back to article We put Huawei's P20 triple-lens snapper through its paces

Huawei's new imaging hardware has caused as much excitement in the smartphone market as anything since Nokia's oversampling champ of 2013, the Lumia 1020. Benchmarker DxOMark puts both the Huawei P20 and P20 Pro comfortably ahead of all rivals, including the Galaxy S9 Plus, Pixel 2 and iPhone X. Huawei will be very happy to …

  1. Dave 126 Silver badge

    What are Huawei like at updating their camera software down the line?

    Multiple sources on the internet suggest that an update OnePlus released for their 5T a couple of months after the phone's original release drastically improved its low light photography.

    There are also ports of Google's Pixel Camera app to some other vendors handsets - though it might be hard for any such port to work well with this Huawei phone's unusual camera hardware.

    1. Chris 125

      What are Huawei like at updating their camera software down the line?

      Fairly poor; they move on quickly to new devices and don't give existing ones much love.

      I had a P9 Plus, bought for the camera abilities. Launched on Marshmallow, didn't get an update to Nougat until after Oreo was in full release and available on half a dozen handsets. Presumably because their EMUI skin is so wide-ranging it takes an age to slap it on top of Android.

      In that time, the only Huawei apps to update were the tedious we-replaced-something-for-no-reason ones like Calendar and Messages, or the hubs that want you to sign up and do backups to a server you've no idea about. I don't remember a single Camera update, certainly nothing that added features or improved quality.

      They've come on in leaps and bounds with hardware features, but their software side is still lacking.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What are Huawei like at updating their camera software down the line?

        Two things are always true for Chinese phones:

        1) Crappy implementation/skin of Android.

        2) Software updates are very slow* (if they arrive at all).

        Plus points are fairly sexy hardware, and a lower price point compared to say, a Samsung.

        Because software (postprocessing) is poor, your photography might not be as good as the hardware specs suggest. For example, mediocre low light performance, bokeh effect is wonky, noisy photos. Annoyances which you may or may not accept after already plonking down a large wad of cash for a pricier Chinese phone... you will inevitably wonder if you should have spent a little bit more to get a Samsung or Pixel.

        *Exception for Android One found on certain Xiaomi phones. Uses stock Android.

        1. Timmy B Silver badge

          Re: What are Huawei like at updating their camera software down the line?

          "Two things are always true for Chinese phones:"

          Except OnePlus. Since the 3 came out they seem to have their updates sussed and their android is very very close to stock.

    2. Timmy B Silver badge

      Huawei are terrible with firmware updates. A phone with one update in nearly 2 years and a tablet with none over the same time period. Compare that to OnePlus that pretty much do an update every month. Online / phone support for Huawei is terrible too.

      What was said before is true - they ignore older devices once the new one is out.

      1. Chz

        I have to disagree. They're obviously not Google-good at updates, but updates for my Honor 8 have come in regularly every 3 months or so with the latest security patches. This is a phone that's over a year and a half old. If you're particularly keen, there is a beta firmware channel where they have an update for *every* monthly security bundle. I'm not sure why they can't be arsed to push that out to users.

        Full on OS upgrades are another story, of course. But most vendors have been really slow to get Oreo out the door unless the phone launched with it. The H8 is due in May, which again isn't bad for a phone that old I think. (Though admittedly it took them about that long to squeeze a Nougat update as well)

  2. tiggity Silver badge

    excitement

    "Huawei's new imaging hardware has caused as much excitement in the smartphone market as anything since ..."

    Maybe it has caused excitement to some people, most people just want value for money.

    And, for many there will be a trade off of features and price, an interesting gamble that enough people are bothered about the camera tweaks to pay the price (especially as some smartphone purchasers take into account "intangibles" such as brand cachet - when you are entering the "silly money" market sector then it's a struggle to fight Apple (or even a brand running same OS, such as Samsung)

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: excitement

      Samsung's value varies thought the refresh cycle. Last month I bought a brand new Galaxy S8 for less than a OnePlus 5T costs. I wouldn't have bought it at full price.

