While the mid-range has long been ignored by manufacturers for a year now, in 2018 it suddenly appears to be gaining interest. A key reason for this could be the fact that OnePlus, which started off in the mid-range, but is now leaning towards the premium segment, is making way for siblings Oppo and Vivo to step up and deliver something better for less.
With that said, we saw a stunner of a smartphone from Nokia with the 7 Plus (priced at Rs 25,999), which has and will be the mid-range smartphone to buy for some time. While Oppo launched its F7 and Vivo launched its V9, they somehow didn’t get things right the way Nokia did, with a solid performing chipset, no bloat, up to date software and a great camera at the perfect mid-range pricing.
And then I come to Huawei’s P20 Lite. A smartphone that looks good from the outside, but works half as well on the inside thanks to its bloated EMUI software and average camera performance.
Build and Design: 8/10
Right out of the box, the Huawei P20 Lite has a design that looks like a mix of the Honor 9 Lite and the Huawei P20 Pro, save for the materials and textures used on the back and the sides of both smartphones.
The handset despite featuring a 5.84-inch display feels quite small and is good for one hand usage. A reason for the same is the high screen-to-body ratio, which is about 80 percent in the case of P20 Lite, meaning there’s a lot of display and very little bezel (mainly at the bottom chin). Even though the smartphone is supposed to showcase an edge-to-edge design, I must say that the bezels around the top and sides are a bit thick. Another reason why that large display feels small is because of the inclusion of the notch.
The notch holds the earpiece (which does not double up as the speaker), a few sensors and the front-facing camera.
Moving to the sides, the design is quite rounded and similar to that of the P20 Pro, but this one features a grippy matte finish. Adding to the grip is the presence of two more engraved lines that run around the frame.
What is missing are the antenna bands, they have been hidden well, and are only visible in tiny patches at the bottom and the sides.
Moving to the back, it’s made of glass and it is an attention seeker thanks to the way the glass refracts light. The pattern reminds me of the Northern Lights also known as the Aurora borealis. To be honest, it was a bit too flashy for me especially in the bright blue colour, but will certainly appeal to the younger buyers, who want a smartphone that stands out from the crowd of clones.
The overall profile of the phone is quite slim with the dual camera at back protruding ever so little from the rest of the surface.
Out in the real world, the device did get plenty of enquiries thanks to its attention seeking flashy design and that notch, which has turned into a smartphone trend of sorts.
The Huawei P20 Lite is not exactly the ‘mini’ version of the mighty P20 Pro. It packs in a lot less power, performance and capabilities as compared to the flagship which kind of makes it feel out of place with the P20 branding.
The display is 5.84-inch 19:9 ratio FHD+ LCD unit that packs in a pixel density of 432 PPI. Inside, there is a HiSilicon-made Kirin 659 SoC clocked at 2.36 GHz with an octa-core setup, one that is also found in the budget Honor 9 Lite, a smartphone that it can easily be mistaken for.
There’s 4 GB RAM and 64 GB of internal storage that is expandable to 256 GB using a microSD card. The device uses a hybrid SIM slot meaning you will need to swap out your second SIM card for a microSD card.
Cameras are another area where the P20 Lite does not match up to the P20 branding. There no Leica-branded optics on the back even though the smartphone maintains the horizontal branding and layout of the P20 Pro.
With that said, the P20 Lite features a 16 MP + 2 MP primary dual camera at the back and a single 24 MP camera on the front for selfies. Only the rear-facing camera features an LED flash.
Connectivity options include support for dual SIM cards (4G LTE + 3G), Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS. There’s a 3.5 mm headphone jack at the bottom and USB Type-C port for data transfers and charging.
Powering all of the above is 3,000 mAh battery.
Given its sub-Rs 20,000 pricing, Huawei has done well in managing a rather compact design using metal and glass and including a display that almost gets rid of the bezels, with the inclusion of the notch.
If the notch does annoy you, you can turn it off from the Settings menu and go for a standard notch-free look. A detail to note here is that the when the notch is switched off, it is clearly visible, unlike similar implementations in the OnePlus 6 and the P20 Pro because the display here is an LCD unit which lacks those deep blacks.
The display as a whole is quite a good one sporting an FHD+ resolution across a 5.84-inch LCD panel. At the 432 PPI, text looked sharp and images looked really sharp. In fact, they did look a bit oversharpened thanks to the crisp display, which is why I was all the more disappointed when I viewed the images on a monitor in the office.
I had no problems viewing it in a variety of lighting conditions and it was bright enough for the hot summer afternoons in Mumbai as well.
While the colours look natural, the LCD display does showcase a blue tinge. However, this can be adjusted to your needs in the Display Settings.
In comparison to its closest competitors, the Oppo F7’s display seems a lot more vibrant (read saturated), while the Vivo V9’s display showcased a strong reddish tinge. However, in the mid-range, the Nokia 7 Plus still features the best display.
OS and Software: 6.5/10
Considering that this is a mid-range smartphone, I expected Huawei to tune the software to work well with the budget chipset that has been included in this mid-range smartphone.
