The Pro with the mostest

Sunday Tribune - - ONLINE -

AN AMER­I­CAN re­viewer re­cently de­scribed Huawei’s P20 Pro as the “best phone you’ll never buy”. He was re­fer­ring to the fact that ma­jor cel­lu­lar net­works and a big re­tail part­ner had just pulled out of deals to dis­trib­ute the Chi­nese tech gi­ant’s smart­phones in the

US, bow­ing to pres­sure from the gov­ern­ment.

This pro­tec­tion­ist ploy means Huawei smart­phones, in­clud­ing its lat­est P20 line, are al­most im­pos­si­ble for US con­sumers to find in stores. Thank­fully, their South African coun­ter­parts have no such prob­lem and are snap­ping up these phones in record num­bers.

In the two months since its launch in South Africa, the P20 se­ries has shat­tered sales records. Ac­cord­ing to Huawei, sales soared by a whopping 60% com­pared to their pre­de­ces­sor, the P10 se­ries. Sales of the P20

Lite have soared by an even more im­pres­sive 150%. In ad­di­tion, April sales num­bers of the P20 se­ries sur­passed those of the Sam­sung S9.

I’m not sure how Huawei came by that last tit­bit of in­for­ma­tion but if true it’s hugely sig­nif­i­cant. This shows there’s more than mere blus­ter to the com­pany’s goal of top­pling Sam­sung from its spot atop the South African smart­phone sales pile.

Com­ment­ing on rea­sons for the surge in Huawei’s pop­u­lar­ity, Akhram Mo­hamed, its South African mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor, said: “We in­vest a large amount of re­sources to con­nect with our con­sumers in mean­ing­ful ways. Over the last few years, cus­tomers have come to know Huawei as a brand that of­fers re­li­a­bil­ity and great ser­vice, but also as a global brand with a lo­cal cul­ture. We also make ex­cep­tional prod­ucts with revo­lu­tion­ary on-de­vice ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence (AI) that of­fer the best pric­ing in their class”.

Typ­i­cal mar­ket­ing speak to be sure, but there’s truth in what he says. The com­pany has in­vested heav­ily over the past few years, not just in mar­ket­ing and spon­sor­ing lo­cal sports teams and mu­sic events, but also in its dis­tri­bu­tion and cus­tomer ser­vice ca­pac­ity. As a re­sult, it has grown from a brand hardly any­one had heard of to one of South Africa’s most recog­nis­able names.

Nor is Mo­hamed ex­ag­ger­at­ing when he talks of “ex­cep­tional” prod­ucts. It cer­tainly ap­plies to the flag­ship P20 Pro which I’ve been for­tu­nate enough to spend some qual­ity time with re­cently.

Boast­ing not two, but three rear cam­eras, a stunning 6.1-inch OLED dis­play and class-lead­ing bat­tery life, it also bris­tles with 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 pro­duces 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 with any phone-mounted than other cam­era.

These bold claims were largely borne out in my test­ing, where I found it com­pared favourably to, and in some cases sur­passed, that other cham­pion snap­per, the Sam­sung

S9+. I par­tic­u­larly liked its zoom ca­pa­bil­i­ties, which re­ally do blow the com­pe­ti­tion out of the wa­ter.

As some­one who takes quite a few pho­to­graphs for my work, the

P20 Pro is the first phone-mounted cam­era I’ve used that comes any­where near to ri­valling a DSLR and a big part of that is be­ing able to zoom into a sub­ject with­out pro­duc­ing a pix­e­lated mess.

The low-light ca­pa­bil­i­ties also im­pressed me, with the Pro man­ag­ing to pro­duce shots in near com­plete dark­ness com­pa­ra­ble to – and of­ten bet­ter than – that low-light mae­stro, the S9.

My only gripe about the cam­era is the lack of im­age sta­bil­i­sa­tion when shoot­ing video at 4K res­o­lu­tion, which can make for some shaky footage, par­tic­u­larly when you’re shoot­ing while mov­ing.

Mov­ing on to some of the P20 Pro’s other at­tributes, the 2 240 x 1080-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.

It’s when it comes to bat­tery life, how­ever, that the P20 Pro re­ally gets to live up to its “ex­tra­or­di­nary” la­bel. Huawei says that the 4000mah bat­tery will de­liver close to two full days be­tween charges, a claim I was de­lighted to find to be jus­ti­fied, ex­cept for a cou­ple of oc­ca­sions when un­der re­ally heavy use it needed a recharge by mid-morn­ing the fol­low­ing day. 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.

One of its big­gest sell­ing points has noth­ing to do with the phone it­self. I’m talk­ing about the killer af­ter-sales ser­vice pack­age that it comes with.

Dubbed the Huawei Di­a­mond VIP Ser­vice and val­ued at a tad un­der R4000, 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.

Ad­di­tion­ally, 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, and Pro own­ers will also be able to have their de­vices repaired within one hour on week­days.

It’s fi­nal sell­ing point is the price tag. The P20 Pro is sell­ing for R15499 pre­paid or on con­tracts start­ing at R670 per month. This isn’t pocket change by any stretch of the imag­i­na­tion, but it’s still sig­nif­i­cantly cheaper than com­peti­tors. And that’s be­fore you fac­tor in the ex­cel­lent af­ter-sales pack­age.

Is the P20 Pro the best smart­phone you can cur­rently buy? It’s cer­tainly the best flag­ship de­vice for the money. And if un­ri­valled bat­tery life and stills photo qual­ity are im­por­tant to you, it’s the best.

Fol­low Alan Cooper on

Twit­ter @alan­q­cooper.

Huawei’s P20 Pro has a lot to of­fer.

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