In the past couple of years, Honor has been repeatedly trying to take down OnePlus in the premium smartphone segment in India. In 2017, it was the Honor 8 Pro, and last year, it was the Honor 10 that stood up to take down the OnePlus 6. Both devices, packed in the most powerful SoC from Huawei at the time but still fell short in terms of performance. And now its 2019, Honor is back at chasing OnePlus 6T. Only this time, they seemed to have done their homework!
The brand-new Honor View 20 which was announced globally on 22 January and has made its way to India on 29 January, is probably the most stylish and thoughtfully designed Honor device, I have seen till date. Add that powerful 7 nm Kirin 980 SoC (that did all the heavy lifting on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro), a very capable 48 MP rear camera with the Night Mode from the Mate 20 Pro and I assumed that Honor would finally crack the OnePlus formula. While the View 20 definitely looks a lot more attractive and is a technical marvel in comparison to last year’s OnePlus 6T, it's the camera that’s kind of a letdown. And when you add it all up, the OnePlus still comes out on top as the reigning champion of this segment.
Honor View 20 Build and Design: 9/10
The Honor View 20 looks gorgeous and futuristic with that All-View (almost bezel-less) display at the front, that in-screen camera and that shimmering V-shaped design at the back.
It is a finely-crafted design with an aluminium frame and chassis sandwiched between two sheets of glass. The sheet at the front is flat, but the one at the back has a nice 3D curve, which makes it comfortable to hold. The matte finish does, however, make it slippery and the glass screens do catch smudges but they can be wiped off easily and are not as smudgy as the OnePlus 6T’s Mirror Black finish.
Out of the five colours it was launched in globally, we were lucky enough to get our hands on the Midnight Black model which is the most exciting finish of the lot. From afar it looks like a regular, black finish, but under bright lights, or when held at a slight angle, this phone will grab anyone’s attention.
While all five phones feature the Aurora Nanotexture finish, the crazy product designers at Honor, managed to pull off something really unique with the Midnight Black finish. At an angle, you can see these V-shaped lines running from the top end to the bottom end, almost giving one an impression that there’s an AMOLED display (producing these animations) hidden under the back panel.
The lines have this unique rainbow-like colour that will keep changing as you get mesmerised and keep waving the phone pointlessly at yourself. It’s quite hypnotic and I have to admit that I have never stared at the back of a smartphone this long and this many times, ever.
Build quality is top notch and I am surprised at how the engineers manage to squeeze in an LED lamp inside the receiver speaker’s razor-thin grille that is barely visible, being squeezed between the front glass and the metal frame at the top end. This is the bezel-less look of 2019, and I’m pretty sure Huawei will take this design a step further and get rid of that tiny chin at the bottom as well, in future smartphones.
Honor View 20 Display: 8.5/10
When placed on a table, the Honor View 20 looks like your typical smartphone with rounded corners and straight lines on the front. Hold it in your hand and the raise to wake feature lights up that 6.4-inch IPS LCD display and this is when you will notice something different... or maybe nothing at all. Which is a good thing.
I showed the smartphone to a couple of colleagues at work and some did not even notice the hole-punch display until I pointed it out to them. And that’s the really good thing about this display and the design direction. It really does not get in the way of your user experience like a typically elongated notch that runs along the top edge of your display.
In my day-to-day usage, the in-screen camera did not interfere when using my regular apps, the camera, or even while streaming YouTube videos (one of the few apps that lets you view video around the in-screen camera).
How deep is that hole-punch?
Well, technically the hole is an illusion of sorts because the actual cavity only lies in the bottom-most layers, which is the light guide plate.
As for the layers that lie above actual camera, they are simply transparent but have a 5-axis dispersion ring (shown in the photo above) around the transparent area of each layer to ensure that the light from the rest of the display, does not interfere or reach the transparent barrel created to deliver light to the camera sensor.
As per Honor, not cutting through all the 18 layers of the Full View display, makes the display more reliable.
Samsung, for example, uses a 6.7 mm cavity in its Galaxy A9 Pro's Infinity-O display. In this case, however, the hole does go through it and is probably the reason why the cavity is so large compared to Honor's much smaller, 4.5 mm diameter (which is not exactly a cavity to begin with).
Think about Honor’s approach to a hole-punch display as a sandwich.
There’s the topmost layer which is
the slice of bread,
followed by a lettuce leaf,
followed by a slice of tomato,
a slice of cheese
and maybe some chicken salami (since I’m feeling a bit hungry right now)
another slice of lettuce
and finally the last slice of bread.
