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Huawei Mate 30 Pro Hands-on and First Impressions [Updated]

Huawei’s long awaited Mate 30 Pro was announced just a few days ago, and the event finished with the much feared news that it would be coming without Google application support (unless circumstances change in the near future).

2100 23/09/19: This article has been updated to include details on installing Google Mobile Services – see below.

Mate 30 Pro

What this means is no Google Mail, no Drive, no Google Photos, no Play Store, no Google Pay and, well you get the idea.

For all the many reasons you may want to buy this new phone, there’s one reason that could cross it off your shopping list entirely – but I’ll talk about this later on.

First, let’s look at…

The phone

Mate 30 Pro range
Image: The full Mate 30 Pro line-up with two vegan leather clad versions

The Mate 30 Pro, which sits alongside a standard Mate 30 and Porsche Design version, has taken last year’s Mate 20 Pro and jacked the volume up to 11.

It comes with Huawei’s new Kirin 990 chipset, with a 4G and 5G option.

The second-generation chipset on the 5G version gives it an edge over other 5G handsets on sale today based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 with X50 modem. It is arguably the model to go for if you’re currently (or planning to be) connected to one of the main networks that has either launched 5G or will have done before the end of the year.

There are 22 antennas inside the 5G version of the Mate 30 Pro, 14 just for 5G, along with dual SIM support and dual VoLTE (although only one SIM can use 5G at any one time).

It gives the handset a great deal of future-proofing for a price difference of €100.

Huawei states that the phone runs cooler than rival handsets, and as a second-generation 5G modem it supports both SA and NSA 5G (standalone and non-standalone) implementation.

This means the phone can work exclusively on 5G or a combination of 4G and 5G.


Look and feel

Mate 30 Pro front and back (animation)

Colour wise, you can now get two models with vegan leather, eradicating fingerprints and getting rid of the potentially fragile glass (both these and the glass models all come with a IP68 rating for dust and water resistance).

Another variant includes a mix of shiny and matte glass, reducing the chance of fingerprints on the section (the base) of the phone that you’ll be holding most of the time.

The Mate 30 Pro has a redesigned camera layout, but it still retains the central location to keep consistent with the design language of earlier Mate handsets.

For audio, there’s a single down-firing speaker for mono audio. For calls, the Mate 30 Pro utilises the same ‘accoustic display technology’ as the P30 Pro, meaning the screen is the speaker.


Display

Perhaps the biggest improvement is on the display. The 6.53-inch ‘horizon’ display almost wraps around 90 degrees, but this could divide opinion as it did when speaking to others at the launch event.

The resolution has dropped from last year’s Mate 20 Pro too, but full HD+ is far from poor quality – and the HDR+ screen is a joy to behold, with no discolouration on the curved section.

There’s still a bigger notch compared to the P30 Pro, but smaller than the Mate 20 Pro. This houses the extra sensors to offer a true 3D facial unlocking system, and the in-screen fingerprint sensor is upgraded too.

Mate 30 Pro

While the new waterfall-effect screen looks stunning, it does mean giving up the volume keys.

The power button remains, but for adjusting the volume you now perform a double tap gesture on the side and then manipulate an on-screen slider by sliding up and down the edge (see below).

Mate 30 Pro virtual volume control

It works, but perhaps points to a little too much form over function.

Does the extra screen real-estate on the side really bring much to the table? Samsung tried the same when it first experimented with curved displays, but toned things down over the years.

It’s worth noting that the standard Mate 30 retains a ‘flat’ screen for those that are turned off by the edges.

Camera

Mate 30 Pro camera

Compared against the P30 Pro camera, there are a series of improvements – most notably on the video side.

More than just tweaking the camera sensors (which it has), Huawei has made the Mate 30 Pro all about video. It now offers videographers many of the same features that became possible on the P30 Pro, such as near-dark capturing.

Video has been a weak point on previous Huawei phones, but the SuperSensing Cine Camera aims to play catch-up – and then some.

One new feature is a 7680 frame-per-second slow motion capture (see below), while the powerful Kirin 990 SoC finally allows for high-bitrate 4K video at 60 frames-per-second, with an ISO of 51,200.

You can even do time-lapse video at 4K now, as well as real-time bokeh effects.

In addition, there’s dual optical image stabilisation and AI stabilisation to produce impressive ‘action cam’ style videos even when bumping and bounding around.

The improved front face-unlocking tech also gives selfie shots a boost with 3D depth sensing. On the rear, the phone gains the Time-of-Flight sensor that appeared on the P30 Pro and Honor’s View 20, which I really hope gets put to good use one day.

So far, it has yet to fully capture the hearts and minds of users even if it can do some cool things like measuring objects or even letting you see in the dark.

All-in-all the Mate 30 Pro camera offers a better setup than the P30 Pro in all but the telephoto department. Instead of 5x, the Mate 30 Pro tops out at 3x just like its predecessor.

This in turn reduces the overall hybrid zoom to 5x (down from 10x on the P30 Pro) and the digital zoom from 50x to 30x.

As some feedback has been that 5x is often too much, and users have stated their preference of the 3x zoom on the Mate 20 Pro, this reduction could be seen by some as a benefit.


Software

While the updated colour variants of the P30 Pro announced at IFA come with Android 10 and EMUI 10 out of the box, current users of the P30 and Mate 20 series are still to get the latest update – a process that will take place over the coming months.

