(Pocket-lint) - Huawei's Mate 30 Pro arrived during September - a period of uncertainty surrounding the software on future Huawei phones as a result of Huawei's trade-blacklisting by the USA,
The problem is that, while it's an impressive-looking phone with a killer spec sheet and top-end features, it doesn't boast any Google apps out of the box. What's more Huawei says you can't install them.
That's unprecedented and is a big problem outside of China - while the handset has now been launched in the UK through Carphone Warehouse, it's not exactly been a high-profile launch.
As such the Mate 30 Pro is a conundrum. On the one hand, it's got all the usual hallmarks we've come to expect from Huawei: a beautiful glass and metal design, huge OLED display, water- and dust-proofing, excellent Leica camera hardware, and super-fast charging (with reverse charging, of course). On the other hand, does the lack of Google apps make it a total waste of time?
Software and apps
- EMUI 10 based on Android 10
- No Google apps like Gmail and Maps
- Huawei's AppGallery is limited at present
- Support for Android 10 gestures
The software that powers the Mate 30 Pro was the subject of constant speculation ahead of this device launch. The Mate 30 Pro is thankfully based on Android 10 with Huawei's EMUI 10 user interface on top, but crucially, as we mentioned there are no Google apps or services – and, officially, no way to install them.
Unofficially there is a way (see picture here, as we did it), but we can't recommend it and obviously Google and Huawei don't endorse it either.
We purposely haven't detailed it here because you potentially open up your phone to security risks.
It's not a matter of just simply sideloading the Google Play Store APK (installer), since Google Mobile Services (GMS) also needs to be loaded onto the handset. GMS is what enables the Google menu to appear in Settings and means you can sign the device into your Google account. Without this, the appeal of the device is significantly limited for European audiences.
Huawei has its own App Gallery store with some big-name apps and says it is working hard to appeal to developers, but it's clearly not the most straightforward sell.
Plus, these things take time, even if the monetary incentive is there. And as Huawei can't sell on US carriers, that's a chunk of the potential market that will most likely see developers consider their options even more closely. As with many Android device vendors, Huawei already has its own apps for things like mail, calendar and mapping.
Since EMUI 10 is based on Google's Android 10 operating system, many of the Mate 30 Pro's new features are actually new features coming to all Android 10 phones. There's a system-wide dark mode, plus you can now better control location permissions for apps.
The gestures that started appearing as an option in Android 9 Pie are encouraged as the default in Android 10 and EMUI 10 – you need to flick up to go back to the home screen or flick up and hold to app switch, while the back button is a swipe in from the left – but you can go back to the old skool and enable the Android three-button arrangement, should you wish.
It's difficult to escape the feeling that Google looked at how well the iPhone X gestures were received in 2017 before working on this arrangement. Some – like double-knock with a knuckle on the screen to take a screenshot – are absolutely essential on a handset that only has one button - though it took us ages to work out how to do that, things are not always that intuitive. But more on gestures shortly.
- Colours: Emerald Green, Cosmic Purple, Black, and Space Silver
- Dimensions: 158.1 x 73.1 x 8.8 mm / Weight: 198g
- Metal and Gorilla Glass 6 front-and-back
- IP68 water- and dust-resistance
- No 3.5mm headphone jack
The Mate 30 Pro is available in four colours and our review model is Cosmic Purple, which looks great (even though we prefer the Emerald Green).
Sadly there's no Twilight-style gradient finish this time around and while the phone is available in a special edition vegan leather green or orange edition, it's a shame there are also no bright colour finishes available like the P30 Pro's Amber Sunrise.
There are two elements that make this phone stand out. First, the 6.53-inch 'waterfall display' – called Horizon Display in Huawei speak – that curves away from the flat surface, meaning there's no edge bezel. We've seen this type of thing before, of course, in older Samsung Galaxy Edge phones most notably and more recently in the Vivo NEX 3.
Second, there's a circular camera housing on the back, with four lenses. This is a design change from last year's square housing in the Mate 20 Pro and because there are four lenses this time around the flash has been displaced – it's now on the left side of the back of the phone.
The design is certainly distinctive and will divide opinion – one user post we saw called it a 'washing machine door'. That's the kind of comment you can't get rid of after you've thought of it. But sit the Huawei next to the Apple iPhone 11 Pro and we much prefer the former!
The Mate 30 Pro's front and rear are Gorilla Glass 6 coated and Huawei claims there is fingerprint resistance, too. In our experience, however, the rear gets quite fingerprinty during use. We shouldn't be surprised, shiny phones always do.
