Alex Kidman was the tech and telco editor at Finder and is now a freelance technology writer. He's been a technology writer with experience spanning more than 20 years, writing and editing at Gizmodo, CNET, PC Magazine, Kotaku and many more. Alex has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of New England and a serious passion for retro gaming.
While Huawei is fighting some serious battles in its network business, it's gone from strength to strength in the mobile handset market. The Huawei P30 Pro's primary pitch lies around its triple lens camera system, but this isn't a one-trick phone. With great battery life and some of the best performance we've seen out of any Android phone, this is rather easily your best current Android phone option.
Range of colour choices, but we only get two.
Quick in-glass fingerprint sensor.
No headphone jack.
Prone to fingerprint smudges and small scratches.
Huawei's P-series phones have long sold themselves as "fashionable" phones, a step that Huawei has managed by producing them in a wide variety of eye-catching tones. For last year's Huawei P20 Pro, the standout colour was the shifting blue "twilight", but this year in Australia, we'll instead see "Aurora" and "Breathing Crystal" tones.
These are essentially blue/purple and light blue/silver tones, with the same shifting colours as we saw on last year's twilight phones. It's very eye-catching because it shifts tone depending on angle and lighting situations. Predictably, there are colours we're not seeing in Australia at first, including a more sedate black or pearl white option, as well as the ostentatious amber sunrise variant. If you want those, you'll have to import them.
The other catch with the Huawei P30 Pro's shifting colour is that it doesn't just show off Huawei's shiny designs, it's an utter fingerprint magnet as well. While I've been testing out with a preproduction sample, there's also a slightly open question about overall durability, especially around its front 6.47 inch OLED display.
Huawei hasn't yet confirmed if it's using Corning's Gorilla Glass for added durability, and on some review samples I sighted at the Paris launch of the phone, small screen scratches had already emerged. My own review unit is currently scratch-free, but it's definitely a concern. Thankfully, my own review phone is fine so far, probably helped by the fact that it's lived most of its test life in the clear case that you get in the box.
Huawei keeps it simple when it comes to controls, with right hand side power and volume buttons, and a dual nano-SIM slot at the base. There's sadly no headphone jack – this was missing from the P20 Pro as well – and also no fingerprint reader on the back or side. Instead, it's picked up a trick from the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, with an in-display fingerprint reader.
Huawei's claim is that it's faster than the reader in the Mate 20 Pro, and I'd agree with that assessment. Again, some detail would be handy, as it's not clear if Huawei has shifted up to an ultrasonic sensor, as found in the Samsung Galaxy S10+, or if it's instead simply optimised the software reader for an existing optical sensor.
The Huawei P30 Pro features a "waterdrop" notch in the centre of its 6.47 inch display panel. Your tastes may vary as to whether you prefer a drop notch, rectangular notch or punch hole style camera array, but you can at least opt to black the whole thing out if that's your preference.
I've already put the Huawei P30 Pro through its low light paces in a dedicated shootout against the iPhone XS Max, Samsung Galaxy S10+, Huawei Mate 20 Pro and Google Pixel 3, which you can read in full here.
The best comparison in that piece has to be its low light park test. This uses a local sporting ground I've used extensively to test out the low light capabilities of smartphones in the past. It's far from the most exciting composition choice, but the general lack of light makes it a notably brutal test, and one that some phones really struggle with.
The iPhone XS Max isn't a great performer here, although it's fairly indicative of what I could actually see.
The Pixel 3 without Night Sight can see even less. It's effectively blind.
In Night Sight mode it does much better, albeit with some slightly oversaturated colour choices.
The Galaxy S10+ grabs as much light as it can, and quite quickly given it's a fast, AI-enabled shot. It's not entirely clear though.
The Mate 20 in regular shooting mode does a decent job with picking up what light it can.
But throwing it into Night mode gives it more scope to pick up finer detail.
However, this is a clear win for the Huawei P30 Pro, which is in a class of its own, even without engaging Night mode.
The light and detail in this shot are simply amazing, and it's not even pushing the P30 Pro to its highest 409,600 ISO setting. If you wanted to go Pro with this shot, you could get even more detail.
You can push the Huawei P30 Pro even further than this. I had the opportunity to take it up to Uluru for some camera testing (disclaimer: I travelled as a guest of Huawei) and captured this very nice shot of a didgeridoo player at 7:48pm at night.
It's a nice enough photo, but I'm using it largely to demonstrate just how dark it was that night. Later on, at 9:09pm at the same location, I used the night mode to take a photo while a talk was being given about the local constellation lore.
