A powerful new entrant in Huawei's ever-growing lineup of excellent flagship phones. However, a lack of Google Play Services will likely put many users off
By Alex Walker-Todd
Tech AdvisorFEB 11, 2020 8:44 pm GMT
At a Glance
An extremely-capable all-rounder, Huawei has ensured that the Mate 30 Pro has the hardware innovation to tackle even the most potent competitors on the market. Its quad-camera may change the tide of video capture superiority against Apple, the new Kirin chipset will be able to outpace most of the current silicon on the market and the phone’s battery and fast-charging chops mean it outlasts most other phones out there.
The phone is tempting with free wireless earbuds and a smartwatch (while stocks last) but only if you’re ok with the lack of Google Services, which for many will be a dealbreaker.
Price When Reviewed
Chinese tech giant, Huawei, has just unveiled its latest powerhouse; complete with top-tier internals, a quad camera and an intriguing design with a new ‘Horizon’ display, but without Google Play Services onboard is there a place for the Huawei Mate 30 Pro among competitors beyond Chinese borders?
Price & Availability
After months of question marks, Huawei has managed to arrange a UK launch for the Mate 30 Pro. It will be available via Carphone Warehouse ‘later this month’ – February.
The phone comes priced at £899 and customers will be treated to quite the deal because it comes with a free pair of
FreeBuds 3 wireless earbuds (in white) and a free
Watch GT 2 (46mm Black Sport Edition).
Those two combined come to over £350.
The Mate 30 Pro is available in just one colour, Space Silver, and Carphone is helpfully pointing out the lack of Google Mobile Services but has the VIP Support Team available post-purchase to help you with using the phone.
European pricing was announced during the launch event, with the standard Mate 30 Pro (featuring 8GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage) coming in at a substantial €1099, the 5G variant of the phone, with the same storage and memory, asking a further €100 of your wallet, at €1199 and the special Porsche Design edition Huawei Mate 30 RS, with its 12GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, costing an eye-watering €2095.
What’s that on the horizon?
The phone itself is a characteristically premium blend of glass and metal but things are a little different compared to previous Huawei flagships.
The new 6.53-inch ‘Horizon’ OLED display consumes the front and sides of the Mate 30 Pro’s form, with ‘Side Touch’ replacing its predecessors’ physical volume keys; letting you press or tap the angled edges of the display to manipulate various controls. This dedicated area of the new display can serve multiple purposes – operating as a volume slider or a camera shutter key, depending on the context.
In practice, reliance on the double-tap gesture needed to summon the likes of the volume rocker can be hit-or-miss. The fact that it allows for ambidextrous use is great but actually finding the sweet spot along the display’s aggressively-curved sides isn’t without trial and error. The haptic feedback is nice too, with satisfying clicks firing off as you slide your finger along the rounded glass as you push the volume up or down.
Aside from being unable to as easily interact with the volume controls in certain situations (e.g. through the fabric of your pocket), the placement of the Side Touch area is such that if you’re watching content in landscape, you still have to tap along the phone’s (now) top edge to summon the volume slider, which itself appears on the far right of the screen – making for some confusing user interaction.
It is, at least, nice that this touch-sensitive zone remains active even when the phone’s display is off, meaning you can adjust the volume blind, whilst listing to music, podcasts or other audio-only experiences.
As for the quality of the display itself, it looks to be a pleasing entrant in Huawei’s ever-improving lineage of screens, although when viewed face-on there is a strange brightness drop-off that effects the heavily curved edges of the display, made especially visible when on-screen content makes use of a white background – the rest of the time, however, it’ll likely go unnoticed.
While the pixel density isn’t as great as that of 2018’s Mate 20 Pro, under real-world conditions, you’ll likely be more than happy with the viewing experience offered up by this year’s Mate.
The OLED panel features reliable outdoor visibility, great viewing angles and vivacious colours (helped by the default ‘vivid’ display mode in the phone’s display settings menu), with full support for the DCI-P3 colour space, HDR10 and Huawei’s typically robust display customisation options at your disposal.
