It seems like only yesterday I was raving about the triple-Leica cam set-up on the Mate 20 Pro and even before I could wipe the fingerprint smudges off of its brilliant blue hue, Huawei has gone and upped the ante with the P30 Pro, possibly the greatest smartphone camera ever to have graced the Stuff (India) HQ.
It’s the obvious precursor to the Mate 30 Pro that is inevitably going to arrive before “fall” but since the P-series focuses on photography above all else, the hero here is the camera prowess. Having said that, Huawei has made it a habit to knock our socks off with design, finish and build quality too. Not too long ago when the iPhone was the benchmark, the chasm between Apple and the others was considerable but these days not only is that gap non-existent, in many ways Huawei is pushing the boundaries in a way the California giant cannot.
The Breathing Crystal finish of our review sample for instance is an example of pure craftsmanship that has 9 nano-layers of film under the glass layer that combine to refract light in the most gorgeous manner and make it appear to be all shades of white, purple and everything in between. The iPhone XS Max in comparison, while equally well put together, feels all-too-serious and grown up.
Design and Display: Even better than the real thing
Overall dimensions haven’t changed much from last years P20 Pro but the curved edges to the 6.4in OLED screen is the biggest change here. Though not 2K, the 1080p Full-HD display is sharp enough for everyday use and only in direct comparisons to the Galaxy S10+ and the iPhone XS Max, would you notice the slightest drop in resolution. But Huawei gives you enough options to calibrate the screen, both in terms of colours and white balance so that you can achieve the right mix for you. For me, the Normal colour mode with a slight tilt towards the cooler zone offered the most accurate colours, without over saturation or the artificial pop that may look nice for a few minutes but eventually wears you out.
Design is as brilliant as the Mate 20 Pro with a great hand feel. The slim chassis fits well in your hands with no seams sticking out the sides that interrupt the smooth curves of the screen falling off the edges. The chin has now been reduced to a bare minimum, only slightly thicker than the top which now has a dew drop notch over the Mate 20 Pro’s larger cut-out. There are pros and cons to this method though. It does give you more screen real estate for an even more immersive experience and Huawei could achieve this by removing the earpiece itself and using Acoustic Display technology, which uses the entire screen as a resonating surface, essentially turning into one large speaker! So audio is louder and crisper but at the same time, due to the dew drop notch, Huawei had to drop hardware from the area that made the Mate 20 Pro a lot more secure for payments and even unlocking the device. The facial recognition is fast and the in-screen fingerprint reader even faster than before, but the security aspect is definitely compromised as a result, I’m guessing.
The whole device feels nicely weighted in the hands and definitely premium enough to command a ₹72,000 price tag. There’s no headphone jack but water resistance rating is up to IP68 which is good news and with the quad-cam staring at jealous onlookers, there won’t be any confusion as to which flagship phone you’re sporting.
Software & Performance: Slicker than before
The updated EMUI 9.0 brings with it some changes to Android 9 that make it more fluent and quick. Bloatware is kept to a minimum while adding some genuine usefulness in gestures, screen time management, screenshots and camera-based AI. It works in ways similar to iOS with a swipe up to reveal open apps, swiping from the left edge to go back and so on.
It’s not as slick overall as iOS12 on the iPhone XS but for a heavily skinned Android, complaining here would be just nitpicking. Working the Kirin 980 chipset, the P30 Pro is blazing fast across most applications, packing in a whopping 8GB of RAM and even when you have multiple high-octane apps like games, PS Fix, Facebook, Snapseed all open at the same time, it never once loses steam. Gaming experience isn’t as fluid as an iPhone though but that’s a minor letdown compared to the price disparity and the fact that Apple’s A12 Bionic chip still sets standards for outright power.
In everyday tasks, the P30 Pro is every bit the flagship experience you expect. Huawei has also spent time in ensuring that all the performance of the multiple cores doesn’t make the P30 Pro too hot to hold in your hands with advanced thermal management on the insides.
There are a few features that are on the horizon still, like the Digital Car key that will allow Audi owners to unlock their cars via the P30 Pro.
There’s also a camera feature which allows you to capture video from two lenses simultaneously and stitch them together to give you an alternate view that is a combination of wide angle and telephoto!
Battery: More than enough
With its huge 4200mAh battery, the P30 Pro can go from nought to 70% in half an hour, thanks to its 40-watt Supercharger supplied in the box. The optional fast wireless charger is great for a quick top-up in style too but the point here is that the battery is great regardless of charging method. If you use the whole arsenal of EMUI’s tricks to reduce waste and manage your power well, you can easily get more than a days use out of this device and that’s saying a lot.
Reverse wireless charging makes a splash here too and although it’s a great emergency feature, the real-world charging times are just too slow to make any real impact in our lives at the moment. It could though, work for wireless earbuds and their fancy cases when you’re on the move a lot and for that, reverse wireless charging needs to continue developing and get faster. For now though, it’s a mere check on the list of must-have features.
Camera: This is where it’s at
I could write another entire review on the camera performance of the P30 Pro but for the sake of brevity and holding your interest, I shall condense it. Don’t count on it.
