Huawei Mate 30 Pro review: Does not having Google matter?

The best Mate series smartphone from Huawei but we cannot fully recommend it

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Last year, we reviewed Huawei’s P30 Pro. A few months after its launch though, Huawei suffered from trade bans imposed by the government of the United States on the grounds of the Chinese manufacturer being a security threat. And while the company as a whole suffered, a big dent in its smartphone business was also created. With no access to Google services for its subsequent smartphone devices, the Huawei Mate 30 Pro was launched without them. It has taken a while for the phone to get to UAE shores but now that we have had it for a couple of weeks, here is our experience.

A unique design

The Huawei Mate 30 Pro screams premium as soon as you pick it up. The top and bottom edges of the device are chamfered whereas the side edges are curved beyond usual. In combination with its rectangular form factor, the device gives off a mean look. But for someone used to more compact smartphones, its 158.1 mm height and 8.8 mm thickness may be a bit daunting. Looking around the device, the left and right edges are clean. On the right side, you find a colour-accented power button whereas the left side has no buttons. The top edge has the secondary microphone and Huawei’s signature IR-blaster whereas the bottom houses the SIM-tray, a Type-C USB port and a speaker grill. You find no hardware loudspeaker on the top edge for calls, adopting the P30 Pro’s audio solution of transmitting via the display. But wait, where are the volume rockers then?

Taking advantage of the phone’s endless screen, the volume rocker is built into the software of the phone. By double-tapping either edge of the Mate 30 Pro, you can initiate the phone’s volume rocker. The feature gives you the flexibility of controlling the device’s volume on either edge. However, as neat as the feature is, real world usage is not perfect. Often, double-tapping does not work on the first attempt and you have to follow it up a few times. And by adopting this change, certain elements of daily routine need a workaround.

For example, you cannot intuitively adjust the volume of your phone in your pocket or while it is placed on a stand in the car for navigation. And one of the most annoying ones is that you cannot use the typical volume and power button duo to take a screenshot. So by innovating, Huawei may have taken a backward step, similar to what HTC’s U12+ did a few years ago. Personally, I would have liked the feature to work without the double-tap. Perhaps having a certain area on the smartphone’s edges that is receptive to a finger-slide may address this problem in the future. Aside from this change, everything else is as expected. The display houses a slightly faster optical fingerprint scanner while the back of the smartphone is where you find the quad-camera. We also see full IP68 water and dust certification but unfortunately, there is no 3.5mm headphone jack on the phone. This seems to be the norm these days, especially on flagship smartphones.

Ultra-curved display

The front of the Huawei Mate 30 Pro sports a 6.53-inch OLED panel. It is protected with Gorilla Glass 6 and has a 18.5:9 aspect ratio. Thanks to its curved design, not only does it has a 94.1-per cent screen to body ratio but also an immersive viewing experience. It packs a 2,400 x 1,176 FHD+ panel which is a great companion to watch multimedia content. It supports both the DCI-P3 colour gamut and HDR10 video and in terms of sharpness, the display is great. However, in certain HDR videos and in applications like YouTube, Samsung’s higher resolution displays do a better job. The Mate 30 Pro also sports a brightness of up to 683 nits, which is lower than the competition but still enough for usage in relatively harsh sunlight outdoors.

Arguably, the phone’s main drawback is audio. We have already discussed its new way of controlling audio levels. But the quality of audio from its speakers is also not that great. This is because the hardware speaker at the bottom is noticeably more powerful than the display speaker used near the top edge. And because of this inconsistency, the stereo experience takes a big hit. People who tend to use headphones often will not notice this as much. However, if you rely on a phone’s speakers a lot, and are coming from a phone that has a good stereo experience, it may feel like a downgrade.

