The US government’s tempestuous relationship with Huawei has dominated headlines in recent months, with would-be smartphone buyers unwillingly placed into the heat of the battle. Google is no longer allowed to work with Huawei so the future of its current – and upcoming – smartphone output remains in jeopardy.
Huawei’s own Android rival, Harmony OS, was swiftly launched in retaliation and was expected to power future devices. But with a lack of support for core Google apps such as Gmail, YouTube and the Google Play store, the proposition was far less tempting than the usual crop of Android-based handsets.
In an announcement at its annual keynote in Munich, Huawei revealed that its next line-up of flagship phones – the Mate 30 and Mate 30 Pro – will still be powered by Android 10. However, because of the US trade ban, it isn’t officially supported and is only the open-source version, which sadly doesn’t include Google’s apps either.
This also means the Mate 30 Pro might not be getting its usual Europe-wide release. While Huawei did mention a price of €1,099, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be coming to the UK. The official statement, according to Huawei CEO Richard Yu, is that the Mate 30 “may come to the UK”, so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
This is a shame because I’m quietly impressed with the hardware that Huawei is bringing to the table, even if I do have serious reservations about its software.
Huawei Mate 30 Pro review: What you need to know
Regardless of whether or not the Mate 30 Pro does show up in shops – I hope it does – the feature list of Huawei’s next-gen flagship is bursting at the seams. With a slightly tweaked design that’s made to look like you’re holding a professional Leica DSLR camera in your hands (more on that later), Huawei has fitted the Mate 30 Pro with what it calls a “waterfall screen”, which curves around the left and right sides of the device up to an 88-degree angle.
It doesn’t just look nice either: this is the first smartphone to be powered by Huawei’s homebrew Kirin 990 processor, which promises 23% faster CPU processing speeds compared to the last-generation Kirin 980 chipset, with a 29% boost in GPU performance. There’s also a vastly improved camera array, with a total of four cameras on the back of the phone, including a 3x telephoto lens, 40MP wide-angle camera, and 3D depth-sensor.
The big worry is the software – or, rather, the lack thereof. The Mate 30 Pro lacks the full Android support of its contemporaries, launching with only a handful of Huawei’s own pre-baked applications, such as the web browser and AppGallery. The latter allows you to download extra apps, but with a list of around 45,000 compared to the Play Store’s estimated 2.7million, the selection is very limited indeed.
Huawei Mate 30 Pro review: Price and competition
Complicating matters even further, Huawei remains tight-lipped about the Mate 30 Pro’s release outside of its Chinese homeland. We know how much it costs – €1,099, or roughly £973 – but there’s no word yet on when (or if) the phone will make the journey to western shores. The phone I was sent for review is a Chinese handset, in fact.
Indeed, if it does eventually come to the UK, the Mate 30 Pro will likely be one of the priciest handsets on shop shelves – and it won’t be devoid of competition either. Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro currently rules the roost, starting at £1,049, while the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus is the cream of the crop when it comes to Android handsets, starting at £1,000.
Huawei Mate 30 Pro review: Design and key features
Despite the tumultuous nature of Huawei’s announcement, the Mate 30 Pro remains as formidable as any high-priced flagship has any right to be. This is Huawei’s best-looking smartphone to date, with a 6.53in “Flex OLED” screen that curves nicely around the sides of the phone up to an 88-degree angle.
It looks rather swish, but in moving to this new design Huawei has removed the physical volume rocker keys on the side. Not to worry, though, as the Mate 30 Pro includes a similar feature to Samsung’s own “side-sense” abilities: you can double-tap on the right side of the screen to activate the onscreen volume rocker or switch between apps by swiping from the side of the display. You can also enable a movable shutter button in the dedicated camera app.
Elsewhere, the back of the phone has had a bit of a facelift. The Mate 30 Pro can be picked up in a choice of two-tone colours – black, “Space Silver”, “Cosmic Purple” and “Emerald Green” – with a matte finish at the bottom, which subtly transitions to a glossy coating at the top of the phone. Huawei says that this new design isn’t as prone to picking up fingerprints, but I didn’t get that impression when I was trying to capture smudge-free pictures of the device.