      I'm hoping that I'll get even more value from it by keeping good care of it - glass screen protector and tough case. Waterproofing is reassuring, as is wireless charging (which means the phone remains usable even if its USB connector gets damaged).

      The Samsung software / skin isn't quite as annoying as I feared.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Boo - no headphone jack.

    1. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

      No room for that. It's all about notches and extra camera modules now, and there's no stopping until trypophobia kicks in.

  4. tony72

    Just to be clear ...

    .. this is a phone we're talking about, right?

    I know handset makers desperate to differentiate their hardware from the competition turn to secondary features such as the cameras to try to make their products stand out; fine. But journalists and reviewers don't have to pander to this kind of nonsense. There may be a few professional and pro-am photographers that choose to use a smartphone as a primary camera, and would care about having significantly above-average camera on their phone, but the vast majority of them are going to use a proper camera. And for everyone else that just wants to take a few holiday snaps that they'll probably never look at, or take a snap of their dinner to put on instagram or whatever, it really doesn't matter, the camera just needs to be ok.

    This camera capability competition is little more than a marketing exercise, a way for manufacturers to try to claim bragging rights over their competition when the core product just isn't that exciting. And while I'm happy that it gives bored tech journos something to talk about, it just seems a bit silly to me. Maybe I'm alone, and everybody is going to pile in and tell me how having an amazing camera is their most important criteria in choosing a phone, I guess I'll see.

    1. Chris 125

      Re: Just to be clear ...

      "Maybe I'm alone, and everybody is going to pile in and tell me how having an amazing camera is their most important criteria in choosing a phone, I guess I'll see."

      Hello. I choose a phone mainly on camera quality.

      I love photos, I love taking them, editing them, revisiting them, sharing them. I love that I have thousands of "snapshots" in my library that have been taken on a whim using my phone, all of which have a story to them.

      I have a decent Canon DSLR too, but I only take that places when I know I need to. Having a good camera on my phone means I can grab more good quality photos when I wasn't expecting to.

      No, this camera won't be as good as a DSLR. It won't even be as good as a mid-range pocket camera, once you dig into the specs and realise that 40MP sensor is using quad pixels, and 10MP real resolution isn't that good for later editing. You're not going to make a living as a wedding photographer or getting on the cover of National Geographic with just a P20 Pro in your arsenal. But a good camera in your pocket is better than a brilliant camera you left at home.

      1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

        Re: Just to be clear ...and 10MP real resolution isn't that good for later editing

        Reading the in-depth reviews of Micro 2/3 and APS DSLR lenses, few of them can resolve more than a real 10MPx. I have a Sigma f/2.8 short zoom which has a true resolution of around 9MPx on a 24MPx sensor, and it's quite satisfactory. What matters more than nominal pixels is the transfer function; it's no good having 40 million pixels if the inter-pixel transfer function is less than a third of a stop, because you aren't really resolving anything.

        Personally I don't like what Apple, Google and Samsung do in post processing; all I want is a picture I can work on, and an exposure system that plonks the image down nicely over the dynamic range of the sensor.

        1. Chet Mannly

          Re: Just to be clear ...and 10MP real resolution isn't that good for later editing

          You must be reading reviews on utterly awful, or utterly ancient, lenses mate!

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "is better than a brilliant camera you left at home."

        Depends on how you shoot. I'm not interested in snapshot, street photography, or any "casual" imaging. My photos are planned and "created" when and where I need them. The only use I have for a camera phone is a portable "photocopier".

      3. hairydog

        Re: Just to be clear ...

        I agree. Just about any smartphone will do. The main differences are in the RF performance and the camera quality. My Huawei phone is wonderful at RF. It works where other phones can't even detect any signal. Reviews never test this though. They concentrate on camera performance because it is easy to compare.

        The one thing that REALLY annoys is Huaweis extreme power saving mode. Yes, it means you get two weeks standby on the phone, and that's really great. But why does it disable the alarm clock? It's a feature I would use in "remote" circumstances. Have they fixed it, at long last?

        1. Justin Case
          Happy

          Re: Just to be clear ...

          @hairydog

          >>My Huawei phone is wonderful at RF. It works where other phones can't even detect any signal.

