Huawei P30 Pro full review

Huawei hasn’t exactly had the best year. Its high-profile ban from trading with US companies dealt a huge blow to the firm as it meant it couldn’t use the official version of Android complete with Google services. And that forced it to launch the Mate 30 Pro with Huawei Mobile Services instead of Google’s - and effectively prevented it selling the phone outside of China and a few other markets.

It also means that unless you’re clued-up enough to manually install Google services and willing to take the risk that those services might stop working at any point, you’re not going to spent a load of cash on a Mate 30 Pro. 

Which, of course leads us to the P30 Pro. We first reviewed it in March 2019, and were bowled over by its cameras. Not just the quality, but also the versatility: the three main lenses let you go all the way from ultra wide through to 10x hybrid zoom - and beyond.

Because it can’t do a lot with the Mate 30 Pro internationally, the P30 Pro is the favourite child currently and is the phone Huawei has put first in the queue to get the upgrade to Android 10 (EMUI 10 in Huawei speak). Our own long-term review phone has been upgraded now and the benefits are tangible. From an improved dark mode to much better notifications, it’s a welcome update.

P30 Pro: Price & Availability

The P30 Pro cost £899 when it was launched. And you only needed to pay £1,099 if you wanted 512GB of storage instead of the standard 128GB.

Later in the year, Huawei launched new models with a part glossy, part matt finish so there are plenty of finishes to choose between.

And prices have dropped: you can now pick up a 128GB P30 Pro for £649 from Argos and Currys and theAmber Sunrise version (with 512GB) for £859 from Amazon.

There's an international version with 256GB that can be found online for under £600, but we’d be wary of these and stick with the official UK model for warranty purposes. 

And if you’re worried that 128GB won’t be enough, the good news is that you can use the second slot in the SIM tray for a Nano memory card to expand storage by up to 256GB extra.

You can also get a P30 Pro from Carphone Warehouse, EE, Vodafone and Sky Mobile. Find the best P30 deals here.

Need something cheaper? You can pick up the Huawei P30 Lite for £329 but be prepared for various sacrifices.

If you do buy one, check out our best P30 Pro tip & tricks to get the most out of the phone.

P30 Pro: Features & design

  • Wireless charging
  • In-screen fingerprint scanner
  • In-screen speaker for phone calls

One of the biggest surprises is that the P30 Pro is more like an upgrade of the Mate 20 Pro, not its predecessor, the P20 Pro.

The P-series has always led with camera innovations, while the Mate series has been the bigger-screened cousin that focused more on performance (and rivalling Samsung’s Galaxy Note range).

Huawei P30 Pro review

Not only has the P30 Pro’s screen grown to 6.5in, which is bigger than the Mate 20 Pro’s, but it also adopts the Mate’s curved edges on the front and back. There’s an in-screen fingerprint scanner as well, which is what allows the screen to be a taller 19.5:9 aspect ratio, compared to 18.7:9 on the P20 Pro.

The bottom edge of the P30 Pro is flatter than the Mate 20 Pro’s and the double-sided SIM tray is to the left of the USB-C port. There’s a more traditional speaker grille instead of using the USB port as the Mate 20 Pro does, but because of the new in-screen speaker which is used for phone calls, the P30 Pro’s audio prowess takes a step back to mono instead of stereo.

But with 40W SuperCharging, 15W wireless charging and reverse wireless charging the P30 Pro seems to cannibalise all the best features from the Mate 20 Pro. That’s only really a problem for Huawei, though, as there’s really no good reason to buy a Mate 20 Pro any more.

Huawei P30 Pro review

The magnetic speaker works well for calls, and sounds like a normal speaker with your ear pressed to the screen. Huawei has upgraded the in-screen fingerprint scanner to make it faster than the Mate 20 Pro’s, although it’s still optical and not ultrasonic, so won’t work well if your finger is wet… or too dry.

Screen

  • 6.47in, OLED
  • 2340x1080 pixels, 398ppi
  • 19:5:9
  • Embedded fingerprint scanner and speaker

You might assume the screen is the same as the Mate 20 Pro’s, but you’d be wrong. It has a lower resolution and a lower pixel density of 398ppi. Huawei calls it Full HD+ because it’s 2340x1080 pixels. In the flesh it looks sharp enough, though, and of course you can’t see the pixels at normal viewing distances.

