If you've just bought a shiny new Huawei P20 Pro (hopefully in unicorn dust-like Twilight finish) or P20 then well done you for picking up one of 2018's top-drawer phones.

However, while both devices run Google's Android Oreo as their backbone operating system, the Chinese company's EMUI 8.1 - that's "Emotion User Interface" - re-skin sits over the top, bringing its share of pros, cons and downright quirks.

If you don't know where some of EMUI's special features are tucked away then you might not get the best out of your P20 or P20 Pro. Which is where this very feature comes in to help guide if you're struggling to find the settings you want.

Huawei P20 home screen tips

Get an always-on display: This one is a bit tucked away and off by default. Swipe down from the top of the home screen > hit the settings cog icon > select Security & Privacy > Screen Lock & Passwords > Always Display Information. The options are sparse, but it's possible to show time, date and battery life on the black-out OLED screen. A timer can be set to deactivate this at given times of day (such as nighttime).

Beyond the black-out display you'll need to wake-up the phone using a physical button press for the lock screen to display (fingerprint ID will bypass the lock screen).

Quick-launch shortcuts: From the lock screen it's possible (in a very Apple iOS-style) to swipe up to quick-launch shortcuts for five baked-in apps: Quick-access Recorder, Flashlight, Calculator, Stopwatch, QR code.

Change or affix wallpaper or share a cover: Above this row is the ability to. Covers are essentially rotating wallpapers which Huawei pulls from assorted galleries - or you can select your own. Covers auto-update to coincide with EMUI software updates.

How to launch the camera quickly: As per stock Android, a swipe from the bottom right corner of the lock screen (where you'll see a little camera icon) will load the Camera app. You don't need a PIN, fingerprint, or any other delaying input to make this happen - it bypasses everything.

Take a quick photo. A double-tap of the volume-down button will be your new best friend, as this launches the Camera app and immediately takes a photograph. There's no time to setup shot or anything like that - it's a case of "open, snap and save" before you know it.

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Notch or no notch: Yes, it's the era of the notch - the Apple iPhone X-like blacked-out dip towards the top of the screen - with both P20 and P20 Pro adopting this new design (ahead of Android OS's proper adoption of the format). The notch is active by default. To deactivate: swipe down from the top of the home screen > hit the settings cog icon > select Display > Notch. Then it's as simple as toggling the setting on or off.

Huawei P20 security tips

Set PIN / Pattern / Password: Swipe down from the top of the home screen > hit the settings cog icon > select Security & Privacy > Select Screen Lock & Passwords. Here you can activate or remove lock methods.

Fingerprint ID: In addition to a pattern, PIN, password or Face Unlock (below), you can register multiple fingerprints to login to your phone. Using the P20 or P20 Pro's front-positioned scanner it's ultra-fast to log-in, or perform other tasks.

It's possible to add up to five individual fingerprints: swipe down from the top of the home screen > hit the settings cog icon > select Security & Privacy > Fingerprint ID (which will ask for a PIN/pattern unlock, if applicable).

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Lock apps with Fingerprint ID: Once your phone is unlocked it's possible to add a secondary layer of security, requiring a fingerprint to unlock a specific app. Swipe down from the top of the home screen > hit the settings cog icon > select Security & Privacy > Fingerprint ID. Here, activate Access App Lock, then go back a screen to Security & Privacy > App Lock. Individual apps can have specific fingerprint unlock associated, such as Gallery, Facebook, WhatsApp and other sensitive apps. 

Face Unlock: It's 2018, so unlocking a phone with your face is the new hot thing. Apple got there first, so Huawei has followed - although its Face Unlock is not nearly as accomplished as Apple's FaceID. To register: swipe down from the top of the home screen > hit the settings cog icon > Security & Privacy > Face Unlock. Follow the process and you'll be up and running in under a minute.

There are additional controls within Face Unlock. Only allow lock screen notifications to show when your face is recognised. Set the phone to unlock when it spies your face, or force a swipe-to-unlock additional layer of unlock security.

Huawei P20 navigation bar, swipe and gesture control

Change the navigation: Oddly the core navigation controls - say, whether you want the trio of Android softkeys or a gesture-based control setup - are tucked away in the System menu under System Navigation.

Here you'll find Off-Screen Navigation Button; On-Screen Navigation Key; Virtual Navigation Bar; and Navigation Dock, plus Settings adjustment for each.

