Huawei P40 series, the successor to P30 series, will debut globally tomorrow. With every new P-series smartphone, Huawei has tried to set a new benchmark in mobile photography. The theme this year is Visionary Photography. The leaked camera specifications of Huawei P40 Pro Premium are wild. I can’t even imagine what it means by visionary photography. But we do know one thing for certain – it won’t have Google apps. That makes Huawei P30 Pro, my daily driver, the last great GMS phone from Huawei.
I have been using the Huawei P30 Pro for nearly nine months now. While I have switched to other devices for review purposes, I have found myself coming back to this one. The camera is one of the primary reason and second reason is battery life. I haven’t had a chance to use the iPhone 11 Pro or Galaxy S20+ and they might be better. But almost a year later, the P30 Pro seems to be holding steady. That is an achievement in itself for a company caught in controversies. Here is why.
The obvious place to start for a flagship smartphone made by Huawei right now is software. Let me make this clear – I’m not a fan of Huawei’s custom EMUI. However, I have found a way around to make it usable. I wish it was as clean as stock Android (yes, Nexus 6P was great), and as fun as OxygenOS. But I’m not that person who spends time fiddling with settings or customizing the icon pack. I’m that person who only sees whether something would work for me.
After nine months, I can easily say that EMUI on the P30 Pro works fine. The device now runs EMUI 10, which is based on Android 10, and brings features like system wide dark mode and better gesture support. Huawei’s gesture system is definitely easy to use and less confusing. If you are using Google Maps and trying to open the left hand pane, the gesture works most of the time. All you need to know is slide from top side of the screen. The same gesture is not that smooth on the stock Android.
With EMUI 10, Huawei is also using Morandi color palette. These are light pastel colors that are extremely easy on your eyes. There are times when black tends to look like grey but at these pixel levels, you need to really hunt for the difference to know it. That’s not the real reason I started this review with software. One area where Huawei P30 Pro really shines is access to Google Mobile services. Or in other words, it has Google Play Store, Google Photos, Google Maps, YouTube, Gmail and others pre-installed.
Since Huawei did not launch the Mate 30 Pro in India, I’m not hopeful for the P40 Pro to makes its way here. Without Google apps, it may not do well either. I have thousands of photos on Google Photos and I cannot think of using a phone without that app. Similarly, my work mail is powered by Google. We use G suite extensively for collaboration and Hangouts for internal communication. I have also used Google Play Games to sign up for games and lack of it would mean loss of history.
This is how I see this whole issue involving Huawei. The relationship between Huawei and Google is of mutual benefit. As Huawei sells more smartphones around the world, Google gets to earn more via licensing deals. Similarly, Huawei stands to sell its hardware with an established operating system in the form of Android.
The lack of access to Google Mobile Services will hurt Huawei. However, Google runs a bigger risk of Huawei Mobile Services catching up among developers. If that happens, Google might see mass exodus from other Chinese smartphone makers as well. Smartphone industry runs on herd mentality. If Huawei proves that there is a way forward without Google then others will follow. By doing this, they stand to get rid of Google’s licensing terms for GMS and could make their devices more reasonable.
For now, I am happy that Huawei P30 Pro not only runs Android, but also has access to Google Mobile Services. However, I have already started seeing signs of weakness. For instance, my P30 Pro is currently stuck at December 1, 2019 security patch. Huawei seems to have stopped giving monthly security updates and moved to quarterly updates. It is fine but not the most prudent approach in an era when security remains paramount regardless of who you are and what device you use.
The camera setup is the marquee feature of the Huawei P30 Pro. There are few mobile devices that changes the way we looked at imaging experience. Nokia 808 can be described as an early pioneer while iPhone 5 was a pioneer in the smartphone era. With P30 Pro, Huawei showed that this Chinese company known for telecom gear can bring innovation as well. Instead of traditional Bayer pattern of RGGB pixels, the main 40-megapixel sensor of the device features RYYB pixels. The results show while clicking pictures with this flagship device.
The primary 40-megapixel main camera produces pictures with great detail. Since it uses a f/1.6 lens, the shallow depth of field is also nice. There can be some issue with color and white balance but you can fix that by dialing down exposure compensation. The dynamic range is not in the same league as Pixel 4, iPhone 11 Pro or Galaxy S20+. That could be owed to the larger sensor seen on this device.