Talking of the display and multimedia, the elephant in the room is the phone’s notch. This is where the front facing camera alongside a 3D ToF depth sensor is housed. Quite frankly, I got used to it and did not find it to be a hassle. The 3D face sensor alongside the camera also seemed to work in a number of scenarios. It worked with sunglasses on as well as in pitch black conditions, which was nice to see. Having configured it with the in-screen fingerprint scanner, I used either of the two authentications depending on my situation.

Top-notch processing hardware

Coming to the heart of the Mate 30 Pro, we have its Kirin 990 octa-core processor with a dual-NPU and 8GB of RAM. It is a 7 nm+ chipset clocked at 2.86GHz accompanied with the Mali-G76 MP16 GPU. Over its last-generation processor, it is a huge upgrade on all fronts, particularly in GPU processing. But it is still behind on paper when compared to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855+ octa-core processor. However, relying on theoretical benchmarks does not always tell you the full story. In a number of real world performance scenarios, the Kirin 990 processor in on par or better than Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855+ chip. This is especially seen with game launching speeds and in-game performance, where there is no visible drop in frame rate.

The 8GB of RAM on the Mate 30 Pro also helps with performance. This is ample memory to keep a lot of heavy applications running in the background and a lot of credit for this also needs to go to the phone’s software, which we will talk about in the next section. Just to round up on this section, the phone comes with a default 128GB of UFS3.0 storage. What this translates to is faster read and write speeds for transferring files and installing applications. But if you run out of storage, the phone also uses Huawei’s Nano Memory technology to expand on it by up to 256GB using the hybrid SIM-tray.

Everyone’s concern is software

At face value, nothing seems wrong with the Mate 30 Pro’s software. It is running EMUI 10 alongside an AOSP version of Android 10. So, if functionality is your concern, there is nothing to be worried about. But out of the box access to Google services is an issue. The Google Play Store, Maps, YouTube and any other application from Google does not come pre-installed on the device. Instead, you get Huawei’s AppGallery, which offers a good selection but nothing near what Google’s services offer. But the beauty is in the fact that the Mate 30 Pro runs an AOSP build of Android. This means with a few tweaks, you can either get Google’s Play Store services to work on the phone or download your applications via APK files.

However, while this opens up a huge library of applications, certain applications just do not seem to work. In my use, I found Google Pay to not work which is a big deal for anyone who relies on mobile payments. Android Auto also had issues and for some reason, Netflix was not available on the Play Store and did not work when downloaded externally either.

There definitely may be more hiccups which means the experience is not perfect. But your usual applications such as YouTube, Gmail and other social media worked just as expected. A recent reviewer pointed out that Uber had issues running however once I had Google Play services installed on the phone, it worked flawlessly. Let us also not forget the other things Huawei brings with software though. The in-built screen recorder, a unique dark mode and a fair share of gestures and shortcuts. In fact, I ended up using the ‘knock to take a screenshot’ the most in the absence of physical volume buttons. As an avid technology consumer, browsing through APKs and following tutorials online seems second nature. But as someone who is less tech-savvy, I do see people facing issues. Buying the phone in-store and having to transfer all your credentials from your old device could become a big hassle. And this is not something a customer expects when purchasing a Dh3,599 premium smartphone.

Not sold on the quad-camera for photos

Like every flagship Huawei device, the Mate 30 Pro equips Leica optics. The back of the phone has the quad-camera configuration arranged in quite a mean looking manner. You find a 40MP f/1.6 wide lens, an 8MP telephoto lens with 3x optical zoom, a 40MP f/3.4 ultra-wide lens and a 3D ToF sensor. For a smartphone camera setup, that is punching well above average.

The major take-away from the Mate 30 Pro’s camera is its better AI optimisation and dynamic range balance. Something the phone is not too good at is capturing warmth in a photo, as it usually captures cooler colour tones. While the 40MP upgrade to its ultra-wide angle camera may come across as impressive, real-world results are far from it. Due to the higher megapixel count, the ultra-wide angle lens does not have as wide a field of view and detail in photos taken from it is lacking. The other drawback to this is the lack of a super-macro mode on the Mate 30 Pro. By omitting this, it seems Huawei has taken a step back and that may be to do with new ultra-wide sensor.

