Huawei Mate 30 Pro review: This phone is a work of art

Huawei’s Mate 30 Pro is the most beautiful device that I’ve ever held in my hands. It catches the eye in a way that few smartphones can. In my own experience, even friends I’ve shown it to that would otherwise never care about smartphones are drawn to it.

Of course, there’s more to it than just being pretty. It’s the first smartphone from Huawei to use its in-house Kirin 990 chipset, released late last year. That means that it’s faster and has some new camera features, such as 4K 60fps video capture. The handset supports 40W wired charging, but it also has 27W wireless charging now.

Obviously, there are no Google services installed, and this is a topic that I’m going to talk about less and less as time goes on. More on that later.

Specs

CPU Huawei Kirin 990, dual 2.86GHz Cortex-A76, dual 2.09GHz Cortex-A76, quad 1.86GHz Cortex-A55
GPU 16-core Mali-G76
NPU Big Core + Tiny Core NPUs (Neural-network Processing Unit)
Display 6.53 inches, 2400×1176, OLED, 409ppi
Body 158.1×73.1×8.8mm, 198g
Camera 40MP SuperSensing + 40MP Cine Camera + 8MP 3x zoom, Front – 32MP + depth sensor
Aperture f/1.1 + f/1.8 + f/2.4, Front – f/2.0
Video capture 4K – 60fps, Front – 1080p – 30fps
Battery 4500mAh
RAM 8GB
Storage 256GB
Colors Cosmic Purple, Space Silver, Emerald Green, Black
OS EMUI 10
Price €1,099

Day one

Design

I can’t tell you how many smartphones I’ve seen in the past year with a rectangular camera module on the top-left corner of the back of the device, and that includes Huawei’s own P40 Pro. Before that, the trend was a strip of camera lenses in that corner. Very rarely these days do we see a truly unique design.

The Mate 30 Pro looks like no other device. It has a circular camera housing, just like the OnePlus 7T, but it has a metallic circle around it. This addition serves no purpose other than to look pretty, and it gets the job done.

Huawei has mastered design at this point, thinking outside of the box and breaking us free from the days of boring, black or white devices. The firm has pioneered using different finishes and gradients on smartphones, and it’s something that the rest of the industry has mimicked. The Mate 30 Pro is the pinnacle of this.

The handset has curved sides and a flat top and bottom, making it comfortable to hold while maintaining a unique shape. On the right side of the device, there’s a power button, and that’s the only button on the device. Interestingly, there is no volume rocker.

Instead, you can double-tap on the side of the screen where the volume rocker would be, and the slider will appear on the screen. It’s super-cool, but it’s not without shortcomings. The feature doesn’t work from the lock screen, let alone when the screen is off. That means that you’ll have to unlock your phone every time you want to adjust the volume. It’s a minor inconvenience, but it’s worth noting.

On the bottom of the device, there’s a USB Type-C port for charging or using the USB Type-C headphones that are included in the box. There’s also a nano-SIM slot that can either be used for two SIM cards, or one SIM card and Huawei’s NM storage. If you’re unfamiliar with NM storage, you can think of it like microSD but in the shape of a nano-SIM card.

Display

The front of the device is just as pleasant and dazzling as the back of it. It has what Huawei calls a Horizon Display, with curved edges on the sides and no visible bezel. It’s a 2400×1176 OLED panel, so it’s just over Full HD.

Since the sides are so sharply curved, that’s how it can feel so natural to double-tap on the side to get to the volume controls. And the screen is just beautiful, with bright and vibrant OLED colors, and true blacks.

Unlike the new P40 Pro, which has a hole-punch cut-out, the Mate 30 Pro has a notch to pack in the 32MP front-facing camera and depth sensor.

Huawei’s software is different from other OEMs in that it restricts certain features on non-OLED devices. Since the Mate 30 Pro does have an OLED screen, you get things like dark mode and the always-on display. And as you can see from the image above, you can’t actually see where the screen ends and the bezel begins. Obviously, with a backlit LCD, you wouldn’t be able to get that fluid look.

