While the battle began to banish bezels and create the ultimate big-screen smartphone has been rolling on for what seems like forever, we’ve yet to see a clear winner; sure, Apple’s notch would appear to have emerged triumphant in the early rounds – based on the sheer volume of copycat devices that have launched since iPhone X arrived in 2017 – but the past 12 months has seen an impressive array of different solutions to this problem; we’ve had sliding camera modules, tiny top-and-bottom bezels and – more recently – ‘hole punch’ screens. The latter design has been hyped by more than one company, but it is Honor (also known as Huawei’s budget brand) which has made it to western stores first.
Boasting Huawei’s powerful new Kirin 980 processor and a staggering 48-megapixel Sony-made rear camera, the View 20 means business – but it’s that eye-catching display which will arguably sell the phone. But does this breakthrough warrant a second glance, or is it just another screen gimmick, like the notch before it? Let’s find out.
Honor View 20 Review; Design & Display
When it’s switched off, the Honor View 20 looks like pretty much any other smartphone you could think of. It’s got rounded, pebble-like edges, it has two cameras on the rear (along with a fingerprint scanner) and features metal and glossy, smudge-prone glass in its construction. Outside of the rather cool laser-etched ‘V’ pattern (Honor calls it ‘Aurora Nanotexture’) which is somehow baked into the glass back panel, there’s nothing especially noteworthy about how the Honor View 20 looks. That’s not to say it’s unattractive – it’s actually a very smart looking device – but at face value, you’d be pushed to tell it apart from the legions of other smartphones doing the rounds right now. That is, until you power up the screen.
The View 20 really does look stunning from the front. That 6.4-inch screen is remarkable; even when you take into account the potentially divisive hole punch and the tiny chin at the bottom, it’s amazing to look at a display which appears to totally fill the phone’s face. Over time, you quickly learn to mentally remove the hole punch, and it’s striking how little impact it actually has over the UI experience; put it this way, if you lived with the notch then you’re going to have zero issues here. It’s definitely an improvement.
It’s a shame that Honor couldn’t have used an OLED screen, though – despite the general quality of the 1080 x 2310 pixel IPS LCD panel, there were times when we longed for the deep blacks, impressive viewing angles and punchy colours of an OLED display. Having said that, the View 20’s screen is nonetheless impressive, and when placed alongside the iPhone XR’s Liquid Retina LCD screen, it looked utterly fantastic in comparison. On the downside, our pre-production review unit had a small cluster of stuck pixels which were only noticeable when the screen was black. We’ve been assured by Honor that this is a problem that won’t be present on the final production model.
Elsewhere, there’s a USB-C port on the bottom, along with a powerful speaker. The View 20 lacks stereo sound which is a shame, but you’re unlikely to miss a call or notification when the volume is set to maximum – this phone is seriously loud. The power and volume buttons are found on the right-hand edge of the phone, while the 3.5mm headphone jack is located on the top edge, accompanied by an IR blaster so you can use your View 20 as a remote control for other devices.
Another cool feature is the placement of the notification LED, which is found inside the tiny earpiece at the very top of the screen. It gently pulsates when you have an unread message, but is totally invisible when inactive.
It’s worth noting that the View 20 carries no water or dust resistance rating, which may or may not be a big deal, depending on how often you accidentally drop your phone into bodies of water. Still, given that many other phones boast such ratings, it’s worth mentioning. Honor includes a rather fetching silicone case in the box which fits snugly and – were it any other handset maker – would no doubt cost £30 separately. It covers up that lovely ‘V’ design on the back, but it provides a decent degree of protection.
Honor View 20 Review: Software
The View 20 is running Android 9 right out of the box, which is good news if you’re sick of flagship phones rocking older variants of Google’s OS. It sits beneath the Magic 2.0 UI skin, which looks and feels a lot like Huawei’s EMUI – it even references Huawei in some of the app logos and legal messages which pop up the first time you open certain exclusive apps. This isn’t an issue as such because EMUI is a fine Android skin, but it does make you wonder why Honor had to create a totally different name for it.
As well as featuring the usual suite of essential Google apps – like YouTube, Gmail, Drive, Google Photos and Google Maps – the View 20 also ships with several bespoke applications, such as its own music, video and app store. As ever, these apps needlessly duplicate functionality and are, by and large, a complete waste of time. Not only do you have to log into Huawei’s own user account service to use many of them, some pre-installed apps cannot be disabled or uninstalled. While we understand that handset makers want to push you towards their own app stores in order to generate revenue, you almost always get a second-rate experience when compared to Google’s own built-in Android services. Unless you’re a seasoned Honor or Huawei fan, you’re unlikely to bother.
That said, there are some nice touches on offer here. App Twin – the ability to have two different instances of the same application on the same device – isn’t new, but it’s handy if you need to keep different social media accounts separate. HiTouch is also quite cool – you hold down two fingers on an image and it will tell you where you can buy that item online – and Digital Balance is basically the View 20’s version of Apple’s screen time reports, so you can manage how much time you spend gawping at your phone’s display. Oh, and Party Mode – which is also available on other Huawei devices – is present and correct, so if you want to hold an impromptu shindig by simultaneously sharing the same song with other people via their handsets, you can (although we’re still not entirely sure why you’d want to).
Honor View 20 Review: Performance
Despite being a mid-range phone, the View 20 has the same Kirin 980 processor seen in Huawei’s Mate 20 Pro, a phone which costs considerably more. Given that Huawei is keen to stress the 980’s power when compared to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845, it’s obvious that we’re dealing with cutting-edge silicon here; the first Kirin chipset to be manufactured using the 7nm process, the 980 is one of the most powerful chips on the market, and benchmarks prove that.