The 10X hybrid Periscope Zoom is the talking point here, besides the 40MP 27mm f/1.6 wide-angle main sensor, a 20MP ultra wide-angle 16mm f/2.2 and the ToF (Time of Flight) lenses. Let me put it straight - this is no marketing gimmick. The 10x zoom is actually a jaw-dropping piece of engineering bit inside the tiny chassis of the phone that manages to fit in a multiple-element optical engine across the width of the phone, using periscope-style optics to mirror the image on to the ISP. There’s lossless optical at 5x which is absolutely flawless when it comes to noise levels and detail retention and then there’s the 10x hybrid which also is claimed to be lossless but with a little help from AI and as a result, it does work really well but with a slight loss in focus.
Huawei’s AI manages to sharpen things up just the right amount so you don’t really notice any loss and it is very useable and legit, giving every other smartphone a run for their money when it comes to pure zoom performance. If you’re feeling extra curious, there’s also the 50x digital zoom that works best when supported by a tripod or ledge of some sort and even though it isn’t going to win you any photographer of the year awards, it is surprisingly capable of getting you close to objects (or subjects) from more than 500mts away!
Another area of photography where the P30 Pro absolutely smokes the competition is low-light or no-light situations. The SuperSpectrum sensor used here is the new RYYB kind instead of the RGGB conventionally used by other brands. Since yellow can take in both green and red, there is more light information, up by 40%, therefore, crisper photos. This, and the incredible ISO of 400000 is the real trick behind how it lights up the night. Google’s AI is smart but Huawei has managed to apply physics along with AI to take it one notch higher. Compared to the iPhone XS Max we had on hand at the moment of writing this review, it simply blew away Apple at detail in extremely low-light conditions, capturing more highlights, details and colours that were akin to the scene being lit! It manages to capture the moment even in pitch dark room, provided you can hold your hands steady until the 6-8sec exposure does its thing. The Huawei AI also keeps learning in a dark environment so the more shots you take in a dark environment, the better it gets with each subsequent shot it takes. Pour in some more light into the room and while it still looks great, on closer inspection, shadow details and highlights aren’t as well captured as the iPhone XS Max. Exposure has always been a weak area for Huawei to master and while you can outshine the iPhone, it does require more manual control for exposure, ISO and shutter speed. The iPhone, on the other hand just lets you point and shoot with good results every time, perfect exposure et all. The P30 on the other hand will give you better pictures, some of the time, so it’s a commitment you have to make to get that viral-worthy shot.
The 40MP resolution is stunning at capturing detailed artwork and finer elements around a room or a subject but if you want to use the macro lens, zoom or wide angle, you have to switch to 10MP or 20MP resolution. The AI toggle has now been repositioned within the main camera screen itself, instead of going into the camera settings like on the Mate 20 Pro and that saves a bit of time. The AI is accurate to guess the kind of scenes you’re trying to capture, from blue skies to a stage performance and adjusts parameters and HDR accordingly. The macro lens gives the P30 Pro the amazing ability to get as close as 2.5cm to a subject and that just isn’t possible with any other smartphone at the moment. The AI senses you’re getting close to an object and instantly switches the lens to the appropriate one, from macro to ultra wide. This takes the guesswork out of the equation for the photographically challenged and at the same time offers a multitude of options for the advanced user to hone their skills. There are all sorts of effects like light painting, traffic and star trails, silky water, face thinners and skin smoothening tools but eventually, they’re all creative bystanders to a solid primary lens that does rewrite a lot of photography rules from a smartphone.
Video is much improved too with OIS and the usual AI features like AI colour, Background Blur and others. Background Blur amongst all works brilliantly by giving you an almost cinematic effect by tracking the subject and keeping it in focus while blurring out the background to create a beautiful bokeh effect. But, if you want the buttery smoothness of 1080p@60fps or the resolution of 4K, you’ll have to switch off all the effects and record in native mode.
Around the front, the 32MP resolution is no joke either and takes some of the best selfies, or rather, the best that could be taken of a sorry mug. Images are crisp, well exposed and the well judged beauty mode will come in handy more often than you think you need it!
Huawei P30 Pro Verdict
Everything from its design to build quality to speediness to camera performance is up there with the best, or better. It’s not an inexpensive phone, especially for a brand that doesn’t have a history of making premium devices but Huawei is rapidly becoming the brand to watch out for and the P30 Pro is the biggest rival thus far to the established pecking order.
In terms of global sales, they’re already in the top three and in terms of overall experience, this device will bring as much joy as a Pixel 3, Galaxy S10 or iPhone XS. It also beats all of them at most areas of photography with its incredible lossless zoom, stunning 40MP detail and incredible low-light shots. This may well be the one phone to carry on a vacation or to a watch convention, whether you want to capture a mountain vista or the grinding teeth of watch mechanism!
It feels great in your hand, lasts a day easily and charges quickly too! The only real gripe I had was the screen colours which were hard to calibrate. The 1080p resolution really isn’t a deal breaker, which will be bettered on the Mate 30 Pro though. Until then, behold the new king of the smartphone photography world!