Virtual Navigation Bar is the default, with back, home and recent apps arranged from left to right. Under the Settings option it's possible to change the order of keys, including adding an automatic shade/notifications display as a fourth icon. 

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Off-Screen Navigation Key: This allows the home key to be used with gestures, as so: press to return home; swipe left or right to open recent apps; tap to go back. As the trio of typical Android soft keys won't be on the home screen it means more space to enjoy your content, without less need to reach up across the phone screen during use.

On-Screen Navigation Key: This is exactly the same of Off-Screen (above), albeit displays showing a virtual home button.

Navigation Dock: The updated version of Floating Dock (the latter has been removed from EMUI). This floating virtual key can be positioned anywhere around the screen and doesn't disrupt the presence of the Navigation Bar (although this can be hidden with a down arrow if you prefer). Tap to go back, press-and-hold to go to homescreen, press, hold and drag to display recent apps.

Smart Assistance: Motion Control, Voice Control, One-handed UI, and Knuckle Gesture is also possible via Smart Assistance. Swipe down from the top of the home screen > hit the settings cog icon > select Smart Assistance. 

Motion Control: There are three options that can be independently switched on, off or adjusted for deeper customisation:

  • Flip to mute the phone when it's ringing or the alarm is sounding.
  • Pick Up to reduce ring/alarm volume by lifting the device.
  • Raise to Ear which auto-answers calls.

Knuckle gestures: A Huawei special, also situated within Motion Control. By using a hard knuckle to write on the screen rather than a softer finger, a second layer of commands can be instructed:

  • Double-tap for screenshot (using one knuckle).
  • Draw where knuckle-drawn letters activate apps (C for Camera, M for music, and so forth - each can be customised from a fuller list of apps).
  • Split-screen gesture where a knuckle-drawn line across the screen when in an app screen will open the recent apps to the lower portion.

Huawei P20 home screen tips

Home Screen Style: App Drawer vs Standard layouts. If you're content with your app icons being present across your homepages, the default Standard layout will suit you fine. If you prefer an App Drawer - where all apps are contained to tidy up the home screen, as per some other stock Android phones by default - this can be activated too.

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Swipe down from the top of the home screen > hit the settings cog icon > Display > Home Screen Style > choose between Standard and Drawer options.

More/fewer app icons: Once you've done that you can decide how many apps you want to show on your P20 or P20 Pro. To select between a 5x6, 5x5 or 4x6 icon grid layout, press-and-hold anywhere on the home screen > select Settings to the bottom right corner > choose Home Layout.

Huawei P20 Pro dual SIM, App Twin, PrivateSpace

One of our favourite features in EMUI 8.1 for the P20 and P20 Pro is the dual SIM functionality - ideal if you have a business number and a personal one, all within the one phone.

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WhatsApp/Facebook/Messenger/WeChat/QQ duplicates per SIM card: Unlike other dual SIM phones, however, EMUI 8.1 allows you to double-up on some messaging/social media applications - one per SIM/phone number. Huawei calls it App Twin. To enable: swipe down from the top of the home screen > hit the settings cog icon > Apps & Notifications > App Twin.

Secure second login: If you want a secure second login space, this is also possible via PrivateSpace. Swipe down from the top of the home screen > hit the settings cog icon > Security & Privacy > PrivateSpace. The setup process will ask you for a second PIN and different fingerprint login. It's then possible to have a different set of apps, different Google / Google Play login. Switching between the two is as simple as exiting, then using the relevant PIN/fingerprint to log back in (although it's a little slow to do so).

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Secure private folder: If you just wish to have a secure private folder, then you'll want to use File Safe. Swipe down from the top of the home screen > hit the settings cog icon > Security & Privacy > File Safe. The setup process will ask for a different password, ask you to fulfil some security questions, and then it's possible to add files to a Safe gallery - whether sensitive images, video, documents or similar. It's quicker to access this safe than to move over to a PrivateSpace, so will be more convenient for many.

Huawei P20 notifications and volume settings

Alert notifications are useful, but you won't want to necessarily receive them all the time from every app. Notifications can be individually dismissed, by swiping them away, but you can also setup an individual app's level of notifications too, to apply to all future settings.

