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Huawei P30 Pro review: A formidable flagship filled with features

It wasn’t too long ago that you’d have been laughed out of the shops if you asked for a phone with four cameras but now, well, a smartphone fitted with multiple camera arrangements is as common as a primary school child doing the floss dance. Or a cucumber sandwich in the home of a Brexit voter.

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The Huawei P30 Pro seeks to strengthen this multiple-camera trend. Following the launch of the excellent P20 Pro last year, which introduced the triple camera setup to smartphones for the first time, its successor aims to improve the photography experience still further.

Huawei P30 Pro review: What you need to know

You might think Huawei only just released a flagship phone. Yes, yes it did, but the latest P-series of phones has arrived a mere six months after the Mate 20 Pro, complementing the Mate range with a handful of neat extras. It’s a bit like how Samsung maintains two families of flagship phones: the Galaxy Note and Galaxy S ranges.

As with Samsung’s pair of flagship offerings, its innards remain pretty much identical. The Mate 20 Pro and P30 Pro are both powered by Huawei’s own Kirin 980 mobile processor, which is a 7nm architecture CPU clocked at 2.6GHz and a pretty solid rival to Qualcomm’s more widely-used Snapdragon 855 chipset. This is complemented by 8GB of RAM and a choice of 128GB or 512GB of expandable storage.

Otherwise, you’re looking at a slightly bigger 6.47in OLED screen, with a resolution of 2,340 x 1,080, and a 4,200mAh battery. It’s also running the latest version of Android (Android 9.0 Pie). What’s particularly special about the P30 Pro, however, is its intriguing quadruple camera array.

Huawei P30 Pro review: Price and competition

That all sounds mightily impressive, and there’s no doubt that the P30 Pro represents the very pinnacle of flagship achievements. Of course, with it being this good (on paper at least), Huawei’s latest P-series flagship fetches a rather high starting price of £899. That’s for the 128GB model, by the way, and you’ll have to fork out an extra £200 for the 512GB variant, bringing the total SIM-free cost to £1,099.

At face value, this puts the P30 Pro right up against its key rival, Samsung’s recently-launched – and frankly outstanding – Galaxy S10 Plus, which also starts at £899. Of course, this is a fight that will be hard fought as we dig a little deeper into this review, but for this month the P30 Pro is also contending with Apple’s iPhone Xs Max, starting at £1,099. Meanwhile, the Xiaomi Mi 9 offers a flagship-like experience at half the price.

Huawei P30 Pro review: Design and key features

As for everything other than the cameras, the Huawei P30 Pro is a continuation of what made last year’s phone so great in the first place. It’s achingly attractive, sandwiched between layers of softly curvaceous glass on the front and rear, and comes in some enticing, jewellery shop colours. The most eye-catching is the iridescent Breathing Crystal colour, which fades from deep purple to a light blue across the rear panel, depending on how the phone catches the light. There’s also a regular black variant for those who don’t get on with such gaudy ostentation.

As you’d expect of a modern flagship, the Huawei P30 Pro is nice and thin, packing a large 6.47in screen into a comparatively compact chassis. Better still, the P30 Pro’s display delivers a slightly more stretched out long-tall aspect ratio of 19.5:9.

Of course, the arrival of this elongated aspect ratio comes the return of the notch. However, this time around it isn’t an iPhone-like affair; instead, the 32-megapixel selfie camera is embedded in a not-so-obtrusive circular teardrop notch.

I suppose at this point you’re wondering where the front-mounted earpiece speaker went to. Well, you won’t find such a thing on the P30 Pro this year. Instead, it has been replaced with a new feature Huawei calls “electro-magnetic levitation”. Basically, this is a fancy way of saying the phone’s screen vibrates to create sound when pressed against your ear. I’m not sure where the levitation comes into it or even if it’s necessary, but it does clean the look of the phone up a bit.

Odd features aside, the Huawei P30 Pro is the firm’s most attractive, well-designed smartphone to date. I even think it looks better than the recently-launched Galaxy S10 Plus, which takes some doing.

It covers most of the bases elsewhere, too. There’s a large 4,200mAh capacity battery keeping things ticking along, which supports 40W charging (and reverse wireless charging as with the Mate 20 Pro). The phone is also IP68-rated dust and water-resistant once again. Of course, the 3.5mm headphone jack seems lost forever, but slightly more worrisome is the lack of microSD expansion.

Instead, the P30 Pro, like the Mate 20-series of phones before it, only supports Huawei’s nano memory cards. These are physically smaller but more expensive than their micro-sized equivalents, and so make almost no sense whatsoever. Still, with at least 128GB of internal storage you probably won’t need one anyway.

Huawei P30 Pro review: Display

Measuring 6.47in across the diagonal, the P30 Pro’s screen is slightly larger than the 6.1in display of the regular P30. Its specifications remain the same, as the P30 Pro uses an AMOLED panel yet again and the resolution is 2,340 x 1,080. You might think this is a bit of a downgrade on the 1,440p display offered by the Mate 20 Pro, but this lower-resolution screen has the added benefit of prolonged battery life, which I’ll discuss in further detail later on.

Display quality is pretty good, too. In the phone’s “Normal” display profile, the P30 Pro’s screen is reasonably colour accurate, able to reproduce 95.7% of the sRGB colour gamut with a total volume of 109%. An average Delta E of 2.53 isn’t perfect, though and there are a couple of notable issues, particularly with oversaturated red and dark blue colour tones.

Still, the P30 Pro’s screen is capable of reaching a peak luminance of 854cd/m2 in the phone’s auto-brightness mode and, with this being an OLED panel, colour contrast is effectively perfect.

