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HONOR View20 Review – A View To A Kill

Not too long ago, HONOR launched their first 2019 flagship phone in Paris. It was a big deal. The kind of blockbuster launch that is almost entirely afforded to the few biggest smartphone names is now a reality for the brand that started off with humble beginnings. It is not unwarranted – the HONOR View20 is a blockbuster of a phone that gives all the traditional big boys a serious run for their money.

There are clear reasons to get this phone. If you are looking for a smartphone with a clever cutout to house the front-facing camera instead of relying on a notch, the View20 is one of only few phones out in the market now with such a display design. If you are looking for a powerfully-equipped Android phone with a big battery, the View20 is a top performer with a as much as 8GB of RAM and the latest Kirin 980 processor, backed up by a 4,000mAh juice pack. Want a phone that takes really great pictures? The View20’s 48MP rear camera gets the job done. How about a gaming phone? Heck, the View20 even fits the bill with features like GPU Tubro 2.0 and liquid cooling system, besides the now still-rare ability to play Fortnite in 60fps.

Putting specs talk aside for awhile, I really like how the View20 looks with its unique back pattern design. The “Aurora Nanotexture Design” is a breath of fresh air from all the gradient-finish phones that are increasingly becoming all too common that they no longer conjure up the wow factor like they used to nearly a year ago. The View20 on the other hand, grabs your eyeballs the first time you set your eyes on it and till this day I still find myself paying admiration to its looks, especially the Phantom Blue model that I get to review here. Yes, it is loud and not everyone is going like it, but it manages to stand out among the sea of sameness these days and that should be applauded. I also like how this design gives the View20 a clear identity of its own and would like to see more of it in subsequent sequel devices.

Coming from a phone with a giant notch (an iPhone), the View20’s hole-punch display presents no problem in getting used to. The presence of a cutout at the corner pushes the left-side notification icons a little to the side but it does little to affect the whole viewing experience we are used to. Like the notch, you will get used to it pretty quick but unlike the notch, it is far less obstructive, especially when you’re watching content on landscape orientation. If there’s one thing that works against the View20’s display, it is that it still uses LCD instead of the more-preferred OLED these days. Nevertheless, if you are not a sucker for OLED, the View20’s display is as crisp as it can get for a LCD display.   

Kirin 980 and 8GB RAM – which is exclusive to the Phantom Blue model – tell me that I shouldn’t expect anything less than a top notch performance and that’s what I get served on this phone. On the gaming side, games like PUBG Mobile and Asphalt 9: Legends runs and plays flawlessly on this thing. Fortnite on the other hand, was a blast to play in buttery-smooth 60fps. The only downside is you would have to settle for lower graphics quality in 60fps but hopefully a future update will unlock the full capabilities.   

The hole-punch cutout does not impede on the overall viewing experience as much as a notch would

There’s absolutely nothing bad to say on the performance side of things and the View20 could really be a complete gaming machine, if not for its rather weak and uninspired speaker.

Beyond the core features, the View20 packs a lot more stuffs inside its hood. PC Mode, AI Dual-Frequency GPS and AI Triple-Antenna WiFi are more than just mere gimmicks as they do provide some quality of life enhancements in our daily smartphone usage. However, I am still on the fence in regards to the TOF 3D Camera. It carries huge promises and could be a big-time feature in the future. However, its current implementation leaves much to be desired. Don’t get me wrong, they do provide some quirky fun moments like 3D body shaping and 3D motion-controlled gaming but between its wonky implementation and use cases, I won’t find myself using these features more than just party tricks to impress some friends and relatives. I would have more preferred to see a wide-angle or a telephoto lens as the secondary camera.

If you have in the past used HONOR smartphones or even Huawei devices, you will very much be in familiar territory with the View20’s Magic UI. Nothing dramatic has changed cosmetically and it still comes with tons of pre-built applications out of the box. You will also find a digital balance feature baked right in the system, similar to Google’s “Digital Wellbeing” and iOS’ “Screen Time”. It is a very useful feature to not only monitor your smartphone usage (if you find yourselves spending way too much time on your smartphone on a daily basis than you should) but also gives you complete control to form a healthy smartphone usage habit with options to limit screen time and app duration.

No doubt the View20’s headline feature and system-seller is its much-touted 48MP main camera and it being the first smartphone in the market to use Sony’s IMX586 sensor. And it is capable of taking really stunning shots. Photos are packed with rich details you don’t normally see in most other phones – and certainly not in this price range. The 48MP AI Ultra Clarity mode is certainly the MVP here, provided you have the time and patience to hold the phone still for a few seconds for shots to be captured in this mode as multiple 48MP frames are combined in the process. This mode is best used for shooting sceneries in good light as well as still objects.

The camera shoots 12MP photos by default and you would have to dive into the settings to up the megapixels count. If you frequently shoots in 48MP AI Ultra Clarity mode, you would find the constant need to go into the settings each time you launch the camera app a little bit of an annoyance as the camera doesn’t stay locked in this mode.

The phone is also adept at taking night shots as it comes with a dedicated night mode that will brighten up the pictures and produces better exposure. Other camera highlights including the ability to shoot in Pro mode with manual settings and in RAW format, portrait shots and moving pictures (ala iOS’ Live Photos) among others. You can also use AI assistance to spruce up your shots effortlessly if your routine mainly composes of simple point-and-shoot. 

Below are shots taken on the View20 using 48MP AI Ultra Clarity mode as well as night mode.

The View20 is the latest prime example of not having to spend a lot amount of money for a smartphone that offers a very similar kind of experience to those that cost far more. In certain instances, it even outperforms the pricier devices. Its 48MP camera performs admirably under the right conditions and things like a sizeable battery that ensures all-day usage is more than what majority of phones can offer. It is also a powerful gaming machine in its own right.

That is not to say the phone is without its fault. The LCD display might be a turn-off for certain people who want nothing less than an OLED display with superior contrast and more power-efficient. The cluttered UI will irk those who would prefer a lighter system. You also didn’t get features like water-resistance and wireless charging, though its understandable given its price point.

If you are willing to look past all these minor quirks,  you get a phone that is solid in almost every department – inside and out. There are few phones that can deliver what the View20 delivers for the price it asks.

If the notion of a flagship killer still exists these days, this would be a worthy one.

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