While the Huawei P20 Pro boasts a unique tri-lens camera, the latest version of Huawei’s custom UI—EMUI 8.1—adds a number of nice features that both P20 and P20 Pro users will be able to take advantage of.
The Kirin 970 chip, which powers all Huawei phones in the P20 range, comes with its own dedicated AI hub, called the neural processing unit, or NPU, and it’s this unit in particular that powers or enhances many of the phone’s new features.
For that reason, this leaves the door tantalizingly open for older phones with a Kirin 970—like last year’s Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro—to eventually get updated to EMUI 8.1. While spokespeople at Huawei’s P20 launch event did not confirm when or even if that’s happening, here’s a taste of what’s definitely in store for anyone buying a P20 or P20 Pro.
The AI Chip Will Judge Your Photog Skills
Previous Huawei phones were smart enough to notice when you’d taken a bunch of blurry shots; whenever you dove into the Settings to make some space for more playlists, app downloads, or other files, you’d see that blurry pictures were tagged and moved into a separate folder, letting you delete unwanted shots in one go.
With EMUI 8.1, you get this in reverse. The AI unit will “judge” your photos based on how sharp and in-focus they are and make the best ones larger in the gallery reel.
Playing Nice With Huawei’s HiAI Platform
Last year at IFA, Huawei announced HiAi, an open platform for mobile AI, and it looks like that’s starting to bear fruit with EMUI 8.1.
Apps primed to make better use of the NPU with the latest version of that update include Google’s Android Messages app, a new instant messaging platform that will use the AI chip to help second guess conversation responses, a little bit like a cross between SwiftKey and those automatic Gmail replies you can send.
In addition, you can take Snap-esque video clips, adding the expected cartoon eyes and angel wings to your replies. This particular feature works particularly well thanks to the NPU, according to Sébastien Missoffe, Google’s vice president and managing director for France.
At Huawei’s launch event, Missoffe said that updates to integrate AI processes with Android Messages will roll out on a regular basis, but he didn’t really expand on that.
Then there’s a new image search tool Huawei worked on with Amazon. Either take a picture (or upload from your gallery) of something you’d like to buy—whether it’s an anglepoise lamp or a bottle of some craft beer you liked the taste of—and send that to the app. It then scours Amazon’s product list for a visual match. If it finds any, it’ll return those results and you’ll be able to add those products to your basket.
Artsy photo-editing app Prisma also benefits from the HiAI engine, which cuts the creation of its detailed abstract transformations down by six seconds on average. What would take an unnamed competitor nine seconds to do takes a P20 running EMUI 8.1 just three.
Helping You Take Better Pictures
When taking pictures with the Mate 10 series phones, the NPU would do things like automatically kick the shutter speed up a notch and engage continuous autofocus when it recognized that you were trying to take pictures of your pets. As cats and dogs are prone to not sitting still, it follows that you’d want a fast speed and a focus mode to compensate for fidgety felines and canines.
This particular aspect of AI-assisted photography—which Huawei’s now branding as “Master AI”— has been overhauled; the AI will recognize and combine settings for multiple scenes.
Before, if you were taking a close-up picture of a pet and it was night time, it might be that only the “cat” or “dog” modes were triggered. This time around, macro, low light, and cat/dog modes are engaged, depending on what’s in the frame.
Get Ready for 4D Predictive Focus
Speaking of moving photo subjects, autofocus and tracking have been given a big boost, with AI once again playing a key part.
Huawei’s “4D predictive focus” (marketing spiel we’re not quite sure will catch on) means if you’re taking a shot of something like some flowers that are swaying in the breeze, motion-prediction algorithms will help the camera intelligently guess where the subject is likely to be in the frame the moment you press the shutter key. Once the camera detects rapid motion in a general area, it will automatically map a number of possible focal points, which will briefly appear to you in the viewfinder as a 3×3 grid of orange squares.
Ultra Snapshot Is Now (Slightly) Faster
Ultra Snapshot, which lets you quickly rattle off a still by double-tapping the volume down button when the phone’s off, also gets a small boost. On the Mate 10 Pro, the fastest we were able to get was 0.5 seconds. The P20 will let you do this in 0.3 seconds, which is useful if you’re trying to surreptitiously take snaps of secret foreign government dossiers, we guess.