Every product here is independently selected by Mashable journalists. If you buy something featured, we may earn an affiliate commission which helps support our work.
Honor View 20 review
Come for the hole-punch display, stay for the value.
I experienced a serious case of déjà vu while testing the Honor View 20 over the last month.
Here’s an Android phone that none of my friends and family have ever heard of, has fast and responsive performance, a long-lasting battery, and costs hundreds less than the best Android phones such as Samsung’s Galaxy Note 9 and Google’s Pixel 3.
And (yes, there’s more) the View 20 comes with a refreshingly original glass back design that glimmers at different angles and is one of the first phones with a “hole-punch” display instead of a screen with a notch.
I didn’t have to dig deep to figure out what the View 20 reminded me of: OnePlus. Honor is what OnePlus was a few years ago and the surprisingly good View 20 is the phone with the potential to put the company on the global map and let it stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other mobile giants.
- Pretty hole-punch display
- Excellent performance
- Head-turning premium design
- Long-lasting battery life
- Comes with a headphone jack
- Too many duplicative apps and pre-installed bloatware
- No wireless charging
- No expandable storage
- Not available in the U.S. (yet)
- Doesn’t work on Verizon or CDMA networks
- Average cameras
Honor’s View 20 is another great example of how lesser known phone makers are aggressively cornering Apple and Samsung on design and pricing.
Bang for the Buck3
The View 20 launched in late 2018, but only in China. It’s launching in the rest of Asia and Europe throughout 2019. But like all Huawei phones (fun fact: Honor is a sub-brand of Huawei!), the View 20 has no U.S. release date (yet).
I pressed Honor to see if I could nail down a release window, but was told they don’t have anything to share. I wouldn’t rule out a U.S. release, though, since the company does sell its predecessor, the View 10 in the states.
I first got to touch the View 20 and examine its “hole-punch” (we have to come up with a better name than this; I recommend “mole”) display in all of its glory at CES 2019 and it immediately lured me in.
As one of the first phones with a “hole-punch” (Samsung’s Galaxy S10 and countless other phones will make this display type a trend this year), I knew I had to try it out.
But it wasn’t just the display that I wanted to put to the test. I wanted to find out if the Honor’s many cutting-edge features — it’s powered by Huawei’s latest and fastest Kirin 980 chip and the camera has 48-megapixels — lived up to the hype.
After a month in my pocket, I can say the View 20 mostly does. There are a few things that I’m not in love with such as how Honor’s reworked stock Android 9 Pie into its own custom “Magic UI 2.” But for the most part, the View 20 is a sleeper all-star.
Goodbye notch, hello hole-punch
The View 20 has a design that you will either love or hate. I have shown the phone off to many people and nobody has ever felt indifferent.
Some people will think the glimmering “V” is too flashy and loud and others will feel it’s fun, different, and not the same solid color options other phone makers tend to go with.
I’m in the latter boat. Though I love a nice clean and understated design, I can’t resist the urge to say I really like what Honor’s done for the View 20.
The phone’s unorthodox pattern is a bold statement. I felt special letting strangers know I wasn’t using the same iPhone as them. Maybe it’s a little twisted, but I enjoyed the thought that nobody knew what phone I was using.
You can cover up the View 20 in a case (good luck finding a third-party one), but that kind of defeats the whole point of its aesthetic. This is a phone you really want to show off. I either used the View 20 nude or with the included soft clear case.
Not only does the View 20 look stunning, but it also feels like a more expensive phone. A few years ago, I would have been blown away by an Honor phone with such high-quality construction. But Chinese phone makers have become masters at making premium devices and the View 20 is no exception.
The phone’s metal body and glass back are solid all the way through. You won’t find any flexing going on unless you’re really trying hard to snap the phone in half. My blue review unit is especially attractive and the chamfered edges and curved glass edges and side make the phone comfortable to hold. It’s also great cameras on the back don’t prominently protrude like on other phones; it’s not flush, but the camera “bumps” are narrow.