Paired with it is a 20-megapixel ultra wide-angle camera. It is now proven that every smartphone should have an ultra wide-angle camera. Google seems to have made a mistake by not including one on the Pixel 4 series. On the P30 Pro, the ultra wide-angle camera does not produce as sharp images as the standard camera. Since it is f/2.2, the images can look soft at times and there is noticeable edge distortion as well. However, the 3D ToF camera on the back does really well with portrait shots. The monochrome filter does not really look like a filter and produces results closer to the dedicated monochrome sensor on the P20 Pro.
There is a lot that this camera does well and zoom is definitely the best. In terms of numbers alone, we are looking at 5x optical zoom or 125mm equivalent focal length. While Samsung is promoting not so usable 100x Space Zoom on the S20 Ultra, the Huawei P30 Pro’s 50x zoom to capture moon is definitely usable. At 5x zoom, you get the best result with plenty of details and sharpness. However, as you zoom further, you compromise on the quality in favor of getting closer to your subject. I don’t think you should use this mode that often. However, I want to note that AI-based Moon mode is definitely not a one trick pony.
There is also a 32-megapixel selfie camera, which I have used to click a number of selfies. You also get macro and Pro mode. One area where the smartphone really disappoints is videos. You really cannot trust P30 Pro for videos like the way you can do with iPhone 11 series. The OIS is not the best while recording and even the color temperature and formats are not excellent. If Huawei P40 Pro delivers a video camera that is as good as the iPhone 11 Pro then I think we will have a complete package.
Performance and Battery Life
Since I started using the P30 Pro back in June last year, I have averaged between six and eight hours of screen-on time. On the days when I’m not pushing the smartphone and mostly consuming content, the screen-on time has almost reached nine hours. This is great battery life for a smartphone packed with features. The only other smartphone that has shown similar battery life is the iPhone XR. It does not have a beefy battery but has excellent optimization. I think Huawei does over optimize at times to deliver screen-on time of around eight hours.
I have the model with 8GB of RAM and 256GB internal storage. I’m yet to completely fill the storage and that’s partly because of the fact that I don’t shoot a lot of videos. Under the hood is a Huawei Kirin 980 mobile chipset with Mali-G76 MP10 GPU. I must admit the performance is really good but it is not a match for new Snapdragon flagship platform. Huawei’s own cores seem to work really well but Mali is not that great for graphics performance. I wish Huawei followed Qualcomm to design its own graphics cores as well.
When I play PUBG Mobile on the Huawei P30 Pro, I don’t see any lag or crash or slowdown of any sort. However, the richness of graphics is not exactly the same as the one you would get on the Snapdragon 855+ or 865 powered smartphones. It is definitely far behind when you start comparing with iPhone 11 series, which has one of the best processor on any mobile device right now. Since it is an year-old device, I think it’s not a real deal breaker and also Kirin 990 might be better or identical to other flagships in terms of performance.
Design and Display
When you use a smartphone for more than six months, the real question is whether it has aged well. I must say that the Huawei P30 Pro has aged well despite the fact that I have handled it in a rough manner. As soon as I got the device, I removed the plastic screen protector. It never really feels good when you have to type on top of a screen protector. If you are reading this then I recommend not to remove that screen protector. On my device, I have multiple scratches on the screen.
In JerryRigEverything language, I have deeper grooves in some part of the screen, which now looks bad. However, the display is still intact and it works as intended. So I can vouch for the fact that the protection on top of the display layer has worked well. I also think that Huawei skipped on oleophobic coating, which could be the reason behind my screen being smudgy at all times. If the Chinese smartphone maker offered a one-time screen replacement now, I would be one of the first to jump on it. But again, I will end up removing the screen protector and use it in a daredevil fashion.
A year after its launch, the Huawei P30 Pro is undoubtedly one of the best looking smartphones still around. It has a tall form factor with narrow curvature and the display is nearly edge-to-edge. I have the aurora variant but breathing crystal model looks equally good. While it weighs 192 grams, it does not feel heavy and the metal feels pleasant to touch. As a result, I avoid using back cover at most times.
Should you buy Huawei P30 Pro now?
I must say that Huawei P30 Pro has surprised me by the way it has aged. The design choices made by Huawei made me think it will break after a point. However, it has held together well and has survived bruises and torture test. Anyone with this device can avoid the situation by using a protective case and a screen protector. Every other element of the device, be it processor, camera or battery, has aged well enough that I can think of using it for another year.
With Google not launching the Pixel 4 series in India, the P30 Pro was one of the best camera smartphones. Samsung seems to have caught up with it’s Galaxy S20 series. I’m yet to try these devices but as an Android flagship, the P30 Pro holds its own ground. Now, the real question is what happens to software support six months from now. I haven’t received security patch in more than three months, making the device vulnerable. If that remains the case then I might have to look for its replacement.