The time has come, the testing has been done, the verdict is brewing. Is the phone I currently hold in my hand the best camera phone of 2019, and is it worth you shelling out nearly £1000 for one? These are the two questions I intend to attempt to answer during the course of this review of the Huawei P30 Pro. We have seen the pictures that have been shared thus far and I don’t think for a moment that you have not seen the videos from the other tech sites that have looked at this phone.
However, it is now time for our take on this great phone. So without further ado lets have a look. To set the scene, I have been using this phone now for over two weeks, and during that time I have taken it with me on a family vacation to Scotland during the Easter break. I have been provided with the phone by Huawei as a long-term loan device and they will see this review at the same time as you do. I have not been reimbursed in any way for writing this article. This has always been the case and always will be the case for me and the other writers here. Now that is out of the way, let’s look at the design.
If you missed my unboxing video, then it is well worth a look as it covers the phone pretty well in terms of the design details of the product. Now that I have been able to spend a bit more time with it, I have been able to appreciate the design decisions that have been made a bit more than I could in my first brief hands-on.
The first thing I want to say is that this phone is big, but big in a good way. It feels solid and well built. I like the reassuring heft it provides when it is in my pockets as it reassures me that it is there! Before you go running for the hills though, it is actually no bigger than the OnePlus 6T, which is the device I was using prior to the P30 Pro. The thing that makes it feel bigger is the very subtle difference in the curvature of the edges going into the rear of the phone. Here is the OP6T next to the P30 Pro to try and show what I mean.
So as you can see, although there is not a massive difference in the overall footprint, the phones will and do inevitably feel different in the hand. This why I feel that the P30 Pro feels big – not because it is bigger, just because of the way it is designed. However, with that slight increase in size, there are other benefits to be had. The screen is marginally bigger, allowing for slightly larger text size whilst also allowing for a similar DPI on the icons.
The screen does actually measure in at 6.47in FHD+ (398 ppi) with a max resolution of 2340 x 1080. Okay, I will admit it. I am a bit disappointed that this is not a higher resolution panel, but I can honestly live with it as it is more than good enough for my needs, and it also helps in the battery department more on that later though. With the panel being an OLED, the colour reproduction is superb and again I have been very pleased with it. The only times I have been unhappy have been during the recent sunny spells when I have been in direct sunlight, where the screen seemed a bit dim.
It is most likely that I have got a display setting wrong, or I just need to take off my damn sunglasses. I only really noticed this when trying to review photos though, as the rest of the UI was okay.
As I mentioned in my unboxing article, the phone does not have the wide style notch of its predecessor, instead opting for a small “dewdrop” style notch like on the OP6T. I have come to prefer this style as it is non-intrusive and I don’t mind forgoing the higher level of 3D facial scanning on the Mate 20 Pro. If anything it speeds up the whole process of unlocking the phone.
While I am talking about unlocking; I have found the in display fingerprint sensor to be a lot more reliable than the OP6T as it seems to recognize my fingers a lot quicker, so I am very happy on that front. The sensor is also mounted slightly lower than on the Mate 20 Pro as well, which makes for more secure feeling grip when I am trying to unlock. Whether it is better than the older style of ultrasonic fingerprint readers that we used to use on the rear or side of phones, it is hard to say, but I would have been happy with either if I am being honest.
Next up is the layout of the speakers. If you look closely at the top of the screen, you will notice that there is no cutout for the earpiece on this phone.This is a bit of a shame as it means that you cannot get the multi-speaker sound profile when playing back either music or video. The multi-speaker setup was present on the Mate 20 Pro and it is something I grew to quite like on both that phone and also on my Samsung Galaxy s9+. I find it all too easy to cover the speaker when playing videos, but more importantly it is something I noticed when playing games. I very rarely use the speakers to play music on my phone, so again no big loss on that front but it would have nice to have seen it being included. From a design standpoint, I can appreciate the reasons behind the decision to exclude it on this phone. With the lack of the earpiece speaker, there has been some concern, which I shared, as to how good the call quality would be in terms of hearing the other party on a call. I am pleased to say that I should not have been the slightest bit concerned as the audio is as crisp and clear as any other high-end device that I have used.
