Huawei P30 lite review: No need to step up

It looks like its pricier siblings but it’s actually cheaper and endeavours to provide a lot of the same features. Does it do well doing that or is the Huawei P30 Lite just clinging by the coattails of its famous siblings, riding on their name while not doing much?

That is exactly what I set to find out when I started using the device 2 months ago. For the most part, it’s proven itself.

In a world where the smartphone is more commonly available today than it was a decade ago, there has been slow uptake over the last few years. While much of that market saturation has to do with the technology behind our favourite little toys being so good that we are no longer in the market for new ones every other month for fear of missing out on the latest and the greatest, we can never understate the role played by one of the biggest factors that influence purchases: price.

You see, at Kshs 73,000 and Kshs 100,000 respectively, the launch prices of the Huawei P30 and Huawei P30 Pro, that is already way beyond the reach of most Kenyans. As such, a device that bears a similar name and features near-similar design aesthetics and other features for just about a third of the price of the P30 Pro is bound to be the one that captures the attention of many while the Pro remains aspirational.

That has been the case with the Huawei P30 Pro. Sure, all those photos that have hit the internet since the Huawei P30 series was announced back in March with out-of-this-world low-light photos captured by the Huawei P30 Pro are nice and all but who is ready to bear all that cost?

Design

The Huawei P30 Lite, just like its pricey siblings, is quite the looker. Or at least the Peacock Blue colour model that I have had with me all this time is. For the record, it’s not just about the colour – even though that definitely does go a long way in making the device get in your good books – every bit of the P30 Lite is carefully designed and the results are nothing but spectacular.

The glass back blends with the glass front with only a shiny sturdy plastic frame coming between them.

Interestingly, none of those things adds much weight and if that is even the case (at just under 160 grams, is it?), you don’t feel it when you hold the device in your hand. Only the soft back and the rounded corners which make it very easy to handle leave a permanent impression on you.

Then there are the little things. Like the 3.5-millimetre headphone jack that you won’t find on the P30 Lite’s pricey siblings. And the minimalist approach to the notch (which you can always hide via the software) that you are also going to find on the P30 Lite’s competitors in the country.

The earpiece up top, which is understated, does a good job of blending in and I find the notification LED, which is in it, to be quite a nice touch design-wise.

Display

The display on the Huawei P30 Lite is the best that I have used on any “budget” smartphone ever. It’s bright, it’s sharp, it’s vibrant and it stays true to those colour accuracy calibrations that you may have heard of. It was the first thing that caught my eye as soon as I got to test the device. If everything else failed or didn’t work as advertised, I’d buy the P30 Lite just for the display. It’s that good.

Text so crisp

There’s none of that AMOLED goodness that the Koreans are known for and which one will find even on their budget Galaxy A lineup (some members of whom the P30 Lite competes directly with), but the LTPS LCD panel gets the job done and won’t have you missing what you’ve never had in the first place.

Camera

The cameras on the Huawei P30 Lite – and there aren’t more of them as there are on the P30 Pro, for instance – are impressive, if we are to summarize the experience using just one word.

I mean, take a look at these photos I took in Spain back in April:

I just wish the device’s AI smarts kicked in to have to auto-enable dynamic range instead of limiting HDR to a mode which many an ordinary user would easily overlook and thereby sacrificing the impressive dynamic range one is able to achieve on their shots when it is enabled.

Talking about AI, the front-facing 32-megapixel camera can detect up to 8 different scenes and optimize for the appropriate lighting conditions and whatnot. On the back, the power of the tri-camera arrangement, the first time we are seeing it on the P Lite series, comes into full effect with the main wide-angle sensor pairing with the depth sensor to detect up to 22 different scenes and objects and optimizing for them automatically.

The night mode, which is basically a way of saying that the shutter stays open a little longer than usual in order to take in more light, results in images with high contrast and which look very good overall.

To be honest, there’s not much not to like about the P30 Lite’s cameras. Sure there’s the bit where night shots are susceptible to picking up more noise either because of over-sharpening or other factors only camera buffs would be privy to but there’s no much else. For all that I wanted it to do, it delivered. Even those very awkward 3D Qmoji augmented reality (AR) lenses.

Though not many will probably miss it, I find it still a shame that there’s no 4K video recording on this device.

Software

The thing with Huawei’s approach to software is that they make a point of always treading carefully and never trading familiarity for wading into uncharted waters.

