How do you improve smartphone photography? By doing everything you can to fix its biggest pain points. That, at least, is what Huawei has done with its new P30 Pro smartphone.
The Huawei P30 Pro (there’s also a slightly weaker but still quite capable P30), announced on Tuesday at an event in Paris, is designed to excel at things smartphones typically aren’t very good at: Night photography, zoom photography, and portrait photography.
I had some hands-on time with both devices at a pre-brief in London last week, and I can tell you that P30 Pro is a very nice phone — though its photographic powers will take some time to properly review.
The differences between Huawei’s two flagship lines of products — the P series and the Mate series — were once a bit blurry, but with the release of P30 Pro, they’re finally clearly distinct. The Mate is the flagship, with every possible feature under the sun. As Huawei’s Global Senior Product Marketing Manager Peter Gauden put it during the pre-brief, the P series is all about the user experience with an emphasis on photography.
A cameraphone with flagship specs
That isn’t to say that the P30 Pro is lagging behind modern flagships. It’s a 6.47-inch smartphone featuring an OLED display with a tiny, waterdrop-style notch on top and curvy sides, as well as in-screen fingerprint scanner. That notch may not be the trendiest thing to have — hole-punch camera cutouts are all the rage these days — but Huawei did innovate here by completely removing the top speaker and replacing it with “electro-magnetic levitation” technology that turns the screen itself into a speaker.
The P30 Pro is powered by Huawei’s best chip, the Kirin 980, and the model I tried out had 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage memory. It has a huge, 4,200mAh battery with fast wired charging, wireless charging and reverse wireless charging. It’s resistant to dust and water up to IP68 specifications. Finally, the P30 Pro runs Android Pie and Huawei’s latest EMUI 9.1 user interface.
That’s a lot of megapixels
And then there are the cameras. The Huawei P30 Pro has a quad rear camera with a 40-megapixel, f/1.6 main lens, 20-megapixel, f/2.2 ultra-wide lens and an 8-megapixel, periscope zoom lens which provides up to 5x of optical zoom and can be combined with the main camera for a 10x lossless, hybrid zoom.
The fourth sensor on the back is a depth sensor that should help out with bokeh (Huawei says the separation between the foreground and the blurry background will be very precise thanks to it). It also allows for some cool features like taking measurements of objects just by pointing the camera at them. Wrapping up the already pretty rad camera specs is a 32-megapixel selfie shooter on the front.
Consider how much better this is than the setup on the Mate 20 Pro, which is still one of the best cameraphones you can buy. The new P30 Pro has a bigger aperture on the main lens (f/1.6 vs. f/1.8), has optical image stabilization on both the main and the telephoto lens, and the selfie camera is improved, too (32 vs 24 megapixels).
There’s another big difference. The 20-megapixel and the 8-megapixel sensors are so-called SuperSpectrum sensors, with red, yellow, yellow and blue pixels doing the work instead of the typical red, green and blue pixels. This tech, called RYYB, will soak up more light than the traditional RGB pixel array, which should result in great low-light photography. Huawei says the main camera has 400,000 maximum ISO light sensitivity, which is pretty impressive for a smartphone camera (though the image sensor will have to work very hard to produce a usable photo at that ISO level).
A few other points Gauden made during the pre-brief: Night mode is present, but night photos should look great even in (much faster) normal shooting mode. Videos are very bright in low light scenarios, too. HDR should be much improved with the help of AI (unfortunately, it will either work when AI chooses it too or as a separate mode; there’s no way to force it in regular shooting mode).
OMG, that zoom
The phone is pretty and feels great in the hand thanks to curvy sides on both front and back. The notch on top is tiny but there is a noticeable chin on the bottom. On the back, the 3+1 camera array is iPhone-like in appearance, but what sets the phone apart is Huawei’s shimmery colors, which do indeed look very fancy, especially in the blue-purple Aurora or the white-blue Breathing Crystal colors (there’s also an all-new Amber Sunrise color which we didn’t get time with during our pre-brief). Put all of that together and you get a decent successor to the Mate 20 Pro, but not something that will blow your socks off.
Far more impressive is the phone’s 10x zoom. Again, it’s hard to say how well it performs without taking a better look at the resulting photos, but just being able to point a camera at something and see things your naked eye cannot dream of seeing is pretty great.
Both the main and the telephoto camera have optical image stabilization, coupled with software stabilization, which makes working with 10x zoom bearable. It’s still not easy to catch something that’s moving in this mode but it’s doable, and the pigeon (below) can attest to that. That photo was taken through a window; the pigeon was on a branch of a tree at least 20 feet away from me.
Night photography and portrait mode were harder to test during the pre-brief, though. The P20 Pro and the Mate 20 Pro did a pretty good job at both, though not without glitches, so I hope to see improvement in both areas.
The P30 is pretty good, too
I’ve also had the opportunity to try out the slightly smaller and generally less powerful P30. It’s got a 6.1-inch OLED display, a triple rear camera with optical zoom that only goes to 3x, a 32-megapixel selfie camera, and roughly the same innards as the P30 Pro, save for a smaller, 3,650mAh battery.
Generally, the P30 is a slightly less powerful version of the P30 Pro, lacking its most distinctive feature, the 10x lossless/5x optical zoom. Without the depth sensor, it probably won’t be as good at taking portrait photos, either. It does look equally nice and it’s a fair amount smaller (which some folks may appreciate), though, so the key question will be the price.
Finally, Huawei also launched the FreeLace, a set of wireless earphones which appear to be aimed at sporty types, with IPX5 sweat and water resistance and wind noise reduction tech. Their distinctive feature is Bluetooth pairing — you pair them by simply plugging their USB-C jack into the phone.
The irony of wireless pairing via a wire isn’t lost on me, but Huawei claims this is just so much simpler than holding a button and waiting for the phone to respond, and they might just be right on that one. You charge the earphones in the same way; Huawei claims you’ll get four hours of music playback with just 5 minutes of charging. A full charge should be enough for 18 hours of music playback.
…But not in the U.S.
With Huawei’s relationship with the U.S. government seemingly deteriorating by the day, there’s always the question of whether U.S. consumers will even see these products. I asked Gauden about U.S. availability, and while he wouldn’t directly comment on that, he did say that the U.S. consumers deserve to have access to the “best technology” and will surely “find ways to bring the device into the market,” which pretty much says it all.
Generally, Huawei wouldn’t share the price and availability of the new devices prior to launch; we’ll update this post as soon as we get them.