Huawei raises stakes in camera wars with P30 Pro: review

Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 03 2019 10:38 AM | Updated as of Apr 04 2019 08:55 AM

PARIS/FRANKFURT -- Huawei's "breathing crystal" paint job for the P30 Pro shifts from pearl white to powder blue and purple, a dainty counterpoint to its monstrous camera package that the Chinese giant hopes will convert more Apple and Samsung loyalists.

The camera module, co-engineered with Leica, is bigger and more pronounced compared to its predecessor, the P20 Pro, and each sensor serves a specific function: zoom, low light, wide angle and depth sensing.

Based on hardware alone, it exceeds the triple rear cameras on the Samsung Galaxy S10 and S10+ and the two cameras on the iPhone XS and XS Max.

But mobile photography is more than just hardware. Google's Pixel phones take excellent photos with just one lens, relying on artificial intelligence.

Huawei is positioning the P30 Pro as the ultimate smartphone for photography, with AI processing to match its quad camera array. Powered by its own Kirin 980 chip, the P30 Pro can zoom digitally up to 50 times and automatically adjusts settings to match the scene.

Does the P30 Pro have the right mix of hardware and software? We used Huawei's latest flagship for a week to find out.

CAMERA MONSTER

Huawei consumer business group CEO Richard Yu said 50 times zoom will allow users to capture details of the moon's surface.

While we did not get the chance to shoot a full moon for this review, we did test the zoom on the Eiffel Tower at night. At 10 times zoom, details of the metal beams were still visible.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris is shown in this standard photo taken with the Huawei P30 Pro. ABS-CBN News
The Eiffel Tower in Paris is shown in this photo taken with the Huawei P30 Pro. at 10 times zoom. ABS-CBN News

The zoom function retains sharper detail in daylight shots, like this one of the Frankfurt old opera house in Germany.

A standard shot of the old Frankfurt Opera House is shown in this photo taken with Huawei's P30 Pro. ABS-CBN News
A SHOT of the old Frankfurt Opera House with 10 times zoom is shown in this photo taken with Huawei's P30 Pro. ABS-CBN News

In Mandaluyong City at night, 50 times zoom captured details of building signs, even those that were hidden in darkness.

A wide shot of the Mandaluyong cityscape. ABS-CBN News
A shot of the Mandaluyong cityscape at 10 times zoom. ABS-CBN News
A shot of the Mandaluyong cityscape at 50 times zoom. ABS-CBN News

The P30 Pro has a fourth TOF or time of flight lens that allows for better blur or bokeh compared to previous models.

A close up shot of a flower at a garden in Frankfurt, Germany, with a blurred background is shown in this photo taken with Huawei's P30 Pro. ABS-CBN News

The AI-assisted scene detection increased the contrast and deepened the pink hues of the flowers in the shot below.

A tree filled with flowers at a garden in Frankfurt, Germany is shown in this photo taken with Huawei's P30 Pro. ABS-CBN News

The wide-angle lens, first introduced in the Mate 20 series from late 2018, makes shots of the sky and bodies of water look more dramatic

A wide shot of a waterway in Wetzlar, Germany is shown in this photo taken with Huawei's P30 Pro. ABS-CBN News
A wide shot of Leica headquarters in Wetzlar, Germany at dawn is shown in this photo taken with Huawei's P30 Pro. ABS-CBN News

The wide angle lens also allows users to capture more of a scene, like in this crowded city square in Frankfurt's old quarter.

A standard shot of Frankfurt's old quarter is seen in this photo taken with the Huawei P30 Pro. ABS-CBN News
A WIDE shot of Frankfurt's old quarter is seen in this photo taken with the Huawei P30 Pro. ABS-CBN News

Video is less shaky on the P30 Pro compared to the P20 Pro, like in this shot around Montmarte in Paris. We also took a time lapse of the sunrise over Leica headquarters in Wetzlar, Germany.

Watch more in iWant or TFC.tv
Watch more in iWant or TFC.tv

SOLID PERFORMER

The P30 Pro's other killer feature is its battery. At 4,200 mAh, it's slightly bigger than the 4,100 mAh cell powering the Galaxy S10+ and matches Huawei's own Mate 20 Pro.

The P30 Pro can also charge at 40 watts, the fastest for any Huawei device. From its back, it can reverse-charge other phones and accessories.

From 100 percent at around 6:30 a.m., the P30 Pro was at half charge late into the night, at around 9 p.m., after a full day of answering chats, emails, internet browsing, video streaming and photography.

It's as impressive on standby. Unplugged at full charge before sleeping, it was at 98 to 100 percent by the time the alarm came on at 5 a.m.

The in-display fingerprint scanner is among the fastest we've tested and works even with slightly damp fingers and minimum pressure.

Huawei's EMUI 9 skin over Android 9 Pie has been lag-free so far, powered by the Kirin 980, as expected of flagship phones.

The P30 Pro has an "always on" display, but with limited notification support. A proper "always on" display will eliminate the need to turn on the screen to check notifications since the phone also lacks an LED notification light.

HARDWARE ADJUSTMENTS

It's a pity that with a fantastic camera, Huawei stuck with a Full HD 2,340 x 1,080 screen for the P30 Pro, when Apple and Samsung flagships have 2K displays.

The P30 Pro's screen is bright and sharp and the Full HD resolution saves battery, but placed next to 2K panels, the difference is noticeable. A 2K option on a Huawei phone is the Mate 20 Pro, but it has 3 cameras instead of 4.

The phone vibrates to produce sound in place of a speaker at the top of the display. Finding our Grab driver in the noisy arrivals area of NAIA 3, we wished it were louder.

We recommend drilling down the settings to disable pressing the power button to call out the Google Assistant. For a while, we thought our review unit was broken. A three-second press turns the phone on and off while a shorter press summons the Assistant.

The P30 Pro is the burliest Huawei phone yet, solidly built and with a reassuring heft. The metal frame on the curved screen also feels thicker.

CONCLUSION

Huawei's P30 Pro is easily the most feature-packed smartphone in terms of camera hardware and smarts. On the fourth year of its partnership with Leica, the Chinese giant again aims to set the bar in mobile photography with much success.

Battery life is also top notch. Huawei is clearly responding to a consumer pain point on phones that barely last a day. The P30 Pro can easily last 2 days with moderate to heavy use.

But the hardware compromises could turn off some, who need a higher resolution screen for media consumption or a standard headphone jack for their peripherals.

The P30 Pro is also Huawei's priciest phone to date, starting at P50,990. However, it's still less expensive compared to the Galaxy S10+ and the iPhone XS Max, even the "budget" iPhone XR with 128GB of storage.

If you're looking for the best cameras on a smartphone and are willing to fork out Huawei's asking price, the P30 Pro is a compelling choice.

Watch more in iWant or TFC.tv