Honor 20 Review: What Could Have Been, One Of The Best Smartphones Under Rs 35,000 

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In an alternate universe, the Honor 20 could have been, one of the best smartphones to buy under Rs 35,000

Written By Saurabh Singh | Mumbai | Updated On:
Photo by Saurabh Singh

Huawei sub-brand Honor has been giving OnePlus some stiff competition in the Rs 30,000-Rs 35,000 price segment for over a year now. Even though OnePlus phones almost always fare better in terms of all-round value, Honor smartphones like the Honor 10 and Honor View 20 have proved to be good alternatives for those seeking something different – also something better, in case design and photography are your top priorities. 

The recently launched Honor 20 is no different. 

Even though the Honor 20 is just one piece of Honor’s 20 series puzzle, and even though there’s a Pro Honor 20 out there which is theoretically better – but only ever so slightly - it’s simply much more exciting. This is because, not only does it get nearly every feature of the more premiere Honor 20 Pro, it also costs less in comparison. In fact, it won’t be wrong to say that the Honor 20 strikes the right balance of hardware and affordability. In laymen’s terms – the Honor 20 is total ‘paisa vasool.’  

The Honor 20 costs Rs 32,999 in India, which means it takes on the OnePlus 7 – a phone that’s brilliant in every way save the cameras. And that’s where the Honor 20 steps in with its unique quad-camera setup. Not only does the Honor 20 offer a level of versatility that no other smartphone offers at its price point in this regard, it is also a compelling option in terms of all-round camera quality.  

And, it looks really, really good – so that’s nice. 

A design that’s worth showing off 

At a time when rivals are peddling iterative designs, it’s nice to see Honor doing something different. The Honor View 20 looked nothing like the Honor 10 before it. And the Honor 20 looks nothing like the Honor View 20 either. Honor has a gift – of turning oh-so-common glass and metal sandwiches into something new and exciting, each time it comes up with a new product. 

While the Honor 10 was all about subtle yet effective gradients – that not many brands were doing back then - the Honor View 20 with its distinct V-shaped reflective patterns was in a league of its own. The Honor 20 with its dynamic holographic glass back design, similarly, is something else. There’s a lot more depth to it, and even though it isn’t as flashy as the Honor View 20 or minimalistic as the Honor 10, the Honor 20 has something that should satisfy all kinds of users. More importantly, the Honor 20 looks nothing like anything else we’ve seen before – it's nothing like anything we see in the market today. And that’s a good thing.  

The same is true about Honor’s colour choices – while Sapphire Blue is for someone who likes to flaunt it, Midnight Black is for someone who prefers it sober. 

But no matter what colour you choose to go with, rest assured, you’re investing in something premium – something that you know should cost more, but it doesn’t. The same is true about the phone’s in-hand feel as well and even though Honor doesn’t mention the kind of glass or the metal that it is using here, rest assured, the phone is built rock solid. It’s the perfect size too – neither too small, neither too big. So much so that nothing feels out of place – except the vertically aligned camera module on the back that does protrude out quite a bit. 

While the Honor 10 was one of the first devices to come with an in-display (ultrasonic) fingerprint, Honor has stayed clear of putting one – or any of the newer solutions – in any of its other flagship phones ever since. The Honor 20 doesn’t have one either. Instead, it comes with a side-mounted fingerprint scanner like the one we’ve seen in the Samsung Galaxy S10e – it's as fast and as accurate. And it is positioned just right. 

A punch-hole display that gets the job done 

The Honor 20 has a 6.26-inch 1080p+ LCD display with a punch-hole notch. It’s a good display and even though it isn’t OLED, it gets the job done – it gets plenty bright and produces pleasant – if a little inaccurate – colours. The punch-hole design, while it isn’t as immersive as say the Samsung Galaxy S10, is a welcome change from all the unsightly notches we see today.   

It’s fast 

The Honor 20 has the same core hardware as Huawei’s top-of-the-line P30 Pro – which is enough to pique your interest. More specifically, the Honor 20 is powered by the Kirin 980 processor paired with 6GB RAM and 128GB storage (which is non-expandable). Suffice to say that, the Honor 20 is a pocket rocket. 

The Honor 20 is fast and fluid in every sense of the word – despite the fact that Huawei’s Magic/EMUI isn’t what you can call, a light user interface. It does everything you throw at it, with ease, and without losing its cool. The Honor 20 is a flagship phone and it acts like one – whether it is your basic day-to-day tasks, or high-end gaming.   

A battery that refuses to die 

The 3,750mAh battery of the Honor 20 may not inspire the same level of confidence as the 4,000mAh battery inside its predecessor, the Honor View 20, but you should not let that cloud your judgement. The Honor 20 has outstanding battery life and will easily take you through your day without the need of a refuel - even for the most demanding users. The 7nm-based Kirin 980, of course, has a lot to do with it but Honor’s software also employs rigorous background checks to ensure everything remains well-optimised. In fact, sometimes these optimisations can be so aggressive, you might want to tone them down from the settings. Or manually keep background apps awake – to ensure you don’t miss important notifications. 

The Honor 20 further supports Huawei’s 22.5 SuperCharge fast charging tech and ships with a compliant charger in the box. 

A 48MP rear camera that’s all about clarity, AI clarity 

Coming to its main USP, the Honor 20 has four cameras on the rear - a 48MP main camera with Sony’s IMX586 sensor with f/1.8 aperture, a 16MP super wide-angle camera with f/2.2 aperture and 117-degree FOV, a 2MP depth sensor with f/2.4 aperture, and a 2MP dedicated macro lens with f/2.4 aperture. This means every camera in the Honor 20’s quad camera setup has its own unique virtue. And while that’s nice – and while it’s safe to say that the Honor 20 is one of the best camera phones you can get at its price – the Honor 20 is surely not perfect. 

