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Huawei Honor View 20 review: The first standout phone of 2019

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I can't think of a more fitting first phone review for 2019 than Huawei's Honor View 20. Announced in the waning days of December 2018 for China first, the Honor View 20 is a visually mesmerizing Android Pie phone whose midtier price belies all the features Huawei's stuffed inside and out: a 48-megapixel camera on the back alongside a 3D stereo lens. A 6.4-inch display with razor-thin bezels. A 25-megapixel camera on the front, with a hole-punch opening instead of a notch. A visually showstopping finish. A 4,000-mAh battery and 125GB or 256GB of on-board storage. And a headphone jack!

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8.2

Huawei Honor View 20

The Good

The Honor View 20's mesmerizing design draws you in. Its 6.4-inch screen feels truly edge-to-edge. High-end features include a 48-megapixel camera, a long-lived battery, a speedy processor and 128GB starting storage space.

The Bad

Several photo effects fall short or plain don't work. Huawei's political troubles mean the Honor View 20 will be hard for some to find.

The Bottom Line

Despite some software drawbacks, the Honor View 20 is a standout midprice phone with nearly everything.

I won't blame you for doing a double take because the Honor View 20 reads like a higher-end device on paper. For a £500, 569 euro and 2,999-yuan starting price, it has as much going on as many premium phones you can buy today at double the price. I can almost see it taunting Samsung's upcoming Galaxy S10: "I've got a ridiculously large 48-megapixel camera and 3D sensor, what about you?"

Now here's where the drama comes in. Not everyone will be able to buy an Honor View 20, even if they want to, and that's because Huawei is persona non grata in some parts of the world.

Honor View 20's hypnotic colors will make your jaw drop

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The Chinese company is the world's second-largest phone brand, and one of the top sellers of telecommunications equipment. But some governments, including the US, Britain, Australia and New Zealand have banned the sale of Huawei networking products for fear of espionage. In the US, major retailer Best Buy stopped selling Huawei phones, although you can still buy some models on Amazon or through the Honor site.

Although Huawei tries to distance its Honor sub-brand, Honor phones are lumped into Huawei's 200 million unit sales numbers for 2018, and Honor personnel pass out Huawei business cards at press briefings. If it's hard to buy a Huawei phone where you live, it'll be hard to buy this Honor View 20, too. That said, if you're not someone in the business of keeping secrets -- a government employee, a journalist or a corporate executive -- there's probably little more to fear with this phone than with any other Android device.

Despite Huawei's political troubles, the Honor View 20 is an early standout when it comes to quality and value, even if there are a few annoyances here and there.

The Honor View 20 sells in China, the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Finland, Czech Republic, Poland, Russia, Malaysia, India, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Huawei plans to sell the phone in more countries.

Skip to the end for the full specs list.

Dare to stop looking at this phone

😳😳😳

Jessica Dolcourt

Whether you see it in blue, red or black, you won't fail to notice the Honor View 20's glossy, stylized finish. A pattern of bright and deep chevrons (V shapes) ripples on the back, making the phone feel alive. Huawei and fellow Chinese brands Oppo and Vivo have created eye-catching colors and gradients in recent years. But I've never seen a finish like this.

To Huawei's credit, this is a smart way to dress up what feels like a plastic backing, giving it dimension and gloss where it could otherwise look cheap. (Huawei never responded to my query as to what it's made of.) The aluminum frame adds the right amount of heft.

Next, you'll notice the screen. It's 6.4 inches and stretches almost the entire width of the phone face, with a slightly thicker bezel at the bottom. The effect works: It feels as close to an edge-to-edge screen as we're likely to get right now. There's no notch and not even a speaker grille to mar the all-display look.

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The Honor View 20 has a punch-hole design for its 25-megapixel selfie camera.

