There’s no denying, with the Mate 30 Pro, HUAWEI launched a 2020 phone in 2019.
This is our full HUAWEI Mate 30 Pro review; we have spent a month with the phone and used it across Hungary, and Romania, both in urban and rural regions.
It’s a difficult task to properly describe the HUAWEI Mate 30 Pro. It’s not because of what it is, but because it arrived in not necessarily “favorable” times. The U.S. decided to add HUAWEI to its trade blacklist in May 2019, and, as such, the Chinese company was banned from purchasing U.S. tech, regardless if it is products or services.
While models announced before the ban (basically every phone and tablet prior to the Mate 30-series) will continue to be supported for the entirety of their lifespan, for the Mate 30 Pro, HUAWEI was forced to ship it without Google’s official support.
It is still running Android (based on AOSP), but it is lacking Google Mobile Services (GMS), which have been, in the lack of other options, replaced with HUAWEI Mobile Services (HMS). While non-Google applications can be installed from other, third party app stores (HUAWEI’s own AppGallery, Amazon, etc.), where and if available, Google applications like Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube, etc., or those requiring GMS’ presence are not working.
So, under these circumstances, can an exceptional phone packing next-gen internals and innovation stand on its own without some apps that are crucial for the majority of users? That’s what we’re trying to answer in our HUAWEI Mate 30 Pro review.
There’s no denying, HUAWEI launched a 2020 phone in 2019. Opposed to the P-series of smartphones (P30 and P30 Pro being the current models), which focus on photography, entertainment, creativity, multimedia, etc., HUAWEI is pushing the performance and innovation envelope with the Mate-series. It is the phone which packs the latest and greatest, which is then inherited by the next P-model next year.
That’s also the case with the Mate 30 Pro, which is the first to debut with the Kirin 990 chip, HUAWEI’s next-gen SoC built using the 7nm+EUV technology, which also embeds the modem, 4G or 5G depending on the model.
The Kirin 990 processor is faster, smarter, and more power efficient than its otherwise still super-fast Kirin 980 predecessor. It packs 2 x Cortex-A76 Based 2.86 GHz + 2 x Cortex-A76 Based 2.09 GHz + 4 x Cortex-A55 1.86 GHz cores, in addition to the 16-Core Mali-G76 GPU, and not one, but two NPU units (Big Core + Tiny Core).
…and, to give it the best chance to perform, HUAWEI equipped the Mate 30 Pro with 8GB of RAM, and a single storage option, at 256GB, expandable using HUAWEI’s own NM SD Card, should you need more.
Needless to say this combination of processor, RAM, and storage delivers a lightning fast experience, with a tremendous computing power (more in our Performance segment below).
The Mate 30 Pro bends the display even further than last year’s Mate 20 Pro. It is called the HUAWEI Horizon Display, and wraps around both sides of the phone, to the point where the company decided to ditch all physical buttons, except for the Power button.
We’re talking about an 88 degree curvature, which means that it almost opens up to horizontal, not only eliminating the side bezels completely, but also expanding the display area to provide an edge-to-edge immersive viewing experience.
It’s otherwise a gorgeous 6.53-inch OLED panel operating at a maximum resolution of FHD+ (2400 x 1176 pixels), which can be manually or automatically toned down to HD+ (1600 x 784 pixels) to preserve battery.
Colors are stunning, and the display is bright with good contrast, making content look really good. This content flows beautifully from edge to edge regardless if you’re watching videos or scrolling through pictures, the canvas only being obstructed by the notch at the top, which is smaller, and smarter this year.
That notch was required in order to deliver the selfie camera (more on that, and the quad-cameras in our Camera segment below), depth sensor, and the 3D face unlock system, which is next-gen on the Mate 30 Pro. While non-intrusive, other manufacturers are using other workarounds, like punch-holes, or pop-up selfie cameras. You can learn to live with it, but if it bothers you that much, you can look elsewhere.