Sticking with audio, the eagle-eyed may have noticed that the P30 Pro does not have the headphone jack as an option on the phone. Meaning that to use your 3.5mm headphones you do require an adaptor. Whilst this was not included in the box, I did get a pair of in-ear headphones which are very like the Apple earbuds that used to be provided for iPhones. No real issue for me here as I have been using Bluetooth audio for a few years now and I am very happy with its quality of the earbuds in this case. The only time it can be annoying is when I am filming and wish to use a Lavalier mic like the one I have that needs to be plugged in to work correctly.
The phone will come in two memory variants depending on the price and also the region of purchase. Here in the UK at least, it seems that the majority of devices are the 128GB version. This can of course, be expanded by the use of the new Huawei Nano memory. Getting one of these is not the easiest thing in the world to do. The only Nano memory cards I have seen for sale are from Amazon and come in a single size option of 128gb at the time of writing. It will currently costs you £46.63, and up to 3-month wait! On the other side of the P30 Pro is the sim card holder, and like its memory card size is going to be a Nano SIM. This is simply ejected via the bundled SIM pin, just make sure it goes into the sim tray hole and not the mic as I did (don’t worry if you do this as the mic will not be damaged).As for the rest of the phone here are the specs below.
- Screen: 6.47in FHD+ OLED (398ppi)
- Processor: octa-core Huawei Kirin 980
- RAM: 8GB of RAM
- Storage: 128, (256GB*) or 512GB plus nano-memory card
- Operating system: EMUI 9.1 based on Android 9 Pie
- Camera: quadruple rear camera 40MP, 20MP ultra-wide angle, 8MP telephoto, ToF depth, 32MP front-facing camera
- Connectivity: LTE, Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth 5 and GPS (dual-sim available in some regions)
- Water resistance: IP68
- Dimensions: 158 x 73.4 x 8.41 mm
- Weight: 192g
Wrapping this section up, the phone is as well and solidly built as we have come to expect from Huawei and it does feel worth the asking price.
The beating heart of this phone is the immensely powerful Kirin 980 processor that we have seen before in the Mate 20 Pro, and as was the case with that phone it doesn’t disappoint here either. The processor supports the Dual NPU setup that we saw being implemented on the Mate 20 Pro as well allowing for a lot of power when it comes to the camera (which we will come back to). This setup is also utilized by the phone for gaming as well, but that is more of a happy side-effect than the main focus of the phone. Assisting this very powerful CPU is 8GB of RAM. That big RAM allocation keeps things flowing very smoothly for the most part, as I have not seen any real slowing down due to RAM constraints in my testing.
The power to keep all of these high-end chips going come from a very large and capable 4200 mAh battery that will support Huawei’s newest fast charging standard of 40W and is known as Supercharge (which is incidentally what the previous gen was called, the main difference is to be seen on the plug as it states 40W). In addition to this, the phone will also allow Wireless Charging at up to 15W if you have the appropriate QI enabled charging pad.
As on the Mate 20 Pro, we also have the capability to reverse wireless charge at a rate of 3.5KW, which is useful if you need to top up another phone or some wireless headphones, smartwatch etc. I have used this feature on the Mate 20 Pro, but have not been able to test it as of yet on the P30 Pro as I don’t have another wireless charging enabled device to hand. Unlike the S10 range from Samsung, you will need to enable this via a settings menu option. It is shame that this is not available from the quick settings menu though.
As for the longevity of the battery, I have been consistently getting through at least two full working days of battery with the screen on Auto Brightness and everything set up the same way as I normally have on my phones. This feat has only been matched by my OP6T and the Mate 20 Pro. I am pleased to say that the phone has worked brilliantly over Bluetooth with my car and also with my Apple Airpods. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said when working with my Pebble Time smartwatch. I regularly have to go into the app and re-pair my watch to get it to update the syncing of my step count.
