The Huawei P30 Pro feels like Huawei making a bold statement to the rest of the smartphone industry: “try and catch us”. In short, the handset is one of the best on the market and has arguably the most versatile camera systems out there.
You could be forgiven for thinking that this handset would merely be a makeweight for the Mate 30 Pro line. Huawei clearly didn’t get that memo and decided that a fully featured premium flagship was the best way to sate the industry ahead of time.
Clearly, the “P” in P30 Pro stands for “photography”. It is here where the Huawei P30 Pro excels and stands, looming large over every other handset on the market — the Pixel 3 included. While it’s obvious that camera results and the images produced themselves are inherently subjective, just what this camera does is breathtaking at times.
But as we know, just having a good camera doesn’t necessarily make a good device.
Design & Hardware
As we reach an almost bezeless, notchless state, we’re seeing smartphone designs kind of converge into one style. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing in many regards, although Huawei has done their utmost to make an attractive device — and my personal opinion is that they have succeeded.
The design reminds me somewhat of the S9 with curved glass on either side of the device. The tapered design really helps the handset settle into your palm — which is good as the glass back can be particularly slippery. Make no mistake, this is a very thin handset, but one that feels reassuringly sturdy in the hand.
At the front the phone feels tall and slender, the real lack of bezel helps the P30 Pro in that regard. So too do the softly curved edges of the display. I will say that from a durability perspective I often worry about curved edges, but boy do they make this device feel much more enjoyable to use. More on the display slightly later though.
Turning the handset around to the back and you get to see the fantastic colors in all their glory. As I said, manufacturers may be heading towards one almost static design at the front, so round back is where we get to see the some differentiation. Huawei has really embraced the two-tone color stylings and I am lucky enough to have the Breathing Crystal design — which is arguably my favorite smartphone color in recent years.
We’ve moved away from plain black slates and it is proving to be much better for consumer choice. It almost makes me laugh when we’d see a red or blue device get released several months after the main launch of a device, only to see it be made available for a limited period. That said, the Sunrise Amber option, when seen up close, is another gorgeous red device.
The way that the handset shimmers and flows from color to color is nothing short of gorgeous. If you like a plain black option though, you do you, no judgement here. Further, you could argue that plainer handsets age better. Then again, it’s all subjective.
At the top of the P30 Pro you’ll notice flat bases, which does make for a sharper feel when rested into your palms. I combat this with a case, but that isn’t an ideal solution. I’m under the impression that Huawei opted for these flat top and bottom edges to give the illusion of smaller bezels — but that is just a hunch. I quite like the flat bases at either side, if only from a video filming perspective.
The clicky volume rocker and colored sleep-wake button are a joy to use. While they are the only external buttons, they are exceptionally done. I’m disappointed though by the audio provided by the solitary downward facing speaker. It gets loud and manages to stay clear, but is easily muffled when watching videos in landscape.
You are supplied with some USB-C headphones in the box. That does alleviate some of the issues with picking up some Type-C earbuds. They aren’t particularly great though and your options for good quality USB-C headphones really are slim. I would recommend the Moshi Mythro-C though as a gateway pair.
On the audio front, it’s worth noting that the P30 Pro doesn’t include a standard earpiece at the top of the display. Instead, it has a vibrating element at the top portion of the OLED. I’ve found call quality to be absolutely fine — I do have pretty sizeable ears though for what it’s worth.
Internally, there is a certain sense of familiarity with the P30 Pro. That’s because the handset has all of the same main components as the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. So you get the Kirin 980, 6 or 8GB of RAM, 128GB or 256GB of expandable storage and a mammoth 4,200mAh battery. The display though takes a bump down on this model. It’s an FHD+ AMOLED panel that is crystal clear and a joy to use — I apologize for ever criticising FHD+ displays before, but at $1,000+ you should really get a QHD+ panel in my opinion.
The fact that the notch is diminished massively by being converted into a teardrop also helps the look and feel. It houses a solitary front-facing camera, so no 3D face-scanning tech is included.
One final portion of the hardware that has seemingly died out on almost all devices is the IR blaster. For fans, the P30 Pro includes an IR blaster so that you can activate troll mode in your local bar, restaurant, or Best Buy.
Software & Performance
EMUI just isn’t my bag. I’ve come to enjoy aspects of it after extensive usage, but the overall look, feel, and cohesion just doesn’t feel totally ‘there’. Case in point: my handset often asks me when opening a message link which app I’d like to set as my default messaging solution. It will then forget and ask the same question moments later.
I will say that EMUI 9.1 is much better than it has been for some time. It still feels like it is trying to be iOS lite, but Nova Launcher (shock) soon sorts that out. I’m intrigued to see if we’ll get Android Q within a solid timeframe after the public release or if we’ll see the Mate 30 Pro get EMUI 10 with Q atop first.
That said, there are some neat tricks like the AI video editor. This sort of mimics what you see on Google Home Hub devices, whereby the software creates little video montages of regularly photographed people (and pets!).
One smartphone trend that I can’t say I’m a huge fan of is in-display fingerprint readers. The Mate 20 Pro was the first device I was able to test with the feature and it worked okay. Huawei has improved the speed for the P30 Pro, but it still isn’t perfect at times. Have a slightly moist thumb? Ain’t gonna work. A little bit of potato chip grease on your index finger? Nada.
Kind of unexpectedly, it doesn’t slow down much when you stick a screen protector on top — as I’ve recently found out. It does sometimes miss fingerprint presses every now and again, but that is a minor price to pay for screen protection.