Huawei P30 Pro review

Compared to Samsung’s AMOLED screens, the colours on the P30 Pro look more muted, even in Vivid mode. It means more natural-looking pictures, though. We still saw the same colour issues in certain apps as with the Mate 20 Pro, though, where they were too dark and just didn’t look right. And, put side by side with the iPhone XS Max, it’s clear that the P30 Pro’s colours are not as accurate. Not a dealbreaker, but something to bear in mind if this sort of thing bothers you.

There’s no notification LED, but you can enable the always-on display which will show the time, date, battery level and certain notification icons. As ever, Huawei disables it by default.

Huawei hasn’t gone for a ‘punch-hole’ camera like some of its rivals or even its own sub-brand Honor’s View 20, but the notch for the selfie camera is pleasingly symmetrical and much smaller than on the P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro.

No screen protector is applied by the factory which is a shame, and Huawei warns that third-party protectors might mess with the fingerprint scanner. A basic transparent TPU case is provided in the box, but you can find better alternatives in our round up of the best cases for the P30 and P30 Pro.

Cameras

Huawei P30 Pro review

With the updated design out of the way, let’s get to the really important stuff: the cameras.  Here’s what they all do:

  • Main: 40Mp, f/1.6, OIS, 27mm-equivalent
  • Ultra-wide: 20Mp, f/2.2, 16mm-equivalent
  • 5x Telephoto: 8Mp, f/3.4, OIS, 125mm-equivalent
  • Time-of-flight camera: for depth sensing

That’s quite a lot of information, so to put it more simply, the P30 Pro allows you to take everything from an ultra-wide photo to a close-up that’s the equivalent to a 10x zoom.

And to illustrate what that looks like, here are the ultra-wide and 10x close-up shots of St Pancras:

 Huawei P30 Pro review

If you’re wondering how it can be 10x when the telephoto camera is only 5x, it’s because the information from the 40Mp camera is combined with it to produce what Huawei is calling ‘lossless 10x zoom’.

And here’s the same comparison on the Eiffel tower, plus the 2x effort from an iPhone X to really show the difference in detail that’s achievable from a long distance.

Huawei P30 Pro review

The same shots from the iPhone:

Huawei P30 Pro review - iPhone comparison

The 10x mode isn’t lossless, but it is still mighty impressive for a phone. If you really want to play, you can zoom right up to 50x, but this is pure digital zoom and you won’t get any extra detail by using it.

It’s easy to use all the cameras because there’s a button at the side of the screen which indicates the current zoom level. It defaults to 1x, but it toggles to 5x, 10x then Wide if you keep tapping it. You can also pinch to zoom if you want a zoom level in between these.

The photos below show the difference in low-light performance between the P20 Pro (left) and P30 Pro (right) in their standard Photo mode, not long exposure Night mode. Huawei says the reason why the P30 is so much better is down to the new 40Mp SuperSpectrum sensor. It has red, yellow and blue pixels instead of red, green and blue. Yellow is used because it’s more sensitive and the sensor is said to capture 40% more light as a result. Combine this with optical stabilisation and a larger aperture lens and it’s easy to understand why there is such a big improvement.

Huawei P30 Pro review

It’s possible to shoot in almost total darkness. You won’t see anything in the preview, so it’s hard to frame a shot, but you’ll be amazed at the details and colours possible with practically zero light. It does tend to make low-light scenes look unnaturally bright as if they were shot in daylight, though.

All of the improvements translate to video as well, which means the P30 Pro is much more capable than its predecessors when shooting in low light with the SuperSpectrum sensor. There’s good stabilisation in 4K, and you also get pretty smooth footage when using the 5x zoom, but things become wobbly if you try to shoot at 10x while holding the phone in your hands. Audio is very good too from the phone’s mics.

A future update, said to be arriving by the end of April 2019, will bring a new feature called Dual View video, which is the ability to record using two cameras at the same time – main + telephoto. This gives a dual perspective, with one half of the screen showing the wide view, and the other the zoomed-in view.

On top of this, there’s a new HDR+ mode which uses the Kirin 980’s AI capabilities to identify not only dark and light areas of an image but what they are. It will then process the image intelligently according to what it ‘sees’, be that a person, a sunset, greenery or another object. Confusingly, HDR is still a separate mode in the camera app and we’d dearly like Huawei to enable it by default when the algorithms determine that it’s needed.

Oddly enough, ‘AI HDR’ is a toggle button in the Portrait mode when using the selfie camera, but not the rear camera.

