There aren’t many Android OEMs out there that deliver superb, flagship quality phones in an affordable package quite as consistently as Honor. At a glance, that hot streak looks all set to continue with the Honor 20, which crams four rear cameras and a top-tier processor into a sub-400 euro phone.
However, with competition as stiff as ever in the mid-range, including from its own hot-rodded sibling, the Honor 20 Pro, and questions still lingering about its parent company’s trade purview, is the Honor 20 still worthy of a recommendation?
Find out in Android Authority‘s Honor 20 review!
Honor 20 review: The big picture
The Honor 20 is the middle child of the Honor 20 series, sitting between the pricer Honor 20 Pro and the cheaper Honor 20 Lite. However, with the premium model stuck in a bizarre release limbo outside of China, the Honor 20 is currently the de facto N-series flagship for 2019 in the U.K., across Europe, and India.
Priced at 499 euros, £399 in the U.K., and 32,999 rupees in India, the Honor 20 finds itself competing with different caliber phones in different regions.
In the U.K., the Honor 20 butts heads with the Google Pixel 3a, Samsung Galaxy A70, Nokia 8.1, and Xiaomi Mi 9 SE. Meanwhile, in Europe, the 499 euro price pits it against 2019’s no-holds-barred flagship killers like the OnePlus 7, Asus Zenfone 6, Xiaomi Mi 9, and Oppo Reno.
Honor likes to market its phones to a younger audience, but its handsets are capable no matter your age. That doesn’t apply for buyers in North America though, as Honor hasn’t launched the phone in the U.S. or Canada. That’s hardly surprising, given the long-standing tensions and litigious back-and-forth between the U.S. government and Huawei, of which Honor is a sub-brand.
What’s in the box?
- Huawei SuperCharge 22.5W charger
- USB-C cable
- Plastic case
- 3.5mm headphone adapter
Aside from the actual phone, there’s nothing all that exciting lying in wait inside the Honor 20 box. Even the box itself is fairly bland.
The plastic case is perfectly functional, but the only other notable extra is the 3.5mm adapter. I wonder why we’d need one of those?
Our review unit came with a screen protector already applied, but that may not be the case for a retail model.
- 154.3 x 74 x 7.9mm, 174g
- Side-mounted fingerprint sensor
- Dual SIM
- IR blaster
The Honor 20 shares the same “glass sandwich” build as the Honor 20 Pro, albeit without the latter’s depth layer within the rear glass. The Honor 20’s glass also has marginally less pronounced curvature.
It still looks plenty flashy though, even the muted Midnight Black model, which shimmers between black, white, and gray shades at different angles. The Sapphire Blue colorway looks just as good, though it’s a shame the crisp Icelandic White model is exclusive to China.
When I reviewed the Honor 10 last year, I noted that it was one of the slipperiest phones I’d ever tested. The Honor 20 is still a slippery customer, but far less so than its predecessor, mercifully.
Yet while it’s less likely to slide off a table, the phone won’t ever rest easy on a flat surface due to the protruding camera bump. If you like to use your phone while it rests on surfaces then you’re fresh out of luck, as the Honor 20 will wobble around with each tap.
The selfie camera, meanwhile, sees Honor again adopting the punch-hole approach it first introduced with the Honor View 20. The circular cut-out is reasonably small and ensures the rest of the phone has minimal bezels.
Speaking of bezels, the tiny “forehead” contains a small earpiece that also features a handy notification LED to the left of the grill. Notification lights are becoming far less commonplace on phones, but it’s still a useful feature, especially for phones that don’t have always-on displays.
Another design choice that feels like a bit of a throwback is the fingerprint sensor, but the Honor 20 is all the better for it. Instead of opting for a hit-and-miss in-display sensor, the Honor 20’s power button doubles up as a fingerprint reader.
I’d never been a fan of side-mounted fingerprint readers like those found on Sony phones, but this one has absolutely changed my mind. It’s lightning fast, easy to find with your (right) thumb, and had a 100 percent hit rate across my entire time with the phone. In-display readers may be far more elegant, but you can’t argue with those results.
The Honor 20 has one of the best fingerprint readers ever to grace a smartphone.
There’s also face unlock support if you’d prefer, but be mindful that it’s camera- and software-based and isn’t quite as secure as other options.
Overall, the Honor 20 feels far more premium than its pricing suggests it should. However, on a final sour design note, I have to mention the haptics. They are terrible. You can both hear and feel the vibration motor whirring away inside the phone whenever it activates. Typing with keypad vibration turned on is downright unpleasant. At least you can turn it off.
