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Huawei P30 review: This phone takes ridiculous photos for a reasonable price

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The Good Huawei's P30 is a gorgeous phone with an astonishing camera setup. Its battery life is exceptional and the phone sells for a reasonable price.

The Bad Power output by the Kirin 980 processor is good but not great, and the P30 lacks the premium feel of the P30 Pro. Huawei's EMUI take on Android remains a cut below pure Android, iOS and even Samsung's One UI.

The Bottom Line The Huawei P30 offers you a best-in-class camera setup and a terrific design while commanding a smaller price than the Samsung Galaxy S10, or even the S10E. It's a fantastic deal, but a hassle to buy thanks to geopolitics.

8.6 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Camera 9.5
  • Battery 10

The Huawei P30 ($529 at Amazon) has the same processor as the P30 Pro ($795 at Amazon). The photos it takes are comparable to those taken by the P30 Pro. Unlike the P30 Pro, it has a headphone jack. Yet it's roughly $350 cheaper. If the smaller P30 has similar photographic clout and a slick design of its own, is there any reason to opt for the more expensive Pro?

That ultimately depends on your taste and how much cash you're willing to spend on a phone. The 6.1-inch P30 is palpably smaller than the 6.47-inch Pro, so large-handed people who prefer the phones like the iPhone Max and Pixel XL will feel less comfortable here. (Both are 2,340x1,080-pixel, Full-HD displays.) The P30 also lacks the Pro's curved display, wireless charging and, in exchange for the headphone jack, true water resistance. (It's splash proof, not waterproof.)

But the P30 isn't just competing with the Pro. It's also got Samsung's new Galaxy S10E and S10 phones to worry about. Here it's a clearer choice: Do you care more about your phone's camera or your phone's performance? If the former, the P30 is for you.

Thanks to geopolitical conflict, which has seen Huawei sue the US government, you'll find neither the P30 or P30 Pro at any major retailers or carriers in the US. The P30 sells for £699 in the UK and AU$1,099 in Australia, as well as in other countries. The Australian price, the cheaper price, converts to about $785. Meanwhile the Pro starts at £899 in the UK and sells for AU$1,599 in Australia. 

At nearly $800, the P30 is not cheap. It's tempting to label it a premium phone and compare it to the Pro, the iPhone XS ($1,000 at Amazon) or the Samsung Galaxy S10 ($858 at Amazon). If you're going to spend $800 on a phone, what's a few extra hundred bucks? But the truth is, flagship devices like the iPhone XS Max and Samsung's Galaxy S10 Plus are in a new class above premium. They've become luxury items.

There's nothing wrong with that, so If you're a hobbyist willing to splash on the best phone out there, you'll find the P30 makes a couple too many compromises. But if great is good enough and the idea of spending four digits on a phone sounds unnecessary, the Huawei P30 is a premium choice. And if photography is your main interest, it gives you a best-in-class camera setup for less than what the Samsung Galaxy S10, or even S10E, costs. 

The tri-camera setup is the star of the show here. 

Ian Knighton/CNET

Huawei P30 camera is still a pro

Outstanding cameras have been Huawei's brand identity since 2016, when it partnered with German photography studio Leica to produce one of the first dual-camera phones in the P9. Three years later, the P30 Pro now has the tech world agog with its quad-camera setup. Don't count out the P30, though. While it "only" has three rear cameras (and no dedicated 5x optical periscope zoom lens), the day-to-day pictures you take on the tricamera P30 look almost identical to those taken on the P30 Pro.

That is to say, really freaking good.

Here's what the P30's setup gives you: A 40 megapixel camera, a 16-megapixel ultrawide-angle shooter and an 8-megapixel telephoto lens for all your close-up needs. The P30 Pro has the same 40-megapixel main camera, but there's a 20-megapixel ultrawide-angle one too and the aforementioned 8-megapixel periscope lens for zooming. The P30 Pro also has a fourth lens, a time-of-flight sensor that the company says improves depth of field.

Easily the biggest difference between the two phones' cameras is the P30 Pro's periscope lens. The P30 has a respectable 3x optical zoom, 5x hybrid zoom and 30x digital zoom. The P30 Pro, meanwhile, gets 5x optical, 10x hybrid and 50x digital. Five. Zero. Most practically, this means the quality of image the P30 can produce with 3x zoom, the Pro can produce at 5x zoom.

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P30 versus the P30 Pro. The Pro's portrait shots are sharper, but not enough that you'd notice in anything other than a side-by-side comparison.

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P30 versus iPhone XS Max. Huawei's processing software often makes its portrait shots look less realistic than iPhone portraits. I like the iPhone shot, though many prefer Huawei's filtered look.

Ian Knighton/CNET
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P30 versus Samsung Galaxy S10E. Similar to above, I prefer the S10E's more realistic capturing of somber-looking Tim. Tim, however, liked his Huawei-captured likeness more. 

Ian Knighton/CNET
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Here's the Sydney Opera House shot at 5x zoom on the P30.

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And here it is at 5x zoom on the P30 Pro. Zoom is where you'll see the biggest quality difference between these two phones' cameras.

Daniel Van Boom/CNET

That's why I say that you'll notice little difference in day-to-day use. The P30 Pro's zooming is technically astonishing, but I can count on two hands the amount of times I've used a phone's zoom to take a picture in the last year. It could be a chicken-and-egg scenario where having 5x or 10x hybrid zoom makes zooming in on a subject a natural habit. But unless you already regularly use your phone camera's zoom, keep in mind that the biggest photography difference between the P30 and the Pro is one you may not ever actually take advantage of.

Outside of that, photos taken by the P30 Pro are slightly sharper, but not enough that you'll notice the difference in anything other than a side-by-side comparison. The P30 Pro has had lots of love for its insane night mode shots, which use software wizardry to lighten up even the darkest of scenes. The P30 performs just as well here.

The P30, like the Pro, also shoots terrific portrait mode shots. However, such bokeh-style shots, which mimic DSLR depth-of-field, have noticeable postprocessing touchup. Portrait photos taken on iPhones and the similarly priced Samsung Galaxy S10E ($585 at Amazon) look more realistic, and I personally prefer them. This is certainly a taste matter though, as many of the people I was photographing often preferred their likeness as captured by the Huawei P30. (Neither the iPhone XS or S10 range can compete when it comes to lowlight shots, though.) 

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Here's a night mode shot taken in my backyard. If this doesn't look impressive, check out the below photo.

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Here's the same shot taken by the iPhone XS Max. Absolute madness. 

Daniel Van Boom/CNET

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