This is not a hardware issue as far as I am aware, but more to do with the software and the very invasive power management system. I will go into this in depth a little bit more in the software part of the review. It is behaviour that is common on the Huawei and Honor phones that I have tested in the past, so was not a major concern for me at this time. Maybe this would be resolved by me using a Huawei wearable device, which I will need to try and find out when I can get my hands on with one.
Another thing I was glad to see is that the phone will work well with Android Auto in my car, as I have sometimes had issues with this on other older Huawei and Honor devices. This feature does require a USB port that is capable of a Display out, which we have here in the form of the USB Type 3.1 port.
This in turn also allows me to connect the phone up to a larger display where the phone will then go into an EMUI Desktop mode, which we have already covered in depth here. I have been able to use USB Dongles as well when I have had to transfer data from the phone to USB card etc. without any problem, and also had respectable read/write speeds on the transfers.
The EMUI Desktop mode that I mentioned can also be enabled via Wireless projection mode which is extremely handy should you be hooking it up to a compatible display or smart TV (I have neither to test, unfortunately). Lastly, I want to touch on the display again. As I mentioned above the phone uses an OLED display, which is great in terms of colour reproduction and battery life.
However, I have discovered that when I am using it outside that the Auto Brightness well always ramp the brightness up to the max, and that when I turn it down again manually it can be difficult to read. Initially I put this down to the screen protector that I was using, but I have been using the phone without it applied for a few days and I still get the same issue. I am unsure if this is just an issue with my review device, but it does seem to be weaker than my OP6T was and definitely worse then my Samsung S9+. Perhaps this is just a calibration issue and it will be addressed in a future software update. Only time will tell.
Needless to say that this phone will tick all the boxes for even the most ardent of spec geeks out there, with the only real weakness being that the screen is not massively bright in direct sunlight.
This is the biggie, and some may say the deciding factor about this phone, given that it has been primarily marketed as “Rewriting the rules for Photography”. So how does it fair in the real world against its competition. Well for those looking for a face-off of the camera against things like the S10+ or Google Pixel 3XL, I am sadly going to disappoint, as I just don’t have access to these devices to do a like for like comparison.
If that is what you are looking for, then please take some time to check out the rather excellent work of Mr Steve Litchfield on his channel or Gavin’s thoughts on his website here. These are the guys I refer to when it comes to camera tests and reviews as they really do know what they are talking about.
Me on the other hand, I just know what I like with regard to cameras and I really like the camera on the P30 Pro. The thing for me that makes this camera so likeable is the fact that I have yet to come across a scenario where I find it lacking. Now I know there will be people out there that will say “ah but it is not a DSLR”, and I will grant them that. However, I don’t have either the time or the inclination to carry around a DSLR in my day to day life, so I don’t.
What I do carry with me every day is my phone, and the fact that I have a stunningly good camera on that phone is great. I have been using this phone to capture memories for the last two weeks and it has been flawless as far as I am concerned. The ability to switch seamlessly between Ultra Wide angle shots to up to 10x zoom with the flick of a finger is so useful and is also slightly addictive. The night mode is stunning and in some respects is also no longer as necessary as it once was as I have been able to get some pictures that are just as good in the regular mode, albeit assisted by the very clever Master AI. So instead of me just rambling on about the amazing images, I have been able to get I will show you some of them. Please click on the image to get the full-size version.
Here are some examples from different zoom levels, focusing on the same object: a washing line reel that is about 100m away from the camera.
As a reference point, I took the same shot on my OP6T at the max levels of zoom it could do and here are the results.
As you can see there are some stunning picture in that selection, and those who I have shown them to just don’t believe that they have come from a mobile phone. If I am being critical, then I will say the P30 Pro images are slightly too green when compared to the OP6T. However this is a minor inconvenience when you actually take the range of zoom into account – at least for me anyway.
As for video, the phone is even more impressive. It now allows you to change the zoom levels and the colours in the actual recording of the video. The second instance is really a great example of the AI engine at work as it is actively picking the colours out of the video and then in realtime changing them, very impressive and something I have enjoyed playing with immensely. It is, however, a bit hit or miss at the moment and requires you to be recording a person from my testing. Here are a couple of samples showing the zoom capability in the clips.
