P30 Pro: Huawei's camera options give it the edge – again

by Peter Griffin / 30 March, 2019
RelatedArticlesModule - P30 pro huawei

Huawei P30 Pro.

A year ago the Android smartphone market finally got some real competition when Huawei’s P20 Pro arrived to taken on Samsung’s hugely popular Galaxy S9+.

Huawei had produced many credible phones previously, but the P20 Pro was in a different class altogether.

That was chiefly down to the phone’s incredible camera features, including a stunning night mode setting that produced some of the best results until then achieved on a smartphone. Borrowing design cues from its high-end rivals, but priced at $200 less than most of them, the P20 Pro became a massive seller and put Huawei on the map here thanks to some aggressive marketing.

A year is a long time in the mobile world and we’ve seen the Apple iPhone XS and Samsung S10+ lift the bar again with improved processor performance and screen quality, security features and camera functions.

So how does Huawei’s P30 Pro do its predecessor proud? Yes, by sticking to the same successful formula, with enhanced camera features than cement the P series phones as an ideal option for photographers looking for a high quality alternative to a compact digital camera.

Camera close-up

Huawei again offers four cameras - a Leica system that has been upgraded to include a 40MP (mega pixel) camera on the rear along with a 20MP ultra-wide angle camera and a 8MP telephoto camera. The P20 Pro’s monochrome lens has been dropped.

There’s also a “time of flight” camera, a relatively new technology that uses a infra-red beam to measure the distance between the camera lens and objects in front of it.

That depth mapping capability is great for features ranging from 3D photography to augmented reality. It’s most obvious benefit on the P30 Pro is allowing a more impressive ‘bokeh’ effect in photos - that stylish background blur that is the hallmark of professional photographs. A front-facing 32 mega-pixel camera completes the set-up.

The sensor behind the 40MP camera, SuperSpectrum, has been completely redesigned using a new light filtering system that replaces green pixels with yellow pixels. It results in an incredibly high ISO (image sensor sensitivity) rating of up to 409,600. That blows every other camera phone out of the water, including the P20 Pro, which itself had a still-impressive maximum ISO of 102,400.

Night vision: Wellington's Pukeahu National War Memorial Park shot on the P30 Pro (normal mode) and night mode (right). Photo/Peter Griffin

Night vision: Wellington's Pukeahu National War Memorial Park shot on the P30 Pro (night mode) and normal mode (right). Photo/Peter Griffin

It means that more light reaches the sensor to produce higher quality and more detailed photos. That’s particularly true when using the P30 Pro in low light situations or at night. Night mode, which takes a few seconds to assemble a properly exposed photo, continues to be the P-series stand out feature.

The results are atmospheric but properly lit each time. Night mode can be susceptible to slight blur from camera shake, but that has been reduced significantly with the P30 Pro. Optical image stabilization and an artificial intelligence equivalent improve performance on that front across the board.

The ultra-wide angle lens, as with the Samsung S10+, gives a great viewing angle for getting more into the shot. But more novel is the upgraded telephoto lens, which periscopes into the phone in its square housing. This has allowed Huawei’s engineers to fit a 5x optical zoom camera (up from 3x in the P20 Pro) into the P30 Pro’s thin body. That means clearer images when zooming in at a distance. No one has done that before - fellow Chinese phone maker Oppo showed off 10x optical zoom last month, but it will only debut in a commercial model later in the year.

All about the zoom

The P30 Pro uses digital enhancement to offer a ‘hybrid’ 10x zoom as well and the digital zoom will extend out to 50x with reasonable results. The zoom elicits endless wonder as you close in on and capture signs on distance buildings that you’ll strain to see with the naked eye. It’s like having binoculars in your phone - that you can record from.

On the video front, the P30 Pro again benefits from those sensor improvements. The night time video recording is the best I’ve experienced, with accurate colours and little ‘noise’ in the darker parts of the image, with stabilization improving motion shots and panning. There’s ‘4K’ ultra-high definition recording at 60 frames per second.

An intriguing new video feature that will be enabled with an upcoming software update, uses two of the rear cameras to record record two video images at once. It means you could be at a rugby game recording a wide angle shot as well as a close up side by side, which could have some pretty cool applications.

Huawei’s artificial intelligence features for photography seem to be more effective here overall than on the P20 Pro, automatically correcting the worst of overexposed images. Super portrait mode offers endless fun creating highly detailed images, where fine features like hair and foliage stand out vividly.

I’ve dwelt a lot on the P30 Pro’s camera features because that is what separates this phone from the rest of the pack. A more detailed independent test of the P30 Pro’s camera features will help you get your head around the new improvements.

Distance shooter: Yacht on Wellington harbour (normal mode) with P30 Pro's 10x optical zoom (right). Photo/Peter Griffin

Distance shooter: Yacht on Wellington harbour (normal mode) with P30 Pro's 10x hybrid zoom (right). Photo/Peter Griffin

Incremental improvements

Otherwise, the P30 Pro story is one of numerous tweaks and refinements. It borrows the powerful Kirin 980 processor from Huawei’s Mate 20 Pro which was released last October. I was expecting a new chip from Huawei, but the phone performs as well as the Mate 20 Pro, which I’ve been using for the last six months. The 8GB of memory helps on that front.

