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Huawei P30 Pro Review

The P30 Pro is Huawei’s latest flagship, and outshines the Mate 20 Pro thanks to superior cameras. Here's our review.

Should I Buy The Huawei P30 Pro?
The P30 Pro is another fantastic flagship from Huawei that takes smartphone photography to the next level. Add to this great performance, excellent battery life and beautiful gradient finishes and you have a champion.

Price When Reviewed
  • £899 (128GB), £1099 (512GB)
Last year we were seriously impressed with the P20 Pro which was then eclipsed six months later by the Mate 20 Pro. Now, another six months on, we have the P30 Pro which takes a lot of the best features from the Mate 20 Pro and makes them even better.

It isn’t the only new model. There’s also the P30 which is arguably just as good a choice for different reasons.

Price & Availability
The P30 Pro costs £899 for the 128GB model, which comes in the new – and excellent – Breathing Crystal gradient as well as Black and Aurora.

If you want the red one – called Amber Sunrise – note that it’s only available as a 512GB model which costs £1,099.

As Huawei doesn’t sell phones in the US, there are no official US prices: you’ll have to import one if you live there.

You can buy a P30 Pro from Carphone Warehouse, EE, Vodafone and Sky Mobile.

256GB models exist, but we couldn’t find any being offered in the UK. But if you’re worried that 128GB won’t be enough, the good news is that you can use the second slot in the SIM tray for a Nano memory card to expand storage by up to 256GB extra.

Features & design
  • Wireless charging
  • In-screen fingerprint scanner
  • In-screen speaker for phone calls
One of the biggest surprises is that the P30 Pro is more like an upgrade of the Mate 20 Pro, not its predecessor, the P20 Pro.

The P-series has always led with camera innovations, while the Mate series has been the bigger-screened cousin that focused more on performance (and rivalling Samsung’s Galaxy Note range).

Not only has the P30 Pro’s screen grown to 6.5in, which is bigger than the Mate 20 Pro’s, but it also adopts the Mate’s curved edges on the front and back. There’s an in-screen fingerprint scanner as well, which is what allows the screen to be a taller 19.5:9 aspect ratio, compared to 18.7:9 on the P20 Pro.

The bottom edge of the P30 Pro is flatter than the Mate 20 Pro’s and the double-sided SIM tray is to the left of the USB-C port. There’s a more traditional speaker grille instead of using the USB port as the Mate 20 Pro does, but because of the new in-screen speaker which is used for phone calls, the P30 Pro’s audio prowess takes a step back to mono instead of stereo.

But with 40W SuperCharging, 15W wireless charging and reverse wireless charging the P30 Pro seems to cannibalise all the best features from the Mate 20 Pro. That’s only really a problem for Huawei, though, as there’s really no good reason to buy a Mate 20 Pro any more.

The magnetic speaker works well for calls, and sounds like a normal speaker with your ear pressed to the screen. Huawei has upgraded the in-screen fingerprint scanner to make it faster than the Mate 20 Pro’s, although it’s still optical and not ultrasonic, so won’t work well if your finger is wet… or too dry.

Screen
  • 6.47in, OLED
  • 2340x1080 pixels, 398ppi
  • 19:5:9
  • Embedded fingerprint scanner and speaker
You might assume the screen is the same as the Mate 20 Pro’s, but you’d be wrong. It has a lower resolution and a lower pixel density of 398ppi. Huawei calls it Full HD+ because it’s 2340x1080 pixels. In the flesh it looks sharp enough, though, and of course you can’t see the pixels at normal viewing distances.

Compared to Samsung’s AMOLED screens, the colours on the P30 Pro look more muted, even in Vivid mode. It means more natural-looking pictures, though. We still saw the same colour issues in certain apps as with the Mate 20 Pro, though, where they were too dark and just didn’t look right. And, put side by side with the iPhone XS Max, it’s clear that the P30 Pro’s colours are not as accurate. Not a dealbreaker, but something to bear in mind if this sort of thing bothers you.

