The Honor 20 is the first smartphone launched and put on sale by Huawei since Trump’s blacklisting of the company in May.
In effect this is one of the phones Trump tried to ban, but as it happened the Honor 20 had already passed through the Android certification process before Google was forced to stop working with Huawei.
In reality, Trump’s actions have had little to no effect on the £400 Honor 20, other than a slight delay in release in the west, and now there is an expectation that at least some of the restrictions will be lifted by Trump.
The phone itself treads a tried and trusted formula: glass all-screen on the front, metal sides and a glass back.
It weighs 174g, which is fairly light compared with the 200g-plus large phones, and its 7.9mm thickness compares favourably with rivals.
The screen is also smaller than some recent gigantic rivals, at just 6.26in on the diagonal, which is welcome. Phones have become too big recently.
Because the Honor 20’s screen is flat, not curving at the sides to the metal edge, the phone is a little wider at 74mm than the screen size might suggest – 0.6mm wider than the Huawei P30 Pro with its larger 6.47in screen.
Still, it feels slick in the hand and is relatively easy to use.
The FHD+ LCD screen itself is excellent, crisp, bright and colourful, with slim bezels, a hole punched in the top left corner through which the selfie camera pokes and good viewing angles all round.
It can’t match the top OLED displays, but then it doesn’t cost £500-plus.
The design is, however, a little dull, particularly in black compared with some of the flashier phones in 2019, including the Honor View20. Get it in blue for something a bit more interesting.
There’s no headphone socket and the fingerprint scanner is under the power button on the right hand side. It’s fast, accurate and easy to reach with your right thumb, but less so with your left index fingers.
Left-handed users might want to think twice before buying.
Screen: 6.26in FHD+ LCD (412ppi)
Processor: octa-core Huawei Kirin 980
RAM: 6GB of RAM
Operating system: Magic UI 2.1 based on Android 9 Pie
Camera: rear 48MP wide, 16MP ultra-wide, 2MP macro and 2MP depth sensor, 32MP selfie
Connectivity: USB-C (2.0), LTE, wifi, NFC, Bluetooth 5 and GPS (dual-sim available in some regions)
Dimensions: 154.3 x 74 x 7.9 mm
Reliable performance and battery life
Huawei has a knack for making fast but power efficient processors and equipping lots of phones at various prices with the same top-of-the-range chips.
The Honor 20 uses the same Kirin 980 chip as all of Huawei’s top-flight phones and performs just as well.
Technically it is a generation behind the top Snapdragon 855 chip from Qualcomm that’s used in most other 2019 flagship phones, including the OnePlus 7 Pro, but the performance differences are only noticeable in the most graphically intensive games that do not support Huawei’s GPU Turbo optimisations.
So what you get is top-level performance at a mid-range price, which puts the likes of the similarly priced Google Pixel 3a XL to shame.
Huawei, and therefore Honor, phones are the current battery life kings. The Honor 20 is no exception.
With medium to heavy usage the phone lasted about 32 hours between charges, meaning it would make it all the way from 7am on day one until 3pm on day two.
That was while using the Honor 20 as my primary device with lots of email, messages and push notifications, a couple of hours browsing in Chrome, five hours of Spotify via Bluetooth headphones, 90 minutes of Futurama from Google Play, a 30-minute phone call and about 20 photos.
The Honor 20 lacks wireless charging but has relatively fast cable charging, reaching 80% in an hour and a full charge in under 90 minutes using the included power adapter and cable.
Magic UI 2.1
The Honor 20 runs the latest of Magic UI 2.1, which is the firm’s version of Android 9 Pie. Magic UI 2.1 is essentially a renamed version of parent company Huawei’s EMUI 9.1, which is the software running on Huawei’s top phone, the P30 Pro.
Overall Magic UI 2.1 is a highly capable version of Android with a solid set of navigation gestures or traditional navigation buttons, lots of power saving features and long-term performance functions that keep it from being slowed down over time.
The interface isn’t as slick or as fluid as that running on a OnePlus or Google’s Pixel phones, but it is getting better with each update.
The trouble is the updates have been fairly slow in the past, but Honor said it will be keeping to a bi-monthly security update schedule (Google releases an Android security patch once a month) and expects a major update in mid-August with Android Q.
Honor says it is “confident” that it can update the 20 with Android Q.
However, given the complexities of US export law, it may not be up to Honor and Huawei as to whether it can legally honour that commitment.
The Honor 20 has an evolved version of the excellent camera from the View 20.
The phone technically has four cameras on the back: one 48MP standard camera, a 16MP super-wide angle camera, a 2MP fixed focus macro camera and a 2MP depth assist camera.
However, the depth camera is just that, an assistant helping produce bokeh effects in portrait mode, not a camera in its own right.
And while the macro camera sounds like a fun idea, the images produced are poor. Superficially they look fine, but zoom in at all on the image and you’ll see a mess of over-sharpened pixels.
Forget about two of the cameras and you’re left with the main 48MP camera which is great, producing shots with high levels of detail, good range and colour.
Low-light performance is pretty good too. It even produces better macro shots than the dedicated macro camera.
The ultra-wide angle camera is also a lot of fun to use, turning those short-range landscape photos into large, expansive shots.
It has noticeably worse middling-to-low light performance than the main camera, though, so best left for outdoor shots in good light.
The one thing missing is an optical zoom; instead you get up to 10x digital zoom, which is pretty good but no match for anything with a 2 or 3x telephoto camera. Video capture is limited to 30FPS at 4K too.
The camera app is pretty good, and Honor’s AI system has toned down a lot since its inception, meaning I felt comfortable to leave it on.
The front-facing 32MP camera pokes through a hole in the screen and is really very good, capturing detail-rich selfies even in fairly challenging lighting conditions.
The phone is pretty slippery so you’ll need a case to keep it from dropping out of shallow pockets when you sit down
The vibration motor is not as good as rivals in 2019, feeling baggy and imprecise
The frame of the phone traps hairs and fluff
Call quality was good, but the speaker is fairly small needing a bit of attention to get the correct alignment with your ear
The phone curiously dropped to 3G more often in 4G areas than competing devices
The Honor 20 costs £399 in either black or blue.
For comparison, the Honor View20 costs £500, the OnePlus 7 costs £499, the Huawei P30 Pro costs £899, the Samsung Galaxy S10e costs £669 and the Apple iPhone XR costs £749.
The Honor 20 is another cracking, well specified, solid performing, well made phone from Huawei.
It’s got the same top-end Kirin 980 chip as the excellent P30 Pro, long battery life and good screen.
The camera is also pretty good, if you ignore the quad-camera hype and concentrate on the main and wide-angle cameras on the back.
The Magic UI 2.1 software is even pretty good too, but it’s impossible to look at the Honor 20 in isolation.
The Trump factor and whether Huawei, and therefore, Honor will continue to have access to Google for crucial Android updates and the certificates needed for anything from DRM in video apps to Google Pay looms large.
You’d need a crystal ball to know for sure, but the expectation is that Huawei will eventually be tied into a deal between the US and China at the end of this trade war.
For now, the Honor 20 offers a nearly top-flight experience for just £400, which is a great deal.
But it’s a great deal that could easily sour if things don’t go Huawei’s way.
Pros: hole-punch notch, snappy performance, good battery life, good camera, good screen, dual-sim, fast fingerprint sensor
Cons: Magic UI not to everyone’s taste, slow updates, Trump, no expandable storage, no water resistance, no wireless charging, no headphone socket, right-side fingerprint sensor not for left-handed