• Our Huawei P30 Pro Review


    The past few years have seen the emergence of Huawei in the high-end of the market. Theyíve gone from a provider of free and pre-paid phones that came with outdated versions of Android and a quirky iOS copycat overlay, to a powerhouse challenging Apple and Samsung at the top-end of the market (with an iOS like overlay). More interesting, theyíve managed to do this without having to resort to being a budget alternative to the big players.

    They were smart and decided to go the route of emphasizing their cameras. Aside from actually putting a decent camera in their phones, another important step is slapping on a well-known camera companyís logo. Iím talking about companies that are well known for making cameras but either now only exist to license out their name or they just no longer really dabble with the consumer end of the market.

    On a scale of 0-10, the scale would start off with Vivitar and Polaroid followed by Kodak at one end and would end with prestigious names like Zeiss, Rodenstock, Hasselblad or Leica at the other. Prestigious names that are well known for their work with small lenses (oh wait).



    Huawei chose to partner with Leica. Did they just pay for the right to print a bunch of Leica decals or did Leica actually design the cameras from the ground up? I canít say how deep the partnership runs, but the bottom line is the P30 Pro has some serious camera chops.

    You get the de rigueur wide and ultra wide angle cameras but instead of the usual 2x optical camera, the P30 zooms I mean blasts past the competition with a 5x optical zoom lens. 5x > 2x so it must be better right? Weíll investigate that later.

    Other key features include:
    In-screen fingerprint reader
    Large 4200mAh battery
    speaker that operates by vibrates the screen enabling a slimmer bezel



    Body:



    You get a metal body thatís sandwiched by 2 pieces of glass which are curved lengthwise.



    As youíd imagine, this is an incredibly slippery phone. I donít know how anyone is able to use phones these days without a case. Even when I handle them carefully I still find they manage to slide out of my pockets when I sit down - even if theyíre in my front pocket!



    The volume and power buttons are located on the right side. They feel like they stick out more plus theyíre narrower than the ones found on competitors. This would be a bad thing if you had to press them hundreds of times a day but since you donít, itís not a big deal. If anything, they feel more distinct that the competition.



    The SIM card and memory card slot are both located on the bottom along along with the speaker grill, microphone and USB type-C connector.



    On the back youíll find the cameras which are housed in a bump along the top left side.

    Display:

    You get a 6.5Ē OLED display with curved edges. While Iím not a fan of curved edges - I find they make the phone more difficult to use with one hand - I will say that I find the P30 Pro easier to use than the S10+. I think itís due to their default keyboards - the backspace button button on the Huaweiís is in a different spot and less prone to being accidentally pressed by my palm.

    Spec-wise, while most of the competition is using displays with a horizontal resolution of 1440 pixels, the Huawei makes do with 1080.

    The Samsung Galaxy S9 has a 1440 pixel wide screen but internally, it has an option to treat it as if it were 1080 wide. Long story short, I canít see any difference between either setting. To my eyes, the 1440 and 1080 settings both look identical.

    With that in mind, while a higher resolution display and lower internal resolution doesnít always result in noticeably lower image quality, the opposite is less forgiving. There actually is a difference in sharpness between the P30 Proís 1080 display and the competitionís 1440 displays. Itís not a huge difference but youíll notice it when viewing small text.

    Colour is accurate and pleasant, viewing angles are excellent and thereís minimal off-angle color shift.

    I measured a peak brightness of 440 cd/m2 which is great for indoor usage but a bit short for outdoor usage if itís really bright out.



    Thereís a small notch at the top of the display.

    As is now the fashion, thereís an in-screen fingerprint reader in the middle of the screen near the bottom. It works well but I find that the facial recognition always unlocks the phone faster which makes the reader feel kind of superfluous. In a way itís the new headphone jack.

    Camera:



    There are 3 cameras on the back, an ultra-wide angle, regular and one with a 5x optical zoom lens.

    Each camera on the back is quite different. But before I talk about them specifically I need to mention how these sort of cameras work in general.

    Image quality is a function of sensor size and performance, lens specs including aperture and increasingly, image post processing.

    As for how ďzoomed inĒ a lens is, the more zoomed in you are, the harder it is to get an image thatís free of shake.

    Think of the giant lenses photographers use when theyíre on safari trying to take a picture of a lion from far away.

    This also means that the being more ďzoomed outĒ makes for less shaky pictures. Think of when videos captured with a GoPro - they can be quite steady despite all the action.

    At the same time, most pictures will probably be taken with the regular camera so companies usually save their best for this.

    The wide angle is a 20MP with an f/2.2 lens and a not that small Ĺ.7Ē sensor. It has the same FOV as a 16mm.

    With that in mind, the P30 Pro has a fairly large 1/1.7Ē sizde 40 megapixel camera with a fast f/1.6 lens regular camera. Aside from the old Nokia Pureview 800something I canít think of any camera phone that comes with a larger sensor. When it comes to sensors, bigger is better. The field of view is identical to a 27mm lens on a 35mm camera or similar to most other phones regular cameras.

