Phones

P30 Pro boasts the best camera on a smartphone

The Huawei P30 Pro is the first smartphone to offer 5x optical zoom. The device also has an in-display fingerprint sensor, reverse wireless charging and IP68 water- and dust-resistance.
Huawei P30 Pro
Huawei P30 Pro

Picture this: an almost pitch-black room with the thin gap under the door as the only source of light.

My eyes could barely make out objects an arm's length away. But in the photo taken by the Huawei P30 Pro in the same dark room, I could easily tell the time on the clock hanging on the wall opposite me.

The latest flagship from the Chinese smartphone maker, the P30 Pro is incredible in low-light conditions.

In the same scenario described earlier, the Google Pixel 3, which had the best low-light photography performance in a smartphone with its Night Sight feature, could produce only a dark circle and not the clock face.

To its credit, the Google Pixel 3 matched the P30 Pro in less extreme low-light conditions. Photos shot by the Pixel 3 looked brighter in these scenes, though I felt that the P30 Pro's photos seemed more realistic. Photos taken by the Pixel 3 also had slightly overblown highlights compared with those of the P30 Pro.

The P30 Pro's low-light photography prowess comes from a new RYYB (red, yellow, yellow, blue) image sensor that uses yellow sub-pixels instead of green ones in the conventional RGGB (red, green, green, blue) sensor. Huawei says this 40-megapixel (MP) sensor can absorb 40 per cent more light than the RGGB type.

This sensor, when used with the camera app's night mode that requires up to six seconds of exposure time to obtain an image, produces stunning results that, by itself, would have catapulted the P30 Pro to the top ranks of smartphone cameras.

But Huawei did not stop there. The P30 Pro's Leica-branded quad-camera system also has a classleading 8MP telephoto camera that offers up to 5x optical zoom compared with the 2x to 3x zoom on other models.

To enable the necessary physical distance for light to travel for 5x optical zoom, the P30 Pro's telephoto camera has a periscope design with a prism inside the chassis.

Both the primary 40MP camera and the telephoto camera are used together for an impressive 10x hybrid zoom that results in zoomed-in photos that may look a tad oversharpened but are clearer, with less noise than photos taken by other smartphone cameras.

  • FOR

    •Best zoom and top-class low-light performance on a smartphone camera

    •Smooth and responsive user interface

    •Excellent battery life

    AGAINST

    •No headphone jack

    SPECS

    PRICE: $1,398

    PROCESSOR: Kirin 980 (dual-core 2.6GHz, dual-core 1.92GHz, quad-core 1.8GHz)

    DISPLAY: 6.47-inch, Oled, 2,340 x 1,080 pixels, 398 ppi pixel density

    OPERATING SYSTEM: EMUI 9.1 (Android 9.0)

    MEMORY: 256GB (Nano memory card, expandable to 256GB), 8GB RAM

    REAR CAMERAS: 40MP wide-angle (f/1.6), 20MP ultra-wide-angle (f/2.2), 8MP telephoto (f/3.4), time-of-flight (TOF) 3-D camera

    FRONT CAMERA: 32MP (f/2.0)

    BATTERY: Non-removable 4,200mAh battery

    RATING

    FEATURES: 4.5/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4.5/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 3.5/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 5/5

    OVERALL: 4.5/5

The P30 Pro can also support up to 50x digital zoom, which feels almost like using binoculars as it lets you see tiny words from afar, but the inherent shake imparted to the camera when using it handheld makes it difficult to take a usable photo.

In general use, I find that the P30 Pro's camera produces photos that are a tad warmer than the actual scene.

If you prefer images that are truer to nature, I would advise turning off the app's artificial intelligence (Master AI) feature. While it has its uses, the AI often boosts colours and contrast to make photos look unnaturally vibrant. For instance, it increases the intensity of green upon detecting greenery while I am shooting a picture of a clump of trees. Without the AI, the photo is closer to reality.

I am also impressed by the P30 Pro's portrait mode, which uses the phone's time-of-flight camera to capture depth information for more natural-looking bokeh (or depth of field) effects. In my testing, the bokeh effect in the photos is more gradual, with more layers of blur compared with photos taken by some other smartphones.

Aside from the new camera system, the P30 Pro has many of the same features as Huawei's older Mate 20 Pro, such as the gimmicky reverse wireless charging (where it can charge another device, like a smartwatch), IP68 water and dust resistance, and an in-display fingerprint sensor that requires you to press with slightly more force than you would a standard touchcapacitive sensor.

Even the P30 Pro's curved glass design at the front and back is similar to the Mate 20 Pro, though its glass back is smooth, not textured like the Mate 20 Pro. Both phones do not have a headphone jack.

Huawei did make some minor changes to the software interface on the P30 Pro, which runs EMUI 9.1 (based on Android 9), compared with EMUI 9.0 on the Mate 20 Pro.

A change that baffled me initially is the behaviour of the power button. Holding it for a couple of seconds brings up the Google Assistant interface instead of the usual options to restart or turn off the device.

It turns out I had to continue holding this button, ignoring the pop-up Google Assistant, before the restart and power off options appear.

Huawei says the P30 Pro has its latest GPU Turbo feature, which optimises the performance of specific mobile games. The number of supported games has gone up from 6 to 25 in this version and includes new titles such as Minecraft, Fortnite and NBA 2K19.

It is equipped with a considerable 4,200mAh battery that lasted 18.5 hours in our video-loop battery test. In my week with the phone, it usually has around 50 per cent battery life or more by my bedtime, which is close to midnight.

Charging the large battery is a quick process, thanks to Huawei's SuperCharge technology. The battery is charged from zero to 68 per cent in just half an hour.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2019, with the headline 'P30 Pro boasts the best camera on a smartphone '. Print Edition | Subscribe