During my briefing, the spokespeople outlined how the company reached out to professional photographers for their opinions (and camera settings) for different photography subjects and baked that into this master AI. Interestingly, this led to some extra contextual settings: different food photography modes for, say, western food, asian cuisine and desserts. While the explanation was a little loose, the phone will attempt to synthesize settings for multiple themes: it'll use its discretion to capture your pet and what you're having for lunch -- if that's what you're shooting. There's a dizzying 19 different subject modes here for the P20 to choose from, from landscape to food blogging, from cats to night photography.
These assistive modes within the camera app will even aid your photo composition, leveling off landscape shots, and when it senses any overly enthusiastic zooming during a group photo, it will pan out slightly to get the whole gang into frame. I like the idea of idiot-proofing smartphone photography -- a lot -- but perhaps the coolest showcase I saw on the P20 was AI-augmented image stabilization.
When you try to take a long-exposure shot -- say, for a neon city skyline or to make a blurry waterfall shot -- the P20 will use image detection know-how to smooth things out, taking up to an eight-second-long still. It works not only on stills (something I'm really looking forward to trying out further myself) but also on video. That's just one of the major features. It may be a single camera app, but there's an awful lot to unpack here.
The numbers and spectacle around the cameras suggest that the P20 Pro, especially, is capable of so many imaging tricks, but from my short time with the devices, it's a mix of fantastical results and niche-bordering-on-pointless. (Do you need separate camera modes for cats and dogs?) The spec sheet is impressive, but can the P20 series deliver with all this imaging tech? In the end, does it make for a better smartphone camera? At the very least, I can't wait to test out all of the P20 Pro's tricks further.
Cherlynn Low and Chris Velazco contributed to this report.