Huawei’s Mate phones have always been about pushing limits. The Mate 10 Pro was the first phone with a dedicated Neural Processing Unit (NPU) for AI features we take for granted now. The Mate 20 Pro introduced the in-display fingerprint sensor and back-to-back wireless charging. But with the Mate 30 Pro (€1099, approximately $1,200), the main thing to talk about is what it doesn’t have: the array of Google apps and services that have been blocked from the Chinese company due to President Trump’s trade war with China. The domino effect of that political decision has stopped the Mate 30 Pro from launching in a number of European countries, placing the company’s devices in a similar position in the UK, Italy, France, and Germany as it has been in the US for some time.
What Can’t It Do?
Let’s first talk about what exactly the Huawei Mate 30 Pro is missing. Without Google Mobile Services, apps including Gmail, Google Maps, Google Photos, and YouTube are all absent from the device.
You also lose the Play Store itself, which means you can’t install Citymapper, Netflix, Twitter, WhatsApp, and many other Android applications, and it’s impossible to add a Google account to Huawei’s own email application. Moreover, even if you try to sideload some of the apps onto the device, you receive error messages: Netflix says that the app isn’t compatible with your device, while CityMapper says the app won’t run without Google Play services.
Huawei includes its own alternative app store called AppGallery, but despite the company saying it has invested a billion dollars into it, the platform is barely usable. There are numerous clones of Messenger, Spotify, and WhatsApp, among other popular services, some of which appear to simply be spam or a way to garner advertising revenue.
One possible solution to this is sideloading Google Play services. Finding the Google Services Framework installer online allows you to download the Play Store and Google’s array of apps within minutes. However, this is not recommended by Google or by Huawei, and with good reason: sideloading apps can be dangerous. Spammers might mask malicious programs as legitimate Android applications, allowing them to take over the phone and steal private data that can result in phishing attacks or ransomware. Although it provides a viable alternative around the Google ban, it is one that is taken at your own risk.
Design and Hardware
The app problem is a real shame, because the Mate 30 Pro we looked at, despite being a pre-release model, is an impressive device. It’s available in black, green, purple, or silver, as well as dark green or orange vegan leather versions, all of which look quite sleek. At 6.2 by 2.8 by 0.3 inches (HWD) and 7.0 ounces, it’s a pretty big phone.
The screen is a 6.53-inch OLED “waterfall display,” meaning it curves around the sides like some of Samsung’s phones. The 18.4:9, 2,400-by-1,176-pixel screen works well and looks bright and punchy, despite the occasional phantom press due to the screen shape.
Watching 4K nature clips on YouTube, the difference in light falling on the side of an elephant compared with the ridges of its trunk are much more pronounced than on the 3,120-by-1,440 OnePlus 7 Pro. However, the Mate’s lower resolution can’t convey the same level of texture and finesse. In addition, the 90Hz refresh rate on the OnePlus 7 Pro makes scrolling a much smoother experience.
At the top of the screen is a notch housing a 32MP selfie camera with a face unlock feature that works almost instantly. AI Auto-Rotate lets the phone detect when you’re looking at it while lying down, so it won’t automatically rotate, while AI Private View hides sensitive information from notifications when it detects a face the phone doesn’t recognize over your shoulder. That said, it requires a number of complicated steps to get this feature up and running, and it didn’t actually work well in testing.
Huawei’s gesture controls, which use the front-facing camera to detect where your hands are and what they’re doing, work relatively well. For example, closing a fist takes a screenshot, while waving your hand scrolls what you’re looking at.
Huawei has removed the volume buttons from the Mate 30 Pro, opting instead for a digital volume control that you activate by tapping the side where the physical button would be. This is a better innovation in theory than in practice; while it makes the design sleeker, it’s difficult to get used to and makes it almost impossible to change volume when the phone is in your pocket.
As you would expect from a premium flagship, the Mate 30 Pro is waterproof with an IP68 rating, charges via USB-C port or wirelessly, and has in-screen fingerprint scanning. It also has a hefty 4,500mAh battery, larger than both the Note 10+ (4,300mAh) and the OnePlus 7 Pro (4,000mAh). There is only one memory configuration: 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.
The circular, quad camera setup on the back of the Mate 30 Pro should be enough to keep any shutterbug satisfied. It includes a 40MP sensor with a f/1.8 super-wide-angle lens, another 40MP sensor with a brighter f/1.6 wide-angle lens, an 8MP sensor with a f/2.4 telephoto lens, and a time-of-flight sensor for 3D depth effects.
Compared with the Mate 20 Pro, this new camera array gives a greater sense of contrast and color to every photo. Taking a photo of a clock tower in Munich, the golden hands on the clock’s face have a richness and glimmer that can’t be matched by the older phone. The level of detail in the brickwork is also superior, with the subtle delineations between each brick showing up clearly when you zoom in.
Much like the P30 Pro, the Mate 30 Pro’s low-light performance is excellent. And the phone provides a more natural image compared with the relatively overblown shots taken by the OnePlus 7 Pro. The OnePlus errs on the side of making blue skies a touch too blue and has a fairly heavy hand when it comes to contrast. That said, it’s also considerably less expensive than the Mate 30 Pro, so the fact it produces relatively similar images should be seen as a testament to the quality of both phone cameras.
However, when it comes to color balance, it’s difficult beating Apple. Even comparing the Mate 30 Pro with last year’s iPhone XS Max, the iPhone has a more realistic handling of color, while the Mate 30 Pro tends to wash things out a little in neutral environments, or overstate them when using AI mode.
Android Without Google
The Mate 30 Pro is still a pre-production device, and as such we hope that its bugs will be ironed out before it goes on sale in Europe. But there’s no way around the fact that it needs a safe way of installing the most popular apps across the world. If you’re a dedicated Huawei enthusiast willing to spend the time either without Google or sideloading it, then this phone may give you everything you’re looking for. But everyone else is better off with the the P30 Pro, the Mate 20 Pro, or the array of strong Android phones that haven’t yet felt the effects of the trade war.