The display also incorporates the fingerprint scanner, which is really fast, and doesn’t misfire, unless your display or fingers are wet, or dirty.
In order to save even more space, HUAWEI ditched the earpiece and is using sound-emitting technology on its display. Your screen is basically your speaker, which is why this year we don’t have stereo output for your multimedia, but a down-firing speaker (which is rather loud and sounds really good – more on this in the Experience section below).
The Infrared blaster has been kept, as Huawei has been historically equipping its phones with this convenient hardware component. The phone is dual-SIM capable (either two SIMs or one SIM and an NM card), and is powered by a massive 4,500mAh battery.
This battery can be fully charged in a hair over an hour using HUAWEI’s 40W SuperCharge standard, with the wired charger included. The phone also supports 27W Wireless SuperCharge, though the fast Wireless SuperCharger needs to be purchased separately. More on the battery life and stamina of the phone in our Performance segment below.
Last, but not least, wrapping up this display of almost overkill specs and innovation, are the connectivity options. You’ve got Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (wave2), Bluetooth 5.1, NFC, dual-band GPS, and radios supporting global frequencies.
There are a total of 11 sensors on the phone: Gesture Sensor, In-Screen Fingerprint Sensor, Gyroscope, Compass, Proximity Sensor, Gravity Sensor, Hall Sensor, Infrared Sensor, Ambient Light Sensor, Barometer, and Color Temperature Sensor.
Oh, the software!… The software is the Mate 30 Pro’s Achilles’ heel. And, interestingly, it isn’t even HUAWEI’s fault. HUAWEI did a great job building EMUI 10 based on AOSP Android 10. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that. The problem lies within the lack of Google Mobile Services (GMS), which was forced upon HUAWEI by the U.S. ban, pushing the company to deliver this phone with HUAWEI Mobile Services. Neither HUAWEI, nor Google, wanted this, but they’ll have to comply.
We were fortunate enough to be able to install GMS on our Mate 30 Pro in the early days, before the workaround was discovered, and then killed. We used the Mate 30 Pro for two weeks at its full potential with GMS, and then for two weeks with HMS, which somewhat crippled the experience.
HUAWEI Mate 30 Pro with GMS
CEO Richard Yu answered my question about the time needed for HUAWEI to push GMS to phones, at the Mate 30 Pro launch. He said if the status quo changes, HUAWEI can do it overnight. No doubt about that! They probably have it ready to be pushed out just in case something changes for the better.
With GMS and access to all of the Google apps and third party apps on the Play Store (the way it really should be), the Mate 30 Pro is undoubtedly, in my opinion, the best phone of 2019, and a top five for 2020. It’s that good! Having access to all of my apps and services made the experience a real pleasure, with a beautiful phone, that’s super-fast, packed with innovation and killer hardware, not held back by access, or lack thereof, to software.
HUAWEI Mate 30 Pro with HMS
…but sadly you can no longer, at the time of publishing this review, magically trick GMS onto your Mate 30 Pro, which means you’re stuck with HMS. While HUAWEI is taking HMS and the entire ecosystem behind it really seriously – they’re investing 1 billion in it, after all – it still cripples the experience.
Of course, this all depends on your usage, the apps and services you rely on. You could be totally fine without the Google apps, or you can use the web version of Maps and YouTube, but for me it sadly went beyond it.
There are six Google apps I use: Gmail, Contacts, Calendar, YouTube, Keep Notes, and Maps. I don’t use the Assistant so that doesn’t bother me, and sure I could rely on Huawei’s own take on Email, Contacts, Notes and Calendar… but they don’t work with my Pocketnow corporate account. It could work with your personal Gmail, Yahoo mail, or Outlook account, in which case you can write this off as my personal problem.
Don’t get me wrong, you can easily download and sideload all of these apps from APKMirror, but sadly most of them, except GBoard and Chrome, won’t work, or crash. Shh, you can find older versions for some of these apps which complain about the lack of GMS, but still work, like our Google Maps below ?