What about that fourth camera? It’s not for taking photos, instead working in tandem with the IR flood illuminator above it to work out how far away things are in the scene. This information is then used to determine which parts should be blurred out in a Portrait photo and should lead to more realistic-looking portraits.

The effect does look good, but isn’t perfect. Wisps of Dom’s hair and the rim of his glasses which overlap the background have still been inadvertently blurred.

Huawei P30 Pro review

If you’re not taking a picture of a person, you can get the same depth effect by swiping across to Aperture mode.

Macro capabilities are the last improvement, with the main camera being able to focus as close as 25mm from objects. You have to enable Macro mode manually for this to work, which is a shame given how much Huawei goes on about the Kirin 980’s AI capabilities. Why can’t it figure out you’re taking a macro photo?

We also found that you can achieve similar results without macro mode by simply switching to the 5x zoom and getting close to your subject.

Huawei P30 Pro review - iPhone comparison

Photos from the 32Mp selfie camera look quite sharp on the phone’s screen, but we couldn’t help but notice a lack of detail in skin and other textures, and this is with all the beauty modes disabled. It sounds like a great upgrade but unless Huawei delivers a software update that fixes the problem, all you’re getting is more pixels.

Huawei P30 Pro review

The P30 has one other trick: the depth sensing cameras on the rear allow the phone to measure objects in the real world, much like you can with Apple's Measure app on the latest iPhones.

Performance

With an extra 2GB of RAM but the same processor as the Mate 20 Pro, the P30 Pro is a great performer. In our usual benchmarks, the results were largely the same: you won’t notice the benefit of the extra RAM in normal use.

Android runs without hiccup – no surprise there – and apps launch quickly and run smoothly. From a top-end phone you’d expect nothing less.

In terms of battery life, with a 4200mAh capacity the P30 Pro goes on and on. It will comfortably last two full days with light use, and you should easily make it through a whole day with heavy use with juice to spare.

Running our usual test in Geekbench 4, the battery lasted almost exactly as long as the Mate 20 Pro did, running out after 11.5 hours – a lot longer than most of its rivals.

If you haven’t experienced Huawei’s SuperCharge speeds, you’ll be utterly amazed at the rapid pace with which the battery tops up. From empty, it will recharge to over 70% in half an hour with the included mains adapter and USB-C cable.

Software

EMUI isn’t to everyone’s liking, but the latest version, which is based on Android 10, is the most refined yet. There are still improvements that could be made, paring down settings even further – and tidying up the settings and modes in the camera app.

Two of most welcome features - for us at least - are new notifications and proper app drawer. The old style notifications were uglier and harder to read, but the new ones, which are essentially stock Android notifications, are much prettier and easier to digest.

The app drawer update might not sound like much, but you no longer have to have the app drawer icon taking up room on the home screen: you can simply swipe up to see the rest of your apps now.

Huawei P30 Pro review

All other features are still present and correct, including the nifty knuckle gestures that let you quickly enable split screen mode, turn on the LED torch and take screenshots.

There are a few choices for navigation including full-screen mode where you use swiping gestures to go back, switch apps and go to the home screen. Annoyingly, there is no palm rejection and we found that the slightest touch in the bottom left-hand corner from the side of a thumb while typing is enough to throw you out of the current app and back to the home screen or the app switcher. Maybe we’re holding the phone wrong, but hopefully Huawei will do something about it.

Verdict

The P30 Pro is a brilliant phone. It’s beautifully designed, comes in some eye-catching finishes and has exceptional cameras.

There are only minor niggles, such as the mono audio. There’s no headphone jack but this is becoming much less of a problem these days with wireless headphones so prolific and affordable. If you do need to connect wired headphones or to use your phone to play music through a speaker (such as at a party) it’s simple enough to use a USB-C to mini jack adapter.

At current prices the P30 Pro is great value. When it launched we moaned that it was more expensive than its predecessor, but given the current landscape, it’s an extremely tempting proposition.

Specs

Huawei P30 Pro: Specs

  • Android Pie 9.1 + EMUI 9.1 6.47in 2340x1080, 19.5:9 OLED display, 398ppi 2.4GHz Kirin 980 octa-core processor Mali-G76 GPU 8GB RAM
  • 128GB / 512GB storage Cameras: 40Mp with OIS + 8Mp telephoto (5x) + 20Mp ultra-wide + TOF camera Front camera: 32Mp, f/2.0 GPS + Glonass 4G LTE 4200mAh battery USB-C SuperCharge 40W IP68 rating

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