A sharper focus on smartphone cameras as Huawei reveals P30 series

27 Mar 2019

The new P30 Pro smartphone. Image: Huawei

Quad-camera array on Huawei P30 Pro includes periscope technology for insane zoom action.

The smartphone wars of 2019 will be a test of who can come up with the most imaginative camera technologies.

And, with the launch of its new consumer flagship P30 Pro, Huawei has revealed the first real competitor to Samsung’s recently launched Galaxy S10.

‘The Huawei P30 series will set the pace for the next several generations of smartphones’

The P30 and P30 Pro come on the heels of last year’s very well-received Mate 20 Pro smartphone and they are the successors to the P20 series.

The new bezel-less device series features a less imposing teardrop notch, eschewing the latest trend for pinhole cameras on the screen, but at the rear of the device it is clear that the camera cluster is where the action really is.

There are four sensors, each with its own imaginative name, which underline serious intent.

Zooming in on the near future of smartphones

Close-up of the new Huawei P30 series with a quad-camera array.

The new P30 series. Image: Huawei

The main camera is a 40MP sensor named SuperSpectrum because it has gone for an RYB (red, yellow, blue) array instead of the traditional RGB (red, green, blue) in the sensor. By replacing green with yellow pixels, the colour filter theoretically lets in 40pc more light, which should make Night Mode perform better.

The second camera is the f/1.6 Ultra-Wide Aperture sensor, which is keeping up with the widescreen trend that began in late 2018 on smartphones. This is a 20MP ultra-wide aperture with a 120-degree field of view.

Then there is the interestingly named Time of Flight lens, which is designed to enable better depth of field and which could come in handy in various augmented-reality apps.

The biggest surprise is the box-shaped periscope X5 SuperZoom optical zoom lens, an 8MP sensor with optics that go inside the phone and which uses a mirror like an actual periscope to give you at least five times the zoom. But, combined with Huawei’s optical stabilisation and AI stabilisation, it can potentially allow for up to 50 times the zoom.

The new devices also come with a built-in AI movie editor that automatically identifies action highlights and gives users the tools to add background music and special effects, such as time-lapse and slow motion.

The new devices come with a Kirin 980 neural processor AI chip, an in-screen fingerprint sensor and a 40W super-charger for the 4200MhA battery. The devices also include a graphene film cooling system to manage heat.

The 6.1in P30 (which features a traditional headphone jack) and the 6.47in P30 Pro (which uses a USB-C headphone jack) come in classic black as well as three new gradient finishes: Amber Sunrise, Breathing Crystal (light blue) and Aurora (bright blue/green).

The next generation is around the corner

New Huawei P30 device on a notebook page.

Huawei P30 series. Image: Huawei

“The latest Huawei P30 series represents a breakthrough after decades of digital camera technology development that will rewrite the rules and reshape the perception that consumers have of mobile photography,” explained Huawei consumer business group CEO Richard Yu.

“Innovations such as the Huawei SuperSpectrum Sensor and SuperZoom Lens allow us to push the envelope of not just photography, but videography as well – a frontier long overdue for disruption. The Huawei P30 series will set the pace for the next several generations of smartphones.”

Setting the pace is a good way of putting it. What we are witnessing from Huawei and rival Samsung is probably the last generation of purely 4G smartphones before 5G becomes the norm next year. Yes, there is the next incarnation of the Mate series to come from Huawei later this year as well as the next generation of Samsung’s Note series. But it is clear that the current action is in the camera, battery and display end of things.

Both Samsung and Huawei are due to launch their new foldable devices in the coming months, the Galaxy Fold and the 5G Mate X respectively. The latter will be a fully fledged 5G smartphone, and the Kirin 980-powered device comes with a beast of a 4,500mAh battery. When folded, it is a dual-screen smartphone that allows you to shoot selfies with the rear main camera, which boasts a three-camera cluster co-engineered with Leica. Opened up, it turns into an 8in tablet with virtually no bezels.

But, despite the anticipated hoopla over foldable phones, the real action for mere mortals with enough cash in the bank will be in the realm of devices such as the P30 series or Samsung’s S10 series because the 5G foldable phones will retail at more than €2,000 when they launch.

In Ireland, the new P30 and P30 Pro will launch on 5 April with recommended prices of around €739 and €999 respectively.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years