As you'd expect, the phone is IP68-rated for waterproofing and dust-resistance (yes, even the leather versions). But it is quite heavy at a hearty 198g – although that's negligibly different from the Mate 20 Pro from 2018.
The Mate 30 Pro has a notch similar to its predecessor, too, but instead of the teardrop notch found on many other Android phones the one found here is much wider. This is mainly for the 3D Face Unlock technology, while there's also a gesture sensor, too, and these sensors have to go somewhere.
We're semi surprised Huawei hasn't tried to trim down the notch a little, but do most users care? Probably not. It's just that compared to the P30 Pro's 'waterdrop' notch this newer model does look like an older design.
Mind you, since Apple hasn't changed the iPhone X, XS and 11 FaceID notch, either, it doesn't look really dated. And using either the Mate 30 Pro or a Face ID iPhone you soon forget about the notch, anyway.
- 6.53-inch OLED 'Horizon Display', edge-to-edge with curved 'waterfall' sides
- 2,400 x 1,176 resolution (409ppi), 18.5:9 aspect ratio, HDR10 support
- Optical under-display fingerprint reader
The Mate 30 Pro has a 6.53-inch OLED display and, as we mentioned, it's curved at the edges – it is an impressive design element, but we don't view it as a revolution. It does mean you have a completely edge-to-edge display, though.
The resolution is good, the right balance between sharpness and assisting longevity – sure, it's not as resolute as the Samsung Galaxy S10 (with its whopping maximum of 3,040 x 1,440), but that competitor doesn't display maximum resolution by default anyway in order to conserve battery life.
As with the P30 Pro, the Mate 30 Pro's screen is used as a speaker, with Huawei's acoustic display technology. That's a change from the Mate 20 Pro which has a speaker in the notch. One disadvantage of this system is that it's not as good for playing music as you've only got the bottom speaker and taking phone calls isn't as clear either, especially in louder places.
You can change the volume just by double-tapping the edge of the display because that screen design means there are no volume buttons (there is a power button, although it's borderline on the rear of the device). The standard Android volume slider then appears on the screen for you to make adjustments.
We'll be seeing more of this kind of implementation on future handsets, as it's something the NEX 3 also embodies in a different format. It sounds all futuristic but, frankly, we find it a pain.
No longer can you turn your music up while your phone is in the pocket while tapping too far around the curve of the screen (towards the front) doesn't invoke the volume control, which isn't a great experience. For screenshots, there is a new Android 10 gesture where you double-tap the display with your knuckle to take one rather than using a power/volume combo.
There are also some user interface issues with apps when controls are too close to the edge – it can mean you have to attempt to press the icon a couple of times to get them to work. Again, not ideal, but that's the result of this new screen design.
New to the Mate 30 Pro is an always-on display. This isn't a plain colour – it looks shimmery even though it doesn't actually shimmer – and we rather like the way it looks. A definite feature to leave enabled.
- Main: 40MP 1/1.7in SuperSensing (RYYB) sensor, f/1.6, 26mm equivalent, OIS
- 'Cine' ultrawide: 40MP 1/1.54in (RGGB) sensor, f/1.8, 18mm equivalent
- Telephoto: 8MP 3x optical (80mm equiv.), f/2.4, OIS
- 3D Depth Sensing lens (Time of Flight)
As we said in our P30 Pro review, that device had a market-leading quad camera. There's a similar setup in the Mate 30 Pro, with the Leica partnership continuing, even though there are a few changes. That circular rear camera housing certainly is a standout element and is really quite striking.
We've written more about the cameras and what each does, the associated sensors and why different ones are used, in an individual feature.
In summary, the Mate 30 Pro wraps together a wide 40-megapixel large SuperSensing sensor with an all-new 40-megapixel ultra-wide Cine Camera, alongside an 8-megapixel 3x optical zoom. There's also a Time of Flight lens, which is essentially a depth sensor to provide background blur (the bokeh effect) available in post, which makes four in total.
The camera is able to detect what kind of scene you're shooting and adjust accordingly – the AI is extremely good at this and is very useful especially when shooting portraits. Although, as we've said previously, some of the adjustments are a little heavy-handed when boosting blues and greens.
So what are the changes from the P30 Pro's camera setup? First, the optical zoom is reduced on the Mate – it's now 3x instead 5x, possibly because the resulting images weren't quite so sharp in the Mate 30 Pro as on older Huawei models. The digital zoom is very decent, but when light is an issue detail breaks down given the sensor used here. It's still better than many on the market, but can't match the fidelity of its other sensors.
