There are not many Android OEMs that deliver top quality phones in an affordable package that is just as consistent as Honor. At a glance, that hot streak seems to be ready to continue with the Honor 20, which crams four cameras at the rear and a top processor in a device less than $400. With the competition as close as ever in the middle segment, including from its hot-rodded brother or sister, the Honor 20 Pro, and questions that remain about the trading perspective of the parent company, the Honor 20 is still worth recommending? Well, here is our Honor 20 Review.
Honor 20 Review – Box Contents
- Huawei SuperCharge 22.5W charger
- USB-C cable
- Plastic case
- 3.5mm headphone adapter
Apart from the phone itself, nothing is exciting in the Honor 20 box. Even the box itself is pretty dull. The plastic housing is perfectly functional, but the only other noticeable extra is the 3.5 mm adapter. I wonder why we need one like that? Our review unit came with a screen protector that has already been applied, but that may not be the case for a store model.
Honor 20 Review – Design
- 154.3 x 74 x 7.9mm, 174g
- Side-mounted fingerprint sensor
- Dual SIM
- IR blaster
The Honor 20 has the same ‘glass sandwich’ built as the Honor 20 Pro, albeit without the depth layer of the last one in the rear glass. The glass of the Honor 20 also has a marginally less pronounced curvature. However, it still looks a lot flashy, even the muted Midnight Black model, which flashes between different black, white, and gray shades. The Sapphire Blue colorway looks just as good, although it is unfortunate that the fresh Icelandic white model is exclusive to China.
When I reviewed the Honor 10 last year, I noticed that it was one of the smoothest phones I had ever tested. The Honor 20 is still a steady customer, but much less than its predecessor, thankfully. But although it is less likely to slide off a table, the phone will never comfortably rest on a flat surface due to the protruding camera shot. If you like to use your phone while it rests on surfaces, you’re out of luck, because the Honor 20 will wiggle back and forth with every tap.
In the selfie camera, Honor now sees the punch-hole approach that it first introduced with the Honor View 20. The circular cut-out is relatively small and ensures that the rest of the phone has minimal edges. Speaking of bezels, the low “forehead” contains a small earpiece that also has a handy notification LED to the left of the grill. Notification lights are becoming less common on phones, but it is still a useful feature, especially for phones that are not always on.
Another design choice that is a bit of a legacy is the fingerprint sensor, but the Honor 20 is all the better for that. Instead of opting for a hit-and-miss in-display sensor, the on/off button of the Honor 20 also acts as a fingerprint reader. I have never been a fan of side-mounted fingerprint readers like those on Sony phones, but it has changed its mind. It is lightning fast, easy to find with your (right) thumb, and had a 100 percent hit rate during my entire time with the phone. In-display readers may be much more elegant, but you cannot argue with those results.
Honor 20 Review – Display
- 6.26-inch IPS LCD
- 2,340 x 1,080 pixels, 412ppi
- 19.5:9 aspect ratio
If you hoped to see Honor leap OLED, the Honor 20 would be a disappointment. Honor telephones have traditional LCD screens, with the only recent exception being the more experimental Honor Magic 2. The Honor 20 does not rock here, but it is at least a capable LCD. The overall brightness and viewing angles are decent enough, but if you are outside on a sunny day, you are looking for some shade to check your notifications.
This is common for LCD screens, as is the apparent lack of support for the screen. The Honor 20 makes colors slightly oversaturated, but you can easily switch from the Vivid preset to the more natural Normal mode or use a color gamut selector. You can further switch between three color temperature presets (standard, hot and cold) and even set a schedule for temperature changes. Despite all the optional adjustments, this is still an LCD screen, while its competitors – including the cheaper Google Pixel 3a – have superior OLED screens.
Honor 20 Review – Software
- Magic UI 2.1
- Android 9 Pie
Honor has left Huawei’s EMUI for the Honor 20 series and all its future phones. Instead stands Magic UI, which for the Honor 20 is based on Android 9.0 Pie. Despite the brand change, however, there is very little that separates the Magic UI from the original OS skin from Huawei. The Honor 20 has a customized app for almost everything – a web browser, e-mail, calendar, notepad, file manager, calculator, weather, contacts, music, video, gallery, and much more.
Because access to Google’s apps is no longer a guarantee for future Huawei and Honor phones, that’s probably a good thing. For the Honor 20, which is guaranteed to official Android updates to at least Android Q, the phone feels a bit messy unless you clean the spring. There are also some pre-installed apps such as Booking.com, Amazon shopping, Amazon Alexa, and a Fortnite installer that contribute to the first mess. This is not nearly as bad as some Chinese Android skins, but it still leaves a wrong first impression.
This is a real shame because apart from the noticeable lack of a system-wide dark mode, the Magic UI is a leap beyond the inflated, intricate skins that you saw on earlier Honor phones. There is very little that you can’t change thanks to a large number of customization options, although finding them can be difficult between the seemingly endless menus and submenus in Settings – use the search bar.
The optional navigation movements are mostly an example of what gestures will look like in Android Q, and they work great. I was also delighted to see Honor use the excellent Google Discover as the home screen feed when you swipe to the right.
Honor 20 Review – Audio
- No headphone jack
- Single speaker
- Bluetooth with aptX
Honor 20 has no headphone connection. When I questioned the omission in a briefing before the launch of the Honor 20 series, an Honor spokesperson quoted industry trends for a more streamlined design and that removing the port made the Honor 20 look better from a marketing perspective.
