Honor 20 Review

The ongoing US-Huawei dispute has cast some doubts on the future of the Chinese company’s smartphone business, giving many potential buyers of Huawei and Honor-branded phones second thoughts. Still, braving these odds, Huawei subsidiary Honor recently launched its new Honor 20 series of phones, including the Honor 20 Pro, Honor 20, and Honor 20 Lite.

The Honor 20, which we have for review, is a premium phone. It has only slightly downgraded camera hardware and a different design compared to its flagship-grade sibling, the Honor 20 Pro. Barring that, the Honor 20 is a high-end phone that packs a top-of-the-line SoC, quad rear cameras, modern design with a hole-punch front snapper, and the feature-heavy Magic UI 2.1 Android skin.

The Honor 20 falls squarely between the OnePlus 7 (Review) and the OnePlus 7 Pro (Review) in terms of pricing. It will soon have to contend with the likes of the Asus ZenFone 6 (now known as the Asus 6Z) and the Redmi K20 Pro for the coveted budget flagship crown in India. So, is the Honor 20 capable enough to fend off the competition and stand out? We find out in our review.

Honor 20 design

The Honor 20 packs a 6.26-inch display, which is hard to believe given the relatively compact form factor of the phone. The phone is really comfortable to hold, and one-handed usage is not an issue either. Its slim profile and curved edges ensure that it fits snugly in the palm.

Honor has gone for a dual-glass design, using a glass back with a mirror finish that exhibits a strong gradient effect. We have the Honor 20’s Sapphire Blue variant for review, which is a bright blue shade with undertones of purple that appear when light falls on it at different angles.

honor rear 1 Honor 20The Honor 20 has a glossy rear panel with gradient design, but it is a fingerprint magnet

The aesthetics are definitely extravagant, but the whole design is also unique and it would be tough to miss the Honor 20 even in the sea of other phones flaunting gradient finishes. For people who are looking for a more understated design, the Honor 20’s Midnight Black variant might be more appealing.

The glass rear panel and the 2.5D curved-edge display blend seamlessly with the metallic rim running around the edges of the phone. The right side features the volume rocker and the power button with its embedded fingerprint sensor. It is flat and slightly recessed, making it easy to locate.

The buttons provide good tactile feedback on being pressed, but we found that the power button on our unit was slightly loose. If you are worried about how easy a side-mounted fingerprint scanner will be to use, you can rest easy as you won’t have any trouble reaching for it with either hand. It is worth mentioning here that the Honor 20’s fingerprint sensor is extremely quick and accurate, unlocking the phone almost instantly.

On the top, you’ll find the secondary microphone and IR emitter, while the thin earpiece is squeezed between the metallic frame and the display. The left side has the dual-SIM tray, which can accommodate two Nano-SIM cards simultaneously. Unfortunately, it is not of the hybrid type, and there isn’t a third microSD card slot either, which means storage is not expandable. The primary microphone, speaker, and USB Type-C port are on the bottom.

Honor has not cut any corners when it comes to Honor 20’s build quality. The phone looks and feels premium. The non-existent side and top bezels, and the very thin chin make for a nearly all-screen design with a 91.7 percent screen-to-body ratio.

However, the glossy finish of the rear panel makes fingerprint marks and smudges an inevitability, and we had to clean them off every now and then to make the Honor 20 look presentable. Then there is the huge camera bump on the back, which prevents the phone from lying flat on a surface.

Honor 20 front Honor 20Despite packing a 6.26-inch display, the Honor 20 feels relatively compact

As far as box contents go, buyers will find the Honor 20 accompanied by a SIM eject pin, USB Type-C cable, Huawei-branded SuperCharge adapter, USB Type-C to 3.5mm adapter, and some paperwork.

Honor 20 specifications

As mentioned above, Honor 20 is chock full of high-end hardware. The phone packs a 6.26-inch full-HD+ (1080 x 2340 pixels) display with a pixel density of 412ppi. However, the company has not specified the peak brightness numbers.

There’s no reinforced glass, but Honor claims to have used a protective material of its own to help prevent scratches and damage. The company says that its latest offering is splash-resistant, although it does not have an IPxx rating.

