Review

Huawei P30 review: Possibly the best all-around phone on the market

If you're a smartphone camera enthusiast, Huawei's P30 Pro has probably caught your eye by now. When I wrote the review, I said it has the best smartphone camera on the market, and I was amazed that Huawei was able to improve on the already stellar P20 Pro.

But as always, the non-Pro model tends to be overlooked. This is natural, since the Pro casts such a tall shadow over it. I'm always impressed with the non-Pro model though, and the P30 exceeded my expectations.

While the P30 camera isn't quite up to par with the P30 Pro, it's still better than any other smartphone camera out there. And as far as just being a phone, I actually like it better than the P30 Pro. It doesn't have the curved edges on the sides of the screen, and Huawei finally gave it the OLED treatment.

Specs

CPU HiSilicon Kirin 980, dual 2.6GHz Cortex-A76, dual 1.92GHz Cortex-A76, quad 1.8GHz Cortex-A55
GPU Mali-G76 MP10
Display 6.1 inches, 1080x2340, 422ppi, 19.5:9, OLED
Body 149.1x71.4x7.6mm (5.87x2.81x0.30in), 165g (5.82oz)
Camera 40MP + 16MP + 8MP, Front - 32MP
Aperture f/1.8 + f/2.2 + f/2.4, Front - f/2.0
Video 4K - 30fps, 1080p - 60fps, Front - 1080p - 30fps
Camera features SuperSpectrum main sensor, wide-angle sensor, 3x zoom lens, 5x hybrid zoom, PDAF, laser AF, OIS, Leica-certified, dual-tone flash
RAM 6GB
Storage 128GB
Battery 3650mAh
Price €799


There should also be models with 8GB RAM and 64GB, 128GB, and 256GB of storage, but this is the one that Huawei gave me to review.

Day one

Design

Huawei thinks that people don't want phones that look boring. I tend to agree. I'm tired of seeing yet another black phone. Last year with the P20, it introduced the Twilight color, a blend of baby blue and purple. This year's P30 comes in a range of new colors, including Aurora, Amber Sunrise, and Breathing Crystal.

When asked why there's no Twilight this time around, the answer was simple. The company did it, everyone copied it, and now it's time to do something new. There are also options for Pearl White and Black, if you like boring things.

Just like pretty much any flagship device these days, the P30 is a glass sandwich. Unfortunately, there's no wireless charging in the non-Pro model, which always disappoints me. Glass is breakable, so if you drop this thing, you're not just harming the display. If you're switching to a glass back to make it prettier, and there are no functional benefits, it shouldn't be done.

The top-left of the back of the phone is where you'll find the rear camera module. Just like with the Pro, there are three lenses, although there's no TOF sensor. The dual-tone flash is placed beneath the module, rather than to the right of it. The third lens isn't the same periscope zoom lens as on the Pro, so you don't get that funky-looking square lens.

One thing that's particularly nice about the P30 is that it keeps its headphone jack. On the bottom of the device, there's the 3.5mm combo audio jack, a USB Type-C port, and a speaker grille. As always, I'm a big fan of all of these things being on the same side of the device.

On the right side, there's a volume rocker and the power button. On the left, there's a slot for dual nano-SIM cards.

Another thing that I want to note about the design is that on the front of the device, there's an speaker above the display. Yes, this is common in almost all smartphones, but the P30 Pro doesn't have one. The Pro actually pushes sound through the glass.

Display

The Huawei P30 uses a 6.1-inch, 1080p, 19.5:9 OLED display, with a teardrop notch. The phone is pretty small compared to others on the market, and that's one of the reasons I love it. It's just comfortable to hold and to carry.

Of course, 6.1 inches doesn't mean what it used to. Screens are measured diagonally, so back in the days of 16:9 devices, 6.1 inches was massive. Now that phones have longer aspect ratios, 6.1 inches has a smaller surface area than it used to.

The screen is OLED, which is nice. For the past couple of years, Huawei has been putting OLED in the Pro model and using LCD panels for the non-Pro. The biggest benefit to OLED displays is that pixels can be turned off, which provides true black. Colors rendered on top of that tend to be more vibrant, as opposed to looking washed out on top of an already-backlit LCD.

This also means that Huawei included an always-on display option with the P30, as it only offers this in OLED displays. Naturally, this means that you can see the time, date, battery status, weather, and more when the device is locked.

Huawei also put a fingerprint sensor in the display. When the firm introduced the in-display fingerprint reader with the Mate 20 Pro, the Mate 20 still kept its fingerprint sensor on the back. It's nice to see this feature brought down to the non-Pro line.

One thing that's weird, and it's probably a bug, is that the fingerprint sensor indicator constantly flashes on the always-on display, even at night when the always-on display is set to be turned off.

The fingerprint sensor does work pretty well though, and that's a bit surprising. Previous in-display fingerprint sensors haven't been very good, and it's good to see the technology improving. Placing my finger accurately without looking is still a minor issue though, as there's no longer any physical indicator as to where the sensor is actually located.

One other thing I want to point out is that the display is flat, rather than having the curved sides that the P30 Pro has. I like this much better. Phones with curved edges can be hard to use, especially with one hand. It's too easy to accidentally be touching the screen while holding it.