    40 megapixels is a lot of pixels so make things run more smoothly the P30 Pro automatically down samples the images to 16 megapixels.

    To test it I went to the library and took some pictures. You can download samples here.

    Thereís a tiny bit of banding in the shadows which appears to be the result of aggressive noise reduction. Despite the larger, higher resolution sensor, the Huawei captures a similar amount of detail.

    The zoomed camera has 8 megapixels with a somewhat small ľĒ sized sensor and a fairly slow f/3.4 lens. Whatís special about this one is that the lens has the equivalent FOV of around 125mm which is about 5x greater than the regular camera - yes thatís a 5x optical zoom.

    Well, itís 5x optical in the smartphone sense in that focal length is 5x greater, not the regular camera sense where thereís an actual part of the lense that moves back and forth between 1x and 5x zoom. Smartphones typically have 2 or more cameras with fixed focal lengths and then just crop the image to simulate in-between zoom steps.

    That means the P30 has to crop the image (cut out the edges) to simulate the steps between 1.1x and 4.9x. Most phones only have to crop between 1.1 and 1.9x. This is the trade off of including a 5x zoom instead of a 2x optical.

    So how does it compare at 2x? Surprisingly good. Despite the digital zoom, a lot of the time itís hard to see the difference in detail between the phones with an optical zoom and the ones without.

    Look at the pictures of the girls on the spine of the Hollywood High book (second row center right). There isnít much difference in detail. The only spot I can see a difference is on the glasses on the Geek Girls books on the bottom row. The XS Max and S10+ look a little crisper.

    Colour is quite good though the iPhone and Pixel are just a tiny bit more faithful.

    The only problems I can see here are some banding in the shadows and some purple fringing. Both are very minor problems that you probably wouldnít notice unless youíre looking at the image at 100%.

    It makes me think more companies should think about putting in slightly more powerful zooms

    So how did Huawei cram a 5x zoom into the P30 Pro without giving it a huge camera hump? They used a periscope lens. Camera assembles usually consist of a bunch of lenses and a sensor. The P30 Pro adds a mirror between the lenses so that the assembly can be turned sideways. If I remember correctly, Sony used to sell their T series compact point and shoot cameras with similar folding lenses.

    Huawei also used another trick to make the assembly more compact - they gave it a very small ľĒ sensor. All else being equal, a smaller sensor requires a smaller lens assembly. Remember my example of cameras people take on safari.

    I canít speak for everyone but for me personally I use the regular camera most followed by a 2x optical zoom. 2x or 60ish mm is sort of a sweet spot for taking portraits of my kids.

    The P30 Proís 5x zoom is quite impressive but I find itís a little too close. It makes framing shots more difficult and video tends to be more shaky. You can dial the zoom back to 2x but when you do that youíre really just cropping the image from the regular camera.

    If you leave it in smart mode, it tries to guess when youíre trying to take a portrait photo and only zoom in 2x.

    Still, having a 5x optical zoom that isnít just cropping the image does have its uses. Itís fantastic for grabbing video and pics of your kids when theyíre playing sports. Thereís a massive difference between the P30 Pro and its competitors at 5x zoom. Itís so much better there isnít much to say - just look at the samples.

    One of my kids had swimming classes over the summer and I used the 5x to get video of her even though we were sitting pretty far away. It was so clear that we were able to use it to examine her technique and discuss ways she could improve it.

    When you use the 5x zoom lens the Huawei seems to use the regular, much larger sensor to help you compose the shot. As such, the preview looks kind of janky until you take a picture or hit record at which point it looks much sharper. I suspect the P30 is actually using both cameras at the same time, improve image quality which is a fantastic idea. The regular sensor is always going to capture more light in all situations while the zoomed sensor is more about capture more detail.

    These daysí companies have been really focusing on low-light performance. While many take usable photos in low light, the new trend is to include a dedicated low-light mode which can take up to 10 seconds to capture a low light scene. While the dedicated low-light mode results in really great looking photos, theyíre not very realistic since most people arenít going to bother using a tripod like I did.

    The low light photo reveals quite a bit of purple fringing in shiny parts of the scene. Itís most noticeable on the Blackberry Bold between each row of keys. Perhaps this is a result of cramming the huge sensor into a normal-sized camera house. All-else being equal, a bigger sensor requires a bigger lens. To counter this, companies can use aspherical lenses but they can introduce more aberrations.

    Still, the P30 Proís software is smart enough to minimize this problem most of the time.

    The low light and night photos are also a bit too warm. The carpet is off-white but here itís quite red.

    Overall the rear cameras do a fantastic job. The main sensor is good enough that the lack of a 2x optical zoom isnít a big deal. The included 5x optical zoom really makes the P30 Pro the most versatile phone camera on the market.

    The ultra-wide angle isnít quite as wide as the one on the Samsung Galaxy S10+ and is not a match in the image quality department. Thereís a noticeable difference in detail, sensitivity, white balance and contrast. Youíll notice a considerable amount of noise if you use it indoors.

