Huawei Mate 30 Pro (2019) review: Too weird to thrive, too rare to buy
F O R B I D D E N !
Should I buy the Huawei Mate 30 Pro (2019)?
There are phones that are difficult to recommend - and there’s the Mate 30 Pro.
Huawei’s Mate 20 and P30 asked users to make a few specific, small compromises in exchange for superior hardware and battery life. The Mate 30 Pro brings a similar bargain to the table but exacts a far heavier toll.
Credit where it’s due, Huawei’s latest has the best pocket-sized camera hardware available. However, even then, the caveats involved leave the Mate 30 Pro essentially impossible to endorse. At least in its current form.
Ironic as it may sound, Huawei have made the ultimate smartphone for Android enthusiasts. Unless you see the limitations of the Mate 30 Pro as a challenge, you’re probably best served sitting this one out and waiting for this whole thing to blow over.
Price when reviewed
In Australia, the Huawei Mate 30 Pro is priced at an RRP of $1599.
Huawei Mate 30 Pro full review
Where the P30 Pro came across as a little ordinary, the Mate 30 Pro gets a lot closer to what you’d expect from a best-in-class Android flagship. It doesn’t eclipse the flamboyant flourish found in the Galaxy S10 and iPhone 11 Pro but, in terms of both look & feel, Huawei’s winter flagship represents a significant upgrade over its predecessors.
The centerpiece here is a 6.5-inch OLED display. Rather than pick up the teardrop-notch found in the P30 Pro, the Mate 30 Pro drops it for a wider wedge-style notch. This additional indentation afford the device a fully-featured 3D facial recognition system and a 32-megapixel front-facing selfie camera.
Port-wise, the Mate 30 Pro features a single USB Type-C connector. This sits alongside the devices single mono speaker and single SIM slot. The Mate 30 Pro does support expandable memory but only via Huawei’s proprietary NanoMemory standard. There’s no headphone jack.
The form-factor here is a pretty tame revision of the Mate 20 Pro. However, where the last few Huawei flagships have flirted with curved displays, the Mate 30 Pro commits to them in several ways.
The first of these is the screen itself. Though only FHD+ in resolution, it bends and wraps around the sides of the device. It’s not quite as radical as something like the Mi Mix Alpha but it still gives the Mate 30 Pro a futuristic appeal and a cleaner feel than that of its predecessors.
Instead of relying on physical keys to change the volume on the device, Huawei have also implemented a shortcut system whereby you tap twice along the edge of the screen to bring up a digital volume slider.
The other side of the Mate 30 Pro touts a four-lens camera array camera at the center of the action. There are two 40-megapixel lenses (wide-angle + ultra wide) plus an 8-megapixel telephoto lens. There’s also a 3D ToF camera used to enhance portrait photography.
The short version here is that you don’t get the same degree of crazy zoom that the P30 Pro offers. That being said, you do get a few new videography tricks plus a 30% reduction in noise. Whether that trade-off is worth it is going to vary based on your specific needs.
All told, the Mate 30 Pro can offer 3x optical zoom, 5x hybrid zoom and 30x digital zoom. It produces excellent results that often feel closer to the output you’d get from a full-frame camera than a smartphone.
During my time with it, I felt confident throwing the Mate 30 Pro camera at pretty much any subject, knowing it would consistently deliver excellent results.
Of course, the cost for this hyper-capable hardware is a high one. As extensively documented, the Mate 30 Pro doesn’t run on the latest version of Google’s Android software. It runs on the Open Source version of Android, flavored by Huawei’s EMUI 10 skin.
What’s more, in place of Google’s app store, the Huawei Mate 30 Pro comes preloaded with Huawei’s own app store. This app store does not feature Facebook. In fact, it lacks most of the things you’d consider a standard part of the modern smartphone experience: Twitter, WhatsApp, Gmail, Google Maps, Microsoft Office, Google Pay, Uber and Spotify.
What’s more, since the Mate 30 Pro lacks (and is incompatible with) the Google App Services API, you can’t even sideload those things with much confidence. You can download and install APKs or other app stores on the Mate 30 Pro. However, our experiments with this, proved inconsistent. Some stuff works. A lot just doesn't. You don’t know until you try.
