Huawei P20 review: A killer low-light camera you can actually afford

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The Good The Huawei P20 takes terrific low-light photos from the dual rear camera, comes in some astounding colors and is small enough to use with one hand. Like the P20 Pro, it lets you hide the default screen notch many Android fans hate.

The Bad Why is the P20 only splash-proof, but not rated water-resistant like the P20 Pro? There's no headset jack. You won't be able to buy it in the US.

The Bottom Line The Huawei P20 cuts some luxuries, but delivers similarly spectacular low-light photos of the Pro model.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Camera 8
  • Battery 8

The Huawei Honor 10 is a speedy Android phone with a notch. Check out our review. 

If you're lusting after the Huawei P20 Pro's three rear cameras and mesmerizing "twilight" color, but can't justify the high price, then the "regular" Huawei P20 is the phone to get. Cheaper by hundreds, the P20's dual rear camera has the P20 Pro's same killer low-light camera mode that makes your photos of dimly-lit cocktails pop, and an iridescent color option that absolutely leaps out of the crowd.

Even if you're not comparing it to the P20 Pro (more on that below), the P20 here delivers good performance for a middish-price phone that fits well in the hand.


If you don't like that notch, don't worry. You can turn it off in the settings.

Josh Miller/CNET

But compare it to other phones in its class and the situation gets murkier. The Huawei P20, is suspended in limbo waiting for competitors like the OnePlus 6 to launch May 16 and the Nokia 8 Sirocco to sell on April 30.

So if the P20 Pro's £799/AU$1,099 price spikes outside your budget, the £599/AU$999 Huawei P20 (which converts to $839) is the smart buy, and you don't sacrifice many important features (keep reading for more details). The Huawei P20 also costs £140 less than the Galaxy S9.

However, it's too early to say how the Huawei P20 fares for its price category. I'd wait until the OnePlus 6 and Nokia 8 Sirocco reviews are in to see how the phone's main rivals pan out.

Note: The Huawei P20 and P20 Pro won't sell in the US, due to government pressure that caused AT&T and Verizon, and Best Buy to back away from selling Huawei phones.

Huawei P20 vs. Huawei P20 Pro: What's the difference?

The Huawei P20 is cheaper and a little simpler than the P20 Pro in every way.

It has a 5.8-inch LCD screen rather than a 6.1-inch OLED display. The picture quality is notably richer when you hold both phones side by side, but the P20 is still plenty usable. The P20 also has shorter battery life and "only" two cameras on the back instead of the P20 Pro's three sensors. It's splash-proof (IP53) while the P20 Pro is fully water-resistant for up to 3 feet and 30 minutes (IP68).

But the two phones share DNA as well: a 24-megapixel selfie camera, the same Huawei-made Kirin processor, Android 8.0 Oreo and almost all the same camera features as the pricier Pro (minus the telephoto lens and 3X optical zoom -- you can still zoom digitally).

See the chart at the end for a full specs comparison.

Huawei P20 many not have 3 cameras on the back, but...

I'd keep every one of the photos taken on the P20.

Huawei saved its three rear cameras for the P20 Pro, including a 40-megapixel lens, but the P20 has most of the same settings, and its 12-megapixel main camera (RGB) can hold its own. There's also a 20-megapixel monochrome lens that helps add detail.


The Huawei P20 has a 12-megapixel camera and a 20-megapixel monochrome lens.

Josh Miller/CNET

Huawei piled on the photo settings, which makes the native camera app a little confusing, but photography buffs will find what they need and then some: Pro mode, super slow motion video, extra lighting options for portrait photos on both front and rear cameras, and predictive focus.

Perhaps one of my favorite extras is a small bit of camera software that asks you if you prefer your selfies taken the standard way, which flips them, or in mirror mode, which looks exactly like you do when you're posing for your snapshot (see example below). 

HDR is its own separate mode, which is a shame; I'd prefer it to be automatic. Beauty mode, which softens skin tone, seems to linger even when you set the scale to zero.

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