While Samsung drills a hole through all the layers of the sandwich and places a camera module below the sandwich, Honor has made a tiny bit of first six layers transparent and embedded the custom-made camera module into the last leaf of lettuce (light guide plate) and the last slice of bread (reflector). This also means that that camera module had to be really tiny and compact to fit in there.
Does the hole-punch display interfere as much the typical display notch?
At 4.5 mm in diameter, the in-screen camera, which is far smaller than the 6.7 mm diameter camera on the Samsung Galaxy A9 Pro, barely interferes with the icons in the status bar. In fact, it barely takes up the space of one status bar icon (horizontally), meaning that you don’t really notice that it's even there, except when you look at the display while clicking a selfie. Yes, that when the camera software will point to the camera in the display with a “Look at the camera and get ready” message which is pretty handy, because you can barely tell that the camera is up there when shooting in 4:3 ratio with black bars.
The display in itself is pretty good, the colours are not oversaturated like the OnePlus 6T’s AMOLED display. You can switch between two colour profiles (Normal/Vivid) but you can also tweak the colour temperature on a colour wheel to your liking. Text looks sharp and ditto for the images and videos. Sunlight legibility was not a problem at all, but I do wish that the display could get brighter as it’s not as bright as the AMOLED unit on the OnePlus 6T. One detail I did notice, was the minor backlight bleeding at the bottom end of the display near the chin.
Honor View 20 Features: 8.5/10
The Honor View 20 features a 6.4-inch IPS LCD display that is pretty much the same as what you get on a OnePlus 6T. Powering that display is a HiSilicon-made Kirin 980 SoC, which is also found in the high-end Huawei Mate 20 Pro.
Our review unit came with 6 GB RAM and 128 GB of internal storage. Sadly, Honor missed out on the micro SD card slot, so just like the OnePlus, you will be stuck with 128 GB base storage, which for most users should still be sufficient.
Coming to the cameras, the Honor View 20 features a 48 MP rear camera with an f/1.8 aperture accompanied by a PDAF system for autofocus. Add to this a second TOF (time of flight) 3D stereo camera that allows for 3D modelling and 3D motion-controlled gaming.
Clearly, the View 20 is better equipped when it comes to hardware and it also has the dual NPU’s from the Kirin 980 SoC to power its AI tricks. The front facing camera is a 25 MP, f/2.0 aperture in-screen camera.
As for connectivity options, the View 20 comes with dual SIM slots with dual standby and 4G LTE bands. There’s Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 5.0 (with support for aptX HD), GPS, GLONASS and NFC. Oh and there's also a 3.5 mm headphone jack!
Powering all of the above is a 4,000 mAh battery with support for fast charging. The bundled charger has a maximum power output of 40 W but the charging speeds are not what I expected it to be, as explained in the Battery Life section of this review.
Honor View 20 OS and Software: 7.5/10
While most of Huawei and Honor’s devices run Emotion UI or EMUI software, Honor chose to move away from the standard EMUI and went with its new Magic UI, which first appeared on the Honor Magic 2. Don’t get too excited though, Magic UI is not too different from EMUI, but during the review period, I did notice a few differences after which I started to prefer it over the latter.
Coming from the Huawei Mate 20 Pro which packs in the same Kirin 980 SoC with 6 GB RAM, the View 20 did feel a lot more fluid and smoother. Apps opened instantly without any lag and the animations were stutter-free. I did not even need to enable the Performance mode in battery settings to keep the software’s performance sustained.
Being a long term user of the Mate 20 Pro, it was easy for me to point out how smoothly the full-screen gestures on the View 20 worked in comparison to the Mate 20 Pro which is a top-end premium flagship from Huawei.
Other places where I spotted a difference was in the Clock app which now looks more colourful instead of the formal-looking analogue clock in EMUI. In short, Magic UI feels fluid, is fast and a bit more youthful in its design approach as opposed to EMUI.
The rest of the skinned OS, which runs with Android 9 Pie as the base, remains pretty much the same. The dark mode which I found in EMUI on the Mate 20 Pro does not make it here (possibly because the View 20 features an LCD display) and the icons are typically Huawei, which is something I hoped would be different in Magic UI.
But no matter the improvements, Magic UI still has a long way to go from being as fluid and bloatware-free as OxygenOS on the OnePlus 6T.
Honor View 20 Performance: 8.5/10
The high-end Kirin 980 SoC also seems to have done plenty of heavy-lifting leading to deliver a smooth and fluid software experience on the View 20.
