The most enthusiastic tech CEOs can make their product launches seem a little like kids’ birthday parties. They are jubilant, slightly embarrassing, and frequently much more about the people throwing the show than those watching.
Huawei’s launch of the Mate 30 Pro had some overtones of a funeral, at least from a UK perspective. This should have been a victory lap of sorts. In pure hardware terms, the Mate 30 Pro is the pinnacle of what Huawei has achieved in the last 10 years.
At the turn of 2019 Huawei claimed it would soon be the number one smartphone seller, and analysts looking at the success of last year’s P20/Pro and Mate 20 Pro agreed. Huawei CEO Richard Yu told WIRED at IFA 2019 that the company could have shipped “300 million” phones this year but that won’t happen now due to “consumer worries”.
Instead, this is the first Huawei flagship phone released after Google cut ties with the company. It is the first to run AOSP Android rather than the fully licensed kind. This means it does not have the Google Play store, Gmail, Google Maps or any other applications from the Google suite.
This is the result of Huawei being placed on US’s Entity List of threats to national security. Yu said that he felt the company was treated like a “bargaining chip” in the US-China trade war, the company “forced” into this strategy.
“Maybe I am not humble to say this but the US came with the Entity List, if this did not happen then Huawei would be number one globally,” said Yu. “I think that in future we will still be number one.” To prove his point, we can look to the stats. In Q2 2019 Huawei was the number two producer of smartphones worldwide, before the US took this drastic action.
Huawei announced the Mate 30 and Mate 30 RS, a Porsche Design model, alongside the Mate 30 Pro at the launch in Munich. Yu says a European release for the phones is in “progress”, but it is hard to imagine UK networks being keen to sell the phones when they do not have some of the core software components of an Android phone.
It’s also difficult to see how sellers of the phones would be able to communicate their software limitations to the average buyer, and avoid a waterfall of returns. These phones cannot install Google Play at all, according to Yu, and will instead have to rely on Huawei’s own AppGallery, to which it is devoting a $1 billion fund to coax over developers, and third-party app stores like Aptiode.
So what’s new?
The Huawei Mate 30 Pro’s hardware trajectory falls in line with that of the Mate 20 Pro from 2018. It’s a strategy of tech excess, but in areas that mostly intersect with how people use their phones. Or at least some people.
Huawei’s cameras have been ahead of rivals for at least 18 months. Its P20 Pro introduced the night mode Google tried to beat with Night Sight. And Apple only just caught up with the iPhone 11 series.
The Mate 30 Pro is unlikely to achieve such a lead, but it does have some extraordinary features. There are four cameras on the back: a standard-view 40-megapixel camera, a 3x 8-megapixel zoom, a depth sensor and a 40-megapixel ultra-wide.
This wide camera is, unusually, the most interesting.
It has an even larger sensor than the main one, measuring 1/1.54 inches across. It can shoot 4K video at 60fps, like the iPhone 11, but pushes much further into the extremes than Apple.
A slo-mo mode can capture video at 7680fps, slow-down so much more pronounced than the current 960fps standard you wonder how it is even possible. It shows you life slowed 256 times. Taken on face value this means each frame can only have an exposure of 1/7680 of a second, a shutter speed so fast it should make all but the brightest scenes look dim. However, in good lighting at least the final footage appears just as bright as a normal clip.
It turns fast motion into absolute zero stillness, so you have to wonder how useful this mode will ever actually be to most. But it’s technically impressive, and is enabled by Huawei’s custom image signal processor.
You can also shoot x64 slo-mo clips, which are likely to be far less boring to watch. Most of us don’t feel the need to stretch a second out over four and a half minutes.
The Mate 30 Pro can also shoot ultra-low light time lapse videos, radically brightening dark scenes, apply bokeh blur to video in real-time and shoot HDR+ video at 4K.
Huawei has pushed its screen design further this year, too. Like the Galaxy Note 10 and Huawei Mate 20 Pro, the screen bends around the curvature of the front glass, but to an almost 90-degree angle. This means, front-on, the Mate 30 Pro appears to have virtually no screen surround to the left and right.
The screen itself is a 6.53-inch “Flex” OLED, using panels from Samsung and BOE, according to Richard Yu. Its resolution is 2,400 x 1,176 pixels, significantly lower than the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+’s, but the difference is only likely to be noticed by those poring over spec sheets.
The sheer level of engineering effort that goes into achieving quite minor gains in aspects such as screen curvature show how elusive appreciable progress can be in phones today. There’s more of this kind of effort visible elsewhere, too.
Huawei chose not to use a physical volume controller in the Mate 30 Pro. Instead, you double-tap the side and slide a finger up or down to alter the level. This may be fun to show off the day after you buy the phone, but is it really going to be more practical when you try to silence the thing in a work meeting or at the cinema?
Mildly contentious parts aside, that a phone as good as the Huawei Mate 30 Pro is likely to sell poorly in the UK, if at all through official channels, is sad.
It appears to have one of the most versatile phone cameras (if not the most) ever made. Its Kirin 990 is the first processor to build a 5G modem into the SoC (system on chip), and there are many more useful features we haven’t mentioned yet. Its 4,500mAh battery may well set the standard for battery life among Androids, for one.
This is the best phone to be given this poor a chance of success in the UK and Europe.
One step down
Unless you’re a Huawei acolyte or spend more time shooting video than stills, the non-Pro Mate 30 may seem a better buy.
Like the Mate 20 series, it has a flat screen rather than curved one. But it is larger at 6.62 inches across, and is of 2,340 x 1,080 pixel resolution.
The Mate 30 loses out on the advanced ultra-wide camera, using a 16-megapixel sensor and f/2.2 lens instead. But it still has a triple rear camera array with three fields of view on tap.
Both Mate 30 and Mate 30 Pro models come in green, orange, black and silver. And, new for this year, a “vegan leather”. This is most likely some form of plastic, but it is trendy plastic.
Those who would rather have their phone wrapped in real dead animal will have to upgrade to the Porsche Design Huawei Mate 30 RS. This is similar to the Mate 30 Pro, but has a veneer of real leather on its back, inlaid with a longer strip of glass. And it costs €2,095.
The Huawei Mate 30 Pro costs €1,099, or €1,199 for the 5G version. The Mate 30 on the other hand is a much more accessible €799, with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage.
Where are the UK prices? While Richard Yu is adamant Huawei phones will continue to be sold in Europe, and through carriers, the Mate 30 series will prove who, among buyers and retailers, can stomach Huawei phones without Google services and apps.
And at this point we simply don’t know where you’ll be able to buy these phones in the UK.
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