Honor View 20 First Impressions

Honor View 20 First Impressions: Breaks new ground but is it groundbreaking?

For a phone that’s coming out in the beginning of a new year, the Honor View 20 certainly seems exciting.

Honor has developed a knack for introducing new designs that ultimately becomes the status quo, especially in the Indian smartphone market. The company was noted to launch a bevy of dual-camera phones in 2017, becoming one of the first brands to offer the feature which is now a standard in phones across all price ranges. Gradient colour finish, another hot feature in smartphones these days, can also arguably be said to have been popularized by the brand. Now, the upcoming Honor View 20 is set to repeat the feat again with a handful of new technologies and features. The Honor View 20 was announced in China in December while the global debut is set to happen at an event in Paris on January 22. In India, the company plans to introduce the high-end flagship on January 29. The phone can already be pre-ordered on Amazon India.

91.8% screen-to-body ratio is nice to look at.

As such, the View 20 is Honor’s first smartphone with a punch-hole display. The new design is an alternative to the hideous notch that became the norm in smartphones in 2018. The new design circumvents the wide cut-out in the middle of the display with a hole in the top left corner housing the front camera. There are many other such firsts in the Honor View 20 that the company hopes will set the phone apart from the rest in the high-end segment, competing head on with the OnePlus 6T. Having used the smartphone for a few days, here’s what we think about it.

Look ma ! No notch

The Honor View 20 is an indication that the notch is on its way out. The controversial design choice made popular by the iPhone X in 2017 quickly became the standard in smartphones across all price ranges. While OEMs would have you believe the notch allowed for a bigger display, the experience itself wasn’t all that good. Thankfully, I can be at peace with the new punch-hole design. It takes up a relatively small amount of space in the top left corner and as such, doesn’t really intrude into the content on the screen. When placed side by side against a smartphone like the Vivo NEX dual display which has a completely edge-to-edge panel on the front, the difference is hardly noticeable. The NEX dual display uses a second display on the back to get around putting a notch on the front while the previous NEX sported a mechanical pop-up camera, considered yet another way to remove the notch. Neither of them are cheap to make, and Honor’s punch-hole solution seems the most cost-effective.  Having a dark wallpaper hides the fact that there is a hole in the top corner while during gaming, the display itself adapted to the new design without any impediment.

The punch-hole camera is nice because it stays out of the way most of the times

This isn’t the only smartphone with a new front camera design, however. Samsung also released the Galaxy A8s with an Infinity-O display, a similar design while Nokia is also said to be working on something similar. After OEMs quickly shifted to a waterdrop style notch, the punch-hole now seems like an inevitable evolution. To determine whether it’s gimmicky or actually useful is something that needs further investigation and analysis. Thanks to the new design, the Honor View 20 has an almost edge-to-edge panel which looks quite immersive. It does have a slightly larger chin as compared to the forehead and the sides, but that’s where the sensors are housed.

Laser etched gradient finish

My personal favourite variant

The punch-hole display is not the only change in design that the Honor View 20 brings forth. The View 20 is also quite exquisitely crafted. It retains the glossy exterior that phones like the Honor 10 popularised but this time around, Honor implemented a laser-etched V-pattern on the back that reflects when held against light. The V-shape is an obvious choice as this establishes the branding for the company’s View series. The high-end phone will be offered in three variants — Blue, Red and Black. While the Sapphire Blue is what we received for review, our eyes are on the red variant which looks particularly attractive. The phone also found enough space to retain the 3.5mm headphone jack and tops it off with an IR-blaster to allow users to control their appliances using the phone. It skips on the in-display fingerprint sensor though, and opts for a rear-mounted physical sensor. The camera module is also quite interesting. The primary sensor is housed in a separate module while the second ToF sensor is paired with the LED flash in another module. The Honor branding too has been updated with the company’s new logo.

