“Lite” phones are very rarely good, most of the time they’re acceptable, but they’re rarely good or great, but I think with the P30 Lite, Huawei has come to a place where the mix of price, performance and Camera comes pretty close to replicating the allure of the big P30 series, and that is impressive.
- Gorgeous Design
- Lovely Screen
- Great Stills Camera
- Ultrawide Camera is very versatile.
- Android 9 out of box
- Video recording still sucks.
- Battery can be iffy.
- EMUI might not be to your taste.
Disclaimer: Huawei provided us with this P30 Lite for review. By the time this review goes live, Huawei will have received the unit back. They are not seeing this review before it goes live and they have no bearing over the outcome of the review. No money has exchanged hands between the two entities. The P30 Lite was used as my primary device for 2 weeks on the Three UK network in the southeast of the UK.
- 6.15-inch IPS LCD
- Kirin 710
- 4x Cortex A73 2.2Ghz
- 4x Cortex A53 1.7Ghz
- Mali G51-MP4
- 4GB RAM
- 128GB Internal Storage
- MicroSD Expansion (certified up to 512gb)
- 3340mAh Li-Ion Battery
- USB-C (USB2.0 speeds)
- 9v2a quick charging
- 48MP Main Camera
- 8MP Ultrawide
- 2MP depth camera
- 24MP Selfie camera
Aesthetically, the P30 Lite is definitely part of the P30 family from Huawei. You have a beautiful, practically edge-to-edge screen with a small enough chin as to not bother me. You get triple cameras on the rear, covered in this absolutely stunning colour/pattern with an emphasis on an instant wow factor and it really pays off here.
Whilst the back is definitely glass, the frame is plastic and the nice cold glass is offset by the lightweight and temperature neutral plastic. Whereas you know when you’re holding the P30 or especially the P30 Pro, the Lite is, well just that. I might even go as fast as saying that I’d swap the glass rear for the metal frame, but I’ve spoken to people who say the opposite.
Let’s do a quick hardware tour. Up front is the surprisingly nice 6.15-inch 1080p LCD screen and whilst I would prefer the OLED of the P30 and P30 Pro, I’m not disgusted by this as I have been with some of Huawei’s cheaper displays, which is an improvement. Resting at the top of that display is the 24MP selfie camera, likely the same unit as was on the P20 Pro. Above that is a thin sliver of an earpiece that gets remarkably loud, even if it isn’t quite as clear as I’d like. The amount of people that make phone calls is dwindling, so many probably won’t care. Speaking of things most people don’t care about, in that earpiece grille is the notification LED, which lights up when you plug the phone in to charge or receive notifications. We’ve been moving to a future where the screen takes up even more of the face of the phone and the odd resolutions of 2312×1080 works out (if my maths are correct) 289:135, which is crazy, but it’s beyond 18:9 but not quite 19:9. Most people will see this screen and be fine with it, whereas others will see the larger chin and complain. I am in the first group. The slightly larger bottom bezel gives your finger somewhere to rest and counterbalance the rather tall phone.
Having a look at the rest of the frame we find that the bottom houses the loudspeaker, main microphone, USB Type-C port and, wait. What is that? A strange archaic port that is used to output audio? Yes, the 3.5mm audio jack is here also, for those of you that care and there are many that still do for various reasons. This is as good a reason as any to buy this over other similar devices. The left-hand side of the chassis is completely bare and the right houses the power and volume buttons. The Power button has more wiggle than I’d prefer, but it does actuate nicely with just enough force so I can live with it. Up top is where the secondary microphone is, as well as the Nano SIM and MicroSD tray. It’s nice when it is up here or on the bottom as you’re unlikely to ever feel it, and getting the panels to line up is harder than it seems.
My unit is this absolutely gorgeous Peacock Blue, so this rear panel looks like the P30 series’ “Aurora” without a lot of the purple, and honestly, it is stunning. I still wish they’d just copied all the colours from the P30 and P30 Pro, as Breathing Crystal would look nice on this too (I am biased as my Pro has it and it is the best colour). The Fingerprint scanner is in the upper middle where your fingers rest on the rear when the device is in use. Next to it is the cluster of cameras; the 48MP, 8MP and 2MP cameras to be precise. The LED flash sits next to it and the Huawei logo is on the bottom edge. A cool clean and awesome look.
So how does it all come together? Remarkably well. As I said earlier, I personally feel that the plastic frame does a disservice to the glass back of the phone. It wants to be a classy high-end phone but it is not quite there due to this clashing of materials. Luckily, the chassis is integrated well and there is practically no flex or torquing to them, meaning very little chance of it bending in your pocket, or even if you gave it a good flex.
Now we come to the point where I write that the “new version of Android is nice to have but it’s a shame about EMUI”, right? Well, I’m not going to say that here. Whilst EMUI isn’t for everyone, it is no longer the burden it once was. It still has its quirks and issues, but so do Samsung’s OneUI, and Oppo’s ColorOS and also Xiaomi’s MIUI, but with every new iteration of EMUI, Huawei fixes some stuff and adds some cool new stuff.
