quad cameras, punch hole displays, and the Kirin 980
A new challenger has entered the battle of the 2019 budget flagships: Honor. The smartphone brand unveiled its latest flagship smartphone duo, the Honor 20 and Honor 20 Pro, at an event in London today. It’s only been a few months since the Honor View20 launch, but the recent flood of impressive-looking budget flagship smartphones like the OnePlus 7, Xiaomi Mi 9, and ASUS ZenFone 6 has prompted Honor to launch new smartphones with significant camera upgrades over the last generation model to stay competitive.
The Honor 20 and Honor 20 Pro have all the hallmarks of a 2019 budget flagship: a speedy processor in the Kirin 980, a nearly bezel-less display, a beautiful design, and multiple cameras on the back. But the same is true for all the other budget flagships, so Honor’s latest devices are no longer in the position that the Honor View20 was when it came to market in January. Honor needs to do more than just check off the list of flagship-tier specifications if they want people to buy their latest smartphones. Let’s cover everything we know about the new Honor 20 series to see how it stands up to the competition.
Honor 20 Pro First Impressions
Check out our first impressions of the Honor 20 Pro from TK Bay on our YouTube channel.
Above: Honor 20. Below: Honor 20 Pro.
Honor 20 Series Design
The Honor 20 Pro with an “All-view” punch hole display.
You’d be hard pressed to tell the new Honor 20 and Honor 20 Pro apart from one another. Unlike “Pro” models from other smartphone brands, the Honor 20 Pro doesn’t have a better display than the Honor 20. Instead, both models have a 6.26-inch “All-view” IPS LCD with a 4.5mm hole punch in the top-left corner.
Honor boasts that their hole punch is still the smallest of its kind, resulting in the two devices having a 91.6% screen-to-body ratio. That means there’s more screen on the front of the phone than on the Xiaomi Mi 9, OnePlus 7, and Samsung Galaxy S10 series, but the ASUS ZenFone 6 and OnePlus 7 Pro have higher screen-to-body ratios at 92% and 93.22% respectively. The ASUS ZenFone 6 and OnePlus 7 Pro achieve such high screen-to-body ratios by moving the front camera to a mechanical flip-top and pop-up camera module respectively, which has their trade-offs in durability and facial recognition speed. On the other hand, the 32MP front camera sensor on the Honor 20 and Honor 20 Pro is located under the display where the hole punch is located.
The Honor 20 Pro in Phantom Blue.
Honor created a great-looking phone in the Honor View20 with its reflective glass back creating a “V-shaped color gradient with a gleaming effect.” Honor is following up on the View20 with an equally impressive design on the Honor 20 series. The company is calling the design on the back their “Dynamic Holographic Design” which employs a two-stage process to create a 3D curved glass back with a “depth-inducing” optical effect.
The Honor 20 series comes in 4 different colors: Midnight Black and Safari Blue for the base model and Phantom Blue and Phantom Black for the higher-end model. Oddly, the Phantom Blue appears greenish in person while the Phantom Black looks purple.
Camera and Fingerprint Scanner Placement
Both the Honor 20 and Honor 20 Pro have 4 cameras on the rear, though as expected the Pro model has slightly better camera hardware. The difference between the two models isn’t as substantial as the difference between the Huawei P30 and Huawei P30 Pro, though, so you’re not missing out significantly by opting for the regular model.
Like the Samsung Galaxy S10e, the Honor 20 series have side-mounted fingerprint scanners embedded in the power button. Honor couldn’t pack an optical fingerprint sensor underneath the display like the Xiaomi Mi 9 or OnePlus 7 because the Honor 20 series has an LCD; the company also likely didn’t go for an ultrasonic under-display fingerprint sensor to save cost. While having an under-display fingerprint scanner is cool, the side-mounted physical sensor is more practical since unlocking happens within 0.3 seconds of placing your finger on the power button. No need to wake the screen before using the fingerprint scanner – you turn on the screen with the power button and unlock the phone at the same time.