Next-generation dual cameras

The Honor View20 rocks a 48MP sensor

Honor’s designs have always been enthralling, but it’s the cameras that the company likes to market the most. And there’s quite a lot to talk about the Honor View 20’s camera setup. On the back is a 1/2-inch 48MP sensor. Honor is using Sony’s IMX 586 sensor that has 0.8 microns sub-pixels which combine to form large 1.6um superpixels for low-light photos. While it’s too early to say whether the camera brings any significant improvement, but the initial few samples we took looks promising. The phone can take images in the native 48MP format, but the details likely won’t be quite like the high-res DSLRs since the sub-pixels and the sensor size itself is much smaller. So I can’t really get my hopes up all that much. The bigger sensor also allows for 960fps slo-mo recording.

(8000×6000 pixels) 1/100 sec, f/1.8, ISO 200

(8000×6000 pixels 1/880sec, f/1.8, ISO50)

Shot with AI Mode on (8000×6000 pixels, 1/1139 sec, f/1.8, ISO50)

However, the ToF 3D camera is something I’m more interested in. The technology has been baking in the oven for quite some time and one of the makers of the tech, Sony has built up hype claiming the technology will revolutionise cameras in 2019. As for the Honor View 20, it uses the stereo camera to generate portrait effects that’s good for meme-making at best. There’s a feature to change the shape of the person you’re photographing which uses the second sensor, and to me, that sounds like millennial apocalypse. Nevertheless, the 3D camera also finds application in motion-gaming which we are yet to test. There are a handful of supported games and the phone needs to be tethered to a display. The applications in the Honor View 20 are ambitious but seems to be at an early stage. The camera is also set to feature in the next iPhones, as revealed by renders leaked by OnLeaks, and the Honor View 20 can serve as a window to what Apple plans to do come September.

The View 20’s 25MP selfie camera has the usual bells and whistles of AI portrait mode with various filters and effects.

Flagship specs and a new UI

The 7nm Kirin 980 powers the Honor View 20

The new 3D applications certainly require a lot of processing power, and the View 20 relies on the new 7nm Kirin 980 SoC with a triple-cluster arrangement to handle the load. There are two high-performance cores at 2.6GHz along with two mid-performance cores 1.92GHz and four efficiency cores. In a briefing with Huawei’s semiconductor division had revealed the Kirin 980’s high-performance chips kicks in rarely, only when required, that too in short bursts. Most high-capacity operations are performed in the mid-cores. And the View 20 seems to handle everything just fine. Through the weekend I used the phone, it felt fast and smooth with little jitters or lag. We are currently putting the phone through our intensive performance tests to see how it fares. 6GB RAM might not deem enough for heavy multi-tasking though, especially if you’re using the camera a lot. Keeping the lights on is a big 4,000mAh battery that also supports SuperCharge.

Further, to keep things cool, the View 20 has a heat-pipe inside that collects heat from the major hotspots like the CPU, ISP and the charging IC. To that extent, I didn’t feel the phone getting too warm while playing PubG Mobile on it. The Honor View 20 could be heating much less, or it’s really cold outside.

The Honor View 20 unit we received has 128GB of storage which is plenty to store images (which also get backed up on Google Photos for free), music and more. The phone relies on a refreshed UI based on Android 9.0 Pie called MagicUI. It’s essentially a rebranded EMUI that retains the block-like icons. The app drawer is still missing by default but you turn it on in the Settings. It also brings forth a new Digital Balance mode that monitors your usage, and can restrict usage after a stipulated period of time if it’s turned on. I have been using the feature on the Huawei Mate 20 for a while, and it has been a constant reminder of my smartphone addiction.

Other than that, the phone is very much like high-end Huawei and Honor phones with a similar experience.

First Impressions

For a phone that’s coming out in the beginning of a new year, the Honor View 20 certainly seems exciting. It’s packed with too many new features to count, and could end up as a precursor to the things to come. However, it remains to be seen how much of the new tech can actually prove useful. We are certainly going to have fun reviewing the phone.

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