Huawei P30 Pro review: Performance and battery life

As expected, the phone uses the firm’s own Kirin 980 mobile chipset, which is built using a 7nm fabrication process. This 2.6GHz octa-core processor first featured in last year’s Mate 20 Pro and is more power efficient than older chips built on 10nm or larger. In theory, the smaller fabrication process means more power for the same size chip and better battery life, too, which is certainly something we noticed with the Mate 20 Pro.

In technical testing, the P30 Pro’s performance benchmark results are equally as rapid. In the Geekbench 4 single-and multi-core tests, the P30 Pro produced near-identical scores to the regular P30 and last year’s P20 Pro. Gaming performance is just as good too, with the P30 Pro reaching a practically perfect average frame rate of 59fps in the GFXBench GL Manhattan 3.0 on-screen GPU benchmark.

The phone’s overall battery life has seen a rather significant improvement, too. Our in-house video rundown test shows that the P30 Pro’s stamina is roughly 39% longer than its predecessor, reaching a staggering total of 21hrs 22mins before its 4,300mAh capacity battery was depleted. You shouldn’t have too many problems trying to squeeze out almost two day’s use on a single charge.

Huawei P30 Pro review: So many cameras

Of course, the Huawei P30 Pro’s star feature isn’t the processor, its battery life or even the swish design, but the quadruple Leica camera array I mentioned at the beginning of this article. Before I get into the specifics of how this all works, let me first run you through the specifications of each camera and why each one is important.

The primary snapper is an optically-stabilised 40-megapixel unit with a wide aperture of f/1.6. What’s particularly special here is that, rather than using an RGB Bayer filter on top of the sensor to capture in full colour, this camera employs the less commonly used RYB filter, replacing the green elements of the filter with yellow.

Huawei calls this “SuperSpectrum” imaging and what it means is the camera is more capable of capturing a broader spectrum of light. Huawei says the P30 Pro should be better-equipped for low-light environments as a result.

This approach does have some potential drawbacks, however. A 2016 study by the Society for Imaging Science and Technology suggests that, while an RYB-based sensor can capture a broader spectrum of light, it may also be more susceptible to chroma flare and noise. This isn’t something I’ve noticed after giving it a proper stress test, though, but I’ll report back if I run into any problems further down the line.

The main camera is accompanied by a new 20-megapixel ultra-wide sensor, which shoots at a slightly wider angle than before, allowing you to capture even more dramatic vistas than with the Mate 20 Pro.

Third, the Huawei P30 Pro has seen an upgrade to its camera zoom capabilities. This time around you’ll find an 8-megapixel, f/3.4 unit with up to 5x optical zoom – a big upgrade on last year’s 3x zoom. Huawei has achieved this by using a periscope-style housing, tilting the camera on its side and capturing the image via a tiny mirror. This is why, if you look closely enough, this third camera is square in appearance, not circular.

The “fourth” camera is actually a ToF (Time of Flight) sensor, like the one found on the rear of the Oppo RX17 Pro. This consists of two parts: an emitter that sends out beams of infrared light, and a receiver that monitors how quickly the light is reflected back to the sensor. Essentially, it’s a more precise method of measuring depth than the usual stereoscopic technique utilised by most smartphones today. Think how a bat uses sonar to bounce noise from an object to determine its distance and you get the right idea.

But what does this new ToF sensor actually add to the P30 Pro’s camera capabilities? Well, you won’t see many benefits with still photography or even video footage for that matter right now, although, in theory, it should enable more precisely cut out portrait images. What Huawei aims to do with it is to improve the phone’s AR (augmented reality) measurement features, meaning you should be able to measure distances, volumes and area to an increased 98% accuracy.

I say “aims” because these features won’t be available at launch. Instead, Huawei says, they’ll be enabled in a future software update.

As for video, the P30 Pro is capable of recording at maximum 4K resolution at 30fps but you’re still only able to record at a silky-smooth 60fps if you drop the resolution to 1080p. As with the Mate 20 Pro, both OIS and EIS are enabled by default in video for super-stable looking shots (Huawei calls this AIS). Slightly less useful and a lot more gimmicky is the addition of a new, “dual-view” video recording mode, which allows you to capture footage using any two of the phone’s rear cameras simultaneously.

Huawei P30 Pro review: Camera quality and software

Image quality is every bit as good as it was with the Mate 20 Pro, if not better in some instances. In both good light and poor, the P30 Pro is capable of capturing truly exceptional pictures, filled to the brim with oodles of detail and bright, vibrant colours that appear to pop right out of the screen.

Although there’s a slightly noticeable delay when switching between cameras, the multiple shooting modes all work very well. The 5x zoom, for instance, is ideal for creeping into the background of an image, capturing some lovely-looking images of timid squirrels hiding at the top of trees, or Paris’ most recognisable landmark sitting at the opposite end of the city.

The same can’t be said about Huawei’s fiddly camera app. It’s overly-complex and can be an incredibly convoluted and confusing experience, even for veteran photographers. If you want to access the wide-angle and zoom shooting modes, for instance, you have to switch from the phone’s maximum 40-megapixel shooting resolution to 10-megapixels and tediously cycle through each mode. There’s nothing in the camera software that tells you this beforehand.

Huawei P30 Pro review: Verdict

It might not look like much has changed on the surface but dig a little deeper and you’ll find a smorgasbord of big changes that go a long way towards justifying that sky-high price. There’s an awful lot of substance to Huawei’s new P30 Pro and, while time will tell whether its quadruple camera array has the same long-lasting appeal as its predecessor, the P30 Pro’s wide-ranging photographic capabilities are simply the icing on the cake of perhaps the most well-rounded flagship to date.

Sure, its rivals are plentiful – and in some cases do things slightly better in key areas – but Huawei’s elegant P30 Pro represents the very pinnacle of technological innovation. I certainly don’t think anything – past, present, or possibly future – can top this anytime soon.

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