Top specs • Battery lasts for ages • The best smartphone camera
Screen resolution lower than that of competitors • Not the most original look
Huawei’s P30 Pro has a camera that trumps the competition in numerous ways, and the rest of the phone is great as well.
Smartphone cameras have become great in the last decade, but there are still some things they can’t do. In fact, I bet these shortcomings have unconsciously trained many of us to avoid taking photos in certain situations: dimly lit restaurants, starry skies, a squirrel sitting in a tree — why bother taking a photo if you know the shot is going to look like crap?
The Huawei P30 Pro is here to change this notion.
It can zoom in like a DSLR, and it can quickly snap low-light photos that would normally require a tripod and a lot of patience. It has every feature you can imagine, and then some. In short: The phone can take photos that other smartphones can only dream of.
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The Huawei P30 is not, strictly speaking, Huawei’s flagship smartphone. Those honors belong to the Mate series, with new models likely coming in October. But the P30 Pro is a better phone than last year’s — and the vast majority of today’s phones — in almost every regard.
It has the same Huawei Kirin 980 chip, it comes with 6 or 8GB of RAM and 128, 256, or 512GB of storage, and has a massive 4,200 mAh battery with super fast charging and wireless charging, as well as reverse wireless charging.
The P30 Pro also has a huge, 6.47-inch OLED screen that’s curved on the sides, a tiny water drop-shaped notch on top (the phone’s screen doubles as a close-proximity speaker, removing the need for a top speaker), an in-display fingerprint scanner, a face recognition system, and IP68 water/dust resistance. It runs Android 9 Pie and Huawei’s latest EMUI 9.1 software.
With the amount of features smartphones come with these days, the details matter — and there are a few things that the P30 Pro lacks. First, its screen resolution is 2,340 x 1,080, giving it a pixel density of 398 ppi, which is alright, but not on par with the best smartphones. In practice, this means the screen, while still plenty sharp, isn’t as amazingly sharp as the screens of the Mate 20 Pro, the iPhone XS Max or the Samsung Galaxy S10+.
The P30 Pro also doesn’t have a stereo speaker (because the top speaker has been replaced by the display itself). It doesn’t have a front-facing 3D depth sensor. It also doesn’t have a headphone jack, and it does not come with a USB-C to 3.5mm connector dongle.
That’s it — the above are all the significant features I could think of that the P30 Pro doesn’t have. To me, none of these are crucial, but they’re noteworthy, as some competitors in a similar price range do have them.
Looks nice, just like all those other phones
Like most Huawei phones, the P30 Pro feels rock solid and the curved edges are beautiful, but they make the phone very easy to drop. It’s not a distinctive design: With its center-aligned “water drop” notch and a small “chin” bezel, the P30 Pro looks too similar to other phones, and just isn’t as attractive as Samsung’s Galaxy S10+.
On the back, there’s a choice of shiny gradients and a few solid colors. My review unit had the “Breathing Crystal” color, which is a purple-to-blue-to-white gradient that looks quite beautiful but loses its luster once you put the phone into the (included), see-through case. The vertically positioned cameras make the P30 Pro look like an iPhone from the future, but again, the look’s not very original.
A revolutionary camera
Something that none of the competitors have is P30 Pro’s wonderful quad-camera array on the back, coupled with a 32-megapixel (f/2.0 aperture) selfie camera on the front.
The rear cameras are, in order:
40-megapixel wide angle camera with f/1.6 aperture and optical image stabilization
20-megapixel ultra-wide angle camera with f/2.2 aperture (no OIS)
8-megapixel telephoto camera with 5x optical zoom, f/3.4 aperture and optical image stabilization
a “time of flight” depth sensor
All of that may seem randomly thrown in just to show off, but it’s not. The camera system on the P30 Pro has been carefully designed to produce great photos in situations in which smartphones are typically terrible.
By that, I don’t mean sunny, outdoor photos. In those conditions, you’ll get good photos from nearly any phone, and P30 Pro is just as good as the best of them. By default, it takes AI-enhanced 10-megapixel photos, meaning that it chooses the best settings depending on what you’re shooting (in the example below, the “beach” setting was automatically chosen).
I wasn’t a fan of Huawei’s AI when it was first introduced, but it appears to be getting better. I was consistently getting great photos on default settings, and switching to 40-megapixel mode was mostly unnecessary.
Zooming in, and in, and in
The first truly amazing thing that this camera can do is the 5x optical zoom, thanks to its periscope telephoto lens. At 5x, you’re getting actual optical zoom; at varying degrees of zoom between 1x and 5x, as well as above 5x, Huawei’s using some software magic to combine information from the main camera and the telephoto lens.