Additional features like ‘Natural tone’ mimic Apple’s True Tone display technology, in an effort to ensure consistent colour representation on-screen in the face of wildly varied ambient lighting.
The first square-jawed Mate
Looking beyond the display to the broader design, the Mate 30 Pro sports a far more squared appearance than practically any other Huawei phone in recent memory; more closely mirroring the design relationship found between Samsung’s most recent Galaxy S10 and Note 10 devices.
While its unorthodox 18.4:9 aspect ratio display assumes a shorter, squatter silhouette compared to its predecessor, in reality, it’s still a perfectly slender device, and with over a 94% screen-to-body ratio, there’s barely anything aside from screen to see when viewing the Mate 30 face-on, giving it a cutting-edge appearance.
That is, of course, save for the notch – a decidedly vestigial 2018 trope that only Apple and Huawei have appeared to have hung onto with their latest top handsets. In truth, between a notch and the added weight and compromised water resistance that comes with a pop-up front-facing camera (the Mate 30 Pro is fully IP68 certified), we’d take the notch, and Huawei has also managed to make it smaller than the one on last year’s Mate.
Despite the shrinkage, Huawei has still squeezed a sizeable 32MP front camera, paired to a 3D ToF (Time of Flight) sensor into the small bar at the top of the display, granting depth data to your selfies and more robust 3D face unlock – a feature that Huawei first implemented on the Mate 20 Pro that works impressively quickly in this second-generation iteration, even against low light conditions.
It’s also worth mentioning that an in-display optical fingerprint sensor also features, but its reliability is less-than-stellar and despite the apparent responsiveness when it does work, it’s also markedly slower than the phone’s face unlock capabilities.
While the Horizon Display has led Huawei to kill the physical volume rocker, not every hardware control has disappeared from this latest Mate. The engineering team found just enough room to fit the Mate series’ signature red power button on the phone’s right side.
The company presumably wanted some physical controls in case the need to perform a soft reset or access the phone’s boot menu arose. The button is also pleasingly tactile, bordering on a novelty at this point. It should be said that the phone’s raise-to-wake functionality is also very responsive and convenient, especially when paired with face unlocking.
There’s another big talking point on the back of the Mate 30 Pro in its camera setup. While it’s a multi-sensor array, as found on this year’s P30 Pro, as well as its direct predecessor, things look a little different this time around.
The raised squircle of a camera module that the Mate 20 Pro popularised (and looks as though might have influenced the designs of both the iPhone 11’s and Pixel 4’s camera setups) has been pushed out to a form a perfect circle, which in turn is surrounded by a concentric ring of textured glass that Huawei is calling the ‘halo ring’.
The whole setup is meant to evoke the classic Leica cameras that the Chinese company has so tenuously tied its premium phones to in recent years, however, we see a similarity that is far closer to home, in the form of the once cameraphone king – the Nokia Lumia 1020 (which technically manages to trump the Mate 30 Pro’s main camera sensor, from a straight-up pixel count perspective, as it happens).
While we might prefer the more rounded forms of Huawei’s other high-end handsets, the collective effect of the Mate 30 Pro’s distinctive display, squared frame and clean lines is one that alludes to the power that the Mate 30 Pro possesses under the hood.
We haven’t been able to trial the new texture gradient finish shown off at launch but the shiny glass back on the model pictured is characteristically fingerprint-prone and the overall look of the Mate 30 Pro isn’t as elegant as, say, the OnePlus 7T Pro. Nonetheless, this looks and feels like a powerful, premium device that should impress fellow geeks and tech aficionados.
Despite those hard curves, gesture navigation through the new EMUI 10 user experience feels natural and comfortable, helped by the fact that Huawei has still managed to add a slight curve to the phone’s glass back.
The software experience (running atop Android 10) is a sleek refinement on Huawei’s previous releases of Emotion UI. Version 10 pulls in a softer colour palette, more complex interaction animations and cleaner overall interface design. Collectively, Huawei’s efforts seem worthwhile, as anything that clears up and renders EMUI less intrusive is to be commended.
The refined always-on display and the new system-wide dark mode are particular highlights – the latter looks great on that OLED display but kudos should also be awarded to the development team for the refined gesture-based features that reside within EMUI 10.