Although both of Honor’s latest flagships have quad rear cameras, there are a few subtle differences between the two even among the shared image sensors. Here’s a rundown of the camera hardware on both models:
- Honor 20
- Main: 48MP Sony IMX 586, ½” sensor, 4-in-1 Light Fusion (12MP, 1.6μm), f/1.8
- Secondary: 16MP Super Wide Angle (117°), f/2.2
- Tertiary: 2MP Depth Assist, 1.75μm pixel size, f/2.4
- Quaternary: 2MP Macro, 1.75μm pixel size, f/2.4, 4cm distance, fixed focus
- 32MP, f/2.0
- Honor 20 Pro
- Main: 48MP Sony IMX 586, ½” sensor, 4-in-1 Light Fusion (12MP, 1.6μm), f/1.4, OIS
- Secondary: 16MP Super Wide Angle (117°), f/2.2, 17mm focal length
- Tertiary: 8MP Telephoto, 3X optical zoom, OIS, f/2.4, 80mm focal length
- Quaternary: 2MP Macro, 1.75μm pixel size, f/2.4, 4cm distance, fixed focus, 27mm focal length
- 32MP, f/2.0
The main difference between the cameras on the Honor 20 and Honor 20 Pro is that the Honor 20’s 2MP Depth Assist sensor is substituted for an 8MP Telephoto sensor with OIS on the Honor 20 Pro. The 48MP main camera on the Honor 20 Pro also has OIS and a wider f/1.4 aperture for better low-light photography.
Honor is bringing back the 48MP AI Ultra Clarity mode from the View20. This mode allows both Honor 20 models to take sharper 48MP photos by combining multiple 48MP shots over a 5-second interval. If you’re not a fan of overly processed images, then you can use the Pro Mode to save in RAW.
Honor’s “AIS Super Night Mode” is also returning, making it possible to take handheld long-exposure shots that aren’t overexposed and still retain a good amount of detail. There are 4 steps in the process: handheld detection, light detection, image processing to compensate for shakes, and image compositing. The “AI” in “AIS” comes from the fact that the Kirin 980 analyzes sensor data from the gravity sensor and gyroscope to compensate for handheld shaking by “moving the lenses in the opposite direction of the motion in the picture.”
Unlike the Huawei P30 which uses auto-focus on its wide-angle lens for macro shots, both the Honor 20 and Honor 20 Pro have a 2MP 4cm fixed-focus Macro lens. Users will have to manually select the Macro mode in the camera app to take photos close to the subject, but Honor is considering adding a recommendation to Master AI to automatically switch to the mode when appropriate. The inclusion of a dedicated Macro lens is interesting since the Huawei Mate 20 and Huawei P30 series both pull off awesome Macro photography without a dedicated lens. Honor is still experimenting with what works, like when they had a TOF sensor on the Honor View20. The idea is to allow users to take photos at all distances. With a wide-angle, telephoto, and macro lens, nothing is too far or too close to take a photo of.
While the wide-angle lens on both smartphones isn’t stabilized, Honor has brought its Super Night Shot camera mode to the wide-angle lens. On the Honor 20 Pro, they’ve also added a 30X digital zoom option and a handheld “moon shot” which, like the Huawei P30 Pro, uses AI to optimize details in photos taken of the moon. The Huawei P30 Pro’s Moon Mode raised suspicions that the camera software was replacing the moon in the image, but Huawei shot down those rumors in a statement to AndroidAuthority.
“Moon Mode operates on the same principle as other master AI modes, in that it recognizes and optimizes details within an image to help individuals take better photos. It does not in any way replace the image – that would require an unrealistic amount of storage space since AI mode recognizes over 1,300 scenarios. Based on machine learning principles, the camera recognizes a scenario and helps to optimize focus and exposure to enhance the details such as shapes, colors, and highlights/lowlights. This feature can be turned on or off easily while taking a photo. While there is a Moon Mode, the shot can still be taken without AI mode because of the periscope lens.” – Huawei spokesperson in response to inquiries about the Huawei P30 Pro’s Moon Mode.
We’re hopeful that Honor is using the same algorithm, but we’ll have to test the Honor 20 Pro’s own moon shot mode to see how it stacks up against the Huawei P30 Pro’s version. We’ll also test the camera quality on the Honor 20 series, and in particular, on the Honor 20 Pro. Famed camera testing lab DxOMark has already rated the Honor 20 Pro with a score of 111 overall (117 for Photo and 97 for Video), tying the OnePlus 7 Pro but barely falling behind the Huawei P30 Pro and 5G Samsung Galaxy S10.
For high-end performance, Honor has equipped the Honor 20 and Honor 20 Pro with the latest 7nm HiSilicon Kirin 980 SoC. The CPU on the Kirin 980 consists of 2 ARM Cortex-A76 cores @ 2.60GHz, 2 ARM Cortex-A76 cores @ 1.92GHz, and 4 ARM Cortex-A55 cores @ 1.80GHz. The GPU is ARM’s Mali-G76MP10. In raw performance, the CPU is slightly bested by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 while falling significantly behind it in GPU performance benchmarks.