According to Huawei, the Mate 30 Pro’s new camera arrangement on the back is supposed to look like a professional DSLR camera. Well, it certainly looks like a large camera lens, surrounded by a chunky silver-tinted circular trim, but it is a rather strange look.
Like last year’s phone, the Mate 30 Pro is also IP68-rated, which means it’ll survive a dunking up to a depth of two metres for up to 30 minutes. It also doesn’t have a 3.5mm headphone jack, so you’ll have to invest in a decent pair of Bluetooth headphones – there is no adapter in the box.
Huawei Mate 30 Pro review: Display
Aside from the tantalisingly curved sides, the Mate 30 Pro’s display is perhaps its least interesting feature. Measuring 6.53in across the diagonal, the 18.5:9 aspect, OLED panel has a bizarre resolution of 2,400 x 1,170, with a pin-sharp pixel density of 409ppi and support for HDR10 playback – not that you can download Netflix of Prime Video via any official method.
According to my measurements using our X-Rite colorimeter, the Mate 30 Pro peaked at a maximum brightness of 439cd/m2 with the auto-brightness setting engaged and reached an sRGB colour gamut coverage of 94.5% with a total volume of 102%. Colour accuracy is pretty much bang on, with a recorded Delta E of 2.18 in the phone’s “Normal” display profile, but there are a few inconsistencies with oversaturated dark blue and red tones. Meanwhile, the “Vivid” display profile dials up the saturation across the entire colour palate.
Huawei Mate 30 Pro review: Performance and battery life
Unsurprisingly, the Mate 30 Pro is the first phone to be powered by Huawei’s own mobile chipset, the Kirin 990. The new eight-core chip is built using a 7nm fabrication process, with the cores split into three groups: two performance-based Cortex-A76 cores running at 2.86GHz, a further two mid-power cores running at 2.36GHz; and four Cortex-A55 based cores running at 1.95GHz.
It’s worth remembering that Kirin 980-powered Huawei handsets such as the P30 Pro and last year’s Mate 20 Pro were some of the fastest Android phones of the time, surpassed only by Apple’s A12 Bionic chipset. It’s a similar story in this instance: the Kirin 990 manages to outperform the Kirin 980 by roughly 16% in multi-core tasks and is around 13% faster in single-core. Here’s how it stacks up against the competition using the Geekbench 4 tests:
At the time of writing – Qualcomm is due to unveil its next-gen chip in December – not much comes close. The only phone that beats the Mate 30 Pro in raw performance is Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro, but even so it’s by a very small margin.
Indeed, the Mate 30 Pro is needlessly powerful, and not even the most demanding app or graphically-intensive game will cause it to stumble. I’ve said this for a few years now, but all of this horsepower is wasted on 90% of smartphone buyers, with only niche applications managing to push this level of power to its upper limit.
Still, if Huawei made massive gains when it comes to performance, it has also taken a giant leap forward with battery life. Last year’s Mate 20 Pro only managed to reach a total of 15hrs 20mins in our video rundown test, which switches off all data connections, sets the screen brightness to 170cd/m2 and plays a looped video. The Mate 30 Pro managed a stonking 21hrs under the same conditions.
I suspect this is mostly due to the larger capacity battery – 4,500mAh rather than 4,200mAh – and lower resolution screen, but I’m certain that the boffins at Huawei HQ have managed to make the Kirin 990 much more power-efficient, too.
Huawei Mate 30 Pro review: Camera
As for the new camera array, the Mate 30 Pro uses a quad-camera arrangement on the back, which comprises a 40MP (f/1.6) camera, a 40MP (f/1.8) ultra-wide lens, an 8MP (f/2.4) 3x telephoto camera and a ToF (Time of Flight) camera for depth-sensing duties. A 32MP (f/2.0) selfie camera sits on the front of the phone, along with another depth camera for more effective blurred background shots.
That’s an awful lot of cameras for just a single phone, and you’d be forgiven for feeling a bit daunted by all of them. Don’t be. This all adds up to create one of the most versatile, well-rounded approaches to photography I’ve ever tested – and the quality of images that the Mate 30 Pro is capable of capturing are nothing short of exceptional.
