Huawei and Honor phones haven't typically been one of my top considerations when it comes to choosing a device for myself, and I've never actually owned one before. But, after seeing raving reviews for Huawei phones from fellow reviewer Rich Woods for months, I was interested when the the Honor 30 series was introduced.
Honor sent me the top-tier model, the Honor 30 Pro+, which packs a pretty solid combination of specs. Most appealing to me was the main camera, featuring Huawei's typical RYYB sensor that promises great low-light performance, even without having to specifically enable some kind of night mode.
This is my first time using a Huawei phone for extended periods of time, and my first time with any Android phone without Google services at all, so there were some things I had to get used to. For now, I can say that the experience wasn't as terrible as I expected, but not as good as I would want it to be either.
|CPU||Huawei Kirin 990 5G, dual 2.86GHz Cortex-A76, dual 2.09GHz Cortex-A76, quad 1.86GHz Cortex-A55|
|GPU||16-core Mali-G76 MP16|
|Display||6.57 inches OLED, 2340x1080, 392ppi, 90Hz refresh rate|
|Body||160.32 x 73.6 x 8.38mm, 190g|
|Camera||50MP RYYB main + 16MP ultra-wide + 8MP periscope with 5x optical zoom, Front - 32MP + 8MP ultra-wide|
|Aperture||f/1.9 + f/2.2 + f/3.4, Front - f/2.0 + f/2.2|
|Video capture||4K 60fps, Front - 4K 30fps|
|Colors||Titanium Silver, Midnight Black|
|OS||Magic UI 3.1|
In a smartphone world as crowded as the one we have today, I always appreciate uniqueness when it comes to smartphone design, and Huawei and Honor have been some of the standout examples of unique-looking devices. The Honor 30 Pro+, especially in Midnight Black, is not as eye-catching as some others, but it has a few little details going for it.
Even though I think the Midnight Black is the more boring color option, I still like it. There's a certain sense of depth to the rear panel here, and it's fun to admire how light bounces off of it. What really makes it stand out to me, though, is the camera module, specifically the way it's highlighted with a copper accent all around. It really makes the camera bump feel more intentional and purposeful, like it was always meant to be there so the phone could look as stylish as it does.
Going around the edges of the phone, it has a couple more details that make it stand out in a good way. On the right hand side, you have the volume rocker and the power button, which has a small orange accent to make it easier to identify. I love little details like this that give phones more personality. You can also see that the phone's frame is so thin that Honor actually had to make it slightly thicker around the buttons so they would fit. This adds an extra curve to the phone's design, and again, it makes it more unique.
The left side of the frame has absolutely nothing to speak of, but at the top there's the grill for the earpiece that also doubles as a second stereo speaker and a rare sight - an IR blaster to control devices in your home.
Finally, at the bottom of the phone there's a second speaker grill, a USB Type-C port that allows the phone to charge at 40W, and the SIM card slot. There's not much to say about these things, but I will point out that I quite like the shade of grey on the metal frame, and it fits perfectly with the phone's overall color scheme.
Display and sound
The Honor 30 Pro+ has a 6.57-inch Full HD+ display, and it sports a 90Hz refresh rate for that extra smoothness. In many phones I review that have 1080p displays, one of my big complaints is that a lot of the UI is way too big because the resolution is low and the screen is massive. I know that's not something I should have to deal with, though, and this is one of the (surprisingly) few phones that lets me adjust the display scaling, so it's not a problem at all.
In terms of color, the Honor 30 Pro+ display isn't my favorite. Honor seems to have favored cooler colors quite a bit here, and it can be really noticeable sometimes. In general use, I actually quite liked the display, but it was when I started transferring photos from my phone to my PC that I realized that a lot of the cool tone that the pictures had was because of the display and not the cameras. It can make some colors really pop, but the fact that all of the default wallpapers use colors like blue and green really drives home the point that this display prefers those cooler tones. You can, however, tune the display's warmth to be more to your liking.
