Reviewing the Huawei Mate 30 Pro is one of the hardest I’ve ever had to write or produce — with the reasons being quite glaringly obvious.

The victim of circumstances far out of its control, the Huawei Mate 30 Pro is a flagship that has no real home outside of China because of software access. For the skeptics, that isn’t a big deal but for the mobile industry at large, we could easily mourn the loss of what could have been a fantastic, almost complete package.

Now that we are seeing a potential trade deal being signed by the US and China, we very much hope that the Mate 30 Pro gets the sorely needed access to Google Mobile Services it needs to really trade blows with the best in the business.

Issues aside, this is our review of the currently China-only Huawei Mate 30 Pro.

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Hardware & Design

Whether you hate curved displays or not, it has to be said that the Mate 30 Pro has a striking look. The ultra-curved display wraps around the edges in a way few phones on the market do currently, meaning it feels far more screen-laden than it really is.

There is a lip where the curved display meets the frame of the phone, which can be sharp at the upper corners. It’s not something that I find too much of an issue but I have noticed it on the occasions I’ve fumbled with the Mate 30 Pro trying to take photos and videos quickly.

Because there is just so much display to play with, I am genuinely concerned about longevity. I’ve yet to see any screen protectors crop up that can cover the entire display and considering just how slippery this phone is, I fear what might happen should I drop it caseless.

The bump down from a QHD+ display on the Mate 20 Pro to a FHD+ display was a major concern for me. I really like having a QHD+ display but, to be honest, you might not really notice the dip. This is a fantastic 1080p panel that looks great from any angle and although I wish it was flat, I have never been left wanting at any point.

Having no real sides of note means you get a very distinct feeling in the hand. The edges feel an afterthought but the rear design is particularly striking. That large circular camera bump plays host to one of the most stacked camera setups you’ll find on any smartphone but it also catches the eye.

Around that camera system is an under-glass etched design that catches the eye and makes the already prominent camera bump just that bit more visible. Personally, I am a huge fan of rear circle camera notches — although I did like the ‘stove’ top style of the Mate 20 Pro — this feels like a natural design progression.

I’ve not really mentioned the internals so far but you’ll find the Kirin 990 chipset and 8GB of RAM inside. There is also 128GB of storage that can be expanded by Huawei’s proprietary and hard to get hold of Nano Memory cards. The Kirin 990 is a beast of a chipset that goes toe-to-toe with the Snapdragon 855+ and even Apple’s own A13 Bionic chip.

Software & Performance

The biggest sore point of the entire package has to be the software. We can’t sugarcoat this fact, the Mate 30 Pro without the core Google Mobile Services is really hard to use for the average Westerner.

You can sideload many apps without the need for Google Mobile Services or the Google Play Store which is fine for tech-savvy people. Heck, the multitude of web apps run almost the same as a native app now all within the browser but it really isn’t a solution to a problem that isn’t really of Huawei’s making.

Android 10 comes pre-installed but this isn’t the version many of us will have seen or used before. The AOSP build is as barebones as you can imagine a version of Android would be without all of the core Google apps we have all become accustomed to. Not having Google Play Services quickly sinks in if you are deeply ingrained in Gmail, Docs, Drive, and more.

So many applications rely on the frameworks that just sideloading isn’t a catch-all solution to the core OS problem. There are methods to install Google Mobile Services, although some of these were killed off unceremoniously just recently. Despite that, the Mate 30 Pro does, however, offer the Google-free disciples a device that is free from GMS but still retains much of what makes Android great — and so popular.

I will say that EMUI 10 on the impressive internals basically flies. I’ve seen little to no slowdown in any task with the Mate 30 Pro, it can handle anything and everything without hindrance or hiccup. There are also some little tweaks here and there that you just won’t find on other devices running EMUI 10 — which I’ve spoken about in greater depth previously.

With no volume buttons, the double-tap and drag method is neat but very finicky and can be truly irritating when you just want to quickly increase or decrease the volume.

The irritations don’t just end with the volume controls either. Because the display is so curved, certain UI elements of applications shrink or disappear into the edges and make certain portions hard to activate and use.

Neat but seemingly pointless features also include the eye monitoring function. This uses the 3D camera tech found in the display notch to auto-rotate the display depending on which way you’re looking at your phone from. It’s impressive as it is unnecessary despite being really cool.

That eye monitoring also is complemented by a weird Motion Sense-style hand wave gesture control method that allows you to scroll and take screenshots without touching your display. I’m not entirely sold but it might be useful if you are cooking and have wet hands — granted the Mate 30 Pro is IP68 certified.

None of this detracts from the biggest issue here: a distinct lack of access to the Google Play Store. I will say that since sideloading, I have had no issues and enjoy using almost everything except Google Pay but that still isn’t a solution for something that is sorely missed the moment you power-on the device for the first time.