Likewise, the metal buttons are clicky and precise. There’s a headphone jack on the top of the phone! A physical fingerprint sensor is positioned where it belongs: backside and centered. The 4,000 mAh battery charges over USB-C and supports fast charging (up to 55 percent in 30 minutes).
But the feature you’ll spend the most time staring at is the 6.4-inch screen. The display dominates the entire front with an 85.7 percent screen-to-body ratio thanks to some of narrowest bezels surrounding it. There’s still a sliver of a “chin” below the screen, but it’s tolerable.
Display nerds will gripe about how the screen’s LCD and not OLED. How the resolution is only 2,310 x 1,080 and not higher. “But why doesn’t it support DCI-P3 wide color gamut?” To these people I say: Chill out — what good is your bleeding edge display tech when your phone doesn’t last a full day?
And how can I forget about the “hole punch”? It’s…fine. On the View 20, the hole sits in the upper left corner of the screen (it’s supposed to be in the upper right on the Galaxy S10) and scoots the entire status bar to the right.
I thought I would have a much stronger opinion on the hole punch, like “this is the end of the notch,” but I really don’t. It’s a hole inside of the screen, but only instead of being centered towards the top, it’s off to the side.
Does the hole look better than a larger notch? Yes, I think does. Is it noticeably prettier than smaller notches like the teardrop-shaped one on the OnePlus 6T? Not really. Did I stop noticing the hole right away? Almost immediately.
In most apps, the notch doesn’t really affect the overall experience — it’s mostly out of the way or uses up the same row of pixels for the status bar. But you may find some apps that aren’t optimized for the cutout so you’ll see things like text that’s cut off. Games that place buttons in the corners will also be screwy until they’re updated.
If there’s any downside to a hole-punch cutout compared to a larger notch, it’s that there’s only room to fit the selfie camera. See, most people bemoan notches because they think it’s just an aesthetic design. But actually, no.
Large notches like the ones on the iPhone XS and XR and Huawei Mate 20 Pro are so long because they house additional sensors such as a IR sensor and “dot projector” and “flood illuminator” that are needed to enable their more secure 3D-based face recognition systems. The View 20 has a fast-working face unlock, but because the camera’s 2D-based, it’s easier to bypass with printed photos like I did with the OnePlus 6.
To make a long story short: I expect virtually every Android phone maker to embrace the hole-punch display this year. And if not this year, then in 2020. It’s either they go with a hole-punch or a motorized camera or slider design.
Hole-punch displays are a big step towards achieving a true “all-glass” screen, but let’s be real here: It’s basically a notch that’s in the corner.
Since Honor is owned by Huawei, the View 20 doesn’t use a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip like you’d find in other Android phones. Instead, the View 20 is powered by Huawei’s own Kirin 980 chip.
Even though it’s no Snapdragon, the 7-nanometer Kirin 980 chip is powerful in its own right. Running Geekbench 4 on the View 20, the phone racked up scores that were superior to the Snapdragon 845.
On the single-core test, the View 20 scored 3,244 putting it well ahead of the best Android phones such as the OnePlus 6T McLaren edition and Pixel 3, which scored 2,426 and 2,358, respectively.
The View 20 is also faster than both the 6T and Pixel 3 for multi-core tasks. It scored 9,614 compared to the 6T’s 9,007 and Pixel 3’s 8,251.
Honor’s phone is fast and most noticeable when playing really graphics-heavy games like Fortnite and Asphalt 9, but like all Android phones, it’s not even close to the latest iPhones. The iPhone XS and XR’s A12 Bionic chip is about 48 percent faster on single-core and about 20 percent faster on multi-core.
With the Kirin 980 and 8GB of RAM, the View 20 is like a bullet train compared to other Android phones, which are like the slow subway. My model with 8GB of RAM comes with 256GB of storage, but there’s also a 6GB of RAM version with 128GB of storage. Unfortunately, like the OnePlus 6T, the View 20 doesn’t come with a microSD card slot so what you get is what you’re stuck with.