- 6.26-inch IPS LCD
- 2,340 x 1,080 pixels, 412ppi
- 19.5:9 aspect ratio
If you were hoping to see Honor make the jump to OLED then the Honor 20 will come as a disappointment.
Honor phones have traditionally featured LCD displays, with the only recent exception being the more experimental Honor Magic 2. The Honor 20 doesn’t rock the boat here, but it’s a capable LCD at least.
Overall brightness and viewing angles are decent enough, though if you’re outside on a sunny day you’ll be looking for some shade to check your notifications. This is par for the course for LCD displays, as is the obvious lack of always-on display support.
The Honor 20’s LCD display can’t compete with OLED rivals.
The Honor 20 slightly oversaturates colors out-of-the-box, but you can easily switch from the Vivid preset to the more natural Normal mode or use a color gamut selector. You can further switch between three color temperature presets (Default, Warm, and Cold) and even set a schedule for temperature changes.
Yet despite all the optional tweaks, this is still an LCD panel while its competitors — including the cheaper Google Pixel 3a — sport objectively superior OLED displays.
- HiSilicon Kirin 980
- Mali-G76 MP10
- 6GB RAM
- 128GB storage
As far as flagship SoCs go, the Kirin 980 is getting a little long in the tooth. It’s still a top-tier processor that provides the Honor 20 with the kind of premium power you’d usually expect from a phone twice its price.
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Instead of the 256GB storage and 8GB RAM found on the Honor 20 Pro, the vanilla model drops to 128GB ROM and 6GB RAM. This is more than enough for a mid-range phone, though the lack of a microSD card slot stings.
For general use, the Honor 20 zips around with no issues whatsoever. There’s a Performance mode option but there’s no real-world advantage to using it. You’ll just hamstring the battery for no tangible benefit.
Gaming performance is also smooth and lag-free for Play Store games. The shortcomings of Mali graphics begin to show for emulated 3D titles, but this is more forgivable at this price point and for a handset that isn’t being marketed as a gaming phone.
The Honor 20’s solid performance tallies with benchmark tests, which are about where you’d expect for a Kirin 980 phone. The Honor 20 delivered a respectable 1:54.854 time in SpeedTest G.
- 22.5W fast charging
The Honor 20 consistently hits around 6 to 7 hours screen-on time, which is fairly standard for a mid-range phone. However, the super efficient Kirin 980 set-up and above-average 3,750mAh cell work in tandem to stretch the Honor 20’s battery life as far as possible.
The phone frequently ended the day with between 30 to 40 percent charge in the tank. Providing you don’t have YouTube running at full brightness for several hours a day, you can expect at least a day on average, or even a day and a half for low usage.
Refilling the battery is also a breeze. The Honor 20 supports 22.5W fast charging, which takes the phone from empty to 50 percent in 30 minutes. There’s no wireless charging, but this is understandable for the non-Pro model. Of course, the Honor 20 Pro doesn’t have it either. Awkward.
- 48MP primary, f/1.8, AIS, PDAF
- 16MP super wide, f/2.2
- 2MP depth, f/2.4
- 2MP macro, f/2.4
- 32MP selfie camera, f/2.0
Triple camera set-ups are becoming less of a rarity in the mid-range, but the Honor 20 goes one better with four cameras. Not that you’d know it from a glance.
The main shooter has the same 48MP IMX586 Sony sensor found on the Honor 20 Pro and almost every would-be flagship killer in 2019. The only difference is the aperture, which is much wider on the Honor 20 Pro (f/1.4).
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By default, the Honor 20 shoots 12MP pixel-binned images. You can dial this up to the full 48MP resolution or a 48MP “AI Ultra Clarity” mode, which Honor says will capture more detail in well-lit areas.
- 2x Zoom
Regardless of which mode you choose, the Honor 20 produces decent photos, but the results are far from spectacular. The camera has a tendency to slightly overexpose images and the white balance can get thrown off when brighter colors are in the mix. Pixel-binned photos offer plenty of detail, but the AI Ultra Clarity mode has a habit of softening edges which leaves you with blurrier images.
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Things get really ropey at night, as the Honor 20 camera really struggles in low-light scenarios. With only AI Image Stabilization (AIS) to reduce handshake blur, the Honor 20 instead resorts to overly aggressive smoothing and noise removal. I also had problems getting the camera to focus on the foreground in the evening, as seen in the cat statue image in the gallery below.