Like other high-megapixel count smartphones, the Mate 30 Pro snaps 10-megapixel images by default, but you can enable the 40-megapixel shooting mode in the camera settings if you prefer. Not that you should, however: the photos I’ve taken using the Mate 30 Pro’s automatic shooting mode are filled to the brim with intricate details, completely blowing last year’s Mate 20 Pro clear out of the water and even managing to outperform the – almost perfect – iPhone 11 Pro in some circumstances.
As you can see from my side-by-side shots taken during a gloomy autumnal afternoon, the Mate 30 Pro captured fine details in neighbouring brickwork, chimney stacks and tree foliage, with the phone’s HDR algorithm successfully boosting darker, shadowy areas of the image without losing the finer details in window reflections.
Swapping the scenery for sunnier conditions, the Mate 30 Pro also managed to capture Munich’s baroque architecture in even greater detail. Churches, office buildings and canal-bordering green spaces looked as good as can be, although I must say the colour rendition isn’t quite as neutral as Apple’s efforts, thanks to Huawei’s colour-tweaking Master AI setting. I’d recommend switching it off in most scenarios.
I’m particularly impressed with the Mate 30 Pro’s portrait mode capabilities. It doesn’t allow you to adjust the level of background blur like the iPhone 11 Pro – you have to use the aperture mode for that – but the phone does an exceptional job at bringing your subject to the foreground of the image, without accidentally blurring out those finer details around the edge of the person you’re taking a picture of; in my case, my fiance’s flowery headwear:
As for video, the Mate 30 Pro is fully equipped to record 4K resolution footage at a buttery-smooth, fully-stabilised 60fps. The quality is equally superb, although I did notice a few instances of skipped frames when slowly panning across the scene. It’s not quite as good as the iPhone 11 Pro, but it’s certainly very close.
Huawei Mate 30 Pro review: Software
Finally, let’s talk about software. As I mentioned earlier, rather than using Huawei’s own Harmony OS, the firm is instead opting to use Android 10, although merely the open-source version. This means that Google’s first-party applications such as Maps, YouTube, and even the Play Store can’t be downloaded and aren’t preinstalled when you first boot the device.
This presents some serious issues. Firstly, while you might be able to sideload certain applications using APKs floating about on the internet, the majority of consumers won’t know how to do this, and it opens up your device to all sorts of potential nasties. There’s a third-party Google launcher currently doing the rounds on various forums, which supposedly adds most if not all of Google’s apps, but this involves granting it complete access to your phone and comes from an unofficial source, so I won’t be linking to it in this review.
Speaking of which, the Mate 30 Pro also won’t be supported with regular security updates, and will only receive these updates once they become available for the open-source version of Android. This means that your Mate 30 Pro will be last in line for important patches, receiving them long after its fully Google-supported competitors.
How about the current content offering, though? Well, as I mentioned earlier you can download apps through Huawei’s own App Gallery, although the list of software is sorely limited compared to Google’s storefront. You won’t find Facebook, Netflix or Fortnite on that list, that’s for damn sure.
As for what’s already on the phone, our Chinese handset was pre-installed with a bunch of unnecessary apps, which largely cater to the Chinese market. These included the popular social media service Weibo and the online retailer Alipay, though I suspect these apps won’t be pre-loaded if or when the Mate 30 Pro arrives in the UK. Still, it’s worth mentioning just in case.
Huawei Mate 30 Pro review: Verdict
It’s not a good time for Huawei to launch a new smartphone. The (admittedly forced) lack of support on Google’s end is potentially disastrous for the company, and while Huawei’s smartphone division may still stay afloat in China – where it doesn’t use Android – the Mate 30 Pro’s software experience is sorely limited elsewhere, and that’s a really big deal.
It’s certainly a shame because in every other aspect the Mate 30 Pro is as good as they come. The cameras manage to go toe-to-toe with the lofty capabilities of the iPhone 11 Pro, its performance and stamina is much improved over last year’s phone, and the new curved screen is positively gorgeous.
This might be why Huawei remains so tight-lipped when pressed for any official comment on a UK launch. Perhaps Huawei is biding its time until (hopefully) all of this kerfuffle with the US government blows over. Until then, I’d recommend staying away from the Mate 30 Pro for the time being, no matter how formidable a smartphone it may be.
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