Two days after Google threw the future of Huawei’s Android devices into disarray, its sub-brand Honor is announcing its flagship lineup for the year. The Honor 20 (not to be confused with the Honor View 20 released earlier this year) and Honor 20 Pro will sit at the top of the budget brand’s range, featuring Huawei’s flagship Kirin 980 processor, quad rear cameras, and side-mounted fingerprint scanners, all fronted by a large 6.26-inch display, complete with a hole-punch cutout for the front-facing camera. The Honor 20 Pro will retail for €599, while the Honor 20 will be slightly cheaper at €499 or £399 in the UK. Honor says that both of these devices will be “available soon.”
I’ve been using the Honor 20 Pro, the more premium of the two devices, as my everyday phone for the past week. There’s a lot to like about this device. The convenience of the side-mounted fingerprint sensor surprised me, the phone’s gaming performance is exceptional, and I am a big fan of its design and build quality overall. I have reservations about the camera quality, which pales in comparison to the cheaper Pixel 3A, but I came away with a positive impression of the device.
At the moment, there are a lot of unknowns about Honor and Huawei’s Android future. Honor has said that these two devices have already been certified by Google, and it has suggested that, as a result, they shouldn’t be affected by the worst of the changes that are coming. That means they should have access to the Google Play Store as well as Google’s other services, but future updates are less certain. These phones will be released too late to benefit from the three months of updates allowed by the US Commerce Department. Huawei has said that existing devices (a distinction that appears to cover these phones) will continue to receive security updates, but you shouldn’t expect them to receive platform-level upgrades, such as an update to Android Q. (The phones are launching with Honor’s Magic UI on top of Android 9 Pie.) That doesn’t mean these devices will be unusable, but it’s still an uncomfortable question mark to have hanging over a device on the day of its announcement.
Nevertheless, I’ve at least built up a pretty good impression of how the Honor 20 Pro handles in the here and now.
Honor has traditionally chosen bright, lurid colors for the designs of its devices, but the Honor 20 Pro’s design tones this down a little in the two colors that are available at launch. The device I’ve been using has a purple color scheme (confusingly called “phantom black”), and the phone will also be available in green (or “phantom blue,” according to Honor). I like the look of both. I’m less of a fan of the phone’s massive rear camera bump, though. I’ve never really understood the amount of attention that’s paid to the way camera lenses protrude from the backs of certain phones, but after using the Honor 20 Pro, I suddenly get it. It’s such a minor complaint in the grand scheme of things, but having a phone rattle on a desk when you tap it is one of those minor annoyances I’d rather do without.
That prodigious camera bump houses three of the phone’s four rear cameras. There’s a main 48-megapixel f/1.4 camera with optical image stabilization, a 117-degree wide-angle 16-megapixel f/2.2 camera, and an 8-megapixel f/2.4 telephoto camera. It’s a similar setup to what you’ll find on the OnePlus 7 Pro or Samsung’s Galaxy S10. The non-Pro Honor 20 has a slightly different configuration, trading the telephoto camera for a 2-megapixel depth-sensing camera. It also doesn’t have any optical image stabilization on its main camera. Both phones have a fourth 2-megapixel f/2.4 macro camera on their backs and a 32-megapixel f/2.0 selfie camera in the 4.5mm hole-punch in their displays.
On paper, the 48-megapixel specs of the Honor 20 Pro’s main camera are good. They’re even technically better than the Huawei P30 Pro’s 40-megapixel main sensor. However, the specs don’t tell the whole story when it comes to real-world camera performance. Photographs look good at first glance, but when you peer closer, they can lack detail and crispness. By default, the camera’s software also tended to oversaturate the colors in my photographs.
Thanks to the telephoto lens on the back of the phone, the Honor 20 Pro is capable of an optical zoom of 3x, a hybrid zoom of 5x, and it will digitally allow you to zoom in with a magnification of 30x. I’m almost impressed that Honor lets you zoom in this far because neither the camera’s hardware nor software is able to produce usable photos at this zoom level. However, up to around a 5x level of zoom, the camera produces fairly good results. The wide angle camera is similarly capable.
The macro lens is the weirdest of the phone’s four rear cameras. Unlike the zoom and wide angle lenses (which the camera app switches to automatically when you zoom in or out), the macro lens is under a separate menu option. It works well, letting me get as close as 40 millimeters to my subjects, as shown by the example images below, but it would be nice if the app was able to switch automatically when needed. I found I had to switch between camera modes to work out what was best in any particular situation.