If you’re an Android enthusiast willing to get your hands dirty, it’s not impossible that (with enough hacking) you could find a way to make this setup work for you. Still, for most people, that's probably going to be too much of an ask.
Why spend $1599 on a phone that you have to work to make good?
Huawei’s best handsets have often asked you to make a few small and specific compromises in exchange for superior camera hardware and better battery. This time around, there’s a hidden cost to consider alongside the retail price-tag. More fundamentally, the Mate 30 Pro asks for far more than that and doesn’t deliver as much in return.
The Mate 30 Pro might well have the best smartphone camera you can buy in 2019 but no smartphone camera is worth this much trouble.
In Australia, the Huawei Mate 30 Pro is priced at an RRP of $1599. However, to buy it, you have to win a competition. You can’t just walk into a store and walk out with one. At the moment, at least, you can only buy one after winning a competition.
Huawei Australia have indicated to us that additional stock will be arriving later down the line but have yet to announce any specific timeline for this.
The Huawei Mate 30 Pro isn’t available through any of the major carriers but you can pair it up with a SIM-only plan via the widget below:
Design - Look, Feel, Features and Camera
After coming away enamored by the sleek design of last year’s Mate 20 Pro, I was more than a little disappointed by the look and feel found in this year’s P30 and P30 Pro. Sure, these devices might have had the best photography hardware you can find in a smartphone but on other fronts, it felt like Huawei were only barely keep up with their considerable competition.
After all, this most recent generation of flagship phones haven’t just been more expensive - they’ve also done a better job of feeling more expensive. And compared to the breezy premium flair of the iPhone 11 Pro, Pixel 4 XL and Samsung Galaxy Note 10+, the P30 Pro feels a little run-of-the-mill. It’s not hard to find a glass sandwich just like it for almost half the price.
Thankfully and on this very specific front, the Mate 30 Pro lands a lot closer to the mark. I wouldn’t say it eclipses the things that Apple and Samsung are doing in the space but certainly it’s a lot better than Huawei’s last effort.
The centerpiece here is a 6.5-inch OLED display. The resolution here is only FHD+ but the support for a wider DCI-P3 color gamut and HDR10 help elevate the results the screen is able to deliver.
Rather than adopt the teardrop-notch found in the P30 Pro, the Mate 30 Pro reverts to a wider wedge-style notch. This additional indentation affords the device room for a fully-featured 3D facial recognition system akin to something like the iPhone’s Face ID. It’s secure, convenient and if it’s not your thing, there’s also an in-display fingerprint sensor. For more on 3D Face Unlock, check out our guide here.
Where the last few Huawei flagships have flirted with curved displays, the Mate 30 Pro commits. The edges of the screen elegantly fall away and blends into the sides of the phone. There’s a small, millimeter-thin buffer between the two glass sides of the Mate 30 Pro but that’s about it.
One of the other more intriguing design choices here is Huawei’s decision to get rid of physical volume triggers.
Instead of relying on traditional shoulder mounted keys to change the volume on the device, Huawei has implemented a shortcut system whereby you tap twice along the edge of the screen to bring up a digital volume slider. The only button you’ll find on the Mate 30 Pro is the power toggle.
This unorthodox setup mostly works but it’s a little prone to false positives and becomes a lot more awkward when you’re holding the device horizontally. For example, when you’re playing games.
That’s not the only party trick that Huawei’s Mate 30 Pro brings to the table. There’s also support for the same sort of motion-sensitive gesture controls found in the LG G8S ThinQ. You can wave your hand to scroll up and down or take a screenshot, so it’s a little more limited than LG’s implementation of this feature. It’s also nowhere near as reliable as Google’s Soli-powered MotionSense tech. I can’t really say I was a fan of it.
Port-wise, the Mate 30 Pro features a single USB Type-C connector. This is located on the bottom edge of the device, next to a lonely mono speaker and single SIM slot. Unsurprisingly, there’s no headphone jack on the Mate 30 Pro.
The Mate 30 Pro comes with 256GB of storage but only supports expanding that via Huawei’s proprietary NanoMemory standard - which is a little pricey compared to traditional Micro SD storage. It’s not super surprising to see Huawei continue to try and make this format happen but it’s a bit disappointing nevertheless.
