Honor View 20 first impressions: Locking horns with the OnePlus 6T

A big battery, powerful chipset and that 48 MP camera seem enough to take down the OnePlus 6T.


While 2017 introduced consumers to the display notch, 2018 saw Android manufacturers like Oppo, Vivo and OnePlus take a stand and come up with interesting ways to avoid the annoying display notch. Apple had no choice but launch its new smartphones with the notch and we all know how that worked out for them.

Android smartphone manufacturers tried to remedy the problem using motorised pop-up cameras (Oppo Find X, Vivo Nex) and waterdrop notches, they were not completely successful with it. Pop-up cameras allowed smartphones like the bold Oppo Find X, to go truly brezel-less, but could not get an IP rating because of its moving parts. The reliability of the motor was also a topic of discussion. As for the waterdrop notch, well, it did not really solve anything, it was at the end of the day, still a notch!

Honor View 20 first impressions: Locking horns with the OnePlus 6T

The Honor View 20. Image: Omkar Patne

Towards the very end of 2018, Samsung showcased the world’s first smartphone with a punch-hole camera called the Galaxy A8s. Fortunately or unfortunately, the Galaxy A8s was announced in China. Meanwhile, China’s Honor also announced its own smartphone with a punch-hole display called the View 20. Unlike Samsung that chose to limit the reach of its smartphone to China, Honor also showcased their View 20 at CES 2019 in Las Vegas. And today, it was finally announced globally at an event held in Paris.

Having received the Midnight Black review unit, I have used the smartphone for a few days and despite its claim to fame with the use of a punch-hole display, the Honor View 20 has a lot more in store and spells trouble for the OnePlus 6T.

Honor View 20: Build and Design

The Honor View 20 comes in three colours, Red, Phantom Blue and Midnight Black. While the red and blue models look different thanks to the Aurora Nanotexture finish in the glass back, it’s the Midnight Black model that looks unique and stands out.

Head on, the back of the Midnight Black model looks glossy and plain. Inside that glass back sits a Kirin 980 7 nm SoC paired with 6 GB RAM and 128 GB storage. There a dual SIM setup for the radios and a 4,000 mAh battery that can be charged using the in-box 40 W charger. Image: tech2/Omkar Patne

The Honor View 20. Image: tech2/Omkar Patne

From afar, it looks like a piano black finish, but hold it your hand and it looks mesmerizing! The standard v-shaped nanotexture finish seems hidden under a filter of sorts that showcases the v-shaped design underneath only at certain angles. The finish deep under the glass shines through with multi-colour rainbow-like strokes. In short, it is designed to wow!

Moving to the back, it looks electric! Indeed, the Midnight Black variant of the View 20 is the best finish even when compared to the red and blue models. At an angle, the light seeps through the layers and reflects off the V-shaped Aurora Nanotexture layer underneath resulting in a mesmerising rainbow-coloured strips that looks like there’s a second display underneath. Image: tech2/Omkar Patne

Honor View 20. Image: tech2/Omkar Patne

I just wished that Honor went with a polished metal frame around the edges because it did feel a bit too slippery with the current matte grey finish. The smartphone does accumulate fingerprints on both the front and the rear glass, but these can be wiped off easily.

So where is the receiver speaker you may ask? Well, it’s tucked into the lipping that sits between the metal frame and the screen on the front at the top end. You have to look really close to notice it. Psst… there’s also an LED lamp hidden in there! Image: tech2/Omkar Patne

Honor View 20. Image: tech2/Omkar Patne

Another fine detail that I noticed was the placement of the receiver speaker. Honor’s engineers somehow managed to cram in that tiny speaker grille by replacing a tiny strip of the buffer material between the front glass and the metal frame. It looks neat and there’s also a microscopic LED placed in there for notifications.

Despite being made out of glass and metal and given its price, the phone did feel solid and premium and is also splash proof (with no IP rating). The OnePlus 6T definitely does not stand a chance here in the design department as this one really looks out the box. And I haven’t even started with punch-hole display!

Honor View 20: Display, Chipset and RAM

The Honor View 20 unit we received for review features a 6.4-inch IPS LCD display with a 19.25:9 display aspect ratio. I did notice a bit of backlight bleeding at the bottom end, but this is something that I expected considering it is an LCD display and because the chin at the bottom is really thin.