Another thing you’re stuck with: Magic UI 2. That’s Honor’s own take on Android 9 Pie and it’s… Huawei-y. Though not as blatant of a ripoff as EMUI on Huawei phones, Magic UI still looks inspired by iOS. By default, Magic UI 2 sports a home screen grid like iOS without any app drawer. You can put the app drawer back in, but it’s the old button-based version pre-Android Oreo.
In 2019, I would generally say I can live with most custom versions of Android like Samsung’s own TouchWiz, but it’s also 2019 and seeing such an abundance of duplicate apps and bloatware pre-installed tainted my first days with the View 20.
Granted, many of the pre-installed apps like the Booking.com and Honor shop app are easily un-installable, I still don’t like having so many apps pre-installed. I’m aware that many people really aren’t bothered by duplicate apps (i.e. email, gallery, etc.) and expecting companies to adopt stock Android is wishful thinking, but a lightly modified version of it like OnePlus’ OxygenOS would still be better.
Battery life on the View 20 is also looong. With a 4,000 mAh battery capacity, the View 20 often lasted up to two days on a single charge with light to moderate mixed usage. But with my heavy usage, the phone mostly made it through a full day with about 20-30 percent battery left to spare.
As unsexy as battery life is to test and write about, it is one of the most important features many people consider when buying a phone so it’s great that Honor delivers tons of it.
The hole-punch is new and neat, but once you get used to it, the only features that really matter day in day out are performance, battery life, and the cameras.
Smartphone cameras have hit serious milestones over the last few years. The best cameras are still in the most expensive phones like the iPhone XS/XR, Galaxy Note 9, and Pixel 3.
But like all innovations, cutting-edge tech quickly gets pushed down into less expensive products. On paper, the View 20’s cameras appear to be beasts.
There’s a 48-megapixel camera with f/1.8 aperture on the back coupled with a secondary “ToF” camera (short for Time of Flight) for 3D depth-sensing to aid with taking portrait photos. And on the front, inside of the the hole-punch, is a 25-megapixel camera sensor with f/2.0 aperture.
High-resolution cameras aren’t new, though. Sony and Nokia have touted more megapixels for years only for consumers to collectively shrug at them.
What matters most is whether or not a camera can take correctly exposed photos with accurate colors, nail low-light photography, and take sharp shots. How do the cameras in a $650 phone compare to more expensive phones?
Despite its 48-megapixel sensor, the View 20’s shoots 12-megapixel resolution by default. The camera’s good, but I wouldn’t call it flagship-level. If you only post them to Instagram or Twitter where compression kills image quality, you can get away with most shots.
But if you’re really pixel-peeping or want to crop in on a photo you’ll find sharpness is lacking. The thing that shocked me most while shooting with multiple phones was how improved the OnePlus 6T’s camera has become. It was good, but it’s inching closer towards great with each new update to the camera software.
But wait! The View 20 has two special modes that make up for the average 12-megapixel default photos. Toggle on the 48-megapixel resolution mode or 48-megapixel “AI Ultra Clarity” mode and sharpness greatly improves.
Here are three photos taken at 12-megapixels (default), 48-megapixels, and 48-megapixels AI Ultra Clarity.
48-megapixels might seem like overkill for a smartphone and though it mostly is, it’s high time phone cameras go beyond the now normal 12-megapixel resolution.
Honor recommends the 48-megapixel AI Ultra Clarity mode only for shooting “still objects and scenery in good light.” But in my tests, even if there are moving objects like people or cars, the camera still shoots noticeably sharper photos.
Left to right: 12-megapixels, 48-megapixels, 48-megapixels AI Ultra Clarity
Low-light shooting has improved a great deal on phones and it’s equally good-enough on the View 20. The camera tends to pump up the saturation in an attempt to bring out more colors like the sky in the below night shot of the Empire State Building shot about 30 minutes after sunset.
A few simple tweaks in Instagram or Lightroom can make the View 20’s low-light photos better, but look at the iPhone XR’s shot. The ESB’s yellow lighting is perfectly exposed and the sky is accurate to what my eyes saw. The Pixel 3 took a good shot, but there’s still some overexposure going on. And the OnePlus 6T…it totally underexposed the building in front of the ESB.
