Rewrite the Rules of Photography.
Huawei P30 Pro: perfection of a platform
Its specs appear like no more than flagship standard. But what Huawei’s P30 Pro delivers is perfection of a system. The Huawei P30 Pro is tuned and optimised to get just about everything you possible out of its specs.
In other words: The Huawei P30 Pro is a winner.
Whatever the competition will throw at it, Huawei’s P30 Pro will beat it. Here’s a song of praise to a phone that looks okay on paper, but is more fun to use than almost any other device.
My friend, the battery
As I recently expressed my disappointment with the performance of the Samsung Galaxy S10+, I’m going to focus on the battery first. The experiment is simple: On Friday morning at 6 a.m., I unplug my fully charged P30 Pro. I use it just as I’d use my regular phone – for WhatsApp, phone calls, e-mails, YouTube and so on – and wait for the P30 to tell me it needs a recharge.
I wasn't expecting it to last this long.
After two days and four hours, I was notified that I had only 20 percent battery left: please charge. That's 52 hours of heavy use. I’m impressed. Sure, I remember my Nokia 6210, which needed to be recharged every five days, but that used to be so far in the past that I’d almost forgotten about it. Huawei us reviving it.
Talking about charging: I recommend this 40-watt charger. It might come with the phone, but I'm using a different charger. I don't know if it's included or not. This is it:
Within 31 minutes, the battery recharged by 56% – from 20% to 76%. I’m hugely impressed. 76% battery will last over 24 hours; I have nothing to worry about.
To me, this is by far the largest and most pleasant surprise the Huawei P30 Pro delivery. Sure, the other specs are all excellent, too, but a good battery is life-changing – and an indication of what Huawei intends to achieve with the P30.
More than marketing can achieve
Just like the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, the P30 Pro runs on the Kirin 980 System-on-a-Chip (SoC). That's nothing new. The 6 GB RAM aren’t an innovation either and AMOLED screens are standard. But Huawei didn’t just settle for the latest technology and invention, the manufacturer put work into optimising the system in every possible way. The Mate 20 Pro proved which technology Huawei boasts – the P30 Pro proves what the company’s engineers and programmers are capable of.
It is faster, smoother and more comfortable to use than any other Huawei phone before. Everything in this device works, it has plenty of battery and never slows down. That's what a smartphone should be: not a device we put up with, but one that stands by your side and is there when we need it.
Let’s think about how a smartphone is used in day-to-day life. When you first buy a new smartphone, you try out all its new features. You might switch off the lights and test how well the night mode works; you might grab your favourite toy and play around with the F-Stop in aperture mode. But after a few days, you’ve seen every feature and will only use specific ones when the situation calls for it. And this is the moment when the power of marketing ends. It’s the moment other aspects become important. Battery life, heat, charging time, screen quality and so on. In everyday life, you’re more likely to watch YouTube for two hours, lie in bed and watch an episode of «Love, Sex and Robots» on Netflix or read Reddit posts than use all the options your camera has to offer. It’s in these aspects that a phone can really excel and prove itself worthy in the long run.
These everyday features are exactly the ones Huawei has been working on. That's why the specs of this device don’t look much better than the ones of the Mate 20 Pro on paper. But its raw power has been optimised and channelled. The result? Not fun features, I must admit, but comfort and value.
A little time of flight
The Huawei P30 Pro boasts an impressive camera system. For a start, there's the fivefold optical zoom in a periscope setup. This means the actual lens of the periscope camera – responsible for the zoom – is arranged at a right angle to the other cameras. Light is reflected by a mirror and then arrives at the image sensor, which sits perpendicular to the body of the phone. This results in a fivefold optical zoom. With hybrid zoom, 10x zoom is possible. And with software support, 50x digital zoom can be achieved.
It works. Need I say more? This feature alone is impressive enough. Of course the image on your screen is extremely shaky, as every millimetre of movement leads to a radically different image when you’re working with 50x. I recommend using either a tripod or stabilising the picture by resting your elbows on the table and holding the phone steady in your hand.