There’s also an in-display fingerprint sensor, which is definitely one of the better ones around. I feel like the market on fingerprint readers was reset when we switched from dedicated sensors to in-display ones, where they’re just not as good as they used to be and the technology needs to catch up. For that reason, I like to give a shout-out to the companies doing well in this area, like Huawei and OnePlus. Other companies, like Samsung, are not.

Huawei Mobile Services

As I noted earlier, there are no Google services on this Android phone, and I also said that this is something that I’ll be talking about less and less. I tend to think of things like Huawei’s EMUI and Amazon’s Fire OS as their own operating systems, rather than versions of Android that are somehow lacking because one company is denying its apps to them. When I write reviews, I try not to comment as much on the OS itself; for example, I don’t comment on the pros and cons of iOS in an iPhone review.

It’s still relevant, as Huawei Mobile Services is continuing to mature, and to be clear, this isn’t viable for everyone. But eventually, it’s just going to be the way things are.

First of all, let me try and describe my use case. I use a lot of Amazon and Microsoft services. On the Amazon side of things, I use Music Unlimited, Prime Video, Kindle, Comixology, and Audible. From Microsoft, I use OneDrive, OneNote, To Do, and more.

All of these apps are easy enough to get on the Mate 30 Pro. One of the first apps I install is the Amazon Appstore, so those Amazon apps are super-easy to get. Many Microsoft apps are available from Huawei’s AppGallery (including the brand-new Office app), and some are in Amazon’s store.

I highly recommend using Phone Clone when setting up the device. This will bring over the vast majority of your non-Google apps, and it will give you a solid start. Anything else will come from AppGallery, a third-party app store, or just from side-loading.

Now let’s talk about Google apps. The situation isn’t as bad as many would have you believe. The two key things I need are Gmail and Google Calendar. There are plenty of solutions for either. You can use a third-party client, such as the built-in Email app, Microsoft Outlook, and so on. Or if you still want first-party, you can pin the mobile website you your home screen.

Yes, we live in a world of PWAs now. You remember PWAs, right? That was the thing that was going to bridge all app gaps and bring us into a truly cross-platform world. We’re not quite in that utopian world yet, but they can still definitely help here.

Using Gmail like this is actually a pretty good experience. Interestingly, Google Calendar is absolutely terrible. It looks like a mobile website from a decade ago. Things like YouTube and Google Photos are great, although I haven’t gotten automatic uploads for Google Photos to work.

Here’s the bad news though. This is a lot of work to set up your phone and get it the way that you like it. We’re talking about a first-party app store that won’t have most of what you need, side-loading a third-party app store, side-loading apps that that third-party store doesn’t have, and installing PWAs from the web. It’s not optimal.

But in my opinion, it’s worth it. The hardware is absolutely good enough to have to go through a few workarounds, and once you get the hang of it, it’s fine. That assumes, of course, that the workarounds are enough. If you depend on a native app that requires Google Maps or something like that, then this is simply not viable.

Camera

Huawei has been at the forefront of smartphone camera innovation for years now, starting with its Leica partnership and more recently, offering incredible low-light improvements using RYYB instead of RGB. The Mate 30 Pro has some improvements over the P30 Pro (which came out six months earlier), such as a higher resolution wide-angle lens, but the P30 Pro has its own advantages as well.

The 8MP telephoto lens on the Mate 30 Pro offers 3x optical zoom, and that’s compared to 5x on the P30 Pro and the P40 Pro. In fact, the P40 Pro even has a 5x RYYB lens now, but the P-series has always been about camera improvements.

Let’s put it this way. The Mate 30 Pro has the same main lens as the P30 Pro, the same zoom lens as the P30, and the same ultra-wide lens as the P40 Pro. It’s a pretty solid combination, but it’s not the best combination. For camera performance, I’d still go with the P30 Pro. Obviously, I’d go with the P40 Pro+, which has 3x and 10x zoom lenses and I frankly can’t wait to get my hands on one, but I’m trying to be fair to what was on the market at the time that the Mate 30 Pro was released.

The camera does support 4K 60fps video capture now, something that’s enabled by the Kirin 990 chipset. That wasn’t available in the P30 series, and Huawei was the last chip vendor to offer it. Apple has had the feature in its iPhones for three generations now, as has Qualcomm in its flagship Snapdragon chipsets.

