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Huawei P30 Pro review: Superb quad camera system puts Huawei's flagship ahead of the pack

sandra-vogel.jpg
Written by Sandra Vogel on
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9.2

Huawei P30 Pro

Spectacular
$598 at Amazon
Like
  • Camera system is unsurpassed by any other phone
  • High-quality OLED display
  • Very good battery life
  • Novel in-screen call speaker
  • IP68 dust/water resistance
Don't Like
  • Glass back looks good but is slippery to hold
  • Disappointing speaker
  • Proprietary NM (Nano Memory) external storage
  • No 3.5mm headset jack

Smartphone makers often claim to break new ground, set new standards, and push the boundaries of what a flagship handset can do. It's easy to get caught up in the hype, but Huawei's claims for the P30 Pro's quad camera system are not hype. They really do break new ground, set new standards and push the boundaries. Add in a range of other top-end features and there's little doubt that this handset raises the bar.

The Huawei P30 Pro is not cheap, though. It'll set you back £899.99 (inc. VAT) with 128GB of storage, or £1,099.99 for the full 512GB. I was sent a 256GB version to review, which is not a purchasable option in the UK. In the eurozone, the prices are €999 for 128GB, €1,099 for 256GB and €1,249 for 512GB.

huawei-p30-pro-main-colours.jpg

The 6.47-inch Huawei P30 Pro comes in a range of colours -- including black, for traditionalists.

Image: Huawei

There are plenty of colour options for the backplate (Huawei's fanciful naming is followed by my own descriptions):  Amber Sunrise (red), Breathing Crystal (pale blue), Aurora (a darker purple/blue), Black (black). I was sent the black version to review, which is far less boring than it sounds, with the reflective backplate often looking like a deep slate-grey. Another colour variant, Pearl White, is not currently available in the UK.

It must be noted that this is yet another ultra-slippy handset. It slid off my chair and off the notebook on my desk regularly, and I was really careful with it out in the street. I also spent a lot of time wiping fingermarks off the phone's back. For all that lovely-looking shininess, it's worth fitting the bumper case that comes in the box.

There are now three Huawei P30 handsets available: the flagship 6.47-inch P30 Pro, the standard 6.1-inch P30 and the 6.15-inch P30 Lite. The P30 Pro is the only one to feature a curved screen, and the only one with the fancy quad-camera system.

huawei-p30-pro-in-hand-cameras.jpg

The P30 Pro's 6.47-inch screen has curved edges and occupies 88.5 percent of the front of the handset. The OLED screen incorporates both the call speaker and the fingerprint reader. The back is very shiny and slippery in the hand.

Images: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

There are small bezels on the narrow edges of the P30 Pro's screen, but not enough to draw attention, and the whole thing really does feel 'all-screen' -- the screen-to-body ratio is an impressive 88.5 percent.

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The OLED display is stunning. It measures 6.47 inches corner to corner, and has a resolution of 1,080 by 2,340 pixels (398ppi, 19.5:9 aspect ratio). There is a tiny notch around the front camera that's so small as to be insignificant. This leaves plenty of room for notifications and icons. The fingerprint scanner is an in-screen unit, which I found fast to register and quick to use. 

The OLED is poppy, and this taller, thinner screen makes watching video a much more pleasant experience -- and for those with smaller hands like mine, it makes the phone easier to hold as well. During testing I watched TED videos and some catch-up TV without feeling these things were too squished up to enjoy, or that the screen couldn't handle colour or detail to my liking. I do wish Huawei would offer a monochrome mode for reading ebooks -- perhaps if I mention it often enough...

I was disappointed by the speaker. There is just one, located on the bottom edge and its output is really not acceptable for a flagship smartphone. It lacks bass tones, and top volume is not as high as it could be. The positioning means that when holding the handset in landscape mode for video viewing I sometimes blocked it, muffling the sound. I expect better quality output and stereo speakers for a starting price of £899. You can connect a headset via the USB-C port (there's no 3.5mm audio jack), and as things stand that's the best way to consume audio.

There's no speaker for calls. Instead, sound is delivered through the screen itself. It's a clever innovation, which didn't affect call quality at all for me.

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The main camera lozenge houses the 40MP wide-angle, 20MP ultra-wide-angle and 8MP 'periscope' zoom cameras. To their right are the time-of-flight (ToF) camera and the flash unit.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

Cameras

The cameras steal the show here. The front-facing camera shoots at up to 32MP with a 4:3 aspect ratio, although this drops down to 20MP if you want full-screen images. You can set it to shoot when the subject smiles, and to shoot when you tell it to -- handy if you want to run around and be in shot, and don't want to use the self-timer.

