Camera versatility for the early mid-range

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The Honor 20 Lite was launched in early May 2019 in the UK for £249, much before the launch of the other two devices in the Honor 20 Series. The device made its way to India this May alongside its higher-end siblings, the Honor 20 and the Honor 20 Pro. All three devices take aim for different parts of the market, and the Honor 20i gets the most difficult segment in my opinion. While the Honor 20 and Honor 20 Pro target the affordable flagship space, the Honor 20i targets the extremely competitive early mid-range segment in India, thanks to its pricing of ₹14,999.

Does the Honor 20i pack in enough of a punch to unsettle any of the current champions? Stay tuned as we find out!

Note: The review unit for the Honor 20i was provided by Honor for an unbiased review. Honor sponsors XDA-Developers, but they had no inputs or contributions to the contents of this first impressions. The opinions stated within this first impressions are my own. Note that the Honor 20i is also not water resistant.

Honor 20i: Specifications

Specification Honor 20i / Honor 20 Lite
Dimensions and Weight
Display
  • 6.21-inch FHD+ (1080 x 2340) LCD, 19.5:9;
  • Waterdrop notch
SoC 12nm HiSilicon Kirin 710F:

  • 4x Cortex-A73 @2.2GHz +
  • 4x Cortex-A53 @1.7GHz

Mali-G51 MP4

RAM and Storage 4GB + 128GB;
Expandable through hybrid microSD card slot
Battery 3,400 mAh
USB microUSB
3.5mm Headphone Jack Yes
Fingerprint Scanner Yes, rear
Rear Camera
  • 24MP, f/1.8, PDAF
  • 8MP, f/2.4, ultrawide
  • 2MP, f/2.4, depth sensor
Front Camera 32MP, f/2.0
Android Version EMUI 9.0.1 based on Android 9 Pie

Honor 20i Design

Phone designs often form the crux of a first impression, and the Honor 20i makes a very good one. The back of the Honor 20i can easily mesmerize onlookers, thanks largely to the gradient colors on the back shell. The glossy finish on the shell can confuse people into presuming that the back is covered with glass, but it isn’t, which works out to the device’s advantage for its weight. The gradient blue color that we received for review starts off with a glossy blue on the top and merges into a glossy purple towards the bottom — which is the opposite of what we see in the similar colored variant of the Redmi Note 7 Pro.

The back also houses the triple rear camera set up in vertical off-centered placement and the conventional fingerprint scanner. The “HONOR” branding, as well as the “AI CAMERA” text markings, appear very prominently, while other regulatory markings appear very faintly towards the bottom edge. The bottom of the device houses the 3.5mm headphone jack, a microphone hole, a dated microUSB port, and a set of holes for the speaker. The top of the device has the secondary microphone hole and the hybrid SIM tray. The right side of the device has the volume rocker and power button, while the left side of the device is clean and barren.

Do note that the Honor 20i is not water-resistant in any form. The cover image is a mere testimony to the difficulty in photographing phones in a city with a tropical climate. We do not recommend getting your device wet in any manner.

Honor 20i / Honor 20 Lite

Moving on, the front of the Honor 20i is occupied by the 6.21-inch LCD with a waterdrop notch, and a thin speaker grille, along with moderately sized black bezels on three edges, and a slightly larger bezel on the bottom edge. The bezels, when compared to the Redmi Note 7 Pro, are thinner on all edges, giving a better screen-to-body ratio, but the Redmi Note 7 Pro also has a slightly larger display. There is no mention of Gorilla Glass for the front, so I presume it is absent. The phone comes with a pre-installed screen protector that is difficult to remove (I stopped trying after a point).