The end result is that if you have used any Huawei smartphone over the last 4 or so years (since they launched EMUI 5, at least) then you will still be pretty much at home even though you’re staring at an overlay that’s barely a year old – yes Huawei reserves the latest and greatest (EMUI 9.1) for the P30 and P30 Pro.

You will find a couple of new things like the HiVision intelligence (basically, Huawei’s own Bixby without a lot of the rookie misgivings that Samsung’s implementation had at launch) as well as the ability to set up a video as a ringtone (how cool is that?). Both features, however, are more of gimmicks than things you will be turning to daily or would miss if you didn’t have them.

Then there’s the usual stuff that we have all come to expect from Huawei’s software. The ability to use multiple social media accounts (thanks to the AppTwin feature), the ability to easily transfer data from your old Android device while setting up the P30 Lite (Phone Clone), the ability to trigger a one-handed mode in case you have trouble reaching across the device’s expansive (though it doesn’t feel like it) 6.15-inch display, 3-finger screenshot gesture, pick-to-wake motions… there’s a tonne of features.

Performance

Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly given the P30 Lite’s feature set), the features overload doesn’t seem to impact the device’s performance at all. This is remarkable because both the memory and the chipset are exactly what you’d find in another budget Huawei smartphone that does not enjoy the P30 Lite’s big name, the Huawei Y9 2019.

From the spec sheet, it may appear that the P30 Lite is the Y9 2019 but with better family connections!

That combination of processor and memory configuration, especially given that I have a 7-month old Xiaomi smartphone that arrived with an equivalent chipset from Qualcomm and more (6GB) memory, isn’t much to write home about or to heap endless praises on but it is no slouch either. Given the heavy nature of EMUI, it does a good job of handling what would otherwise be a resource-intensive monster. Huawei is also to take some credit for fine-tuning their software to play nice with the hardware. The face unlock and the fingerprint sensor, for instance, work almost instantaneously that I have a hard time picking which one is my favourite.

Of course, that bit of fine-tuning brings us to an uncomfortable subject when it comes to EMUI: aggressive background activity management. Yeah, you’ll have to learn to live with this one. Sure, VLC is no longer restricted but you’ll soon find that many other processes you care about tend to go to sleep as soon as the screen shuts off. You can tinker with the settings to reverse this but there are no guarantees the system won’t be high-handed. This, of course, will only be a concern to most power users. Ordinary users will be quite at home squeezing any extra minutes or hours such aggressive handling of affairs affords the sealed battery unit.

Battery

Much as I have had no issue getting through a day with the Huawei P30 Lite on most occasions, on days where I task it to do more than accommodate my incessant tweeting, it has come short often.

That has a lot to do with the P30 Lite’s smaller battery unit and it’s quite sad given how fantastic the device is overall. Yeah, that lightweight does come at a cost. But wait, Samsung still managed to sneak in a 4,000mAh cell in the Galaxy A50 and kept the weight at about the same level as the Huawei (just a hair thicker) so what gives?

To make good of a bad situation, however, Huawei does include an 18 watt fast charging brick in the box which, if you keep closer, means that you’ll be juiced up and ready to go in no time – Huawei claims that you can go from nought to 40% in just half an hour.

Others

The mono sound from the solo bottom-firing speaker could make do with some boost.

READ:  Huawei P30 Lite specifications

The good

  • Excellent design matched by good colour options
  • Punchy display
  • Good camera
  • Fast charging
  • Generous amount of storage

The bad

  • Sound
  • Battery life could be better

Lowdown

At its price, the Huawei P30 Lite is matched by Samsung’s Galaxy A50, Oppo’s F9, Xiaomi sub-brand Redmi’s Note 7 Pro and HMD Global’s Nokia 7.1. Seeing as it is that they are all very solid options, that becomes a tough field to beat.

The combination of striking design, a generous amount of onboard storage space and an excellent camera system for the money adds to the device’s fair pricing (it’s been discounted on various platforms since day 1 and paying the recommended retail price of Kshs 30,000 is simply one’s liking as options are available) of the device to make for a compelling option in the market right now.

While I may not have used the other options available in the market in order to be more conclusive, I just know that if you happen to go with what Huawei is offering, you’ll be making a good choice. A choice you won’t regret. At least in the short-term.

Have something that you believe I need to have a look at? Hit me up: echenze [at] androidkenya.com