Huawei’s P20 Pro has a unique triple camera and a predictable notch
The Huawei P20 Pro is now official, taking up its place as the company’s new flagship and this year’s most exciting new phone. Unlike Samsung’s iterative Galaxy S9 update, Huawei’s P20 device family — which includes the regular P20 and a P20 Lite — is full of design and camera novelties that feel fresh and different from the rest of the market. Well, the new phones have notches, too, but those can be disguised if you really hate the look.
things I’ve never seen on a phone before: a triple-camera system and a dual-tone paint job that shifts color depending on how it catches the light. Last year’s iridescent HTC U11 showed something similar, but Huawei has escalated the coloring sophistication by using non-conductive vacuum metalizing to generate a unique gradient finish on the P20 Pro. I’d call it a work of art if the glass back wasn’t such a fingerprint and smudge magnet, spoiling the glamorous and premium appearance. Much of my time trying out this phone was spent reflexively wiping away the swirling patterns of fingerprints, which were somewhat reminiscent of Van Gogh’s
But let’s talk about that epic new camera system. First of all, Huawei has added a third lens to the back of the P20 Pro, which provides an 8-megapixel, optically stabilized telephoto camera. This allows for 3x optical zoom or a 5x hybrid zoom. Huawei’s traditional setup of combining the data from a monochrome and a color sensor is still in place, but this time, the color sensor weighs in at a whopping 40 megapixels. You’ll have the option to use that entire resolution to take photos, though the default setting will be to combine the data from four adjacent pixels into one and thus generate clearer, brighter 10-megapixel shots. We’ve seen this technique, which Huawei calls Light Fusion, in the past on devices like the Nokia Lumia 1020 and its “super pixels.” One of these quad-pixel pixels inside the P20 Pro measures in at 2µm, which is huge for a smartphone sensor. Google’s Pixel 2, for comparison, has 1.4µm pixels, while the regular P20, which has a 12-megapixel main sensor, comes wit
Huawei’s choice to not integrate the third camera on the P20 Pro into the same pill-shaped module as the other two makes the design feel a bit disjointed. Then again, that probably saves on manufacturing complexity, given how the regular P20 only has the dual-camera system. Plus, the third lens on the Pro doesn’t protrude as far out from the 7.8mm body as the other two. Another distinction between Huawei’s various lenses is that the two main cameras don’t have optical image stabilization like the telephoto one: Huawei thinks its artificial intelligence stabilization (AIS, in Huawei-speak) is all that’s required. AIS works on the basis of object recognition, understanding the outlines of shapes, and ensuring that they stay consistent from one frame to another. It’s available in video mode and all the way up to the maximum 5x zoom.
There’s a laundry list of P20 camera options and assistive features designed “to bridge the skills gap” between photography amateurs and pros. One that capitalizes on AIS is a promised 5-second-long exposure mode that can be used without a tripod. Handheld exposures of such length usually end up a blurry mess, so Huawei is making a bold promise here. The autofocus system is a combination of a laser, face detection, depth information, and contrast. And there’s a so-called 4D predictive focus for ensuring randomly moving objects — such as a flower being jostled by the wind — remain in focus.
Huawei’s AI object recognition has grown in awareness to now not only recognize food, but to know what sort of food it is that you’re trying to photograph. The company’s worked with food photographers from around the world, and now when it detects a particular style of cuisine, it will apply the image processing tweaks it believes are best suited to it.