I’ve gotten the best results with the zoom setting exactly at 5x. The 10x zoom is supposed to be lossless, and it can on occasion produce amazing photos, but I’ve often gotten better results by taking a 5x photo and then zooming in digitally (which may be due to the fact that it’s harder to steady your hand at 10x).
You can continue zooming in up to 50x, at which point the picture quality will degrade horribly, but you’ll still be amazed by the fact that you’re seeing things you’d normally need binoculars to see. You may be wondering whether this can be used to spy on people, and the answer is yes. In the example below, I was at least a 100 yards away from the person in the photo. I barely saw her at all with the naked eye.
If this makes you uncomfortable, I know how you feel. It felt odd taking this photo, even when I knew I’ve had full permission to do it (the person in the photo is my wife). We’re entering an era in which smartphones can do some pretty amazing things, but the potential for abuse has increased, too.
You can also un-zoom to the 20-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera, which with its focal length of 16mm truly is very wide and borderlines with fish-eye cameras. It’s great for those group shots but you should always use the main camera if possible, as it produces much better images.
Low light? No problem.
But the best feature of P30 Pro’s camera isn’t its versatility or even its zoom. It’s the absolutely stunning low-light photos it can produce. Thanks to Huawei’s new, RYYB SuperSpectrum sensor which the company says captures 40 percent more light, the P30 Pro takes great night and indoors photos like it’s no big deal.
It’s important to point out that I’m not talking about Night Mode, which requires you to keep the camera steady for five or more seconds. With the P30 Pro, you can just point and shoot in default mode, and you’ll get usable photos even in totally impossible conditions.
In fact, at moments I wished Huawei would tone this down a little. In certain situations, I’d get a firework of colors from a totally serene night scene; sometimes, certain areas of the photo were just unnaturally bright.
I’ve made some comparisons against the Mate 20 Pro and the iPhone X, but they’re pretty pointless. With every other phone (in default shooting mode), the photos above would be a few smears on a slab of blackness. It’s not a difference in quality, really — normal phones’ cameras simply don’t work in these conditions.
The separate Night Mode still exists, and it’s still preferable for taking a photo of something that’s very still, like a building. The Mate 20 Pro has the Night Mode as well, but my review unit sometimes ruined the photos with horrible artifacts; I did not have this issue with the P30 Pro.
So far, the P30 Pro was impressive. But I needed to compare it with the best and newest phones available. So I pinged my Mashable colleague Ray Wong in New York who’d just gotten the P30 Pro as I was wrapping up the review and asked him to take some low-light shots with the P30 Pro, the iPhone XS Max, the Samsung Galaxy S10+ and the Google Pixel 3 XL.
The Pixel XL 3, with its spectacular Night Sight, comes close to the P30 Pro’s Night Mode. The P30 Pro takes brighter photos, but the Pixel 3 XL sometimes produces more accurate colors. Ray’s verdict is that “the P30 Pro just narrowly edges out the Pixel 3 XL with sharper and slightly brighter night shots that also have less image noise.”
In the example below, the P30 Pro’s photo is brighter and sharper, but there’s some loss of detail compared to the Pixel’s photo — check out the text on the road sign.
Separate low-light shooting modes take 5 or more seconds on all of the phones that have them. But the P30 Pro can shoot in darkness on default settings. And then…well, the darker you go, the bigger the difference is, and none of the other phones can measure up.
It needs to be said that Huawei is cheating a little here. When you take a photo in low-light conditions, the phone will automatically prompt you to hold it steady until it sharpens the photo. This is akin to a mini-Night mode — it takes far less time, but it does take some time, sometimes as long as 3 seconds. Note that you don’t have to do it; you can simply point, shoot and immediately pocket your phone, but the results won’t be as good.
In the example below, all of the photos were taken on default settings. From left to right: Huawei P30 Pro, iPhone XS Max, Google Pixel 3 XL, and Samsung Galaxy S10+. Yes, the iPhone is laughably bad compared to the other three, and only Samsung manages to get close to Huawei’s amazingly sharp and bright photo.
And then there are all these other features
What else? In typical Huawei fashion, portrait photos are a bit soft, and bokeh is imperfect. But I’ve been taking portrait photos with various Huawei flagships for years, and my subjective experience is that overall, they turn out pretty great. It’s not so much a matter of photo quality but of simply looking at the photo and liking it; the iPhone X (my primary phone) and various other phones I’ve tested over the years just weren’t as good.
