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

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The Huawei P30 has the same processor as the P30 Pro. 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?

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8.6

Huawei P30

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.

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. 

Huawei's P30 looks like fantastic forbidden fruit

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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 or the Samsung Galaxy S10. 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. 

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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.

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Watch this: Huawei P30 review: Is there any reason to go Pro?

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.

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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. 

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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.

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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 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. 

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The quiet MVP of both phones' setup may be the P30's ultrawide lens. It gives you the kind of extra space in your shot that would otherwise come from taking two or three steps back. That's a gift from the heavens for group or vista photos. In this sense it's the opposite of the zoom: It's the feature I foresee myself using regularly and would mourn the absence of.

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Ultrawide lens: Here's a church on a sunny day...

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...and here's a picture taken from the exact same spot with ultrawide mode activated. 

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The P30 and the Pro have the same 32-megapixel selfie camera. It can take portrait shots, a common capability of flagship phones now but still a nice touch, and uses a white-screen flash for dark environments. Don't let all those megapixels fool you, though. It is an above-average selfie shooter, but it's a step behind the iPhone XS' 7-megapixel selfie camera. 

For a deep dive on how the P30 family's cameras work, check out this guide

P30 processor speed and battery life: The good, the bad, the ugly 

The Huawei P30, like its Pro sibling, is powered by a Kirin 980 CPU. That's the exact same processor in last year's Mate20 Pro, as well as the Honor View20, a phone released earlier this year that, at £499 (converts to roughly $649, AU$899), is cheaper than the P30 (and much cheaper than the Pro).

Compared to the Samsung Galaxy S10 and Google Pixel 3 ranges, powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 and 855 processors respectively, the P30 phones both perform poorly in benchmark tests. But this is one of those times when theoretical tests reflect little practical reality. The P30 phones are more than powerful enough to handle any task you throw at them. Games like Asphalt 9: Legends and high spec-mode PUBG were silky smooth on the P30.

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Watch this: Huawei P30 review: Is there any reason to go Pro?

So yes, on paper the P30 doesn't perform as well as competitors -- luckily for Huawei phones aren't made on paper. But there is still one problem that plagues the company's phones: EMUI. That's Huawei's software layer that sits above Android 9 Pie.

Huawei's take on Android gives a bad first impression by coming preloaded with bloatware. As well as Facebook and Netflix, the home screen is by default populated with Booking.com's app plus a third-party beautification app I'd never heard of. The worst offenders are Huawei's own apps, many of which can't be deleted and are superfluous, serving the same purpose as Google's superior default apps.

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The P30 isn't the fastest phone on the market, but it's definitely fast enough.

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Some aesthetic aspects of the operating system have been updated. But the screensavers are a few years old now, noticeable for anyone who's owned a recent Huawei phone and perceivably outdated when compared to the freshened-up wallpapers and iconography. You can enable an app drawer in settings, and you can also download a custom launcher to circumvent some of the software's rough edges. None of this may sound like a big deal, but it's the small, muddled software design choices that keep EMUI leagues below pure Android or even Samsung's improved Android design, One UI.

Some of that hassle is offset by the convenience of a long battery life. In our standardized battery test, which involves turning the phone on airplane mode and running a HD video on loop, the 3,650-mAh battery lasted 21 hours, 31 minutes, a few hours more than the exceptional S10 range. (The P30 Pro had even greater endurance, running just under 23 hours.)

Outside of its robust foundation, the P30 is feature rich. Like the Mate20 Pro before it, there's both facial recognition and an in-screen fingerprint scanner. That fingerprint scanner works well once you get used to it, but it can't authorize payments. Meanwhile, the P30's fastcharge feature is spectacular. I was able to get 50% in just under a half hour. Unlike the Pro, there's no wireless charging. But, and this deserves repeating, there is a headphone jack. 

Devilish design

Huawei sure does know how to design an eye-catching phone. Last year's P20 Pro came in a pearlescent Twilight color that merged turquoise and purple. That obviously proved a hit, because Huawei's P30 range is almost all pearlescent.

The P30, like the Pro, come in five colours: Aurora Blue, Breathing Crystal, Amber Sunrise, Pearl White and Black. We got the P30 in Aurora Blue, which combines a turquoise blue with a deeper, ocean blue, and the Pro in Breathing Crystal, which merges an icy blue with a lavender purple. The latter almost looks like a Game of Thrones White Walker-themed phone. The more subtle tones of the Breathing Crystal appeal to me more, but both look fantastic.

Where the P30 and Pro differ drastically is in feel. The Pro feels more luxurious, like a truly premium phone. That's partially because of its curved display, which some people love and others hate. But it also has a real substantial weight to it. It wouldn't be fair to say the P30 feels cheap but, after switching between it and the Pro or an iPhone XS, there's a distinct weightlessness to it. It doesn't feel as robust. 

