In the few short years, Honor has existed, they’ve always tried to make flagship phones that are close enough to their Huawei counterparts to get spoken about, but different enough as to not just be called rebadges. With the Honor 20 series, Honor has stepped a bit farther out from Huawei’s shadow to create something marvellous.
- Really nice screen for IPS
- Incredibly well built
- Solid battery life
- Phantom Black and Phantom Green are gorgeous colours
- Issues with the Zoom camera.
- Fingerprint scanner is not great.
- Pricier than the standard phone with very few changes.
Disclaimer: Honor PR has provided me (Dom) With this Honor 20 Pro review unit. Since we received this unit (August 7th) we have received no software OTAs, in the form of security patches or system upgrades. We have used the device on the Three UK network in the Southeast of the UK, we are running build 126.96.36.199. No money has exchanged hands between either party and Honor will not see this review before it goes live.
- 6.26” IPS LCD
- 2340×1080 resolution.
- Hole punch camera cutout.
- 84% Screen to body ratio.
- HiSilicon Kirin 980 SoC
- 2x Cortex A76 @ 2.6Ghz
- 2x Cortex A76 @1.92Ghz
- 4x Cortex A55 @ 1.8Ghz
- Mali G76 MP10 (10 core GPU)
- TSMC 7nm manufacturing process
- 8GB LPDDR4X RAM
- 256GB Internal storage (likely eMMC 5.0)
- 48MP Sony IMX586 main camera
- 28mm effective focal length
- 1/ 2” sensor size
- 0.8µ pixel size
- 16MP Ultrawide camera
- 13mm effective focal length
- 1/ 3.1” sensor size
- 8MP 3x Telephoto Camera
- 80mm effective focal length
- 1 /4.4” sensor size
- 2MP Macro Camera
- 27mm effective focal length
- 48MP Sony IMX586 main camera
- 32MP Front Facing Camera
- 0.8µ Pixel size (Likely Omnivision OV32A)
- 4000mAh Lithium-Ion battery.
- 22.5w SuperCharge
If that isn’t enough for you and you want to check out the full specification sheet for the Honor 20 Pro, check out the Spec sheet from GSMArena Here
Is it any surprise to you that I’m going to say that the Honor 20 Pro is built extremely well? The Aluminium frame is a delight to hold, there is a decent heft to it at 182g and the solid slab of glass on the rear helps with rigidity but also giving a nice cooling effect when holding the device. Of course, Glass is glass, and as we all know, Glass can break. So be careful
Taking a hardware tour starting at the front we have a lovely front face, almost entirely dominated by the screen, but not so much that there are constant unintentional touches on the display. There is a minute chin on the bottom of the screen, but I’ll be honest I forgot about it until I had to write this review and stare at it. The Screen Honor chose here is a beauty. A 6.26” IPS LCD with a hole punch cutout for that 32MP snapper in the top left. Anything “bad” I have to say about this, has nothing to do with the hole punch and is all subjective. What do I mean by that? Well for starters I’d have swapped the IPS LCD for an OLED, I’d also have shrunk the screen to something about the 5.8” mark. At a 19:9 aspect ratio the phone is getting taller and taller and I’d rather the phone be a smidge smaller and more comfortable in one hand. Honor also pre-install a plastic screen protector that I have been itching to pull off the moment I got the device, it doesn’t go to the edges and the camera cutout is glaringly obvious.
Looking around the perimeter of the Honor 20 Pro we get to see the gorgeous colour in a mirror chrome finish on the edge banding and it looks awesome, even if it is a fingerprint magnet. On the left-hand side we have the SIM tray on the top we have the IR blaster (no one tell Nilay) and the secondary noise-cancelling microphone. On the bottom we get the main microphone, loudspeaker and USB-C port, yes, there is no headphone jack here, so those of you who will moan, well you’re going to moan anyway, but they include an adaptor in the box. It is important to note that the USB-C port on the Honor 20 Pro is limited to USB2.0 speeds (480mbps) instead of the USB3.0 speeds of 5gbps, it also doesn’t support video out for EMUI desktop (though it can do it wirelessly). Lastly on the right-hand side is the volume rocker as well as the power button/fingerprint scanner combo, and this is going to be divisive, but this is a bad fingerprint scanner and a bad placement.
