(Pocket-lint) - The hole-punch revolution continues, with Honor following-up its first-of-the-kind with an all-new flagship for 2019, the Honor 20 Pro. We've been using one for some time to see how this won't-break-the-bank handset fares.
Honor 20 Pro vs Honor 20
- Honor 20 Pro: Quad camera (wide angle, standard, 3x zoom, macro)
- Honor 20: Quad camera (wide angle, standard, depth sensor, macro)
- Honor 20 Pro: f/1.4 main camera / Honor 20: f/1.8 for main camera
- Honor 20 Pro only: 'holographic depth layer' finish
Yes, Honor seemingly likes to confound with its naming convention, dishing out boat loads of phones that sound as though they could be the same. Alongside the Honor 20 Pro there's also a marginally 'lesser' Honor 20 and, of course, there's 2018's Honor View 20, which sort-of sits in-between these two models. Not forgetting the Honor 20 Lite, too.
In short, the Honor 20 Pro offers a 3x zoom camera that the Honor 20 lacks (it has a depth sensor instead - which seems to suggest the Pro would never need one... how strange); the Pro's main 48MP camera has a faster f/1.4 aperture lens compared to the Honor 20 (which has an f/1.8); and the Pro adds the so-called 'holographic' layer to the finish, which the Honor 20 lacks.
That's more-or-less your lot; the size and internal spec are otherwise one and the same, ignoring a slightly greater battery capacity and thickness in the Pro. We suspect that Honor has taken some, let's say, inspiration from the OnePlus 7 Pro namesake (as there's also the standard OnePlus 7) and that we'll see the 'Pro' name used elsewhere from other brands throughout 2019 and beyond.
Design and display
- 'Dynamic holographic design' in 'Phantom Black' (purple) and 'Phantom Blue' (green) finishes
- 6.26-inch LCD display, FullHD+ (2340 x 1080) resolution
- 4.5mm hole-punch notch, 91.6% screen-to-body ratio
- No 3.5mm headphone jack
- Fingerprint sensor to side
Name irrelevant, however, the Honor 20 Pro does look rather fetching. Shown here in its semi-mirror purple-colour finish - which Honor says is a 'triple 3D mesh formed into single 3D curved glass' - it's got a depth and unusualness about it. The purple handset is called 'Phantom Black' for some reason, while the green one (which is exclusive to Carphone Warehouse in the UK) is called 'Phantom Blue', despite being more teal/green than blue.
There's no rear fingerprint sensor this time around - unlike the earlier View 20 - which keeps the flow of this new phone's rear panel uninterrupted.
The 20 Pro has also got a rather unfortunate camera bump to the rear that sticks out to such a degree - and we're talking noticeably more than the Huawei P30 Pro - that it rocks about when attempting to put it flat on a tabletop. The whole camera protrusion seems like overkill in terms of size and we think it could be designed far more neatly.
Around the front the Honor 20 Pro is screen dominant with a new 6.26-inch LCD display that continues with the company's use of a hole-punch notch - that's the little free-floating circle to the top left corner where the front-facing camera resides. This solution might look distracting, but you'll get used to it in no time and we think it's neater than a large notch - like you'll see on the iPhone X.
The only issue with the notch is that it can get in the way. It's pretty rare, but there are occasions when you might have, say, an 'x' to close an advert in a game positioned in the wrong place and struggle to tap it. That said, you don't have to run apps full-screen, as it's possible to designate what will and won't be within settings. And if the hole-punch notch really isn't for you then you can always hide it using a software-based black-out strip if you prefer, which will force apps to not open in full-screen.
The panel itself is LCD rather than OLED, which means the output isn't the brightest or deepest in black levels by comparison, but it's perfectly capable. We were initially using the phone in the Valencian sun, back in May 2019, and while it's never been a struggle to see the screen, other more flagship displays do have more brightness bite. This is solid, but not as 'pro' as the name might suggest.
Resolution, at FullHD+, is perfectly amicable for a screen of this size too. To avoid all those pixels draining the battery there's also a lower-resolution option (activated within the software) and a 'smart mode' which flicks between the best use-case scenario as it sees fit. Again, there are higher-resolution panels out there but we don't see an integral need for these - especially at this mid-price level. It's all part and parcel of where the Honor sits in the market.
