Already the newly released Huawei P30 Pro has begun racking up awards, a pile which will no doubt stack high come end of year, starting with “Best Photo Smartphone” from the Technical Image Press Association. The Chinese company’s highly anticipated new flagship builds upon a steady legacy of “rewriting the rules” – as so their marketing campaign goes – for smartphone photography over the past few years, and justifies its accolades with unprecedented features, edging Huawei’s prowess more than just a couple of steps forward.
At the very least, this is a thoroughly impressive product, highlighting just much smartphone photography has evolved in recent years. Though that isn’t to say this photography-first phone lets everything else fall by the wayside; battery life is extraordinary, performance is mostly excellent, and small design tweaks have really helped ensure the P30 Pro will remain relevant well into 2020.
Design: Form Follows Function
This is what a true high-end smartphone feels like, with form and function in flawless concert. The Pro’s stunning 6.47 inch OLED display gently curves over the edges of its slim figure, framed only by a barely noticeable bezel which is kept to a minimum. The frame runs the edges of the phone and meets at the top with a tiny dewdrop notch in the centre, housing the sole 32Mp front-facing camera.
At 158 x 73.4 x 8.4 mm and around 192g, it’s a sizable phone to hold but, while slippery, it doesn’t feel as clunky or awkward as some competing new-gen models.
A screen resolution of 1080 x 2340 with an aspect ration of 19.5:9 and a pixel density of 398ppi may be a slight downgrade from the Mate 20 Pro and other competitors, but for the majority of functions this is largely meaningless. The display is fantastic, with clear, vivid imagery and colour accuracy; only those watching 4K and being pedantic will notice the difference between this and say the Galaxy S10 Plus.
Fashion certainly isn’t lost on Huawei. The P-series has always placed put a great deal into eye-catching colourways, and for the P30 Pro that commitment is furthered with two new gradients in particular, the “Breathing Crystal” and “Aurora”. The latter is inspired by the Northern Lights and colour-shifts with blue-green hues, but its the former which stuns the most. “Breathing Crystal” may be cringe-worthy in name, but the unique mixture of multiple hues looks incredible, as the back of the phone slides between blue and white in a similar fashion to the P20 Pro “Twilight”. Just make sure you use a case; fingerprints really show on the glossy surface.
Around the edges of the phone are all the necessary buttons and slots. On the right side, the power button sits just below the volume buttons, while the left is completely clean. The slim base still manages to fit in a dual nano-SIM slot, as well as the a USB-C port and the phone’s only speaker grille. There’s no speaker on the top so a slimmer profile can be maintained, which in turn benefits the phone’s camera system (more on this below) – a great example of necessary concessions on form in service of function.
Though the choice to do away with a speaker on top does bring its issues. You’re well taken care of on calls since the device actually uses vibrations in the screen to create sound, and does it very well. But with media playback, the audio is noticeably unbalanced, so you might want to watch Netflix with earbuds.
Disappointingly, the phone does not ship with a USB-C to 3.5mm dongle as many other smartphones of this current generation do, which makes the slap of not having a headphone jack sting a bit more. Amusingly, this is one advantage the standard P30 has over its bigger and more powerful sibling.
There’s also the fact that you can’t use the dual nanoSIM and expand memory at the same time, you’ll have to choose one or the other. If you’re going to use Huawei’s proprietary NanoSD to stretch storage, you’ll be taking up one of the SIM slots.
An in-display optical fingerprint scanner towards the bottom of the screen allows the display to extend to the base, while 2D face unlock holds up the other side of biometrics. Both scanners work incredibly fast and for the most part are reliable (except when wearing sunglasses). 3D face unlock would have been better of course, but without a sensor to justify it on the front the absence is understandable.
Performance & Battery: Stamina For Days
The Kirin 980 processor is a top-performer, and as such the P30 Pro works beautifully as a function of its Android 9 Pie/EMUI 9.1 system, which still retains some of its annoying gestures, saturated themes and weird app closures, but is mostly a step in the right direction. Particularly useful is the always-on option, which displays essential info like time, date, and battery status even when the screen is off.
8GB RAM, 256GB storage (remember, expandable) and a sturdy IP68 rating help round out the requisites as far as hardware goes, though most valuable is its ginormous 4200 mAh battery, which promises an ambitious 48 hour battery life and falls woefully short at maybe 47.9 hours.
