Honor View 20 hands-on: Meet the first 2019 flagship

Android Central

Android Central
Android Central
Honor kicks off the new year with its best-looking and most competitive phone yet.

At this point you could be forgiven for having consigned the Honor View 10 to a distant corner of your memory. Although a perfectly solid high-end phone, it wasn't particularly exciting in any way. The View 20 is different, for a few reasons: First, a new all-screen display that does away with the need for a notch. Second, a genuinely interesting super-high-res camera setup. And third, a design that injects some much-needed pizzaz.

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The Honor View 20 was announced for the Chinese market today, and will launch globally at an event in Paris on January 22. Earlier this month, I traveled to Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Beijing, China to see the phone before its public unveiling -- both for an early hands-on, and to find out what makes it tick.

Before we go any further though, let's get the spec sheet out of the way. Like its predecessor, the View 20 is built upon some of the best Huawei hardware available at launch. Which means you're getting the same powerful platform we've seen in the excellent
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Category Features
Display 6.4-inch 19.25:9 LCD (Full HD+)
Rear Cameras 48MP Sony IMX586, f/1.8 lens, 78 degree angle
3D TOF (time-of-flight) sensor
Front Camera 25MP in-screen camera
Processor Huawei Kirin 980
Storage 128GB / 256GB + NanoMemory expansion
Battery 4,000mAh, 4.5V/5A Super Charging
Software Honor Magic UI, Android 9 Pie
Colors Red, Blue, Black
Water Resistance No IP Rating

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We've got an early look at of the front of the Mate 20 back at the Hong Kong pre-launch event. However the story around this unique screen is about more than just the move to a camera hole instead of a traditional display notch. Honor's Beijing-based engineers told us its implementation of the display hole is distinct from Samsung's in the recently-announced
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(similar to what's expected in the
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). Honor's display hole is smaller, with a 4.5mm diameter compared to Samsung's 6.7mm.

Honor's display hole has some unique engineering behind it.

Honor's drilling method is also different in how that display hole is structured. The camera module sits directly under the light guide plate (LGP), with a technique known as pixel transitioning used to allow light to penetrate through without a hole in the liquid crystal layer. This approach means fewer layers need to be drilled through, which improves the strength of the whole assembly, making it less likely to break when dropped or manhandled. Photo performance is also improved with this method due to a reduction in light bleed. What's more, the glue dispersion tech used to affix the camera to the display means it should be possible to repair a broken screen without requiring a new front camera module, Honor's engineers told us.

The position of the display hole is also no accident. Honor's Design Chief, David Yuan, told us that the company had done extensive research to figure out where users would prefer to see a hole in the display. By far the most unpopular option was in the middle, where it was most visible. Eventually, a hole in the top left corner was decided upon, because it'd interfere least with full-screen games in landscape orientation.

A step closer to the all-screen smartphone of the future.

The front face of the Honor View 20 takes us closer to the ideal design of an all-screen phone. There's a tiny chin down below, comparable to that of the OnePlus 6T or Honor Magic 2, and the headphone grille lives in a small cutout between the top bezel and the panel glass. Meanwhile, the ambient light sensor has been relocated up onto the top part of the outer metal frame to keep the front face as clear as possible.

A 6.4-inch display diagonal has never felt to so easy to use in one hand, and that's helped along by curved side walls around the back, and a svelte brushed aluminum frame.

The Honor View 20 comes in three colors -- black, blue and red -- all of which feature a unique laser-etched reflective "V" pattern behind the glass, indicative of the phone's branding (in China, it's simply known as the Honor V20). This is a gorgeous and eye-catching way to add some flair what might otherwise be a ho-hum glass chassis.

Honor View 20 Design Prototypes

At a meeting in Shenzhen, David Yuan showed us several prototype designs at various stages of the design process. The earliest was a rather clunky design with a protruding visor-style camera bump and the V pattern etched into the surface glass itself. Then came some experimental camera module placements, and experiments with different laser-etched patterns before settling on the subtle "V" we see in the final design.

An enormous new 48-megapixel camera and new depth sensor promises better, sharper photos.

