Hands-On/Analysis: Huawei P30 Pro Will Expand Huawei’s Success Outside the U.S.
Huawei already built some of the best premium smartphones in the world, and the P30 Pro makes astonishing gains in low light and zoom photography. It will not be sold in the U.S. for political reasons, but the P30 should sell well in China and Europe despite a general slowdown in global smartphone sales.
Huawei has two flagship product lines: the P series and Mate. Traditionally, P was more focused on style and photography, but the lines have blurred so much that it is more accurate to think of the P series as Huawei’s spring line and the Mate in the fall. Huawei’s materials and fit and finish are now equal to Apple and Samsung. The newest color gradients on the P30 and P30 Pro add some excitement, but Huawei inexplicably over-indexed on black in the review units it distributes to press and analysts (ours is Breathing Crystal; see photo).
The front of the P30 is all screen with curved glass, minimal bezels, and an extremely small, centralized selfie notch. The under-glass fingerprint reader works quickly and consistently, unlike our experience with Samsung’s Galaxy S10+ (which uses a different, possibly more secure, technology).
The P30’s display is only 1080p, but colors and brightness are good, and consumers are unlikely to notice much difference. Huawei combines the lower resolution screen with a massive 4200 mAh battery (on the P30 Pro) and the Kirin 980 processor to provide exceptional battery life – we have managed two full days of moderate use before needing to recharge. Heavy users will still want to recharge nightly, but can be assured that the phone will make it through the longest day without worry. A 40W fast charger is included in the box; it can also be used to charge many USB-C laptops. The P30 has a smaller screen and relatively large 3650mAh battery; we have not tested this version. Performance on either model should be excellent; this is not the first Kirin 980 we’ve tested, and with ample RAM and fewer pixels to push than the Mate 20 Pro, there is no reason to expect otherwise.
The Kirin 980 does not support 5G, so if that element of future-proofing is important, consumers will have to wait for updated Mate phones later in the year. Realistically, 5G is not part of consumer buying criteria yet, even at this price tier.
Over time, design and performance have become more similar than different among flagship phones, leaving imaging as a key aspect that vendors are using to drive sales. Huawei arguably caught up to rivals with the P20 Pro last year; the P30 and P30 Pro clearly leapfrog everyone on low light photography, and the P30 Pro does the same for zoom. The P30 is the most versatile smartphone camera on the market with at least 3x optical zoom, a macro mode, and an ultra-wide angle lens. Low light photography only seems like a gimmick until you take a picture of a sleeping baby or friends in a dimly lit bar. The P30 Pro’s 10x zoom with fast shutter speeds enables pictures at sporting events, school plays, and concerts.
In our tests, the P30 consistently took superb photos in regular lighting, although it should be noted that the images processing often is more pleasing to the eye than absolutely true to what the scene actually looks like. (Huawei says that its optics partner, Zeiss, played a role here in helping it understand what makes a “good” image.) For example, a photo looking out onto Manhattan office buildings on a dreary day in Manhattan looked drab on the iPhone XS, slightly less dreary on the Galaxy S10+, and quite pleasing on the P30 Pro.
The P30 Pro’s telescope (it fits sideways) 5x optical zoom can gather data from the 40 MP sensor on the regular camera and combine them for nearly lossless 10x zoom. We took a picture of a library two full city blocks away, and while the iPhone and Galaxy could make out forms of people on the steps, the P30 Pro could clearly distinguish what clothing the people were wearing. The zoom also proved useful for taking close-up pictures of the family of deer who have taken up residence in my backyard.
Thanks to a large sensor and unique RYYB sensor, the P30 can effectively see in the dark. Night Mode on Google’s Pixel 3 can turn day into night, but requires guessing at what you’re looking at and the hidden subject must be stationary, as the exposure requires several seconds. The P30 just takes the picture. Huawei has also made progress in portrait mode – thanks to a dedicated ToF (Time of Flight) sensor on the P30 Pro – and huge strides in AI-assisted HDR. I took a photo of a cherry blossom tree while facing the sun: in real life, I couldn’t see much of anything due to the sun’s position. The resulting picture has a bit of lens flare, but otherwise exhibits remarkably balanced exposure, reasonable shadow detail, and sharp details on the flowers.
