It was only back in October 2018 that Huawei launched the Mate 20 Pro. It brought with it a triple camera setup, the latest silicon from the Huawei-fabricated Kirin series, and a gorgeous hyper-optical patterned back in a number of enticing colours. The Huawei P30 Pro, launched just five months later, delivers iterative changes in a lot of areas, with a giant leap in a couple specifically, and cements itself as the optical king of Huawei’s line-up. Let’s take a closer look.
- Beautiful design
- Excellent battery life
- Excellent point-and-shoot capabilities
- Brilliant low light shots
- EMUI still needs some tweaking
- 50x zoom is largely a gimmick
- Selfie camera consistently blows out shots
With a 5x optical zoom, 10x hybrid zoom, an absolute massive 50x hybrid zoom mode, as well as class-leading low light performance in auto mode and a new Time of Flight sensor to aid depth of field data, Huawei clearly feel they have not only the package, but also the brand awareness over the last couple of years to make such claims and take aim directly at Apple and Samsung in their press releases.
Check out the 5 Things To Note video prior to reading on here to see our first impressions after just under 2 weeks use with the P30 Pro.
That design, am I right?First things first, let’s talk out the colour options available on the P30 Pro. The variant I’m using to review is Breathing Crystal which kind has a white, purple, pink, blue hue to it depending on how the light hits it. Think mother-of-pearl and you’re not far off. If white isn’t your thing (I didn’t think it would be mine, but it is) then Huawei has you covered.
They have an Amber Sunrise, the colour that has become their hallmark, Aurora, Pearl White, as well as a standard black variant. The layered glass has become a calling card of Huawei flagship products and the P30 Pro continues this trend.
The Huawei P30 Pro feels lovely in the hand due to the curved screen, but it does suffer from a bit of a slippery texture due to the glass front and rear meaning that a case might be recommended if you’re particular accident prone where your technology is concerned. I used a basic TPU one.
The camera hump here is off centre, and whilst it actually looks just fine, those who have their phone on their desk all day with them (hands up here!) will bemoan the lack of symmetry in the design. Touching the unit when on a flat surface, due to the aforementioned camera placement, will result in some bobbling. A small price to pay for the optical package which we’ll get on to later.
Around the front, there is a notch, but it’s a teardrop shape rather than full-on monobrow as found on the Mate 20 Pro. This means that users can wave goodbye to the 3D face recognition found on the Mate 20 Pro device, as the P30 Pro opts instead for a more minimalist design, meaning only 2D facial recognition is available, which is a little less reliable and a little slower, but still an acceptable unlocking option. If I had to choose between the design aesthetics Huawei have opted for this time or the technical uplift of the 3D recognition, I think I’d agree with the P30 Pro designers and opt for a smaller cutout, especially with other security and unlocking mechanisms in tow.
All variants, colour aside, sport the same components and the industrial design in terms of component placement too. On the front is a 6.47-inch OLED display with a 19.5:9 aspect ratio meaning the 1080p panel has a resolution of 2340 x 1080. The P30 Pro borrows from its cousin, the Mate 20 Pro in delivering the same silicon, the Kirin 980, and couples that with either 6GB or 8GB of RAM and a choice of 128GB, 256GB or 512GB of internal storage.
For a full list of specifications, see below.
- Kirin 980 Octa-core processor
- 6GB/8GB RAM
- 128GB/256GB/512GB storage (expandable via Nano Memory Card)
- 6.47-inch 1080 x 2340 19.5:9 OLED display
- Rear Camera
- 40MP f/1.6, wide, PDAF, OIS
- 20MP f/2.2 ultrawide, PDAF
- 8MP Periscope f/3.4 telephoto, 5x optical zoom, OIS, PDAF
- ToF (Time of Flight) 3D camera
- 4K @ 30fps video capable
- Front Camera
- 32MP f/2.0 wide
- FHD @ 30fps video capable
- 4200 mAh battery
- Android Pie 9.0 / EMUI 9.1
- Under-display fingerprint scanner, 40W fast charging, USB Type-C, 15W fast Qi charging, reverse wireless charging, FPS, NFC, dual-band WiFi
- IP68 dust/water resistance
The end of Android jank as we know itThe P-series of devices from Huawei doesn’t stand for performance – I’m not sure what it stands for, but I do know that the P-series of devices gives more weight towards perfecting the optical package than any other aspect of the device. Incidentally, the Mate series is all about performance. Well, with the P30 Pro, Huawei might well have called this a Mate, because the internals are flagship quality and match that of their current top tier Mate 20 Pro device. Kiss goodbye to Android Jank as I’m yet to experience it on this device.
The P30 Pro runs on Android Pie with EMUI 9.1 (more on that later) and traversing the home screens, flicking between recent applications, rendering a video (yes, on the device) or using the built-in Desktop Mode is all taken in stride thanks to the Kirin 980 processor on board. To date, in my three weeks of use, I have found nothing that bogs the P30 Pro down – at all.
