Huawei P30 Pro First Impressions

Posted on April 30, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Mobile with 11 Comments

Widely-rated as having the very best camera in any smartphone, the Huawei P30 Pro is also a powerhouse flagship in its own right.

But come on. All you really care about is the camera. So let me get the other stuff out of the way first.

From a form factor perspective, the P30 Pro looks and feels very much like the Mate 20 Pro I fell in love with earlier this year. It’s more slippery than soap, comes in fun if overly-reflective colors, and provides a very tall and thin form factor that’s a bit more friendlier in one-handed use than most modern smartphones.

There are differences, of course.

For example, the P30 Pro has a tiny, teardrop-style notch housing the front camera. And on the rear, you’ll see three of the rear camera lenses arranged in a vertical column; on the Mate 20 Pro, the total of three lenses are arranged in a square grid along with the flash.

And … that’s about it.

Internally, of course, the P30 Pro is all flagship, all the way. It’s powered by Huawei’s Kirin 980 octa-core processor with dual neural-network processing units (NPUs), and is based on the latest Arm Cortex A76 design. Depending on the model you choose, you’ll get 6 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage or 8 GB of RAM and 128, 256, or 512 GB of storage. Connectivity is modern—802.11 ac at 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, Bluetooth 5.0, and BLE (and SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD, LDAC and HWA Audio). And the display is gorgeous, a 6.47-inch wonder running at a resolution of 2340 x 1080.

And then there’s the camera system.

Technically, there are four rear cameras, not three. The three primary cameras—the ones in the vertical column—include a 40 MP wide-angle lens with an f/1.6 aperture and optical image stabilization (OIS), a  20 MP utra-wide-angle lens at an f/2.2 aperture, and a 8 MP telephoto lens with an f/3.4 aperture and OIS. The fourth camera, a Huawei Time-of-Flight (TOF) lens, supports autofocus (phase focus and contrast focus) and Huawei’s AI-based image stabilization, called AI. The front camera sports a single lens: it’s a 32 MB lens at an f/2.0 aperture.

Oof. I know, right?

And yet, there’s more. Left out of that little laundry list of camera specifications is a feature that is still semi-unique in the smartphone world but is about to get a lot more popular: True optical zoom. And not lame 2x optical zoom, as we’ve been stuck with on iPhone since 2016. But 5x optical zoom and, with Huawei’s software- and AI-based help, a 10x zoom that is supposed to not suck at all.

So I just got the handset. Which is good timing: I’m heading to Vancouver and then Seattle on this Thursday, and I will have a full week of travel and work time to test out this smartphone’s exciting new camera system. But of course, I just had to do some quick camera tests, if only in and outside my house, to see how it compares, both to its Mate 20 Pro predecessor and to the Google Pixel 3 XL, which are my own two top-rated smartphone cameras at the moment.

And. Wow.

If you recall from my review of the Mate 20 Pro, Huawei’s previously flagship excels at something I (and others) call “fauxtography,” where hyper-realism, courtesy of overly-colorful and contrasty colors replaces actual realism in an effect that many—myself included—find quite pleasing. It’s not just that, actually: the Mate 20 Pro has a very localized focus that, combined with the colorful, HDR looks, makes for truly Instagram-worthy photos. It has been, to date, the single best smartphone camera I’d ever used. Sorry, Google.

Well, the P30 Pro could very well change that. Based on my admittedly limited testing so far, it appears that the P30 Pro, even with the Master AI settings enabled, delivers less vibrant but more realistic photos by default than does the Mate 20 Pro. But they are just as detailed and provide the same localized focus, which I think is excellent.

1x zoom and …

5x zoom

The 5x zoom is interesting. On objects both near and far, details are far crisper on the P30 Pro and better withstand close, zoomed-in scrutiny in most cases. Oddly, to use zoom at all—optical or software-based—you must configure the camera to take pictures at 10 MP (4:3), the default, and not 40 MP (4:3).

I need a lot more time to see what’s happening here and to make sure I’m not missing any configurable settings. But so far, the P30 Pro camera is delivering impressive results.

More soon.

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