Triple-camera system in Huawei's P20 Pro is created with camera-maker Leica

The triple-camera system in Huawei's P20 Pro is created with German camera-maker Leica

Chinese phonemaker Huawei, the world's number three, has stepped up its battle for European market-share. It's leading the charge with a new flagship phone - with a top-notch triple camera - that it hopes can help it take on rivals Samsung and Apple.
ST tech correspondent Vincent Chang has a hands-on look at the world's triple-rear camera smartphone, Huawei's latest offering P20 Pro.
Huawei P20 Pro
Huawei P20 Pro

The Huawei P20 Pro is the first smartphone to have three rear cameras.

Co-developed with German camera-maker Leica, this triple-camera system consists of a 40-megapixel (MP) colour lens, an 8MP telephoto lens and a 20MP monochrome lens.

According to Huawei, this triple-camera system can shoot photos at ISO 102,400, allowing it to capture images even in extremely dark conditions.

A new feature to shoot videos in super-slow motion (at 960 frames per second at 720p resolution) has been added, putting it on a par with its competitors. The telephoto lens (with 3x optical zoom) is also used to enable a 5x hybrid zoom that harnesses both optical and digital zoom.

For those who are not camera geeks, Huawei has tapped artificial intelligence (AI) to help them take better shots in the default Auto mode.

The camera app will attempt to deduce the scene (using the on-board AI processor on the phone's Kirin 970 chip) and automatically adjusts its settings for the best shot.

While users have seen this approach in last year's Huawei Mate 10 phones, the P20 Pro has an improved AI.

The Huawei P20 Pro's triple-camera system consists of a 40-megapixel (MP) colour lens, an 8MP telephoto lens and a 20MP monochrome lens and is said to be able to shoot photos at ISO 102,400, allowing it to capture images even in extremely dark conditions.

For instance, it may detect a face and believe that you intend to take a portrait shot. It will then switch to Portrait mode and blur the background for the bokeh effect.

Other available scenarios include close-ups (the camera automatically zooms in for a closer macro shot) and group shots (a rectangular framing aid pops up on the screen so you can ensure everyone fits in the photo with sufficient spacing at the sides).

The camera app interface has been tweaked slightly. You now swipe to the left or right to switch between modes such as Portrait or Pro, which is similar to what you would find on the latest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy phones.

The main camera and the telephoto lens protrude by a fair bit from the P20 Pro's glass back.

On the Twilight colour variant of the phone, this glass cover has an attractive colour gradient that will likely inspire copycats.

However, its glossy finish is a fingerprint magnet.

At the front of the phone is the fingerprint sensor.

Similar to its P10 Plus predecessor, users can choose to hide the soft Android navigation keys for more screen real estate. In this mode, the fingerprint sensor will instead be used - via a mix of swipe gestures and button presses - for navigation, such as returning to the Home screen.

Like many upcoming Android smartphones this year, the P20 Pro has an iPhone X-like notch at the top of the screen for the selfie camera and other sensors.

It is not as wide as the notch on the iPhone X.

Huawei is hedging its bet by adding a software workaround. A display setting in the phone lets you make the notch invisible by adding a uniform black bar at the top of the screen, like the Notch Remover app for the iPhone X.

Compared with the 5.5-inch P10 Plus, the P20 Pro has a much larger 6.1-inch screen. This is an Oled screen, so colours look vibrant. It is also taller, with a trendy 19:9 aspect ratio, and looks crisp at 2,240 x 1,080 pixels.

Enthusiasts may be disappointed that the P20 Plus does not have a 3.5mm headphone jack or a microSD card slot.

On the other hand, it does have IP67 water resistance and sports a sizable 4,000mAh battery.

Sitting a tier below the P20 Pro is the P20, which sports a similar design and hardware specs. However, the P20 has a dual-camera system, a smaller 3,400mAh battery and a 5.8-inch LCD display. It also lacks waterproofing.

Retail availability and pricing for the P20 Pro and P20 will be announced early next month.

Correction note: This story has been edited for accuracy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2018, with the headline 'Shoot happy with three cameras'. Print Edition | Subscribe