          Mine too. To the point where I can choose to use my mobile at home to make calls with quality as good as the landline. For the first time in 20 years.

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Just to be clear ...

      > There may be a few professional and pro-am photographers that choose to use a smartphone as a primary camera, and would care about having significantly above-average camera on their phone, but the vast majority of them are going to use a proper camera.

      Sorry, no, that's no longer the case. There are far more fashion journalists who are happy to use iPhine cameras than there are sports photographers who use Canons. If you don't believe me then pick up a copy of Vogue and look at yhevrukv

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Just to be clear ...

        Printing fidelity hasn't improved (it can't), so modern phone cameras are more than capable of shooting a 'Lady Smith-Smyth sharing a joke with Tarquin' type snap to fill up the pages.

        The adverts and fashion shoots are all shot on big cameras ( Canon to Hasselblad) but the front row of the catwalk is all fashion editors holding iPhones.

    3. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Just to be clear ...

      @tony72

      If you pick up a copy of Vogue you'll get an idea that what you say might have held true a few years ago but is no longer the case.

      The adverts and fashion shoots are shot on professional equipment (Canon, Nikon, even Hasselblad), but so much of the fashion blogging and gossip media is shot on iPhones.

      Printing fidelity of even printed media hasn't improved, so a modern phone camera wit

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Just to be clear ...

      Not everyone wants to lug around a big DSLR camera... avid photographers are not necessarily hardcore enthusiast or professional photographers.

      When it comes to smartphone cameras, independent comparison reviews have put this beyond dispute: there is a disparity in quality, and you tend to get what you pay for. The poorer ones, for example, have a slow autofocus, perform poorly in low light conditions, produce noisy photos etc.

      You might be able to tolerate this. Most smartphone users, on the other hand, don't. That's why the market leaders are leading. The camera is the difference maker. That's why the manufacturers aggressively market this feature.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Just to be clear ...

      Meh. I'm half on the fence, and falling down on the side of 'camera should be awesome'. Maybe this is partly because phone makers and tech journalists have concentrated on differentiating phones by their cameras over the last few years, and I've just swallowed the kool aid...

      But I feel like it's for a practical reason too - my wife and I had a little girl three years ago, so in the last three years I've taken more photos than the rest of my life put together. In that time, I've used two iPhones (an aging 5c and an SE), a OnePlus 3 and a terrible cheap Blu thing for a month or two when I'd drowned an iPhone and was curious how bad a cheap phone could be.

      Basically, the Blu photos are a massive source of regret - they look like snaps from the late 90s. The OnePlus images are ok, but the camera on the phone is/was terribly laggy and so often only captured a slightly blurry image, a moment after what I was trying to shoot. The iPhone images are nothing to write home about, but they're clear and crisp, and captured what I wanted.

      I'm now overdue a new phone, and want to make sure whatever I get won't take pictures that look terrible a year or two later, and will actually be able to take the pictures I want quickly, in the moment. I'm not interested in how well it captures static food snaps, I want to know how well it handles movement (toddlers don't stay still much) and low light. I also want it to have enough processing power and memory that the camera doesn't take three or four seconds to load.

      So I'm not necessarily looking for a pro-spec DSLR-replacement, but equally, I want a phone with a camera that will take pictures that adequately capture memories and moments to a degree of quality that means I'll be able to look back on them in the future without grimacing at the graininess.

    6. Patrician

      Re: Just to be clear ...

      Sorry but I disagree, the camera capability, for me, is quite an important consideration when choosing a mobile phone.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Just to be clear ...

        I went in holiday recently so for first time in ages I dug out my 'premium compact' camera, a Lumix LX-7. a fairly big sensor and a wide max aperture, it's great for low light snaps while still fitting in a jacket pocket. However, you have to know what you're doing with it. A companion on the holiday had an iPhone 8 Plus, and I was seriously impressed by the pictures it took. The phone had a lot more 'brains' than my camera, and would choose its automatic settings (white balance, focus point, noise vs shutter time) more quickly than I could adjust the settings on my camera. After the shot is captured, the iPhone had more brains to output a JPEG - something that I would have manually tweak my camera's RAW output on a computer to match.