Let’s start with that main camera, which is without a doubt, the Honor 20’s biggest highlight – as it was in the case of the Honor View 20. Apart from some under-the-hood software tweaks, this is basically the same camera, as the one inside the Honor View 20.  

Measuring ½ an inch diagonally, the Sony IMX586 sensor is bigger than most mobile sensors in the market right now. Not to mention, it has far more resolution. It may have tiny 0.8-micron pixels (larger pixels result in greater light sensitivity), but a Quad Bayer arrangement means it can produce photos akin to a much larger sensor with 1.6-micron pixels. 

The effective resolution in the case of the 48MP Sony IMX586 sensor is really 12MP – the same reason why the rear camera on-board the Honor 20 shoots at 12MP by default. But unlike a phone like the Google Pixel 3 with 12MP 1.2-micron pixels, the Honor 20 can capture sharper 12MP photos with less noise or grain even at high ISO (low light), at least on paper. Not to mention, it can also produce native 48MP photos, as and when needed.   

As for image quality, it is quite good. In good light, the phone’s 48MP rear camera can capture some good-looking photos with good amount of detail and colors that are mostly true to source. Dynamic range is quite good too, with little or no metering issues. I like that Honor isn’t overdoing things with fancy post-processing algorithms (like it was in the Honor View 20) resulting in truer to life photos when the lighting is ideal. Honor isn’t overdoing things with AI as well although you can get punchier results with artificial intelligence enabled.  

But it is in low light where the Honor 20’s 48MP rear camera really shines, capturing brighter exposures with higher ISO – brighter, cleaner and more detailed photos with little or no noise. There’s also a dedicated night mode to bump up the shadows and pick even more detail, but it’s a hit or miss really. 

While using the Honor 20’s main camera in native 48MP mode isn’t advisable – the results are not as good as using it in 12MP mode, and, these photos take up lot of space – Honor has a thing called AI clarity that’s like a hand-held mode – usually reserved for low-light scenarios – that's pretty amazing. It’s the one thing that made the Honor View 20 so very likeable, and it is also the same thing that makes the Honor 20 one of the best camera phones in and around its price point. It’s not meant for moving subjects though since it requires some post-processing mojo, which is where, you’ll need things steady. 48MP photos shot in AI clarity mode, as the name suggests, have more detail, more contrast, and better dynamic range – as opposed to standard 48MP photos that can be soft and mushy.  

I am not a fan of the Honor 20’s ultra-wide camera though because of two reasons. 

-- Its 117-degree FOV leaves a lot to be desired 

-- It lacks autofocus 

As for image quality, it’s not impressive – especially in comparison to the main camera. There’s no visible fish-eye effect in photos – which is nice – but then, these photos have just about average details and just about average dynamic range. Not exactly flagship material. 

The same is true about the macro lens as well, and while I like that you get the option, a 2MP sensor with fixed focus just doesn’t make the cut. 

The 32MP camera on the front, meanwhile, clicks pretty good selfies with good detail and mostly accurate colours in all kinds of lighting scenarios.    

But here’s the thing 

Clearly, there’s a lot to love about the Honor 20 – the phone checks all the boxes after all. But here’s the thing – the Honor 20 couldn’t have come at a more unfortunate time than this. I will not go into the details – because everything’s in the public domain – but here’s the short version - 

Huawei has been put into an ‘entity list’ by the Trump Administration which bars all US companies from doing any sort of business with the company. While there are a lot of technicalities involved, two key repercussions of the ban include – a) Huawei’s HiSilicon subsidiary can’t use ARM blueprints to make future mobile processors, b) Huawei can’t access Google’s Android in all its totality. 

While Huawei has stayed silent on the former aspect, the latter is something that it has been openly talking about – possibly because it has been working on its own in-house operating system for some time now. Moreover, Huawei has also been assuring existing users that it would continue to have their back – note that the ban does not immediately cover Huawei and Honor devices that have already been sold (and will be sold by August) which in plain sight means that all existing Huawei and Honor devices will continue to receive necessary updates like business as usual. Also, it means unlike newer devices (that will be launched post August), existing Huawei and Honor devices will have the Google Play Store and other key Google services, and users will be able to use them as before.  

Honor has reiterated its commitment to users saying “all Honor smartphones and tablets will continue to receive security patches and Android updates. Also, anyone who has already bought an Honor smartphone or is planning to buy, can continue to access the world of apps as they have always done.” Honor has also confirmed that all Honor 20 series smartphones, that is, the Honor 20, Honor 20 Pro and Honor 20i, will get Android Q. 

So technically, potential buyers looking to invest in a Honor 20 have nothing to worry – and yet, the uncertainty around Huawei and Honor, as a whole, makes it difficult to recommend any Huawei or Honor product, howsoever fantastic it may be. 

The recently concluded G20 summit raised hope that China and the US are in-sync to find some sort of middle ground – the summit also ended on a positive note with President Trump giving a ‘verbal’ go-ahead to US companies to start selling products to Huawei – but as things started to sink in, one thing became clear – things won’t be easy. Huawei still isn’t off the ‘entity list’ which means US companies will still require some sort of approval from the Trump administration before selling their components to the company. 

In an alternate universe, the Honor 20 could have been, one of the best smartphones to buy under Rs 35,000. In this universe, however, you must wait – for some more clarity. There’s one thing that makes buying an Honor 20 in India, worth all the trouble though. Honor is offering up to 90 per cent buy back guarantee within 90 days for Honor 20 buyers in India.

Photos by Saurabh Singh

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