Honor 20i / Honor 20 Lite

As far as looks are concerned, the Honor 20i trumps the competition from Xiaomi, thanks to its curved back design which lends it more aesthetic appeal against the rather boxy look of the Redmi Note 7 Pro. The Honor 20i also has a much better feel in hand thanks to the curved back design, and the weight (164g versus 186g on the Redmi Note 7 Pro) gave me a lot of confidence while holding the device with a one-handed grip. I have become painfully accustomed to holding the much larger and much heavier OnePlus 7 Pro, so the lightweight Honor 20i was very much appreciated by my wrists. Glass back phones are also overrated in my opinion (I say this with the glass-backed Redmi Note 7 Pro and OnePlus 7 Pro slowly sliding off my desk), and the practicality of what I presume is a polycarbonate shell on the back with a glossy finish is enough for me to praise Honor in this regard. The glossy finish does make the Honor 20i a fingerprint magnet, and I can notice micro-abrasions on the glossy back, which could possibly compound over time.

The lack of a glass back is not a negative at all for the Honor 20i, in my eyes. After all, the phone isn’t competing in the premium segment — that task is left for its elder siblings, the Honor 20 and Honor 20 Pro — so I’d rather take practical over premium in this price range. Similarly, the phone does not have any sort of water resistance — something I dearly missed while I struggled using the device outdoors in Mumbai’s punishing monsoon. Considering the price of the device and the fact that reliable water resistance is still a pipe dream in this price segment, I am inclined to not judge the phone too harshly on this aspect.

Honor 20i / Honor 20 Lite

What is definitely a negative for the Honor 20i is the use of a microUSB instead of a USB Type-C despite the market moving heavily toward the latter. Unlike the plastic shell, the microUSB port does sadly reek of cost-cutting. Other than on Android Go devices, a microUSB port no longer makes practical sense, so there are no excuses here.

Honor 20i Software Experience

The Honor 20i runs on EMUI 9 based on Android 9 Pie. Our Editor-in-Chief, Mishaal Rahman, did an extremely comprehensive review of EMUI in a separate series [EMUI 9 Review Part 1 | EMUI 9 Review Part 2], so I recommend checking that out to go through all the nuances and smaller details of the OS.

If you are a pure Android lover, you will definitely feel alienated by EMUI. But if you have been around heavily customized UX such as Xiaomi’s MIUI, as I have, EMUI is not as much of a learning curve.

By default, the launcher does not have an app drawer as EMUI puts everything on the home screen. This would have been fine for the most part, but EMUI does not offer basic sorting options to make your life any easier. The result is that your home screen ends up being a giant mess of apps and icons, with varying levels of difficulty in locating the app you need or requiring a lot of time to sort out your home screen in the fashion that you find convenient. Fortunately, you can change the home screen style to show an app drawer. The setting to change the home screen style can be found in Settings > Home screen & wallpaper > Home screen style. The search bar on the default launcher is pretty nifty, as it combines results from app suggestions, contacts, calendar, and local files — all in one place and neatly grouped according to their origin/type.

What I disliked majorly about EMUI was its aggressive memory management. The Honor 20i comes with 4GB of RAM and I expected it to be sufficient to multitask between a fair few apps. But the practical reality with the device has been that I could not multitask beyond a couple of apps without losing positions. This was downright disappointing because the OS in this case appears to be holding back what is otherwise decent hardware. Further, the default behavior for Honor’s UX is to prioritize battery over app continuity and experience, so most apps would close in the background because of the OS’s behavior. This default behavior gave me a lot of issues with missed notifications, as often crucial IM apps like WhatsApp, Telegram, and Discord (all of which I need on a regular basis) would stop syncing in the background when the device display was turned off for a substantial period of time. After unlocking the device, I was often met with a flood of notifications. If that flood didn’t happen, I would need to remember to open the apps individually to ensure that there actually aren’t any pending notifications, in case the apps had been killed completely in the background. Yes, this behavior can be altered, but the default settings do make for a poor first impression. We will be exploring the Kirin 710’s performance in greater detail in the full review.

With the negatives stated, what I do like about EMUI is the battery backup that it offers, thanks to the aforesaid aggressive memory management. The Honor 20i has a comparatively “small” 3,400 mAh battery, but I could still manage to last through regular days with ~4 hours of screen on time and 20-30% battery left to spare. We’d be running our standard battery benchmarks to determine how good the device is under sustained heavy usage. Other smaller positives include a surprisingly reliable face unlock solution, reliable and quick fingerprint unlock, and a generally pleasant experience (with the exceptions noted above). EMUI also comes with its own Theme Store for customizing app icons, fonts, and lock screen style. There’s also an FM Radio app, and that’s something that isn’t even present on any of my OnePlus devices.