        There were of course a few situations where the bigger camera took better images (low light portraits) but much of the time the results appeared to the viewer as a draw - even if the iPhone 'cheats' (fake bokeh - background blurring - etc)

        I love my Lumix, but it is a faff. Ironically enough, it is less of a faff now I have a Galaxy S8 - I can connect the camera's SD card to the phone via USB-OTG* and dump its contents to the phone's copious onboard storage. I can then more easily review photos on a high res colour accurate screen, and more easily select photos for saving or deletion.

        *I don't want to put the camera's microSD card into the phone directly because I don't trust the phone not to put app data on a card I'm soon to remove.

  5. ukgnome
    Thumb Down

    Those bananas look terrible!

    1. spold Bronze badge

      >Those bananas look terrible!

      Yeah well when fruit starts to look a bit iffy in some places in China they often give it a quick squirt of paint and stick it back on the shelf. That's why expats often go to Ole or Walmart (!) to find something unpolluted.

      1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

        Those bananas are for blending then drinking, rather than eating, so I don't mind them being very ripe.

  6. Ian 69

    Am I that much of an antique..

    That if I wanted high end photography I'd buy a sodding camera?

    I love having Maps, Google, Wikipedia, the usual crap.. on the phone so I'm surely not that hard headed but seriously, if I need such an exceptional image I wouldn't expect a phone to pick up the slack.

    I wonder if the Galaxy S10 will have a rocking chair function?

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Am I that much of an antique..

      Sensor and lens aside, your proper camera consists of a screen, processor, storage and a battery.

      On modern phones the screen is typically higher res and more colour accurate than those in cameras, the on board storage is far faster than anything this side of a DSLR, and the processors are more capable.

      Of course these factors don't affect all styles of photography, but since you have these components already on the phone there's little downside to attaching a good sensor and lens to them - other than cost. And indeed that is what we're seeing in the market; quality of camera often being the chief differentiator between a £300 phone and a £600 phone.

      The same is true of guitar tuners - smartphones make for faster, more accurate guitar tuners than dedicated devices because they have more microphones and the processing power to make use of the inputs. The big screen makes the UI easier to use, and the storage makes it trivial to supply them with tuning schemes for a wide range of stringed instruments.

      1. Justin Case
        Megaphone

        Re: Am I that much of an antique..

        @Dave 126

        >>Sensor and lens aside, your proper camera consists of a screen, processor, storage and a battery.

        No.

        A proper camera uses film as a sensor. Batteries and all the rest unnecessary.

      2. Chet Mannly

        Re: Am I that much of an antique..

        "On modern phones the screen is typically higher res and more colour accurate than those in cameras"

        Higher res sure, but colour accurate? You must be joking! Even the photo modes on phone screens look like neon lights...

  7. Barry Rueger Silver badge

    Please, I don't want your cool hack

    Engineers like to do clever hacks and show them off. Over the decades this gave us remote control for DVDs with a dedicated button for 1/32nd speed playback, the same size as the button for Play.

    I am truly weary of products stuffed to the brim with gimmicky features that offer no utility but appear because some guy thought it was cool. Just because you can do it does not make it a good idea.

    Smartphones are surely the worst. My current pet peeve is my LG G4, that can only be answered by swiping a green button across the screen. This is almost impossible if you're using the phone one handed, and generally takes three attempts if you're using two.

    The rational way to design this is the simplest: tap the button to answer. But no, some clever clog at LG (Google? I'm never sure.) decided he had to IMPROVE it.

    Consequently people across the globe are cursing every time they miss a call, and swearing they will never buy another LG product.

    1. Mike 137

      Re: Please, I don't want your cool hack

      "Engineers like to do clever hacks and show them off..."

      Not at all. Speaking as a Chartered Engineer, real engineers attempt to fulfil societal needs by creating products that are robust, cost effective and maximally simple to use.

      In an age when any guy who services your boiler is called an "engineer" and software developers and "UX" (funny, not to say illiterate, way to spell 'experience') "designers" are entirely self-taught it's not surprising that impractical nonsense is the output - "garbage in - garbage out".

