Software and politics make the P30 Pro an unpredictable choice
The P30 Pro is a truly gorgeous device all around. It exudes a premium look and feel from every angle, and once again sets the bar for smartphone photography quality and ability. It's any wonder Huawei has grown the rate they have over the past few years, and this phone is the pinnacle of everything they've accomplished up to this point.
Disclaimer: At Android Headlines, we now review all phones from the "good" and the "bad" perspectives. Our reviews are designed to deliver a focused look at the positives and negatives of each new device, helping readers specifically look at why a phone is very good, or why its negative aspects might make it a poor investment. This "bad" review focuses on the negative for the Huawei P30 Pro. For an idea of everything Huawei did right with this phone, visit our "good" review.
Software updates weren't ultra-high on Huawei's priority list just a few years back, but recent statements and actions from the company show that this stance has changed significantly. While EMUI is still a far cry from stock Android's look and feel, Huawei is vowing to get the Android Q update out sooner than ever. While Huawei is currently barred from getting new versions of Android for brand new devices, as of this review, they aren't barred from getting timely updates for current devices.
Whether or not this changes as a result of the soured relationships with Google and the US, time will only tell, but it doesn't give buyers a warm fuzzy feeling to know that their phone could become basically unusable if political conditions don't improve.
Huawei's version of Android, called EMUI, has been drastically improved over the past few years. This might be the fastest and least buggy version of EMUI to date, but there are still issues with background apps, and this is probably the most offensive part of EMUI that has yet to be truly fixed.
Cheating at good battery life
Battery life on the phone is killer, but it's achieved by a method of background app management that will leave users frustrated and annoyed on a daily basis. We've seen this happen sporadically over the years with Huawei phones, but the problem manifests itself typically through the following scenario.
Suddenly you realize you haven't been receiving Twitter notifications, as one consistent example. You open up the Twitter app to be greeted by a flood of notifications that should have been delivered when they were supposed to but, apparently, this app had been paused in the background.
No amount of digging in the battery settings, turning on performance mode, or ticking away the boxes for permissions and background running allowances seems to fix this. Meanwhile, apps like Gmail or your text messaging app don't seem to have an issue at all delivering notifications in a timely manner.
Smartwatches and other accessories are subsequently affected by this same issue as well. The Huawei Watch is still my personal favorite WearOS-powered smartwatch, yet it will sometimes go for hours without notifying me of any activity from my phone until both the watch and phone are rebooted. This only happens when the watch is paired with the P30 Pro.
This pattern of unnecessary sleeping and pausing of apps in the background creates an experience that feels more like a dumbphone than a smart one and made the daily use of the P30 Pro a frustrating experience for me.
Updated software, dated feel
The EMUI experience is also one that consistently feels a bit dated, no matter where you go. Only the full-screen gestures feel like any sort of modern update to the design, while the rest of EMUI remains mostly plain and boring. There are no fancy animations, no special design, little customization of the UI, and problems when using non-default apps.
The home launcher is the biggest issue, as setting anything else as the default launcher will result in a terribly buggy experience. Overview still doesn't work right, despite this being a huge issue with the 6-month old Mate 20 series, and changing default apps can be a general pain in the butt too.
As far as the build and design go, the worst thing I can point out is that it's nothing special. Curved edges on the OLED give it a nice look, but there's nothing really unique that is done with the screen that can't be done with a flat screen. The vibration motors inside are much improved over last year, but still don't hold a candle to phones from LG, Samsung or Google.
It's got a smaller notch than the P20, but the existence of any notch might annoy some. Huawei also moved to an in-display speaker instead of having a dedicated earpiece, which lessens the sound quality when watching videos or listening to music with the phone's built-in speakers.
It's also got that reverse wireless charging like the Mate 20 Pro, but like that phone and Samsung's Galaxy S10, it's really designed to charge wireless headphones, not actual smartphones, as the wattage output here just isn't high enough to do a whole lot.
WiFi that can't stay connected
Something that's not clearly a hardware or software issue revolves around connectivity problems we had with WiFi networks. Several times throughout the day, the phone's WiFi became completely unresponsive, failing to deliver any notifications from apps that rely on an active data connection. Even browsing the web or opening apps that wanted a data connection didn't work, and either a switch to mobile data or a reset of the WiFi connection fixed the issue.
This issue persisted on several WiFi networks in several different locations but seemed to be a larger issue on mesh networks or in places that share the same wireless SSID between multiple access points.
There's a new fourth camera around back of the phone, the Time-of-Flight (TOF) camera, but it seems to be a fairly useless addition to the mix at this time. While you might expect this 3D camera to be used for depth information or faster focusing, it seems to be relegated to some proprietary AR tools instead. It's possible that this could be better integrated when and if Android Q comes to the phone, but for now it's a fairly limited addition to the phone's camera arsenal.
Video recording still falls short
Video recording has been significantly improved over previous generations of Huawei phones, to say the least, but there are still some lingering issues regarding exposure levels that are more than just distracting; they can be game-breaking if you're not paying attention. Areas where lots of contrast exists, say a sunny location with shade trees, cause issues with the exposure calculation on the phone.
This results in flickering between exposure values, which just looks bizarre on screen as it moves back and forth between a bright and a darker exposure constantly.
See what this looks like in our full camera review on YouTube.
There's also a noticeable lack of any high framerate recording in video modes. Yes, there's slow-motion capture, but that's not a replacement for the buttery smooth goodness that 60 frames-per-second capture can deliver, especially at 4K. It's something almost every other flagship offers and is one of the last arrows missing in Huawei's camera quiver.
Grand design on a fault line
The real deal breakers in my experience with the P30 Pro revolved around the terrible background app management, which regularly kept important apps from running and delivering notifications. If this can be solved, as well as ensuring users that they'll continue to receive support from the industry at large, most of the other negatives will trickle down to simple issues that can be overlooked.
For now, though, the storm cloud that was once looming in the distance has finally begun to rain on Huawei's parade and looks to seemingly ruin any plans or progress they've made up to this point in time. Will this uncertainty taint your opinion of Huawei's future? It's certainly not an easy question to answer.