The phone is powered by Huawei’s in-house HiSilicon Kirin 980 SoC, which also powers flagships such as the Huawei Mate 20 Pro (Review) and the Huawei P30 Pro (Review). It is manufactured using a 7nm process and packs four ARM Cortex-A76 cores, four Cortex-A55 cores, dual Neural Processing Units, and the Mali G76-GPU. The Honor 20 also has 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage.

Another key highlight of the Honor 20 is its upgraded imaging hardware. The phone packs four rear cameras, with the main snapper using a 48-megapixel Sony IMX586 sensor and an f/1.8 aperture. It employs 4-in-1 Light Fusion — Huawei’s term for pixel binning — that combines four adjacent pixels into one larger pixel which lets the camera capture more light for brighter photos at a 12-megapixel resolution.

It is accompanied by a 16-megapixel super-wide-angle camera with an f/2.2 aperture and 117-degree field of view, a 2-megapixel depth camera with an f/2.4 aperture, and a macro camera with the same aperture for capturing close-up shots. On the front of this phone is a 32-megapixel selfie snapper with an f/2.0 aperture.

Honor 20 sides Honor 20The phone’s curved edges make it comfortable to hold, while the buttons are also easy to reach

The Honor 20 relies on a 3,750mAh battery with support for 22.5W fast charging. On the software side, the phone runs Magic UI 2.1 based on Android Pie. Our review unit, which was a test phone not running the final retail version of the software, was running the May security patch on top.

As for its features, Magic UI 2.1 feels a lot like EMUI, down to the icon style and the arrangement of options in the Settings Menu. The phone comes with a significant amount of bloatware, including both in-house and third-party apps.

In addition to the usual suite of Google apps, you get in-house apps called HiCare for customer service, App Gallery for downloading apps, Health for recording data that can automatically sync with Google Fit, Honor Store, Honor Club, and Tips, plus a host of utility apps like Weather, Recorder, Backup, etc.

Some of the preinstalled apps are actually quite useful. For example, the Downloads app collects all the files you download through the browser, providing an easy way to find and manage them. Ride Mode and SOS are implemented as individual apps, while the Optimizer app acts as a one-stop shop to manage and clean internal storage, see your data usage patterns, control battery usage, and a lot more.

The in-house apps didn’t pester us with ads and notifications, but some of the preinstalled third-party ones did. Talking about third-party apps, you get Facebook, Fortnite Installer, Facebook Messenger, Booking.com, Netflix, ShareChat, Hungama, PhonePe, and LinkedIn Lite. One app named Like, which is a short-form video sharing platform like TikTok, started sending us spammy notifications despite us not having opened it even once. We stopped seeing them by revoking the app’s notification sending permission.

You get Digital Balance, a feature that mimics Digital Wellbeing, and allows you to monitor your phone usage statistics, set app time limits, and assess screen time. There is also a feature called Bedtime, which turns the screen grey and restricts access to user-specified apps to help prevent distraction.

Magic UI 2.1 also offers a few unique gestures that require the use of knuckles. For example, knocking on the screen twice with one knuckle takes a screenshot, while doing so with two knuckles starts the screen-recording. However, in our experience, the knuckle gesture for opening the split-screen interface did not work most of the time.

Honor 20 performance, cameras, and battery life

Before we talk about performance, let’s talk about the display. The thin bezels and the hole punch definitely give this phone a modern look, but you might find the front camera’s hole on the screen slightly distracting. As for the display quality, it renders vibrant colours, and content on it looks crisp and clear. Compared to an AMOLED panel, it looks a little less punchy. Also, we found that the display is set to a slightly warm tone by default.

Honor rear 2 Honor 20The Honor flagship comes equipped with four rear cameras, but it misses out on OIS

The viewing angles are good and the brightness is also decent. We did not have any major issues watching content and reading text on it, but the reflective nature of the screen was a little annoying. Under direct sunlight, watching videos or photos is not as easy on the eyes as we would like from a flagship.