When it came to gaming, the Mali-G76 MP10 GPU did a fine job while playing graphic-intensive games like Asphalt 9: Legends being able to run the game smoothly on the highest settings (Best Quality).
Madfinger’s Shadowgun Legends ran really smooth and thanks to the liquid cooling system and was able to sustain gameplay without stuttering or dropped frames even after 30 minutes of gameplay. The heat was also well distributed around the back and the phone did not become too hot or rather hot enough, for me to stop gaming and take a break. I played Shadowgun Legends at the highest possible settings with the frame rate set to 60 fps and texture settings to Ultra.
PUBG Mobile ran super smooth with graphics set to HDR, and the frame rate set to Ultra. Indeed, mobile gamers will not have any problems with the 7 nm Kirin 980 and its Mali GPU. Call quality, despite that tiny slit for the receiver speaker, was top notch. I faced no dropped calls and the bottom firing speaker was loud enough for mobile gaming and calls.
Audio output through headphones was well-balanced but I liked that there was support for aptX HD for wireless Bluetooth headphones. The bottom firing speaker did manage to hit some bass notes, which was something I did not expect from this smartphone. It is still not as loud or as clear as the LG G7+ ThinQ’s Boombox speaker. If you love your music, the LG G7+ ThinQ is still the smartphone to beat in this price range.
Honor View 20 Camera: 8.5/10
The Honor View 20’s 48 MP camera sounds massive on paper, but the images shot using the 48 MP resolution are not really as useful as I would like them to be. More importantly, Honor has not activated the 48 MP Ultra Clarity mode for our unit, so at the moment, most of the details are lost when you shoot at the 48 MP resolution.
One annoying detail about the camera app’s interface was the absence of the Aperture mode in the viewfinder. You have to swipe to More and then tap on Aperture to activate it. To top it off, the Portrait mode, unlike the OnePlus 6T’s Portrait mode, only shoots humans, which means you will be needing that Aperture mode more often.
As with the Huawei P20 Pro, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, the Honor View 20 also uses pixel binning, which combines the data from four sensor pixels to one. So the best results will be found when using the 12 MP resolution and not the 48 MP resolution photographs.
You can check out the camera and video samples of the Honor View 20 in the scrollable gallery below or click here to go to Flickr album.
AI mode has improved since the Honor View 10. Switching it on does not result in oversaturated photos, but simply, better-contrasted ones. Since it was on by default, I left the AI mode on for a majority of the comparison shots with the OnePlus 6T.
Indoors, the Honor View 20 definitely does a better job than the OnePlus, by delivering more accurate colours and a lot more details. Switch to Portrait mode and you get a decent amount of detail from both phones under office lighting with the OnePlus edging out, pulling off better edge detection thanks to its dual camera setup. The OnePlus showcases better dynamic range but loses out on resolved details.
Outdoors, the View 20 shot sharper and more colour accurate photos of subjects and objects but again had the tendency to overexpose at times and blur out some details.
The 3D TOF system
The View 20’s 3D TOF system, which uses IR light to map objects and the area in front of you did not really work the way I expected it to. Most of the time it left the camera confused and this created problems with edge detection when it came to using the Portrait mode for human subjects and the Aperture mode for pets, food and objects.
The 3D TOF system would work best only when the subject was really close, about a foot or two from the lens (like the kitten in the album) to the camera. Anything beyond that and the system would fail in both Portrait and Aperture mode and you would end up with some weirdly focused photographs. The comparison image of the old table fan is a shining example of this. You can also check out the photo of the cake in the Flickr album.
Shooting standard selfies with HDR showcased some clear and detailed images which is an achievement for Honor because of that complicated in-screen camera. Switch to the Portrait mode and the selfies still remain detailed but the edge-detection does need some work. The camera will simply blur out details if it cannot figure out the edges. In low light the image quality is on par with the OnePlus 6T.
When the sun sets things got interesting. The OnePlus and its heavy noise processing work overtime to blur out details and delivered slightly oversaturated images. The dynamic range somehow takes a hit as the lights dim out. You will end up with black patches in your landscape photos. The Honor View 20 delivers brighter images with better dynamic range here.
Switching both smartphones to their respective night modes saw the OnePlus take slightly better landscape and indoor photographs with better dynamic range. The Honor View 20’s photos definitely pack in more details than the OnePlus but goes a bit too aggressive with noise and the contrast levels. The OnePlus is more consistent here and while View 20’s photos will vary from scenario to scenario. Having clicked one too many photographs in Night Mode, I can conclude that despite the lack of resolved details, the photos from the Oneplus do look a lot better than those from the View 20.