Turns out they didn’t and it is a lag-filled experience at best. You open an app and you have to wait, you open Settings and you have to wait, you open up an image in the Gallery app and you have to wait half a second for it to clear up and load.
The software is loaded to the brim with bloat and really doesn’t work well anymore like it did on the Honor 9i. My understanding for the same is the updated base version of Android, which is now up from Android 7.0 Nougat to Android 8.0 Oreo.
Since I have used the Huawei P20 Pro as well, it’s easy to conclude that Huawei needs to go easy with EMUI and strip off the unnecessary duplicate apps that simply take up space. Else, they simply need to develop a lighter version of EMUI that keeps up with its Kirin 659 SoCs.
The Kirin 659 SoC is something that Huawei’s sub-brand Honor uses in its mid-range offerings, like the Honor 7X, the Honor 9i. So it was a bit surprising when Honor earlier this year announced the same SoC inside its budget Honor 9 Lite smartphone that is priced at Rs 10,999 in India.
While the software experience was not too good, the Kirin 659 turned out to be a mixed bag when it came to gaming.
Games like Asphalt 8: Xtreme ran smoothly with texture settings set to Better Quality and resolution set to HDPI. The same however cannot be said about Real Racing 3 that ran with a bit of stutter and skipped frames and at a really low resolution and details. Riptide GP: Renegade too didn’t work too well and had to be played at the lowest settings for smooth gameplay.
The smartphone did not heat up much while playing games, but it did stutter quite a bit while scrolling and running third-party and native apps.
As for audio quality, it was decent through the headphones with balanced output, but nothing impressive. The speaker was not too loud, but it wasn’t really clear and the volume had to be kept in the mids to prevent the audio from sounding distorted.
Call quality was decent, but it was an annoying experience thanks to the tiny receiver speaker. I often found myself readjusting the smartphone over my ear every few minutes (during a call) as the sound would completely cut out if it moved even a wee bit off centre over my ear.
Being the first mid-range smartphone from Huawei in years, I expected the P20 Lite to keep up with the P20 branding and deliver on the photography front. Turns out, it is a great device for casual photography as long as you don’t venture into dimly lit areas.
The interface of the Huawei P20 remains similar to what we have seen from the Honor range of smartphones so far. It’s nowhere close or as advanced as the interface of the P20 Pro and neither does it get the AI mode of the smartphone, which switches shooting modes depending on the scene. In short, it almost felt like a mid-range Honor device.
Colours and the tone remained natural, while the dynamic range fell a bit short leading to overexposed areas in brightly lit scenarios, whether you use the front camera or the dual rear camera setup.
Focusing speeds were quick in daylight but started hunting a bit after sunset. In dimly lit environments, the focus accuracy was not up to the mark (or anywhere close to it) with most photos shot appearing blurry at best. In short, this is not too different from what the Vivo V9 and the Oppo F7 Plus have on offer.
The portrait mode with the bokeh effect on, delivered sharp and detailed looking images in daylight. Edge detection was average in daylight with not only people but even objects not separating from the backgrounds accurately. In short, I preferred not to use it because I was happier with the results of the standard selfie images.
As with every other smartphone in this range, save for the Nokia 7 Plus (which is priced a tad bit higher) low light is a problem. In the case of the P20 Lite, images are not usable, not even on Instagram, as most landscape shots turned out to be either too noisy or too blurry. You can have a look at the sample images in the embedded gallery and you will get a good idea of how bad the images look. Again, not worthy of associating with the mighty P20 Pro using the P20 branding.
Video recording on the P20 Lite was decent with everything being overexposed when using the selfie camera. The dynamic range was better with the rear camera, but the videos are too jerky despite being clear and you have to have really steady hands to keep the footage jitter free. Even after that, the bitrate is not steady.
Battery Life: 8/10
With a 3,000 mAh battery in such a slim package with an edge to edge display, I expected the worse from the Huawei P20 Lite. Turns out I was wrong. While our standard PC Mark Work 2.0 Battery Life test barely crossed the 7-hour mark (below average for a mid-ranger) day to day usage saw it last well beyond a day with casual use. Even on the busiest of days with plenty of calls coming through, the P20 Lite still had more than 20 percent of battery life left before I plugged it in for charging.
Price and Verdict in India
While the Huawei P20 Lite looks attractive, it’s the stuff on the inside, which holds it back. A weak SoC coupled with bloated software feels more of a budget smartphone experience like on the Honor 9 Lite.
As more smartphone manufacturers have started looking at the mid-range in 2018 by adding new and updated SoCs to make for performance-packed offerings, Huawei’s first mid-range device in years falls short on the performance front. And this is exactly what mid-range buyers are looking for, a better camera and a speedy UI that sets their smartphone apart from the over-powered budget smartphones from Xiaomi.
Nokia seems to have delivered the goods and set new benchmarks for the bottom end of the mid-range. The Vivo X21 seems to be the next contender at the top, with an under display fingerprint reader, and powerful hardware under the hood. And in the midst of all this, it’s easy to forget the Huawei P20 Lite, a smartphone that seems to be the jack of all trades, but master of none.