Angela Lang/CNET

Huawei achieves this by putting a circular camera cutout in the top left corner and sliding the sensors up the frame on the phone's top edge. The speaker grille is hidden away along a chamfered edge in between the two. A bright, colorful screen produces sharp detail for reading, viewing images and watching videos. Netflix shows such as Derry Girls looked much better after I downloaded them than they did when I streamed them, however. Network and Wi-Fi strength has a lot to do with that.

You might have opinions about the hole-punch camera, just as you might have strong feelings about the notch. But it never got in my way. It either fits into an unoccupied corner of whichever app you open, or falls into the navigation bar of that app. It all depends on how the app maker laid everything out in the first place.

For example, the View 20's notification tray starts just below where the selfie camera ends. Until front-facing cameras are actually integrated into screen layers, there will always be some level of compromise when the goal is giving you as many active screen pixels as possible.

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The sensors move from the screen to the Honor View 20's frame.

Angela Lang/CNET

You'll find the phone's fingerprint reader on the back. Response time is fast, and while I have to stretch my finger every time to hit the target, it's reachable. Note that my hands fall on the smaller end of the human spectrum. The phone can be slippery at times, especially with that glossy finish (assuming you don't cover it with a case). I fumbled it a couple times and narrowly saved it from certain cracking with a miraculous hot-potato maneuver born of adrenaline and stress and witnessed only by CNET photographer James Martin.

Since this is a midprice phone, you'll find no waterproofing, wireless charging or 3D front-facing camera to securely unlock the device (there is, however, Android's face-unlock software, which isn't secure enough for mobile payments).

The View 20's 48-megapixel camera brings it

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James Martin/CNET

A 48-megapixel camera doesn't guarantee you good photos, but I appreciate Huawei's willingness to brute force the photo pixel count here. When you're not taking huge 48-megapixel photos (8,000x6,000 pixels) on the Honor View 20, you'll shoot much less storage-hungry 12-megapixel images, but I wanted to see how much information these images captured.

I compared some of my pictures of people, food, landscapes and places to photos I took on the Samsung Galaxy S9's 12-megapixel camera, then looked at them in actual size on my desktop. I preferred the Galaxy's brighter, richer color and tone, but the Honor View 20 certainly captured more fine detail, especially on hair and the strands of a furry redwood tree. Still, when viewed in actual size, I preferred the Galaxy's shots. Bottom line: It's not the world's greatest camera, but it's fantastic for funneling photos straight to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or text.

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A 48-megapixel shot with Ultra Clarity Mode at actual size, right. The standard 48-megapixel version is on the left.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Huawei went a step further to add AI Ultra Clarity mode, a special selection that stitches multiple photos together to create a "best effort" compilation. It takes 5 seconds to shoot, you should remain still, and photos are intended for landscape shots taken in ample lighting. The end result is smoother and more detailed than even the regular 48-megapixel camera mode, but these also tend to be slightly darker.

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Yes, you can overdo selfie effects. The ones I applied cut off my hair and overexposed my skin and lipstick.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

The main sensor sits next to a 3D stereoscopic camera, which measures depth. Although you get portrait photos, this isn't a telephoto lens like some dual-camera phones have. It's better to use the 48-megapixel resolution and crop in. 

This depth-sensing camera does enable one extra trick. You select the Shaping mode (alongside beauty mode) for a slider that can make your subject appear thinner -- check out the video in this review for an example. That personally horrifies me, and I hope Huawei can apply its depth-sensing technology to something a little less judgy.

The 25-megapixel front-facing camera has some bonus effects, with varying degrees of success. If you're taking photos in full resolution, you definitely capture more detail, which I especially noticed with my curly hair. 

Portrait selfies felt overly processed and plasticky, even with beauty mode set to zero. You can add effects and filters for different lighting conditions and filters (one example was "stained glass"), but some are complete disasters that blew out the whites or cut off half the hair framing my face.

One of the better features is AR Lens, a complete rip-off of Apple's Animoji for iPhone, which uses the front-facing camera to track your features and superimpose them on an animal or other character. You can record these and put them in a message. At least it's better than Samsung's terrifying AR Emoji.