You can check out the camera comparison samples of the Honor View 20 and the OnePlus 6T by clicking here to go to Flickr album.
Moving to video, which is not exactly Honor’s strong point, the View 20 does a fine job of shooting FHD video at 60 FPS, but it's just not as stabilised or as smooth as the output from the OnePlus 6T. You can have a look at videos at shot at a junction at the Bandra Kurla Complex and they all fall short of bitrate while focussing system just can’t keep up while panning. One trick that Mate 20 Pro does have up its sleeves are the AI filters that first made an appearance on the Mate 20 Pro. They still look pretty cool and no one else can pull them off at the moment. If I had to pick just one camera, I’d pick the OnePlus 6T. It may fall short on resolved details and maybe a bit saturated for my liking, but it does a better job at portraits (both with humans and objects) and pulls off video that looks a lot smoother and stabilised than the View 20 Pro.
Honor View 20 Battery Life: 9/10
The Honor View 20 surprised me in our standard PCMark Work 2.0 Battery test. The Mate 20 Pro went on and on… and on to touch the unbelievable 17 hours and 9 minutes mark. Even the Huawei Mate 20 Pro with same 980 SoC with 6 GB RAM but a QHD+ AMOLED display, managed just 10 hours and 35 minutes. Indeed, it's the choice of a FHD+ display over a QHD+ unit that pulled off these unbelievable numbers.
In day-to-day usage, I had no complaints either. Notifications showed up on time and were not delayed, and despite my heavy usage (WhatsApp, Slack, two email accounts, calls and some photos and hour of gaming) I usually ended the day with a good 30-40 percent or more. Which also meant that I would charge the phone only when needed. As for that 40 W (Max) Super Charger that comes in the box, I realised that it does not charge at its fullest potential, which makes it a lot slower than the OnePlus 6T, when charging the phone from 0 to a 100 percent.
It goes from
0-25 percent in 15 minutes
25-54 percent in 30 minutes
55-74 percent in 45 minutes
74-88 percent in 60 minutes
88-95 percent in 1 hour 20 minutes
95-100 percent in 1 hour 30 minutes
It is a bit strange as to how the View 20 charges up a lot slower than the Mate 20 Pro despite having a smaller battery (4,000 mAh vs 4,200 mAh) the same chipset and the same charger. But my best non-scientific guess would be the charger and battery capacity combo that somehow prevents the charger from going beyond the 9V 2A output (18 W), meaning it never charges at the maximum output which is around 10 V 4A (40 W). Or Honor could just be throttling the charging process. Still, you do get the promised 0-55 percent charge in 30 minutes which is pretty good but it’s still slower than the OnePlus 6T’s 20 W charging system.
Verdict and Price in India
Given its price tag which starts from Rs 37,999, (Rs 45,999 for the 8 GB RAM + 256 GB storage variant) the Honor View 20 is packed to the brim with the latest AI bits (integrated in its UI, Camera, Battery and more), some mind-blowing engineering with the Full View display and an almost hypnotic design. The software has drastically improved as well with Magic UI, but it still comes loaded with bloat, which is something that OnePlus does better. Indeed, there’s little to complain about save for the inconsistency when using the camera’s Night Mode and 3D TOF-enabled Portrait and Aperture modes.
Yes, I do prefer the Full View 2.0 display and the in-screen camera over the OnePlus 6T’s waterdrop display notch. The fingerprint reader at the back is also more reliable than the 6T’s in-display unit, which seems like a work in progress at best. And the View 20 also comes with a standard headphone jack that the OnePlus 6T does not offer.
When it comes to the overall user experience, the OnePlus does better from a software standpoint and offers a more consistent shooting experience, making it a better package. I would recommend the Honor View 20 if you are fed up of the display notch and if you want to be the first to jump on to the hole-punch display trend, which is bound to catch up this year, among the premium flagship smartphones.
But for more consistent photographs, better video quality, equally good battery life and an almost stock-looking Android 9 Pie experience, the OnePlus 6T has you covered. And if you are looking at the Rs 45,999 price range (8 GB RAM + 256 GB View 20 or 6T models) I would recommend the old Google Pixel 2 XL over both, as it currently retails online at Rs 45,499 for the 64 GB model which offers a much better camera and unlimited Photos storage.