Huawei has set its sights on making the best smartphone for photographers with its new flagship P20 and P20 Pro handsets.

Launched today, the new devices are designed to rival the Samsung S9 for photographic excellence, with a 12-MP dual-Leica camera on the P20 and a 40MP triple-Leica camera on the P20 Pro, paired with a hybrid optical-digital zoom.

To further boost image quality for photographers, the phones includes a series of features that use machine learning to dynamically optimize camera settings to capture the best image across 500 different scenarios.

Six new scenery detection functions do things like helping ensure the landscape is horizontal, while predictive focus and intelligent motion detection will make it easier to take pictures of moving objects — with the phones able to capture images in 0.3 seconds.

These features are in addition to machine-learning aided image stabilization, which Huawei says will eliminate the need for tripods, low-light detection, and 960fps slow motion.

“They’ve really scaled up on the camera capability. They’re really trying to have an even better camera than Samsung has on the market, and Samsung has been the leader so far in terms of camera technology,” said Gartner research VP Annette Zimmermann.

“Their emphasis is to make the consumer a more professional photographer. Samsung is more about enjoying the moment and cool features, but Huawei is going in the direction of people who don’t want to just put a quick snapshot on Facebook, but who see themselves as more of an artist.”

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“We’re introducing professional camera technologies on a tiny-sized smartphone,” said Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei Consumer Business Group, at the P20 launch in Paris.

“It is designed for professional photography,” he said, adding that the P20 had a higher rating than the Galaxy S9+ and iPhone X in the DxOMark photography benchmark and had 102,400 ISO sensitivity, the same as the Canon 5D Mark IV.

Huawei is the world’s third-largest smartphone vendor after Samsung and Apple — shipping 153 million smartphones last year — and the P20 is a statement of Huawei’s ambition to be a major player, according to Dominic Sunnebo, global director at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech.

“When you ship over 150 million smartphones a year, your days of being described as a challenger are numbered. So while Huawei’s ambitions to surpass Apple and Samsung might seem bold, its heavy investment in research and development suggests there’s real depth to what it wants to achieve,” he said.

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The phones are integrated with Google Assistant, enabling the smartphone’s owner to use voice commands to take a selfie using the P20 and P20 Pro’s 24MP front-facing cameras. When taking selfies, software will clean up the image to help faces stand out from their background.

While the devices are targeted at consumers, they could fill a gap for business professionals who want to capture quality images and video without taking the next step and buying a high-end digital camera.

Users will be able to admire the images they capture on the 2,244 x 1,080 resolution, 5.8-inch LED screen on the Huawei P20 and 2,240 x 1,080 resolution, 6.1-inch OLED display with a high-color gamut on the Huawei P20 Pro — with a small notch containing a speaker and sensors at the top of each display.

The phones’ ability to pick out the best image settings comes courtesy of its dedicated Neural Processing Unit, a chip designed to carry out AI-related tasks, such as image recognition, more rapidly.

This chip is also used to power other features, such as the ability to take a photo of a real-life object and find it for sale on Amazon and will also be used to clean up muffled speech on phone calls.

Other features allow photos to be converted into the style of famous artists. For example, with very long exposure you can create Picasso-style images.

SEE: Huawei P20 Pro one-ups Galaxy S9 with three rear cameras (CNET)

The Octa-core handsets run the latest version of Android, version 8.1 or Oreo. Yu claims the phones’ four wireless antennas have a maximum throughput of about 1.2Gbps, which he says is double that of the Apple iPhone X, and will make it easier to get a good signal in a poor coverage area.

Battery life should be no slouch, about 25% better than on phones like the iPhone X, according to Huawei, with a 3,400mAH in the P20 and 4,000 in the P20 Pro. Huawei claims battery life of about one day for the P20 and about two days for the P20 Pro. Edgeless fingerprint scanners on the front of the Huawei P20 and the Huawei P20 Pro will also make logging in easier, together with a rear fingerprint scanner and face unlock using the phones’ cameras.

The slimline metal and glass phones are available in four iridescent colors.

Where will the Huawei P20 be available?

Global smartphone sales are in decline, according to figures from Gartner, and the Huawei P20 appears to be an attempt by Huawei to stand out from a marketplace full of mid-range smartphones with good-enough performance and apps for the vast majority of people — many of whom are holding on to their smartphones for longer periods.

Gartner’s Zimmermann expects that Huawei’s main focus with the P20 will be consolidating its foothold in Europe, currently its strongest market.

“It’s a very important product to them to continue their march into the European market, with the most important markets to Huawei at the moment in terms of volume and market share being France, Germany, UK, Italy and Spain.”

Huawei’s plans for the US are far less certain. None of the US phone networks currently offer Huawei phones, and the national retailer Best Buy also recently decided to stop selling Huawei products.

SEE: Without the US market, Huawei’s challenge to Apple and Samsung is an uphill battle (ZDNet)

Huawei’s difficulties in the US coincide with growing political concern about the security risks of using Chinese-made computer equipment and a desire to prioritize domestic products.

“That is pretty bad for them, obviously, and we don’t know what the future is,” said Zimmermann.

“The problem is they don’t have a carrier and they need to work with carriers to have any sort of standing in that market. It’s always been very small in the US and maybe it’s a lost market. I don’t know if they’re going to tackle that market now differently because basically at the moment they are kind of shunned.”

The Huawei P20 Series is available to buy in the UK in April, and to pre-order from today, from retailers including Carphone Warehouse and EE. In the UK the P20 is available from EE on a variety of plans starting from £31 per month. The P20 Pro is available on the same 24-month plan for £39 a month and a one-off cost of £50.

Specs for the Huawei P20 and Huawei P20 Pro

Huawei P20:

  • Price: €649 (Roughly $800, £570 or AU$1,050)
  • Chipset: Octa core Kirin 970
  • CPU: 4 x Cortex A73 @ 2.36GHz, 4 x Cortex A53 @ 1.8GHz
  • Memory: 4GB RAM
  • Storage: 128GB
  • Battery: 3400mAh
  • Rear camera: 12-megapixel RGB (Aperture: F1.8), 20-megapixel monochrome (Aperture: F1.6).
  • Audio: Dual-stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos with support for Dolby AC4
  • Connectivity: Dual 4G and dual VoLTE. 4×4 MIMO. Dual sim-card support.
  • Thickness: 7.65mm
  • Dimensions: 149.1 x 70.8 x 7.65mm
  • Weight: 6.3 oz, 180g

Huawei P20 Pro:

  • Price: €899 (Roughly $1,115, £790 or AU$1,450)
  • Chipset: Octa core Kirin 970
  • CPU: 4 x Cortex A73 @ 2.36GHz, 4 x Cortex A53 @ 1.8GHz
  • Memory: 6GB RAM
  • Storage: 128GB
  • Battery: 4000mAh
  • Camera: 40-megapixel RGB (Aperture: F1.8), 20-megapixel monochrome (Aperture: F1.6), 8-megapixel telephoto (Aperture: F2.4; has OIS). 5x hybrid optical-digital zoom.
  • Audio: Dual-stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos with support for Dolby AC4
  • Connectivity: Dual 4G and dual VoLTE. 4×4 MIMO. Dual sim-card support.
  • Thickness: 7.8mm
  • Dimensions: 155 x 73.9 x 7.8mm
  • Weight: 5.8 oz, 165g