Huawei Mate 30 Pro review: This camera is also a phone

Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 01 2019 06:14 AM

Huawei’s Mate 30 Pro is shown as reflected on a car side mirror in Osaka, Japan. Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News

NAOSHIMA, Japan -- Three years since it partnered with Leica and Porsche Design, Huawei is one of only three mainstream smartphone makers that can command premium pricing, on the same tier as Samsung and Apple. 

Huawei's current torchbearer, the Mate 30 Pro, carries the weight of expectations from the Shenzhen-based tech giant: fantastic cameras, sexy design, blistering fast performance and freedom from battery anxiety.

It is also the first Huawei device to launch without Google's app suite out of the box, the company being a casualty of US President Donald Trump's trade war with China. It does, however, run an open source version of Android 10, which offers software possibilities.

Does it measure up? For this review, I tested the Mate 30 Pro from its launch in Munich, Germany on Sept. 19, using it as a work machine, as my only camera, as a video streaming companion and a portable hotspot for my laptop and personal phone.

CAMERA KING

Let's go straight to what makes the Mate 30 Pro standout: its seven cameras. Mobile photography DxOMark currently ranks the Mate 30 Pro as the best camera on a smartphone, dislodging the Galaxy Note 10+. The website has yet to rate the Apple iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max.

That DxOMark review and Huawei's branding aside, (It's still Leica-engineered, this-time "super sensing"), the Mate 30 Pro takes gorgeous photos. Reds and blues are rich, images are sharp and the AI-backed auto-adjustment is a tad less aggressive, making the photos look more natural.

The camera focused instantly and the night mode is the brightest I've seen so far, compared to the Huawei's own P30 Pro, the Google Pixel 3XL and the Galaxy Note 10+.

Here are some sample shots taken in Osaka, Kobe and the islands of Teshima and Naoshima in Japan:

A giant version of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama's yellow pumpkin sculpture is displayed at the beach in Naoshima Island, Japan. Photo taken using the Huawei Mate 30 Pro. Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News
A flower is shot close up using the Huawei Mate 30 Pro. Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News
The sculpture "The Gift of the Sun" at Shodoshima Island in Japan is shown in this photo taken using the Huawei Mate 30 Pro. Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News
The Naoshima Island coastline in Japan is seen from a lookout point in this photo taken using the Huawei Mate 30 Pro. Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News 
The Spiderman ride in Universal Studios, Osaka is shown in this photo taken using the Huawei Mate 30 Pro. Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News
The Minions Park in Universal Studios, Osaka is shown in this photo taken using the Huawei Mate 30 Pro. Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News
Unicorn toys are shown in this photo taken using the Huawei Mate 30 Pro. Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News
The Dotonbori food district in Osaka, Japan is shown in this photo taken using the Huawei Mate 30 Pro. Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News
The Sesame Street indoor park in Universal Studios, Osaka, Japan is shown in this photo taken using the Huawei Mate 30 Pro. Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News
A Hello Kitty dress display is shown in this photo taken using the Huawei Mate 30 Pro. Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News

The zoom on the Mate 30 Pro maxes out at 30X compared to 50X on the P30 Pro from last summer. Unlike the P30 Pro, the Mate 30 Pro does not have a "periscope" lens for that crazy zoom.

What the Mate 30 Pro does have are two 40MP cameras, an 8MP shooter and a depth-sensing sensor in a halo-shaped module. The three cameras on the front allow for improved facial scanning compared to previous generations.

The Sun Sister statue outside the Hyogo Prefectural Museum is shown in this photo taken using ultra wide angle mode on the Huawei Mate 30 Pro. Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News
The Sun Sister statue outside the Hyogo Prefectural Museum is shown in this photo taken using 5x zoom on the Huawei Mate 30 Pro. Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News
The Sun Sister statue outside the Hyogo Prefectural Museum is shown in this photo taken using 30x zoom on the Huawei Mate 30 Pro. Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News

I did take a lot of videos with the Mate 30 Pro. The shots were steady despite my shaky hands.