The Mate 30 Pro will of course come with the latest OS and skin from day one, with a new look UI and a series of improvments to the flowing nature of day-to-day operation.

An enhanced always-on display can now offer different colours throughout the day, while the new dark mode can turn any app dark.

AI gesture control can use the front-facing sensors to allow interaction with the screen without touch. For example, waving your hand can scroll web pages, or perform screen captures.

AI gesture control

AI Auto Rotate can detect your head movements and rotate the screen from portrait to landscape automatically as you move around.

AI Private View further enhances security by hiding content when someone else looks at your phone, perhaps over your shoulder.


Battery

The 4,500mAh battery on the Mate 30 Pro is another big boost for standby and usage time, and wireless charging is now capable of charging at 27W (wired charging is unchanged at 40W).

Wireless charger

Huawei has created an in-car 27W wireless charger, while reverse wireless charging is now twice as fast as before too; perfect for charging suitably enabled accessories, or even other mobile devices.

27W is considerably faster than some standard wired fast-charging solutions (cough cough, Apple, I’m looking at you here).


Accessories

As with any new phone launch, Huawei complements things with a range of accessories.

Firstly, the Mate 30 Pro now supports the M-Pen that was previously only usable on the Mate 20 X and Mate 20 X 5G.

In addition to the wireless charger for the car, Huawei also showed once again its 12,000mAh 40W SuperCharge power bank that was launched earlier this year, retailing at around £90.

New accessories included a gimbal with instant-pairing and native support, along with a portable studio light that can further enhance photo and video recording.


Pricing, availability and – yes – let’s talk about the elephant in the room

A price in Euros was given (€1199 for the 5G model and €1099 for the 4G), so it should be available to buy SIM-free within Europe, with a full global warranty. Availability is likely to be limited to Huawei’s own site, and possibly sites like Amazon.

But out of the box you will get access to key Google services via Google’s respective mobile sites only. There’s no Google Mobile Services (Google apps), which means no Play store and no access to the plethora of Google services you’re probably indebted to.

Instead, Huawei will ship the phone with its own App Gallery and Huawei Mobile Services. A $1bn fund has been created to entice developers to get their apps on the Huawei store, but even if this does work one day, it won’t happen overnight.

For many, this is a dealbreaker. Huawei is only too aware of this, with Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s consumer business group, clearly dismayed by the crippling of the handset software due to the ongoing trade war.

Earlier the same day, Western Europe President Walter Ji said how important the European market is. It clearly is given how popular Huawei devices are here, but the firm faces an uphill struggle to get this phone to sell in its current guise.

Unsurprisingly, no network operator sent out a release after the launch to state its intention to range the phone.

I am sure the networks have an option to sell the phone if the situation is resolved, but there’s no way of knowing if and when this will happen. There’s a good chance it can be ruled out for this Christmas, and if left too long into 2020 the P40 series will be on the horizon (although that too will be impacted if things drag on that long).

I ran a quick poll on Twitter to ask if people would buy the Mate 30 Pro as it is, and 55% said they would not.

21% said they would be happy to buy one and as is (i.e. with Huawei’s own store), while 24% said they’d buy and seek to sideload Google apps on their own.

At this time, Huawei has stated sideloading is not possible, but it hasn’t ruled out the possibility of offering to unlock the bootloader on request to give people the ability to do their own thing.

Should the China/US impasse be resolved, Richard Yu promised an update to bring Google services back to the phone could be rolled out virtually overnight with an OTA (Over-the-air) update.

I came away from the event feeling the phone didn’t really get launched. It felt more like being shown as a teaser of something exciting but with no confirmed release date.

And tease it has, because there are so many things to get excited about that even though it isn’t really practical to buy one today, whether it takes weeks or maybe months to be released with Google apps back onboard, it will still be a highly desirable phone.

The Mate 30 Pro advances things in the video field as the P30 Pro (and even the P20 Pro) did for still photography.

Talking of the P30 Pro, Huawei will no doubt continue to push the P30 Pro in the run up to Christmas. This is of course still a fantastic phone, with full Google support and Android/EMUI 10 on the way.



Playing the waiting game

I’m hoping the next round of trade talks go well enough so we can get to a time where you can decide whether or not to buy something on your own terms, rather than have the ability to choose taken away from you.

Sure, it may be easy to sideload Google services (although don’t count on Google Pay working, or other financial apps) but this won’t be sufficient for Huawei to sell the phone in large numbers outside China and other markets where Google isn’t a thing.

The Mate 30 Pro, especially in 5G form, should be stealing the headlines away from recent launches from Samsung and Apple, but for now it’s left in limbo.

Instead of writing this rather unconventional first look, I should have been unboxing the phone and going out to share my experiences with the camera and 5G performance.

But if it’s frustrating for you and me, it must be a million times worse for Huawei.

Nevertheless, as Walter Ji told us, Huawei has faced challenges throughout its 32 year existence and this is just another one to overcome.

Let’s keep those fingers crossed because I really can’t wait to get my hands on a Mate 30 Pro, and I am sure you would feel the same way too.


Update: It now appears that adding Google Mobile Services (GApps) might be a very easy process after all – and even allows financial/banking applications to work.

A video showing Google services being added to an evaluation Mate 30 Pro is attached below.

It is worth noting that the video mentions issues with Netflix, which won’t be certified and could limit video playback to standard definition only. This could be solved by having Netflix adding a certified version to Huawei’s AppGallery app store.

Video from superadrianme.com
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