Su­per­model hopes to knock ’em dead

Sunday Tribune - - ONLINE -

I NLAST week’s col­umn, I waxed lyri­cal about Sam­sung’s gor­geous Galaxy S9, de­scrib­ing it as the best An­droid phone… for now. Well, that time may al­ready have come with the ar­rival in South Africa of Huawei’s P20 line-up of smart­phones.

I’m re­serv­ing judge­ment un­til I’ve had a chance to spend more time with the Chi­nese new­com­ers, but from what I’ve seen at two launch events, there may well be a new cham­pion in town.

Un­veiled in South Africa just over a week ago, first at a gala launch in Johannesburg, then at a se­ries of more in­ti­mate re­gional events in ma­jor cen­tres, the line-up com­prises the P20 Pro, P20 and P20 Lite.

The big daddy of the trio, the P20 Pro, is the de­vice that I’m guessing is giv­ing lo­cal Sam­sung ex­ecs sleep­less nights. If not, it should be.

Boast­ing not two, but three rear cam­eras and a stun­ning 6.1-inch OLED dis­play and class lead­ing bat­tery life, it also bris­tles with ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence (AI) smarts.

Let’s start with that ground­break­ing Le­ica triple cam­era, which gives the P20 Pro the high­est to­tal pixel count on a smart­phone to date. It com­prises a 40MP RGB sen­sor, 20MP mono­chrome sen­sor, and an 8MP tele­photo lens.

Ac­cord­ing to Huawei, this combo works to­gether to pro­duce im­ages with bet­ter light­ing and 300% bet­ter cam­era de­tail over the in­dus­try stan­dard 12MP sen­sors. Thanks to the 3x op­ti­cal zoom, 5x hy­brid zoom, and 10x dig­i­tal zoom, the com­pany says, get­ting closer to your sub­ject with­out mov­ing is now eas­ier to do and pro­duces bet­ter re­sults than with any other phone-mounted cam­era.

Cer­tainly, the ex­am­ples on dis­play at the launch events were im­pres­sive. Huawei com­mis­sioned pop­u­lar In­sta­gram­mers from around the coun­try to take a se­ries of pic­tures with the P20 Pro. Blown up and mounted, they looked for all the world like they’d been snapped with an ex­pen­sive DSLR cam­era.

The low-light ca­pa­bil­i­ties also im­pressed me with, with the Pro managing to pro­duce shots in near com­plete dark­ness com­pa­ra­ble to that low-light mae­stro, the

S9. I look for­ward to test­ing the cam­era’s full ar­ray of fea­tures when I get my hands on a re­view unit.

It’s not just the triple cam­era that makes the P20 Pro such a threat to its com­peti­tors. The 2 240 x 1 080 pixel dis­play is near fault­less and the first I’ve seen from Huawei to come close to ri­valling Sam­sung’s screens. Yes, there’s a notch but it’s sig­nif­i­cantly smaller than the one on the iphone X and if it re­ally irks you, there’s a set­ting that lets you mask it, al­beit at the cost of a few mil­lime­tres of ex­tra top bezel.

But in my opinion, the big­gest threat the P20 Pro poses to its ri­vals is in the bat­tery life de­part­ment. Huawei says that the 4000mah bat­tery will de­liver close to two full days between charges, a claim borne out by early re­views from abroad. No other flag­ship smart­phone comes close.

Com­bine this with the pow­er­ful Kirin 970 pro­ces­sor, IP67 wa­ter re­sis­tance, 128GB of on­board stor­age and the very lat­est ver­sion of Google’s An­droid op­er­at­ing sys­tem (Oreo 8.1) and you’ve got what may well be a Galaxy S9+ killing de­vice.

That’s not to say it’s per­fect.

The lack of a head­phone jack is a big mi­nus for me. There’s also no wire­less charg­ing or SD card slot, al­though these aren’t big­gies when you con­sider the amaz­ing bat­tery life and ca­pa­cious built-in stor­age.

Turn­ing to the smaller P20, it may not have all the bells and whis­tles of the Pro, but it’s a pretty at­trac­tive propo­si­tion in its own right. While it loses one cam­era lens, the two that re­main, 20MP and 12MP, still give it plenty of ca­pa­bil­ity both in bright and low­light con­di­tions.

The screen’s smaller (5.8 inches) and is an LCD rather than OLED, but it still has 2 240 x 1 080 pix­els which ac­tu­ally gives it a higher pixel den­sity than its big brother (428 vs 408). The bat­tery’s smaller, though (3400mah), and it sheds the water­proof­ing that comes with the Pro model.

Still, the P20 has the same beefy pro­ces­sor and gen­er­ous stor­age, mak­ing for a com­pelling pack­age and po­si­tion­ing it as a wor­thy ri­val to the Galaxy S9.

Round­ing out the P20 range is P20 Lite which, as the name sug­gests, is much lighter on specs, but still has the sig­na­ture good looks of its pre­mium sib­lings and enough smarts to make it highly de­sir­able at its price point.

So, what will one of these new Huawei’s set you back? Less than you’d ex­pect.

The P20 Pro is sell­ing for

R15 499 pre­paid or on con­tracts start­ing at R670 a month, the

P20 for R12 999 and con­tracts start­ing at R499, and the P20 Lite for R5 999 and con­tracts start­ing at R299.

This isn’t pocket change by any stretch of the imag­i­na­tion, but still sig­nif­i­cantly cheaper than com­peti­tors. And that’s be­fore you fac­tor in Huawei’s Ace in the hole: a killer after­mar­ket ser­vice pack­age.

Dubbed the Huawei Di­a­mond VIP Ser­vice and val­ued at a tad un­der R4 000, it’s be­ing of­fered free to any­one who buys not just the P20 or P20 Pro but the Lite, too. It in­cludes free col­lec­tion and de­liv­ery from a cus­tomer’s home or of­fice if they can’t get to a Huawei re­pair cen­tre, a loan de­vice to users whose phones are be­ing re­paired, a soft­ware up­grade and a mem­ory and sys­tem clean-up, as well as a free screen pro­tec­tor re­place­ment and en­grav­ing ser­vice.

Also, those who buy the P20 and P20 Pro will be el­i­gi­ble for one free front-screen re­pair or re­place­ment within the first year of war­ranty, while Pro own­ers will also be able to have their de­vices re­paired within one hour on week­days.

Huawei clearly un­der­stands that a smart­phone pur­chas­ing de­ci­sion is about more than just fea­tures and specs, it’s also about the over­all value propo­si­tion. And make no mis­take, the P20 line of­fers ex­cel­lent, pos­si­bly un­ri­valled, value. If you’re in the mar­ket for a new phone, you’d be mad not to take a closer look at one of them.

Fol­low Alan Cooper on Twit­ter @alan­q­cooper

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