Honor View20 scores with its design, performance, camera and battery life.
It is also one of the best ways to get rid of notch right now.
But the software is still very much a mixed bag experience.
When Apple launched the iPhone X in 2017 with an edge-to-edge display, the notch was passed off as a feature. However, while there were mixed reactions to the presence of a notch on your smartphone display, what stood out from 2018 was it became the standard on flagship smartphones, and trickling down the value chain. Even the OnePlus 6 and OnePlus 6T got a notched display.
Over the course of the year, the industry evolved to reveal a new breed of phones without notch and full screen display. The four most notable devices were the Oppo Find X, Vivo Nex, Honor Magic 2 and Xiaomi Mi MIX 3. The Oppo Find X used motors to lift a part of the assembly that houses the cameras. The Vivo NEX also used motor to lift just the selfie camera. The Honor Magic 2 and Xiaomi Mi MIX 3 found a middle ground by using a slider design. All these four devices were work of genius but none of them were very practical. That brought the industry to a question: What is a better way to do full screen design without a notch and they stumbled on this answer called hole punch display. Welcome to Honor View20 and here is our thoughts on the device that wants to shape smartphone design and give OnePlus 6T a run for its money? Does it succeed.
Design and Display
The real charm of the Honor View20 starts with its design, to be precise, the back of the device. Yes, the front design is the kicker but it is more of the wild card then the real deal. With View20, Honor has gone both bold and conservative with respect to choice of materials and overall design. The smartphone is built from a single piece of aluminum but the back uses new materials for a gradient finish. While the gradient finish is not new for Honor or Huawei devices, the View20 differs with a V-shape finish. When light falls on this finish, the back panel reflects a V-shape and it comes out in an array of colors such as purple, apple green, blue and anything else that you can discern from the color spectrum.
Honor and its parent company Huawei are spearheading this design of translucent colors and dynamic forms on their devices. While not many people pay for such designs, they are such a good thing to have that other smartphone makers like Xiaomi, Oppo have introduced their own devices with gradient finish in the market. I totally appreciate such quirky design because who likes using those old school black and white colored phones. Smartphones are not just a communication device anymore, they represent you and in 2019, I would pick a phone that reflects colors and beams creative thinking. Adding to the gradient finish, Honor has also made the back panel a bit curvy, which allows for much better fit in your palm. The only downside is that this reflective surface is a fingerprint magnet but I haven’t seen any scratch on it yet. Among all the smartphones launched in the past year, I would rate Honor View20 as among the most ergonomic and comfortable device to hold in one hand.
When you turn the device, the View20 has a different story to tell. It gets rid of the notch, has a very small chin and uses hole punch design to house the selfie camera. Honor has essentially drilled a hole into the LCD display and has integrated the selfie camera, optics, lenses and protection elements. The diameter of this hole is 4.5mm and Honor says there are a total of 18 elements underneath that setup. One cannot stop but marvel at the technological genius of it, since it comes with the risk of breaking the display and there is a possibility of light entering the envelope, rendering the selfie shooter defective. This design also means that the speaker grill is basically a slit and is placed between the frame and the display. The proximity sensor is also moved to the top along with an infrared sensor and guess what, there is a 3.5mm audio jack. In 2019, I would give half point extra to a smartphone just for including the audio jack. The textured power button, dual SIM connectivity and USB Type-C port make it a well designed smartphone.
At the front, Honor View20 features a 6.4-inch LCD display with Full HD+ resolution of 2310 x 1440 pixels. The resolution translates to an aspect ratio 19.25:9 and while it may be less taller than 19.5:9 aspect ratio, it does seem to be more immersive than the conventional aspect ratio. The display itself is plenty bright with vivid color reproduction, very good viewing angles but the accuracy of colors is lacking. When viewed sideways, the white color tends to look grey and I am noticing this because I’ve experienced the color saturation offered by AMOLED displays, which offer brighter whites and deeper blacks. Another thing worth noting here is that if you have a dark wallpaper, the camera cutout disappears and while gaming, I found my left hand placed on the display in a such a way that the cutout never came into the way.
The only thing you really need to know about the Honor View20’s camera setup is that it delivers on its promise. You can read our deep dive into the View20 camera here but in a nutshell, I would describe it as one step forward and one step backward. Let me explain. The Honor View20 has a total of three cameras or image sensors, two on the back and one at the front. The rear camera setup includes a 48-megapixel Sony IMX586 sensor and a 3D TOF sensor. The main camera uses new Sony sensor to capture high resolution images so you can crop and play with your imagination. In our tests, we found the camera to deliver with very detailed images that can be cropped or in another terms, zoomed in without much efforts. I don’t think it is the best way to shoot zoomed in images on a smartphone but it definitely shows a tiny smartphone sensor with high megapixel count could be a meaningful upgrade to mobile photography.
The 3D TOF sensor accompanying the main 48-megapixel camera acts as the depth sensor. The TOF sensor is considered as a big leap in the way digital sensors calculate distance between the sensor and an object. Wikipedia describes the time-of-flight camera (ToF camera) as “a range imaging camera system that resolves distance based on the known speed of light, measuring the time-of-flight of a light signal between the camera and the subject for each point of the image”. In real life, the advantage of it comes clear in portrait mode and while producing images with those AR effects. I would say that Google Pixel 3 has the best background isolation of all smartphones but this comes close second.
