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Huawei P30 and P30 Pro hands-on

Truly rewriting the rules of photography?

Huawei P30 and P30 Pro | GadgetMatch

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If you were to pinpoint where it all started, that moment in time when Huawei smartphones turned the corner from contender to top dog. It would most likely be this snapshot from three years ago: The launch of the P9. And the start of Huawei’s partnership with Leica.

Back then both companies promised they would revolutionize smartphone photography. It took a while, but last year they finally did. The Huawei P20 was groundbreaking. But they’re not done yet. The P30 Pro comes with bold new promises to re-write the rules of photography. But did they really?

Our introduction begins with a color story. It may be commonplace now, but last year, when the P20 debuted in this stunning Twilight gradient, there was nothing quite like it.

This year, Twilight becomes Aurora, with an extra shimmer that’s made to look like the Northern Lights from where this gradient finish gets its inspiration.

Some markets will get this lovely red-orange finish, Amber Sunrise, or get a bit of both. My favorite is Breathing Crystal, a pearlescent white that’s sometimes a faint Twilight, or a red and yellow depending on how the light touches the phone. And if want something less flashy, there are also black and white models.

Before you get committed to a color. You’ll have to wait till availability is announced in your respective countries.

Both the P30 and P30 Pro are all-glass smartphones with metal frames. Apart from the obvious size difference, there are other subtleties to distinguish one from the other.

The P30 Pro is curvy-licious with a curved backside to match its curved display; the P30 has a flat, more traditional panel. I like the sexy dual curves on the P30 Pro. The phone is bigger than last year’s model but still fits comfortably in the hand. Having said that, I have many friends who adamantly prefer flat displays, so it really is a preference thing.

While some of its competitors are doing punch-hole displays or pop up cameras, Huawei is keeping the notch on the P-series, reducing it to a teardrop shape. If we’re nitpicking, there’s still a tiny bit of forehead and chin. Otherwise, it’s as edge-to-edge as it currently gets.

The display on both models is rich and vibrant — a 6.1-inch OLED for the P30 and 6.47-inch OLED for the Pro model, both Full HD+ and 19.5:9 in ratio. Underneath is a new and improved under-display fingerprint scanner. Based on our initial tests, it’s as fast, if not even faster, than the ultrasonic scanner on the Galaxy S10+.

It’s the most secure biometric option on this phone, as face unlock on the P30, while AI-assisted, is still based on a 2D scan using the selfie camera, and that’s less secure. The display on the P30 Pro also doubles as an earpiece and extra speaker. Huawei calls it an acoustic display.

One little design feature you might miss are the P30’s flat top and bottom edges; they’re a nice differentiating touch. Up top, there’s still an IR blaster for those who would rather use their phones as remotes, and on the bottom, the headphone jack returns but only on the non-Pro model.

Also worth mentioning: The SIM card tray is double-sided for two nano-SIMs or one SIM and one Nano Memory Card, which only Huawei makes.

Now on to the main event. The P30 Pro has four Leica cameras on its rear. Let me break them down for you.

The first is an ultra-wide angle camera, which is perfect when you’re traveling and want to take in more of the scene. It also doubles as a macro lens for getting in real close on subjects.

Next is a 40-megapixel standard camera, and then a square shape that isn’t a lens per se. It’s the prism of a periscope. Tucked underneath is a zoom lens array that gives the P30 Pro 5x optical zoom — more than we’ve ever seen on a smartphone to date. Combined with software and AI magic, you can go up to near lossless 10x hybrid zoom and 50x digital zoom.

Right beside the flash on the P30 Pro is a fourth camera for time of flight (TOF) that measures depth in real time. This gives you bokeh that closely resembles something taken using a high-end digital camera, so that objects in a photo will have different amounts of blur depending on how near or far they are from you.

Huawei says, using the TOF camera, they’re also building an augmented reality measuring app, similar to what Apple has on the iPhone XS. Now, about that re-writing the rules bit; that bit requires a bit of a technical explanation. Allow me to simplify.

Digital camera sensors are traditionally made of red, green, and blue bits (RGB if that sounds familiar to you) that measure color in a scene. But what if you switched green for yellow? That’s exactly what Huawei and Leica did on the P30 series. One of the reasons for this is that a yellow filter is lighter than a green filter, letting in more light when an image is captured.

Huawei says a lot of physics went into this major change, and the low-light abilities of the P30 Pro are better than ever before. To try this. I found the darkest little corner of my briefing room and set up a dark room of my own.

This is night mode on the P30, which is already pretty good compared to what night mode on other smartphones managed to produce. One could say that the P30 can see in the dark and it’s pretty amazing. Master AI mode is still available on the phone, and you can toggle it on and off, if you want to give it the power to adjust how a photo looks based on what it thinks are the ideal settings.

Huawei’s groundbreaking AI-based handheld long exposure mode gets an expanded set of features. There is Silk Water Effects mode which we have yet to try. It also works in portrait mode, and combined with AI HDR+, can help you shoot well-lit portraits even when shooting against the harsh rays of the sun.

We’ll need time to really dive into everything the camera can do. But for now, take a look at more sample photos we shot during our short time with the P30 Pro:

This year, Huawei has made it a point to bring the experience of taking video at par with taking photos. Where they really improved is stabilization when shooting Full HD content. We tried it out, even shook the phone exaggeratedly, and it does the job.

Then there’s that zoom lens, which also comes in handy. You can now zoom in up to 10x with hybrid zoom on the P30 Pro. Here’s a set of samples taken during our hands-on time:

Reps from Huawei also told us during our briefing that they’re working on a dual-video feature that lets you shoot using two lenses at the same time. That will be available as an over-the-air update soon. There’s much more to love about the new P30 and P30 Pro. We haven’t even talked about its 32-megapixel selfie camera. Here are a few samples:

Both are packed with Huawei’s newest Kirin 980 processor, come with configs of up to 8GB of RAM and plenty of built-in storage, and sizable batteries with fast charging. The P30 Pro has a larger battery and comes with 40-watt SuperCharge with support for both wireless and reverse wireless charging. The latter lets you charge Qi-compatible devices or other smartphones.

The P30 on the other hand comes with a 22W charger and does not support wireless charging. The P30 Pro is water- and dust-resistant while the P30 is only splash-resistant. Yep, the Pro in P30 Pro definitely has its merits.

Are the P30 and P30 Pro your GadgetMatch?

That was a lot to cover, and we’ve barely scratched the surface. I’m picking up my review device today so after I shoot an unboxing, I’m going to start using the phone as a daily driver.

In two weeks, I’ll let you know my thoughts. Based on first impressions, the P30 Pro is poised to be one of the best phones of 2019. For a premium phone, it delivers where it matters: design, cameras, and battery life.

And since we’re in Paris, let me pull from my limited French: The P30 Pro has got that je ne sais quoi, an intangible quality that thrills and excites. What more could you want in a smartphone?

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