If 2018 was all about smartphones adopting the notch, 2019 will be focused on eliminating the black cutout entirely. Some brands jump-started the anti-trend by hiding the front camera behind sliders or pop-ups, but HONOR has something more straightforward, and it’s on the flagship HONOR View20.
There’s no standardized name for it yet — some call it a punch-hole camera and others named it hole-punch — but all you need to know is that the implementation is more visually pleasing than any form of notch.
For one, it’s much smaller than any other cutout and it’s placed in a more ideal spot — to the far left and not in between top-bar icons. In addition, the space around it is still LCD, eliminating any black space normally left behind by a notch.
The HONOR View20 goes for a more unique V-shaped pattern on the rear that shifts as you angle it differently towards a light source. Although it doesn’t help the ergonomics in any way, I can say that the phone is a pleasure to hold thanks to its curved glass rear.
The 6.4-inch 1080p LCD may seem overwhelming in size at first, but the tall aspect ratio helps provide a more manageable grip even for small hands. The fingerprint scanner’s rear placement is well-positioned, too. Combined with the fast face scanning, not once did I experience failed unlocking on the first attempt.
The HONOR View20 is simply so enjoyable to play content on, whether it’s a movie from Netflix or game you’re addicted to. You’ll just have to deal with the different ways apps cover up the 4.5mm camera hole.
In some cases, the entire screen is filled up and you only have the black dot to ignore; other times, a big black bar can take up the entire edge, making the sides asymmetrical while viewing in landscape orientation. It’s not pretty, but you can get used to it.
Entire screen is utilized
Here are the asymmetrical black bars
You could argue that the placement isn’t ideal because it pushes the signal bar and notifications to the right, but HONOR claims that this position is optimal. The basis is the Gutenberg Diagram, which says that eyes naturally fall to the top-left corner of an area called the primary optical area (POA). Eye motion then goes across and down to other sections.
Design-wise, the only thing that really disappointed me was the lone speaker. Having gotten used to loud stereo speakers from recent smartphone reviews, going back to a cheap-sounding output to the right of the USB-C port feels like such a downgrade.
Fortunately, there’s a 3.5mm audio port for wired headphones; and if you already jumped on the wireless bandwagon, Bluetooth 5.0 is available for hassle-free audio. Both were vital to me in replacing the disappointing loudspeaker.
USB-C and the only loudspeaker
A rare 3.5mm port beside a set of sensors
The model I have is blessed with some of the best specs I could ask for in any smartphone to date: the same Kirin 980 chip, a whopping 8GB of memory, and a total of 256GB of storage. Once you know how much this thing costs, you’ll be even more impressed.
Combined with HONOR’s Magic 2.0.1 UI based on Android 9 Pie, this has to be one of the most fluid Android experiences for me. Of course, the software’s quirks are still present — such as the awkward double-press of the volume-down button to turn on the camera app and the lack of a swipe-up gesture to open the app drawer — but everything else from the updated volume adjustment to Digital Balance from Pie are available.
It goes without saying that the HONOR View20 can tackle any app you throw at it, and thanks to the abundant memory and storage, you rarely have to worry about running out of space or having too many apps operating at once. It’s stable too, with no crashes for me so far. The navigation keys might randomly shift their location, but a restart always fixes that.
Yeah, they move to the left sometimes
As for gaming, GPU Turbo 2.0 is in place, applying itself to the following games: PUBG, Arena of Valor, Rules of Survival, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, Vainglory, and Asphalt 9: Legend. I was only able to test and compare with Asphalt 9; the gameplay was certainly buttery smooth, but I can’t say if it’s due to the latest version of GPU Turbo or because the Kirin 980 chip is simply that fast.
It helps that liquid cooling is built in so the HONOR View20 doesn’t throttle and slow down under heavy load. In fact, I noticed how cool the phone was while gaming. There’s only one spot near the rear camera that gets noticeably warm during gameplay, though not enough to stop me from playing.
The only other time the handset heats up is while charging; however, that’s only because it charges so fast. It comes with a 22.5W SuperCharge adapter that brings the unit from zero to 55 percent in 30 minutes, 94 percent in an hour, and a full charge with an additional 15 minutes. These are fantastic numbers, especially since the HONOR View20 can easily last over a day of usage with six hours of screen-on time on a single charge.
What I would say is missing, however, is wireless charging. It may be HONOR’s way of cutting down on costs, but it’s something I miss.
Finally, I have to talk about the cameras. While you could easily mistake the front shooter as the highlight — it’s inside a screen hole with 25 megapixels to its credit — it’s the 48-megapixel rear camera and its partnered 3D ToF (Time of Flight) sensor that do most of the magic.
By default, the built-in camera app outputs at 12 megapixels using data from the 48-megapixel sensor. While this may seem like a downgrade at first, the pixel cramming actually improves the detail and sharpness you get out of each photo. This also keeps the file size down to a much friendlier number.
However, if you want to maximize the potential of the image sensor, there’s a 48MP AI Ultra Clarity option which combines multiple shots into a more detailed picture. It’s a lot like the night mode Huawei pioneered, except it’s for daytime scenarios.
I tried it a few times, and to be honest, it’s not that useful. It takes longer to complete an exposure and moving objects become blurry during the process. On a smartphone screen, you can’t even appreciate the 8000 x 6000-pixel photos. It doesn’t help that the camera app goes back to the default 12MP setting each time you restart.
There are other features that take advantage of the 3D ToF sensor, but they either aren’t available yet or are exclusive to the Chinese market. You aren’t missing out though if you’re simply after good-looking photos.
As usual, there’s an option to activate AI for smarter scene detection. This is something I normally turned off on other HONOR phones because of how often the artificial intelligence would wrongly recognize an object or slow down the processing, but the HONOR View20’s application is surprisingly good at this.
Not only can it detect more than one scene at a time — simultaneously optimizing for outdoor, beach, and sunset, for example — there’s no delay before or after taking the shot. Of course, you may still adjust settings even while AI is on. There were times when I would rather turn portrait mode off so I could keep the background blur-free around my subject.
Is this your GadgetMatch?
With the new flagships arriving during Mobile World Congress next month, now’s not a good time to invest in a premium smartphone.
However, the HONOR View20 is jam-packed with so many high-end specs and features that it’s difficult to resist. With a starting price of EUR 569 for the 6GB+128GB variant.
It lacks a few things, specifically dual speakers, wireless charging, and proper water resistance, but those are negligible shortcomings if you apply the workarounds: use headphones or a speaker, take advantage of the incredible wired charging instead, and simply don’t use your phone near a pool or toilet.
If this is the standard HONOR is setting in terms of design, performance, and price at the start of 2019, rival brands have to stay on their toes. HONOR isn’t messing around.