At the front, Honor has put a 25-megapixel shooter which captures very smooth selfies. I use the word smooth because the beauty mode smoothens your skin in such fashion that it can turn even a joker into Christian Bale. All of this is a step forward but the lack of a dedicated monochrome shooter or a ultra wide angle camera is a big, big step backward. Yes, you can take absolutely great smartphone pictures with the 48-megapixel shooter but you can only go so far that you might find yourself wanting for a party trick.
Performance and Battery Life
At the time of writing this review, I have two laptops with 2GB RAM and 4GB RAM at my disposal. But the Honor View20 that I have been testing has 6GB of RAM under the hood. Honestly, performance is the most overrated integer on a smartphone specification sheet. In the case of Honor View20, we are dealing with a Kirin 980 processor, which is a new chipset fabricated using TSMC’s 7nm process. There are four Cortex A76 performance cores and four Cortex A55 efficiency cores. There are 6.9 billion transistors corresponding with a big little configuration. Yeah, that’s the tech nitty gritty but all you really need to know is that Honor View20 has top shelf performance. The device is so quick with loading applications, juggling between multiple open apps and downloading data in the background that you would be hard pressed to find any fault. Yes, there are issues caused by the software but I’ll get to it in a bit.
The Honor View20 is being offered in two storage variants: the 6GB RAM variant with 128GB storage that we have been testing and second, an 8GB RAM variant with 256GB storage. For most people, the former priced at Rs 37,999 would be sufficient. I asked a bunch of people what they do on their smartphones and most said, they watch YouTube, talk with their friends on WhatsApp, post pictures to Instagram and Facebook and occasionally play games. This phone will excel with such use case but it comes on it own when you play games like Asphalt 9: Legends or PUBG Mobile. While playing Asphalt 9, the phone did get warm, but with prolonged play of PUBG, it can get hot to touch. The cooling is effective but is not as great as that found on Galaxy Note 9 or the Asus ROG Phone.
There isn’t a lot to complain here because the Honor View20 performs in real life situations as well in synthetic benchmarks, where it beats the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 by a huge margin. All that performance does not come at the compromise of battery life. The View20 champions endurance with its massive 4,000mAh battery. On one fine day, when I had the View20 completely on 4G LTE and used the device to play games, stream videos, listen to podcast and of course, check updates from my friends on social media and talk to folks on WhatsApp, the device resulted in a screen on time of around 9 hours and 29 minutes. In other words, you can go a day and a half without needing to charge the battery again. If you are someone who uses their smartphone for checking mails, chat with friends then you can extend that battery to half a day further. The View20 came bundled with a 40W super charger which charges the device from dead to 100 percent in just under one hour and 30 minutes.
Every time, I test a Huawei or Honor smartphone, I keep software as the last ensemble in the long review. The reason is that you will either like it or hate it and there is no middle ground. The View20, in contrast to other Honor flagships, runs Magic UI based on Android 9 Pie and not EMUI 9.0. At this moment, the Magic UI is not very much different from that of EMUI 9 but the company tells me that the interface will change and offer a nuanced experience. This could mean that Honor is learning from folks who have complained about its aggressive customization and battery optimization and might take an approach similar to that of OnePlus and its OxygenOS.
The best part of Magic UI out of the box is that it is based on Android 9 Pie and not the older Android Oreo. So, you get all the system level optimization and even Huawei has partnered Google to implement its own form of Digital Wellbeing called Digital Balance. It lets you customize your screen on time, limit apps and even the turn the screen grayscale at a designated time. It does not really mean a lot at first but Digital Wellbeing is a great tool to limit your screen time over a longer period of time. It also supports gesture-based user interface, where you swipe up to go back to the home screen and swipe up and hold midway to enter app switcher. The back action is accomplished by swiping right or left. This action is where things get real weird. So, if you are in an app like Google Play Store, where you can slide from the left to see my apps and other options, the Honor View20 ends up taking you back to the last screen. The company needs to iron out these issues.
It also comes preloaded with apps like Camera360, Vigo Video and other tools like HiCare, AppGallery, Party Mode, Ride Mode, among others. After a point, these apps become bloatware and don’t really add to the user experience. The Magic UI is not as worse as EMUI but there is scope for improvement and Honor can really change the way its flagship devices work by ensuring it does not do aggressive battery optimization where background apps are closed completely.
Watch: Honor View20 First Look
After spending more than a week using the Honor View20 as my primary smartphone, I am actually amazed by what Honor has accomplished here. It has created a device with unique design, flagship performance, impressive battery life, a camera experience that cannot be found on any other phone and a software that sucks less. At Rs 37,999, Honor has priced the device in the same ballpark as that of OnePlus 6T. I don’t miss the in-display fingerprint sensor found on OnePlus 6T and camera is much better than what OnePlus 6T offers. While both the devices are very much competitive, the choice bottles down to what you value the most on your mobile phone. If camera is your priority and you want to look cool then pick the Honor View20 else OnePlus 6T is the right device in this price point.