Allow/silence/block notifications from an app: Swipe down from the top of the home screen > hit the settings cog icon > Apps & Notifications > Notifications Management. Within here there are options to control:

  • Badges on/off (displays a colour dot to the top corner of an app until dismissed)
  • Display in Status Bar on/off. This is where you'll see little icons appear to the very top left of your home screen. Letter icons for Mail, hash icons for Slack, and so forth.
  • Banners on/off. These are the floating mini views that some apps present, such as Mail. They're a great quick access point, but you won't want them from every single app.
  • Notification tone on/off (silences notifications, but still allows them to display)
  • Vibrate on/off
  • Priority Display on/off (allows app to bypass Do Not Disturb mode)
  • Lock Screen Notifications > Display / Never / Hide

Special Access: Some apps have special permissions, such as Facebook Messenger being able to pop-up a bubble and draw over other apps. Minutiae controls can be accessed by accessing Apps (swipe down from the top of the home screen > hit the settings cog icon > Apps & Notifications > Apps > hit the blue settings cog icon to the bottom of that screen > Special Access . This opens controls for:

  • Ignore Battery Optimisation. Some more intensive apps will produce an EMUI alert due to consumption. You may wish to switch this off for frequently used apps that you wish to keep running minus any irksome pop-up alerts.
  • Do Not Disturb Access. Allow specified apps to alert during DND.
  • Draw Over Other Apps. As above, priority for apps to draw over others, which can be annoying when playing games or watching media.
  • Write System Settings.
  • Notification Access.
  • Picture-in-Picture. Typically used for Android Auto and Google Maps, this allows a miniature version of an app to keep running even when exiting the app.
  • Unrestricted Data Access.
  • Usage Access.

Notifications turn on screen: By default notifications won't turn on the screen, but they can. Swipe down from the top of the home screen > hit the settings cog icon > select Apps & Notifications > Notifications & Status Bar. There's a toggle for Notifications Turn On Screen here.

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Turn the notification light off: Similar to above, the Notifications & Status Bar has a Pulse Notification Light, which can be toggled off if you don't want a pulsing green/white light to alert you to notifications.

Activate Do Not Disturb: This lets you silence your phone, without interruptions - except for specified exceptions. You can schedule DND, add additional time rules (custom, per day), event rules (from calendar), or allow alarms and priority interruptions only. Swipe down from the top of the home screen > hit the Do Not Disturb icon in the settings shade. If this is absent, select the edit (pencil-like) icon up top and drag DND into your active shade shortcuts.

Set ringtone, media, alarms and call volumes: These can be individually adjusted. Simply hit the volume up/down button, which will adjust the ringtone volume from loudest down to vibrate (or there's a mute button). This pop-up banner has a blue arrow to its top right corner, hit this to open the other individual settings to adjust.

Huawei P20 battery optimisation tips

The P20 Pro has a 4,000mAh battery capacity that lasts very well. But there are additional ways to eke out that extra bit of battery life too.

Battery optimisation: Swipe down from the top of the home screen > hit the settings cog icon > Battery. There are three battery modes:

  • Normal. The default setting, which doesn't throttle the CPU or background activity.
  • Power Saving. Select this for a slight lift in battery life. It will limit background app activity, such as push notifications, and limit the CPU.
  • Ultra power saving. For when battery life is really low as you'll get more than double life from this setting. It sets the phone into a simple mode, with only basic call and SMS apps available. One for emergencies/festivals. It can also be activated from a swipe down from the top of the screen and selecting from the expanded shortcuts.

Auto Launch / Run In Background / Launch by other apps: You may wish to take full manual control of how an app launches and whether other apps can activate apps. Swipe down from the top of the home screen > hit the settings cog icon > Battery > App Launch. Select individual or batch select apps, where auto, secondary and run-in-background settings can be disabled individually.

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Darken Interface Colours: An on/off toggle within the Battery settings - its dark colours heighten battery life due to less screen brightness output.

Show battery percentage remaining: The Battery Percentage option allows the remaining percentage to be shown in the battery icon, next to battery icon, or not shown.

Huawei P20 display tips

Screen too warm or cold? Huawei allows you to adjust the colour to suit your eyes, your mood and your content.

Customise colour balance: Swipe down from the top of the home screen > hit the settings cog icon > Display > Colour & Eye Comfort.

