Front cam:
    • 24MP (f/2.0, 26mm)
  • 4000mAh
  • IP67
  • IR blaster
  • Android 8.1
(don't forget you can compare this phone to other flagships on our database page.

Okay, I was really excited about the IR, but that 4000mAh battery is impressive.  As an older photog, finally having something with Leica glass was really attractive.

But let's start at the top.

How does this device look?

When I look at the device I think of the Jaguar.  It's sleek, sexy but still looks like it's meant to handle the job and not just be a toy.

Buttons (power in the middle, volume above) are on the left side of the device, which is similar to the Pixel 2, which I'm used to.  What I wasn't as used to is the teeny tiny sliver of a fingerprint sensor on the front, similar to the Galaxy S7 or earlier devices.

Even still, there's still a lot more screen to body, which is really welcomed.  Much of this is due to the 'notch'.

The dreaded notch.

Seriously, I don't know why people are against it.  You through the system icons and notifications up and out of the way and have more screen real estate for ... app stuff.  To me it makes sense.

You can 'hide' it by turning the background of that top area to black .. which still works.

It was a bit odd how typically we've gotten used to having the Wifi and cellular indications on the right, next to the battery and time.  But on here, it's on the left.  So, alongside the notification icons.  Just a little odd to be there, plus with the notch, that means not much room for notifications...

A big plus looking around the device is the fact that it has STEREO speakers.  There's a speaker grille on the bottom of the device and then the earpiece actually has a nice loudspeaker too.  It took me a couple days to notice it, I just thought it was an awesome speaker.  And it is really good.

The unfortunate thing as you go around the device is that the SIM tray doesn't have a microSD.  Even though I used to rally against them, and embraced the Nexus/Pixel lineup without them... I have gotten used to using them.

The tray it has is actually a dual-SIM tray, but you can see the North American model that the 2nd SIM is blocked out (unless I'm missing something).

So, let's turn this puppy on and see what it looks like.  First up, it looks really vibrant.  I'm not sure if I'm noticing that it's not QuadHD+, but I sense it.  The colours are great, but it feels like it could use some more 'resolution' (but that may just be in my own brain).

Huawei has never been my favourite for the 'look' of its interface.  It does look ... hrmm... how to really describe it.  I want to say 'static'.  It has the feel of cookie-cutter building... somewhat stark.  Not a real 'soft' look.  80s business?  Bit of a change from the outside look... (but there are themes you can play with)

Now, immediately you see that there are the navigation buttons at the bottom.  Back / Home / Multi
But then there's a fingerprint button that's dormant, but it's in the front so you think you should be interacting with it.

So, search around the settings and you can have a couple options for the navigation.

You can leave the navigation buttons where they are.  You can remove them in favour of using the fingerprint sensor for gestures.  Tap the sensor for 'back', hold it for 'home' and swipe left or right for 'multi'.

Trickier is that if you want the Google Assistance you have to swipe from just to the right of the sensor upwards into the screen.

I've found that gesture tricky and a little delayed, so I'm not a fan of it ... but I do like having the extra screen, and it feels odd to have that button there and not use it.  It takes some getting used to, but in less than a week I was pretty good with it.

A third option is having a floaty circle on the screen.  Interact with it the same way you'd use the fingerprint sensor... it's a neat option; but not for me all the time.

The other thing we notice about the software is that by default the launcher doesn't have an app drawer, but you can turn it on.  *phew*

Playing around with settings, and it's skinned in Huawei's fashion I find the 'Remote' feature.  Kaloo kalay!  I had to look at the top of the device and saw ... yup, there's an IR port there.

I missed having a remote control on my device.  Too bad that there was no way to bring up a floating widget or something from the notification panel/shade.

Then there's a plethora of other features and whatnot...

...some you may use (flip over to silence), some you may not (HiTouch, a feature where if you use 2 thumbs and long press you get a search for the items on screen in the Amazon store).

It's all there regardless.

To help you with finding a feature (due to the amount of customization that Huawei's added in, some features may not be intuitively found) they do have a 'tips' area.

The app is set up as an interactive manual essentially:

Scrolling through the app is a good way for you to get accustomed to some of the features, like the ones I've highlighted above (I never did quite get the 'private space' mode to work ... which is okay, I don't really have any sensitive data on here).

Outside of that, the big feature we need to talk about here is the camera.

This thing is a triple threat... it's got 3 lenses.  One's a 40MP, the other's a 20MP for B/W (to help with getting depth and creating those bokehs) and then an 8MP that acts as the optical zoom feature.  Then the fact that all 3 are Leica glass.  Added on top that they all have OIS.

Oh, and for the selfie taker, the front is a 24MP shooter (the next highest in the flagship arena shoot at just 8!).

So there's a lot to expect out of this camera, and it delivers.

Initially, the camera setting is set to just 10MP, so if you want it to go to 40 you have to do it in the settings.

