In the ultra-competitive world of mobile phones the technology inexorably moves forward and that also means in six months or a year some new model will eclipse today’s impressive benchmarks and slick designs. But right now, and for a good while to come, it’s the recently released Huawei P30 Pro that will rule.
These days our ubiquitous smartphones, particularly at the high end, all do the same things, run similar collections of apps, and provide mostly the same array of features. In other words, it’s getting tougher to differentiate a device from the competition. Displays are all beautiful, audio quality is high, waterproofing is standard for high-end phones and processor speed and storage capacity are probably growing faster than 99% of us really need.
Without getting into esthetics just yet, the two true boundaries that still are being pushed, to the joy of consumers, are battery function (life and charging speed), and a phone’s camera. Huawei’s new P30 Pro is comparable with other high-end devices on many counts, particularly where the preferences may be subjective. But in the two crucial categories, battery and particularly the camera, Huawei has leaped well ahead of their fellow smartphone manufacturers. To use a racing analogy, in the Pro 30 Pro, Huawei has zoomed around the competition and has driven into a significant lead. Of course, others will try to catch up and overtake the new race leader, but that can only be good for tomorrow’s consumers.
On the outside…
First impression: This is a beautifully designed, large yet sleek quality smartphone. It feels very comfortable in the hand, and is slightly less wide than others in its class despite having the largest display (6.47″). Huawei has packed a lot into their new phone, and the P30 Pro has a solid weight to it, at 192g, somewhat heavier and bigger that last year’s ground-breaking P20 Pro, and also a few grams heavier than last fall’s Mate 20 Pro.
The materials, and aesthetics of the P30 Pro are everything you would expect from an industry leading manufacturer’s flagship phone. It is as stylish, modern and well put together as any phone we’ve seen. At the launch in Paris we were able to play with five different case colours, but for the Canadian market only Black and, our favourite, “Breathing Crystal” colour (pictured here) are available (Amber Sunrise, Aurora and Pearl White are available in other markets).
The aforementioned large 6.47″ OLED display has the smallest ratio notch we’ve seen, and contains only the front-facing “selfie” camera. The display is a 19.5:9 ratio, at 2340 x 1080 pixels, and curving around the sides with tight bezels at the top and bottom giving maximum display for its dimensions. As with other all-glass designs, they are beautiful and smooth but a little bit slick, and we love that Huawei included a good quality basic custom clear case in the box of our version. The display itself is one of brighter screens we’ve seen and contrast ratio is impressive, and colours are are vibrant. Some have noted that the 6.47″ display is a little too large for 1080p, we thought it looked great, but that will likely be an upgrade for its successor next year.
The touch-sensitivity is silky and smooth, one of the best we’ve used. The face unlocking security function works very well, quickly able to figure out it was me whether I had my glasses on or not, something other phones had been struggling to do. The fingerprint sensor has been put in-screen, an impressive design and technological innovation.
The P30 Pro has a thickness of 8.4mm, just slightly thicker other phones, but considering the best of class battery and camera it is still remarkably thin. The main camera unit, which we’ll get to next, is raised a bit from back of the phone, likely a necessity with the advanced lenses (and something we’re seeing in some other phones as well).
The P30 Pro audio is innovative, replacing the at-your-ear speaker voice call speaker with an “electromagnetic” in-screen system that works surprisingly well. The main bottom speaker is clear and reasonably loud, but not the best we’ve heard. The bad news for anyone with a favourite pair of headphones, or buds with a 3.5mm plug. Huawei has also joined the wireless bandwagon with the P30 Pro, so you’re limited to Bluetooth or USB-C headphones. (As a musician I will often plug my phone into the mixing board to share a song with the band. No more. Or more accurately, a workaround will be needed.)
That camera everyone is talking about…
Despite a load of solid innovations and best of class benchmarks it’s the P30 Pro camera that is creating all the buzz, and dominating Huawei’s marketing and advertising messages. Review after review acknowledge the successful engineering of the best camera ever seen in a phone, and by a healthy margin, in a number of ways. Huawei’s campaign tagline for the P30 series is “Rewrite the rules of photography” and they have definitely rewritten a few (e.g. 50X zoom!), and broken a few others (e.g. 409,600 ISO…what?!)
Starting with camera unit itself, Huawei continues their partnership with Leica, the revered German maker of cameras and lenses . The P30 Pro has a quad-camera setup consisting of a 40MP f1.6 main camera, a wide angle 20 MP f/2.2, an 8 MP f3.4 with a 5X periscope zoom, and a ToF (Time-of-flight) sensor for depth of field info. The front-facing selfie camera, nicely build into the small teardrop notch is also impressive at 32 MP, and combined with a little AI help produce exceptional images, even in backlight settings.
Huawei unveiled their new SuperSensing array system, which is rather revolutionary as it uses a RYYB array compared to the conventional RGGB array used since the 70s, to better capture the more sensitive nature of yellow light, leading to a more detailed image, especially in low light. It’s partly what is giving the P30 Pro an insane maximum ISO rating of 409600, mind-boggling to anyone who ever shot on film where 400 and 800 were the “higher” speed ISOs.