The main Leica Quad Camera array will shoot up to 40-megapixel images, although the default is 10MP. The quad array consists of: a 40MP sensor with an f/1.6 wide-angle lens and optical image stabilisation (OIS); a 20MP sensor with an f/2.2 ultra-wide-angle lens; an 8MP sensor with a 'periscope' f/3.4 lens, 5x optical zoom and OIS; and a time-of-flight (ToF) camera that delivers the information needed for depth-blurring effects.

Huawei has taken a novel approach to capturing colour information with the 40MP sensor, replacing the standard RGGB (red, green, green, blue) array with a RYYB (red, yellow, yellow blue) setup. The idea is that yellow allows more detail to be captured, resulting in higher-quality images -- especially in low light. The maximum ISO rating is now a massive 409600, compared to 102400 for the previous-generation P20 Pro.

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Super Macro mode (top), with 3x zoom (bottom).

Images: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The Super Macro mode includes the ability to zoom up to 3 times by tapping the screen. I was able to get very close to subjects thanks to this feature (see above).

huawei-p30-pro-50x-zoom-church.jpg

You'll need a steady hand for 50x zoom shots, but no other smartphone camera can do this.

Images: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

Distance shots benefit from up to 50x zoom (providing you are shooting at maximum resolution) -- a combination of 5x optical zoom, 10x hybrid zoom and AI-assisted digital zoom. You do need a steady hand, though: I took several photos of a clock face (see above) which came out variously off-centre in order to get one that's passable. Shots with 50x zoom are softened and lack detail, but there simply isn't another handset that can zoom that far.  

huawei-p30-pro-portrait-zoom.jpg

Three levels of zoom are available in Portrait Mode.

Images: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

There is a 3x zoom feature available in Portrait Mode -- the cup and teapot (above) show this in action: all three photos were taken from the same point.

huawei-p30-pro-low-light.jpg

The P30 Pro's 40MP RYYB SuperSpectrum sensor enables superb low-light performance.

Images: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet  

Low-light shooting (without flash) also delivered very usable shots. I certainly wouldn't expect to get the kind of detail and legibility from photos taken inside a museum that I achieved with the P30 Pro (above).

The camera also proved very competent at simple point-and-shoot images, where its AI-assisted automatic settings were able to tease out foreground, mid and background detail in some quite tricky situations.

The processor in the Huawei P30 Pro is the same Kirin 980 chipset that powers the Mate 20 X and is a step up from the Kirin 970 in last year's Huawei P20 Pro. There's 8GB of RAM, and you can push the processor into 'performance mode' if you want to work it hard. 

I ran two sets of Geekbench benchmark tests, with performance mode on and off. The average multicore score with performance mode on was 9982, with it off the score was 9661. Single-core scores were 3316 and 3216 respectively. This is decent, but not class-leading, performance.  

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Data: ZDNet and Geekbench / Chart: ZDNet

My review handset had 256GB of internal storage, of which 14GB was used out of the box, leaving 242GB free. As noted earlier, this is not a configuration available in the UK, where the options are 128GB and 512GB. There is support for two SIMs, although if you want to add external storage -- in Huawei's proprietary NM (Nano Memory) format -- you'll have to use one of the SIM slots for this.

Android 9 Pie is overlain by version 9.1 of Huawei's EMUI. This includes some apps that duplicate Android offerings, which you can use or just stick in a folder and forget. My review unit also came with some irksome third-party apps, which I uninstalled.

The P30 Pro's 4,200mAh battery kept the handset going for 9 hours 53 minutes in the Geekbench battery rundown test, and I never got near needing to charge it part-way through any testing day. If a charge is needed the provided brick and cable will deliver up to 70 percent charge in thirty minutes. It's not quite up to Oppo standards, but it's still pretty impressive. 

Wireless (15W) charging is supported, and you can share any spare battery capacity via 'reverse wireless charging' if you have a compatible handset that needs a power boost.

Conclusions

The P30 Pro's headline feature is clearly its quad camera system, but there are plenty of other things to like about it. The in-screen speaker system works well, as does the in-screen fingerprint sensor. The OLED display is superb, and the battery should last all day for most users.

There are downsides, though. The phone may have a beautiful backplate but it's slippery as an eel, while the audio quality from the single speaker is not acceptable in a handset at this price.

Still, other smartphone makers will have to seriously up their camera game to compete with what Huawei is offering here.

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