In Antutu Benchmark, the View 20 scores 277,827, which just beats the likes of the Google Pixel 3 (269,901) and Samsung Galaxy S9+ (266,871) but is behind the likes of the OnePlus 6T (295,942) and Xiaomi Mi 8 (291,329). In Geekbench 4, it ranks 3312 in the single-core test and 9745 in the multi-core test. Those ratings compare very favourably with many Android rivals which cost the same or more, which proves that the 980’s power – although it goes without saying that the Snapdragon 855, due this year, will most likely smoke the competition.
Still, the 980 is inside the View 20, a phone which costs £500, and it delivers incredible performance when you consider it costs half the price of an iPhone XS. Navigating the UI is silky-smooth, and there’s little in the way of delay when you move between open applications. 3D games – always a solid test of a phone’s internals – run without issue; even intensive titles like Mortal Kombat X gave no cause for concern. However, the weaker GPU does mean that there’s a slight performance drop when compared to the Snapdragon 845, although Huawei’s GPU Turbo system – which enhances things but has to be patched into games by the developer – resolves this to a degree.
While in-screen fingerprint scanners are likely to be one of 2019’s most talked-about features, the View 20 doesn’t have one – which shouldn’t be too surprising, given that it’s a mid-range device. The rear-mounted scanner is fast and accurate though, even if it feels a little high and hard to reach at times. The View 20 also supports face unlock, although as far as we could tell, it’s just using a 2D image of your face rather than a 3D map, like the iPhone X, XS and XR. That means it could potentially be fooled by a photo of your face so it’s not as secure, but on the plus side, the phone was quick to recognise and unlock using this system – quicker than the iPhone XR, in fact. However, in low light situations it struggles and we had to rely on the fingerprint scanner instead.
Honor View 20 Review: Camera
The headline news with the View 20’s camera is that it’s brand-new Sony IMX586, which has a 48-megapixel sensor and an f1.8 aperture. There’s a second sensor on the back, but it’s not used for x2 optical zoom – instead, it’s a 3D ‘Time of Flight’ sensor which, in theory, should allow for some seriously impressive photo effects, including good AR functions, such as making a 3D model of an object you’ve snapped. The trouble is, at the moment these features aren’t good-to-go as the View 20 is not officially supported by Google’s all-important ARCore app and the ToF lens is pretty much redundant – but it’s there, and when Honor does eventually turn it on, it could provide something pretty special to the mix.
Back to the main Sony-made camera, then. With all those lovely pixels to make use of, detail is pretty striking and Honor’s advanced ‘AI Vision’ software does a good job of making even the most casual of snaps seem like a masterpiece. There are some pretty deep ‘pro’ settings as well, which is good news for photography nerds. The f1.8 aperture is good enough for low-light shooting, but Honor also puts the 48-megapixel sensor to good use by employing a technique known as ‘pixel-binning’, where multiple pixels are combined to allow more light into the sensor. The View 20’s night mode shows this off to good effect, capturing decent shots that require you to hold the camera steady during the snap. They’re not in the same league as the low-light snaps seen on Google’s Pixel 3, but they’re still impressive.
What’s rather less impressive is the way the phone’s portrait mode works; it often blurs out the wrong part of the image, but this is something that – theoretically, at least – should improve once the power of that 3D ToF camera is fully harnessed. Honor’s clumsy attempt at Animoji effects is also forgettable; the 3D faces lack the charm of those seen on Apple’s phones, and because that 25-megapixel front-facing camera doesn’t have 3D-mapping capabilities, animations look jerky and imprecise. The final disappointment is that the phone’s cameras lack optical image stabilisation – something we’d expect to see on a flagship handset, but perhaps not one that costs £500.
For video, the View 20 can shoot 1080p at 60fps, or 4K video at 30fps. It also has slow-motion effects which are backed up by intelligent software which automatically decides when to shoot in slow-mo.
Honor View 20 Review: Battery Life & Storage
With a roomy 4000mAh battery, the View 20 has plenty of stamina. Even when we were putting it through its paces with web surfing, game playing and video recording, it always made it to the end of the day with plenty of juice left in the tank. Huawei’s SuperCharge Fast-charging system helps top the battery up swiftly, but there’s sadly no wireless charging, despite that eye-catching glass back.
While the phone has space for two Nano SIM cards, there’s sadly no room for a MicroSD card, so you’ll need to choose wisely when it comes to picking your on-board storage. The base model has 128GB, but a 256GB version is also on offer.
Honor View 20 Review: Verdict
The View 20 doesn’t get everything right – there’s no wireless charging or water resistance, and the absence of an OLED panel might annoy some mobile purists – but for £500, it’s something of a marvel. The hole-punch screen design might seem like a gimmick but once we grew accustomed to it, we had trouble going back to a device with a notch or pronounced bezels. The screen is something of a show-stopper then, but the camera setup is almost as impressive, and if Honor can do some meaningful stuff with that 3D ToF camera, then this could shape up to be pretty special as far as image capture is concerned. Add in a powerful chipset and likeable software, and you’ve got an early contender for 2019’s best mid-price handset. We’re sure that the View 20 will have plenty of competition over the next 12 months, but for now, this is arguably the best way to spend £500 in the Android sector – yes, even better than the OnePlus 6T.