Benchmarks don’t tell the whole story, though. Our test of the Honor View20 against the most performance-intensive Android games from Google Play as well as emulators of retro game consoles proved that the Kirin 980 is more than capable of handling whatever you throw at it. Furthermore, the Honor 20 series launches with Magic UI 2.1, a re-branded EMUI 9.1, out of the box. The software, based on Android 9 Pie, comes with an upgraded GPU Turbo 3.0 for faster touch responses and lower energy consumption in supported games. One of those supported games, Fortnite, is getting some special attention by Honor. The company has worked with Epic Games to allow players to run Fortnite Mobile at 60FPS, and they’re also offering another exclusive Fortnite skin.
The available memory and storage capacities will be more than enough to handle your needs. With up to 8GB LPDDR4X RAM, the Honor 20 series can handle multi-tasking between games, documents, music playback, and most importantly, Google Chrome tabs. With up to 256GB, Honor’s new devices have enough storage to hold your photos, videos, documents, and other media files. Sadly, the storage is non-expandable. Honor has yet to support Huawei’s NM Card standard, which would allow the second nanoSIM slot to be used for expandable storage. The storage meets the UFS 2.1 standard which is still plenty fast, but slower than the new UFS 3.0 standard in storage benchmarks. How much of a day-to-day improvement a move to UFS 3.0 storage would make is something we can’t say, however.
Battery Life and Charging
Although both smartphones are the same thickness, the Honor 20 Pro has a slightly larger battery at 4000mAh versus 3750mAh on the standard model. At least charging speeds are equivalent between the two devices, with both supporting 22.5W SuperCharge 1.0. So far, the only Honor smartphone to support the faster 40W SuperCharge 2.0 is the China-only Honor Magic 2.
Honor has equipped both of its latest smartphones with “Virtual 9.1 Surround Sound.” This allows the user to hear where the sound is coming from, which can be useful if you’re playing a game with directional sound like PUBG Mobile. It requires the use of headphones, though. Honor says most headphones and earphones will work, fortunately. I don’t know if Honor developed this audio technology in-house or if they’re licensing it from a company, but I have heard similar technology in-person so I can say that it’s not a gimmick. Lastly, Honor is introducing what they’re calling “AI frequency compensation” to reduce earphone irritation and fatigue.
The Honor 20 series has a single speaker, but unlike the Honor View20, there’s no 3.5mm headphone jack. You’ll have to use the USB Type-C port or Bluetooth to take advantage of “Virtual 9.1 Surround Sound.”
Honor is shipping both smartphones with its custom Android 9 Pie-based software called “Magic UI 2.1.” Magic UI 2.1 is EMUI 9.1 in all but name as it has the same design, features, and apps. EMUI 9.1 is a minor improvement over EMUI 9.0, which we’ve already reviewed extensively in a two-part review.
- EMUI 9 Review [Part 1]: Android Pie on Huawei/Honor Smartphones is a Radical Departure from Stock Android
- EMUI 9 Review [Part 2]: Huawei/Honor’s Android Pie Software Packs a Ton of Useful Features Mistaken for Gimmicks
EMUI 9.1 offers a few improvements over EMUI 9.0 such as the upgraded GPU Turbo 3.0, a new Assistant power button shortcut, new icons, and other under-the-hood changes. All of EMUI’s best features are there including Easy Projection, full-screen navigation gestures, and Digital Balance.
Now, this is where things get a little tricky. Days before the Honor 20 launch, Reuters published an explosive report alleging that Google has revoked Huawei’s Android license. Statements made by Google and Huawei strongly suggest that this indeed has happened, though the U.S. Government has given Huawei a 3-month reprieve. We’ve covered all the details of what this means and the latest updates in this article, so be sure to read it thoroughly.
Honor operates as a separate brand under the Huawei Consumer Business Group, so it’s unclear if the restrictions on Huawei apply to Honor as well. If they do, then that puts Honor in a tough spot. Will the company be able to update the Honor 20 to Android Q? Will they be able to roll out timely security updates? As the U.S. trade war with China plays out, we’ll have to see how it affects Honor’s business. If we learn more information about Honor’s software update policy in light of the recent news, we’ll update this article.
Miscellaneous Odds & Ends
Honor is one of the few smartphone brands that still includes an IR blaster in their smartphones, and that’s still true for the Honor 20 series.
Pricing and Availability
The Honor 20 costs 499 Euros for the 6GB RAM + 128GB storage model. On the other hand, the Honor 20 Pro will cost 599 Euros for the 8GB RAM + 256GB storage model. In India, Honor has partnered with Flipkart for sales.