    Software:

    The P30 Pro runs Android 9.0 with their EMUI user overlay. Itís a bit of an old school overlay in that it feels like thereís a thick layer between you and Android. The most dramatic difference is that task switching resembles iOS 12. You swipe up to bring up the task switcher and then left and right. From there you can swipe up to close apps. To go backwards you swipe in from the left side of the screen and to go forwards you swipe the other side.

    I have to say, I prefer this setup to Android Pie on the Pixel which feel isnít as intuitive. In fact, now that Android 10 is out I think the 10 feels more like a step in the direction of the P30 Pro.

    Iíd say more about the P30 Proís overlay but the big story here is that Huawei is probably going to have to stop using Google on their phones so thereís a big question mark about what software it will be running in the future and what apps youíll be able to use with it.

    My guess is that whatever Huawei uses will eventually be found on many other phones from China and companies will start releasing 2 versions of their phones. The Huawei OS will be found on phones bound for the Chinese domestic market and Android will be found on export versions but this is purely conjecture on my part.

    Multimedia:

    When it comes to multimedia, most phones use the speaker on the bottom of the phone while some can also use the earpiece for a stereo setup.

    Instead of the usual speaker setup, the P30 Pro has a driver which shakes the screen to make it act as a speaker. When I heard about this I figured that sound would radiate out from the screen. To test this I cranked the volume and covered the screen with my hand. I was pretty surprised that this didnít really have any effect on the volume.



    Next, I tried covering the 5 holes to the right over the Type C connector.

    Doing that really attenuates the volume so it seems that the sound is routed out through the bottom of the phone.

    In the end all that matters is how the speaker sound quality - itís not bad. Itís fairly loud. Range is decent with a respectable amount of bass. Itís about the quality youíd expect from a flagship. The problem is that this is a mono speaker setup instead of stereo like youíd find on the competition so it lacks the atmosphere youíd get from that.

    I suspect that the reason Huawei went this route was to minimize the size of the notch at the top of the display. As far as Iím concerned, this is not a worthwhile trade-off. Having a front mounted speaker is way more useful than making the screen notch a tiny bit smaller.

    Thereís no headphone jack. If you want to connect headphones youíll need a USB Type C to 3.5mm headphone jack adapter.

    Performance:

    Powering the P30 is a Kirin 980 SoC. It has two high-performance Cortex A76 cores at up to 2.6Ghz, two more at up to 1.9Ghz and four power sipping A55 cores running at up to 1.8Ghz.

    Just to compare, the Snapdragon 855 has one A76 based core running at up to 2.84Ghz, three at up to 2.42Ghz and four A55 cores at up to 1.8Ghz.

    Battery life is stellar. To measure this, I made up my own battery test. I put Prime Video on each phone, downloaded a season of the Grand Tour to each phone in good quality and then set it to play for a few hours. I didnít run the test from full to empty because most phones will activate a low power mode when the battery is low plus. I also ran the test when the battery was no higher than 99% full.

    I wrote down the starting and ending percentage and time and then worked out how many minutes on average it took for the meter to drop one percentage. I used a colorimeter to set each phoneís screen brightness as close to 100 nits when displaying a 100% bright background in Chrome as I could (usually within 10%).

    in HD mode the Huawei would last around 11 mins before the battery dropped a percentage. To compare, each percent on the S10+ lasts around 7.5 mins in full resolution at closer to 7 mins in FHD. I should note that even though I set the screen brightness is more or less identical, the S10+ to my eyes seemed a tad brighter than the Huawei. This is even after I played around with the different colour modes.

    Speaking of battery life Huawei includes a 40W charger in the box with the P30 Pro along with a USB A (the old school one youíll find on most chargers) and a USB C (the oval one found on newer Android phones).

    Let me put 40 watts in perspective for you. Most Android phones ship with 10-18W chargers while 2018 and older iPhones, even the bigger, fancier ones ship with pathetic 5 watt charger. I hooked it up to something to measure how many watts the charger was drawing at it really does use up to 40 watts which is pretty crazy.

    Unfortunately, Huawei is not using the Power Delivery standard so finding an extra charger to charge at full speed or perhaps one with more than one port may be tricky. Youíll also need to use a thicker A to C cable that supports the higher charge rate.

    There is support for 2 way wireless charging. I didn't test it much.

    Conclusion:



    While Huawei faces an uncertain future with regards to Android, the P30 Pro is a fantastic phone. The large battery, beefy hardware and outstanding camera means there arenít many any compromises to be made.

    Initially I figured the 5x zoom lens would just be a gimmick but itís genuinely useful and really helps to set it apart from the rest of the pack.



    The display is ďonlyĒ 1080P but Iím rarely bothered by it. The only gripes I have about the P30 Pro are that the speaker is merely adequate, the screen could use a bit more brightness and the ultra-wide angle could be better.

    Pros:
    • Great camera setup
    • Long battery life
    • Longer zoom lens opens up a lot of possibilities
    • Very fast charging included in the box


    Cons:
    Only 1080 display
    Mono speaker setup
    Proprietary charger needed for full speed charging
    Speaker could be a bit brighter
    Ultra wide angle camera could use some work

    4.5/5
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Our Huawei P30 Pro Review started by howard View original post
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