I didn’t have any huge problems with Honor 20 Pro’s camera overall. I wouldn’t do anything hasty like replace it as my standalone camera, but the quality of its photographs felt broadly in line with what we’d previously come to expect from a phone in this price range. Unfortunately, recently, we’ve seen Google significantly raise the bar for what we should expect from a camera on a midrange device with the release of the Pixel 3A. The Honor 20 Pro’s camera isn’t terrible, but the Pixel 3A’s is significantly better, and it might be a better choice if sheer image quality is important to you. But it’s hard to deny the flexibility the 20 Pro’s multiple camera lenses afford over the Pixel 3A’s single shooter.
On the front of the device, you’ve got a 6.26-inch 2340 x 1080 LCD display with a small 4.5mm hole-punch cutout on the top left for the selfie camera. If you’re the kind of person who objects to a phone with a little bit of a chin bezel, then you’re going to immediately notice the bottom of the Honor 20 Pro’s screen. The display is bright and vivid, and while it can be a touch oversaturated in its default “Vivid” mode, I preferred this to the slight orange hue the screen had while in the alternative “Normal” mode.
Rather than opting for the rear-mounted fingerprint sensor of the Honor View 20 or the under-display sensor of the Huawei P30 Pro, Honor went with a side-mounted fingerprint sensor for the Honor 20 Pro. Initially, I had misgivings about the placement, but it handily surpassed my expectations. Not only did it pick up my fingerprint quickly every time, it was also easily accessible when the phone was laid down on a desk, which isn’t true of a rear-mounted sensor. The only real problem I had with this location was that it took a little longer to set up because I had to register both of my thumbs and middle fingers rather than just my two index fingers, but this is a one-time problem that’s unlikely to bother you in the long term. Combining the power button with a fingerprint scanner creates the unexpected side effect of never seeing your lock screen, but I don’t think you lose anything as a result.
Internally, the Honor 20 Pro is as powerful as any of Huawei’s current flagships. It’s built on the same Kirin 980 processor as the Huawei P30 Pro, and it comes with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage (the Honor 20 drops these specs to 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage). In effect, this means the Honor 20 Pro is a fast phone to use, with plenty of power to handle demanding games like Fortnite. When I played Epic’s game on the device, it automatically defaulted to the highest “Epic” graphics settings and ran at a rock-solid 30 fps. In the future, Honor has confirmed that the phone will be updated to allow it to run Fortnite at 60 fps, just like the Honor View 20.
Both of Honor’s new handsets run on the company’s Magic UI, which is broadly similar to the EMUI launcher used in Huawei’s phones. Both launchers diverge significantly from what we consider to be stock Android, removing the app drawer and enabling more aggressive battery-saving options by default. Compared to my recent time with the Honor 10 Lite, Magic UI on the Honor 20 Pro doesn’t seem nearly as aggressive. I didn’t find that it constantly shut down useful apps in the background, and the two annoying notifications I received about a power-intensive app and HiCare were easily dismissed and muted for the future. But one of Android’s biggest advantages over iOS has always been the app drawer, and I’m not prepared to give it up. I tried to get around the issue by installing Nova Launcher, but I found that the software was a little buggy, particularly when it came to multitasking. I also never stopped missing the Google Pixel launcher’s ability to flick quickly between recent apps.
Despite the seemingly less aggressive battery-saving software, the Honor 20 Pro’s battery lasted me a long time between charges. The Pro model is equipped with a 4,000mAh battery, while the standard Honor 20 slims this down to 3,750mAh. I never had any issues with getting a full day of use out of the handset, despite using it for a full day of Twitter, podcast-listening, YouTube-watching, and Pocket article-reading. I’d regularly end the day with 30 percent left on the device. Both the 20 and the 20 Pro support fast-charging via their USB-C ports of up to 22.5W, which Honor claims can restore 50 percent of the phone’s charge in 30 minutes, but there’s no support for wireless charging here.
As the flagship phone from a budget sub-brand, the Honor 20 Pro was always going to sit in a weird place in the smartphone market. But now that this is the first Huawei-made phone to be released after Google’s announcement, this weirdness is now on a whole other level.
If you were buying a phone purely based on what it can do at launch, then there’s a lot to like here with a high-end processor that’s great for gaming, a great battery life, and a big, bright screen. But few people buy a phone without any expectation of future support. They buy a phone knowing that it will be updated over time, that it will gain new features as they’re released, and that security fixes will be delivered promptly when they’re available. At the moment, Honor hasn’t been able to conclusively answer these questions about the Honor 20 and Honor 20 Pro, and that means these handsets have pretty much come at the worst possible time.
Honor says that both the Honor 20 and Honor 20 Pro will be available “soon,” with the Honor 20 Pro expected to release at some point in June/July. Honor and is yet to officially announce which countries the two phones will be launching in, although giving the pricing that’s been announced it’s likely we’ll see a release across Europe, including in the UK.
Photography by Jon Porter / The Verge
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