      The problem is so engrained that the European authority for design registration officially considers "design" to be a purely aesthetic phenomenon, whereas in reality the design stage of engineering is the crucial process of converting a concept into a usable product.

      1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

        Re: Please, I don't want your cool hack

        "The problem is so engrained that the European authority for design registration officially considers "design" to be a purely aesthetic phenomenon"

        No it does not, and for a chartered engineer you display astonishing ignorance.

        A registered design is a purely aesthetic matter. That is true. It is to prevent manufacturers being able to copyright irrelevant features of a product that would prevent third party manufacturers offering spares. If you wish to protect an engineering function you need a patent. If you wish to protect your brand, you need a trademark.

        There are important free market and competition ideas behind this tripartite system. Important to it is the idea that an invention only deserves protection if it is novel and not something that anybody who knows what they are doing would come up with faced with the same issue.

        That is why one precise implementation of rounded corners as an aesthetic element is all Apple could register in Europe; because any designer would come up with the idea of having rounded corners on a portable consumer product, such as suitcases, so it does not deserve protection per se.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: Please, I don't want your cool hack

          Dieter Rams prefers the term 'Form Engineer' to 'Product Designer' because he feels the term 'designer' has either been devalued or is widely misunderstood as just being the appearance of an object. There's soon to be a film about him with a soundtrack by Brian Eno. ( https://www.dezeen.com/2018/02/27/trailers-reveal-upcoming-dieter-rams-documentary-gary-hustwit/ )

          Disclaimer: I studied Product Design BSc, and not Industrial Design Ba which my lecturer fondly called a bunch of magic marker pen fairies (fairy referring to a shallow fluffiness, not a comment on their sexuality). We won't go into what he called the Graphic Design students from across the car park - though they were known for having expensive haircuts and riding micro-scooters... and their G3 iMacs would 'beachball' at the nearest whiff of multiple Photoshop layers.

          Product Design BSc involved maths, kinetics, mechanics, manufacturing techniques, supply chains, market research, material selection, project management, model making, photography, information ergonomics and UI design, CAD. The aim wasn't to make us experts, but to give us enough understanding to talk to experts.

        2. Mike 137

          Re: Please, I don't want your cool hack

          "...for a chartered engineer you display astonishing ignorance"

          Thank you. I am always delighted by polite discourse.

          "A registered design is a purely aesthetic matter"

          Strangely enough, that was what I meant.

          Nuff said?

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Please, I don't want your cool hack

      > My current pet peeve is my LG G4, that can only be answered by swiping a green button across the screen.

      That's weird - is there nothing that can help you in Settings > Accessibility? There should be an option to answer calls with the Volume Up physical key.

      An alternative would be to use a compatible walker case, and answer calls by opening the case. However, I can appreciate that if you have limited dexterity a wallet case might cause you more faff.

      It'd be a weird part of the UX for LG to mess around with for no good reason. Maybe the carrier faffed with it?

    3. Bela Lubkin

      Re: Please, I don't want your cool hack

      Swipe-across to answer a phone call is a reaction to several common failure modes:

      - phone answers while you're fumbling it out of your pocket and would have chosen (on seeing the caller) to reject

      - phone answers in your pocket before you even start digging it out

      - phone answers in your pocket without you having noticed at all; then the caller gets to listen to you & your surroundings for as long as they want

      A simple on-screen pushbutton just isn't reliable enough.

      Should the phone UI have an option to turn off slide-to-answer, if you'd like to experience all those failure modes? Maybe. Or at least a hardware alternative like up-or-down-volume.

  8. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

    Why do you have a zucchini in your fruit bowl?

    1. hollymcr

      Missed it, was it hidden behind the courgette?

    2. peterkin

      Because it's a fruit?

      1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

        Because the tin robin is quite partial to it.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What about the phone features?

    How good is the audio on voice calls? Or the email integration? Does it do threaded SMS messages? How stable is Wi-Fi connectivity?

    If I want a device that takes excellent photos I purchase a camera. Samsung say 'The Camera. Reimagined'. I say 'Marketing Bo****cks'.