Honor 20i Camera

The highlight feature of the Honor 20i is the camera setup, and the device does not disappoint on that end. The phone comes with a triple rear camera setup comprising of a 24MP primary sensor, an 8MP ultrawide sensor, and a 2MP depth sensor. On the front, you get a 32MP camera within the waterdrop notch. The USP of the device is thus its versatility in the camera department, as you are equipped enough to handle a fair few scenarios, more than what several other competitors can claim to do. This versatility-to-price ratio is where the Honor 20i shines, and you are unlikely to come across other convincing products in this segment that can claim to best this device.

For results with the primary camera, you get good and crisp shots when you have adequate light. The resultant images have a good balance of contrast, color accuracy, and saturation. The phone is also surprisingly good with its AI scene detection, though the changes it does apply to the images (if at all any) are barely noticeable to me. When the light starts getting low, you see the obvious drawbacks of softness and loss of detail creeping in. Night mode managed to get me shots that are decently visible, but that’s about the only plus point so far.

Honor 20i Camera Samples

What I do love about the Honor 20i is its wide-angle lens, which is fast turning into my favorite secondary camera. Wide-angle really adds in context to the shot without requiring us as the photographer to move further away. The wide-angle performance on the Honor 20i is acceptable, but images do have a slight red tint to them. You can also take videos through the wide angle lens, which is something that is missing on a certain top-tier flagship. The third camera on the back is for depth sensing, and with the aperture mode option in the camera app, you can apply background blurs even to non-human objects. The Honor 20i, however, misses out on certain features like 4K video recording and slow motion.

The front camera is a 32MP shooter, which is decent. The front camera tries to blur the background on selfies, but the lack of a second sensor on the front appears to be holding it back from getting those perfect bokeh shots. What the Honor 20i does get marvelously correct is face unlock with this camera. The phone is unlocked the moment I lift it, without any further action. And the camera was not fooled by my photos as well as my younger brother (who bears an uncanny resemblance to me, not pictured). Security with this face unlock implementation is the same (insecure) as it is on other devices, but the convenience factor on this device is better than on other previous devices that I have tried out.


First Impressions Conclusion

The Honor 20i attempts to compete in the crowded sub-₹15,000 space in the Indian market, which is dominated by Xiaomi majorly with its Redmi Note series, and I do not think the device packs in enough of a punch to dethrone the Redmi Note 7 Pro from its pole position. There are other high-value devices in this space, like the impressive Realme 3 Pro, which offers a comparable, if not better, performance proposition than what Honor can achieve with the Kirin 710 on the Honor 20i.

Honor 20i/20 Lite XDA Forums

The areas that the Honor 20i can gain superiority is then its promising triple rear camera setup, which we do not see in good devices in this price range. Samsung’s offerings with a triple rear camera are the Samsung Galaxy A50 and the Samsung Galaxy M30, though the Galaxy A50 gets a fair bit more expensive than the Honor 20i. What could work for Honor is to refocus their efforts towards the camera, fill in for missing features through OTA updates if possible, and work on ironing out the major gripes with their software. And maybe even consider unlocking the bootloader of their device while they are at it.

You can purchase the Honor 20i in India through HiHonor and Flipkart for a price of ₹14,999 for the 4GB RAM and 128GB internal storage variant. Follow the links below for other regions:

Buy Honor 20 Lite (UK) | Buy Honor 20 Lite (Germany)

Buy Honor 20i (India) | Buy Honor 20i (China)

Stay tuned for our full review of the Honor 20i!

Note: Huawei/Honor have stopped providing official bootloader unlock codes for its devices. Therefore, the bootloaders of their devices cannot be unlocked, which means that users cannot root or install custom ROMs.

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