And the result is exceptional, even shocking low light performance. At the launch of the P30 series in Paris we were treated to several demos showing off the camera’s capabilities in the dark, and even near pitch black scenarios, with clear, well lit, reasonably colour-saturated images being produced. With performance like that in the extreme, it’s easy to see how it does so well in normal low light situations. It’s the best of class in low-light photography, even as competitors (e.g. Google Pixel, OnePlus) aim to make that a major marketing feature of their own smartphone cameras.
Zoom functionality is not generally an impressive feature on camera phones, but again Huawei has changed that rule with the P30 Pro. Typically zoom on phones are all digital (maybe a 2X) but Huawei has brought an impressive 5X optical zoom to the game with their periscoping lens design. Adding image data from the multiple cameras, and P30 Pro gets you a hybrid 10X zoom. If that’s not enough, a digital zoom using AI and a kickass algorithm brings the P30 Pro to a full 50X zoom. While you’ll be facing a lot of camera shake at that point, and even when mounted it will have a good amount of noise/degradation typical of digital zoom, this is incredible, unmatched stuff. In Paris at the launch we were all zooming in on buildings and reading signs kilometres away with the P30 Pro that we could not make out with our own eyes.
On other side of zoom, macro shooting is one of the best we’ve seen in a phone camera, it can be selected or the AI will bring it up if it senses you’re just a few centimetres away from your subject.
All of this cutting edge Huawei sensor and lens technology combined with camera AI assistance, spill over to the video side for the P30 series. While not as exceptional as a video capture device as for still images, the P30 Pro produces solid quality footage, at 30 or 60 fps in H.264 format. It works very well with lower light conditions (where it needs to use 30 fps to allow more light in), and the autofocus and subject tracking are quite good. Purists may wish the image stabilisation could be turned off, and that frame rate changes mid-shoot could be turned off as they sometimes can create unnatural shudders in the video as frame rates change.
New operating system updates have brought new camera and video features to the P30 series, in particular, we’ve been having some fun with the duel-video view. As it sounds, the P30 shoots video simultaneously from the main camera and a wide angle camera for a split screen clip, as seen in the video demo here:
Inside the box…
The P30 Pro is powered by Huawei’s own Kirin 980 processor (the same used in last fall’s Huawei Mate 20 Pro)
and the operating performance and responsiveness is exceptional, as least as good if not better than anything on the market. Our review unit came with ample supply of both RAM (8 GB), and ROM (256 GB), boosting performance and providing space for all those photos and videos you’ll be taking.
Huawei has continually shown itself to be an industry leader in innovation, and beyond the wonders of the P30 Pro’s cameras, they have been pushing charging capabilities and battery life forward as much as anyone. The P30 Pro has a heavy duty 4200 mAh battery, our phone easily lasted the entire day even when used intensively for most of it. For charging, the 40W Huawei SuperCharge can take a drained battery to 70% in just 30 minutes, the fastest on the market. Need to charge some other devices: an electric toothbrush, razor, ear pods or another phone? The P30 Pro can do that wirelessly with its Wireless Reverse Charge for compatible devices.
As Huawei’s top of the line phone the P30 Pro is waterproof (and dustproof) with an IP68 rating which translates into 30 minutes submerged to 1.5 metres. As we travel quite a lot for work, and pleasure, having a phone that is waterproof, and dustproof really comes in handy, so it won’t limit your travel, nature (and pool party) photography. To emphasize the point the P30 Pro also has an underwater photography mode, which we hope to test soon. Note that the P30 regular and the P30 lite devices are not waterproof and are rated well lower at a IP53.
Ahh, Paris! What better city to test the camera on a brand new P30 Pro
There is so much in the P30 Pro to be impressed by, features that either surpass the competition, or extend the lead Huawei’s 2018 models established. Huawei clearly wanted to make a statement with the P30 Pro and they gave it their all. The other smartphone makers will spend the next year trying to catch up. We’re not sure if Huawei itself will be able to repeat the same leaps forward that the P30 Pro has benefited from, but we’ll see, starting with the Mate 30 Pro due out in the fall.
This is a high quality, aesthetically pleasing modern phone with a nice large screen. It’s as fast and smooth-running as any phone on the market. It stands alone amongst the flagship devices with the longest lasting battery, and fastest charging, not to mention it’s reverse charging capabilities.
But it’s the all important camera capabilities that truly make Huawei’s P30 Pro the best phone ever produced. Whether it’s the 5x optical zoom, insane 50x zoom, shocking low light capabilities, endless modes, or overall AI assisted photography experience, Huawei did ‘rewrite the rules’ and after using the P30 Pro it’s tough to go back to another phone’s camera.
Obviously, the Huawei P30 Pro is priced at a premium, but if you’re interested taking the best photos and videos you can and not worrying about battery life, then you need this phone.
The Verdict: ModEx’s top choice for a smartphone in 2019.
Check out more detailed specs at Huawei Canada
Originally released only in Black and Breathing Crystal in Canada, a third choice will be available later this month – the striking Amber Sunrise:
The best smartphone currently on the market, the #P30Pro from @HuaweiMobileCAN will soon be available in gorgeous #AmberSunrise colour in Canada. 🌇
Did we mention the camera is ridiculously good?#RewriteTheRules pic.twitter.com/zyxkXUaNVz
— Faze Magazine 🌱 (@FazeMagazine) July 24, 2019