Then, there’s the View 20’s night mode. With the magic of algorithms, the View 20 can shoot a bunch of photos and stack them together to create one brighter and better-exposed photo.
In night mode, the camera takes a four-second exposure meaning you have to hold it still for the full duration. I compared the View 20’s night mode with the night mode on the OnePlus 6T and Night Sight on the Pixel 3 XL and it’s…okay, but still needs some more work.
In this particular photo, the OnePlus 6T exposed the point of focus (the Empire State Building’s tower) with better highlights and details. However, the Pixel 3’s sharper overall and where you really see the difference is in the details in the rest of the photo.
Whereas the 6T’s night mode produces really crunchy-looking shots, the Pixel 3’s crisper (albeit darker). The View 20 smears most of the details of the building.
The Pixel 3’s Night Sight is in a league of its own when it comes to seeing in the dark, but the fact a phone like the View 20 has a night mode at all is commendable.
At this point, it’s a little embarrassing for Apple, which has yet to release a night mode for any iPhone. If Apple doesn’t include a night mode in this year’s iPhone(s), it’s going to fall far behind the competition.
The View 20’s capable of shooting “portrait” photos with a blurred background. Like the rest of the camera’s abilities, the results are merely fine. Portrait mode photos look okay, but they really don’t compare to the Pixel 3’s “faux-keh” (fake bokeh) created entirely with machine learning or the iPhone XS and XR’s background blur that’s modeled after real DSLR lenses.
Similar to the iPhone XR and XS, the View 20 has a handful of portrait filters. I tried all five of them and never used any of them ever again.
As you can see in the shots below, the filters are relatively basic and “stage lighting” filter does a weak job at isolating the background and blackening it.
After shooting with the View 20 for a month, I can tell you the cameras are average. You can definitely get great results if you put some elbow grease into adjusting certain camera settings. But for point-and-shoot photos, it lags behind the iPhone XS, iPhone XR and Pixel 3. That said, the cameras are by no means terrible for a $650; it just doesn’t compare to the cameras in flagship phones.
As with all of our phone reviews, the photos are only a sampling. I welcome all civilized discussions on phone photography and, as always, open my Twitter (@raywongy) or on Instagram (@sourlemons) DMs to anyone who wants to know more about the photos in this review and how they compare to other phone cameras. Don’t be shy!
Below, I leave you with some samples (click to enlarge to for their full resolution) that are straight from the View 20’s cameras. No editing was done on any of the images.
The Huawei dilemma
Something curious has happened in Android Land. My enthusiasm for the most popular and premium Android smartphones — the Samsung Galaxies and Google Pixels — which are increasingly also the most expensive devices has waned.
I know what to expect from Samsung and Google. But companies like Honor are keeping things fresh not only with unexpected designs, but also exciting new features like the hole-punch display.
With prices for flagship Android phones soaring into the stratosphere — it’s now clearer than ever phones are too expensive — phone makers (especially lesser known brands) like Honor and OnePlus are aggressively competing to provide more value without devastating your savings.
2019 is the year everyone should start paying more attention to these “mid-range”-priced phones. There’s more interesting innovation happening with these less expensive phones than the incremental improvements to cameras and performance in pricier phones.
Honor faces the same challenges OnePlus once had to overcome. That includes supporting CDMA networks like Verizon and Sprint — the View 20 only works on GSM networks like AT&T and T-Mobile — and building trust with consumers. The latter will be more difficult for Honor since it’s owned by Huawei, which has been accused of using its devices and networking equipment to spy on the U.S. for the Chinese government.
The question you have to ask yourself is: Do you trust Huawei? If you answered no, then you probably shouldn’t trust Honor. But if you’re not concerned about potential espionage — there’s no concrete evidence to suggest you should at the time of this writing — the View 20’s a value-packed phone that sometimes runs circles around more expensive devices.
Senior Tech Correspondent
Deputy Tech Editor