Although it can only be found on phones for a year and a half, the notch has become an integral part of the design of the modern smartphone. Thanks to this notch, modern phones know how to use more surface for the screen. However, manufacturers always want more and it seems that the notch will be partly replaced in 2019 by, well, what do we call it? In English they talk about ‘hole punch’, which translates to ‘perforation’, but that doesn’t sound good. Let’s stick to ‘camera hole’ for now; a circular cutout from a corner of the screen that the front camera can shoot through.
The first phone with such a camera hole that we got our hands on is the View 20, the upcoming top device from manufacturer Honor. A small corner was reserved for Honor on the Huawei booth at CES, where four copies of the View 20 were displayed. There we spoke extensively with an Honor employee about the technical challenges surrounding the camera hole and the special features of the camera. And of course we could also work with the telephone ourselves.
From notch to camera hole
Honor is quite proud of how the camera hole is produced. Simply making a hole in the 6.4″ LCD is not an option, as that would make the glass too weak and cause problems with light leakage from the camera. Honor only makes a hole in the light guide, the layer of the screen that the light from the backlight is evenly distributed over the screen surface. The front camera therefore photographs through the LCD. This approach also ensures that the hole can remain relatively small. Honor emphasizes that its camera hole is 4.5 mm smaller than, for example, the camera hole in Samsung’s Galaxy A8s.
The sensors that used to be above the screen or in the notch have been placed on top of the phone with the View 20. All this ensures that the front of the phone consists of 91.8 percent screen according to Honor, a claim that we believe, because when you hold the phone, it is indeed almost only the screen that you see. Because the hole is in a corner instead of in the middle, as with the notch, it is less noticeable and all in all we think it’s a nice find. Of course, it won’t work on every kind of phone; for example, some manufacturers opt for a notch because they can then build in a larger speaker and if a phone is equipped with an infrared camera for face unlocking, a small hole in the screen will not suffice.
In use, this solution is not much different from the notch and it actually works a bit more subtly. The information on the notification bar shifts slightly and when apps display full screen, such as the home screen, only a small part is covered. And if you watch a video, you usually have black bars on the side anyway because the screen is wider than 16:9.
Crazy reflections and lots of pixels
The back of Honor’s new top model is perhaps just as interesting as the front. First of all because of the special finish. A trend has emerged of devices with quite reflective backs in which different colors emerge, such as the Huawei Mate 20 Pro or the Oppo R17. The View 20 also goes along with this with a rear that runs vertically in a kind of stripe, with the reflection on the right and left sloping upwards in a v-shape. The interplay of lines that arise in the reflections constantly changes as you move the phone and looks unique. As with all mirrored housings, you will have to polish a lot to keep it beautiful.
Technically interesting is the camera arrangement on the back. Honor has opted for a single camera sensor, Sony’s IMX586 , a sensor with a whopping 48-megapixel resolution. Although it initially seems that Honor wants to boast a bit – the number is proudly mentioned on the information signs at the CES stand – the company also understands that huge resolutions from a relatively small sensor do not necessarily lead to better results. lead image. By default, the Honor 20 takes photos with a resolution of 12 megapixels.
The sensor has very small pixels of 0.8 μm. Sony puts a Quad Bayer filter on top of that, in which four pixels in a 2×2 configuration are provided with one color filter. In good lighting conditions, the colors of all individual pixels are calculated with algorithms based on the surrounding color filters. In low-light conditions, the custom filter, according to Sony, ensures that the performance is comparable to that of a twelve-megapixel sensor with pixels of 1.6μm.
A trade show is not the best place to do photo tests because of the changing lighting conditions, crowds and the fact that phones are often tied to the table with a string. Still, we took three photos with the Honor View 20 for the idea; one in 12-megapixel mode, one in 48-megapixel mode, and one in a mode where the phone takes several 48-megapixel photos and then stitches them together.
What is striking is that Honor does little post-processing in the mode where the full 48 megapixels are used. In the other two modes, the software tries to keep the highlights in check and avoid blown-out areas. That works very well if you look at the brightly lit display case in the center of the photo, but the large light boxes above the tables are made a crazy blue color. Extensive testing should show how good this camera really is in practice, but this first impression underlines just how important image processing algorithms are to the end result these days.
See with depth
There seems to be a second camera next to the camera lens, but this is a time-of-flight sensor. This infrared sensor can calculate the distance to objects in space and thus create a three-dimensional representation of the environment. This can be used, for example, for more accurate augmented reality, but also for better processing of portrait photos where the background is made blurred by software. Later, Honor will come with an app that allows you to use the sensor and camera to make a 3D model of a real object, after which you could 3D print it again.
A quick look at the portrait mode did not give us the impression that the result of the sensor is very different from that of a second camera, because we also saw the well-known problems with transitions between, for example, hair and background.
Finally, another implementation of the tof sensor was on display at the stand: gaming. By plugging the View 20 into a housing connected to a television, the phone acted as a gesture-recognition game console of sorts. In the available demo, the aim was to throw darts by simply making a throwing motion with your arm towards the screen. This worked very poorly, but the Honor employees present assured us that this was due to the fact that people were constantly walking through the screen. It should work better in a living room environment.
Great specs and hopefully a competitive price
Although Honor is somewhat known as Huawei’s budget brother, the View 20 has not cut back enormously on the hardware. For example, it is powered by the same 7nm Kirin 980-soc that we also find in the expensive Huawei Mate 20 Pro, for example. In addition, the base model has 6GB of ram and 128GB of storage, while models with 8GB and 256GB are also available. The large 4000mAh battery supports Honor’s SuperCharge technology, which charges at a maximum of 4.5A at 5V.
What all that should cost will be announced on January 22, when Honor officially introduces the View 20 for the European market. In its home country of China, where the phone is already for sale, it costs 2999 yuan, about 385 euros. Now we cannot convert that directly and it will probably cost more in Europe than that, but probably less than the other devices with the same powerful chip.