As you can see, there is zoom jumping around as you change the zoom levels and you can certainly tell when you are changing between the lenses, however, please remember this is a phone doing this and as far as I am aware it is the first one of its kind to do so. For more on the camera, I would also invite you to read this article that was written by Dan for his impressions.
This is the area where I have always been most annoyed at Huawei devices in the past. I would really love to say that this is no longer the case. Fortunately, with a little bit of tweaking and adjustment, you can negate most of the areas of weakness within EMUI.
First things first. We are running the latest incarnation of EMUI 9.1.0, which runs on top of Android 9. The most current software version is 9.10.124 as I write this. This is the latest version of the user interface from Huawei. It comes with their latest tweaks to help you flow through the UI. The phone fully embraces the concept of gestures for navigating the UI, however I am a bit of stickler for using the old-school buttons on the bottom of the display, and this is still available.
The biggest changes for me from the previous P-Series phone, the P20 Pro, is that things just seem to flow a lot smoother now and the scaling of the iconography seems to fit the screen better than it has in the past. Don’t get me wrong, it is still not as customizable as I would like, but I can always use Nova Prime launcher to change that. One of the most annoying features of the P30 Pro that I have found is the pull-down gesture on the notifications. When you get your start point of the movement correct, this works perfectly as it should and you will see your notification tray appear. However, if you get it a little bit off then it will open a Huawei Search field that will do an app search. I cannot really see why this option exists, as there is also the option to do this from within the Apps Drawer which I also opt to use (you can have an “iPhone style all apps on the screen” menu if you so wish).
I have tried to disable all the Huawei search related Apps I can to stop this, but not found the process that needs to be stopped yet. Another annoyance that is not as frustrating, is the lack of actionable notifications from the lock screen. This is something I have seen on many Huawei and Honor devices and isn’t necessary. I believe it is tied into the way the phone very aggressively manages power via software. If you have read any other reviews for the P30 Pro or indeed if you have owned a device from Huawei before, then you will be familiar with the stellar battery life that a Huawei phone can now provide. It is one of the main things that will continually pull me back time and time again to their phones. However, there is a price that you have to pay to get this long-lasting power.The power management software is so aggressive it may be likened to a militaristic regime. I have lost count of the amount of time that a background process has been killed by my phone going to sleep! Most notably as I mentioned earlier on is the effect it has on my Pebble App, which will kill the app entirely and then also stop the connection with my watch. This is annoying, but I can normally cope with it.
I have seen others report of other apps being killed off in a similar way, and one such app is Google Hangouts. Lastly and this may be linked to the above matter, I find that out of my OP6T and the P30 Pro, then the latter will get the notification for email etc later than on the former. I can only see that when I am using both of the phones side-by-side. It’s not really an issue but just an observation. Other than these issues I am actually really enjoying the P30 pro and I am coping with the foibles.
I have been using this as my daily driver for nearly a few weeks now, and I continue to do so for the foreseeable as it is a great experience of what Android can be. Don’t get me wrong. It is not a perfect implementation of a User Interface, but it is certainly up there with the best of the rest.
So the question I proposed to answer at the beginning of this review was this: Is the P30 pro the best camera phone currently available? My answer to this question is yes… with some caveats though.
The camera is amazing, and it takes the whole idea of smartphone photography to the next step. It will always be my go-to device for when I need to take pictures – as have its predecessors. True, you may be able to get a more colour accurate image from another device, but for the range of types of photos that you can take with this phone it has to win it for me. It makes me want to take pictures, which is a great thing for a camera to do even one that is not part of a phone! As a wise photographer said to me once, the best camera is the one that you always have with you. This rings true with the P30 Pro, and more so than it ever has in the past as it is always with me because it is not just a great multipurpose camera, but it is also a bloody good phone, web browser music player and organiser.
If you can get on with using a phone that has a couple of eccentricities in the software and no headphone jack, then this is definitely worth a look. If this is a bit too rich for you then Huawei also offers the non-pro version, and more recently they have announced a Lite version. We will be looking into getting these phones in for testing soon.