Like in previous years though, the zoom capability of the phone is what stands out. Even though offering a slightly toned down 3x optical zoom compared to the Huawei P30 Pro’s 5x optical zoom, photos do not show any visible differences. Just sometimes, Huawei’s camera software processing aggressively softens surfaces resulting in chalky detail. Speaking of the telephoto lens, I think it lends itself to nice portrait images with fairly well processed skin tones.

As for night time photography, the experience is a mixed bag. In some instances, the Mate 30 Pro shows its superior processing but in other cases, it is not up to the mark. Coupling the experience with Huawei’s night-mode, there is artificial lighting induced into the photo. In some situations, this works well however in others, it leads to over-processing and some big differences from how the subject looked in reality.

Selfie-camera is great

In a year where the majority of smartphone manufacturers are moving towards either a punch-hole or pop-up style selfie-camera, Huawei has stuck to the notch. On the Mate 30 Pro, the notch is big, not only to accommodate a 32MP f/2.0 sensor but also a 3D ToF camera. Combining the two together, your selfies will look fairly detailed. The biggest upgrade here is the depth camera, which makes portrait selfies also look great, without blowing out the background. The camera is also wide enough to accommodate groups with no problems.

In terms of video footage, you can record 1080p footage at 30 frames per second. Compared to other flagships on the market, it is not the highest-end experience. Other smartphones can record up to 4K footage at 60 frames per second so this is something that Huawei has to work on.

Quad-camera video capabilities

Over to primary camera video, the tale is different. This is Huawei’s first phone that can record 4K video at 60 frames per second and that being the case means a lot of effort has gone into the camera’s video features. Of course, the higher frame rate results in smoother video footage. But aside from this, the quality of video is improved as well.

Less so when recording 1080p footage but the difference is a lot over its predecessor when recording 4K footage. There is greater sharpness to the video even if you are recording with the ultra-wide angle lens and the phone handles dynamic range much better. Not just that, the Mate 30 Pro also benefits from improved video stabilisation especially when brisk walking. Unfortunately, the same stabilisation is not carried over when running. To tackle this, maybe Huawei could have included a super-steady video mode of its own just like its competitors.

Battery life and features

To power the experience, the Huawei Mate 30 Pro comes with a 4,500mAh battery. As is traditionally known, flagships from Huawei are great with battery performance and this is no different. On a typical day, I would be left with anywhere between 50-60 per cent remaining at the end of the day, with dark mode turned on. With heavy usage, this would dip to 20 per cent however I never found myself worrying about running out of battery. That being said, something that could improve is battery stand-by time, which was noticeably weaker than other flagships.

When required, recharging the Mate 30 Pro is not a long wait either. With Huawei’s Supercharging, the phone is capable of going from 0-70 per cent charge in just 30 minutes. Considering this is no small battery cell, it is quite impressive to see. And when you add Huawei’s improved reverse wireless charging feature, the phone could help recharge your friend’s phone on a night out. Just bear in mind that the faster reverse wireless recharging speed means your battery will drain considerably faster.

Wrapping up

At face value, the Huawei Mate 30 Pro has all the makings of competing with other flagships. It goes toe to toe against Samsung’s Galaxy Note10+, Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro Max or the OnePlus 7T. But for some reason, it fails to get my full recommendation. Smaller sacrifices in features may not directly put off your purchase. But one that definitely will is the lack of Google services. As good as the phone is, it will not be of good value to a non tech-savvy person. So, if you are not comfortable with APK files or do not even know what that means, I would not recommend buying this phone. Even if you are, I would be a bit hesitant considering we do not know how future proof the purchase may be, given its Dh3,599 price tag and in such a scenario, maybe you can even consider the Huawei Mate 30 Pro 5G variant, as it does offer you a bit more future-proofing.