Huawei's lock-out from Google Mobile Services is now embedded into its current and upcoming range of handsets. For a company that's become a smartphone leader in Europe and the US in recent times, the absence of Google applications like Gmail, YouTube, Google Maps and the Play Store on its phones is a serious disadvantage. Still, Huawei remains undaunted, and is launching handsets in the UK equipped instead with Huawei Mobile Services. We will shortly have an evaluation of the new flagship Huawei P40 Pro, but for now, how does the £899.99 (inc. VAT) Mate 30 Pro stand up?
It's worth mentioning the software at the start of this review, because if the current arrangement doesn't appeal to you there's little point in reading further, however excellent the hardware.
The Mate 30 Pro runs the open-source version of Android 10 with Huawei's EMUI 10 overlay on top. When you open the box and fire up the phone it initially looks very familiar: there is a settings app icon, and tapping it takes you into a series of settings tweaks.
Start looking for Google apps though, and you'll be disappointed. Maps, YouTube, Chrome, the Play Store are notable absentees. Huawei has its own alternatives to some apps, but there's no YouTube variant on board out of the box, and no maps app either.
Huawei's team, briefing me about the P40 Pro, were very keen to stress how hard they are working on evolving the company's AppGallery. However, tens of thousands of apps pale into insignificance compared to Google Play Store's total of nearly 3 million.
The more technically minded might be able to find favourite app APKs and install them manually; I have done this and it works, but it's not an ideal solution for the everyday user. Having proved I could indeed 'sideload' apps, I reset the handset and continued with the out-of-the-box experience. This was not an edifying experience: I found the AppGallery lacked most of the apps I use every day, and had to switch to my regular handset far too frequently to perform standard tasks.
Huawei continues to evolve EMUI 10 -- mostly, but not always, to good effect. A solution looking for a problem, and creating one of its own, is the software volume controller that replaces a physical rocker button. A double-tap on the handset's edge calls up the volume slider, which you can set to be on the left edge, the right edge, or both.
Without a volume rocker, the physical design is streamlined, but the software solution is far from ideal. I often called the slider up accidentally, and you'll need to take the handset from a pocket to adjust volume, which is a hassle. And if you like taking screenshots, you'll need to use a double knuckle-tap rather than the traditional method. At least that worked perfectly for me.
On the other hand, I found the dark mode -- a black rather than white background to apps -- rather handy at times, and gamers will like the way the curved sides of the screen can be used as left and right controllers. I'm no handset gamer, but I found this compelling. If you dislike the way the screen image drops into the handset's long edges, you can disable this, just as you can even out the front camera notch.
The Gorilla Glass 6-protected 6.53-inch screen is called the Horizon Display thanks to those curved long edges. It is a sharp and vibrant OLED panel with 2,400 by 1,176 resolution (409ppi, 18.5:9). I was happy reading web pages via the provided browser, and using the browser to dip into YouTube (an obvious workaround). HDR10 support is a real plus point. I wasn't able to read ebook loans from my public library as the required app is one of many that's absent from Huawei's AppGallery.
There is a fingerprint sensor in the screen, and you can also use face unlock. Both were fast, and I was particularly impressed with face unlock, which was so speedy that I felt I was using the handset unlocked rather than waiting for it to authenticate me.
Sound output from YouTube via the speaker on the bottom edge of the handset was impressively bassy. There's no 3.5mm headset jack, but Huawei does provide USB-C earbuds for those who don't have them already or who don't like wireless buds.
There is an IR blaster on the top of the handset, and Huawei provides a controller app called Smart Remote that we've seen before. I am a sucker for the IR blaster, appreciating the freedom it provides from having to seek out the TV remote.
The Mate P30 Pro benefits from an IP68 rating for dust and water resistance. It weighs 198g and considering the size of its screen, it's relatively compact at 73.1mm wide by 158.1mm deep by 8.8mm thick. The minimal-bezel design really helps to keep the footprint down.
The one button on the phone, the power switch, is a bright red, contrasting hugely with the black front and back of my review sample. Like the screen, the back is Gorilla Glass 6, making it mirror-reflective, smooth and very slippy.
The key feature of the back of the handset is an array of four cameras, sitting in a distinctive circular arrangement that's very different from the rectangular design used in the new Huawei P40 Pro. The circular lens panel protrudes significantly from the back.
The Leica-branded quad-camera array at the back comprises a 40MP f/1.6 wide-angle camera with optical image stabilisation (OIS), a 40MP f/1.8 ultra-wide-angle camera, an 8MP f/2.4 telephoto camera with 3x optical zoom and OIS, and a depth sensing time-of-flight (TOF) camera. The screen notch at the front houses a 32MP f/2.0 wide-angle camera and a depth-sensing TOF camera.
In the current situation, where movement restrictions due to coronavirus make it difficult for me to travel very far or very frequently, it's not been possible to test the Mate 30 Pro's cameras as thoroughly as usual. But so far I've been impressed by detailed images with good levels of contrast. For the record, DXOMARK currently ranks the Mate 30 Pro's camera system 6th with 121 points, ahead of the iPhone 11 Pro Max (8th, 117 points) but behind the new Huawei P40 Pro (1st, 128 points).
The Mate P30 Pro supports two SIMs, with the second slot also supporting a proprietary Nano Memory (NM) card if you want to boost the 256GB of internal storage and don't mind foregoing a second SIM.
Huawei's leading-edge 7nm Kirin 990 chipset got its first outing in the Mate 30 Pro, with 8GB of RAM in support. During testing the processor absolutely flew, launching apps with no discernible waits, and delivering video faultlessly. This is backed up by Geekbench CPU benchmarks, which show the Mate 30 Pro holding its own against a device powered by Qualcomm's flagship Snapdragon 865 chipset with considerably more RAM (12GB).
The Mate 30 Pro is powered by a high-capacity 4,500mAh battery that regularly got me through two days between charges during the test period. Admittedly my usage level was a little lower than it might have been with full access to all my usual apps, but this is still impressive. Add in 40W fast charging and Huawei's power-saving features, and this is a handset that might stretch across 24 hours for most users. For the record, the PC Mark Work 2.0 battery life test reports 15h 15m for the Mate 30 Pro. Fast (24W) wireless charging is also supported.
The Huawei Mate 30 Pro is a superb piece of smartphone hardware: great performance, good battery life, lovely screen, strong industrial design, high-quality cameras, good sound quality, an IR blaster, dual SIMs, lots of storage. If only it had access to Google apps it would be a sure-fire winner.
But as it stands -- and I regret having to write this -- it's difficult to recommend the Huawei Mate 30 Pro unless you're willing to use workarounds to get Google apps on-board, or are confident that the current software challenges will soon be overcome. That's why, for the moment, we haven't given the Mate 30 Pro a formal review rating.