Bear in mind that this photo, while not a great composition, was taken later than the previous one, so there was even less light around. The only clearly visible thing I could see was the laser pointer, which you can make out in the photo below as a blue beam.
The Huawei P30 Pro can't actually see in the dark – if you simply point it at a dark room with no other detail it'll return you a black picture – but it's exceptionally good at making the most of the detail that is there.
There's a very slight catch here in low light situations, and it relates to the primary 40MP camera lens. It features what Huawei calls its "SuperSpectrum" sensor, which is much larger than the sensors found on competing smartphones, and it's very much a power player.
Switch to the other lenses – whether you want a wide but low light landscape, or to zoom in on a subject – and you'll quickly lose an awful lot of that quality in low light.
On the subject of zoom, the Huawei P30 Pro features a 5x optical zoom lens with a side-mounted periscope style lens. Huawei combines that with the 40MP primary lens for what it calls 10x "hybrid" zoom. Like the 5x hybrid zoom found on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, this mostly works very well. Here's an example of it in play in Paris, going from the wide lens through 1x, 5x and 10x zoom:
If you're happy to opt for digital zoom, you can stretch this out to an impressive-sounding 50x zoom, although this is with some significant restrictions. There's no stabilisation at that level, so without a tripod getting your subject right is a total gamble. It also loses a lot of colour and sharpness at that extreme.
You can tell what it is you've photographed, but all too often it looks like a watercolour painting rather than the real world.
These are real people, but you could be forgiven for thinking it's a finger painting.
Still, there's an awful lot to like about the Huawei P30 Pro's camera for still photography, and that's true whether you're a pro shooter or just someone who wants nice looking pictures with minimal effort. Huawei's default camera app encourages you to experiment with colours and focus choices in a way that makes camera photography a simple joy.
However, the same isn't entirely true for its video prowess. Huawei has never been particularly strong in this area, but the gap between how good the P30 Pro is at still photography and its video output is quite remarkable – and not in a good way. Here's a sample of its output taken on a river cruise on the Seine:
For home video it's perhaps acceptable, but the shudder and roll on the boats as it frames them (irrespective of the water movement) is sub-standard. Plenty of other premium phones manage that level of stabilisation so much better than the Huawei P30 currently can.
Hopefully this is a software issue, not a hardware one, and Huawei can improve it over time. As always though, I can only review the device in front of me at the time.
Video aside, Huawei has managed to maintain its absolute position as the best camera phone you can currently buy with the Huawei P30 Pro. What's surprising here is how far ahead of its competition it's remaining while doing so.
Screen vibration is good for calls but not for music or video.
Where Huawei innovates for its P-series phones in the camera department, it tends to play it very safe with internal components, using the same innards as the previous generation Mate phone. That's precisely the story for the Huawei P30 Pro, which runs on the same combination of Huawei's own Kirin 980 processor and 8GB of RAM as 2018's Huawei Mate 20 Pro did.
Predictably in a benchmark sense, this means it performs almost identically. Here's how it compares using Geekbench 4's CPU test against leading Android handsets:
Predictably, Apple's A12 Fusion is still the best performing in this test against all handsets:
On the 3D front, the Huawei P30 Pro mirrors the Mate 20 Pro, sitting relatively low in the premium phone space. Here's how it compares running 3D Mark Slingshot extreme:
Benchmarks can give us a comparative sense of how a smartphone might operate, but it's in day to day use that you get a more realistic, if somewhat anecdotal sense of actual performance. I have few issues with how the Kirin 980 performs, with most apps opening rapidly and few memory issues to speak of, although that's also a function of Huawei's very aggressive battery management strategies.
However, you're still also looking at Huawei EMUI launcher on top of Android 9, and it's an area where Huawei still has loads of room for improvement. EMUI is messy and inconsistent, and it presumes you'll always be happy to use Huawei's default applications across the board. Switch to other alternatives, and from time to time you'll be pestered to enable one Huawei app or another in your day to day routine.
Android is an open platform, and while Huawei is free to develop its own apps, I wish it would make EMUI more pleasant to use. It's a lesson Samsung learned, with its own "OneUI" launcher a much nicer prospect than the old TouchWiz one. Maybe next year, Huawei?
The P30 Pro features an in-display vibrating speaker, but this is largely only used for call clarity when the phone is up against your ear. It's great for delivering crisp audio in those situations, but less so when watching video or listening to music. Then the bulk of the audio output switches to the single bottom-mounted speaker, which is predictably all too easy to cover with your hand if you're not careful.
