This review is late. And fortunately so.
In the month or so since Huawei launched the P30 Pro, the company has received rave reviews about the phone, run into (already ongoing) trouble with the US government, and lost favour from companies like Google, Intel, Xilinx, Qualcomm and many more. A review of the Huawei P30 Pro today has to be slightly different from others you’ve read so far.
What remains the same though, is that this is still an incredibly fast phone, it has Android 9 Pie (for the time being) and has a camera to die for. What it doesn’t have right now, is the consumer’s confidence. But let’s talk about the camera before we get to that.
Sensors, periscopes and time of flight
Huawei threw the kitchen sink at this camera. It has a periscope zoom, likely because you can’t really fit a conventional 5x optical zoom lens onto a phone. There’s also a time of flight sensor below the phone’s flash, which collects depth data. We could go into the details of these technologies, but will really achieve nothing.
What’s important is that the four camera sensors on this phone all work, and work well. The 40MP primary sensor will take incredible photos, the wide angle camera will do what it’s supposed to, the telephoto (5x optical zoom) will get you closer to subjects, and with a bit of software trickery, go beyond the 5x zoom it’s capable of. You get the drift.
But there’s an element of artificial intelligence involved here, meaning as much as this camera is about the hardware, it depends quite a bit on software. Imagine a Google Pixel 3 camera on steroids, the steroids being a whole host of sensors.
The problem though is that as good as Huawei’s work here is, there’s a thick layer of marketing jargon that masks its shortcomings. Let’s be clear, this is a GREAT camera, and it’s better than the Pixel 3 in many cases. But having had enough time with this, you see some cracks.
For instance, the time of flight sensor doesn’t really add anything to the bokehs this phone creates. They’re as good as any other smartphone in the same segment can do, and in fact a little overdone at times, much like the Pixel 3.
Similarly, Huawei talked at length about how this phone can do a “50x zoom" to click the moon. And it can. That though, doesn’t mean it’s the end all and be all of zooming on smartphones. 5X is great. We’re not sure where you’ll use it, but hey, you have it. And when you try to zoom in further, you will see the camera shake, a problem no one has been able to solve.
Furthermore, while the shots of the moon do look good, it doesn’t mean you will get the same quality everywhere. It seems Huawei taught its camera algorithm just what the moon looks like, so it gets those photos spot on. But try to shoot a regular high-zoom photo and you will see the camera stumped.
To be clear, the 5x optical zoom still works, and it’s better than any other phone. It’s just not perfect, yet. Good work, Huawei!
The P30 Pro proves two things beyond the shadow of a doubt -- one, that periscope lenses could truly revolutionise zooming on smartphone cameras, and two, that Huawei is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to phone cameras. With the number of features the four sensors and camera algorithms provide, this is the best phone camera today. Buck up, Google.
The bit about confidence
Unfortunately, the P30 Pro will take a beating because of Huawei’s battle with the US. Many reviews have already been updated to mention that the company lost its Android license, and that its phones’ future is unclear.
Huawei has registered a new operating system in China already, called Hongmeng, which is all the more worrying. For one, it means the company was ready for such a catastrophe but carried on anyway. But more importantly, even if it does have its own operating system, can you name the last vendor who was able to beat Google and Microsoft in the operating system market?
Given that EMUI (Huawei’s phone software) has often taken criticism from users and reviewers, it’s hard to see why this will be the first company to succeed.
Moreover, it’s unclear how dependent Huawei is on Android software at the moment. Does the camera app (which is the heart of this camera) take from Android’s own camera software as well? While that’s unlikely, it will be interesting to see how Hongmeng works without other Google services, and especially the Play Store.
Should you buy it?
If it wasn’t for the uncertainty the company is facing, the answer would be a firm yes. The Huawei P30 Pro is not the perfect smartphone, but it’s close. It has a modern design, a crisp display, it’s more than fast enough and has the best camera a phone can have today.
Even if the 2019 variant of the Pixel outperforms this phone’s camera, it’s unlikely that the difference will be much. If you don’t mind Huawei’s software, aren’t worried about the uncertainty about its future, and have the money, buy it.