Seriously though, this is one of those rare occasions where a manufacturer promises a strong battery life and really delivers. Where the Pixel 3 XL (the best comparison thanks to its formidable camera) watches its battery crumble when its camera is open, the P30 Pro persists even with frequent use.
Push this thing to the limits with a gaming sessions or by obsessively snapping everything on vacation and you’ll still have juice left over when you go in for the charge, which should be credited to its brilliant AI which optimises and manages the battery very carefully. Even after very heavy use outdoors, I would often end the day with at least 20-30%.
And speaking of charging, the Pro offers 40W SuperCharge, 15W Wireless SuperCharge, and 2.0 Reverse Wireless Charging. You’re looking at around 30 minutes to get this from 0 to 65-70%, which is game-changing. At one point, I forgot the last time I actually charged my review unit.
Camera: HOLY F**K
The quad camera set-up on the rear is why customers will be flocking to the P30 Pro, and it seems every design decision Huawei has made – especially the questionable ones – have been in complete service to this.
The team is made up of a 40MP SuperSpectrum sensor, (27mm, f/1.6, OIS + AI) a 20MP ultrawide angle lens (16mm, f/2.2, AI), a 8MP telephoto lens (125mm, f/3.4, OIS + AI) and a Time-of-Flight (AI) sensor which uses infrared to accurately determine depth and improve AR and 3D experiences.
Huawei curated this all-star line-up specifically because of what each can bring to the system as a whole. And on the field, the team’s biggest strength is an unconventional move away from the standard RGB sensor, instead opting for RYYB (Red-Yellow-Yellow-Blue) “SuperSpectrum” imaging, which replaces the usual red-green-blue sub-pixel set-up with one of red-yellow-blue, allowing around 40% more light in and leading to much, much better photos in low-light situations (even without Night Mode).
A significant concession has been made to switch to RYYB though. It seems while the Huawei works incredibly well with reds, it sometimes can work a bit too well. Which could explain why there have been certain cases of oversaturated reds and red-tinges on skin during video recording.
Performance-enhancing AI furthers the love of bright and vivid photography, assisting even the clumsiest of photographers and ensuring snaps look their best. However I’ve noticed that, when compared to the Pixel 3 XL, the computational considerations seem to be overworked at times, which means there’s more room for error. You have to work harder for that perfect shot with the Pro, but when you get it right you’ll more often than not be very happy with the results.
Note that the P30 Pro’s DxOMark Score is 112, whereas the Pixel 3 XL’s mark on the same scale is 101. They both scored pretty much equally (1 point difference, in favour of the Pixel) for Video, but the P30 Pro zipped ahead with a photo score of 119 (versus Pixel’s 103).
Here are a few of the major touchpoints to consider with the P30 Pro’s camera.
Low-light photography may be good enough on default, but Night Mode furthers that even more by showing off more of what the AI can do. You’ll have to keep the phone steady for a few seconds, and you’ll need at least some light source in the environment, but the potential here is unlike anything else on the market. Though Google’s Night Sight works more consistently, it tends to overexpose and doesn’t produce results that are as sharp or deep as the Night Mode here.
Further comparing Night Mode with Night Sight, both seem to perform equally well in different circumstances. The fact that the Pixel 3 XL only has one rear lens implies that Google’s software is far more advanced, and its computational photography more refined. Look at the below shots I took outside at around 11pm. Simple subject – a plant – but a good way to test the temperature of both night-enhanced modes, which is one of the bigger differences. As you can tell, the Huawei tends to have warmer temperatures, but the Pixel shoots in the opposite direction. For this photo, the greens are more accurate for Pixel’s Night Sight, but the Pro produced sharper image with better clarity.
I’ve tested the Night Mode vs Night Sight in numerous situations, both at night and during the day. It’s really difficult to say which one I have preferred so far, as they both have their strengths and weaknesses.
As mentioned, the fact that Pixel 3 XL only has one rear lens is a mark against the P30 Pro. Though this just means that Huawei can iterate and improve their software – updates which will no doubt be rolling through the year.
Huawei have achieved something no other smartphone to date has, and it’s largely thanks to its revolutionary zoom capabilities. The periscope telephoto lens is impressive enough with its 5x optical zoom, but then it takes that a step further with 10x hybrid and a massive 50x digital. The fact that I can use this to read the sign on a building in a different suburb is jaw-dropping.
