P20 and P20 Pro look to set a new standard for the industry
Huawei has made great strides in smartphone photography this past year, and the P20 and
P20 Pro look to set a new standard for the industry.
I’ll put these newcomers to the test vs the current champion, Huawei’s Mate 10 Pro.
And you asked for it, so the Pixel 2 XL is back for a rematch!
Last Cam Standing is PCWorld’s video series for determining the best phone camera for
still images in a King-of-the-hill style battle.
Whichever phone wins moves on to face the next major smartphone release, so subscribe
to see the journey unfold!
First up, let’s meet the current champ.
The Mate 10 Pro has taken down the likes of the iPhone X and Galaxy S9+ with its unique
camera system and AI power.
But now Huawei has the P20 Pro — the first smartphone to feature a three camera system.
It shares a lot of traits with the Mate 10 Pro, but promises to take it up a notch with
a Master AI function and a sensor that’s around double the size of Samsung’s S9+!
The regular P20, on paper, looks to be closer to the Mate 10 Pro specs-wise.
A couple improvements include larger pixels and the same Master AI features as its bigger
And here comes the people’s champ, Google’s Pixel 2 XL.
It’s got a single-camera system with computational horsepower like no other.
It lost to the Mate 10 Pro last year, but after some software updates we want to give
it another shot at the title.
As always, our testing is divided into four catagories: color, clarity, exposure, and
now we’re looking specifically at extra features.
Unique hardware and software features are what set so many cameras apart nowadays, so
that’s an important area of focus.
And of course, all our testing mimics how people use phones in the real world.
For all shots I use the stock camera app, the way it was configured right out of the
This tells me how each company tuned their camera system for everyday use.
Now on to the testing!
The first category is color, with the main focus being on color reproduction and white
This first shot in my house doesn’t fair well for the P20 Pro, producing some unpleasant
The P20 is on the greener side, but still more natural than the P20 Pro.
The Mate 10 Pro and the Pixel 2 are closer to accurate, with the Mate having a desaturated
Moving to a spot with less contrast, the P20 is the most accurate while the Mate 10 Pro
is the least.
The P20 Pro has a light green tint while the Pixel 2 has a magenta cast.
In this shot of a dark stairwell, the yellow hue is once again present on the P20 Pro.
It’s not a deal breaker, but it continues to show up time and time again.
The Mate 10 Pro leans warmer as well, and the P20 stays pretty even across the entire
Oddly the Pixel 2 comes in cool and desaturated.
Once outside, we start to see our first run in with both of the P20s’ Master AI feature.
It’s on by default, and once it recognized a scene with prodominetly blue skies, it kicked
over to a filter Huawei felt was most appropriate titled ‘Blue Sky’.
Not only does it bump up contrast, it adds a heavy vignette and some sharpening.
Luckily, the scene filter can be turned off with a quick press, resulting in a more standard
Master AI left me in a dilemma while testing.
The crux of our tests are predicated on leaving settings on full auto.
But I was curious to see how the shots looked without that extra processing, so I ending
up capturing both versions.
For purposes of this category the AI scenes really only affect the contrast, increasing
So judging the results first with the Master AI off, we see that something is wrong with
the Pixel 2, which displays some sickly green tones.
The P20 Pro is still a little on the yellow side, but the P20 and Mate 10 Pro are both
pretty damn good.
Replace both P20 phones with the added Master AI ‘Blue Sky’ scene, and all that really
changes is the contrast.
This category is a close one, but the P20 Pro has a problem with yellow hues and the
Pixel 2 XL was inconsistent.
With a good blend of accurate and pleasing colors, even when Master AI kicks in, the
P20 takes the color category.
Our second tests look at clarity, where we focus on the sharpness of each camera and
how well they can stay sharp in various lighting scenarios.
As always, I have to include a brick wall in this section – it just reveals so much
about how each camera handles fine detail.
After zooming in, we see that the P20 is an improvement over the Mate 10 Pro.
But this fight really comes down to the P20 Pro and the Pixel 2.
The P20 Pro has a 40MP sensor which uses pixel binning to gather more information, resulting
in a 10MP photo.
It goes toe to toe with the Pixel 2 and only has a slight edge due to Google’s over sharpening,
which makes the grout look too harsh.
Switching to a shot on the roof, the Master AI once again kicked in on both P20 phones
with it’s ‘Blue Sky’ filter.
When it comes to clarity, these Master AI modes really put a hamper on the final images.
Swapping out with the standard photos brings this point home.
With these versions in place, we see the P20 Pro neck and neck with the Pixel 2.
But at far distances like this, I think I lean toward favoring the Pixel.
At closer ranges, each phone does very well.
But I’m not even going to show the Master AI versions here, because even the ‘Greenery’
scene kills clairty.
In bright lighting conditions I’d put the Mate 10 Pro last here followed by the P20.
So once again the battle comes down to the P20 Pro and Pixel 2, with the edge going to
the P20 Pro.
So what’s the story in low light?
Well it’s actually pretty similar.
The Mate 10 Pro is right behind the larger pixels of the P20, retaining plenty of information
on the bricks for everyday use.
But the Pixel 2 really stumbles here.
It has a good amount of detail, but the noise that’s present kills it.