Camera

I'd love to tell you that the camera is nothing to write home about and that Huawei put everything into the P30 Pro, but that would simply be untrue. The main sensor is a Leica-certified 40-megapixel SuperSpectrum lens. Rather than using traditional RGB, the company swapped out green pixels for yellow, allowing in 40% more light.

The aperture on the main sensor is a bit smaller on the P30 compared to the Pro, at f/1.8 instead of f/1.6. While that means low-light performance isn't quite as good, it still smokes the competition, as long as that competition isn't the P30 Pro.

iPhone Xs Max P30 P30 Pro


All of the above images were taken in my hotel room in Paris, at night, with the lights off. I keep using these samples because it's the perfect example of the low-light capabilities of both of these phones, and how it stands up to the competition. It's one thing to see this type of stuff demoed at an event, and it's another thing to see how easy it is to do in-person.

Here are some samples from the main camera.

Ultimately, the camera is awesome, and you can't argue what it can do in low-light settings. But there are two more sensors on here, one for ultrawide shots and one with 3x zoom.

So let's talk a bit about zoom. In a camera, zoom works by moving two lenses further apart or closer together. In a smartphone camera, there's just not enough room for that, so OEMs have come up with multiple solutions.

Single-lens cameras use digital zoom, which is pretty much just cropping the image. A smartphone camera can see a certain field of view, and that field of view has a certain amount of pixels. If you want to see half as much, you cut out half of the pixels, and thus half of the quality. The more you zoom in, the more quality you lose. Back in the days of the Nokia Lumia 1020, one solution was to build a 41-megapixel lens. With a high enough resolution, you can chop out more of the image without noticeably losing quality.

Another solution is to build a second lens that simply sees less. Apple and Samsung have 2x zoom lenses in their phones for just this purpose. Huawei introduced a 3x zoom lens last year with the P20 Pro, and that's also what's used in the P30. Combined with the high-resolution main sensor, Huawei promises 5x hybrid zoom.

The Camera app lets you zoom in all the way up to 30x, not that you'd really want to.

Finally, one thing I played around with a lot was portrait mode and aperture mode. They achieve the same effect, although they work differently. What you need to know is that portrait mode is for taking pictures of people, while aperture mode is for everything else.

One of the reasons I spent a lot of time with this was because I wanted to compare it to the P30 Pro, which has a time-of-flight sensor. What that does is that it sends out light, and it records how long it takes for the light to return. It's better at recording depth.

You can see from the aperture shots that you can adjust the aperture, and therefore the amount of blur in the background. To be honest, aperture mode is always one of my favorite features on Huawei cameras.

I'd call particular attention to the singer on the boat though, where the images came out pretty blurry. Take another look, this time when compared with the P30 Pro.

P30 P30 Pro


Clearly, the P30 Pro is the winner between the two devices, but it's also clear that the P30 is a magnificent smartphone camera. I think that for the vast majority of users, you're not making a meaningful sacrifice by getting the P30 instead of the P30 Pro, and you might appreciate some of the other benefits of the device more.

Performance

I say this a lot, and I'll say it again, but as far as performance goes, you're good. Any modern flagship phone has all of the performance that you need. Obviously, no developer is targeting higher-end specs than the top-end chipset.

There's one big flaw though, which is that the Kirin 980 doesn't support 4K 60fps video capture, something that other companies have been doing for about a year and a half now. Apple was the first to do it with the iPhone 8/8 Plus/X, and then Qualcomm enabled the feature with the Snapdragon 845, so Samsung followed suit with the Galaxy S9/S9 Plus. Now, it seems like every flagship phone can do 4K 60fps video capture except those made by Huawei, and that's a real disappointment given the camera focus.

But other than that, you're good, as is the case with any flagship phone. As far as battery life goes, I had no trouble getting through the day. While there's no wireless charging, it does support Huawei's SuperCharge. It's not 40W SuperCharge like the P30 Pro; the charger that it ships with is 22.5W, and it's still really fast. If you're low on juice, you can plug it in for a half hour and you'll be good to go.

For benchmarks, I used Geekbench 4, AnTuTu, and GFXBench. Geekbench 4 provides a CPU test.

You can compare this to the iPhone Xs Max's single-core score of 4,798 and multi-core score of 10,731, and the Galaxy S10+'s single-core score of 3,520 and multi-core score of 11,177. It's worth noting that Qualcomm's new chips show up in new handsets in the spring, while Huawei and Apple refresh in the fall. That's why Qualcomm was able to jump ahead by a bit.

Next up is AnTuTu, which has an all-in-one test.

This can be compared to the iPhone's score of 312,678 and Samsung's score of 357,611. Finally, GFXBench tests the GPU.

Conclusion

The Huawei P30 is one of my favorite devices that I've used. In fact, with the exception of the camera, I'd take it any day over the P30 Pro. I love the size, the form factor, the fact that the display is actually flat, and more.

The biggest downsides to me are the things that the Pro does have, such as wireless charging. Also, that time-of-flight sensor does make a real difference for portrait mode.

As far as the camera goes, it's the second best on the market, so it's tough to complain, other than about the lack of 4K 60fps video capture. But if you want a great camera and the best overall experience, the P30 is the way to go.

 

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