Part of the reason for this is the punch-hole camera’s placement, which comfortably sits around the top left corner of the display. This makes it less annoying as compared to a notch which eats up into the space meant for the status icons at the center. Honor’s 25 MP punch-hole camera is barely 4.5 mm in diameter, which makes it small enough to fit comfortably into the notifications bar. Image: tech2/Omkar Patne

Honor View 20. Image: tech2/Omkar Patne

The display felt a bit saturated at first, but you can tweak the colours by heading into the Settings. After unboxing the phone, it did feel a bit odd to see that black dot (the camera) at the top left corner because we are so used to seeing symmetry on smartphone displays. But that feeling wore off quickly as the punch-hole display does not interfere with your status icons as much as a regular notch does and is usually out of your view (bottom corner) when held horizontally while watching videos. More on this in my review.

Indeed, the highlight feature of the View 20 is its punch-hole camera. It may look distracting at first, but after using it for a few days, I discovered that it was not as much of a distraction as the now standard, notch that usually sits at the top center. Image: tech2/Omkar Patne

Honor View 20. Image: tech2/Omkar Patne

In short, I kind of liked the punch-hole display and did not mind it being there. More so because it’s not as interfering as the display notch.

Under the display sits a 7 nm Kirin 980 SoC with dual neural processing units, just like what you get on the premium Huawei Mate 20 Pro. Clearly, there’s less work to do here, as the powerful SoC (that’s on par with the Snapdragon 845 SoC) is paired with an FHD+ display meaning the GPU has fewer pixels to push unlike the QHD+ display on the Mate 20 Pro.

The unit we received for review packs in 6 GB RAM and 128 GB of internal storage, which is the India spec version of the View 20.

This seemed more than sufficient considering this smartphone also runs a newer and seemingly lighter variant of EMUI branded as Magic UI. Indeed, with such specifications, pricing in India will be critical if Honor wants the View 20 to compete against the OnePlus 6T.

Honor View 20: Software and OS

As mentioned above, the Honor View 20 will be the first smartphone to run the new Magic UI when it gets launched in India on 29 January.

My first impressions about Magic UI is that it really does not look too different when compared to the standard EMUI which has been a standard in both Huawei and Honor smartphones so far. One detail that I did notice, was how fluid the experience is even when compared to the spec-heavy Huawei Mate 20 Pro.

The back and home swipe gestures work a lot better here and the whole OS feels lighter and smoother in comparison to EMUI. Still, it’s not a complete departure from EMUI as I will explain in my full review.

Honor View 20: Camera

While the Kirin 980 SoC had a lot of heavy-lifting to do thanks to the triple camera setup on the Mate 20 Pro, things are a lot more toned down here with a single 48 MP, f/1.8  aperture camera that is accompanied by a TOF (Time of Flight) 3D stereo camera. The selfie camera which peeps through the hole in the display packs in a 25 MP sensor with an f/2.0 aperture.

The camera assembly is made up of a main 48 MP camera. The strange looking capsule like ring next to it comprises of the 3D ToF (Time of Flight) sensor along with an LED flash. While the View 20 packs in core hardware that is comparable to the Mate 20 Pro, it skips on the Mate 20 Pro’s, triple-camera setup to cut down on price. The phone is expected to compete with the OnePlus 6T. Image: tech2/Omkar Patne

Honor View 20. Image: tech2/Omkar Patne

The camera produces some vibrant 12 MP photos using pixel-binning but somehow showcased saturated colours. Turning off the ‘AI camera’ mode seems to have solved that problem. But more about this in my full review. Low light performance using the standard mode delivered decent images, but the Night Mode which works like the Night Mode on the Mate 20 Pro, will turn out to be a nightmare for the OnePlus 6T.

Video is also impressive and the 60 fps FHD mode manages to maintain a steady bitrate. The Kirin 980 SoC also means that all the AI goodies from the Mate 20 Pro are also available out here including those cool AI video filters.

Huawei View 20: Battery

The non-removable 4,000 mAh battery seems sufficient to get you through a whole day of use. This is partly thanks to Honor’s hardware choices like an FHD display, a power-efficient 980 SoC and a bigger battery that manage to offset the large 6.4-inch power draining display.

Also included in the box, is a 40 W Super Charger which was one of the highlights of the Mate 20 Pro. Hopefully, it does the same job of delivering a complete charge in an hour (or less). My expectations are higher than the Mate 20 Pro for the View 20 because it packs in a slightly smaller battery as well. The OnePlus 6T features a 3,700 mAh battery, so both Dash charge and the smaller battery could spell trouble for OnePlus.

Conclusion

The Honor View 20. Image: Omkar Patne

The Honor View 20. Image: Omkar Patne

With an innovative punch-hole camera, a beautifully textured back and a powerful chipset, the Honor View 20 seems more than prepared to take down last year’s OnePlus 6T. But the success of the View 20 depends more on its software experience, camera performance and battery life than that punch-hole display. Stay tuned for my full review to find out if the Honor View 20 finally takes down the OnePlus 6T in the coming week.