Before I forget, the P30 Lite I’m reviewing is Running Android 9, with EMUI 9.0.1 with the March 1st security patch, no updates have been pushed to this device in my time with it.
Let me start with the good of EMUI 9 on this device. The performance is really quite good, which isn’t something I was expecting to say. The P30 Lite has the Kirin 710 SoC, which whilst not a slouch by any means, companies tend to optimise for the newer higher end chips and even the midrange ones get left behind pretty quickly. But in this case, 95% of the time, I wasn’t actively waiting for the P30 Lite to complete a task. I think what made it even snappier was the lack of any spikes in performance. It was never drastically boosting so high and then having to throttle itself down, it was just always where it needed to be, so whilst it was noticeable overall slower than the P30 Pro, it was consistent in its performance, which isn’t something that all lower end phones can claim to be.
Next, we broach the stock apps. They’ve all received a well overdue update and boy are they pretty now. Whilst I still prefer to use a lot of Google’s apps over Huawei’s, nowadays jumping back and forth between them doesn’t make me want to gouge my eyes out. Lastly, we must mention the camera app. Now, this isn’t talking about the processing of the images themselves, this is about the app alone. I really appreciate what the camera app in Huawei phones has become. It’s powerful without feeling bloated and there are an abundance of settings but they never feel overwhelming. This is in stark contrast to many others, especially the Google Camera app which goes for minimalism. I appreciate that this is all a personal taste thing, but I certainly enjoy it.
Now let’s review what I don’t like so much in EMUI and about the software experience in general. Whilst Huawei has really loosened its stance on shutting down background processes, it is still more aggressive than other companies, and whilst I did get most of my notifications in a timely manner, There was a time in this review period where I had an email from the hospital asking me to call up about a change in surgery. It was time sensitive, and had I not been on my PC and seen the email come through it would have been nearly half an hour later before it came through on the P30 Lite and I would have likely lost the slot.
Lastly, Huawei’s fearmongering messages when you try to change the default Launcher, or SMS app etc, are really starting to get on my nerves. I’ve had more issues with Huawei’s Launcher than I ever have with Action Launcher (great launcher, go check it out) and the same with changing my autofill profile. Let me change it to Google and not worry about it as I trust Google with my data more than you (just about).
That said, overall the software experience of Huawei phones is no longer, at least to me, the thorn in my side that it once was. Whereas before Huawei phones where “Awesome hardware, shame about the craptastic software” it is now closer to “awesome camera, stunning hardware and if you like the look of its software, great” which might sound a bit pedantic, but it is an important change.
This is something I’m still a bit torn on how to approach. Whilst the 48MP main camera (likely the Samsung ISOCELL Bright GM1) is really nice and has been tuned accordingly, the “2x zoom” on the phone is just a digital crop. This is not much of an issue when you have as much raw data available as this phone does, but still annoying, and whilst the second ultrawide camera is really nice to have and they’ve done a decent amount of work at matching the colours, the third camera is the bane of my existence. A 2MP depth-sensing camera at least on this device should not exist. With everything we’ve seen delivered and changed within computational photography even on lower-end devices, we do not need a fixed function low-resolution depth-mapping camera on phones. I will try not to harp on this, but it is an unnecessary addition that adds cost that could have been spent elsewhere.
Whilst I cannot confirm who makes the 48MP sensor in the P30 Lite, I am going to assume that it is Samsung with their ISOCELL Bright GM1 also called the S5KGM1. Due to my years of using multiple phones with ISOCELL cameras, the photos coming from the P30 Lite do seem to line up with some of the traits I’ve seen over those years such as harsh delineations between greens and yellows as well as incredibly oversaturated blues and high sharpening by default. Of course, it could be the IMX586 from Sony and Huawei have just tuned it this way.
With the slightly technical stuff out of the way, how does the P30 Lite fair in everyday scenarios? Actually, pretty great. It’s let down slightly by the ISP (Image Signal Processor) so in less optimal lighting the Camera does take a bit longer to capture the images, because not only is it a large amount of data to take in, it’s also doing HDR or the AI enhancements to the photo on the fly.
By default the phone ships in 12MP SuperSample mode. What that does is takes 4 pixels and groups them together to make one big pixel. This improves the ability for the camera to see in low light and you still end up with enough resolution to zoom around. You can manually choose to enter 48MP mode if you want to get the full-size image and just zoom into whatever you want (which is how the Camera does the 2x Zoom mode) but personally, I prefer to leave it in the more versatile 12MP mode. It is worth noting however that if you leave the AI mode on, the phone is limited to 12MP. I do not know why, but it is. This is potentially a limitation of the specific Kirin 710 chipset, as the P30 Pro can do 40MP with AI on no problem.
In daylight, the P30 Lite is stunning, delivering bright colours that are maybe not an accurate rendition of the world but pleasing nevertheless. The shutter speed in auto mode is pretty on point and I very rarely, if ever felt the need to go into manual mode in order to get the shot that I wanted. I do actually quite like the idealistic shots that come out of the P30 and most of the Huawei phones. It is something I find pleasing, but it is nice to know that if you do prefer a flatter more neutral, true to life image, you can go into the pro mode and set up the shot you want. They don’t stop you doing that just because this isn’t a flagship phone and that’s cool.