4,000-mAh battery life, speed and Android 9

You don't often see a 4,000-mAh battery in a midprice phone. Or if you do, it's generally the only premium feature. Battery life went on and on, running for 16 hours in our video loop tests in airplane mode. Anecdotally, the phone held on to its reserves, lasting from morning until late night on a single charge before I started getting nervous. It recharges completely in 2 hours.

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One more look at the intense crop using the 48-megapixel camera.

James Martin/CNET

The processor story is also a positive one. Huawei's house-made 2.6GHz octa-core Kirin 980 chipset keep things running very smoothly. The chip was made with the 7-nanometer manufacturing process, which is a manufacturing technique that makes the chip size smaller and more power efficient than the previous technology.

The results are good. CPU benchmarking scores blew away premium phones like the Galaxy Note 9, while the graphical benchmarks were still plenty fast. These numbers are just an indicator, though. In real-life usage, the phone felt lithe and agile, and games such as Riptide GP: Renegade were especially responsive.

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Android 9 Pie serves as the basis of the Honor View 20's OS, with the company's Magic UI 2 layer on top. A lot of Android fans I know bristle at this layout, calling it far too much of an iPhone clone with the apps laid out across the screens, rather than in an app drawer. To me, that's a matter of personal preference and it only bugs me when I'm trying to organize my apps on screen.

There's the usual bundle of Huawei apps I have no interest in using, and those are annoying to initially deal with. I also have small complaints: For one thing, you can't double-press the power button to launch the camera as you can on some other Android phones. That said, the Settings submenus do hold other customization options for those who take the time to dig.

Honor View 20 specs versus Honor View 10, OnePlus 6T


Huawei Honor View 20Huawei Honor View 10OnePlus 6T
Display size, resolution 6.4-inch IPS LCD; 2,310x1,080 pixels6-inch; 2,160x1,080 pixels6.41-inch AMOLED; 2,340x1,080 pixels
Pixel density 398 ppi403 ppi402 ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.2x3x0.3 inches6.18x2.95x0.28 inches6.20x2.94x0.32 inches
Dimensions (Millimeters) 156.9x75.4x8.1 mm157x75x7 mm157.5x74.8x8.2 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 6.4 oz, 180 g6.1 oz, 172 g6.5 oz; 185 g
Mobile software Android 9.0 with Magic UI 2Android 8.0 OreoAndroid 9 Pie
Camera 48-megapixel, 3D spectroscopic TOF camera20-megapixel, 16-megapixel16-megapixel standard, 20-megapixel telephoto
Front-facing camera 25-megapixel13-megapixel16-megapixel
Video capture 2160p4K4K
Processor HiSilicon Kirin 980 (7 nm), 2.6GHz octa-coreKirin 970 processor2.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
Storage 128GB, 256GB128GB128GB, 256GB
RAM 6GB, 8GB6GB6GB, 8GB
Expandable storage None256GBNone
Battery 4,000 mAh3,730 mAh3,700 mAh
Fingerprint sensor BackBelow screenIn-display
Connector USB-CUSB-CUSB-C
Headphone jack YesYesNo
Special features AI Clarity photo mode, pin-hole camera, Dual-SIMN/AIn-display fingerprint sensor, dual-SIM, Dash Charging, notifications toggle
Price off-contract (USD) Converts to about $445$499$549 (6GB RAM/128GB), $579 (8GB RAM/128GB), $629 (8GB RAM/256GB)
Price (GBP) Converts to about £350£449£499 (6GB RAM/128GB), £529 (8GB RAM/128GB), £579 (8GB RAM/256GB)
Price (AUD) Converts to about AU$620Converts to about AU$680Converted: AU$775 (6GB RAM/128GB), AU$820 (8GB RAM/128GB), AU$890 (8GB RAM/256GB)
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Huawei Honor View 20

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 8Camera 8Battery 10