The handset's rear glass finish is comfortable to hold, striking to look at, while the now side-positioned fingerprint scanner is really responsive - which is great, except for all those times when your naturally resting thumb will unlock the phone and make phantom calls and unwanted gobbledeygook messages. An in-screen solution would be preferable for us, but that's not going to be available at this price point - if that's a must then look to the OnePlus 7 Pro or Huawei P30 Pro (see, there really is a Pro name theme).
So if you're looking for a large, dominant display with little notch disruption then the Honor 20 Pro does a good job of delivering the goods where it matters.
- Kirin 980 octa-core processor, 8GB RAM
- Up to 256GB storage, no microSD
- 4,000mAh battery capacity
- SuperCharge fast-charging
- No wireless charging
- Virtual 9.1 surround sound
When we first wrote this review the clock was ticking into day eight of using the Honor 20 Pro as a day-to-day personal phone and it was never a problem to crunch through a full working day with some 30 per cent battery remaining. That's no surprise given the 4,000mAh battery at this phone's core, although if you're looking for better yet longevity per charge then have a look at the Asus ZenFone 6 (5,000mAh) or the Huawei P30 Pro (4,200mAh). We're now on our second software-updated review unit and it's just as long-lived.
When it comes to power, Honor continues down its line of delivering top-of-the-line without a flagship asking price: inside there's the same Kirin 980 processor as you'll find in the Huawei P30 Pro, which might be marginally behind the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 if you care much for benchmarking numbers, but you'll only experience snappy results in real-world conditions here. The 8GB RAM on board makes light work of loading multiple apps without issue too. It feels like a flagship phone, even if it won't cost quite so much.
There are some caveats though. The software - Honor calls it Magic UI 2, which is effectively just EMUI 9.1 rebadged (in itself a skin over the top of Google's Android 9 operating system) - has some notification irks that some people will find distracting, while we've found some so-so responsiveness to touch in the Camera app, for example, which is likely just a version issue that'll be updated in the future.
When it comes to running games, browsing, sending emails and all the usual antics that are necessary for a phone, however, there are no qualms in the Pro's performance (even though it's not more 'Pro' than the Honor 20 'standard' in terms of raw power).
There's also no wireless charging, while SuperCharge fast-charging isn't as hyper-quick as some of the ultra-fast systems out there, like Oppo.
All that said, just days prior to the Honor 20 Pro's reveal it came to light that Google had been ordered to cease its Android business with its parent company, Huawei. What this meant for the Honor's future handsets was and is ongoing and, at first, was somewhat unclear. Since then, however, there's finally been a bit more clarity, with Honor stating that the next-gen Android Q update will roll out for all its Honor 20 series devices. It's taken the company far longer than Huawei to respond, for whatever reason, but we're glad it finally has.
When we first published this review on 21 May 2019 none of this was clear, particularly as the phone hadn't launched - and only following a late July briefing in London has the company confirmed this handset will be ranged in the UK from 1 August 2019. That will be a boost to the brand, with ongoing Android support and security updates for this generation and next confirmed (beyond that we're still waiting for more information, so it's not totally out of the woods yet).
- Quad camera: 16MP 117-degree f/2.2 ultra-wide, 48MP f/1.4 main, 8MP f/2.4 3x zoom, 2MP f/2.4 dedicated macro
- 'Light Fusion' means 12MP output from main sensor - uses Sony IMX 586 technology
- Optical image stabilisation for main and zoom lenses
- Super Night Mode, Portrait, Pro and other modes
- Laser autofocus for rear camera
- 32MP selfie camera
Honor is owned by Huawei and, as of 2019, operates a 'dual brand strategy' with its parent. Read that as you will - ultimately it means many of Honor's features are pulled from Huawei's box of tricks, often to great effect, but sometimes without quite the same cutting-edge results in every department.
Take the cameras, for example. The Huawei P30 Pro has the best camera setup of any phone we've tested to date. It's not perfect, mind, but it's the most versatile solution on the market. The Honor 20 Pro doesn't mirror its Huawei cousin, it's more akin to the Huawei P20 Pro from the year prior, but with a few extra bells and whistles (and some not-so-good points, too).
