Huawei P20 Pro and its 3 cameras live from Paris
In the last few years, the Chinese brand Huawei has transformed from underdog to one of the big players on the local market. And now the company is proving it can and wants to compete with the likes of Samsung. They’re certainly flexing their muscles for all the world to see with the P20 series in Paris.
As the press conference was about to start, we jostled for space in the Grand Palais exhibition hall in Paris. Journalists from all over the world had descended on mass for the global product launch. While video producer Stephanie Tresch and I were expecting a dingy hall, we were met with a glass ceiling that splashed light to all corners of the space.
We looked around in vain for a seat, but ended up having to improvise. I perched perilously on the camera case, laptop on my knees while I tapped at the keys furiously, taking notes. It wasn’t the most comfortable thing in the world, but it was so worth it.
The new Huawei logo
It soon became clear that the event was an excuse for Huawei to blow its own trumpet. And fair enough. It has a lot of success to shout about. Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei Consumer Business Group, took to the stage. Barely a company event goes by where he doesn’t make a speech. While he speaks fairly broken English, he’s a journalist’s dream. It’s difficult to resist the charm that his enthusiasm, humour and frequent detours from the script bring.
The acoustics in the Grand Palais didn’t do Richard any favours, with his pidgin English echoing around the room. But that didn’t matter. We all listened intently, grinned and shared his joy. He was looking back on seven years of the brand’s expansion. The company started taking steps to expand seven years ago and now Huawei is considered one of the top players in the market. Richard also told us about the 10.4 billion euros the company was funnelling into research and development. This includes their commitment to environmental protection.
Update 28 March 2018, 11.50am: until a moment ago, we had a special bundle where you could buy the phone together with headphones. But that sold out in under 24 hours – wowzers. We’re glad you think it’s as great as we do. Unfortunately, we don’t have any more bundles left, which is why you’ll «only» find the phone available to buy on its own.
The Huawei logo has been updated slightly. Now it’s just red and not the red/white mix it was before. Richard reckons it makes it simpler and more customer-friendly. He then looked back at the Huawei P9 and the P10 before getting down to business. To the stuff we were all desperate to hear about. It was time for Richard Yu to present the Huawei P20 and the Huawei P20 Pro.
It features a notch at the top for the camera and the phone speaker. But this notch has been minimised as much as possible. In the design process, symmetry was important for him and his designers. It’s everywhere, from the top, the bottom, the top front, left and right.
At one point, there was a technical glitch with the presentation on the huge screen that stopped Richard from going further through the slides. But that didn’t phase him. He carried on talking, going off piste slightly to tell us about professional photographers who were taking shots on the phone and were very impressed.
Oh, the slides started working again. We were all gazing at a sunset. He said it was twilight and showed us the new phone colours. They’re a vision in shimmering green, purple and slightly blue. On the front, you’ve got an OLED screen with 6.1-inch screen. Nice.
«Why are we calling this the Pro? Because we’ve now packed professional camera technology into a small smartphone,» explained Richard. He went on to say the system is supported by Kirin 970 artificial intelligence.
The P20 Pro, aka the star of the show
Releasing three phones every year is a trend that hopefully won’t last. To give you some context: I’m one of those people who thinks two phone launches per year is too much. My concern isn’t with the features on the normal-sized and plus version of the phone being dangerously similar. What worries me is that churning out two phones every single year has an air of whateverism about it.
Releasing one phone per flagship series makes a clear statement. If you want evidence, just look at the LG V20. There was one single version and that was that. The P20 series, on the other hand, is trying to offer something for every budget, even though the smaller versions pale by comparison to the P20 Pro.
What I say in this article really boils down to this: «The P20 Pro is great and can do everything. Oh yeah, and there happen to be two other phones as well.» The P20 Pro is an example of something that’s causing a real stir on the market and trying something new. Launching that phone alone would have sent a clear message that «this is the direction we’re going. Take it or leave it».
The P20 Pro steals the show. And not just that of its siblings. It also steals the limelight from the competition.
In terms of looks, my favourite is the new twilight colour. The only way to describe it is a shimmering blackish, bluey purple hue. On the whole, I’m a fan of black and white phones. But I fell for this twilight effect at first sight. The blue one isn’t bad either. But the black version… even as a fan of black phones, I have to admit I find it a bit boring. I mean, it could be any phone. The others make as much of a statement looks-wise as the technology in the phones themselves.
The three Leica-made cameras on the back lend the camera specs that sound pretty damn good. Take these for starters:
- 40 megapixels
- 20 megapixels
This phone will be rubbing shoulders with counterparts that think 12 megapixels is something to shout about. Any photography expert could tell you that it takes more than megapixels to capture good pictures. But come on, you have to take your hat off to the engineers for cramming 40 megapixels into a phone.
There’s also the f/0.95 f-stop. This blows the competition out of the water. In other words, the Samsung Galaxy S9 isn’t a patch on the P20 Pro, and in some ways, the South Korean phones are being left behind.
Did I mention the selfie cam at the front comes with 24 megapixels?!
I definitely need to put this phone to the test.
The cameras can think for themselves, as the P20 Pro comes with an inbuilt Kirin 970 system on a chip. The platform features a neural processing unit (NPU), which optimises the phone for daily use and intelligently analyses photos. Samsung may have missed out on including special DRAM in the camera, but Huawei is letting the Kirin NPU loose on pictures.
As if that wasn’t good enough, the phone comes with an IP53 safety rating and a 4000 mAh battery.
My initial thoughts are that Samsung and Co. need to brace themselves. The Huawei P20 Pro isn’t just closing the gap on the Samsung Galaxy S9+. If the specs are anything to go by, the P20 Pro has pushed out in front and is cruising on ahead, leaving the Samsung Galaxy a dot in the distance behind.
The new camera
Richard Yu dubbed the P20 series cameras the «best ever». The photography industry test specialists at DxOMark seem to be in agreement. The Huawei P20 Pro along with the P20 are the first phones to have cameras that reach a score of 100. They are three points ahead of the competition, with the current average levelling out at 102.
The image sensor is the largest that’s ever been in a phone. This makes the camera more sensitive and increases ISO values. The P20 and P20 Pro can shoot at ISO 102,400.
«It’s not perceptible to the eye,» Richard noted gleefully, and the audience applauded.
In terms of software, the company has honed the camera further. The two devices can simulate a number of light effects, create an artificial bokeh effect and…
Oh yeah, I almost forgot, there are other versions too
It wouldn’t be fair to leave the smaller versions out of this review. Even if they pale in comparison to the P20 Pro, they still have a lot to offer. It’s just a shame the press conference in Paris focused so heavily on the P20 Pro, because the P20 at least isn’t to be sneezed at.
In fact, the P20 is actually the same phone as the P20 Pro, just without a camera. In other words, Kirin 970 with NPU and all that jazz. It’s a pity a phone of that calibre is almost a side thought in the launch proceedings. By that I mean it’s a pity for the phone, but not of course for the P20 Pro.
Lurking behind the P20 is the P20 Lite. Although it donned exciting colours to draw some attention, it stands no chance when going up against the bold, glistening shades of the P20 Pro. However, in the price wars, it can stand its ground and give you a hell of a lot for relatively little.
In summary, Huawei is flexing its muscles with the P20 series, and more specifically the P20 Pro. Only time will tell who will come out on top in the market. But one thing is for sure. If technology continues to advance at the current rate, a specific group in particular will profit, namely us, the end users.