Now... are you really going to notice the difference between 10 and 40?  Maybe... you sure can zoom in on the JPG after the fact on the 40... but for all intents and purposes, it's just a vanity thing.

Google Photos only uploads it at 16MP anyways (unless you're paying for your extra storage, I don't want my Drive to be eaten all up by my photos).

If you have it on 40MP there are going to be some features that aren't available.  I can't recall which ones off the top of my head, but it's not any deal breaker.  I left it at 40, but I'm sure I could have had it at 10 and been just as happy.

So, what can this camera do?

First up, let's play around with this 'portrait mode'.  Similar to the Pixel, the idea is that it should take a picture where it sees a face and then it'll focus on it, and then use the other lens to try to figure out the background, take that photo out of focus and blend the 2 pictures.  It's instantaneous, whereas on the Pixel 2 there's a moment or so while it does it via some algorithm.  The Pixel 2 is pretty stunning and the P20 does a good job too... maybe because it's more 'natural' it doesn't pop out as much as it does with the Pixel (maybe just that whole moment of 'here's what your photo was and here it is now stylized' adds to the presentation of the effect).

Either way, I like it.

on the left (me) is the Huawei P20 Pro, on the right (my wacky kid who doesn't know how to smile) is from the Pixel 2.

Even though it's using a dual lens for it, doesn't mean it's perfect.  Look at this one and look by my ear on the left side.

Still, pretty cool.

In setting up the portrait mode, there are several options to play with for 'lighting'.  I don't know if I noticed any difference except for the final 2 where it actually blacks out the surrounding non-focused areas (in either colour or black and white).

The last comment about the selfie features, I'm not normally a selfie taker, but when I do, one of my pet peeves is that it may be backwards.  So as soon as you start up the selfie camera for the first time you get the ask how you'd want the photos: mirrored or real.

Thank you, Huawei for making that an easy to find and understand feature.  Nothing worse than going a week in and then looking at your selfies and find out they're all backwards.  Hate that.

Anyways, let's look at the regular camera.  You'll probably use that a lot more.

There are manual and automatic modes as you'd expect, you can zoom in  (digital and then switch to the 3rd lens).  Nothing out of the ordinary here.

You have some special modes and can download even more.

One of them is the 'Fyuse' mode, which lets you pan around an object to get, as they call, a 3D picture.  But really it's an animated gif that adjusts based on your orientation (think of it like taking a bunch of pictures ad you can see it at the various angles).  It's nowhere near as fluid as what the Xperia XZ2 3D scanner can do tho'.  And it was only viewable in the Huawei gallery.  Uploaded to Google Photos it's just a still shot.

Anyways, let's just take pictures.

There's a reason it's still at the top of the DxO rankings.

Some shots are not so hot, some are.  For the ones that are it's a subtle "oh yeah, that's pretty good actually", it's not STUNNING, but subtle.

And it's more great shots than not.

The camera also has a mode that recognizes what type of scene it is and will adjust settings accordingly.

Now, the shots below will not really do the photos real justice.  Let me know if you'd like to see the originals.

As I have more to say I'll throw the sample photos at the very bottom of the article.

Okay, now ... on to an awkward topic.

It'd be unrealistic to try to talk about Huawei these days and not mention the little bit of controversy surrounding it.

In the US, the government of the day has determined that due to Huawei's Chinese origins and dealings with some of the Chinese governments, that the company is a national security threat and may be putting spyware or malware into the phones and the company has pulled out of selling in the US.

The US is also now pressuring Canada to do the same.  I'm not sure I'm buying in to the US perceived threat.  Remember how their president said WE (Canadians) were a national security threat?

Anyways... just thought I'd raise that point.

But let's just chat overall on this phone.

The 6GB of RAM really help ensure a smooth performance jumping between apps.  128GB is plenty of space, even with a 40MP camera.

That 4000mAh battery is going to last for days... man, I really wish it had Qi tho'.  Typically the battery readout for me, if you extrapolate it, suggests that it should average about 50 hours of 'use'.

The only thing I can really pick on about this is that it does take some time getting used to the navigation gestures, and it's so close to the screen, and such a skinny little oval that sometimes you can hit the screen and not the sensor.

Trying to do pull down the notification shade sometimes actually brings registers as a pull down from the homescreen (if you're in the homescreen) and brings up the search function.  I've had that happen a fair bit actually.  I would have loved to see a gesture on the sensor to pull down the shade.  A little annoying.

Overall, this is a phone that really hits all the marks.  I can't really poke any holes in it and its experience except for it looks a little ... old, the system UI.  Stark, as I said earlier.  I can't explain that.  But easily overlooked.  I think this would probably be ranked as an easy 9.7/10 ... 9.8?  (minor points were taken off for not having Qi and not QuadHD)

Currently, I've had to move on to the LG G7thinQ for my review of that, but looking forward to going back to the P20 Pro after that.

Lots of storage, ram, camera quality ... nothing to argue about on this one.

Photo samples