Honor 20 Lite review: Budget smartphone with good cameras, but competition is fierce

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  • Editors' rating
    7.5 Very good

Pros

  • Excellent 32MP selfie camera
  • Triple rear cameras
  • All-day battery life

Cons

  • Moderate build quality
  • Micro-USB charging port
  • LCD screen
  • Disappointing speaker

The flagship Honor 20 Pro will inevitably receive the most attention, but there are two other phones in the new Honor 20 series -- the 'standard' Honor 20 and a budget Honor 20 Lite. At £249.99, the Lite model offers a 32-megapixel front camera and triple rear camera array.

Not only has Honor launched three new Honor 20 phones, but a few weeks ago it also released the Honor View 20, with its front camera sitting in a distinctive cut-out on the front screen, and colour-changing, attention-grabbing back.

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The 6.21-inch Honor 20 Lite measures 73.64mm wide by 154.8mm deep by 7.95mm thick and weighs 164g. It's powered by the Kirin 710 chipset with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage, expandable via MicroSD.

Images: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The Honor 20 Lite shares some characteristics with the View 20, although its camera sits inside a more traditional notch in the middle of the top of the screen rather than being a cut-out in the screen itself. (The flagship Honor 20 Pro sports the cut-out, incidentally.)

The Honor 20 Lite comes in two colours. There is a staid black version (for now in the UK that's exclusive to Carphone Warehouse) and the version I was sent, with mauve to blue colour-shifting properties.

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The back of the handset is made from plastic rather than glass, and the colour-shifting doesn't have the same allure as with glass-backed phones. I suspect it might be vulnerable to scratching in a bag or pocket, and it's also a complete magnet for specs of dust and pet hairs.

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Meanwhile, the phone's sides are bright turquoise and again made of plastic. If you've been used to a glass-backed or all-metal design, you'll notice the difference immediately. The joins between back, sides and front are clearly visible, and it's obvious there has been a trade-ff between build quality and an affordable price point.

Further evidence of cost-cutting is visible in the choice of a Micro-USB port for charging rather than USB-C, and a rear-mounted rather than in-screen fingerprint sensor. While a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor doesn't affect usability, having to carry a Micro-USB cable will be annoying for anyone who has become used to USB-C, and simply looks old-fashioned. The 3.5mm headset jack, on the other hand, is a welcome retrograde step. Many users still prefer a traditional connector over wireless or USB-C.

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The Honor 20 Lite uses Micro-USB for charging, unlike the View 20 (also shown), which uses the more up-to-date USB-C. You do get a 3.5mm headphone jack though.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The single speaker on the bottom edge, to the right of the Micro-USB port, is disappointing. At about two-thirds volume it delivers fair quality sound with decent bass tones. But top volume introduces significant distortion. And if you're or watching video in landscape format, you'll need to take care not to cover the speaker. Using a headset will be a better bet.

The display measures 6.21 inches across the diagonal, with a resolution of 2,340 by 1,080 pixels (415ppi, 19.5:9 aspect ratio). That's a little taller than the more standard 18.7:9, but shorter than the 21:9 Sony has used on its lanky Xperia 10 and Xperia 10 Plus.

I wouldn't expect a higher resolution in such an affordable handset, but the screen isn't as 'poppy' as it could be, and that's down to the choice of LCD over OLED. I recall making a similar comment recently in my review of the Huawei P30 Lite, which I set against an earlier review of the stunning flagship Huawei P30 Pro. The good news is that colour temperature, contrast and brightness can be tweaked, and there's an eye comfort mode that filters blue light and can be set to kick in on a timed basis or toggled at will.

The SIM caddy sits on the top edge and will support either two SIMs or one SIM and a MicroSD card. There is 128GB of internal storage, of which 13GB was used out of the box.

The Honor 20 Lite is powered by the Kirin 710 chipset, as is the Huawei P30 Lite, coupled with 4GB of RAM. There is a 'Performance Mode' that pushes the processor and may reduce battery life. Battery life actually improved a little under Geekbench with Performance Mode switched on, but this rundown test does not push the processor with gaming or other demanding workloads, and is somewhat different to real-world use cases.

The processor delivered an average multi-core Geekbench score of 5459 with Performance Mode on and 5237 with it switched off. Single-core scores were exactly the same -- 1531 with Performance Mode on and with it off. The Honor 20 Lite's 3,400mAh battery lasted for 6 hours and 39 minutes with Performance Mode on and 6 hours 23 minutes with it off.

These lab conditions don't really do battery testing justice. I leave the screen on throughout (as it would be if I were reading, watching or playing), but for many people the screen will be off more than it is on during the day. During the test period I was able to get through a full day's use without requiring a recharge. There is no support for either fast charging or wireless charging.

There's a front-facing camera with a 32MP sensor and an f/2.0 lens, and three cameras at the back: a main 24MP sensor with an f/1.8 lens, an 8MP sensor with an f/2.4 120-degree wide-angle lens, and a 2MP f/2.4 depth-sensing camera.

According to Honor, the Kirin chipset's AI component can recognise 500 scenarios in 22 categories, allowing the camera to make the appropriate settings. It recognised food, my cats, text, and outdoor lighting conditions such as 'overcast'. It's a helpful, if not exactly novel, feature. The night-mode shooting will take a little care to master, as exposure times are lengthened and you'll need a steady hand to get good shots. Overall, camera shots were good but not great, although the selfie camera should take the main plaudits as it produces nice crisp images.

The Honor 20 Lite runs on Android 9 Pie with Huawei/Honor's own EMUI overlay. Honor adds some of its own apps -- for music and video, for example -- in addition to those that come with Android. I was irritated to see a number of third-party apps (Facebook, Booking, Amazon), although these are easily uninstalled.

Conclusions

The Honor 20 Lite is competent, if a little underwhelming. Battery life and performance are fair, the cameras do a good enough job, and there's enough internal storage, with the option of a second SIM or external MicroSD storage if required. On the other hand, Micro-USB for charging is something of an anachronism, the screen is LCD rather than OLED, and the speaker distorts when the volume is turned up.

But the real problem with this handset  -- Huawei's recent troubles aside -- is its price. At £249.99 the Honor 20 Lite has a lot of competition, much of which surpasses it in one way or another. For alternatives, consider the Huawei P30 Lite, the slightly more expensive Xiaomi Pocophone F1 or the Moto G7 Plus.

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