Huawei sub-brand Honor launches new smartphones despite US trade ban

Honor, Huawei's sub-brand, is launching its flagship line of mid-range phones, and they come with some high-end specs. Straits Times tech journalist Lester Wong takes a look at the Honor 20, Honor 20 Pro and Honor 20 Lite smartphones.
Honor launched its smartphones - the Honor 20 Pro and Honor 20 - in London on May 21, 2019.
Honor launched its smartphones - the Honor 20 Pro and Honor 20 - in London on May 21, 2019.ST PHOTO: VINCENT CHANG

SINGAPORE - Beleaguered Chinese tech firm Huawei went ahead with a planned smartphone launch by its sub-brand Honor in London on Tuesday (May 21), despite a US trade ban that restricted its access to US technology.

Honor president George Zhao did not mention the Huawei ban during his hour-long presentation of the latest Honor 20 Pro and Honor 20 smartphones.

Both smartphones sport identical 6.26-inch LCD screens, flashy glass backs and the latest mobile technologies, such as a tiny punch-hole cutout for the front selfie camera.

Mr Zhao said that the Honor 20 Pro's four rear cameras, anchored by a 48-megapixel main camera, scored 111 points in the DXOMark mobile photography benchmark. The Huawei P30 Pro smartphone scored the highest - 112 points - in the same test.

Compared to the standard version, the cameras on the higher-end Honor 20 Pro is said to perform better in low-light conditions, thanks to a wide aperture lens. The Pro model also comes with a telephoto lens camera that offers up to 3x optical zoom, unlike the standard version.

The phones are powered by Huawei's Kirin 980 processor, though the Pro version has more system memory and internal storage.

They run Honor's Magic UI interface, which is based on the Android 9 software. Outside China, the Honor 20 phones will come with Google apps and services.

The Honor 20 Pro (8GB RAM and 256GB storage) is priced at 599 euros (S$921), while the Honor 20 (6GB RAM and 128GB storage) is priced at 499 euros (S$767).

Honor did not announce the Singapore prices for the new phones. The Honor 20 is expected to be available here next month, while the Honor 20 Pro will launch in July.

Local distributor Raduga told The Straits Times that like existing Huawei phones, the Honor 20 smartphones will have access to Google apps and services. They will also continue to receive security updates from Google.

But Mr Bryan Ma, vice-president at market research firm IDC, said that the uncertainty over the future of Huawei's phones will likely deter consumers.

"Consumers may not be aware that the Huawei products in stores today are still fully functional. The doubt will likely put off many buyers, thus creating headaches not just for Huawei, but also for the retailers and telcos who are still trying to sell such products. Consumers, though, have phones from many other vendors to choose from," he said.

The US government had placed Huawei and its subsidiaries on its Entity List last week, which meant that US tech firms, including Google, Intel and Qualcomm, cannot supply goods and services to Huawei without a licence.

Existing Huawei smartphones and tablets, though, are not affected. They will retain access to Google apps and services, as well as enjoy security updates and after-sales services from Huawei.

But future Huawei and Honor models will not be able to include Google products, such as the Google Play Store, Gmail and YouTube apps.

Huawei was handed a 90-day reprieve on Monday (May 20) after the US government temporarily eased some trade restrictions to allow the Chinese firm to buy US-made goods and services in order to maintain existing networks and provide software updates to Huawei smartphones.

The exemption means that Google can continue to offer software updates and security patches to existing Android phones from Huawei and Honor till Aug 19.