The big difference design-wise with the 6.47-inch P30 Pro (up from 6.1 inch on the P20 Pro) is the reduced bezel, with just a teardrop of black intruding at the top to house the selfie camera. There’s no visible speaker on the front to hear phone calls. Instead, the phone apparently uses “acoustic display technology”. Basically the vibration from a speaker in the screen is carried through the glass to your ear. It sounds like a gimmick, but i didn’t notice any difference in audio quality compared to the P20 Pro, so I’m not complaining and it removes the speaker grill for a cleaner finish.

There’s a full-HD OLED display, which isn’t as impressively crisp or vibrant as that of the Samsung S10+. Curved glass edges and a more refined version of the P20 Pro’s highly-reflective back complete the body, with the phone available in seductive glimmering colours like “breathing crystal”, “Aurora” and a mirror-like black. There’s dust and water proofing, the latter of which (IP68) means the phone will survive a serious dousing.

Boosted battery

There’s an in-screen optical fingerprint sensor, which appears to be more reliable than the version that first appeared last year in the Mate 20 series. A large 4,200mAh (milliamp hour) battery ensures enough charge for all-day, intensive use. Fast charging is also improved - I went from 23 per cent charge to 70 per cent in 21 minutes after getting two days of use from a single charge. That is starting to close in on the incredibly fast charging times of the Oppo R17 Pro released in October and Xiaomi’s new phones that charge to 100 per cent in a claimed 17 minutes.

Huawei’s EMUI 9.1 operating system based on Android’s 9.0 Pie platform drives the phone and does a good job of keeping out of your way with simple layout and navigation. Mention needs to be made of Phone Clone, Huawei’s app for transferring your apps and files from old phone to new, which is incredibly efficient.

Conclusion

After using the P30 Pro solidly for three days I’m impressed as I was when first test driving the P20 Pro a year ago. The results aren’t as startling this time around, but it is heartening to see a company again setting the bar this high for the rest of the industry. The renewed competition is driving innovation that is ultimately putting better smartphones in our hands.

Overall Samsung’s S10+ boasts a more elegant design and higher quality screen. But the build quality introduced with the P20 and P20 Pro is taken up a notch here and the camera features set it apart.

At $1,499 the P30 Pro is $200 cheaper than the S10+ and $400 cheaper than its Apple equivalent, the iPhone XS ($600 cheaper than the iPhone XS Max!). That equates to exceptional value, with its less fully featured P30 coming in at an impressive $1,099. You can compare the differences between the two phones here.

The P30 and P30 Pro are available for pre-order today and will be in stores on April 12.

Price: $1,499 (P30 $1,099)

Latest

Medical specialist and writer Eileen Merriman's prescription for success
104920 2019-04-25 00:00:00Z Profiles

Medical specialist and writer Eileen Merriman's pr…

by Clare de Lore

Eileen Merriman doesn’t have to dig too deep to find the angst, humour and drama for her award-winning novels.

Read more
We still remember them: The best in new Anzac Day reading
105020 2019-04-25 00:00:00Z Books

We still remember them: The best in new Anzac Day…

by Russell Baillie

The tide of great New Zealand books on the world wars shows no sign of going out. Russell Baillie reviews four new Anzac books.

Read more
Fine lines: New Anzac books and graphic novels for kids
105028 2019-04-25 00:00:00Z Books

Fine lines: New Anzac books and graphic novels for…

by Ann Packer

A telegraph “boy”, heroic animals and even shell-shock make for engaging reads for children.

Read more
Keeping up appearances: The challenging job of restoring NZ's lighthouses
104978 2019-04-25 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Keeping up appearances: The challenging job of res…

by Fiona Terry

Ensuring lighthouses stay “shipshape” isn’t a job for the faint-hearted.

Read more
The former major reuniting service medals with their rightful owners
105015 2019-04-25 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

The former major reuniting service medals with the…

by Fiona Terry

Service medals are being reunited with their rightful owners thanks to former major Ian Martyn and his determined research.

Read more
PM announces 'Christchurch Call' to end use of social media for terrorism
104952 2019-04-24 00:00:00Z Politics

PM announces 'Christchurch Call' to end use of soc…

by Noted

A meeting aims to see world leaders and CEOs of tech companies agree to a pledge called the ‘Christchurch Call’.

Read more
Red Joan: Judi Dench almost saves Soviet spy story from tedium
104942 2019-04-24 00:00:00Z Movies

Red Joan: Judi Dench almost saves Soviet spy story…

by James Robins

The fictionalised account of a British woman who spied for the Soviet Union is stiflingly quaint.

Read more
What to watch on TV this Anzac Day
104749 2019-04-24 00:00:00Z Television

What to watch on TV this Anzac Day

by Fiona Rae

Māori TV once again devotes the day to Anzac programming, including a live broadcast from Gallipoli.

Read more