One thing that I love about Huawei cameras is just the natural bokeh effect that you get from taking a close-up shot, like the ones of the flowers. There are a few other things to talk about here though.

The low-light performance is still far superior to anything on the market that’s not made by Huawei. You can see that I took a picture of the woods behind my apartment and it looks like there’s a light on. However, you can also see what happens if I switch to 3x zoom. There’s a big difference.

The first two pictures were taken in my bedroom with the lights off. One is with 3x zoom, and the much brighter one is where I walked up and took the picture with the main lens, standing closer to the subject.

I also want to give a shout-out to Huawei on how well it handles zoom. The Mate 30 Pro goes up to 30x zoom, and it really looks a lot better than on Samsung’s Galaxy S20+.

Performance and battery life

The Mate 30 Pro comes with a Kirin 990 and 8GB RAM, so it gets the job done. It’s almost not worth writing about flagship smartphone performance anymore. Obviously, software is targeted at something lesser than this, so it’s not like you’re going to find some super-demanding app that puts it through its paces.

The Mate 30 Pro also doesn’t have a QHD display like many other premium handsets. That means that it’s not as taxing on the GPU, so it runs games pretty well. I’d love to have seen a 90Hz refresh rate like we have on the P40 Pro display, but that will have to wait for this year’s Mate series.

Battery life is fine, as I had no trouble getting through the day. I’m also more impressed with charging capabilities. The 40W wired charging is amazing, life-changing even. And when I say that, I mean that you can put the phone on the charger for such a short period of time to get a decent charge that it will change your habits.

27W wireless charging is wild. Huawei sent me its SuperCharge Wireless Charger and it’s just fantastic. I love wireless charging, because it lets me place my phone on my desk and it just charges throughout the day. I let the battery drain sometimes for review purposes, but it’s easy enough to set up a system where your phone just stays charged.

For benchmarks, I used Geekbench 4, AnTuTu, and GFXBench. First up is Geekbench 4, which tests the CPU.

These scores are pretty similar to the P40 Pro, which also has a Kirin 990 and 8GB RAM. You’ll find that it’s outperformed by Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 865 and Apple’s A13 Bionic. Keep in mind that Qualcomm refreshes its products in the spring while Huawei does in the fall, so these things go back and forth. This is more comparable to the Snapdragon 855.

Again, this is similar to the P40 Pro. It’s worth comparing the two since I only reviewed that device a week ago. Finally, GFXBench tests the GPU.

Conclusion

For the last few weeks, I’ve lived in the Huawei ecosystem. My phone was either the P40 Pro or the Mate 30 Pro, my smartwatch was the Watch GT 2, and I even used a MediaPad for my tablet. This path is never one that I regret. I’m not sure I’ve ever been sent a Huawei product that I didn’t like. The ecosystem all works together too, with Huawei Share enabling seamless file transfer.

The Mate 30 Pro is my new favorite phone. It’s a first for me for my favorite phone to not include my favorite camera, which is on the P40 Pro. But this thing really is a work of art. It’s the type of device that returns the favor when you turn it on.

There are two main issues. One is that as I mentioned, it might not be viable for some to live without Google apps. For most people, you’ll get used to it pretty quickly, once you’re up and running. The other thing is that you can’t adjust the volume unless the device is unlocked. I’m annoyed at this out of principle, because it surely wouldn’t be a hard computer science problem to solve to let people adjust it from the lock screen.

But this phone is just amazing. It feels good to use, and frankly, it’s just cool. If you’re in a market where this is available, you’ll feel good about this purchase. If you’re in the United States, you’re really being done a disservice by having Huawei products denied to you.

I also just want to say that if you do go for the Mate 30 Pro and this is your first Huawei device, it’s worth investing in other Huawei products. The Watch GT 2 is a phenomenal smartwatch that gets up to two weeks of battery life, and has actual useful, meaningful features. The MateBook X Pro has Huawei Share built in, so you can just tap your phone against it to share photos and videos.

The Mate 30 Pro is a great device on its own, but the broader ecosystem is still a real winner. It’s been a while since I actually got a chance to do this, as I haven’t reviewed a Huawei product in a while, but I’m sure glad I got the chance to.

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