One area of the P30 Pro that is more jank and less polished is the choice to include on mono sound here. The single speaker on the device is not situated next to the USB Type-C port, which is generally acceptable, but with the lack of any earpiece or secondary speaker up top, you’ll have to make do with good mono output rather than great stereo sound.
Speaking of the earpiece, or lack thereof, call quality on a device with no earpiece is clean and pure, and frankly, an exercise in the dark arts. As I alluded to in my 5 Things To Note video, the idea of taking a call with my ear pressed against a display and vibrations transferring the audio to my eardrum is pure science fiction, that in the P30 Pro, Huawei have made fact. The LG G8 ThinQ also delivers the same trick, but in my, admittedly, limited experience with the LG G8 Thinq, the Huawei offering is leaps and bounds ahead. When taking or placing a call, the screen vibrates to convey audio (think bone conduction headphones) and the quality is very clear – clearer than some devices I’ve used recently with an earpiece. The only downside to this sorcery then is that it permits Huawei to add only that mono speaker. Media consumers be aware of this.
The under-the-screen fingerprint scanner is nothing new in 2019, and in actuality, Huawei debuted this technology in their Mate 20 Pro back in 2018. It’s not the ‘ultrasonic’ style of fingerprint scanner found on the Galaxy S10 line of devices due to that technology only being supported on the Snapdragon 855 SoC. Instead, the Huawei P30 Pro delivers a fingerprint scanner that is a little further south, towards the bottom of the device and makes use of optical fingerprint scanning technology. In my review period, I’ve found it to work very well, better in fact than on the Mate 20 Pro, however not completely flawless. It’s still not quite as speedy as one might like (compared to other scanners out there), and when presented with moisture or cold conditions, it can falter to recognise fingertips on the first try. To borrow a quote, 60% of the time, it works every time – just substitute that 60% to around 95% and you’re there.
Beast mode batteryAndroid battery life is, for me, one of the main reasons I occasionally toy with the idea of jumping ship to iOS. Thankfully, before I had to make the dreaded leap to the dark side, Huawei put a Mate 20 Pro in my hands and it seemed like all my prayers had been answered.
What I demand from my daily device is, seemingly, a little niche. When working during the week, my phone sits largely on a desk, untouched, polling for new messages across multiple mailboxes and social media networks. The occasional call will be made/taken, but on the whole, I’ll be picking the device up randomly throughout the day, just to check, before maybe a 30-45 minute binge.
With previous devices, the drain in idle was so intense, that when I came to use the device in anger, I was constantly watching the battery indicator to make sure I had the juice required. With the Mate 20 Pro, and now the P30 Pro, I don’t have to worry. The EMUI memory management, whilst aggressive, does do the trick here in conjunction with Google’s own algorithm to provide me with not only anywhere from four to six hours of screen on time, but it couples that with usually around 30 hours of idle time. For me, that’s a sweet spot and I’m glad that the 4200 mAh included with the P30 Pro continues this trend. Those hours of screen on time also include quite a lot of camera shots too, which makes this all the more impressive.
Where other manufacturers seem to still struggle (I’m looking at you LG and you Samsung) with a day’s heavy use, Huawei seem to be delivering on their claims readily, and I can’t dismiss the role the software, and perhaps the energy-sipping silicon included, have here. After all, Apple utilises a combination of their own in house software and hardware and it seems to work for them!
EM, U and IHere we go then. Here’s where the reviewer gets on their high horse and waxes lyrical about the good old Google Nexus days of stock Android and how Huawei really need to live in the Western world if they are really looking to usurp the big players, right? Actually, maybe I won’t give them quite as much of an ear bashing this time around.
You only have to search the site for ‘EMUI’ to find something horrible one of us is saying about Huawei’s much-maligned skin, but the latest 9.1 release, coupled with Android’s Pie OS, has given me food for thought.
I’ve often made a case for software value additions as a differentiator, and I even managed to bring myself to say a few nice things about HTC’s Sense back in the day for this reason alone, but there has perennially been just too much to overlook with Huawei. Here, the skin is slicker than ever (perhaps the hardware is masking any shortcomings – either way, it’s working) and whilst it does come bundled with some bloatware, this can largely be uninstalled, and where Huawei does add its own software, such as Backup, Smart Remote (yes, this has an IR blaster still) and HiCare, there are certain aspects that may be compelling to some users.
For every plus here, there’s a negative, however. The inclusion of ‘Mirror’, again, an application that seemingly has the sole job of allowing you to use the front-facing camera as a mirror, something the front facing camera can do natively anyway, is mildly amusing and a hark back to the good old days of lesser EMUI offerings. Less amusing is the completely inexplicable inclusion of ‘Browser’ which, whilst not doing a terrible job of its primary function, cannot be uninstalled and is currently vying for my joint number 1 most loathed bloatware application by virtue of the fact it need not exist and seems to have come from nowhere! When some OEMs are pushing to use Google’s own applications, or at least preloading Chrome alongside their own offering, Huawei seems to keep wanting to have one foot planted in the distant past. This is a shame as they have made strides forward of late.