The wide-angle lens has also been made slightly less wide, probably to counteract softer edges. However, it has been given a significantly bigger 1/1.54-inch sensor which is great for quality, even at this ultra-high resolution.
In terms of video, the phone can shoot 60fps 4K as well as ultra slow-motion at a mind-blowing 7680 fps (256x). We've tried this out a lot but the effect is only useful for stuff that is moving very quickly. A bicycle wheel, for example, stays pretty still at that speed. Even shooting out of a car window on a main road is pretty unexciting. There have been some videos of coins spinning, and those are cool, but how many times do you actually need that kind of speed?
The Mate 30 Pro's night mode is a lot more useful than slow-mo and has become a Huawei strength over recent times. The images from the P30 Pro were excellent and those from this camera are similarly effective – our recent camera comparison shows how the P30 Pro stacks up against Google's Night Sight and the new iPhone 11 Pro, so think of this in much the same way.
For our money, Huawei remains best-in-class for external night shooting, with Google's Night Sight being maybe a little stronger inside. So the Mate 30 still has plenty to shout about in terms of cameras, even if the lack of apps might make it a little trickier to share these shots in all your favourite apps as you might usually.
Performance and battery life
- HiSilicon Kirin 990 processor, 8GB RAM
- USB-C, 40W wired charging
- 27W wireless charging
- Reverse wireless charging
- No 3.5mm headphone jack
- 256GB storage, NM card slot
- 4G and 5G handset options
The Kirin 990 is the new platform from Huawei's HiSilicon division. It retains an octa-core CPU at its heart and uses the latest Cortex-A76 ARM design and Mali G76 graphics processor in addition to some impressive AI smarts. Like the Kirin 980, it's based on the latest-gen 7nm production process.
This is Huawei's first phone with 5G baked into the platform – although our review device isn't a 5G model. At the launch event in Munich on 19 September 2019 Huawei showed speed tests – we weren't able to do these ourselves – which pegged the handset as achieving faster speeds than the Samsung S10 5G.
The wireless charging has been boosted to 27W, and the wired USB-C SuperCharge matches the 40W of the P30 Pro and last year's Mate 20 Pro. The reverse charging has also received a 3x improvement in terms of speed. The wireless charging improvement is welcome, but, as ever, there's no match for wired charging if you need speed.
In terms of the life you can get from the 4,200mAh battery, it really is rather stupendous. We tried hard to run this phone down and it's a serious improvement on last year's model – it's a genuine 24-hour-plus phone – you can quite easily get it to last well into the second day a little with general everyday use, including email, social apps, a bit of video streaming, plenty of photography and more. With lesser use, such as over a quieter weekend, you can get to the next morning with 20-30 percent of the battery left.
FaceID in Apple's iOS is pretty quick to unlock an iPhone using your pre-registered face, and the 3D Face Unlock inside the Mate 30 Pro is so supremely quick that you don't even notice it in action – especially if you choose for it to bypass the lock screen. It really does feel like you're using your phone completely unlocked, even though you're not of course.
As is par for the course on most new high-end Android phones, there's also an under-display fingerprint sensor, although if you've got the 3D Face Unlock activated then you'll hardly ever need to use it. It remains an optical sensor rather than ultrasonic, and while it could be a little quicker, it's certainly up there with others we've tested.
The Mate 30 Pro is a fantastic smartphone. The design is wonderful. The camera is superb. The battery life is supreme.
It's also flawed, through no direct fault of Huawei itself. The lack of Google apps is a big problem. How can stores, networks, or we recommend it against a competitor, when you can't do everything that you'd normally expect to? As tech enthusiasts and fans of recent Huawei flagship phones that makes us very sad, but it's the truth.
Such bad news can probably only be mitigated by a low price. But it isn't a low priced handset, so Huawei can't sell this phone in Europe effectively.
Huawei P30 Pro
So premium is the P30 Pro that it can be difficult to justify the existence of the Mate 30 in many ways. Plus it has those all-important Google apps.
Samsung Galaxy S10+
Of course there's always the even more premium Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10+ with the excellent S Pen stylus, but really most of us don't need it. That's where the second-largest S Series ever comes in. At 6.4-inches the S10+ is more like a Note series phone that's just a little smaller than the Mate.
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max
The 6.5-inch Pro Max is the closest to the Mate 30 Pro in terms of spec and camera smarts, if you're looking for the Apple alternative.