The Huawei P30 Pro has 256GB of onboard memory as standard, and while it does support storage expansion, it's only via Huawei's own pricey "nm" card format. I'm loathe to say that 256GB will be enough for absolutely everybody, and the extra cost of nm cards relative to MicroSD cards is a small but definite downside.
4,200mAh battery delivers exceptional battery life.
Battery optimisations are very aggressive.
Fast wired or wireless charging.
Reverse wireless charging is still a gimmick.
The battery recipe for the Huawei P30 Pro is absolutely identical to that of the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, with a 4,200mAh battery packed in behind its display screen. The Huawei Mate 20 Pro was our best performing phone for battery life in 2018, so my hopes were high that Huawei could continue this with the Huawei P30 Pro.
Here's how it compares against other flagship phones with Geekbench 4's battery test:
Looks like we've got a new high water mark for battery performance here, folks.
The Geekbench 4 battery test is deliberately linear, and we don't tend to use our phones that way in real life. In more anecdotal testing, the Huawei P30 Pro is a sheer joy to use, with quite easy 2-day battery life, and the potential for even more if you're a lighter user.
Huawei achieves this exceptional battery life in no short measure because it uses very aggressive battery optimisation techniques. For many apps this isn't an issue, because you may not need continuous use of them, but for others it can be problematic. You have to dive into the power options in settings to allow specific apps, such as email clients and map apps to keep rolling unless you're happy with Huawei closing them on you if you've put your phone down for even a little while. It's an obvious trade-off that works well for the most part.
A 4,200mAh battery capacity is large, but the supplied 40W charger makes very short work indeed of topping up the Huawei P30 Pro's battery. There's something innately satisfying about watching the battery percentage tick up in real time when you plug it in. Huawei also supports 15W wireless charging if cables aren't your preference.
Like the Huawei Mate 20 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S10+, there's also support for "reverse wireless charging" built into the Huawei P30 Pro. That uses the 4,200mAh battery as a power source to charge other Qi-compatible devices such as headphones, other mobiles and even toothbrushes.
It's fairly useless for mobile phones, because the charge speed is so very slow and the inefficiencies of wireless charging mean that you lose a lot more power than you give out. For smaller devices, such as toothbrushes where less power is required there's slightly more of a case for its use, but this is still ultimately a gimmick.
While at first I figured that Huawei was somewhat playing it safe with the Huawei P30 Pro, simply lightly building on top of the already impressive foundations of the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, this isn't the case. Huawei's engineers have clearly worked their magic at a hardware level, delivering top-notch performance, great battery life and of course, that amazing camera array.
It's less of a sure bet on the software side, where Huawei's EMUI continues to lag well behind pure Android or third party efforts such as Samsung's OneUI, but if you can put up with Huawei's software quirkiness, this is easily the best premium smartphone you can buy today.
Huawei P30 Pro: Alternatives
There is nothing right now that can touch the Huawei P30 Pro's camera prowess, although that doesn't mean it doesn't have its challengers.
We're awaiting the formal release in Australia of the Nokia 9 Pureview, which could well give the Huawei P30 Pro a run for its money, given its 5 rear sensor array and potentially very competitive price point.
Until that arrives, you could always consider the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, which has the same processor and battery capacity as the Huawei P30 Pro. The camera's not quite as sharp, but it's still very good, and it's now available at much lower prices given it's no longer the flagship handset. We've gathered up all the best deals for the Huawei Mate 20 Pro here.
Huawei Mate 20 Pro
Huawei's productivity camera phone
The Huawei Mate 20 Pro combines the power of Huawei's own Kirin 980 chip, an exceptional battery and a superb triple camera array.
If EMUI isn't to your taste and you want a great camera, the obvious contender is the Samsung Galaxy S10+. Samsung's OneUI is a lot better than Huawei's effort, although we did find the S10+ a little lacking in battery grunt in our tests.
Buy the Samsung Galaxy S10+ 128GB from Amazon
The Samsung Galaxy S10+ packs a massive 6.4-inch screen with support for HDR10+ and an ultrasonic fingerprint sensor concealed beneath the display. Grab yours now from Amazon Australia.
If what you desire is a more stock Android experience, the Google Pixel 3XL is also worth considering. It uses computational photography rather than a multi-lens approach, but if what you want is the absolute latest in Google's Android OS, there's simply no other competing phone. Again, you can compare local price options right here.
Google Pixel 3 XL
Google's newest big flagship
The Google Pixel 3 XL combines a clean Android interface with the smarts of Google in a handset clearly designed for Android lovers.
Save big on Huawei's deluxe folding phone by pre-ordering through eBay now. Read more…
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