The DxOMark review scored video capture on the Mate 30 Pro highest on auto focus (96) and stabilization (94). Huawei is clearly targeting content creators with the Mate 30 Pro, even offering a gimbal accessory.

The Mate 30 Pro can shoot slow motion up to 7680 frames per second at 720p resolution. It's easy to use as long as the subject does not blend too much into the background.

Birds taking flight and fast-moving toys were easier to capture compared to water splashes from a theme park ride.

A pinwheel toy at Universal Studios Japan is shot in slow motion using the Huawei Mate 30 Pro. Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News
The Spiderman ride is shown in this video taken using the Huawei Mate 30 Pro. Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News

MATE GETS CURVES

During his keynote in Munich, Huawei consumer business CEO Richard Yu poked fun at how the square camera module on the Apple iPhone 11 Pro copied the Mate 20 Pro from 2018. 

If the current crop of smartphones tells something about Huawei, is that it's become a design trendsetter. The green and purple "Twilight" P20 Pro started the gradient paint job trend while the Mate 20 Pro differentiated itself with a textured glass back in "Emerald Green." The new iPhone color for 2019 is "Forest Green."

For the Mate 30 Pro, Huawei placed the rear cameras in a circular "halo ring," underscoring its marquee feature. On the front, it still sports the iPhone-esque notch that houses the 3 front-facing cameras.

The Mate 30 Pro is a head-turner and my review unit, officially called silver, shifts from light lavender to pale blue. It's slippery, which should be addressed by the matte finish or vegan leather on the back of other color options.

The display, which curves 88 degrees to the side edges makes the screen appear floating ion the hand, though for a work phone, we preferred using the Galaxy Note 10+, which has a flatter and higher resolution panel.

Flipping the phone in the hand when not looking, I often forgot if the front or back of the phone is facing me, resulting in accidental touches. When using the phone, however, I hardly had any screen misreads, especially from the fleshy part of the palm below the thumb joint.

Needless to say curved "horizon" and "waterfall" displays are more aesthetic (to some) than useful. 

The Mate 30 Pro feels slimmer and much lighter in the hand compared to the iPhone XS Max.

WORKHORSE

The Mate 30 kept up with whatever kind of day I threw at it: taking dozens of photos and videos, roaming on both SIM cards, data tethering, watching movies during long train and plane rides.

I never ran out of juice before I reached my Airbnb after a late night "konbini" or convenience store run. The bundled 45W charger can take it to full charge from 50 percent while I showered and got ready in the morning, which is about half an hour.

Remember the days of the iPhone 5? It had the best camera on a mobile phone but at that time but never lasted before lunch hour.

As expected from Huawei's Kirin 990, the phone was fast, though not remarkably faster than the P30 Pro, at least when browsing the web and streaming video.

Save for the iconography, EMUI 10 is the zippiest of Huawei's Android skins so far. The semi-transparent notification shade gets a Pixel-style circle shape makeover. The buttons move to the bottom chin of the screen, Samsung-style, when the entire shade is pulled down.

EMUI, along with OnePlus, have the easiest gesture navigations among Android phones that I've used.

Face unlock and the in-display fingerprint sensor were both as fast as smartphones could get at the end of 2019.

NEXT GENERATION MATE

Four generations on, it's hard to think that the Mate 30 Pro is the successor to the Mate 9, an awkward rectangular slab with an aluminium back a pair of small cameras on the rear.

With a huge screen, a curved glass body and that "halo" module for the quad cameras, Huawei blurred the lines between the P series that launches in spring (or summer in the Philippines) and the Mate line that comes out at the end of the year.

The Mate 30 Pro delivers on Huawei's promise: a solid camera that ranks among the best, fast performance, eye-catching design and a fast-charging battery that lasts an entire day with heavy use.