    1. robbiemcg

      Re: What about the phone features?

      That's because almost everything out there has threaded SMS, good audio, and a decent email app. In fact, you'll know when a phone isn't up to snuff on any of those because the reviewer will make a big deal of it not getting the basics right!

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: What about the phone features?

      > Does it do threaded SMS messages?

      That depends upon which app you use to handle your SMS messages. For example, I've ditched the message app on my Samsung in favour of the Google SMS app I used on my previous phone.

      Hmm, that reminds me- I must install an app to show the Time Sent tag on incoming SMS messages... for some stupid reason many Android SMS apps only show when one's phone recieved the message.

  10. This post has been deleted by its author

  11. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Reading the reviews about pictures quality, I get the feeling that it's more about one's opinion rather than using objective criteria. Some like the pictures, others don't... Ok, it's what you think about it, but can we have more numbers, more data, more objective measurements rather than bullshitic artistic opinions?

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      That's what DXO is for:

      https://www.dxomark.com/huawei-p20-pro-camera-review-innovative-technologies-outstanding-results/

  12. shaunhw
    Meh

    Somewhat pretentious ramblings I wonder ?

    Some of the comments made in this article seem like pretentious bull**** to me. A picture of some bicycles in a shed having no character. What, they didn't say "hello" or something ? Rude bicycles were they ? Some pictures having no soul. Well they wouldn't have would they if they weren't biological in nature. As for the car in the yellow sun, I wonder if the camera was set to correct for the colour temprature of the ambient light somehow ? Had I not been told it wasn't right, the first one looked far better to me at least.

    I remember buying an iPhone 3GS. Two went back for yellowish tinted screens which couldn't be adjusted., The third I kept because I gave up on it. I never bought Apple again after that, especially after someone there told me I was being far too critical!

    When reviewing these devices can someone PLEASE comment on the colour accuracy of the device's display screen ? I've seen so many with such obviously badly calibrated display screens on tablets and phones, having such poor, non correctable grey scale and gamma, you'd never know if its camera settings were at all "correct" or not when you needed to. How could you ?

    These basic aspects are fairly easy to test, so why not test them ? Without testing at least these aspects of the device, you wouldn't have a clue how well your camera was set-up, when you really do need to know.

    I have a fairly cheap Honor View 10 phone by the same manufacturer. It's the only phone I've ever seen that at least allows me to set up the base grey scale on the screen so it's reasonably neutral. I love them for putting that feature in there. I can therefore presume the camera might give me a more correct rendition of what I see ON THE DEVICE itself, when I take the shot. Not that I'm that bothered about cameras really. Screen accuracy for me is another matter. It all starts right there because when you use the camera you have to look at the screen to see through its eye.

    (sorry I had to resubmit this using a computer. I was typing it on my phone when my clumsy finger hit the submit button far too early!)

  13. davidsilverman

    Where are you getting this May release date from. Pretty sure it is already out.

  14. Jason Hindle

    The camera looks good, but...

    The 128GB storage, be default, appeals to me. I do a lot of photography with real cameras and like to get my photos backed up to Lightroom CC while on the go. I'm finding shuntting a lot of 4G data the easy part, whereas the storage on Nexus 5X is starting to be a severe limiting factor. A nice phone camera is a bonus though.

    1. Cederic

      Re: The camera looks good, but...

      My camera will backup from one SD card to another. Or you can set it to just capture to both in the first place.

      I probably ought to do that, I have SD cards sized for shooting video through a full day event so even a two week holiday doesn't fill them with still images.

  15. Woodburner

    Where's the shutter button?

    If phone makers are serious about the imaging capabilities of their phones, why do so few have a dedicated shutter release button on the side? This one feature improves phone camera photography quality no end by providing a much better, more stable grip. It used to be a standard feature on many Nokia phones but seems to have disappeared from all handsets recently. The lack of a "shutter button" is the one thing that makes using a phone as a camera awkward for me. Along with weak flash units. Generally though, the sensors and optics on modern phones are good enough for family snaps and general photography. They have more than enough resolution.

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