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Huawei Mate 30 Pro Hands-on review: Tempting and talented

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Let’s get this out of the way: The Huawei Mate 30 Pro does not come with Google Play or any Google apps or services. It runs open-source Android with Huawei’s EMUI interface. It’s a shame this revelation threatens to overshadow the phone itself, as it’s another cracking high performance cameraphone from the company.

Now that has been said, let’s look at the phone, its design, and some of the special features. I spent a short time with the Mate 30 Pro following its announcement in Munich, and I was immediately impressed by the size and weight of the phone — and that’s all before I tried out the camera, the air gestures, and the slow-motion video.

Design

The 6.53-inch screen has an 88-degree curve down each side, giving the impression it’s cascading down each edge. It’s eye-catching, and very effectively removes almost all the screen bezel from the face-on viewing experience. I used various models at different times and in different ways, and did not have any instances where the screen operated in a way I didn’t expect due to the way I gripped the phone. Concerns over the screen accidentally registering your hand are still there (remember, it cascades down the sides) and will only become known after extended use; early impressions are good.

Huawei has removed the volume buttons and replaced them with virtual controls. You activate them by double tapping on the screen edge, and then alter the volume by sliding your finger up and down on the side of the screen. It was awkward to activate — the two taps never felt natural — and didn’t always work the first time, but when it did the haptic feedback when adjusting the volume was noticeable and effective. I’d much prefer hardware buttons, in this case.

Above the screen is a 3D sensor for a series of air gestures, much like the gestures LG introduced on the LG G8. Here, close your fist to take a screen shot, or wave your hand up and down to scroll through screens. I couldn’t get the scrolling function to operate correctly as it would only scroll up and not down, but the screenshot system worked each time I tried, and really quickly too. I can’t imagine how often I’d use either of these features, however. Glitches that held these features back will likely be solved before the phone actually goes on sale, as I was using a pre-production version.

The OLED screen looks as beautiful, bright, and colorful as you’d expect, and the same can be said of the various device color schemes. Huawei’s a master of making gorgeous smartphones, and the new space silver and emerald green versions are standouts. The emerald green in particular has a gradient texture, where a matte finish at the bottom of the phone shifts into glossy glass near the top. It’s a beauty, and the textured matte finish really feels great to hold. There are also a pair of leather models (not real leather, as it’s vegan-friendly), and although they have a classy air to them, the reflective glass models made more of an impression.

At less than 200 grams, the Mate 30 Pro is lighter than many other big flagship phones, and the frame is compact enough that you question the screen’s size when you pick the phone up. The cascading screen makes it a visual treat, and cements this as another stunner from Huawei.

Camera

Two 40-megapixel lenses, an 8-megapixel telephoto lens, and a 3D depth sensor make up the unusual camera array on the back of the Mate 30 Pro. The striking design, which catches the light beautifully, is made to resemble a point-and-shoot camera, in the same way Huawei has attempted in the past, most notably with the P20 Pro. The specification is impressive. The main 40-megapixel Ultra-Wide Cine lens has an f/1.8 aperture, the second 40-megapixel lens has an f/1.6 aperture and optical image stabilization (OIS), while the telephoto lens also has OIS, and an f/2.4 aperture.

The photos I took in the overly bright event space looked crisp and colorful, but it was impossible to test it further, and the Night mode looked as superb as it always has done. I played with the new 7,680 frames-per-second video shooting mode, and discovered that like all slow-motion video, you need the right subject in front of you to make the result worthwhile. This is even more apparent when it’s slowed down to this extent. Simple movements just appear to stop, so whatever you are shooting has to move very, very fast to get an appreciable effect. The slo-mo video operates automatically when it sees movement, and this worked very well in my test.

Inside the Mate 30 Pro is the new Kirin 990 processor and a new image signal processor, and coupled with some impressive ISO numbers, all suggest the new phone will take even better photos than the P30 Pro — quite a feat on Huawei’s part. Night Mode works in ultra wide shots and video, there’s improved real-time bokeh effects for video, it records 960fps slow-motion video at 1080p, and there’s even more to discover here too. EMUI 10, the new interface layer that sits atop Android, is fluid and logically laid out in the camera app, but some changes to the software have made altering zoom modes less intuitive than before.

Exploring the Mate 30 Pro’s camera will take some time, and it was obvious my test use didn’t stretch it at all. Based on what I’ve seen, it’s going to be a lot of fun making it work harder in the real world, as it has way more ability than I probably have photographic talent.

Conclusion

Effortless. That’s what the hardware side of the Mate 30 Pro feels like. Huawei can make great looking smartphones with a quirky charm of their own, and equip them with cameras that I just want to go outside and use, all without breaking a sweat. The Mate 30 Pro looks brilliant, it feels great in the hand, and there’s a color and finish to suit everyone’s taste.

Huawei, and specifically the Mate 30 Pro, has been scuppered by the U.S. government’s ban on U.S. companies doing business with it, however, resulting in it not being able to incorporate Google’s app store or services. Yes, there are ways around some of this; regular phone buyers will not understand nor want to deal with the situation. The phone will sell by the case load in China — the version here is essentially the version China would have got anyway — but elsewhere will be more of a challenge.

It’s unfortunate. The Mate 30 Pro is another excellent smartphone from Huawei, yet there is a crucial part missing. Google’s absence would affect my everyday use, and mean I’d have to spend a lot of additional time and effort getting the apps I want on the phone, potentially with only limited success. I feel like it shouldn’t, because even after a short time using it the phone is obviously desirable, but this does dampen my enthusiasm.

Worse still, I’m confident that after using the Mate 30 Pro for longer, this dampened enthusiasm will morph into frustration and anger, because baseless political games have made an excellent phone much harder and more annoying for me to use.

The Huawei Mate 30 Pro does not have a firm release date yet, but is expected to ship in China and Asia Pacific in October. The 8GB/256GB phone has been given a 1,100 euro price tag in Europe, which is around $1,215, although exact European launch locations have yet to be confirmed.

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