By removing physical hardware controls, some actions are easier said than done. Thankfully, by leaning into EMUI’s Knuckle Mode, being able to capture a screenshot or initiate split-screen multitasking requires only a simple double-tap or drag across the screen using your knuckle.
In the past, Knuckle Mode was best avoided, as it usually didn’t work, felt awkward to use and doubled actions accessible by alternative means; with the Mate 30 Pro’s hardware arrangement, you become far more reliant on this feature set and thankfully, it doesn’t let you down as it once would have.
AI has been part of the story on Huawei’s devices for a few years now and one subtle implementation worth talking about on the Mate 30 Pro is how its screen rotation works.
Rather than simply noting which way the phone is orientated using the accelerometer, the phone instead uses the front cameras to understand which way your face is angled, relative to the screen to ensure content is always the right way round. This way, if you’re lying on your side (i.e. in bed) watching content in landscape, the phone won’t flip it into portrait, despite the orientation of the phone being in portrait.
This works without issue most of the time and is usually a fuss-free improvement on more conventional solutions to this problem, however, the AI facial recognition isn’t right 100% of the time, sometimes flipping content on-screen by 180-degrees or repeatedly switching content upsidedown and the right way back up successively, as the phone struggles to recognise which way around your face is.
Hey Google, where are you?
When it comes to the Mate 30 Pro’s (and Mate 30’s) software, the elephant in the room is Google’s absence from the experience on offer.
Despite Android still being the underlying operating system powering these new smartphones, Google Play Services is wholly absent, meaning no YouTube, no Gmail, no Maps and no Play Store out the box.
Huawei is hoping users will find most of the experiences that they’re after by way of the company’s own App Gallery app store but the options currently within said store are heavily influenced by China-specific trends at present, not to mention Google’s apps (along with many other popular western apps), understandably, don’t feature.
There was a glimmer of hope soon after launch; a workaround that, after investigation, made use of some questionable underpinnings. It facilitated the installation of Google Play Services, the Play Store and practically any app from said store, however, after only a week or so, this ‘back door’ has been firmly shut, with no discernable alternative currently on-hand that wouldn’t leave users open to security risks.
The implications of launching a high-end device like the Mate 30 Pro in markets where the Play Store is an expected staple of the Android experience are severe. Irrespective of whether users are aware of Play Services’ absence before or after purchase doesn’t matter – it’ll likely anger a lot of people who have certain expectations from any Android smartphone that they might buy.
This issue reinforces why the company was so ambivalent towards the exact rollout schedule of the Mate 30 Pro globally, during the phone’s launch event. Huawei is likely trying to hold out until some progress with the US government is made, but with only indeterminant resolution on the horizon, the company has had to simply continue releasing products to its schedule or rely on those that were already in production before the company had its wings clipped.
A higher power
Moving from software to hardware, the Mate 30 Pro is the company’s first device to use its new Kirin 990 chipset. Aside from the optional integrated 5G modem (the competition currently rely on standalone modems that require more space and power), the 7nm SoC (system-on-chip) includes various subsystems to handle everything from 4K HDR video processing to AI tasks, to managing storage more quickly and efficiently (UFS 3.0) than before; all with super-efficient power consumption.
From a performance standpoint, the Mate 30 Pro, with its Kirin 990 and 8GB of RAM, puts up a real fight. In artificial benchmarking, it falls behind the likes of the new Asus ROG Phone 2 and OnePlus 7T when it comes to graphical testing (no doubt as a result of their gaming-focused Snapdragon 855 Plus chipsets) but the gap is slight. As for general performance, it’s among the best in the business right now.
In real-world use, aggressive automated power management habits are definitely at play; shutting down select background apps, sometimes to the detriment of the user experience. Luckily, EMUI 10 does grant plenty of fine-grain control over how such apps and their resources are managed, so that, with a little tinkering, you can find the right power profile for your needs.
Big battery, fast charging
Using the default power setting and EMUI 10’s system-wide dark mode, the Huawei Mate 30 Pro proves a bit of a beast, with a full day of intense use, including extended periods of gaming and streaming video, consuming approximately 66% charge on a consistent basis.