I use 13-15 apps that are non-Google, of which I could barely find one or two on HUAWEI’s AppGallery. Yes, Huawei is working on it, but they’re not available now, so buying a phone now, knowing that your favorite apps might or might not be available on the AppGallery, is kind of a long shot. There are other options though.
I managed to find most of my apps on APKMirror though, after diving into diag apps to find out the architecture of the Mate 30 Pro, and its PPI, which isn’t a big deal for those who know how to do it, but your average Joe and Jane won’t go the extra mile.
Additionally, there are services like APKCombo which download any APK from the official Google Play store, via a web interface. You just need to find the app on the Play Store, send APKCombo the URL, and the APK is downloaded to your computer or phone storage from where you can install it.
Then there’s Amazon’s App Store, which installs just fine, but, while the apps are listed, you can’t find them on the app on the phone. Finding them on the desktop returns the result that they’re not compatible with the Mate 30 Pro.
Sadly, it’s the missing apps that break the experience for me. I’m talking about a couple of crucial apps I can’t live without: my banking app, my carrier’s app, and companion apps for hardware (you can say goodbye to Google Home for Chromecast, or your specific apps for your earbuds, unless you use the new HUAWEI Freebuds 3, etc.).
Again, you might not need all the apps and services that I do, but you could need your own specific batch just the same. If you’re in China, all of the above doesn’t really affect you, as you’ve been used to this status quo, and, testifying to that is Huawei’s success in general on the domestic market, and the Mate 30-series’ in particular, which is selling really well.
It is what it is, for the time being… Is it frustrating? Damn sure it is! It’s like buying a brand new, super-fast, luxury sports car and not being able to drive off as your neighbor blocked your parking spot with his own tin-can junk of an old car piece of trash (/end frustration).
When (if ever again) the phone runs GMS at its full potential, the Experience is 10 out of 10. And we’ll leave it at that.
…because it doesn’t, and we don’t know if it ever will. So moving beyond the irritation, the overall experience is that of a super-premium smartphone. The display is beautiful with its curved edges, and the software does a great job in adapting to the notch and the curved sides, both of which you can disable, by the way.
EMUI 10 is fluid, and, while it replicates many of its features from Apple’s iOS, it does so in an elegant way. Gestures are similar, the animations accompanying it are fluid, and the overall look of the user interface can be easily customized by applying themes.
EMUI 10 has come a long way, now being more elegant, with less clutter, and more fluid in performance.
The unit we have is a Chinese model, so naturally it comes with a lot of apps that are useless for us, which we filed under the “bloat” category. Fortunately it’s easy to get rid of them, but you have to find a proper alternative for the built-in browser which has deep ties with Baidu. Luckily you can download Google Chrome from APKMirror, or another source, and replace it. There are also other great browsers out there you can alternatively use.
As we’ve mentioned, we didn’t find a proper way to set up our corporate Gmail account. When E-mail was working fine, Contacts and Calendar sync was off. When we fixed Contacts and Calendar, the E-mail client only loaded the sender and the subject of the e-mail, without the body. Your mileage may vary depending on your provider.
The built-in Health app is minimalistic, though for what it tracks (through the HUAWEI Watch GT 2 we used in tandem) it does a good job at presenting you with the information you need.
…and then the AppGallery, yes it is currently poor, with tons and tons of apps which chances are you won’t find interesting, and, at the same time, missing the apps you would really need.
Sound, though mono through the single bottom firing speaker, is on par with any other flagship premium smartphone out there, maybe a tad louder, and richer. Bass is good, and so are the trebles, but you’ll have to get used to the mono sound, especially if you’ve used a stereo smartphone before. Get back to mastering that particular grip where you cup the phone to direct the sound towards you with your palm.
The camera is one of the main selling points of the Mate 30 Pro, and it doesn’t disappoint. HUAWEI has been a pioneer of smartphone photography ever since it started to take it seriously, by partnering with Leica.
