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What O-notch? Honor View 20 beats Galaxy S10 to in-screen selfie cam -- and 48-megapixel rear camera

Huawei is trying to one-up Samsung's "punch-hole" Infinity-O display.

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The in-screen camera on the upcoming View 20 will mean an almost full-screen experience without having to resort to a notch.

Aloysius Low/CNET

The O-shaped notch rumored to come to the Galaxy S10 is the talk of the town, but Huawei already got there first. The Honor View 20 sidesteps the controversial notch by fitting the front-facing into the screen. It's similar to a feature that the anticipated Galaxy S10 is rumored to have as well, using the Infinity-O screen that Samsung showed off at its yearly developer conference in November. 

That's not all Huawei's latest Honor phone brings to the table well ahead of the Galaxy S10 launch. The Honor View 20 is also the first phone to sport a 48-megapixel rear camera using Sony's newest IMX586 sensor, and it has a nifty feature that combines 4G data and Wi-Fi networks together for faster downloads, something we've seen on a few phones before as well.

The View 20 is set to debut in China on Dec. 26 before the rest of the world, and will announce its global launch Jan. 22 next year in Paris.

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The shape of the phone is hidden behind a cover, as Honor isn't ready to reveal details of its upcoming phone just yet. 

Aloysius Low/CNET

Huawei has been on a tear lately, piling up showy features and finishes to challenge Samsung's phones. So far, it's working -- just look at the "elite" Huawei Mate 20 Pro. Huawei has booted Apple out of second place to become the world's second-largest phone brand, right behind Samsung. And the company has done it without the benefit of US sales. On the other hand, Huawei also faces crisis within its own ranks and abroad. Its CFO (and daughter of the founder) was detained in Canada on charges of violating US sanctions against Iran. Companies or government agencies in the UK, EUJapan, Australia and US have warned against or even outright banned the sale or use of Huawei's networking equipment. 

The controversy hasn't kept Huawei or its Honor brand from making some of the world's top Android phones, with features that competitors are sure to mimic. The Honor View 20's coolest and most noticeable feature is the in-screen camera, a feature that's also leaked for upcoming Huawei Nova 4. Instead of using a notch or slide-out or pop-up mechanical cameras, the camera is now located inside the screen, giving you a full-screen experience at the cost of just a tiny blacked out area on the display instead.

To achieve this, Honor didn't just cut out a hole in the display, unlike the Infinity-O display that Samsung just announced for the Galaxy A8S phone. Instead, the Honor View 20 makes part of the phone's display transparent, allowing the camera hole to remain a small 4.5 millimetres. Huawei suggests that Samsung's Infinity-O in-screen camera solution, which cuts a hole in the display, takes up slightly more space at 6mm.

And while a mere 1.5mm different doesn't sound like a lot, it does represent a bigger gap on the display, which Huawei thinks will distract from the full-screen experience. Honor says at 4.5mm, it uses less than 50 percent surface area compared to Samsung's solution.

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A demonstration of how Honor's in-screen camera works with the layers of the display.

Aloysius Low/CNET

To get the in-screen camera to work well also required other engineering tricks, including something the company calls a "5-axis ring dispersion," which acts as a seal around the transparent area to prevent light from the display spoiling the camera's shot. The lens of the in-screen camera is also "special", required to be small enough to fit.

Honor had to take a new approach to embedding the in-screen selfie within the 18 layers that make up the finished screen, adding that precise alignment within 0.1mm was essential for making the camera work through all the layers. Huawei has five patents for the in-screen camera.

As for the rear camera, the View 20 will be the first in the world to use Sony's IMX586 48-megapixel sensor. It won't be the only one though; Xiaomi has already teased a similar feature on its upcoming phone.

The Honor View 20's 48-megapixel camera will feature a couple of cool tricks, such as using pixel binning for clearer images by combining 4 pixels into one, resulting in a 12-megapixel image. The phone will be powered by Honor's Kirin 980 chip, which has two image signal processors (ISPs) and uses its dual neural processing units (NPUs) to get its onboard AI to help you take better shots. The IMX586 sensor will also feature hardware HDR support, which means that the phone should process this faster than by using software alone.

Lastly, the View 20 will feature Link Turbo, which combines the 4G and Wi-Fi networks on your phone for faster downloads, the phone figuring out which applications work better with Wi-Fi or 4G. Games may tap 4G for lower latency while using Wi-Fi to download in-game content.

Quick specs (what's known)

  • Processor: Huawei Kirin 980
  • Display: 6.3-inches 
  • Camera: 25-megapixel front, 48-megapixel rear
  • Fingerprint: Rear

Honor said that combining both 4G and Wi-Fi allows for lower jitter as well -- jitter is the term for when data packets are sent more slowly or inconsistently, resulting in lag. Honor added that 4G's jitter rate is 0.7 percent, while Wi-Fi is at 2 percent, and combining both would result in just 0.14 percent. Downloads would also get a boost: You'll be able to download at 90 percent of the combined max speed, allowing smoother video streaming.

Now playing: Watch this: Samsung's S10 reportedly features 5G, huge screen
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Article originally published Dec. 9 at 10:40 p.m. PT
Updated: Dec. 12 at 3 a.m. PT.

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