I took the following picture by resting two elbows on a wall.
One feature is even more impressive, but also more controversial in terms of aesthetics: night mode. If you take a photo in night mode, the phone opens the lens, but strangely enough rarely goes down to the largest aperture, f/0.95. I tested it in our almost completely dark studio and an aperture of f/1.6 was sufficient. Probably because f/0.95 can only be reached with software, not hardware. The only light sources were a ventilation shaft that allowed some light to get in from the lit-up room next door and the TFT display of our video producer Stephanie Tresch's camera, a Sony a7sii with a screen diagonal of three inches, i.e. 7.62 centimetres.
The EXIF data of the image display the following details:
- Resolution: 10 megapixels
- F-Stop: f/1.6
- Exposure time: 8 seconds
- Focal length: 5.56 mm *Sensitivity: ISO 6400
If you use a regular camera with the same settings to take a picture in the same situation, you’ll hardly get such a good picture. Why? The picture you see on your smartphone screen has already been edited. The camera’s software plays a decisive role in this. The more intelligent and fine-tuned the software is, the better the image will turn out. The system recognises colours from the photo data and boosts them. But Huawei’s system has one weakness: it's not good at detecting shadows. We're used to shadows in photos being black. Or at least dark. Like on this picture, taken in aperture mode with f/0.95.
There are rich black parts and the night looks like a night should do. In night mode, however, it looks like this:
So if all colours are boosted, it becomes clear that the blackness of the night isn’t really black but dark blue. This is lightened up, making the night on the picture appear a bit like a comic-like distortion. The advantage of this is that a software update could fix it.
Here’s an interesting detail: the P30 Pro’s night mode isn’t almighty; nothing works without any light. The camera system doesn't need much light, but it requires what could be described as a background noise of light to give the software what it requires: image data. It needs outlines, potentially a hint of a colour and as many details as possible. The limits of night ode become clear when I take a snapshot in an underground car park.
But as mentioned: from a technological point of view, i.e. purely based on the interaction of lens and software, the Huawei P30 Pro can't be faulted.
And while we're at it, Pro mode lets you take shots like this one:
Looks better, doesn’t it?
Speaking of software: the missing feature in all smartphones
«Here’s something I don’t like,» Stephanie says, unaware that she just discovered a feature that all smartphones could do with.
She describes how she lies on her sofa at home and watches Netflix on her phone. She holds her phone in front of her face and rotates it by 90 degrees – from portrait mode to landscape mode. It takes forever for the phone to detect what she's doing and rotate the image by 90 degrees. We compare it to the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 and realise this phone is indeed much faster at rotating the screen.
This isn’t necessarily due to the hardware. The gyro sensor, which determines the orientation of the phone, is only of secondary importance. What’s more important is the software that tells the image to rotate in the background. Huawei triggers the rotation later than Samsung. Stephanie and I agree that you’ll only notice this problem if there’s absolutely nothing else to complain about. The level of perfection this phone offers is unparalleled.
And yet, we decided this would be a really neat feature for Android – and even for Apple's iOS: a setting that tells your phone when to rotate the image. This could be implemented in a similar to the function SwiftKey feature on (Android and Apple iOS), which lets you determine how long you want a long press to be. I recommend setting it to 200 instead of the usual 450 milliseconds. Our feature could be even more intuitive: You just sit down, edit the setting and press a button when your rotation point is reached. That’s the angle at which you want the image to rotate in the future.
This feature isn’t a must-have, but it would definitely be nice.
An answer to Darklingking’s question
I owe user Darklingking an answer. He wrote a comment and asked if I think the P30 Pro could be the best phone of the year. At the time, I’d only played around with it for a few hours, so I couldn’t give him an answer.
Now, after a few weeks of testing, my answer is: absolutely. The P30 Pro is a strong contender for the title «Phone of the Year».
And that’s it for today. By the way, if you use night mode in reasonably good light, you can simulate hard light and create quite dramatic images.