Huawei also made damn sure it has every single feature its competitors have. The P30 Pro has a Super Macro mode (which turns on automatically when you point the camera at something very close to it), a panorama mode, a time-lapse mode, even an underwater mode. And if that’s not enough, you can play with the options yourself in Pro mode.
Some Huawei-typical quirks remain. HDR is present as a separate mode, buried in the camera’s many settings, and you can’t make it persistent on the default camera mode (though the phone’s AI does use it when it deems you worthy). And the phone does tend to overexpose images, so HDR would be handy in many situations.
Selfies are great, even though the P30 Pro doesn’t have a front-facing, depth-sensing camera. A Huawei representative told me during the phone’s presentation that the company has worked on this, and it’s true: while still not perfect, the Portrait (a.k.a. bokeh) mode is now pretty good at blurring the background and not the subject of the photo. And those 32 megapixels will give you a lot of detail to zoom in, if you really want to.
The P30 pro takes videos in up to 4K (30fps) resolution, and can also take 960 fps slow-motion videos. It’s cool that you can actually zoom up to 10x while shooting video in 1080p mode, but good luck catching anything that’s moving. In the video below, I’ve switched from default mode, to 5x zoom, to 10x zoom.
Huawei says the camera’s low-light magic translates to video as well, but the effect is not nearly as pronounced as with photos.
Overall, the P30 Pro camera is great at pretty much everything, while at the same time bringing two features that no other phone has: 5x zoom and amazingly bright night photos.
Performance, UI and conclusion
The P30 Pro performs just as good as the Mate 20 Pro (after all, it’s powered by the same chip), which means wonderfully. The Geekbench 4 scores the P30 Pro a little higher at 3,309 single core score and 9,765 multi-core score but honestly, it’s not noticeable in actual usage. In a word, the P30 Pro is fast.
The battery life was stellar. I’ve fully charged the P30 Pro once; exactly two days of heavy usage later, battery was at 48 percent. I connected it several times to my MacBook Pro to transfer images after that, and it’d charge a little during that time. Long story short, I’m still running on that one charge, five days later.
The phone comes with Huawei’s super-fast charger in the box, which should get you a 70 percent charge in half an hour (I’ve simply never had the chance to test that). I’d need more time with the P30 pro to properly judge its battery life, but first impressions are that it’s up there with the best of them. One thing to note: By default, the P30 Pro is in “power saving” mode. If you want to unlock its full performance, you’ll have to go to battery settings and choose “performance mode.”
Huawei’s EMUI 9.1 is, well, still EMUI. It can be hopelessly confusing, and it still asks you to dive into Huawei’s ecosystem of services such as Huawei Cloud (which I refuse to do) too many times. Some changes that Huawei made are hard to explain. In one example, I spent 10 minutes looking for the Natural Tone option in the Settings, only to find that that particular option doesn’t exist in this version of EMUI (it was there in version 9.0).
There are some improvements. Thanks to the smaller notch, the P30 Pro exhibits fewer notch-related bugs than the Mate 20 Pro. And version 9.1 brings several new features and improvements, including faster flash memory performance, easy file sharing with other Huawei devices, and an AR-based measurement tool.
The drawbacks I noted at the beginning of this review are minor, but they are real. For example, due to its front-facing 3D sensor, the Mate 20 Pro has far better face recognition than the P30 Pro, which struggles in the dark. The P30 Pro’s screen is pretty great, but it’s not the sharpest I’ve seen. Interestingly, the lack of stereo speaker isn’t very noticeable as the P30 Pro’s single speaker is a lot louder than the Mate’s speakers.
Is the P30 Pro the best smartphone you can buy? It’s hard to say — Huawei’s reputation has taken a lot of hits recently, and iPhone and Samsung still win on sheer brand power, as well as ease of use in many cases. But the P30 Pro is most definitely the best cameraphone. Given that the rest of the phone is great as well, if you care about smartphone photography you should definitely consider it as your next phone.
Finally, the price. The Huawei P30 Pro starts at 999 euros (about $1,127) for the version with 8GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage; 1,099 euros (about $1,239) for 8GB/256GB; and 1,249 euros (about $1,409) for 8GB/512GB. It’s a lot of money for a phone, but you really do get a lot of bang for the buck for that price.
A word on U.S. availability: The P30 Pro is not available in the U.S., and it probably never will be. It’s a pity, because it really is a great phone. The best bet for U.S. customers is probably Canada, where the prices are quite reasonable.