Oh great, another glass sandwich. From a materials standpoint, smartphone design is getting boring, but maybe that's because the companies making these devices have simply figured out the absolute best mix of materials? "Best" as in "what most people would buy," not necessarily what makes the most sense for all possible use cases. Sure, glass will break if you drop your phone, but is that possible downside more important to consumers than the way it looks when it's clean? Apparently not.
So it's settled then. Glass on the front, glass on the back, a metal frame. Check? Check. The P30 Pro has all of those things, and the way the front and back glass sheets curve into the frame at the same angle, in a very symmetrical fashion, is quite a sight to behold.
Look, it looks beautiful even in our decidedly unexciting black color version. This is the one you get if you're antsy about showing up in an office setting with a rainbow of colors and reflections emanating from the back of your phone. For everyone else, there's Aurora, Breathing Crystal, and Amber Sunrise. Unless you put a case on it, because then all of that development of these "hues," all of the build-up to them over the past few years starting with pure two-tone gradients slowly evolving... all of that was for nothing.
If it wouldn't be just a tad top-heavy, the P30 Pro could stand on its own... bottom side. The top and bottom are reasonably flat, which is rare to see in this day and age, while the matte finish of the metal is a welcome change from the shiny glass. The power and volume buttons are a bit too close to each other for our taste, but the red accent on the former is a nice little subtle design touch that's becoming a trend.
The 3.5mm headphone jack is gone. We didn't miss it because good Bluetooth cans are now as good as wired ones for everyone except audiophiles. And most people aren't audiophiles, just like most people aren't wine connoisseurs. Believe us, we're neither. Before you disagree on the quality of Bluetooth headphones, try a pair with LDAC or aptX HD, obviously with high-quality source material. Then use the same cans wired (if possible). Tell the difference. We dare you. And no, battery life isn't a concern anymore either, when you can easily find even cheap options that go into double-digit listening hours.
The camera island at the back of the P30 Pro is huge in thickness but also in length, the latter of which amusingly contributes to the fact that the phone is much less prone to wobbling than you'd expect, when it's on a desk on its back, and you try and use it. The island needs to be that big, though, to house the periscope zoom lens and the huge main sensor, and we usually would've rhetorically asked why Huawei couldn't fit a larger battery, which would've made the cameras flush with the rest of the back. We're not doing that now, because the battery life on this thing is so good that we never once wanted more milliamp hours. More on that later.
Handling feels very good. While top-heavy in the slightest, it's a much more balanced phone, weight-wise, than others. One-hand use was easy for us, but may not be for you if your hands are small. The screen is curved, but the palm rejection is excellent, so we've very rarely encountered problems regarding accidental touch points being triggered by the palm we were holding the phone with. This is in stark contrast to our experience with the Galaxy S10+.
Build quality is what you want considering how much this phone retails for. It's great, and there's not a lot more to say about it. The back panel is a fingerprint magnet, yes, and the phone is slippery overall, but the matte finish on the aluminum frame helps it not be one of the worst offenders in this area. It's reassuringly heavy and seems built like a tank. Obviously, though, that impression will probably vanish once you drop it, but we haven't. Nor have we noticed any scratches on either glass sheet, even after prolonged use without a case.
It's 2019, so an OLED panel inside a high-end smartphone is a given. And sure enough, the P30 Pro packs just that. But wait, you say, with a worried look in your eyes - it's only 1080p+. Indeed it is, but trust us on this one: unless you go up close to pixel peep, or you are incredibly sensitive to screen sharpness, you will not notice that in real life, day to day use. Yes, most of the P30 Pro's competitors have higher-res panels, but companies like Samsung still ship their flagships with 1080p+ as the default resolution, and we're willing to bet that only a tiny amount of their customers will ever switch to the panel's max. So in actual use, for most people, there may be no discernible difference on that front.
What helps a lot is that the P30 Pro's is a very high-quality display, with punchy colors and the deep blacks OLEDs have been spoiling us with for many years now. If you want all the numbers, jump to our normal review of the phone that will provide those for you, if you need to compare to other devices out there. We haven't re-measured because that's outside the scope of a long-term review, but what we can tell you is that resolution aside, this panel is worthy of the P30 Pro's price tag.
It gets bright enough, even in the sunniest of conditions, contrast is outstanding, and color mode and temperature settings are there if you want to customize it to your heart's content. We went with the Vivid mode and a custom color temperature setting because we found Normal mode too subdued (although it should be more accurate if that's what you're after). As for temperature, Default, and Cool resulted in whites that are too bluish for our tastes, while Warm made them too yellow. There's a literal color circle you can choose from, so the customization options here are limited only by the amount of time you have to play with it.