There’s no notification LED, but you can enable the always-on display which will show the time, date, battery level and certain notification icons. As ever, Huawei disables it by default.

Huawei hasn’t gone for a ‘punch-hole’ camera like some of its rivals or even its own sub-brand Honor’s View 20, but the notch for the selfie camera is pleasingly symmetrical and much smaller than on the P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro.

No screen protector is applied by the factory which is a shame, and Huawei warns that third-party protectors might mess with the fingerprint scanner. A basic transparent TPU case is provided in the box.

Cameras

With the updated design out of the way, let’s get to the really important stuff: the cameras.  Here’s what they all do:
  • Main: 40Mp, f/1.6, OIS, 27mm-equivalent
  • Ultra-wide: 20Mp, f/2.2, 16mm-equivalent
  • 5x Telephoto: 8Mp, f/3.4, OIS, 125mm-equivalent
  • Time-of-flight camera: for depth sensing
That’s quite a lot of information, so to put it more simply, the P30 Pro allows you to take everything from an ultra-wide photo to a close-up that’s the equivalent to a 10x zoom.

And to illustrate what that looks like, here are the ultra-wide and 10x close-up shots of St Pancras:

If you’re wondering how it can be 10x when the telephoto camera is only 5x, it’s because the information from the 40Mp camera is combined with it to produce what Huawei is calling ‘lossless 10x zoom’.

And here’s the same comparison on the Eiffel tower, plus the 2x effort from an iPhone X to really show the difference in detail that’s achievable from a long distance.

The same shots from the iPhone:

The 10x mode isn’t lossless, but it is still mighty impressive for a phone. If you really want to play, you can zoom right up to 50x, but this is pure digital zoom and you won’t get any extra detail by using it.

It’s easy to use all the cameras because there’s a button at the side of the screen which indicates the current zoom level. It defaults to 1x, but it toggles to 5x, 10x then Wide if you keep tapping it. You can also pinch to zoom if you want a zoom level in between these.

The photos below show the difference in low-light performance between the P20 Pro (left) and P30 Pro (right) in their standard Photo mode, not long exposure Night mode. Huawei says the reason why the P30 is so much better is down to the new 40Mp SuperSpectrum sensor. It has red, yellow and blue pixels instead of red, green and blue. Yellow is used because it’s more sensitive and the sensor is said to capture 40% more light as a result. Combine this with optical stabilisation and a larger aperture lens and it’s easy to understand why there is such a big improvement.

It’s possible to shoot in almost total darkness. You won’t see anything in the preview, so it’s hard to frame a shot, but you’ll be amazed at the details and colours possible with practically zero light. It does tend to make low-light scenes look unnaturally bright as if they were shot in daylight, though.

All of the improvements translate to video as well, which means the P30 Pro is much more capable than its predecessors when shooting in low light with the SuperSpectrum sensor. There’s good stabilisation in 4K, and you also get pretty smooth footage when using the 5x zoom, but things become wobbly if you try to shoot at 10x while holding the phone in your hands. Audio is very good too from the phone’s mics.

A future update, said to be arriving by the end of April 2019, will bring a new feature called Dual View video, which is the ability to record using two cameras at the same time – main + telephoto. This gives a dual perspective, with one half of the screen showing the wide view, and the other the zoomed-in view.

On top of this, there’s a new HDR+ mode which uses the Kirin 980’s AI capabilities to identify not only dark and light areas of an image but what they are. It will then process the image intelligently according to what it ‘sees’, be that a person, a sunset, greenery or another object. Confusingly, HDR is still a separate mode in the camera app and we’d dearly like Huawei to enable it by default when the algorithms determine that it’s needed.

Oddly enough, ‘AI HDR’ is a toggle button in the Portrait mode when using the selfie camera, but not the rear camera.

What about that fourth camera? It’s not for taking photos, instead working in tandem with the IR flood illuminator above it to work out how far away things are in the scene. This information is then used to determine which parts should be blurred out in a Portrait photo and should lead to more realistic-looking portraits.

