MANILA — Huawei was the only smartphone vendor in the world to grow shipments in the January to March period according to industry tracker IDC, seizing the number 2 spot from Apple and challenging Samsung for the crown in a saturated market.
With the quad-camera Huawei P30 Pro released last April, the Shenzhen-based firm crossed the P50,000 price mark for the first time (the Mate 20 Pro was just P10 short), entering the territory of the iPhone XS Max and the Samsung Galaxy S10+.
It’s a three-cornered comparison that would not be possible 2 years ago, but Huawei paid its dues: a co-engineering partnership with Leica, Porsche design branding and celebrity endorsements.
We spent several weeks at a time with the Huawei P30 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S10+ and Apple iPhone XS Max, using them for both work and play. At their highest price points possible, the world's three largest smartphone makers offer the best specs available.
Except for the iPhone XS Max, the metal and glass slabs represent a refinement of a design signature that was at least 2 years in the making.
The gradient paint job on the back of the Huawei P30 Pro (and P30) are more eye-catching than ever. The "breathing crystal" variant shifts from light blue to purple to gold and "amber sunrise" changes from red to the orange tint on Hermes products. "Aurora" is a blue and green update to the "Twilight" hue on the P20 series. It is also available in black.
The effect is less pronounced on the Samsung S10 line. The "prism white" gives the phone a pearl-like sheen while the "prism green" makes the handset look almost like a jewel.
The iPhone XS Max, unashamedly, is a blown up version of the iPhone X from 2017. The iPhone XS is a twin of the iPhone X, except for upgraded internals. Only the gold option makes the XS distinct from the X. Those who want colors outside gold, silver and space gray should look to the iPhone XR.
The iPhone XS Max is the heaviest at 200 grams, which will hurt a bit if it falls to your face when you use it lying down in bed.
Stacked side-by-side, the trio shows the evolution of the notch, from the wide cutout on the iPhone XS Max, to the dewdrop on the Huawei P30 Pro to the oval cutout on the Samsung S10+. All screens are around 6.5 inches big, making them ideal for media consumption.
Apple kept the display flat while Samsung and Huawei went for curved sides, which is more pronounced on the Huawei P30 Pro. Samsung has the sharpest brightest screen. It's so good at making display panels that it supplies panels to Apple.
It will be unfair to compare the Huawei P30 Pro's Full HD screen to the higher resolution QHD panel on the Samsung S10+ and XS Max. The P30 Pro's screen doesn't feel like a compromise unless you place it side by side with a QHD screen. A Full HD screen also saves battery.
The Huawei P30 Pro packs the most camera hardware, with its Leica Quad Camera System: a 40-megapixel wide angle lens with optical image stabilization, a 20MP ultra-wide lens, an 8MP telephoto and a time of flight or TOF depth sensor.
The 10x optical zoom and 50x digital zoom on the Huawei P30 Pro is unmatched, powered by the square-shaped periscope lens on the camera array. A recent software update now enables "Dual View," allowing users to take split-screen videos using the primary and zoom lens at the same time.
The Samsung S10+ has 3 cameras: a 12MP wide with OIS, a 12MP telephoto with OIS and a 16MP ultrawide. It has 2 front-facing cameras for wide-angle selfies, compared to a single lens on the front of the Huawei P30 pro.
Still, the Samsung S10+ takes bright and clear photos. Colors pop without looking too saturated, especially when taking food photos. Indoor and outdoor shots capture a great amount of detail especially with good lighting.
Side-by-side, the Huawei P30 Pro takes cooler photos with sharper contrasts while the Samsung S10+ leans towards warmer tones.
The iPhone XS Max has 2 12MP lenses at the back, one wide and one telephoto. The twin cameras on the front allow Apple's excellent Face ID system to unlock the device.
Spoiled on the wide-angle shooter on the Huawei P30 Pro and the Samsung S10+, the iPhone XS Max's camera feels like a compromise when shooting panoramic views. Nonetheless, it takes clear, vivid pictures. It also lacks the excellent night mode of the P30 Pro.
The 3 phones come with the best processors available on their respective platforms. Huawei and Apple packed their own chips, the AI-powered Kirin 980 on the P30 Pro and the A12 Bionic on the XS Max.
The S10+ is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 or Samsung's own Exynos 980 depending on the market. All phones are blazing fast out of the box, but we have yet to see how these hold up with prolonged usage.
Huawei claims the AI smarts on the Kirin 980 will help the P30 Pro stay fast. Apple phones, on the other hand, have a reputation for slowing down when upgraded to the newest version of iOS.
Huawei's EMUI 9 overlay on top of Android 9 Pie is the most polished version yet, but still has its quirks. It's gesture-based navigation is among the most fluid for Android. Swiping from the center to return to the home screen and from either side to go back is intuitive.
On the Samsung S10+ the bottom of the screen can be swiped up from 3 areas, mimicking the layout of its "back-home-recent" on-screen buttons.
Apple's gesture navigation is the most fluid and the most intuitive.
Both the P30 Pro and the S10+ have in-display fingerprint sensors. We found the Huawei version faster than Samsung's. Face ID on XS Max is blazing fast. If you want face unlock on Android, the Mate 20 Pro is a good option.
The Huawei P30 Pro is the clear battery champion. For power users, this will matter more than its excellent camera set. The 4,200 mAh cell charges quickly at 40 watts and can reverse-charge other Qi-compatible devices.
The Samsung S10+ with 4,100 mAh and the XS Max with 3,174 mAh can last from early morning to late evening on a single charge, but will need a quick top up if you plan to use it all night. The Huawei P30 Pro doesn't come with battery anxiety. It will depend, of course, on how you use your phone.
WHICH ONE IS FOR YOU
Those who want a powerful camera and the best battery life on a flagship phone, wrapped in an eye-catching glass shell will not be disappointed with the Huawei P30 Pro.
Those who use their phones to consume media will feel right at home with the S10+. It's the sexiest Galaxy yet, with a reliable battery and triple cameras, a first for Samsung.
Those who prefer the iOS ecosystem will be very happy with the iPhone XS Max. People stick to iPhones because they just work and they do so easily and beautifully. It's fast and intuitive with great cameras, just don't challenge the Huawei P30 Pro or the Samsung S10+ to a shootout. Or wait for the next iPhones in September.
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