Auto-brightness works well for the most part, and it should remember your manual adjustments per ambient light level, although, in practice, this was hit and miss. We're not sure what's going on - either the manual adjustments aren't remembered at all (though they should be), or the implementation is buggy. Either way, the system works so well that we only had to resort to manually dragging the slider around once or twice every few days. So while the system isn't perfect, it's still good, and keep in mind that for your specific needs, it may require no manual input whatsoever - that's how it is with subjective things like how bright you like your screen to be. The minimum brightness is low enough that your retinas won't be bleeding when you use your phone in pitch darkness, even if sometimes you might need to manually drag the brightness slider to the leftmost point to achieve it.
There's a blue light filter too, of course, called Eye comfort, which you can manually enable or even schedule. All we can say about this is that it works as intended. The same goes for the Always-on Display, as this too can be turned on at all times or using a schedule - which comes in handy if you don't want it on while you're sleeping. It shows you the time and date, as well as notification icons, but isn't customizable at all, and that's where some competing handsets have the upper hand.
The notch is there, but it's so small that we didn't feel the need to "turn it off" in software, even though you can do that. It's the least intrusive notch possible, and while Huawei could have used a pop-up selfie camera to get rid of it, that introduces literal moving parts in the construction of the phone, which probably wouldn't do great things for longevity, not to mention that might make the IP68 water and dust resistance rating go away. As it is, the tiny notch is the compromise Huawei chose, unlike some of its competitors who decided pop-up selfie cams (or punch-hole cutouts) are the way to go. You have three different choices in the Android world at least, whereas with Apple it's always the huge notch or zilch.
It's a curved panel, this one, which means it looks even more impressive than if it would've been flat. Curves usually come with a pretty huge downside, that shows itself, especially when you use such a phone without a case. We're talking about accidental touches, but the palm rejection algorithm at work in the P30 Pro is outstanding, and definitely miles ahead what Samsung uses in the Galaxy S10+ which we've put through the long-term review process before the P30 Pro.
The difference is significant. While the S10+'s accidental touches frustrated us every single day we used it, the P30 Pro gets them too, but they are a much rarer occurrence, which means that our time spent with it was mostly frustration-free in this respect. For any phone, such issues are somewhat mitigated by using it inside a case, so while we haven't gone that route for the P30 Pro, we assume that if you do, you may never actually encounter an accidental touch. And that's commendable, given how the curved edges of the screen are asking for this to happen.
Glare from the edges is still there, but if you buy a phone with curved screen sides you're willing to live with that, in return for how awe-inspiring such a design still looks even today, many years after Samsung's first 'edge' experiment.
Once again, we're dealing with an under-display scanner in the P30 Pro, as these are becoming much more prevalent these days, even at much lower price points. The one employed by the P30 Pro is of the optical variety (like every other one that isn't in a Samsung S-series or Note), and with this sensor, we've reached the point where we no longer feel the placement impairs speed and accuracy.
In our subjective assessment, this sensor is as fast and accurate as any traditional capacitive scanner ever was. If there is a speed delta still, we're pretty sure it's in the (very low) milliseconds, and while you could measure that with some specialized equipment, the feeling in day to day use is that under-display sensors are now finally on par with the ones they've been replacing left and right.
While we've used the P30 Pro for this long-term review, we've gone through many hundreds of unlocks (if not thousands), and we've only had it not recognize our finger around five times. Of course, we paid attention when registering the finger data to make sure that we catch all possible angles, and just to be on the safe side we did the registration in a pitch dark room - that's a trick that we picked up for the OnePlus 6T way back when, as that handset's sensor got significantly better if you underwent this procedure in the dark.
All of these caveats are important to note, but the end result is the same - the UD sensors are now as futuristic-looking as ever, but also as fast and accurate as they should be. That is to say, optical ones like this one, and not ultrasonic ones like the type Samsung uses in its flagships - those still have some catching up to do.
The P30 Pro's sensor is so fast that we've decided against using face unlock at the same time, since that's a much less secure method of authentication because of how it's implemented here, and the speed advantage it offers is marginal at best - so small that it's not worth the tradeoff in security.
The P30 Pro doesn't have a traditional earpiece. Instead, the display itself vibrates to create sound, in a move that was probably a consequence of trimming that top bezel as much as possible. Because in the past this technology didn't yield incredible results, we were a tad worried at the beginning of the long-term review process about how well this would work in day to day use.
We're happy to report that the faux earpiece is actually louder than most traditional ones, and the sound quality seems subjectively better too. What's more, 'sound bleed' is marginal and probably not much more than you'd get with a standard earpiece grille solution, so people around you won't be able to eavesdrop on your calls more.
For a bunch of times when you start using it, as soon as you make a call or the phone is ringing, the software helpfully tells you what area of the screen to aim at covering your ear with for this to work. If you keep that in mind and get used to the positioning, which might seem awkward at first, after years of being conditioned to reach for a tiny grille above the screen, you'll notice that you have more flexibility with this system, as the area 'making' the sound is much larger than any traditional earpiece, which means you have some more leeway in how exactly you hold the phone.