The reverse side of the Mate 30 Pro puts the camera at the center of both the action and the overall design.
As with last year’s Mate 20 Pro, it’s essentially a meaner and leaner take on what the company’s latest P-series handset offered. The device’s rear-mounted camera array features two 40-megapixel lenses (where the P30 Pro only had one) plus an 8-megapixel telephoto sensor. This trio is rounded out into a quartet by a 3D ToF camera that’s used to enhance portrait shots.
The short version here is that you don’t get the crazy zooms of the P30 Pro but you do get a few new videography tricks plus some new noise-reduction techn that promises to reduce noise by about 30%. I didn't expect to notice the latter as much as I did. Even at high levels of zoom or low levels of lighting, photos taken using the Mate 30 Pro looks impressively clean.
Moving beyond the spec-sheet, my time with the Mate 30 Pro quickly saw it cement itself as the most versatile and powerful smartphone camera I’ve used all year. The zoom isn’t as extensive as the P30 Pro but it’s still spades ahead of most (but not all) other flagship smartphones - particularly in low-light situations.
Despite the tech involved, I was consistently surprised by how good the results the Mate 30 Pro delivered ended up looking. Food? Delicious! Animals? Cute! Landscapes? Awesome! Night shots? Spooky!
After a few days with it, I felt confident to shoot away and trust in the Mate 30 Pro’s camera to produce great results irrespective of the conditions or subject. It hasn’t let me down yet. I wish I could take this thing to a foreign city for like a week and just let loose.
The new videography features in the Mate 30 Pro are a little clunky but no less impressive. In addition to supporting video capture in 4K at 60FPS, the Mate 30 Pro also supports 7680FPS super slow motion video - which is about five or six times the max that most other high-end smartphone cameras support. It's stupidly slow-motion, which can be fun to play around with.
The one thing I found lacking about the Mate 30 Pro’s camera was the absence of the dual exposure controls found in the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL. I found I could sort-of get away by using the dedicated HDR mode here.
Nevertheless, during my time with Google’s flagship, I was surprised how much this feature made operating the Pixel’s camera feel less like a smartphone and more like a real camera. I suspect that this is a quality that the Mate 30 Pro could use more of.
Performance - Specs, Software, Benchmarks and Battery Life
Processor: Kirin 990
Operating System: EMUI10 + Android Open Source
MicroSD slot: No. NanoMemory Instead.
Headphone Jack: No
Fingerprint sensor: In-Display
Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6 + Bluetooth 5 + 4G + NFC
Rear Camera: 40-megapixel (F/1.6) + 40-megapixel (f/2.4) + 5-megapixel + 3D TOF camera
Front-Facing Camera: 32-megapixel
Dimensions: 158.1 x 73.1 x 8.8 mm
It’s easy to be positive about the Mate 30 Pro when you’re talking about the hardware. After all, Huawei’s latest does have incredible specs plus a design that meaningfully pushes the reputation of the brand forward. If we’re exclusively talking about the display, camera and form-factor involved, this is the best handset that Huawei have ever shipped to market.
Unfortunately, modern smartphones aren’t just about the hardware. Software is also important and the software experience that ties the Mate 30 Pro’s various components together is problematic at best and disastrous at worst.
It’s fair to say that software has never been Huawei’s greatest strength but the situation has never felt as dire as it does with the Mate 30 Pro. In a world where Huawei is trying to get developers on-board with its new Harmony operating system, the software experience found in the Mate 30 Pro does not inspire great confidence.
As you may have heard, the biggest talking point here is the omission of the Google Play Store plus any and all Google APIs.
In lieu of Google’s app store, the Huawei Mate 30 Pro comes with Huawei’s own App Gallery pre-installed. Though Huawei’s app store boasts over 45,000 apps, odds are you won’t find what you’re looking for.
Note - look forward to a feature later this week on exactly what the Huawei AppGallery does and doesn't have.
Buying the Mate 30 Pro means no Facebook, no Twitter, no Whatsapp, no Gmail, no Google Maps, no Uber, no Microsoft Office, no Google Drive and no Spotify. This is great news if you’re after a $1600 phone that lets you disconnect from the toxicity of social media but bad news for pretty much everyone else.