The P30’s video recording is solid but not groundbreaking; Huawei’s stability control works, but Apple and Samsung maintain slight leads in detail.
Competitive Landscape & Recommendations
Huawei’s ongoing issues with the U.S. security establishment and the Trump administration makes it exceedingly unlikely for Huawei to reenter the U.S. phone market any time soon. However, Huawei sold 16 million P20’s last year, and several million of those came outside of China (30% of Huawei’s European sales were for super-premium devices). The P30 is significant step up, and we expect it to sell well despite a global slowdown in smartphone unit growth. That puts a lot pressure on competitors.
OPPO, Vivo, and Xiaomi all have flagship phones, but appear content to compete in China at lower price points. Xiaomi has been signing up retailers throughout Europe, while Huawei is mainly working through carriers and big box retailers; Xiaomi may be able to leverage its local physical channel presence to claim better service and support, but only if it actually puts better service and support structures in place.
Sony, LG, and HTC are in trouble. Their phones are not competitive with the P30, and their brands and cost structure do not allow them much room to maneuver.
Samsung and Apple dominate the market in North America, but China is extremely important for Apple, and Europe is crucial for both. The P30 and P30 Pro are available at Canadian carriers, and can be purchased from importers in the U.S., but these are not serious competitive threats. Huawei’s growth in Europe is. The good news for Samsung is that it still has a better brand than Huawei in Europe. Samsung wins on a few specs: the Galaxy S10 and Note 9 have better displays than the P30, while offering similar quality imaging in good lighting. There will be a 5G version of the S10, but in the short term consumers may be swayed more by little things like standard microSD cards for storage expansion (Huawei is pushing a proprietary expansion card), and 3.5mm headphone jacks (the P30 has one, the P30 Pro does not). Samsung’s One UI is undeniably a cleaner, simpler Android skin than Huawei’s EMUI, but user experience is not something Samsung can sell its phones on yet. Instead, Samsung should emphasize Knox – especially for consumers – and show how you can set up the Galaxy S10 to take pictures that go to encrypted local storage without ever seeing the cloud.
Apple can emphasize its software user experience and privacy, but the next iPhones still need to compete with Huawei on low light photography and zoom while pushing further ahead in video. Huawei claims that its vertical integration allows it to innovate with things like customized image processors for the RYYB sensor; if anything, Apple’s supply chain is even more vertically integrated. Apple leads in mobile AR, but this has not resonated with consumers; Apple needs to find an app or use case that makes this lead meaningful. Visual differentiation matters when it comes to upgrades in a mature market, especially in China. It is somewhat surprising that Apple has not figured this out, and only its lower priced iPhone XR comes in multiple colors, and even then with none of the flourish of Huawei’s color-shifting options.
Kirin 980 processor, 4G LTE modem
P30: 6.1”/P30 Pro: 6.47” display. Both are 2340 x 1080 OLED panels in 19.5:9 aspect ratio with teardrop notch, 32 MP selfie camera, curved glass, and under-glass fingerprint reader
P30 rear cameras: Leica branded 40 MP RYYB f/1.8 aperture, 16 MP ultra-wide f/2.2 aperture, 8 MP 3x optical zoom f/2.4 aperture.
P30 Pro rear cameras: Leica branded 40 MP RYYB f/1.6 aperture, 20 MP ultra-wide f/2.2 aperture, 8 MP telescope 5x optical zoom f/2.4 aperture, Time of Flight depth sensor.
Colors: Black, White, Amber Sunrise, Breathing Crystal, Aurora
P30 Pricing: 6GB RAM, 128GB storage - €799
P30 Pro Pricing: 8GB RAM, 128GB/256GB/512GB storage - €999/€1,099/€1,249