Whilst it may affect me more as a left-handed person, we do makeup 10% of the population, 700 million people not being able to comfortably use your fingerprint scanner is a bit rough. But taking that out of the equation, it isn’t all that great of a sensor. I’ve had plenty of right thumbprints fail to register despite re-enrolling 3 times in the first week. I’ve cleaned the sensor, cleaned my thumb, chosen different fingers, even enrolled other people in it, it just isn’t a great sensor, and having spoken to other reviews, some of whom are right-handed they seem to agree that this isn’t a great fingerprint sensor. When you add in the less than optimal placement, I’ve swapped to using the much less secure but much more convenient face unlock. This fingerprint scanner made me long for an in-display scanner, they may not be the fastest, but not since the earlier revisions of the OnePlus 6T have I wanted to scrap a capacitive sensor and use In-display so bad.
Lastly, we have the rear of the phone, with the gorgeous light refraction pattern on my Phantom Black (purple) colour, it is absolutely stunning, and I have found myself just staring at the phone for a bit. In the top left, we have the Quad camera array going from Ultrawide, to main, then telephoto on the main cluster, then next to that is the LED flash and the 2MP macro camera. And right at the bottom in the centre is the new updated Honor logo.
This is a phenomenally well-built phone with great manufacturing tolerances and is a joy to hold. I do wish it was a tad smaller, and I utterly despise that fingerprint scanner for multiple reasons, but that doesn’t take away from the hard work Honor has done here, and it isn’t just a rebadged Huawei P series phone, good on them.
For the last little while (since the View20) Honor has started using MagicUI instead of EMUI. What is MagicUI? Well, it’s EMUI with very minute changes, but hey, it gives them another point of separation between themselves and Huawei I guess.
So now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, what is using the Honor 20 Pro like? Well, it’s like using any other phone with a Kirin 980, which is to say, pretty great. The EMUI of 2019 isn’t the EMUI of 2014. A lot of Huawei’s older apps have been replaced with the Google variants, and if they think their app offers something that Google’s doesn’t, they offer you both but let you choose which you want as default but chose Google’s out of the factory.
Aesthetically, EMUI isn’t for everyone, but neither is Samsung OneUI or even stock for that matter, And there are things that EMUI/MagicUI offers that stock doesn’t, such as a desktop mode, or Wifi-Direct based file sharing, a much more controllable camera application and, if you really care about it, a comprehensive theme store complete with icons, animations etc.
One of the things (aside from aesthetics) that EMUI was infamous for was its insanely aggressive memory and battery management techniques. Those days are mostly behind us. I have not had to go into the battery settings and whitelist apps to make sure I get notifications, my fitness apps, music apps and podcast apps all work properly with the screen off, and when I’m listening to a podcast and flipping through multiple apps nothing gets shut down. This won’t be the same for everyone, not every app declares itself properly and to be honest, Huawei will still make mistakes as new apps come out, but the days of listening to your music, turning the screen off and hearing the music shut off are thankfully over.
Going back to aesthetics, even the bits that Huawei has changed from stock are a lot less intrusive and starkly different now, so when you do change things like your launcher, or your SMS app, when you do have to interact with EMUI/MagicUI core UI details like the notification shade, it is less of a shock to the system, and the recent EMUI10/MagicUI 3.0 on Android Q look even nicer and less intrusive, and those are only a few weeks away from the time of writing this.
This is the area where a significant portion of the money and development went, the cameras on the Honor 20 Pro are very impressive… for the most part.
There are four cameras on the rear of the Honor 20 Pro, and three of them are useful, and of those three 2 of them are more useful than another. The four cameras are:
- 48MP Main Camera
- 16MP Ultrawide Camera
- 8MP 3x Telephoto Camera
- 2MP Macro Camera
They also happen to go in that order of usefulness. The main 48MP camera is Sony IMX586. This is a native 48MP camera sensor with a Quad-Bayer array, what that means is, the way the camera is designed, although it does have 48 megapixels, they (the pixels) are designed in such a way as to take awesome 12MP shots using a technique called Pixel binning, where it takes 4 neighbouring pixels of the same colour and uses science and magic to make them appear as if they were one single pixel, but four times larger, and it being larger means it can take in more light, being able to take in more light means the camera has a better chance at taking a good shot, if you’re confused still, I recently wrote a piece about this exact thing, so check it out.
This main camera is quite nice, and the way Honor has tuned the output is as distinctive as ever. Honor tends to focus on vibrancy and “wow” factor, so the shots produced, especially with their AI mode turned on tend to come out hyper-saturated, and some times that looks really awesome, but sometimes it doesn’t, and there isn’t really anything you can do about it, even in manual mode. Huawei tunes their photos more conservatively, but the best way to describe this would be Samsung phones around the S5 and S6 era.