The display is also very curved to the sides (which helps explain the thin metal frame I mentioned before), and I find it easy to accidentally touch items on the screen when I try to hold the phone more firmly. Interestingly, I also sometimes have a hard time hitting targets at the edges of the screen, like the backspace button on my keyboard, more so than other phones that also have curved displays like this.
You'll also notice the double punch-hole cutout for the two front-facing cameras. I prefer these cutouts over a traditional style notch in most cases, but I do wish Honor had pushed the cameras here further to the side, or just centered them completely. It wastes a lot more space on the status bar because of the empty space to the left of the cameras, so you won't see as many notification badges at once.
In terms of sound, the Honor 30 Pro+ is pretty good. Dual stereo speakers should be on as many phones as possible, and these get very loud without much distortion from what I can tell. There's not much more to say other than that I have no complaints about them.
The camera setup is a major focus for the Honor 30 Pro+, and like I said at the start, one of the things that made me interested in it in the first place. It has a 50MP camera that's using Huawei's exclusive RYYB sensor - it's actually the same as the main camera on the Huawei P40 Pro. It replaces the typical green sub-pixels in an RGB sensor with yellow ones, and Huawei says it can pull in 48.8% more light thanks to this.
This is especially useful for night time shots, and make no mistake, this camera is incredible when taking pictures at night. It's amazing how much color and detail it can capture in poorly lit environments without the additional processing you expect when using night mode on other phones. It will struggle a bit more if there's both strong highlights and dark shadows in the frame, but there's a night mode here too in the off chance that it can't handle a particular scenario. You'll see that comparison in the first few pairs of pictures below.
That incredible night time performance is only on the main camera, since that's the only one that's RYYB, and the transition from one camera to another is very obvious in low-light environments. You can see that with a few pictures starting in the third row below. For the ultra-wide and telephoto cameras, you'll be relying a lot more on night mode to get good shots at night.
During the day, the camera is pretty good, which is the least you'd expect from a flagship. Even though I mentioned the display was responsible for pictures appearing cooler than they actually were, the camera itself does favor cooler tones, too, and it's usually not as true to life as I would like it to be. It's still pretty good though, to be clear.
As I always love to point out, the ability to transition from an ultra-wide camera all the way to a telephoto lens is very much welcome, and Honor did it right. Using a periscope for the telephoto camera is always a great idea in my book, and the 50x digital zoom on the Honor 30 Pro+ is pretty great. Having a dual-camera setup on the front is also pretty neat, and it provides the same kind of versatility for photos and videos where you also want to be in the frame.
As for video recording, there are some aspects that bug me, like the fact that I can't use the telephoto or ultra-wide cameras on the back to record. I can switch between the two front-facing cameras, though, which makes it even more strange. I also find that recorded video isn't very sharp or clear on the Honor 30 Pro+, and I don't really know why. See these stills from a video recorded with the OPPO Find X2 and Honor 30 Pro+ at the same time, both while recording in 4K:
One thing that I don't like about the camera here is the software. When I was trying to compare the Honor 30 Pro+ to the OPPO Find X2 Pro, I realized that many times, the latter would turn on night mode automatically when it was dark, which gave the Honor phone less of an advantage despite the much better camera hardware. The same goes for HDR, which is hidden behind a "More" menu on the Honor 30 Pro+. I also would have preferred to have the zoom controllers closer to the shutter button, but that's a complaint I could make about a lot of phones.
Performance and battery life
The Honor 30 Pro+ is a flagship phone, and performance here is pretty much what you'd expect from a Kirin 990 5G and 8GB of RAM. It's not as fast as Qualcomm's Snapdragon 865, but it's important to remember that Qualcomm has a different timeframe for chipset refreshes. The Snapdragon 865 was announced in December and started appearing in phones earlier this year, but phones with the Kirin 990 were being announced in September of last year. Also, flagship phones are almost always more than fast enough these days, and I had no issues with performance in any task I wanted to do.
In AnTuTu, it actually scores slightly above other Huawei phones with the Kirin 990, like the P40 Pro, with the biggest advantages being in the memory department, though the GPU also scored higher.