The rear camera setup combines a 48-megapixel Sony IMX586 behind an f/1.8 lens with a unique secondary camera. Honor's new TOF (Time of Flight) sensor is dedicated to improving 3D object recognition. It combines a transmitter and receiver inside that secondary module to accurately triangulate the distance between the phone and an object in 3D space -- up to 1 meter away, but with an optimum distance of 30-40cm. Combined with the power of the Kirin 980, this enables realtime scanning and animation of 3D objects, like the toy panda demo that Honor showed at its pre-launch event, while also opening up possibilities for augmented reality gaming. Its accuracy, Honor says, is close to that of Microsoft's Kinect camera kit.

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As for the main camera and image quality goes, it's hard to judge photo performance in the limited time I had with the device, but I was impressed with the quality of 12-megapixel images (the default resolution) it was able to spit out, and obviously with such a high native resolution there's plenty of wiggle room for digital zoom. (Based on the specs, you'd expect day-to-day image quality to closely match that of the Mate 20 Pro's main sensor.)

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The TOF sensor, combined with that high-res main sensor, should also allow much better depth detection in photos, meaning improved portrait pics.

The View 20's tricked out with AI cooling, dual-band GPS and triple-antenna Wi-Fi.

It's tempting to see the View 20 as a trimmed-down Huawei Mate 20 Pro, just as the View 10 was for all intents and purposes a downgraded Mate 10 Pro. But that's not quite the case, and in a few areas Honor has built new hardware to give the View 20 an edge. A new liquid cooling system, ominously dubbed "THE NINE" in a presentation to local press in Hong Kong, combines both hardware and software for improved thermal performance. An ultra-thin heat tube draws heat away from the SoC, camera, battery and charging chip and into a multi-layered heat spreader made from a composite of materials.

On the software and computation side, Honor's "AI Smart Cooling" can leverage the power of the Kirin 980 to predict overheating scenarios before they occur. By identifying when (and why) heat may be increasing, AI Smart Cooling can change the way the OS manages processes so the impact on important apps and tasks, and any perceived lag, are minimized.

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Honor also boasted of support for dual-frequency GPS, much like the Mate 20 Pro, which uses the same Kirin 980 processor. By using both L1 and L5 GPS codes, for example, instead of L1 alone, there's an up to 10X bandwidth increase, allowing for a significant improvement in accuracy -- 30 meters as opposed to 300 meters.

The View 20 also employs a triple Wi-Fi antenna system, with a third antenna on the back of the device, to allow for better signal reception when the top and bottom of the chassis are covered, as they might be when playing a game.

The jury's out on the Honor View 20's software, at least for the moment. The phone runs Honor's new Magic UI, which at present is basically Huawei's EMUI 9 with a fresh coat of paint, and as such is mostly identical to the software of the Mate 20 Pro. Honor says Magic UI's visuals are designed to appeal more to young people with a "younger and simpler," aesthetic and in some respects it does look different, with flatter icons and brighter, lighter hues. Whatever you think of certain demographics needing their own UI -- I'm not convinced a version of Android specifically for the kids is a good thing. But to be sure, further differentiation from the acquired taste that is Huawei's EMUI surely isn't a bad thing.

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Side note: One of my pet peeves with EMUI 9 has been fixed in the View 20's software: The task-switching animation when using the three-button setup no longer animates in a jarring, confusing way.

Honor aims to differentiate with its new Magic UI, but the specifics remain fuzzy.

Magic UI on the Chinese Honor V20 announced today may be somewhat different to what the rest of the world gets. It's also not clear how differentiated Magic UI in general will eventually become. Honor is keen for the new software to sprout features offering more than cosmetic differences compared to EMUI, but it's not clear how they intend to do this. Nor could reps provide a clear answer on whether Honor is effectively "forking" EMUI now, or whether Magic UI will always emerge as an offshoot with each future EMUI version.

Honor does at least have one unique new software feature to boast in this model: Link Turbo combines WiFi and LTE intelligently to funnel certain traffic over either cellular or local wireless connections depending on bandwidth and latency requirements and local signal strength. For example, a high-performance game might be laggy on slower public WiFi, so Link Turbo would favor LTE for this app, while still using WiFi for background messaging apps. It's a neat idea, assuming you're not too worried about your data cap.

The Magic UI software I used on a global version of the View 20 was very early, and there's time for further changes to be made before the Paris launch event.

We don't yet have global pricing information for the View 20, nor is it clear whether it'll launch in the U.S. -- an important point considering the Huawei mothership's current problems in the states. But assuming the price is somewhere around the $500 mark, as its predecessor was, it could prove to be a real competitor to the OnePlus 6T.


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