I can’t think of a more fitting first phone review for 2019 than Huawei’s Honor View 20. Announced in the waning days of December 2018 for China first, the Honor View 20 is a visually mesmerizing Android Pie phone whose midtier price belies all the features Huawei’s stuffed inside and out: a 48-megapixel camera on the back alongside a 3D stereo lens. A 6.4-inch display with razor-thin bezels. A 25-megapixel camera on the front, with a hole-punch opening instead of a notch. A visually showstopping finish. A 4,000-mAh battery and 125GB or 256GB of on-board storage. And a headphone jack!
I won’t blame you for doing a double take because the Honor View 20 reads like a higher-end device on paper. For a £500, 569 euro and 2,999-yuan starting price, it has as much going on as many premium phones you can buy today at double the price. I can almost see it taunting Samsung‘s upcoming Galaxy S10: “I’ve got a ridiculously large 48-megapixel camera and 3D sensor, what about you?”
Now here’s where the drama comes in. Not everyone will be able to buy an Honor View 20, even if they want to, and that’s because Huawei is persona non grata in some parts of the world.
The Chinese company is the world’s second-largest phone brand, and one of the top sellers of telecommunications equipment. But some governments, including the US, Britain, Australia and New Zealand have banned the sale of Huawei networking products for fear of espionage. In the US, major retailer , although you can still buy some models on Amazon or through the Honor site.
Although Huawei tries to distance its Honor sub-brand, Honor phones are lumped into Huawei’s 200 million unit sales numbers for 2018, and Honor personnel pass out Huawei business cards at press briefings. If it’s hard to buy a Huawei phone where you live, it’ll be hard to buy this Honor View 20, too. That said, if you’re not someone in the business of keeping secrets — a government employee, a journalist or a corporate executive — there’s probably little more to fear with this phone than with any other Android device.
Despite Huawei’s political troubles, the Honor View 20 is an early standout when it comes to quality and value, even if there are a few annoyances here and there.
The Honor View 20 sells in China, the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Finland, Czech Republic, Poland, Russia, Malaysia, India, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Huawei plans to sell the phone in more countries.
Skip to the end for the full specs list.
Dare to stop looking at this phone
Whether you see it in blue, red or black, you won’t fail to notice the Honor View 20’s glossy, stylized finish. A pattern of bright and deep chevrons (V shapes) ripples on the back, making the phone feel alive. Huawei and fellow Chinese brands Oppo and Vivo have created eye-catching colors and gradients in recent years. But I’ve never seen a finish like this.
To Huawei’s credit, this is a smart way to dress up what feels like a plastic backing, giving it dimension and gloss where it could otherwise look cheap. (Huawei never responded to my query as to what it’s made of.) The aluminum frame adds the right amount of heft.
Next, you’ll notice the screen. It’s 6.4 inches and stretches almost the entire width of the phone face, with a slightly thicker bezel at the bottom. The effect works: It feels as close to an edge-to-edge screen as we’re likely to get right now. There’s no notch and not even a speaker grille to mar the all-display look.
Huawei achieves this by putting a circular camera cutout in the top left corner and sliding the sensors up the frame on the phone’s top edge. The speaker grille is hidden away along a chamfered edge in between the two. A bright, colorful screen produces sharp detail for reading, viewing images and watching videos. Netflix shows such as Derry Girls looked much better after I downloaded them than they did when I streamed them, however. Network and Wi-Fi strength has a lot to do with that.
You might have opinions about the hole-punch camera, just as you might have strong feelings about the notch. But it never got in my way. It either fits into an unoccupied corner of whichever app you open, or falls into the navigation bar of that app. It all depends on how the app maker laid everything out in the first place.
For example, the View 20’s notification tray starts just below where the selfie camera ends. Until front-facing cameras are actually integrated into screen layers, there will always be some level of compromise when the goal is giving you as many active screen pixels as possible.
You’ll find the phone’s fingerprint reader on the back. Response time is fast, and while I have to stretch my finger every time to hit the target, it’s reachable. Note that my hands fall on the smaller end of the human spectrum. The phone can be slippery at times, especially with that glossy finish (assuming you don’t cover it with a case). I fumbled it a couple times and narrowly saved it from certain cracking with a miraculous hot-potato maneuver born of adrenaline and stress and witnessed only by CNET photographer James Martin.
Since this is a midprice phone, you’ll find no waterproofing, wireless charging or 3D front-facing camera to securely unlock the device (there is, however, Android’s face-unlock software, which isn’t secure enough for mobile payments).