There is still some work to do, but I wouldn’t actively tell new or advanced users to avoid this device solely due to the software any longer, which suggests they are heading in the right direction with each iterative release.
Class-leading opticsOh dear me, this camera is insane – just insane. The quad-camera setup (of sorts) gives users so much flexibility in terms of how they want to shoot subjects that it really does rival the top dogs for point and shoot king. I know first hand that the Pixel 3 was heralded as the auto shoot king when it was released, but the Super Spectrum technology which replaces Green pixels for Yellow, delivering an RYYB, not RGB colour filter, has meant that point and shoot, in almost any situation with the main sensor, is just, well, insane. The quality is excellent for the most part, capturing lots of detail and dynamic range, and the RYYB colour filter means that come night time, shots are still bright and vibrant as you’ll see in the images below. That Yellow pixel inclusion, (which is some undertaking by Huawei, technically, by the way) really does allow much more light in, in auto shots. The Huawei P30 Pro does still have Night Mode for this, but you’ll never need to use it such is the power of their point and shoot options now.
The zoom functions on the P30 Pro are, to use a slightly different adjective this time, incredible – with one small caveat; the 50x zoom option is a gimmick. There, I said it. 5x optical zoom is excellent, as is 10x hybrid zoom for the most part, but zooming in digitally only after that and you quickly degrade the subject to a noisy mess. What it does show however is that you can still get a bright, recognisable picture of a subject so far aware it couldn’t normally be seen with the naked eye (in many cases). That alone deserves a pause and a round of applause. During the launch event in Paris they certainly got that in abundance.
Another area that seems to bear fruit, is the Time of Flight sensor. Essentially, this pushes out Infrared beams of light, unseen by the naked eye, and records the passage of time before those same beams return to the sensor. This data is translated as depth, or how close or far the object it bounced off is in conjunction to the camera. The P30 Pro can then use this data to provide a more even blur effect in pseudo-portrait mode shots. We’ve all seen those shots that have the subject in the foreground, and the background is uniformly blurred? Well the ToF camera allows a more natural blur to occur, with the background nearest the focal point being subjected to less blurring than that farther away. It does work, but edge detection on the foreground subject still needs tweaking.
The front facing camera is a little disappointing on the flip side (literally). 32MP gives you lots of detail, but there also seems to be a lot of times when the camera will just blow out everything other than the immediate foreground. I’m quite sure that this will be addressed in future updates, but I’m unsure whether there will be a huge improvement. The shots are still good from the front-facing camera and they have a lot of detail, they just lack the dynamic range and nuance of those from the rear, which in essence produces a stark contrast between the two. There simply shouldn’t be this gap between the packages.
If I had to be critical of anything a little more harshly here it would be in the Video package. Quality can’t be denied and the 4K video is really crisp and clear, with dynamic range – no worries there at all. Where I did find a few issues however was in the stabilisation. A few may recall that I called out the Mate 20 Pro for this also before it got a firmware update that did reduce the stabilisation issues quite a bit. Perhaps we just need a few OTA updates on the P30 Pro to resolve the same sorts of issues here too, but others in the market simply do a better job of delivering stabilisation on video, currently.
Final thoughtsThe Google Pixel 3 was seen by many in 2018 to be the device to beat for all round use. It had a good design, an elegant and clean stock Android OS, quality components, and a point-and-shoot camera package that delivered top-tier performance and detail. The Huawei P30 Pro didn’t take aim directly at Google during its launch event, but it certainly reeled out the latest Apple and Samsung had to offer at every turn and showed just how it could beat its competitors, mainly in the battery and optical stakes and based on my experience, I can’t honestly blame them for calling them out. They are, in some aspects, clearly top of the pile.
Their optical solution is, for me, the best out there for those of us that will mostly use auto mode to capture images, and the AI scene detection really kicks in and aids there. It’s in its low light/night shots that the auto mode really shines and there is no doubting, again in my opinion, that it leads the pack here too.
The design, the colour variants available, the performance and battery life of the P30 Pro is top-tier and really cements Huawei as one of the clear flagship manufacturers of smartphones.
It’s only really one glaring area in which they can improve, and where they still lag behind. Whilst it is highly subjective, the EMUI software stack still has some way to go. With Samsung’s new One UI, it is clearly trying to improve here, whilst Google and Apple offer a simplistic and clean interface already. EMUI is getting better but it is perhaps the only remnant of what the Chinese manufacturer used to be, rather than what it is now.
At a price that rivals (or matches) many of the flagship devices from the other main players, the P30 Pro simply has to be judged on the merits listed above, and it certainly delivers a compelling offering. The P-series used to indicate Huawei’s focus on photography over performance, but with the P30 Pro, perhaps Progressive is now a more apt moniker.