All of the Mate and P-series of smartphones were great shooters, but the Mate 30 Pro joins the P30 Pro in being an exceptional shooter. Yes, some of the features advertised are still not available, like the Super Macro mode (Huawei will likely enable them via software updates later), but for what it does, it is one of the best shooters money can buy today.
There’s a main 40 MP wide shooter with f/1.6 aperture, 27mm equivalent, optically stabilized. Then there’s an 8 MP unit with f/2.4 aperture, 80mm (telephoto), with OIS, and 3x optical zoom. A third 40 MP camera, with f/1.8 aperture, dubbed the “Ultra-Wide Cine Camera”, is an 18mm (ultrawide) unit. Additionally, there’s a 3D ToF camera as well.
Combined among all cameras, you have huge flexibility to shoot from Wide-angle to all the way up to 30X with some software, AI, OIS, and AIS wizardry, enabling you to get really close to your subject without moving. Here are three zoom sequences below:
Of note is that HUAWEI packed not one, but two image sensors in the device, both larger than the single sensors on some of the competitors’ phones. There’s a 40MP Cine Camera RGGB sensor (1/1.54-inch) with 3:2 aspect ratio, and a 40MP SuperSensing Camera RYYB sensor (1/1.7-inch) with 4:3 aspect ratio.
Moving beyond the tech talk, the output is amazing. Images are rich in color, saturation, brightness, detail, sharpness, and AI automatically improves images depending on the scene it detects. While sometimes it exaggerates, you can easily turn it off.
Portrait images have a nice bokeh with a great spatial separation between the subject and the background, while low-light and night images have been historically, since the P20 Pro, exceptional. The Mate 30 Pro is no exception.
Regardless of the mode you shoot in (wide, super-wide, or tele), HDR+ is an option that enhances you imagery, and low light is also possible in the wide modes for extraordinary results.
When it comes to video shooting, the dedicated 40MP Cine Camera definitely comes in handy, capable of 4k recording at 60fps, ISO 51200, and a whopping 7680fps Ultra Slow Motion.
This slow motion is so good that it often times is useless. What do we mean by that? It slows action down so much that it basically slows it down to a stand-still, or pause, unless you’re shooting something really fast moving. For your regular slo-mo shots you can easily dial the FPS down a little for more enjoyable recordings, but 7680 is definitely working as advertised.
Turning to the front, the 32MP camera benefits from the 3D sensors, for more professional selfies, but often times you’ll have to disable AI which automatically exaggerates when it comes to applying Beauty effects. …or not, up to you, if you’re into that.
The Camera software itself is the typical one you’d find on most HUAWEI devices. It’s easy to navigate, and there’s little to no clutter. Aperture, Night, Portrait, Photo, Video and Pro are the main shooting modes, to which you can, by hitting “More”, select from 11 more. You can also choose to disable MasterAI, which comes in handy most of the times, but there are exceptions.
While it does a great job at recognizing most of the scenes and sub-scenes of your composition, and applying the proper settings, filters and effects, sometimes misfires, but you can always tap the tiny X icon next to the scene it thinks it recognized, to go back to the normal, non-AI-assisted mode.
We’ll leave you with the sample gallery below so you can judge for yourselves.
More HUAWEI Mate 30 Pro camera samples
There’s nothing that we threw at the Mate 30 Pro, with or without GMS, that it didn’t handle instantly, like a sports car upon releasing brakes with the launch control on. App launch, multitasking, switching between apps, multiple apps, everything is super-fast, and super fluid.
That 4,500mAh is a real champ, not that Huawei phones had battery life issues in the past. We could easily squeeze out one and a half, even two days of moderate to heavy use, and, with super-fast 40W wired, and 27W wireless charging, you don’t waste much time until your phone is ready to go again.
The built-in charger fully charges the device from 0 to 100 in a hair over one hour. 30 minutes of charge will give you 73%, and 45 minutes are good for 88%.
Phone calls sound average. That’s because instead of an earpiece, which is a speaker, the Mate 30 Pro uses sound on display technology, where the screen is the one emitting the sound. The display is what you’ll raise to your ear in order to hear the other person talk.