  • Natural Tone. Automatically adjusts the colour temperature based on ambient surroundings.
  • Colour Mode & Temperature. Select from Normal and Vivid. Default, Warm, Cool or specified Custom selection via the colour wheel.
  • Eye Comfort. Filters out blue light to be easier on the eyes - designed for nighttime reading. A Schedule can be set, while Cooler-Warmer slider can be adjusted to preference.

Eye comfort (for night reading): Within the Display settings (method above) under the Screen tab is Eye Comfort. This filters out blue light to relieve visual fatigue when reading for long periods. It makes the screen look rather yellow, though, so you won't want it on all the time. It can be activated as you please or even scheduled per day, plus a slider between Less Warm and Warmer allows for comfort customisation.

Text Size and View Mode can be found under Display and used to adjust text and icons scale.

Huawei P20 camera tips

Huawei's push into triple camera technology - which is co-engineered by wunderbar German brand Leica - is one of the features which makes the P20 Pro stand out compared to its competitors (the P20 has dual cameras instead). The Pro comprises:

  • First: 40MP RGB camera, 1/1.7in size, f/1.8 aperture, optical image stabilisation (OIS)
  • Second: 20MP monochrome camera, f/1.6 aperture
  • Third: 8MP 'telephoto' camera, f/2.4 aperture

This trio of optics and sensors combines to shoot at 10MP typically - there's a unique Bayer pattern array on the 40MP sensor which is four times that of a typical one, to pixel bin and deliver a quarter of the resolution, but comprised of a larger amount of data for quality purposes - while the 20MP mono camera can be selected separately.

Monochrome shooting: Open the Camera app, swipe right on the circular modes dial to and select More, where a variety of options are available, including Monochrome.

Pro mode for manual control: Unlike earlier iterations, EMUI 8.1 simply requires selecting Pro from the circular modes dial. This offers metering, ISO, shutter speed, exposure compensation, focus type and white balance control. It's available in both Colour and Monochrome (the latter minus white balance, but of course).

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Shoot raw images: In addition to JPEG files there's support for DNG raw files, which is only available in Pro mode. Simply hit the settings cog within the Camera app and toggle RAW Format on.

Aperture / Portrait mode / shallow depth of field / blurred background: It might be that Apple has become synonymous with the idea of Portrait mode, which focuses on subject faces and blurs the background, but Huawei and Leica have been at the forefront of the idea for a number of years. In EMUI 8.1 the mode is available by swiping left on the circular mode dial, then selecting Aperture.

It's the possible to select between f/0.95 (blurry) to f/16 (as much as possible in focus), which is applied by software to give a pseudo pro portrait look. Simply click on the circular aperture slider and drag it to your desired setting, which will present itself in real time.

As the P20 Pro and P20 are so powerful it's also possible to shoot video with this effect operating in real time.

Highlights / Discover: The Gallery will automatically arrange your shots by where they were shot, when, with who and various relevant fields so that they're easy to find in the future. This happens daily, so once you're years into shooting it won't be tricky to find what you're after by going into the Discover section within the gallery.

Capture a burst of images: Simply press-and-hold the screen to whirr off a rapid burst of capture, which is saved as an image stack. Useful for fast-moving or high-speed subjects. This press-and-hold can also be used to activate focus control, adjusted within the settings.

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Night mode: One not to be underestimated, this is Huawei's hand-held HDR (high dynamic range) mode, which can combine multiple images in real-time from a handheld frame - and with relative sharpness. It gives the effect of a long exposure - people and objects blurring within the frame and all - often to spectacular effect.

AI (Artificial Intelligence): Thanks to the Kirin 970 processor behind the scenes, the P20 Pro and P20 are able to pull on a database of machine-learned images to automatically adjust the camera's settings. Whether it recognises the type or breed of dog, that you're shooting foliage, close-ups, portrait, landscape, or at night-time, the camera will present the mode it's auto-selected. You may not always wish to utilise this mode, however, so a quick tap of the "x" by what's displayed in the camera can deactivate.

Huawei P20 screen recording

Another Huawei feature is the ability to live record your P20 or P20 Pro's screen - which could be handy if you wanted to make a how-to video to share with a friend.

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It's activated by tapping two knuckles twice on the screen or pressing-and-holding the power button and volume up key (not volume down as this will take a static screenshot). The resulting video is saved in your Files > Videos area. It's a nifty feature.

Liked this? Check out our Huawei MateBook X Pro review: Pro by name, pro by nature