Look at the photo below. That’s a 10x digital zoom standing from across Sydney Harbour, focusing in on the sails of the Sydney Opera House. As you can see, the camera can pick up not just the texture of the sails in sharp, vivid detail, but also the marks on one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. Shutup and take this god damn money.
The photo below is from one side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge near Walsh Bay. Notice the tall building with a red sign all the way across the harbour and in an entirely different suburb? I wasn’t able to read the sign at all.
It’s safe to say that Huawei love giving people options. Customisation plays a big part in the UI of this phone, and that love of choice extends to the camera’s Pro Mode. You can control things like shutter speed, auto-focus, and ISO sensitivity (capped at 409,600) here, although most of it’s largely unnecessary given how good the regular point-and-shoot default mode is. Still, having options is always appreciated.
Portrait and Aperture Modes
This is where the ToF camera is most handy, bouncing light off subjects and using that to better calculate depth, mapping out exactly where things are in a frame. Aperture Mode’s precise bokeh effect is a great showcase for this, presenting edges which are much, much better defined than the hit-or-miss experience I’ve had with Pixel 3 XL, where unwanted blurs are common.
Wide Angle Lens
Zoom out completely and the camera will automatically shift to its 16mm wide-angle lens, which helps bring a lot into the frame and is MVP when it comes to travel photography. On that aforementioned trip to Vietnam recently I found myself using the ultra-wide zoom the most, and it’s simple to just pinch outwards and watch the screen come bring more life into it.
It’s the best for making images feel more dramatic, particularly landscapes. Here’s a couple of examples of the wide-angle, compared with the main (loseless) zoom touchpoints – standard, 5x, and 10x. Even at 10x, the statue’s details are clear and look beautiful – most importantly, not just on the P30 Pro’s screen.
Keeping Master AI on does have its issues, automatically switching to the mode which it thinks will be most suitable to the situation. While the mode chosen is almost always accurate (super macro, food, blue sky etc) it isn’t the best at picking up on nuances, and the camera can sputter for a split-second when switching between modes, which can be annoying.
You can always just quickly dismiss the chosen mode if it isn’t appropriate, but more often than not it is. Bring the camera close to the subject and you’ll automatically be in Super Macro mode, steady it outdoors and the camera will activate a ‘sky’ mode which is better at catching blues. At the very least, it’s entertaining when the computer makes mistakes – like thinking something is ‘food’ when it clearly isn’t.
Video is just not as good as still-photography here. Vastly improved stabilisation is the biggest point of interest here, and the phone is capable of beautiful 4K recording in ideal conditions. But for the most part, quality is rather disappointing considering what this camera system can do for still photos.
As mentioned above, perhaps it’s the RYYB sensor to blame for the sometimes-issue of an over-saturated red tinge when video recording.
I did notice quite a concerning glitch on the camera when testing it out one day in Vietnam. I was using Night Mode in a wide angle (0.6x) and was surprised that when I would go to take a photo, the Night Mode would either just not work (and take a normal photo) or completely go off the deep-end and have the screen turn bright green – taking a bright green photo.
It’s worth noting that the phone was at 30%, and when I recharged to full the issue seemed to disappear. Wide Angle + Night Mode would work just fine.
For more perspectives on the P30 Pro’s camera check out the following AU articles:
Should you buy the P30 Pro? If you can afford it and you’re someone who takes plenty of photos on their smartphone: yes. A million times, yes. For the few faults, and the fact that this version of Android still isn’t as smooth and user friendly as Apple’s iOS in many cases, P30 Pro is still one of the finest achievements in smartphone technology to date.
This represents a revolution in smartphone photography, continuing the company’s reputation of reinventing the wheel (or, #rewritingtherules) and should be met with great enthusiasm as examples of photos taken with this device continue to pop up all over the internet.
Add in an enormously promising battery, exceptional level of customisation, and a gorgeous display and you’ve got a clear front-runner for phone of 2019 – and that’s saying a lot, given we’re only in the relative early stages of the annual smartphone race.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS OUT OF FIVE
Highlights: Best smartphone camera to date; colour-accurate, crispy display; high level of customisation; impressive battery life; sturdy, beautiful design.
Lowlights: Red tinges at times (especially in video recording); audio output is unbalanced; no headphone jack; prone to fingerprints and scratches without a case.
Price: $1599 AUD with 8GB memory and 256GB storage
All photos by Chris Singh. Note that photos may have had quality reduced to fit them into the article.
Article based on a review unit provided by Huawei. Opinions remain that of the writer’s.