|Pushing camera performance to new heights, the Huawei P30 Pro is my new favourite phone thus far. Its trailing benchmark scores, particularly its graphics performance, won’t affect the phone’s usability for business users. That deterrent is further diminished by its superb set of cameras, which tout supreme low light performance, and the 50 times zoom is like carrying a telescope in your back pocket if you have steady hands. And with a 4,200mAh battery, you can shoot all day too. When you’re picking one up in Canada, do yourself a favour and get the Breathing Crystal colour; it’s just too beautiful to pass up.|
Huawei P30 Pro Specifications
|Name||Huawei P30||Huawei P30 Pro|
|Chipset||HiSilicon Kirin 980|
|Display||6.1″ 2,340 x 1080p HDR OLED||6.47″ 2,340 x 1,080p HDR OLED|
|Battery||3,650 mAh||4,200 mAh|
|Audio||mono base speaker|
Flagship phones in 2019 almost mandate a glass back. Since wireless charging is pretty much a standard in flagship phones, glass is the perfect material that lets electromagnetic waves permeate through while exuding a premium feel. The downside is that it’s slippery and prone to cracking when dropped. I promptly snapped on the included rubber case upon opening the box.
Both the front and rear side glass curve towards the profile’s centre. The right side is home to the power button and volume rocker, while the left is simply flush.
Huawei hasn’t done anything creative to hide the 32MP front-facing camera. It’s embroidered in a teardrop notch dangling from the top edge. What is hidden, however, is the earpiece grill. Huawei has walled off the earpiece behind the display for a flush, all-screen look.
Also slid under the display is the fingerprint reader. Since it’s a purely optical sensor, it isn’t as elaborate nor as secure as the ultrasonic fingerprint sensor on the Samsung Galaxy S10+. Still, it’s impressively fast and reliable even when my fingers were damp.
Most flagship phones either have two base-firing speakers, or combine the earpiece with the bottom speaker to create left and right channels. The P30 Pro sorely misses both, using only a single bottom speaker to deliver sound. It doesn’t sound awful, per se, but its weak output will quickly drive you to connect it to a dedicated speaker. What’s truly criminal is not including a headphone jack. Yes, I’m still sour about that in 2019.
The soul of the P30 Pro is in its all-important camera array. This time around, you get an ultra wide-angle camera, standard wide camera, and the famous periscope camera that can deliver five times optical zoom. Next to the glass array is the time-of-flight sensor, which is used to measure depth.
Although it scores well in sharpness and brightness, the P30 Pro’s AMOLED display trails behind other flagship panels in colour quality, especially when it comes to HDR content. Despite being HDR-certified, its colours appear slightly muted and less saturated in the higher colour spectrums. In this regard, the Samsung Galaxy S10+ and its new dynamic AMOLED easily takes the crown.
Because of its narrow, long body, the display’s 19.5:9 aspect ratio is pretty close to the aspect ratio of most movies and videos, which are often shot at 16:9. This leaves thinner black bars on either side. Dispersing a 2,340 x 1,080p resolution across a 6.47″ display area can seem scattered on paper, but its pixel density is more than enough to prevent a “screen-door” effect.
This marks the third time the Kirin 980 has appeared in a flagship Huawei phone. The Kirin 980 Pro is designed by Huawei and made by HiSilicon based on ARM CPUs and made using the 7nm process. At the time of writing, Huawei has already announced its successor, the Kirin 985, that will likely be released with its next new phone in autumn this year.
When I reviewed the Mate 20 Pro last year, the Kirin 980’s performance didn’t blow me away. It was competitive to Apple’s A12 Bionic chip in compute, but trailed both the A12 Bionic and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 in graphics performance, ultimately resulting in low scores in 3D Mark’s SlingShot Extreme and PC Mark Work 2.0. The performance difference was translated into real-world performance; Player Unkown Battleground (PUBG) ran smoother on my Google Pixel 3 XL and the iPhone XS.
The Geekbench benchmark tests for single and multi-core performance though integer, floating point, cryptography, and memory workloads. All tests are done using the CPU without GPU acceleration.
Unless a scenario dictates, most people will be using the phone on their “balanced” power mode for one reason: battery. So while enabling performance mode does give the Kirin 980 a slight boost, it’s just not worth the extra heat and power consumption. In its balanced power mode, the Kirin 980 scored 3,290 and 9,812 in Geekbench’s single and multi-core test respectively, maintaining last year’s performance and trailing the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 by only a few percentage points.