Thankfully, you can download and try to run APKs or alternative app stores on the Mate 30 Pro. There’s no guarantee that any of this will work but you can totally do it. We had the best luck using Amazon’s app store.
Regardless, the limited and inconsistent software functionality here meant that things that were basically effortless on other Android phones became massive hassles with the Mate 30 Pro.
There are a few more hacker-friendly methods to replace the software on the device with something that will play nice with the Google ecosystem. Unfortunately, the one thing that going that route doesn’t get you is any meaningful sense of security.
In the months since the Mate 30 Pro was announced, Google has already acted multiple times to “fix” workarounds that allowed tech-savvy consumers to get the same kind of Google apps experience on the Mate 30 Pro that they can on the P30 Pro.
There’s no reason to think they won’t do so again.
If you’re an Android enthusiast willing to get your hands dirty, it’s not impossible that you could make this setup work for you. Difficult - but not impossible. Even then though, buying this phone is a $1600 bet that you’re willing to live without a lot of the ease of use and extensive app library that Android ordinarily offers.
It's a gamble that you’re either smart enough to get around the limits involved or at peace with the idea of living within them. That’s something that no other flagship smartphone asks of you and that’s something that makes the Mate 30 Pro borderline impossible to recommend.
That's a shame because, when it comes to benchmarks, Kirin 990 that powers the Mate 30 Pro lived up to the hype and then some.
Across most fronts, the Huawei-made flagship processor pulled ahead of both devices powered by the Snapdragon 855 like the Galaxy Fold and Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro. The A13 Fusion chip still has the edge when it comes to raw compute but otherwise, the Kirin 990 rated pretty much as high as mobile processors can.
PCMark Work 2.0: 8708
3DMark Sling Shot Extreme OpenGL ES 3.1: 5693
3DMark Sling Shot Extreme Vulcan: 5409
Geekbench: 759 single-core, 2947 multi-core
Geekbench Compute: 3288
Despite a hefty 4500mAh battery and support for 40W charging over USB Type-C, I came away somewhat disappointed by the Mate 30 Pro’s battery life.
Regular day-to-day performance varied but between some Hearthstone on the train to work, a few phone calls and a lot of Facebook Messenger and Twitter during the day, I’d usually end up with 30% of the battery left by the time I finished up work.
That’s not terrible but it felt like a significant step down from the reliable two-days of battery life I’d get out of the P30 and Mate 20 Pro with more-or-less the same kinds of usage. Huawei’s flagships usually deliver exceptional battery life. This time around, things were a little more ordinary and in-line with stuff like the Note 10+ and Pixel 4.
Obviously, your mileage with this aspect of the device may vary but the last thing you want from any phone is to be anxious about its battery life and the Huawei Mate 30 Pro made me anxious about battery life in a way that the brand’s last few devices haven’t. Squeezed between the buttery-smooth display, crystal clear camera and divine design, the battery life offered by the Mate 30 Pro feels like the weakest link.
Still, there are some silver linings. The Mate 30 Pro supports 27W fast wireless charging via the Qi standard. It also supports reverse wireless charging, which isn't crucial but can be nice to have.
The Bottom Line
The Mate 30 Pro represents the ultimate triumph of hardware over software.
In recent years, Huawei’s best handsets have asked for smaller and smaller compromises in exchange for superior hardware. Even if it's due to factors outside the company’s control, the Huawei Mate 30 Pro breaks from this tradition to its detriment.
The Mate 30 Pro asks for more and simply can’t deliver in the way that its predecessors could. Even if you are married to the idea of having a camera this powerful in your pocket, the idea of honestly recommending this smartphone is close to unthinkable.
It might sound obvious but no smartphone camera is worth losing the Google Play Store over.
In some ways, Huawei have made the ultimate smartphone for enthusiasts but it’s that exact quality makes it extremely difficult to recommend for basically anyone else. If you don't see the inherent limitations here as a challenge rather than a compromise, this device isn't going to be for you.
The hardware of the Mate 30 Pro is easy to admire but the software makes it almost impossible to recommend.
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