I understand that this is a limitation of the optical in-display reader, but even despite a recent security scare, I’d much prefer an ultrasonic fingerprint reader like on the Galaxy S10+. Alternatively, stick a side mounted fingerprint reader on instead.
The extra software additions to the camera, like the ability to natively scan QR codes without an extra application, are one core addition of EMUI that I do really like. As is the ability to use on-screen buttons rather than gestures, and to be honest, I’m still not 100% sold on them on Android as yet. Android Q may solve that, but at the moment, gestures just aren’t quite as easy to use consistently in my opinion.
Performance has been excellent on the whole. The Kirin 980 processor is a top performer and I’ve noticed no issues or slowdowns given this device is packing in a further 8GB of RAM.
The main event of the P30 Pro, the camera introduces a brand new sensor array to the entire photography industry. Huawei has developed an RYYB sensor that breaks the normal convention of the RGB sensor. In marketing material, the claim is that this allows the P30 Pro to capture 40% more light than an RGB sensor.
I have no reason to doubt this claim as the single shot auto mode is able to manage results that rival and in 90% of cases better the now legendary Pixel Night Sight. I’ve found in my testing that I simply skip Huawei Night Mode in favor of a single shot. Whatever the engineers over at Leica and Huawei are doing, they continue doing it.
Those three main rear cameras on the back of the P30 Pro give you a wealth of shooting options for almost every scenario. The wide angle lens is great for when you want to get that almost fisheye field of view. It also doubles as a macro lens, getting up close and personal to the action and unearthing another layer of hidden detail.
It’s the 5x telephoto zoom lens that is the showstopper though. This lens is optically stabilized for even better performance, and it offers up an entirely new area of smartphone photography. For the avid traveller, I cannot see a phone that directly competes with the selection on offer.
Video modes are plentiful, but this is where the P30 Pro camera stutters a little. The colors can sometimes end up a bit oversaturated or oddly portrayed. The wide-angle lens actually does a better job of color correction — a weird aspect of the P30 Pro AI no doubt.
There are a wealth of video modes to choose from but no 4K 60FPS, which is a real shame. Even at UHD, the quality stutters and looks grainy compared to other camera systems.
It’s one area that many handsets seem to struggle with. Just having an excellent lens setup doesn’t guarantee solid video recording performance. It would be great to see some further work put in here. Although a software update could fix a ton of the current crop of issues.
The battery on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro was undoubtedly the battery king in 2018. The Huawei P30 Pro is already the battery King in 2019. With a 4,200mAh cell that can easily withstand the abuse of the most hardcore smartphone user, the P30 Pro has genuinely insane longevity.
As I say every single time, screen on time isn’t the best metric for actual battery life. I say that, as it doesn’t take into account the type of usage when the screen is powered on. But despite that, it is one of the best we have to give you an indication of what to expect.
To that end, on any given day with the P30 Pro, I usually do an hour or so of Bluetooth headphone usage during extended dog walking duty, plenty of social media scrolling, the odd video viewing, plenty of camera usage, and the obligatory extended email usage. This normally renders the battery to around 70% with just 3 hours of screen on time being accounted for.
I’m by no means a power user on a normal weekday, but on a weekend I’ll regularly extend screen on time to the upper 6-hour mark before seeing the sub-40% marker. I’ve only seen battery close to this with the previous Mate handset.
If you want to take your battery life even further still, the excellent array of battery saver modes offers ways to tweak power-sapping.
Then, should your battery wane, the 40W fast charger that comes in the box is so blazingly fast that you’ll go from that 40% to 100% in less than 40 minutes. Watching the onscreen animation show you the battery creep up by 1% every few seconds is a mini delight.
Whatever Huawei’s secret sauce for battery excellence, maybe they should start offering it to other OEMs because it is genuinely superb.
I nearly forgot to mention that the Huawei P30 Pro reintroduces the massively gimmicky, but always welcome reverse wireless charging to the P series for the first time. I can’t say I’ve even turned the feature on, save to test it. I can imagine though that it will be a useful feature if I want to charge my Galaxy Buds at the same time as my phone and only have the one cable.
Let me put this in simple terms: I love this phone despite the software flaws, sometimes odd notification settings, and even sometimes weird camera performance. The camera is genuinely special. It can do things that defy what most of the industry is doing and the new sensor is a testament to Huawei’s dedication and desire to push the boundaries of smartphone photography.
There are some downsides, the display isn’t as good as the one found in the Mate 20 Pro. The fingerprint scanner is still a bit ‘meh’ and the software is still a little bit inconsistent. It’s almost as if with just a little more attention to the details that matter, Huawei could really make a truly legendary smartphone with their next release.
Unlike Apple and Samsung, it seems that the Chinese brands are willing to experiment with their flagship devices in ways we haven’t really seen before. If it works, so be it. If it fails, stick something else in and see what happens. For Huawei at least, it’s this desire to throw things at the wall and see what sticks that is helping them very steadily overtake Samsung at the top of the global smartphone shipment charts.
We can discuss why there are tensions between the US and Huawei all day long, but the fact is that this is the best phone not on sale in the United States. And in reality that is quite disappointing as I’m sure it would be a surefire winner Stateside.
You can import the handset unlocked from online stores in Canada and the United Kingdom should you really want to get your hands on the Huawei P30 Pro. This does mean though that any hardware and carrier support is very limited, and not particularly recommended.