In last week’s column, I waxed lyrical about Samsung’s gorgeous Galaxy S9, describing it as the best Android phone for now. Well, that time may already have come with the arrival in South Africa of Huawei’s P20 line-up of smartphones.
I’m reserving judgement until I’ve had a chance to spend more time with the Chinese newcomers, but from what I’ve seen at two launch events, there may well be a new champion in town.

Unveiled in South Africa just over a week ago, first at a gala launch in Johannesburg, then at a series of more intimate regional events in major centres, the line-up comprises the P20 Pro, P20 and P20 Lite.

The big daddy of the trio, the P20 Pro, is the device that I’m guessing is giving local Samsung execs sleepless nights. If not, it should be.

Boasting not two, but three rear cameras and a stunning 6.1-inch OLED display and class leading battery life, it also bristles with artificial intelligence (AI) smarts.

Let’s start with that ground-breaking Leica triple camera, which gives the P20 Pro the highest total pixel count on a smartphone to date. It comprises a 40MP RGB sensor, 20MP monochrome sensor, and an 8MP telephoto lens.

According to Huawei, this combo works together to produce images with better lighting and 300% better camera detail over the industry standard 12MP sensors. Thanks to the 3x optical zoom, 5x hybrid zoom, and 10x digital zoom, the company says, getting closer to your subject without moving is now easier to do and produces better results than with any other phone-mounted camera.

Certainly, the examples on display at the launch events were impressive. Huawei commissioned popular Instagrammers from around the country to take a series of pictures with the P20 Pro. Blown up and mounted, they looked for all the world like they’d been snapped with an expensive DSLR camera.

The low-light capabilities also impressed me with, with the Pro managing to produce shots in near complete darkness comparable to that low-light maestro, the S9. I look forward to testing the camera’s full array of features when I get my hands on a review unit.

It’s not just the triple camera that makes the P20 Pro such a threat to its competitors. The 2 240 x 1 080 pixel display is near faultless and the first I’ve seen from Huawei to come close to rivalling Samsung’s screens. Yes, there’s a notch but it’s significantly smaller than the one on the iPhone X and if it really irks you, there’s a setting that lets you mask it, albeit at the cost of a few millimetres of extra top bezel.

But in my opinion, the biggest threat the P20 Pro poses to its rivals is in the battery life department. Huawei says that the 4000mAh battery will deliver close to two full days between charges, a claim borne out by early reviews from abroad. No other flagship smartphone comes close.

Combine this with the powerful Kirin 970 processor, IP67 water resistance, 128GB of onboard storage and the very latest version of Google’s Android operating system (Oreo 8.1) and you’ve got what may well be a Galaxy S9+ killing device.

That’s not to say it’s perfect. The lack of a headphone jack is a big minus for me. There’s also no wireless charging or SD card slot, although these aren’t biggies when you consider the amazing battery life and capacious built-in storage.

Turning to the smaller P20, it may not have all the bells and whistles of the Pro, but it’s a pretty attractive proposition in its own right. While it loses one camera lens, the two that remain, 20MP and 12MP, still give it plenty of capability both in bright and low-light conditions.

The screen’s smaller (5.8 inches) and is an LCD rather than OLED, but it still has 2 240 x 1 080 pixels which actually gives it a higher pixel density than its big brother (428 vs 408). The battery’s smaller, though (3400mAh), and it sheds the waterproofing that comes with the Pro model.

Still, the P20 has the same beefy processor and generous storage, making for a compelling package and positioning it as a worthy rival to the Galaxy S9.

Rounding out the P20 range is P20 Lite which, as the name suggests, is much lighter on specs, but still has the signature good looks of its premium siblings and enough smarts to make it highly desirable at its price point.

So, what will one of these new Huawei’s set you back? Less than you’d expect.

The P20 Pro is selling for R15 499 prepaid or on contracts starting at R670 a month, the P20 for R12 999 and contracts starting at R499, and the P20 Lite for R5 999 and contracts starting at R299.

This isn’t pocket change by any stretch of the imagination, but still significantly cheaper than competitors. And that’s before you factor in Huawei’s Ace in the hole: a killer aftermarket service package.

Dubbed the Huawei Diamond VIP Service and valued at a tad under R4 000, it’s being offered free to anyone who buys not just the P20 or P20 Pro but the Lite, too. It includes free collection and delivery from a customer’s home or office if they can’t get to a Huawei repair centre, a loan device to users whose phones are being repaired, a software upgrade and a memory and system clean-up, as well as a free screen protector replacement and engraving service.

Also, those who buy the P20 and P20 Pro will be eligible for one free front-screen repair or replacement within the first year of warranty, while Pro owners will also be able to have their devices repaired within one hour on weekdays.

Huawei clearly understands that a smartphone purchasing decision is about more than just features and specs, it’s also about the overall value proposition. And make no mistake, the P20 line offers excellent, possibly unrivalled, value. If you’re in the market for a new phone, you’d be mad not to take a closer look at one of them.

The Sunday Independent