Now, the most recent Huawei Mate 30 Pro 5G flagship phone has gone on sale in more places in Europe, including the U.K. The first major handset to reach markets outside China without Google Mobile Services. Is that enough to sink this phone, or are its saving graces so great you just can’t write it off?
Huawei Mate 30 Pro Review: The Software
On every other smartphone, this is a penultimate paragraph or addendum but here, it’s the main event. Huawei is forbidden from licensing Google Mobile Services (GMS) which include apps such as Google Maps, YouTube, Gmail and, most importantly, Google Play Store.
Instead, the phone ships with Android 10, but it’s AOSP, the open-source version.
It means that when you take the Mate 30 Pro out of the box you’re restricted to the apps available in the company’s own app store, called Huawei App Gallery. This is a decent enough app store, with popular apps like Tidal, Adidas Running, Microsoft Office and plenty more. But, although it’s growing every day, it’s lacking key titles like Instagram, WhatsApp, and so on.
The lack of Google Maps is definitely an issue, though Maps.Me is there. This is perfectly usable, but – honestly? – it’s not in the same league.
So, what to do?
Well, there are a lot of things you can do, actually, some easy, some less so, but all capable of transforming the experience of this phone.
First, there’s Phone Clone. Assuming this isn’t your first phone, you’ll likely have a bunch of apps on your previous handset (or you can put them on now). Then, using Phone Clone, you can pull those apps across from another Huawei, another Android phone. This is a neat way to add apps not available in the App Gallery, though not all will work.
Then there’s Amazon. Go to Amazon and download the Amazon App Store to the phone, which is safe and exceptionally simple to do. Here’s the link. This doesn’t have the full Google Play Store range of apps by any means, but it has a lot, including WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook, for instance. The only downside is some apps may not be updated as quickly as on Google Play Store.
For many people, this will be enough: a fully-working phone with most of the essential apps, all working securely.
But there’s one more thing you can do: download Google Mobile Services. This is not officially supported by Google and theoretically things can change in the future. But there are simple ways to download and install GMS. I tried one on my review unit and it worked flawlessly. As a result, I have all the apps I had been missing, including Gmail and Google Maps, receiving updates in the normal way.
Huawei doesn’t sanction this method but it has worked fine for me.
I’d say that, although a return to full GMS available at purchase would be preferable, there is enough flexibility for what you can do that the absence of full GMS should not be an issue to put people off.
When Huawei Maps, designed in conjunction with TomTom, comes to the phone in the future, there’ll be even less need for GMS.
Huawei Mate 30 Pro Review: Camera
There are three rear cameras on the Mate 30 Pro, plus a Time-of-Flight sensor for depth information to help with bokeh effect. There’s a 40MP regular wide sensor, for a start. Then, there’s an ultra-wide camera with the same 40MP resolution, 0.67x the focal length of the main lens. There’s also an 8MP telephoto camera which is 3x the focal length of the main sensor. It’s a great combination that makes the phone suitable in a wide variety of environments.
There are advanced video features on the phone, recognizing that it has been behind phones like the iPhone in this regard. You can shoot at 4K resolution at 60 frames per second or invoke the incredibly slo-mo effect that comes from filming at 7,680fps.
The selfie cameras is also excellent with a 32MP sensor taking the picture, and the Time-of-Flight sensor assisting.
Huawei Mate 30 Pro Review: Design
Huawei’s industrial design is world-class. Here, the glass finish on front and back is tactile and appealing and the joins are so smooth you can roll the phone through your fingers easily. The glass back means the phone is capable of wireless charging and – this being Huawei – reverse wireless charging, too, so if a friend’s wireless-chargeable phone is running low, pressing the two together back-to-back lets you charge their phone. Or you could charge other wireless-chargeable gadgets like AirPods Pro or Huawei Freebuds 3.
The rear cameras on a smartphone are a place for a phone designer to make their mark. The Mate 20 Pro had a distinctive square panel with lenses here and the Mate 30 Pro takes it a stage further with four lenses in a square arrangement, in a raised circle, surrounded by a flat circle that stands out against the rear of the phone. It looks terrific and reinforces the importance of the cameras to this phone.
Turn the phone on and the display jumps out at you, for lots of reasons. We’ll come to that in a minute but in design terms it’s important because it causes several other things to happen.
The standout feature is that it’s a waterfall-design screen, that is, the display curves round the edges and down the sides to about half way. It really makes the phone eye-catchingly different, especially when you look at it from side on.
But the consequence of this striking design is there’s nowhere to put the volume buttons. The power button is on the right edge but towards the back. So, the solution for how to turn volume up and down is to use the display itself.
Tap the edge of the phone – on either side – twice, and a volume slider appears. It’s a clever solution that works well.
There’s also a notch at the top of the display, with room for a 32MB camera, Time-of-Flight lens for assessing the distance of the subject from the camera and elements for facial recognition.
Like most flagships now, this phone is water-resistant to IP68 so it can rest in water up to 6 feet deep for half an hour.
And facial recognition isn’t the only way to unlock the phone, though it’s a very efficient and fast system. There’s a fingerprint sensor buried in the display. This is also quick and effective.
Huawei Mate 30 Pro Review: Display
So, we’ve talked about the waterfall edging on the phone display. The screen itself is an OLED. It’s large, 6.53in, with 409 pixels per inch. That’s not as high as on Apple’s OLED iPhones (458ppi) but more than enough to look pin-sharp and attractive. It’s rich and colorful, with none of the noticeable off-axis color change that can dog some OLED screens.
It’s true that this screen doesn’t have the 90Hz or even 120Hz refresh rate of some of the very latest smartphones, but it looks so good it’s hard to notice.
Though the notch on this phone is wide, it doesn’t interfere much when you’re watching movies, which look great on this 18.5:9 ratio display. You can hide the notch in software if you prefer.
The cameras buried in the notch are for several purposes including facial unlock and Huawei has a clever feature along the same lines. It’s called App Lock and it spots if somebody’s looking over your shoulder, which you might not, of course. If they are, it instantly closes notifications. It’s a cute little extra.
There’s another Huawei specialty. When you’re sitting at an angle and you tip over a little the accelerometer on most phones will switch the orientation of what’s onscreen. Which may not be what you want. With Huawei, the phone sees your eyes and keeps the display in portrait as you lounge.
Huawei Mate 30 Pro Review: Performance
The processor here does everything, and fast. This phone never leaves you waiting, everything is smooth and effectively done. Huawei’s EMUI interface is the most elegant the company has devised and it works brilliantly,
Battery life has been good on Huawei phones for a while now but this phone has legitimate two-day battery life, so you’re unlikely to feel battery anxiety.
Huawei Mate 30 Pro Review: Verdict
Let’s be clear: if the issue with Google Mobile Services didn’t exist, this would be close to the perfect phone, offering a stunning experience in every direction. Even with the problems, it does pretty well. If you’re bold, putting Google on the phone is straightforward and works well. If you’re cautious, consider using the Amazon App Store as a reliable and safe source of almost all the apps you need.
Living without the full Google Mobile Services is easier than you think, though it’s not for everybody. But if you think it can work for you, the Huawei Mate 30 Pro offers a stunningly good experience. It’s a real show-stopper.