Honor’s answer to this low-light problem is AI Super Night mode, but shots still suffer from excessive noise and the softening seen in the AI Ultra Clarity mode also creeps back in. It also takes around 6 to 7 seconds to actually capture and process images this way, during which time you have to remain perfectly still.
Unlike the Honor 20 Pro, the regular Honor 20 doesn’t have a telephoto lens, instead you’ll have to make do with 2x zoom shots that are cropped from 48MP images, or up to 10x digital zoom. In its place is a depth sensor that helps with capturing portrait photos with bokeh-style effects. Portrait shots are solid, with only the occasional hiccup with edge detection. You can even tweak the background blur via a dedicated aperture mode.
The remaining sensors are a wide-angle shooter and a diminutive macro lens. The latter is unique to the Honor 20 series and in theory is a fantastic use of a fourth camera. Unfortunately, the 2MP resolution is far too low to reliably produce detailed shots and the 3- to 5-cm window for taking close-up shots is irritatingly narrow.
It doesn’t help that the macro mode is hidden away in a sub-menu in the Honor Camera app, which is as busy as it’s ever been. HDR and Pro modes are also hidden away in here. Considering the Honor 20 takes decent HDR shots, it’s a shame there isn’t an auto option and that it languishes in a side menu when Huawei’s mediocre Google Lens clone, HiVision, takes pride of place in the main camera screen.
One area that the Honor 20 camera suite does excel is selfies. The front camera produces detailed shots and also supports both portrait and night modes, and a bunch of beauty and artificial lighting features if that’s your thing. There’s also an AR lens feature with 3D Qmoji, which are a poor impersonation of Apple’s Animojis.
On the video front, the Honor 20 maxes out at 4K resolution at 30fps with software stabilization. There’s also a slo-mo video mode that caps at 960fps in 720p, upscaled from 480p. Overall the video quality is solid and even at 4K the stabilization does a decent job at keeping videos steady.
If the Honor 20 had been released in 2018, or even just three months ago, it would’ve set the bar for budget camera phones. Thanks to the Google Pixel 3a, however, a good camera is no longer good enough. While the Honor 20 is more versatile, the overall inconsistency leaves a sour taste.
Full-size images taken with the Honor 20 are available in this Google Drive folder.
- Magic UI 2.1
- Android 9 Pie
Honor has abandoned Huawei’s EMUI for the Honor 20 series and all of its future phones. In its place is Magic UI, which for the Honor 20 is based on Android 9.0 Pie. Despite the branding change, however, there’s very little that separates Magic UI from Huawei’s original OS skin.
The Honor 20 has a bespoke app for almost everything — a web browser, email, calendar, notepad, file manager, calculator, weather, contacts, music, video, gallery, and countless more.
With access to Google’s apps no longer a guarantee for future Huawei and Honor phones, that’s probably a good thing. However, for the Honor 20, which is guaranteed official Android updates until at least Android Q, it makes the phone feel a little cluttered unless you do some spring cleaning.
Magic UI is EMUI in all but name.
There are also some pre-installed apps like Booking.com, Amazon shopping, Amazon Alexa, and a Fortnite installer that add to the initial mess. This is nowhere near as bad as some Chinese Android skins, but it still leaves a poor first impression.
This is a real shame, as aside from the glaring lack of a system-wide dark mode, Magic UI is leaps and bounds beyond the bloated, convoluted skins seen on previous Honor phones.
There’s very little you can’t change thanks to the vast number of customization options, though finding them can be tricky among the seemingly endless menus and sub-menus in Settings — just use the search bar.
The optional navigation gestures are essentially a preview of what gestures will be like in Android Q and they work great. I was also really happy to see Honor is using the excellent Google Discover as the homescreen feed when you swipe to the right.
It’ll be interesting to see where Honor takes Magic UI and if it can differentiate it further from EMUI — especially now we know that Huawei has a custom OS almost ready for prime time.
As it stands, Magic UI is leagues above Oppo’s ColorOS and Xiaomi’s MIUI, but still a far cry from the stylish OxygenOS, Motorola’s useful build, or the clean, clear ethos of Android One and Google’s Pixel software.
- No headphone jack
- Single speaker
- Bluetooth with aptX
The Honor 20 does not have a headphone jack. When I questioned the omission at a briefing before the Honor 20 series’ launch, an Honor spokesperson cited industry trends towards a more streamlined design and that removing the port made the Honor 20 look better from a marketing perspective.