GeekBench 5, which tests the CPU, reiterates that the Kirin 990 isn't quite as fast as the Snapdragon 865, but still an improvement over last year's Snapdragon 855.
Finally, GFXBench tests the GPU alone, and once it again lines up pretty closely with other Kirin 990 devices.
Battery life on the Honor 30 Pro+ is pretty great, and the 4,000mAh battery unit lasts surprisingly long for its size and a big, high-refresh-rate display like this one. Unless I leave YouTube videos playing in the background for hours, it usually gets me two days of battery life, which is something I always find comforting to know. I do think this comes as a result of Huawei's aggressive background task management, though, as notifications always tend to arrive late on this phone compared to my other devices, and some notifications might just not arrive at all. Slack notifications on mobile can be pretty unreliable regardless of what device I use, but I haven't received a single one while reviewing the Honor 30 Pro+.
Software, and Android without Google
Of course, it's impossible to talk about a Huawei or Honor phone without bringing up the current ban imposed on the company. Huawei can't buy Android licenses from Google, so the phone is running a version of Android based on AOSP, without any Google services whatsoever, including the Play Store, or even the ability to restore a backup from Google's cloud. For basic functionality, Huawei provides a lot of alternative apps, so you'll still have a browser, a music player, weather, and its own cloud backup, but you'll be missing out on the much more widely available Google offerings.
As someone who really doesn't intentionally use a lot of Google services, I was kind of excited about this experience. Huawei does offer its own AppGallery, where you can already find a few apps, including personal favorites of mine such as Telegram. If you happen to live in Portugal, I can also say that a few banks and stores already have their apps on the AppGallery, too, so it's not as bad as you might initially think. Plus, Huawei's Phone Clone app makes it really easy to copy almost all of your data from a previous Android phone, so even apps that aren't on the AppGallery can be installed fairly easily. You can also sideload apps from websites like APKMirror, so there are a few workarounds.
But all of that only gets you so far, and even some apps that don't appear to need a Google account rely on Google Mobile Services to work. I was unable to log in to any of my Pokémon-related apps, including both Pokémon GO and Pokémon HOME. Microsoft Authenticator also doesn't let me log in on this phone, so it became a lot harder to access my accounts on that app, and while the Your Phone app can sync some data, a lot of its features require Google services. Of course, I also missed YouTube being a proper app, and I've grown more dependent on Google Assistant than I would have expected to, so there were other challenges, but these don't feel as significant as the ones above. You have to put that in perspective, though, because the vast majority of the apps I use did work or have suitable replacements, so the experience will vary depending on your needs.
Aside from that, there are some things I don't like about Huawei's software. The AppGallery has an annoying tendency to display a 3-second fullscreen ad every time I open it, which is really hard to accept. The phone also doesn't seem to let me change my default launcher, which is especially annoying because the default launcher also doesn't let me add web apps unless I use Huawei's default browser to do so. I do appreciate the fact that Huawei's Music app lets you disable the internet service completely, so you don't have to ever see music for sale cluttering your local library, but you're also not forced to install a separate music app to do so.
The Honor 30 Pro+ was both better than I expected and worse than I hoped. I thought a lot more Android apps would have trouble working, and that I would be upset for not having a Play Store to look for new apps if needed, so having most of them work was actually pretty nice. At the same time, the apps that didn't work made me feel dreadful every time I wanted to use something and remembered it doesn't work.
But if you can look past the limitations of not having Google services, the Honor 30 Pro+ has quite a bit to offer. The night time pictures from this thing are incredible, performance is pretty good, and the phone is just beautiful in general. The display, while I feel it's overly cool out of the box, is still quite nice to look at, and you can always tune the display warmth to your liking. I also think it has pretty good stereo speakers, so consuming media is a nice experience.
The Honor 30 Pro+ is currently only available in China and Russia officially, and the price hovers around €700 in those markets. For that price, you're getting flagship specs, a design that's more interesting than many more expensive phones, and a versatile camera that can give you pretty incredible photos in the dark. If you can live with the software restrictions, or work around them, it's a hard deal to pass up. It's just that personally, I'm not willing to deal with those restrictions.