The P20 Pro, on the other hand, has a healthy amount of noise suppressed, all while keeping
a great amount of detail.
In a darker part of the garage, you can tell just how sharp the P20 Pro is, even before
Yes, it’s starting to look a little bit like a watercooler painting, but you can’t
deny the low light chops of this camera.
The regular P20 does pretty well, and even the Pixel has more detail than the Mate 10
Pro despite the noise present.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, noise in a photo doesn’t bother me, it’s
how it affects it that matters.
So while it was a toss up between the Pixel 2 and the P20 Pro in bright light, the P20
Pro just dominated in low light – taking the clarity category.
The third test category is exposure, focusing on the dynamic range of each camera and how
they expose for a scene.
In this high-contrast scenario, check out the sky lights.
I was super surprised by how the P20 and P20 Pro hang on to hightlights better than the
Hell, even the Mate 10 Pro protected the hightlights better.
Overall I think the Mate 10 Pro is underexposed in the mids compared to the rest.
The P20 Pro has the brightest shadows, which make it feel a bit overprocessed.
But this category is really where the Master AI can muck things up.
Aiming toward the sky kicks on the ‘Blue Sky’ mode on both P20s, resulting in higher
contrast and a vignette — both of which put a hamper on dynamic range for our tests.
Despite this, they still hang close to the Mate 10 Pro.
The Pixel 2 is underexposed here, but still retains information in the shadows.
Turning off the ‘Blue Sky’ prompt reveals plenty of shadow detail in the P20 Pro and
brings back the blown out highlights on the P20.
The graffiti on the wall is once again a tad underexposed on the Pixel 2.
The Mate 10 Pro turns in a solid showing here, but the P20 and P20 Pro both nail the exposure
– adding a great sense of depth between the brightest and darkest parts of the photo.
In this complex shot of a succlent, the Master AI kicked in with it’s ‘Greenery’ mode
and missed the mark on the P20 and P20 Pro.
Not only are the photos underexposed, but they’re starting to loose valuable shadow
Focusing just on the P20 Pro, let’s compare the same shot with the ‘Greenery’ effect
on and off.
I’ll be honest here, I’m of two minds about Master AI.
On one hand.
I like that it’s trying to maximize the tuning for specific scenarios, but sometimes
it just goes too far.
On the other hand, if I were to take the non-AI version of the photo into Instagram, I’d
probably do most of the same things to it, like add a vignette.
But getting back to the testing, here’s a shot that I was completely happy with when
the Master AI did its thing.
When we bring up the un-effected photos we can see that these cameras are still pretty
damn similar, producing great results despite the nit picks.
So even though the exposure section is muddied by the inclusion of Master AI on two phones,
I’m still pleased with the exposure choices presented.
And with the AI effect turned off, the P20 Pro presents the widest dynamic range.
So I’m giving the exposure category to Huawei’s P20 Pro.
The fourth and final category is now titled extra features.
Here I’ll specifically be going over the hardware and software options that set each
Up front I’ll mention that all the Huawei phones feature the same camera setup of one
RGB sensor and one black and white sensor.
I’ve found the inclusion of a dedicated black and white sensor to be adventageous
if you enjoy black and white photography.
Add on top of that the processing Huawei uses to take advantage of the combo and a Leica
partnership, and they have a winning formula
Out of the four phones, the P20 Pro is the only one with a dedicated telephoto lens.
It offers a 3x optical zoom compared to the main lens, and it smokes the digital zoom
of the other phones.
Software wise, Huawei upgraded its camera app for the P20 and P20 Pro, and it’s a
huge step up from the Mate 10 Pro.
It’s still not the most intuitive app, but it’s getting better.
The Pixel 2’s camera app is solid, but it just lacks compelling extra features.
And while it’s impressive that Google does so much with only a single camera, its options
feel generic and limited.
The last feature I’ll address is the P20 and P20 Pro’s Master AI.
As I said before, I was confilicted about how to use in these tests, but have settled
on it being ultimitaly a good thing.
Rather than having the setting be all or nothing, it only pops up in specific scenarios where
it thinks you might want a bit of flair added.
Do yiou like how it affects the photo?
Then save it and be happy that it offered you a great suggestion.
Hate the look it’s going for?
Just press a little X and take the photo as normal.
At the end of the day, I’m glad it’s an option, and one that 9 times out of 10 produces
a stylized version that I would of done on my own.
From the three lens system, to a great manual mode and the Master AI feature, you just can’t
beat everything that’s packed into the P20 Pro, which takes the extra features category.
And with that, let’s crown a winner!
Honestly, I believe we are looking at four of the top 5 smartphones available today.
But the one that stands above all the rest is Huawei’s P20 Pro.
Huawei is on a roll lately with its cameras, and just on looking at pure specs, the P20
Pro is a powerhouse.
But it all comes together when you use it.
The minor shortcomings it has, such as the odd yellow hue in some scenes, are far outweighed
by its sharp images and boatload of features.
The Master AI can sometimes produce a worse shot, but can be easily dismissed by a quick
And even though I really had to pick some nits to come to a conclusion, I have no problem
recommending the P20 Pro to those who need the best.
But LG’s successor to last year’s amazing G6 is right around the corner.
Will it be enough to take on Huawei’s reign?