The single speaker at the bottom is nothing to write a lot about. It lacks the depth of stereo speakers and blows out completely at full volume, but it becomes loud enough and is relatively clear at more reasonable volume levels. As a bonus, Magic UI has a feature called Histen. This AI-powered equalizer can be set to four different modes that change the sound phase. Although enjoyable in principle, most 3D effects sound like you have entered a tunnel.
Honor 20 Review – Hardware and Performance
- HiSilicon Kirin 980
- Mali-G76 MP10
- 6GB RAM
- 128GB storage
As far as flagship SoCs are concerned, the Kirin 980 gets a bit long in the tooth. However, it is still a first-class processor that offers the Honor 20 the kind of premium power that you would generally expect from a phone that is twice as expensive. Instead of the 256 GB storage and 8 GB RAM on the Honor 20 Pro, the vanilla model drops to 128 GB ROM and 6 GB RAM. This is more than enough for a mid-range phone, although the lack of a microSD card slot stands out.
For general use, the Honor 20 zips around without problems. There is an option in Performance mode, but there is no real benefit to using it. You hamstring the battery for no tangible benefit. The game performance is also smooth and lag-free for Play Store games. The shortcomings of Mali graphics are beginning to appear for emulated 3D titles, but this is more forgivable in this price range and for a handset that is not being marketed as a gaming phone.
Honor 20 Review – Camera
- 48MP primary, f/1.8, AIS, PDAF
- 16MP super wide, f/2.2
- 2MP depth, f/2.4
- 2MP macro, f/2.4
- 32MP selfie camera, f/2.0
Triple-camera settings become less rare in the middle range, but the Honor 20 goes one better with four cameras. Not that you would know at a glance. The primary shooter has the same 48MP IMX586 Sony sensor found on the Honor 20 Pro and almost every so-called flagship killer in 2019. The only difference is the aperture, which is much larger on the Honor 20 Pro (f / 1.4).
The Honor 20 takes 12MP pixel-inside photos as standard. You can set this to the full 48MP resolution or 48MP “AI Ultra Clarity” mode, which Honor says it captures more details in well-lit areas. Regardless of which mode you choose, the Honor 20 produces decent photos, but the results are far from spectacular. The camera tends to get images slightly overexposed, and the white balance can be discarded when brighter colors are in the mix.
It gets very messy at night because the Honor 20 camera has a hard time in low light scenarios. With only AI Image Stabilization (AIS) to reduce handshake blur, the Honor 20 uses overly aggressive smoothing and noise removal instead. Honor’s answer to this low-light problem is the AI Super Night mode, but shots still have too much noise, and the softening observed in the AI Ultra Clarity mode also sneaks back in.
Unlike the Honor 20 Pro, the regular Honor 20 does not have a telephoto lens, but you have to do it with 2x zoom shots that are cropped from 48MP images, or up to 10x digital zoom. Instead, there is a depth sensor that helps in taking portraits with bokeh-like effects. Portrait photos are solid, with only an occasional hiccup with edge detection. You can even adjust the background blur through a special aperture mode.
The remaining sensors are a wide-angle shooter and a reducing macro lens. The latter is unique to the Honor 20 series and is, in theory, fantastic use of a fourth camera. Unfortunately, the 2MP resolution is far too low to take detailed shots reliably, and the 3 to 5 cm close-up window is annoyingly narrow.
One of the areas that make the Honor 20 camera suite stand out is selfies. The front camera takes detailed pictures and also supports both portrait and night mode, and a lot of beauty and artificial lighting functions if that’s your thing. There is also an AR lens function with 3D Qmoji, which is a bad imitation of Apple’s Animojis.
In the field of video, the Honor 20 runs out at 4K resolution at 30 fps with software stabilization. There is also a slo-mo video mode with a maximum speed of 960 fps in 720p, scaled up from 480p. In general, the video quality is stable, and even at 4K, the stabilization does a lot of work to keep videos steady.
Honor 20 Review – Battery Life
- 22.5W fast charging
The Honor 20 consistently achieves around 6 to 7 hours of screen time, which is relatively standard for a mid-range phone. However, the super-efficient Kirin 980 setup and above-average 3,750 mAh cells work together to extend the battery life of the Honor 20 as much as possible.
The phone often ended the day with 30 to 40 percent cargo in the tank. If your YouTube does not run at full brightness for several hours a day, you can expect at least one day on average, or even a day and a half for little use. Topping up the battery is also a breeze. The Honor 20 supports fast charging of 22.5 W, making the phone go from empty to 50 percent within 30 minutes. There is no wireless charging support.
Honor 20 Review – Conclusion
Contrary to what it appears to be the many criticisms in this review, the Honor 20 is not a bad phone. It is super fast, has an elegant design and a battery that keeps working. It sports one of the best fingerprint readers ever to adorn a smartphone. Purely based on its own merits, the Honor 20 can have more than a few pain points – notably the over-crowded, subdued camera, the missing headphone jack, and the small average LCD screen – but Honor’s pedigree still shines through.
The bar for what is a great mid-range phone has been irrevocably raised by Google’s performance with the Pixel 3a. The Honor 20 may have just been scraped this time, but in a post-Pixel 3a world it is almost falling.
Honor 20 Review Rating – 7.8/10
Honor’s pedigree for delivering competent mid-range telephones shines through, but the Honor 20 lags behind its superior competition where it counts.
- Buttery smooth performance
- Efficient battery life
- Blazing fast fingerprint reader
- Elegant, bezel-less design
- Inconsistent camera
- LCD can’t match OLED
- No headphone jack