The 4500mAh battery is undoubtedly among the largest in a current-gen flagship phone crowd and better yet, the charging tech onboard means you won’t be waiting hours to fill that big power pack back up.
The same 40W SuperCharge speeds as found on the P30 Pro make their return, able to juice the Mate 30 Pro from empty to 66% in just 30 minutes – meaning Huawei can borrow OnePlus’ iconic slogan of “a day’s power in half an hour”, based on our testing. A full charge takes an equally-impressive 70 minutes flat.
There’s also the matter of improved wireless charging (up to 27W) and superior reverse wireless charging (a feature introduced to the market on this phone’s predecessor – the Mate 20 Pro).
If you’re after a phone that lasts, the Mate 30 Pro has what it takes.
The sensor setup on the back moves away from the P30 Pro’s ludicrous zoom capabilities and instead places the focus on improving the video experience it offers – one of the long-standing shortcomings of the cameras on Huawei phones.
Footage is pleasingly smooth, thanks to that AI-assisted stabilisation, and it has to be said that artifacting and other latent issues with previous Huawei phones’ footage seem to have been addressed too.
There’s also the matter of the camera’s party piece, which trumps Sony’s 960fps super slow-motion shooting with unprecedented 7680fps ultra slow-motion video capture.
More often than not it actually proved too slow for most of our test subjects but users will no doubt still find it fun to have around, even if the opportunities to use it effectively are infrequent.
Still shooting holds a lot of promise too, with the phone’s dual 40MP sensors on-hand for most shots, juggling a primary 27mm lens with an f/1.6 aperture and OIS (optical image stabilisation) alongside an 18mm ultrawide-angle lens with an f/1.8 aperture.
To add even greater versatility to the arrangement, there’s an 8MP 80mm telephoto sensor, again with OIS, plus a 3D depth-sensing module to help with edge detection and bokeh (background blur) across both still and video – something Huawei was keen to shout about.
Generally speaking, shots look fantastic, with pleasing detail, dynamic range, contrast, stability and everything you could hope for. One thing to note is that Huawei’s AI-assisted image processing is enabled by default and has a bad habit of over-saturating and over-warming shots, so we suggest switching this feature off from the get-go.
You have the option to shoot in RAW when using Pro mode, there are some more creative shooting modes – both long-standing Huawei staples, as well as new additions – and the company’s even gone as far as to include DJI Osmo Mobile gimbal support from within the phone’s native camera app; a surprising bonus that highlights where Huawei sees the Mate 30 Pro’s cameras being put to good use.
Low light shooting is also a strong talking point with Huawei phones and it looks as though the Mate 30 Pro remains at the top of the pile in this regard. Side by side with its predecessor, the standard Night shooting mode retains impressive amounts of colour and edge detail while keeping grain and noise to a minimum. That said, using it in dark scenarios that do feature some distinct light sources can result in wildly over-processed looking results with strange over-sharpening and odd colour accuracy.
Despite its high resolution, the front-facing camera’s low light performance and dynamic range seem markedly weaker than we’d expect on a device of this calibre, especially with such robust talent on offer from the rear camera.
Huawei’s Mate 30 Pro is unsurprisingly potent on paper and the new focus on video from the camera experience seems like a smart move, rather than simply building on the P30 Pro’s zoom capabilities. In almost every regard the phone has the ability to take on every other flagship smartphone of the moment but with the company’s current predicament, it might not even get the chance.
Despite Huawei’s plans to bring the phone to markets across the globe, the absence of Google Play Services is more than just a few missing apps. Even with Richard Yu’s plans to incentivise developers to build for Huawei’s App Gallery, the Mate 30 Series remains a cursed product line and, as it stands, only Trump’s government has the power to break that curse.
The UK price of £899 is pretty tempting with the free wireless earbuds and smartwatch if you’re ok with the lack of Google Services.
Two great Huawei phones that are still worth considering are theHuawei P30 Proand the Mate 30 Pro’s predecessor, theHuawei Mate 20 Pro; both of which retain those all-important Google Play Services for the time being. Check out our reviews of both to find out more.