Barring the aforementioned gripes, we found the Honor 20’s display to be just as good as that of any other high-end phone. You can choose between vivid and normal colour modes, and also adjust the colour temperature to your liking. There is an eye comfort mode that reduces blue light and imparts a yellowish tinge to the display for a more comfortable reading experience. Users can choose to activate it manually or set a custom schedule to enable it.

There is also a smart resolution feature that automatically reduces the resolution from full-HD+ to HD+ to save power. You can even mask the hole-punch with a black bar. In games with a lot of on-screen buttons such as PUBG Mobile, we had to enable the black bar, as on-screen controls were overlapped by the camera hole.

Coming to the performance of the Honor 20, the Kirin 980 is powerful enough to run anything you throw at it. Be it heavy multi-tasking with 15-20 apps in the background, the phone handled it all without a hitch. Even with heavy games in the background, we barely saw any stutters when switching between apps.

Interestingly, the camera app occasionally became unresponsive for a few seconds when taking photos. It appears that this issue is exclusive to the camera app, as we did not come across any such problem with other in-house or third-party apps.

magic UI features MagiC UI 2.1A few notable Magic UI 2.1 features from left to right: UI gestures, App Assistant, Digital Balance, and Display colour mode/ temperature

The gaming experience on Honor 20 was good. We played PUBG Mobile, Asphalt 9, and Modern Combat 5 at high graphics settings, and they all ran buttery smooth. Our only complaint here is the single speaker, which is easy to muffle when playing games because of its placement.

The Honor 20 supports Huawei’s Game Turbo 3.0 feature, which claims to boost gaming performance by allocating system resources and optimising power consumption. Honor tells us that Game Turbo 3.0 currently supports just over 30 games, both high-end ones (such as PUBG Mobile, Fortnite, and Asphalt 9) as well as casual titles (Candy Crush Saga and Angry Birds 2).

There are two additional features in the settings — Game Acceleration for boosting gaming performance and Uninterrupted Gaming, which blocks on-screen notifications and silences alerts. We noticed that enabling Game Acceleration caused the phone to heat up rapidly, with the upper rear getting particularly warm after around 30-40 minutes of gaming.

Audio output is not too great. The peak volume is on the lower side, while bass output also leaves a lot to be desired. Even at full volume, music lacks depth and vocals sound synthetic and tinny.

Coming to benchmarks, the Honor 20 scored 3,296 in Geekbench 4’s single-core test and 9,593 in the multi-core test. In AnTutu, the phone put up a tally of 213,387 points, which is significantly lower than what current Snapdragon 855-powered flagships are capable of delivering. 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme returned a score of 2,070, while the phone achieved 38,028 in 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited.

Now let’s dive deep into the phone’s imaging chops. The company is betting big on the Honor 20’s camera prowess. The primary camera captures photos at 12 megapixels by default, but one can manually switch to 48-megapixel mode to capture images with more details.

Photos, in general, turned out sharp and punchy, and looked good on the phone’s screen. There are a few major issues here, though. The photos are a little oversaturated, and the colours of the objects look quite inaccurate. Some people might actually prefer that added dash of colour and vibrancy, but gradients and minor surface details are lost as a result.

We noticed that in the case of close-up shots, even those taken at the 48-megapixel resolution, the colour profile was not accurate. Reds appear a tad too warm and oversaturated, while greens look a little dull. Thankfully, edge detection was mostly good.

Dynamic range in photos is also below par. The camera failed to capture streaks of colours in the sky during a sunset or sunrise, and was unable to replicate the brilliant blues that can easily be captured by the likes of the Pixel 3 (Review), Huawei P30 Pro (Review), and Samsung Galaxy S10 (Review).

Tap to see full-sized Honor 20 camera samples

The Honor 20 has a dedicated 2-megapixel macro sensor for taking better close-up shots in the Super Macro mode, but in real life, its performance is poor. First, the 2-megapixel resolution is simply not enough to capture the level of detail that we expect. Second, at the recommended object-lens gap of 4cm, the camera struggles really hard to lock focus, with even the slightest movement ruining a picture.

Unless you have really stable hands or are using support, it is tough to capture a Super Macro shot with sharp edges and no fuzziness. We preferred the normal mode and found that it is easier to use the main sensor for close-up shots, as it captures more detail and is also less finicky about locking focus.