The ultrawide camera on the P30 Lite does struggle a bit, but this is not surprising to me as even with flagship phones, the ultrawide sensor struggles. I am not upset about resolution either. 8MP is actually fine in my opinion for an ultrawide, but the P30 Lite doesn’t do distortion correction all that well. So the wider the lens the more of a “fish-eye” effect you get, where the closer to the edges you get the more curved things tend to become as if you’re looking at things from a fish’s eye. More expensive phones and devices like Action Cameras combat this with advanced distortion correction and whilst the P30 Lite does do some distortion correction, it sadly does have a little way to go.
Videography wise, the P30 Lite is a typical Huawei phone here which is a little upsetting, but as I said earlier, I think a lot of this has to do with the ISP being used. You can shoot in 720p30, 1080p30, 1080p60 or 1920×920 (1080p in 18.7:9) but nothing higher than that. In slow motion you can shoot at 720p120 or 720p480. And whilst that 480fps might sound impressive, as neither the GM1 nor the IMX586 has on sensor DRAM, this is likely all interpolated frames and not proper 480fps. Given the fact the other option is 120fps my guess is, is that the 480fps mode is the 120fps with each frame displayed 4 times with interpolation on the framing. Personally, I’d stick with the true 120fps, but you can do as you wish.
The problem with Video recording on Huawei phones before this have been primarily stabilisation and colours, and neither are properly fixed here. Am I surprised? No, but am I still a bit annoyed? Yes. They’ve managed to get every other aspect of the video pretty solid, but skin tones it still struggles with and walking or moving whilst recording video is an invitation for motion sickness. Please Huawei, do better.
This is also a pretty easy thing for me to talk about because it’s great. The Kirin 710 is not a new chipset anymore, but it is not old either. It was announced about a year ago and I believe shipped with the Mate 20 Lite, but the funny thing is from a pure hardware perspective, it’s very close to the old Kirin 960. If you just added a better GPU to the Kirin 710 it would basically be a smaller 960, and that’s awesome, because the Cortex A73 and A53 are still relevant (well, the A73 more than the A53). Whilst the Mali G51 MP4 isn’t a bad GPU, it is no match for the G71 on the 960 though.
Should you be worried about the performance on the P30 Lite? No, not at all, but I cannot say how well it will age. I want to hope that it will be fine and nothing to worry about, but we’ve seen that fast phones don’t always stay fast and bitrot is a thing, so whilst I’ll tentatively say performance isn’t an issue in the future, I will caveat that with limited testing of similar chipsets on year old devices.
I was honestly a little let down with the battery on the P30 Lite for a few reasons. The battery size of 3340mAh is a pretty large battery, the 1080p screen should be easily pushed by the Mali G51 GPU, the SoC is built on TSMCs well regarded 12nm fabrication process, but despite all of that, I was ending the day with 20-25% battery left.
That’s not bad battery life, but it is not great either, especially given the specifications I just laid out. What I will not moan about though is the lack of Supercharging. The lack of 22.5W is a bit difficult to take, but the inclusion of 9v2a (so 18w) quick charging is fine. I believe this is based on the Huawei QuickCharge protocol, not USB-PD or Qualcomm QuickCharge (the second one is less likely as, well it doesn’t have a Qualcomm SoC), which is a bit of a bummer. I will always take a slower standards-based charging system over a faster proprietary one (yes, I would take 30w USB-PD over the 40w Huawei SuperChargwe on my P30 Pro).
Standby battery life is strangely impressive though, but when actively in use this thing doesn’t last nearly as long as I’d want it to, and that is a real shame for me.
Despite what all the spec sheets seem to say, the P30 Lite that I have, which is the MAR-LX1A, definitely does have NFC, I’ve set up Google Pay and used it at Asda, it’s definitely there.
The headphone jack is here, but it is weak I’m not sure if the headphones I tried to use it with are just too powerful (likely the case) but I stuck with Bluetooth earbuds for the rest of my testing as It was wholly disappointing to use that headphone jack.
So, do I like this? Well, yes. If you’re asking I doubt you read past the title. Despite my issues with the battery life and the peculiarities with the Camera, especially in Video mode, it is still a great phone, with a lovely screen, lovely build, takes gorgeous stills and is performant. I still want to get it out and show people because it looks so pretty, it’s a conversation starter, and that’s cool.
Is it worth the £329 price tag though? I honestly think so. Compared to devices like the Pixel 3A recently released at £399. You get a larger screen, though it is IPS instead of OLED, you get double the onboard storage (and MicroSD Slot) you get a bigger battery and it looks prettier. But you get a worse camera, and Huawei’s update situation, whilst better than before still isn’t going to be better than what Google provides for its own phone. The Huawei P30 Lite is a great phone, and you should at the very least give it some attention.