I will say that Honor has done a great job here in making sure that although the saturation is ramped up, the rest of the image feels remarkably balanced, it doesn’t feel as if someone has jumped into Adobe Lightroom and cranked the sliders to max, which a lot of their older phones did feel like. One minor issue I have been having but no one else I’ve spoken to have had is that when taking a lot of consecutive shots, focus goes out the window and shutter lag becomes insane, to the point where after the first 3 or so images anything out of the phone is useless, hopefully, this is just a software bug that can be ironed out.
So, that is the main camera, what about the next most useful one, the ultrawide? This one is nice. The 16MP resolution is more than enough, the 13mp focal length is wide enough without introducing too much distortion around the edges, I love it. There is one minor issue once again though, and this one can be fixed quite easily, the colours between the two sensors are drastically different, and is very noticeable in video where you change between normal to wide, or normal to zoom, a lot of effort went into the main camera, and the effort into the wide didn’t go into making sure the colours match, and I feel like that was a mistake. Huawei had similar issues with the P30 Pro launch (though less apparent) and that was fixed relatively quickly, I hope Honor do the same.
Next is the Telephoto zoom camera, and at 3x I’d argue it is more useful than the 5x on the P30 Pro, but if I had to choose between a wide-angle lens or a telephoto one, I’ll pick the wide-angle almost every time. It allows me to be more creative with my shots and when implemented correctly is far more versatile. For instance, the ultrawide lens on the P30 Pro is used for macro shots, something the Honor 20 Pro must have a separate sensor for.
Now for some weirdness. My Honor 20 Pro isn’t actually using its zoom camera to zoom. It is cropping in on the main camera to zoom. This can be confirmed in two ways. One of them is by simply covering each camera and going through the respective modes until the one you are obscuring comes up. The other is by setting a camera and then jumping into the settings, so for the main camera this says 12MP (as explained earlier) and wide-angle shows 16MP, and the 3x should show 8MP, but it doesn’t.
So, after some conversations with Honor about this (I’ll post their comment below) I have managed to find a way to get my phone to actually use the zoom camera when zooming. After telling them that my camera wasn’t using the zoom camera and showing them how I was testing it, they told me to slowly cycle up to and above 3x, so instead of using the button to jump from 1x to 3x, they told me to use the slider to slowly bring it up and then once it hits 3x that way I should see it switch cameras, and I did, which was good, but most people don’t zoom like that, at least not the ones I spoke to, when the 3x and 5x buttons are so prevalent in the UI people just press those instead, which would end up getting them a 48MP crop. But what is even weirder is that after about 4 days of cycling the proper way to take zoom pictures, I noticed something weird, the phone had started using it’s zoom camera on the jump zooms as well. As you can see from this video when I hit the button to jump to 3x it initially crops the main sensor, but a split-second later changes to the actual 8MP Zoom camera. No OTA updates have come through, I’ve not changed anything in this phone, but the behaviour of the Zoom started to change for the better.
So, if you bought the Honor 20 Pro specifically because you wanted that Zoom camera over the standard Honor 20, make sure to test whether yours is using the Zoom camera, and if not, spend a few days cycling the zoom manually, hopefully, yours turns out as mine did.
This was Honor’s statement:
“The HONOR 20 PRO will use the 8MP telephoto lens only when cycled to 3x zoom or above. To avoid the loss of image quality when jump from the main camera to telephoto camera, the R&D team optimize the image by applying the interpolation algorithm, which makes the final image 12MP. It’s a software optimization.”
Lastly, we have the 2mp Macro camera, which is, let’s just say it, niche and kind of useless. It’s an extra expense that could have been done without an extra lens if the wide-angle was configured properly which would have saved cost in both physical terms as they wouldn’t need to buy another camera, but also in space, it might be small but it is still an extra space inside the phone that could be filled with something else.
Moving on to video, it’s about as I would expect. Huawei doesn’t do the best on video on its flagships, so I rarely expect Honor’s to be better, and it’s about the same. Colours are a bit more muted here, which is strange, but honestly, Honor and Huawei really needs to buck their ideas up when it comes to video, It’s not bad, but it is really far behind pretty much everyone else in the high-end space and it is apparent.
Lastly, I want to talk about the front-facing camera which I am pretty happy with. From the specs we’ve been told I’m pretty sure the Camera is an OmniVision OV32A, and I’ve not had great experiences with OmniVision cameras in the past, but I will say that for the most part, the front camera on the Honor 20 Pro is really quite good, colour reproduction is good, apps like Instagram and Twitter treat it properly, it does seem a bit zoomed in, but that is a problem all Huawei/Honor phones tend to have.