PC Mark Work 2.0
PC Mark Work 2.0 more closely simulates real-world usage by testing the entire phone’s hardware ecosystem, stressing the CPU, GPU, storage, and RAM all at once through a number of work-related tasks.
As expected, the P30 Pros scored identically to the Huawei Mate 20 Pro (7,709). It trails the Google Pixel 3 XL (9,151) by 15 per cent and the Samsung Galaxy S10+ (9,746) by 20 per cent.
As its name implies, 3D mark tests for a phone’s graphics processing performance using a varying number of geometries and effects.
I don’t know what sort of optimization Huawei added, but the Mali G-76 GPU jumped by 19 per cent in performance compared to the Mate 20 Pro. Although it’s still behind the Qualcomm Snapdragon’s Adreno 630 GPU, the gap is now just a bit narrower.
With solid processor performance, improved graphics performance, and a faster filesystem, why the P30 Pro doesn’t score higher in PC Mark Work 2.0 is beyond me. None-the-less, real-world usage absolutely does not faze the P30 Pro in any way. Whether it’s spreadsheets, photo editing, social media, or anything in between, the P30 Pro is more than capable of handling them all at once and then some.
Huawei’s “P(hotography)” series smartphones hold camera performance paramount — so much so, in fact, that the rest of the phone could feel like an afterthought at times.
Standard wide angle
A camera’s merit is founded upon a basket of factors, one of which is detail — the capacity to reveal the subject’s intricacies and is partially dictated by the number of pixels. Cramming a high number of pixels into a small area increases the resolution, but smaller pixels are worse at capturing light. Conversely, a low number of larger pixels can more easily capture light, but compromises on the resolution. There is no golden ratio here; balancing the two depends on the technologies at play and is an ongoing effort by all camera manufacturers.
It seems like Huawei has opted for the former by equipping the P30 Pro with a 40MP sensor. But by default, the camera only shoots at 10MP. To capture more light, the P30 Pro’s camera groups four pixels together into a single virtual pixel. I was hoping that I would be able to capture more detail by enabling the higher resolution capture, but it turned out that wasn’t the case; the 40MP shooting mode only added marginally more detail at the cost at three to four times the file size. See the comparison gallery below.
The P30 Pro’s standard camera is no slouch, but it still pales in comparison to the Google Pixel 3XL. The side-by-side comparison below pits its 40MP mode against the Google Pixel 3XL. Even when expanded to equal magnification, it’s evident that the Pixel 3 XL is superior.
Unfortunately, the ultra-wide angle camera isn’t optically stabilized, which means you’ll need to to have steadier hands when shooting night scenes. Besides barrel distortion, image quality is fantastic when lighting is good.
Periscope zoom camera
I first tried out the P30 Pro last month in New York, where Huawei invited reviewers to get an exclusive look. Back then, I mostly explored its periscope zoom sensor and weren’t allowed to export image samples.
And that may have been a good thing, because the periscope camera can capture way more than you’d expect. At 5x zoom, its pictures are sharper than any other camera at identical focal lengths. 10x zoom becomes a little harder to work with, both due to higher noise level and amplified motion sway.
Finally, in what I call “creeper mode”, you can stretch the zoom all the way to 50x, which is equivalent to a 125mm focal length. While it wasn’t my intention, I was able to discern the interior details of a car parked at my workplace — from our 9th-floor office. Had I done this in New York, some poor bloke from the building across the street could have become the unfortunate victim of having his terrible work day recorded.
Whereas the hyper-magnified 10x hybrid zoom enabled me to tackle subjects in new creative ways, the P30 Pro’s true lifeblood flows in its night time photography potential. In its New York presentation, a Huawei spokesperson said that its new RYYB Bayer filter captures 40 per cent more light than traditional RGGB filters. It also proudly touted that its new camera sensor has four times the brightness (for camera geeks, ISO sensitivity) of a Canon 5D DSLR, and twice that of its P20 Pro released last year.
I wasn’t fully convinced during the presentation and dismissed their numbers as nothing more than boisterous marketing. After using it for two weeks as my daily driver, however, I was a believer; the comparison gallery below showcases its brilliant performance in light-starved situations.
Each of the three candidates — Huawei P30 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S10+, and Google Pixel 3 XL — have their own dedicated night mode, but they’re far from being equal. With lower noise and higher exposure, the Huawei P30 Pro completely outshines the Galaxy S10+’s lackluster night mode and even trounces Google’s Night Sight AI wizardry.
The P30 Pro also boasts an impressive 32MP front camera that delivers some pretty good results. A host of AI features are available to create your own emojis and stickers, too.
