Huawei has officially taken the wraps off its next flagship smartphone release, the Mate 30 Pro. This phone is interesting not just as the latest device from the world’s second-biggest smartphone manufacturer (after Samsung) but also because this is the first big Huawei launch after the Trump administration’s executive order banning US companies from doing business with Huawei. As a result, the Mate 30 Pro is an Android phone that doesn’t have any Google apps! The company is not even allowed to use the word “Android,” which is a Google trademark. It’s Huawei’s ecosystem or bust.
At the end of a lengthy presentation on the Mate 30, Huawei CEO Richard Yu acknowledged the phone would not be coming with Google’s apps and services. Instead, he highlighted “Huawei Mobile Services” as a replacement. Huawei has been using its own app ecosystem in China for some time, as Google Play is not available there, and now this ecosystem will have to come to Europe and the other places Huawei does business.
Does anyone want to buy a phone without Google Play, Gmail, Google Maps, and YouTube? How many of your go-to apps will stop working without Google Play Services? It’s a scary proposition for consumers. Huawei apparently doesn’t think this plan is going to work either, as it’s expecting a $10 billion drop in its consumer devices business this year, thanks to the export ban.
As for the actual phone, the Mate 30 Pro has a pretty standard front design with a wide notch and a screen that is curved along the sides, like a Samsung phone. Curved screens distort the sides of apps and don’t do much for usability, but for some reason the Chinese OEMS have been pushing deeper and deeper display curves. Huawei put up a slide saying the 6.53-inch, 2400×1176 OLED panel curves 88 degrees around the side of the phone, making it almost vertical. I hope the accidental touch rejection is good, since it sounds like you’ll be touching the screen all the time.
The notch is wide and houses sensors for facial recognition with an IR array and 3D depth camera, in addition to the 32MB selfie camera. There’s a third “gesture sensor” camera in the notch, which lets you wave your hand to scroll or close your hand to take a screen shot. Google is planning a similar feature for the Pixel 4, using radar instead of a camera. Does anyone out there want to control a smartphone with hand signals instead of just using the touchscreen? One neat idea is Huawei’s “AI Auto Rotate,” which uses the front camera to follow your face, making sure the screen is rotated correctly relative to your face, rather than relative to the ground.
The back has four cameras: a 40MP camera just for video, a second 40MP sensor for pictures, an 8MP 3x telephoto, and a 3D depth-sensing camera. There has been a lot of criticism out there for the iPhone 11 camera design, but I feel like Huawei’s solution here looks good. All the camera lenses live in a black circle, and together with the elongated LED flash and landscape-oriented writing, the whole back of the phone looks like a modern take on a point-and-shoot camera when you hold it sideways. There’s even a shutter button of sorts, thanks to the wraparound screen. Having the touchscreen wrap around the sides of the phone means you can put buttons on the sides of the phone, and the camera app allows for a movable touchscreen shutter button along the top edge of the phone. There’s no volume rocker, either—the side display is apparently used for that, too. This is the first time I’ve seen a curved display be put to any use at all.
While Google’s approach to mobile photography is mostly software based, Huawei takes the complete opposite approach and uses really big camera sensors. The Mate 30 Pro is packing a 1/1.7-inch-type sensor for the main 40MP camera, which has 75% more area than the 1/2.55-inch-type sensor on the Pixel 3 (and Pixel 4). At 1/1.54 inch, the video camera sensor is even bigger than that. There are some fun video features, too. Thanks to the 3D depth sensor, you can have bokeh background effects in a video, not just in pictures. And the slow motion goes all the way up to 7,680fps in 720p, blowing away the 980fps you’d get in many other phones.
Other specs include Huawei’s Kirin 990 SoC (a 7nm, Cortex A76-based chip), 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and a 4500mAh battery. You’ll get IP68 water and dust resistance, 40W wired charging, and 27W wireless charging. There’s no headphone jack, but there is expandable memory thanks to Huawei’s “Nano memory” card standard, which uses one of the dual-SIM slots. The OS is the newly released Android 10 with Huawei’s “EMUI” skin. Well, it’s a fork of Android 10, since it doesn’t have the Google apps.
It’s got that other kind of 5G
The Mate 30 and Mate 30 Pro come in both 4G and 5G versions, with the “5G” provided by Huawei’s Kirin SoC. Any time someone mentions “Huawei” and “5G” in the same sentence, know that they are talking about “Sub-6GHz 5G,” which is completely different from the 24GHz-90GHz “mmWave 5G” currently being pushed by US cell carriers and Qualcomm. The higher frequencies of mmWave offer more speed but over a smaller range. So while sub-6GHz doesn’t bring the generational speed increase that is often hyped by the cell industry, it also doesn’t have the ridiculous range limitations of mmWave, and it’s more practical for actually building a cellular network that works.
The split between 5G standards has to do with what spectrum the world’s various governments have made available. In the United States, 24GHz-90GHz mmWave is just what’s available to use. While other governments have opened up slices of the sub-6GHz spectrum for auctions, the US has not and has no plans to. 5G is devolving into a standards battle, and it’s the US versus the rest of the world.
Both mmWave and sub-6GHz networks barely exist in the real world, but mmWave networks are a bit further ahead of sub-6GHz. In the United States, all four carriers have some scraps of a mmWave network active, while the worldwide availability of sub-6GHz networks basically boils down to Vodafone and EE in the UK. You would think with Huawei releasing what it is calling the “World’s first second-generation 5G smartphone” that China would have some kind of 5G network up and running, but no—China’s sub-6GHz 5G networks won’t be ready until at least 2020.
The Mate 30 Pro comes in silver, green, purple, or black colored glass, and there are even options wrapped in a green or orange faux-leather. You’ll never see this phone launch in the US, but in Europe the 4G version is €1,099 (~$1,214), and the 5G version is €1,199 (~$1,324).