Dancing in the Dark – Huawei P30 Series Launch

Huawei today launched the, much leaked, P30 series. The P series forms part of a co-flagship range together with the Mate series. The Mate tends to receive a spec focus while the P series is oriented more toward specific benefits, in recent releases these have been squarely in photography. As with the Mate series there is also an emphasis on design and performance.

The standout feature of the P30 is, unsurprisingly, the photographic performance – here it builds on the class leading performance of its predecessor, the P20.

The P30 Pro offers the premium experience within the P30 family. It has three optical cameras plus a Time of Flight (TOF) sensor. The camera set up has a 40MPx main sensor with an f1.6 aperture and a new colour sensor that instead of the standard RGB set-up uses a RYYB filter structure. The dual yellow filters in the quad-pixel array can interpret red light, green light and yellow light. Huawei claims this improves the amount of light reaching the sensor by 40%. Huawei calls it Super-Spectrum.

The second camera has an ultra-wide angle lens with a 20MPx sensor; familiar from the Mate 20.

The third camera is a periscope 125mm telephoto lens paired with an 8MPx sensor. This offers 5x optical zoom and 10x hybrid zoom. When pushed to extremes though, it produces an astonishing 50x digital zoom.

In brief tests the zoom worked extremely well. The pictures below were taken from the same position and shift from wide-angle through 5x zoom, to 10x, to around 30x zoom.

Counterpoint - Paris taken with Huawei P30 Pro, wide-angleCounterpoint: Paris taken with Huawei P30 Pro on 5x zoomCounterpoint: Paris, taken with Huawei P30 Pro at 10x zoomCounterpoint: Paris, taken with Huawei P30 Pro at 40x zoom

Low light and video performance are also dramatic thanks to a combination of the RYYB filters, wide apertures, powerful image signal processing, and AI-mediated scene identification, enabled within the Kirin 980 application processor that includes dual NPUs and dual ISPs. Huawei claim an ISO equivalent of over 400,000. This means that pictures can be taken in almost zero light with startling effectiveness. The shot on the left below was taken with the iPhone Xs, and is a pretty faithful representation of the light level. The picture on the right was taken with the P30 Pro. Despite appearances, there was no change in light levels in the room between the two shots. Yes, really!

Counterpoint: night image taken with iPhone XsCounterpoint: Night image taken with Huawei P30 Pro

One aspect that Huawei highlighted was the ability to shoot video simultaneously in both normal view as well as telephoto. A use-case could be videoing a football game where the overall scene is captured but action is also caught close-up. It’s a neat trick, but we doubt it will get a lot of use.

Screens are all OLED with sizes ranging from 6.47” in the Pro to 6.1” in the P30. Both have 19.5:1 aspect ratios and in-screen fingerprint technology. Huawei has resisted using 2K screens, opting for 1080p, which it has done, it says, for reasons of battery economy. The screens are good but not stunningly sharp. The Pro has a more radiused screen that slides off the edge of the device, while the standard P30 screen is flat. To achieve as full a screen as possible, both devices have a tear drop cut out that houses the 32MPx selfie camera.

Huawei is removing the standard front firing loudspeaker from the Pro and instead is using the screen as a speaker by making the surface vibrate. This was seen first on the Xiaomi Mi Mix where it didn’t work well. Huawei claims its technology is superior and provides ample sound without leakage. It is a technology that Counterpoint foresaw in our report on audio developments – see here.

Battery and charging are class-leading with Huawei’s branded super-charging as standard. The P30 Pro also gets wireless charging and can reverse charge other capable devices, as with the Mate 20 Pro and the Samsung S10 – indeed I was able to give my iPhone a boost from the P30 Pro.

Designs are, as with the recent Huawei launches, excellent. The colors, materials, and finishes are outstanding, with some striking color options.

Huawei will introduce 5G in a version of the Mate 20, later this year, as well as the folding Mate X. It’s unlikely that the P30 will get a 5G upgrade, though Huawei has not completely ruled it out.

Both products are available from today in selected markets – though not the USA; their loss. Pricing starts at Eur 799 for the P30 and ranges up to Eur 1249 for the P30 Pro with 8GB of RAM and 512GB of ROM storage. Most buyers will likely opt for the Eur 1049 8GB/256GB

So what does this mean?

The P30 series raises an already high bar. It now joins its sister Mate 20 series and the Samsung S10 series as the outstanding smartphones of the year. However, we doubt the average smartphone user will be rushing to the stores to buy the product in the current environment of innovation fatigue, especially given that Huawei is taking advantage of the opportunity to raise pricing into the headroom that Apple has created.

In competitive terms, Huawei is now fully a match for Samsung in smartphone hardware. And it is Huawei that Samsung should be worrying about – rather than continuing to chase Apple. Apple meanwhile has signalled with its latest launches that hardware is merely a vehicle for delivering a gradually improving services experience. The lack of ambition evidenced by its so-so annual device upgrades suggests it doesn’t feel the need to chase best-in-class hardware – see here.

One of the most striking things about the launch presentation was a video with the senior handset buyers of Telefonica, Vodafone and Orange that all made strong statements committing their respective firms to deeper partnerships with Huawei. Striking because it comes against a background where some buyers were thought to be put-off by the continuing concerns over Huawei’s ability to withstand mounting US-driven pressure. These operators, at least, don’t seem to have got that memo. And if the Huawei run rate in Europe continues, it will close the gap on Samsung still further during 2019.