Software and Features
The P30 Pro’s EMUI 9.1 — an incremental update to the EMUI 9.0 released last year — is aesthetically identical to EMUI 9.0 released last year and retains all of its features.
But that also means it inherits all of its useless apps. Tucked away in an app folder are the forgettable Music, Video, and Notes. While it’s a good idea to have defaults, apps like Mirror, which is literally just the front camera, and compass don’t need to be taking up space.
Also, are antivirus software becoming a norm for Android smartphones? The Samsung Galaxy S10+ had an optional antivirus by McAfee, and the P30 Pro has one by Avast built into its optimizer app.
Even if the hardware is top notch, software animation speed can greatly affect its perceived performance. Although they aren’t as pretty, EMUI’s snappy animations make navigation fast and fluid, reducing the molasses feel when switching between many apps.
Whenever I receive a new phone, gesture control is a feature I enable almost immediately. I personally find it more intuitive and easier to perform when operating with one hand. The P30 Pro’s gesture set is very similar to Apple’s: swipe up to retreat to the home screen, swipe in from the left to go back, and the right to go forward. Transitioning from the Google Pixel XL’s Android gestures took a couple of hours, but they’re definitely far more intuitive.
Saving the best for last, a central feature of EMUI 9.1 is Huawei’s own EROFS filesystem, which controls how data is stored and accessed. First announced back in the middle of 2018, the new file system promises faster random read performance and better compression over Ext4. And since it’s a read-only memory, it revokes write permissions for critical system applications to prevent external tampering.
With a battery capacity that’s identical to the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, I’d expected the P30 Pro to last for at least a day and a half on a full charge. Its massive 4,200 mAh cell easily lasts seven hours of screen-on time. Although enabling performance mode dampens that a bit, I rarely had to venture into it as the phone is already plenty fast even without it.
Just as the Mate 20 Pro before it, the P30 Pro can wirelessly charge in both directions. Set it on a charging pad and it will fill its battery, or give another phone a boost by enabling reverse wireless charging. It seems like a gimmick until it saves your work phone from expiring or pulls your smartwatch back from the brink of death.
Capacity is great, but charging a large cell can take hours without a fast charger (I’m looking at you, Galaxy S10+), which is why I’m so appreciative of Huawei’s 40W charger. On days when I forget to plug my phone in at night, it can charge from zero to 70 in a mere half-an-hour, more than enough for a full day of use.
Price and competition
Although the P30 Pro is only purchasable through carriers, It’s featured at practically every major Canadian wireless carrier.
Given its great hardware, build quality, and design, the P30 Pro is still expensive, but has the hardware to punch way above its pay grade. It can be found between $1,099 (Fido) to $1,315 (Koodo) outright. Compared to the roster current generation of expensive flagship phones, the P30 Pro delivers more value.
Priced in parity with the Samsung Galaxy S10, the P30 Pro has the higher ground in battery capacity, design, and overall camera performance, whereas the Galaxy S10 triumphs in display colour quality, pinhole camera, and a more secure fingerprint sensor. It’s important to note that although the Galaxy S10 wins in more categories, its victories are minor besides the display. The P30 Pro, on the other hand, wins by healthy margins in the categories that it excels in.
Another contender is Huawei’s own Mate 20 Pro, which features the same chipset as the P30 Pro and its own triple cameras but lacks the periscope zoom, new image sensor, and the ToF sensor. It also shorts 2GB of RAM and has a glaring notch at the top. Hovering at around $1,044 to $1,299 on Amazon, you’re better off paying a little extra for the P30 Pro instead.
With well-rounded performance and phenomenal cameras, the P30 Pro is a tempting upgrade even compared to last year’s P20 Pro and the Mate 20 Pro. I don’t often recommend upgrading from a phone that’s just a year old, but you’ll definitely appreciate the significant jump in camera quality.
Camera aside, the P30 Pro also brings some notable design changes over the P20. The dedicated home button has been removed in favor of an in-display solution, reducing chin thickness. The display closely resembles the one on the Mate 20 Pro, with curved glass on front and back that help create a razor-like profile. Albeit heavy (especially with a case), the phone easy to hold with one hand, and the breathing crystal colour option is gorgeous to look at.
Objectively speaking, the Kirin 980 SoC does indeed fall behind the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 and Apple A12 Bionic chipsets in performance, but you won’t notice that difference in even heavy productivity and multitasking. Despite its nimble package, it packs a massive 4,200 mAh battery that easily lasts until the next sunrise or even the one after. And since its 40W charger can get it from zero to 70 per cent in 30 minutes, this is a phone that won’t experience any downtime.