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The Pro in Breathing Crystal and the P30 in Aurora Blue. 

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What about the competition?

The P30 is an excellent phone and is priced fairly, but it's not the only phone that fits that bill. How does Huawei's P30 compare to similarly priced competitors?

Huawei P30 versus Google Pixel 3: To my mind, the P30's greatest competitor isn't the Pro, it's the Google Pixel 3. The Pixel line is also known for its photographic preeminence, and is the only competitor with competitive low-light photography. The P30's night mode still outdoes the Pixel 3's though, and between zoom and ultrawide shots is more fully featured. (I personally prefer the Pixel's portraits.) The Pixel 3's strength is its pure Android OS. However, the P30 has smaller bezels, a bigger screen (6.1 versus 5.5 inches) and is cheaper.

Huawei P30 versus Samsung Galaxy S10E/S10: The P30 is a touch cheaper than Samsung's Galaxy S10E and over a hundred bucks cheaper than the S10. Much of what applies above is true here. Samsung's S10E and S10 phones are fantastic, have terrific cameras and a better OS than the P30. They simply can't compete, however, when it comes to night-time photography. The S10E, while being comparable in price, also has a smaller display (5.8-inches versus 6.1-inches).

Huawei P30 versus Huawei P30 Pro: A real The Hound versus The Mountain situation. Both phones have the same, powerful processor, excellent cameras and the same main weakness, a lacklustre operating system. If the P30 is already on the upper end of what you'd like to spend on a phone, the P30 Pro doesn't have any tangible features to lure you away. However, if you do spend the extra dough you'll get a phone that, between it's larger, curved screen and two-way wireless charging, feels a lot more luxurious. 

Huawei P30 versus Galaxy S10


Huawei P30Huawei P30 ProSamsung Galaxy S10Google Pixel 3
Display size, resolution 6.1-inch OLED; 2,340x1,080-pixels6.47-inch OLED; 2,340x1,080-pixels6.1-inch AMOLED; 3,040x1,440 pixels5.5-inch OLED; 2,280x1,080 pixels
Pixel density 422 ppi398 ppi550 ppi443 ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 5.87x2.81x0.30 in6.22x2.89x0.33 in5.9x2.77x0.31 in5.7x2.7x0.3 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 149.1x71.4x7.57 mm158x73.4x8.41 mm149.9x70.4x7.8 mm145.6x68.2x7.9 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 5.82 oz; 165g6.77 oz.; 192 g5.53 oz; 157 g5.2oz; 148g
Mobile software Android 9.0 with EMUI 9.1Android 9.0 with EMUI 9.1Android 9.0 with One UIAndroid 9 Pie
Camera 40-megapixel (standard), 16-megapixel (ultra wide), 8-megapixel 3X optical telephoto zoom10-megapixel (standard), 20-megapixel (ultra wide), 8-megapixel 5X optical periscope zoom, TOF (time of flight) sensor12-megapixel (wide-angle), 16-megapixel (ultra wide-angle), 12-megapixel (telephoto)12.2-megapixel
Front-facing camera 32-megapixel32-megapixel10-megapixel8-megapixel standard, 8-megapixel wide-angle
Video capture 4K4K4K4K
Processor Kirin 980 processorKirin 980 processorQualcomm Snapdragon 855Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
Storage 128GB128GB, 512GB, 1TB128GB, 512GB64GB, 128GB
RAM 6GB8GB8GB4GB
Expandable storage Up to 256GB with proprietary NM cardUp to 256GB with proprietary NM cardUp to 512GBNone
Battery 3,650 mAh4,200 mAh3,650 mAh2,915 mAh
Fingerprint sensor In-screen (optical)In-screen (ultrasonic)In-screen (ultrasonic)Back cover
Connector USB-CUSB-CUSB-CUSB-C
Headphone jack YesNoNoNo
Special features Camera night mode, 40w Huawei SuperCharge, IP53 water resistanceCamera night mode, 40w Huawei SuperCharge, 15w wireless charging, reverse charging, IP68 water resistanceWireless PowerShare; hole punch screen notch; water resistant (IP68); Fast Wireless Charging 2.0Water resistant (IPX8); wireless charging support; Pixel Buds USB-C headphones in the box
Price off-contract (USD) Converts to $780Converts to $1,135$900$799 (64GB); $899 (128GB)
Price (GBP) £699 (128GB)£899 (128GB)£799£739 (64GB); £839 (128GB)
Price (AUD) AU$1,099AU$1,599AU$1,349AU$1,149 (64GB); AU$1,349 (128GB)
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8.6

Huawei P30

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Camera 9.5Battery 10