We’ve already published several articles detailing why this is a terrible idea here at Android Authority, but this is especially egregious in the mid-range where headphone jacks are commonplace. The atrocious excuse given for its removal just makes it worse.
The single bottom speaker is nothing to write home about. It lacks the depth of stereo speakers and blows out completely at full volume, but it gets loud enough and is relatively clear at more reasonable volume levels.
As a bonus, Magic UI has a feature called Histen. This AI-powered equalizer can be set to four different modes that alter the sound stage. While interesting in principle, most of the 3D effects sound like you’ve stepped into a tunnel.
Honor 20 specs
|Display||6.26-inch IPS LCD
2,340 x 1,080 Full HD+
|Processor||HiSilicon Kirin 980
2.6GHz + 1.92GHz + 1.8GHz octa-core
22.5W Honor SuperCharge
No wireless charging
Primary: 48MP Sony IMX586, f/1.8, AI Ultra Clarity mode, 4-in-1 Light Fusion (1.6μm pixels), AI Image Stabilization, phase detection auto-focus, AIS Super Night mode
Wide angle: 16MP sensor, f/2.2, 117-degree FoV, supported by distortion correction
Depth: 2MP sensor, f/2.4
Macro: 2MP sensor, f/2.4, 4cm macro
Ambient light sensor
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 2.4GHz: 802.11b/g/n, MIMO
Wi-Fi 5GHz: 802.11a/n/ac
|Security||Side-mounted fingerprint sensor|
|Software||Android 9 Pie
Magic UI 2.1
|Dimensions and weight||154.3 x 74 x 7.9mm
|Colors||Midnight Black, Sapphire Blue, Icelandic White|
Value for the money
- Honor 20 with 6GB RAM and 128GB of storage — 499 euros
The Honor 20 has competition within its own immediate product family with the Honor 20 Pro and Honor 20 Lite. We’ve yet to put the Honor 20 Lite through its paces, but if you want to save some money at the cost of raw power, the Lite range has traditionally been a solid choice.
Read more: Honor 20 and Honor 20 Pro specs
Things are a little easier when comparing to the Honor 20 Pro as these are fundamentally the same phone. The camera is slightly better, but unless you truly can’t live without a zoom lens there’s not much separating the two aside from a marginally larger battery. “Pro” perks like wireless charging and waterproofing are missing on both phones, so you might as well walk away with that extra 100 euros still in your pocket.
The problem with recommending the Honor 20 is that for £399 it’s directly competing with the Google Pixel 3a, which may well be the best mid-range phone ever made. The Honor 20’s advantages are that it has a more powerful chipset, a flashier design, and a technically more versatile camera suite. I say technically because I’d trade all of the extra lenses on the Honor 20 for the Pixel 3a’s Night Sight and point-and-shoot supremacy in a heartbeat. You also get a headphone jack, Google’s stellar software, and a gorgeous OLED display.
That’s the situation in my home region here in the U.K., at least. Unfortunately things get even worse across the rest of Europe and India, where the respective 499 euro and 32,999 rupee price tags see the Honor 20 entering even more fiercely contested territory.
The OnePlus 7, in particular, is a much safer bet with better software, a quality OLED display, and even more processing power. The Asus Zenfone 6 and Xiaomi Mi 9T are also a step above the Honor 20 in almost every category.
Factor in the Honor View 20 frequently going on sale below the Honor 20 asking price, and the increasing quality of lower budget phones such as the Samsung Galaxy A70, Xiaomi Mi 9 SE, Motorola One Vision, and the stalwart Pocophone F1, and it becomes really hard to recommend the Honor 20 to anyone but die hard Honor fans.
Honor 20 review: The verdict
Contrary to what it may sound like from the many criticisms in this review, the Honor 20 is not a bad phone. It’s lightning fast, has an elegant design, and a battery that just keeps on going. It sports one of the best fingerprint readers ever to grace a smartphone.
The Honor 20 is not a bad phone, but it isn’t good enough.
Based purely on its own merits, the Honor 20 may come with more than a few pain points — most notably the overstuffed, undertuned camera, the missing headphone jack, and the merely average LCD display — but Honor’s pedigree still shines through.
Yet, the bar for what constitutes a truly great mid-range phone has been irrevocably raised by Google’s achievements with the Pixel 3a. The Honor 20 may have just scraped over the bar this time, but in a post-Pixel 3a world it comes very close to falling underneath.
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Author: Oliver Cragg