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Revisiting the Huawei P30 Pro

Posted May 24, 2020 | Android | Huawei | Huawei P30 Pro | Mobile | Windows


In a bid to temporarily sidestep the U.S. government’s unfair actions against it, Huawei is re-releasing the P30 Pro, no doubt because this 2019 flagship handset can still ship with the Google apps that it can no longer bundle on its newer devices. I reviewed the P30 Pro last year, and I loved it. But I was ultimately unable to recommend it because of Huawei’s legal uncertainties, which if anything have only gotten worse in recent weeks. But in the spirit of the other recent re-evaluations of my favorite handsets from last year, I decided to give it another shot.

OK, it’s not just that. The thing is, I don’t love the Pixel 4 XL I had been using. And I’ve been seriously rethinking my commitment to Google’s hardware line as other smartphone makers have started to equal or even outperform the Pixel’s photographic capabilities. And on that note, the Huawei P30 Pro still has the single best smartphone-based camera system I’ve ever used.

So let’s start there.

As you may recall, the P30 Pro provides a triple-lens camera system plus a Time of Flight (ToF) sensor that improves the quality of portrait mode. These lenses include a 40 MP wide-angle main lens with an f/1.6 aperture and optical image stabilization (OIS), a 20 MP ultra-wide-angle Lens with an f/2.2 aperture and an 8 MP telephoto lens with 5x optical zoom, an f/3.4 aperture, and OIS. (I don’t use selfie cameras all that much, but the front-facing camera has a single 32 MP lens with an f/2.0 aperture.)

That I’ve turned to the P30 Pro when it really matters over the past year—our vacations, for example, and most of the product shots I take for this site—is telling, and the pictures it takes are stunning. Huawei, like Google, has incredible computational photography expertise, but the P30 Pro is far more overt in its application of AI to improve each photo based on the context. And it does an incredible job.

But if you’re into “fauxtography” and prefer HDR-heavy, over-saturated, Instagram-friendly shots, you can simply override the AI on the fly or turn it off all together. It’s magic either way.

Beyond the camera system, the hardware is exactly what one would expect from a 2019- or 2020-era smartphone: An all-display design with tiny bezels and a tear-drop front camera notch and all-glass over aluminum front and back. It looks great, but it’s also a fingerprint magnet and I don’t trust glass to be durable. So I’ve covered it in a grippy rubbery case I bought last year on Amazon.

The display, too, is perfect, despite being Full HD+ (2340 x 1080) instead of QHD+ or better. At this size—6.47-inches, with a very tall and thin 19.5:9 aspect ratio—Full HD+ seems to be the perfect resolution, and that’s something I’ve observed on other recent handsets, like the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G, which offer higher native resolutions but default to Full HD+ to preserve battery life. Whatever the reason, it’s a gorgeous display.

The P30 Pro offers facial recognition that I don’t trust, but it has an excellent in-display fingerprint reader that is both fast and accurate. You just pick up the phone, place your thumb on the lower middle part of the screen and you’re in. It works great, and it’s just about as good as the version OnePlus uses.

Less great is the software that Huawei shipped on the device. Huawei’s Android launcher, called EMUI, is terrible, and was a major impediment to me using this handset. For my daily use, I wanted a third-party launcher that provides the clean look and feel of the Pixel Launcher or Samsung’s One UI. What I found is Lawnchair, a highly-customizable launcher that looks great and offers the Google feed to the left of the home screens (one of many features that EMUI does not offer).

Some may be worried about security updates, but I can say that Huawei issues monthly security updates for its flagships. The P30 Pro I’m using is now on Android 10 and is up-to-date, security-wise.

One downside is that the P30 Pro inexplicably has only a single mono speaker, so if you like watching videos without using headphones, the sound all comes out of one side like you’re using an iPad. That’s a curious omission on a flagship. And there’s no headphone jack, if that still concerns you. I’ve moved on.

But the biggest problems with the P30 Pro are most likely related to acquiring the device and then getting support if needed, at least if you live in the United States. Looking at Amazon, I can see that a version with 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage—the configuration I’d buy with my own money—is now just $635, down from $889 at launch and hundreds less than any new flagship. And if you hunt around, you’ll find a version with 256 GB of RAM for $679. In either case, of course, the support picture is unclear.

If you can stomach the uncertainty, the Huawei P30 Pro is still one of the best smartphones available today, and it still has one of the very best smartphone camera systems. More personally, it’s the best of the 2019-era smartphones I’ll revisit this year, and it is the handset I’ll use going forward. We’ll see what things look like later in the year when a new generation of flagships arrives. And who knows? We may see a regime change here in the U.S. in November that will end the bizarre unilateral action against Huawei and put the firm’s future handsets in the running too.

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