The effect does look good, but isn’t perfect. Wisps of Dom’s hair and the rim of his glasses which overlap the background have still been inadvertently blurred.

If you’re not taking a picture of a person, you can get the same depth effect by swiping across to Aperture mode.

Macro capabilities are the last improvement, with the main camera being able to focus as close as 25mm from objects. You have to enable Macro mode manually for this to work, which is a shame given how much Huawei goes on about the Kirin 980’s AI capabilities. Why can’t it figure out you’re taking a macro photo?

We also found that you can achieve similar results without macro mode by simply switching to the 5x zoom and getting close to your subject.

Photos from the 32Mp selfie camera look quite sharp on the phone’s screen, but we couldn’t help but notice a lack of detail in skin and other textures, and this is with all the beauty modes disabled. It sounds like a great upgrade but unless Huawei delivers a software update that fixes the problem, all you’re getting is more pixels.

The P30 has one other trick: the depth sensing cameras on the rear allow the phone to measure objects in the real world, much like you can with Apple's Measure app on the latest iPhones.

Performance
With an extra 2GB of RAM but the same processor as the Mate 20 Pro, the P30 Pro is a great performer. In our usual benchmarks, the results were largely the same: you won’t notice the benefit of the extra RAM in normal use.

Android runs without hiccup – no surprise there – and apps launch quickly and run smoothly. From a top-end phone you’d expect nothing less.

In terms of battery life, with a 4200mAh capacity the P30 Pro goes on and on. It will comfortably last two full days with light use, and you should easily make it through a whole day with heavy use with juice to spare.

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Running our usual test in Geekbench 4, the battery lasted almost exactly as long as the Mate 20 Pro did, running out after 11.5 hours – a lot longer than most of its rivals.

If you haven’t experienced Huawei’s SuperCharge speeds, you’ll be utterly amazed at the rapid pace with which the battery tops up. From empty, it will recharge to over 70% in half an hour with the included mains adapter and USB-C cable.

Software
EMUI isn’t to everyone’s liking, but the latest version is the most refined yet. There are still improvements that could be made, paring down settings even further – including those in the camera app.

It’s the same interface you’ll find on the Mate 20 Pro (and the P20 Pro now that the older phone has been updated to Android Pie).

The most recent feature addition is Digital Balance which is an alternative to Google’s Digital Wellbeing App. It works like Screen Time in iOS, monitoring how much you use your phone and offering the ability to set limits for certain types of apps.

We couldn’t test out the new AR Measurement app as it wasn’t installed on our sample phone, but that’s the other notable difference in terms of software.

All other features are present and correct, including the nifty knuckle gestures that let you quickly launch apps, turn on the LED and take screenshots, plus the ability to run two apps on screen at once.

It’s a long way from stock Android but certainly not in a bad way.

Verdict
The P30 Pro is a brilliant phone. It’s beautifully designed, comes in some eye-catching finishes and has exceptional cameras. It also brings the stand-out features from the Mate 20 Pro to the P-series, including wireless charging.

There are only minor niggles, such as the mono audio and slightly off colour accuracy from the screen. Yes, there’s no headphone jack but the P30 Pro is water resistant, unlike the jack-toting P30.

The other negative is price: the P30 Pro costs a full £100 more than the Mate 20 Pro, but you won’t feel that if you’re getting it on contract. And let’s not forget, £899 isn’t unusual these days for a flagship phone.

Specs
  • Android Pie 9.1 + EMUI 9.1 6.47in 2340x1080, 19.5:9 OLED display, 398ppi 2.4GHz Kirin 980 octa-core processor Mali-G76 GPU 8GB RAM
  • 128GB / 512GB storage Cameras: 40Mp with OIS + 8Mp telephoto (5x) + 20Mp ultra-wide + TOF camera Front camera: 32Mp, f/2.0 GPS + Glonass 4G LTE 4200mAh battery USB-C SuperCharge 40W IP68 rating



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