Well, this section is going to be nice and speedy, just like the phone itself!
The Kirin 980 is known for being an awesome chip. The HiSilicon designed, TSMC fabricated chip is fast, has a very capable GPU and sips power, what is not to like. It’s got a triple cluster setup, two High-performance ARM Cortex A76 cores are clocked at 2.6Ghz, the next cluster has those same Cortex A76 cores but at a lower 1.92Ghz, and lastly a quartet of ARM Cortex A55 Cores at 1.8Ghz. The reasons or this, the phone can decide how much power is needed depending on the task. You don’t need all 8 cores on to open WhatsApp, but you will need the higher-performing cores when Fortnite is open for instance, the chip is smart enough to use what it needs to.
Whilst I recommend not looking at benchmark numbers as often they don’t tell the whole story, or even an accurate one, I will post a few screenshots of the benchmarks I ran whilst using the phone.
Another area with very little to worry about. 4000mAh is huge, the 22.5w SuperCharging is more than enough to top up in a pinch, and it comes in the box. If you are somehow feeling the itch that you need to get to a charger before the end of the day, A) well done, that’s impressive, and B) You still have a traditional battery saver mode, as well as extreme battery saver modes which make 15% last for an entire day, yeah, they’re nuts.
The battery is slightly worse than my P30 Pro, which does have a slightly larger battery. Whereas I’m usually able to end my days in the 60% range on my P30, on the Honor 20 Pro it is in the mid to high 50’s, not massive, but noticeable for sure.
Radio and Connectivity
I want to bring this up because I have been having a great time with the radios on the Honor 20 Pro, specifically the LTE radio and the Bluetooth radio. Huawei makes network equipment if you didn’t know that, now you know. And whilst I use a P30 Pro as my daily phone at the moment, the Honor 20 Pro seemed to be able to pull in faster speeds in the same spaces or be able to cling to a reception in the few areas I struggle with signal, and that’s nice.
Same with Bluetooth, I’m testing out 2 different pairs of Bluetooth earbuds at the moment whilst reviewing the Honor 20 Pro, and both of them had no issues connecting to them, as well as my Mi Band 3 and my TicWatch C2, and when I was walking around the house, the Honor 20 Pro didn’t even shrug, and that’s a really nice change.
It’s barely faster than the current-generation in-display scanners. It’s not comfortable for anything other than unlocking your phone right-handed. With the number of apps that now have support for locking behind a password or fingerprint, it’s an absolute ball-ache to use this crappy scanner to unlock, plus I must reorient my hand to do so. I’ve already gone through the fact I’m left-handed and no matter how many times I registered my fingers this is not a good or comfortable experience for lefties, and I know a few right-handers that agree.
It’s easy to say that I’m just being salty as a left-handed user, so I gave the phone to family members and friends who were right-handed, and they all said the same thing, it is cool to unlock, even though it is a bit low on the side, and anything other than unlocking would be weird.
So yeah, I despise this fingerprint scanner so much I reverted to using face unlock, it is that bad.
The Honor 20 Pro is a mostly great phone, and for the most part, I have enjoyed using it over the last few weeks. But at £550, I’m not sure mostly cuts it. At £550 why is there a zoom camera that isn’t really used? At £550 why is there a pretty unreliable and somewhat slow fingerprint scanner that is awkward to use for a portion of the population?
The camera one can be fixed (hopefully) but the fingerprint scanner really does take this phone out of the running for a lot of people to recommend this to. Why would I recommend this over the S10e from Samsung which costs £50 more? It has a better screen, is more comfortable, and has a better accessory ecosystem, and a better camera. Or what about the Galaxy s9 for £50 less than this? With a better screen, equal camera etc. The worst part is, is that Honor isn’t even just facing competition from other players, but also from closer to home. Compared to the Honor 20, the Pro only adds that seldom-used Zoom camera, takes the main camera’s aperture from f1.8 on the standard to 1.4 on the Pro, and has a marginally larger 4000mAh battery compared to the 3750mAh on the standard, 2GB more of RAM and doubles the internal storage. Is that worth a usual £150 price difference? At the moment (August 2019) it is even more severe as the Honor 20 can be had for just £369 on Amazon, and 95% of the phone is the same.
Honor was the king of where it used to play, but just like going from primary school to secondary school, they’re now the small fish in a big pond and they need to learn how to adapt, fast.