The Honor has a quad camera setup, comprising an ultra-wide 16-megapixel sensor with f/2.2 aperture lens; a main 48-megapixel sensor (which outputs by default at 12MP due to a quad pixel technology derived from the Sony sensor used here) with f/1.4 aperture lens; a 3x optical zoom (of the main sensor) at 8-megapixels with an f/2.4 aperture lens; and, off the main camera 'block', is a dedicated 2-megapixel macro lens.
Let's start with the bad: that macro lens is dreadful (here's a full size image, no cropping). Its images are small, it doesn't auto-activate, the results are grainy and over-processed - even when shooting in very good light. It is, in short, a pointless addition for the sake of saying 'this is a four-camera phone'. And that it's present instead of a depth sensor is just nonsense.
But there's a lot of good too. That 48MP main sensor, for example, has the ability to output some decent quality (it can be used in full-form 48MP or the default four-in-one 'Light Fusion' 12MP output). It's optically stabilised too, which helps when pinch-to-zooming and night-time shots, including the multi-frame Night Mode - which, while impressive at capturing shots in the dark of night, showing well on small-scale phone screens, otherwise lacks real sharpness when viewed in full scale.
The presence of a 3x optical zoom is great - it's this standard that we find missing from the Huawei P30's 5x default - for well-resolved shots of farther-away subjects, although with the limit of 8MP output. This can be pushed to 5x with digital zoom, but there's a loss of clarity as a result - but it's still way better than much of the competition if zoom is something you want to use often.
In many respects the Honor 20 Pro delivers some great camera work. But it's a bit overcomplicated: there are too many modes in the 'More' section, auto-activation of scene modes via the built-in AI (artificial intelligence) system is hit-and-miss, while the presence of a macro rather than a depth sensor is an ill-thought solution. Think of it as a triple camera setup - with ultra-wide, wide and zoom - and it's dripping with possibilities, though, which makes it a very rewarding system to use indeed.
Oh, and if selfies are your thing then the hole-punch at the front houses a 32-megapixel front-facing solution, which is the highest-resolution Honor has ever used.
Although the 'Pro' name is questionable in relation to the, um, 'not-Pro' Honor 20 (which is more-or-less the same), this handset delivers a lot of greatness for a not-so-grand price tag. That's where Honor has always shone: in delivering some top-line features on a budget.
The Pro delivers a solid battery life, an unusual yet eye-catching design, great performance overall, and the cameras offer strong potential in many areas too.
But it's not quite perfect. The macro camera is a pointless addition in our view, there's no 3.5mm headphone jack and some details - such as the notification light being irritatingly in-your-face behind the front-facing ear speaker - aren't as refined as they could be. And why both the Pro and the standard model need to exist we're not sure, as we'd forego some of the Pro's camera extras and save £150 in buying the normal Honor 20.
Overall, once again Honor has shown its strength by numbers: this is a flagship phone at a cut of the cost, with plenty of strong features.
The Honor 20 Pro will be available from 1 August 2019, priced £549.99.
This review was first published in May 2019 and has been updated to reflect new software, pricing and release information.
Given its sub-£400 asking price, we think the normal 20 model - which has the same spec in terms of power - is the model to plump for. It's a bargain and still has a solid camera setup anyway.
Huawei P30 Pro
If you're really looking for the best camera solution going then the Huawei has the most versatile setup available right now. It's more refined, has a longer zoom, the battery lasts a bit longer, and the whole handset looks better to our eyes too. It's far more expensive, though.
Asus Zenfone 6
At a scrape under £500, the latest Asus is a genuine surprise: it's got a huge 5,000mAh battery, it's got near stock Android software, it's got a quirky Flip Camera, it's got no notch at all on the screen. And, while an unconventional, we think it's a sound investment.
Honor View 20
It might not have the throw-all-the-cameras-at-it approach of the Pro, but 2018's View 20 is still a great phone - and the device to show-off the hole-punch solution to Europe before any other. It's a fair bit cheaper than the Pro now, but delivers much the same in terms of performance, so might be a great solution if you're watching your bank balance closely.