As for image quality, we noticed that objects in focus retained a good amount of detail, but peripheral elements weren’t as sharp and exhibited some smoothening. On the bright side, the Sony IMX586 proves to be a very capable sensor when it comes to capturing detail, and we took some shots that are truly worth bragging about using the pro mode.

The 16-megapixel wide-angle sensor does a good job at capturing wide panoramas without losing much in terms of detail, compared to the primary sensor. We were quite impressed by how well the wide-angle camera minimised the barrel distortion effect, as we did not see any major warping at the edges or anywhere in the wide-angle photos.

The portrait mode worked well, with impressive edge detection and natural-looking bokeh that did a good job of highlighting the object in focus. The dedicated Aperture mode comes in handy for adjusting the intensity of the blur effect. The advertised 10x zoom appears to be just a vanity addition, because keeping the focus locked at high magnification levels is really, really hard. Plus, there is not much to discern in terms of details beyond the 5x zoom level.

Then there are a host of other camera features to play with, such as panorama, moving picture, time lapse, AR stickers, and slo-mo videos. The Honor 20 can shoot slo-mo videos at 960fps (720p), 240fps (720p), and 120fps (1080p). Under natural light, slo-mo videos looked smooth, but locking focus at 960fps was a little inconsistent. Also, when indoors, the slo-mo videos recorded at 240fps and 960fps tended to show a prominent light flickering effect with discernible banding.

The 32-megapixel front-facing camera takes sharp selfies with a good amount of detail. Photos captured under daylight turned out to be bright, but the Honor 20 did a fair bit of smoothening without even applying the beautification filters. Low-light selfies suffered a little bit in terms of sharpness and colour accuracy, all the while showing grainy texture and patchy elements in the background.

Low light photography – (Top) Clicked using regular mode (Bottom) Clicked using Night mode.
(Tap to see full-sized Honor 20 camera samples)

The Honor 20 can record 4k videos at 30fps and 1080p videos at up to 60fps. Videos turned out good with clear audio, but the lack of optical image stabilisation is a sore point. The Honor 20 relies on artificial image stabilisation (AIS), which is based entirely on algorithms, to cancel out hand movements. Needless to say, the results are not as good as one gets from an OIS-assisted camera.

Battery endurance is a strong point of the Honor 20. In our review period, the phone easily lasted a full day with around 30 to 35 percent of the battery left at the end of the day. Our usage involved around an hour of gaming, calling and messaging, music playback, social media activity, and some Web browsing.

In our HD video loop test, the phone lasted for an impressive 18 hours and 47 minutes. The bundled 22.5W charger takes just over one and a half hours to take the battery from zero to 100 percent. Unfortunately, the phone lacks support for wireless charging.

Verdict
The Honor 20 impressed us with its eye-catching design and good overall performance. The phone runs the feature-rich Magic UI 2.1 and rounds it off with all-day battery life. The starting price of Rs. 32,999 is definitely competitive for the experience and hardware you get.

However, this phone is not without its flaws, especially in the camera department. The Honor 20 struggles with colour accuracy, and the benefits of having a dedicated macro lens aren’t delivered. The lack of OIS is also sorely disappointing, more so when the alternative provided cannot deliver on its promise.

The Honor 20 competes directly against the OnePlus 7 (Review), which offers the more powerful Snapdragon 855 processor, a beautiful AMOLED display, stereo speakers, fast UFS 3.0 storage, and good battery life. However, it falls short of the Honor 20 in terms of camera performance, despite the latter’s own flaws.

At its asking price, the Honor 20 doesn’t have much current-gen competition right now, other than the OnePlus 7 (Review) and Oppo Reno. The Asus 6Z and the Redmi K20 Pro are set to launch soon, and will go head-to-head against the Honor 20 if the pricing of their predecessors is anything to go by. However, there are some strong sub-Rs. 30,000 options such as the OnePlus 6T (Review) and Samsung Galaxy A70 (Review), which could be decent alternatives.

The Honor 20 is a very capable phone and offers a lot of what buyers are looking for, but the uncertainty around Huawei and Honor’s future with the Android ecosystem should make buyers think twice.

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