The software, or lack thereof, is the biggest weakness of the entire device and there is no escaping from that fact.

Camera

There are very few OEMs that can tackle the camera prowess of Huawei, and this is where the Mate 30 Pro really pushes the boundaries yet again. We saw the P30 Pro wow earlier this year with exceptional zoom capabilities and a night mode that did more in one exposure than most can do with long-exposures.

While I can’t definitively say if the Mate 30 Pro is the best camera system on a smartphone, it really does deliver exceptional results. So much rolls over from the P30 Pro that it becomes a little confusing — but in a good way.

Huawei doesn’t leave anything to chance. Rather than taking the Google or Apple approach of refining the software on already good or solid hardware, they simply slap in as much raw grunt as humanly possible and ensure that you have enough power to get the job done in any photo-taking scenario.

Included in the circular rear camera notch on the Mate 30 Pro is a 40-megapixel wide camera with an f/1.6, aperture that comes with optical image stabilization (OIS). There is also a 3x telephoto lens with OIS and an 8-megapixel resolution. The biggest new addition is that of the new ultra-wide cinema camera, which also has a 40-megapixel resolution but no OIS.

That’s not to say they can’t do camera software though, as the single-shot high ISO Night Mode returns and I have to say the results can truly be astonishing. It fixes the yellowing issues that the P30 Pro sometimes has when using the very same mode and the updated Night Mode also makes impressive strides.

Take a photo using the dedicated long exposure Night Mode and the end result are very moody, steely shots that often wouldn’t look out of place in a Batman comic or movie. I find the single-shot auto mode at night does produce more visually pleasing versions but it’s also madness to see just how much this camera can do with a single exposure.

I must applaud the versatility on offer here. You get options for just about every scenario you may ever face as a mobile photographer. The end result of pressing the shutter will be sharp, vibrant images that do not lack for detail but can be a tad unrealistic at times.

At the front, the 32-megapixel selfie camera produces sharp images that get the job done but ensure that you turn down the beautification mode to get the best quality results. Not being much of a selfie taker, the are more than good enough for my sporadic usage.

Video modes are now far more comprehensive, albeit with some gimmicky but impressive new features. 4K 60fps footage is the biggest and most welcome addition by far and it finally fixes a glaring omission from older Huawei phones.

Not that it’s perfect. My personal opinion is that the video quality isn’t quite up there with other Android phones. Colors really suffer in video modes but will you get good, usable video? Yes, most definitely. You can always tweak in post should you not be a huge fan of the end result such is the flexibility of video in general.

A core selling point was also the 7,680fps slow-motion video camera mode. There aren’t really many applications in which it shows off just how slow your footage can get but it really is amazing to see when you try it for the first time. It is impressive as it is grainy though.

Battery

With a 4,500mAh cell inside, the Mate 30 Pro really powers through the day unhindered. I can’t honestly say it matches the lifespan I experienced with last year’s Mate 20 Pro but it gets very, very close.

Huawei’s aggressive battery management does ensure that battery life is towards the top end of the scale but that is to the detriment of the usability of the smartphone. Turning this off has made very little difference to my overall longevity but means that all of my notifications come through without delay. My advice would be to turn this off on most Huawei phones anyway.

With average screen on time readings over the eight-hour mark, you won’t be left wanting with the Huawei Mate 30 Pro. The fact that this phone also comes with superb 42W wired fast charging and even 27W fast wireless charging is just icing on the cake.

Verdict

While there are some slightly gimmicky hardware additions such as the display uber curve, the entire hardware package is simply sublime on the Mate 30 Pro. It is really a striking device that is a head-turner for sure.

Even despite my love for the hardware, I can’t hand on heart recommend the device to anyone but hardcore fans though simply due to the limitations it places on you by the way of software. If you simply must have the device, you’ll likely face workarounds and limitations until the China-US trade war finally comes to a halt.

Should Google and Huawei be able to work together officially again in the future, the Mate 30 Pro is most definitely one of the most feature-packed packages — but that is still a pipedream.

As at stands though, this is most definitely the best phone you probably shouldn’t buy right now unless you’re happy to tinker and sideload to get the exact experience you so desire.

Where can I buy the Huawei Mate 30 Pro?

Make no mistake about it, the Huawei Mate 30 Pro really is a fantastic device. I can’t wholeheartedly recommend picking one up just yet but if you really must have this phone, you will have to wade through some muddy waters to get hold of one.

At over $1,000, £1,000, or €1,000 with potential import fees on top from Chinese sites like Gearbest, my advice would be to hold on a little longer and hope that the US-China trade issues eventually blow over.

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