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Dazzling Honor View 20 has you in its thrall at CES 2019 – CNET

The phones of CES are usually small potatoes, either very niche or very bland. That's what makes Huawei's Honor View 20 such a thrilling debut. It's bold and arresting in every way, the kind of device that would turn heads even at a dedicated phone show like Mobile World Congress, which takes place at the end of February.

The Honor View 20 isn't exactly new. A version of it called the Honor V20 was announced in China late last month, so I already knew about the 6.4-inch display, O-notch cutout for the selfie camera, 48-megapixel "3D" camera setup and bright red and blue colors. But holding the Honor View 20 in my hands changes — or maybe I should say, magnifies — everything.

Up close, the chevron pattern on the back bursts to life as the colors and design shift and ripple in the light. It's mesmerizing. And it's only seeing the View 20 in the flesh that the full impact of its edge-to-edge screen sinks in, simply because it's so natural you'd hardly notice the lack of sensors on the phone face, and the small camera lens. The sensors have, in fact, moved to the phone's top edge. We'll have to see during the review if the placement has any effect on daily use.

Honor phones are often mid-tier, but the View 20 comes out swinging — see the spec list below. You have a rear camera that can take pictures up to 48-megapixels, using AI technology to make a very detailed shot. Huawei talks about its 3D camera, which uses a time-of-flight sensor (a specific sensor technology) to take a depth map; that means the camera can separate the subject from the background, and manipulate them both.

For example, one camera mode lets you slim down your subject. You can also connect the Honor View 20 to a monitor and play games you control with body movements. And a future update will combine an AI engine that knows what you're eating to a depth map that measures portion size to determine a calorie count.

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You can take selfies up to 25-megapixels in size. There's no 3D sensor on the front-facing camera, but you can still make Huawei's version of iPhone Animojis by applying AR filters to your moving face (it's called AR Lens). There are also filters to light your selfies dramatically.

A huge 4,000mAh battery, 128GB of on-board storage and 6GB RAM round out the specs. You can turn the microSD storage slot into a second SIM slot instead, and yes, the Honor View 20 does have a headphone jack. A Pro version will come in two other colors, including black, and has double the storage, 256GB, and 8GB of RAM.

As appealing as this phone sounds, the Honor View 20 faces tremendous challenge. A sub-brand of Huawei, the Honor division has long tried to create its own identity. That's never been more significant than now, when Huawei phones are discouraged or outright banned in some countries, including the US. It was exactly a year ago that government pressure caused AT&T and Verizon to pull out of a deal to sell their first flagship Huawei phone, and Best Buy stopped selling them altogether. Washington's growing political tension over trade tariffs could also have an effect on the Honor View 20's price, if it did appear in the US through third party retailers like Amazon.

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I took this 48-megapixel shot of the lion in the MGM Grand's lobby.

James Martin/CNET

We don't have pricing or availability yet, but Honor promises to share that yet a third event, the Honor View 20's global launch set for Jan. 22 in Paris.

Honor View 20 specs

  • 6.4-inch display with 2,310×1,080 pixels (398ppi)
  • 48-megapixel rear camera and time-of-flight (TOF) 3D camera
  • 25-megapixel front-facing camera
  • HiSilicon Kirin 980 chipset (7nm process, octa-core)
  • Android 9.0 Pie
  • 128GB on-board storage (no expandable storage)
  • 8GB RAM
  • 4,000mAh battery, and quick charge
  • Dual-SIM capability
  • Fingerprint reader
  • Headphone jack
  • USB-C charger port

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