It’s lacking a little bit on the lows, which make phone calls sound a little bit tinny, but that’s a trade-off you’ll have to live with when you choose to build, or buy, a phone that declared war on the bezels.
Signal-wise, we have a disclaimer: the first unit we’ve got (the one we managed to install GMS onto), was constantly disconnecting from both WiFi and Data. We thought it was EMUI 10’s aggressive power management, until we disabled and tweaked every available option in order to realize that it might be a bug in the unit we’ve got.
We’ve got a replacement (the one with HMS, to which installing GMS is now pretty much impossible), and we’re happy to see that the issue is no longer there.
The phone holds on nicely to the weakest signal, let it be for voice, Data, or WiFI. Bluetooth is also good, as it should be, since it’s the 5.1 iteration, and GPS gave us solid lock-on in no-time.
In terms of biometrics, the Mate 30 Pro features a super-fast in-display fingerprint scanner which rarely misfires. It happened to us on a couple of occasions when our fingers, or the display, were wet, or dirty. A quick wipe immediately fixes the problem.
Face recognition is top notch, with almost instant acknowledgement. And, for those wondering, the phone won’t unlock if you have your eyes closed, like the Pixel 4. The phone won’t even unlock if you have your eyes open, but pointed somewhere else. The Mate 30 Pro needs your undivided attention in order to face unlock.
You can of course disable this in the settings, where you can also opt to prevent the phone from sleeping if it detects eye contact.
It’s hard to conclude a review like this, on a device like the Mate 30 Pro, in a status quo like the one that was forced upon HUAWEI, the world of tech, and us all, ultimately.
On one hand, we have the best of the best in terms of hardware and innovation, all wrapped in a beautiful package. As I said when I first met the Mate 30 Pro, Huawei launched a 2020 phone in 2019. Yes, it’s that good.
But on the other hand, if you’re relying on the Google ecosystem, with its apps and services, you have a tough decision to make. Skip this gorgeous phone and go with the Mate 20 Pro, or P30 Pro, or a competitor, and miss out on all the great tech and innovation Huawei prepared. Or, you can take the risk, try to live without some of your favorite apps, in hopes that it will, at one point, sort itself out (or the community will), and have a phone which trumps almost, if not all of them out there.
€1,099 is what you’ll need to pay for the standard Mate 30 Pro (€100 more for the 5G version), whenever it becomes available. Right now availability is limited, and the most recent rumors suggest a mid-November launch for European markets.
At the end of the day, the buying decision is yours, and it doesn’t involve HUAWEI, or a flaw with the phone. There’s a flaw in the world we live in, but that’s another topic. If you have plenty of generic apps you can easily grab from APKMirror (look them up), then this is probably going to be the best phone you’ve ever used.
Alternatively, there are free services out there, like APKCombo, which will easily download any official application from the Google Play store, from any browser, to any device, which you can then transfer to your phone, or do it on your phone directly.
If you have several smaller, non-global apps, like banking, carrier, cabs, airline, food delivery hardware components, wearables, etc., chances are you won’t find them anywhere else.
You can use YouTube’s web version as an alternative, and even use Google Maps on the web with navigation (no turn-by-turn though). And, shhhh, we found a version of Google Maps on APKMirror which complains about the lack of GMS, but still works.
This being a review dedicated to everyone, not just the tech-savvy users, we can’t fully recommend the phone as we do understand that there are people out there who are not that much into tinkering with the device, or simply want things to work out of the box. Those of you who are at home with Android and devices don’t really need my advice, really.
So, to conclude, you won’t go wrong if you buy this phone, but everyone will understand if you skip it, at least until there’s a GMS solution out there. Pitty, again, but it is what it is…
Pros and Cons
- beautiful display
- great design
- exceptional cameras
- great battery life
- next-gen specs
- good speaker
- lack of Google Mobile Services could discourage some
- limited availability
- mono speaker
- no headphone jack