Thursday 17 October 2019

P30 Pro aims to take a bite out of Apple's business phone market share

Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

1 Huawei P30 Pro €999

In the last three years, Huawei has transformed the high-end phone market from a two-horse to a three-horse race. Its main business phone for the last few months has been the Mate 20 Pro, whose principal advantages include having the best battery on the market and the most complete camera system.

It also matched Apple and Samsung in handset design, being arguably the best-looking phone on the market.

But this week, Huawei launched its new P30 Pro. Although most of the focus is on the 6.5-inch phone's ultra-powerful new camera system, it has other qualities that make it one of the top new options for business users.

One of these is battery life: it matches the Mate Pro at the top of the heap. This is very, very important to business users, especially if you're travelling and need to lean on the device more often than normal (either itself or as a mobile hotspot for a laptop or tablet).

Its power and storage are also second to none. It comes with internal storage variations of 128GB, 256GB or 512GB with expandable storage via its own form of memory card. In terms of muscle, there's 8GB of Ram under the hood as well as Huawei's 7nm Kirin processor. In terms of raw power, that's about as good as it gets.

As is becoming more common with high-end Android phones, Huawei has incorporated the fingerprint reader under the screen. It has also reduced the 'notch' on the screen to a small, single front-facing camera hole. This gives the 6.5-inch Oled display a somewhat less disrupted flow, making it very nearly an 'all screen' device.

For those who think it's important, the P30 Pro is slightly lighter than almost all of its rivals. It's a tiny bit thinner and more compact, too. This might matter to someone who's trying to mitigate the effect on trouser or jacket pockets from a large phone.

Even though this is a business phone review, it would be remiss not to pay some attention to the P30 Pro's biggest asset - its camera. The handset has a Leica quad camera system. This includes a 40-megapixel main camera, a 20-megapixel ultrawide camera, an 8-megapixel five-times telephoto lens and 'time-of-flight' camera to simulate depth-of-field information.

Photographically speaking, a 5x optical zoom shouldn't be possible on a lens lying flush with a flat smartphone.

But Huawei has played with the optics to introduce a periscope design. The company says that a prism element in the telephoto camera bends light at a right angle to maximise focal length while minimising camera height. It is notable that the superzoom is 8 megapixels and not 20 or 40 megapixels like the other rear cameras: it may be the case that the superzoom uses less of the sensor than the other focal lengths.

As well as that 5x optical zoom, Huawei says that the P30 Pro is capable of a 10x 'hybrid' zoom and 50x digital zoom.

Huawei has added a feature to let the phone use two of the rear cameras to record different videos at the same time. Called 'dual-view' mode, you can capture both an ultra-wide angle clip and a zoom shot. At €999, the P30 Pro comes in significantly cheaper than the iPhone Xs Max and a few quid less than Samsung's recently-launched Galaxy S10+.

Like the Mate 20 Pro, it will be impossible to ignore when you're considering a new device.

2 Samsung S10+

€1,019

Samsung has carried the flag for Android phones for years. Its newest Galaxy S10+ is a solid iteration, with a number of striking features. On balance, it's probably the Android smartphone most business people will think of first, even above its sister device, the stylus-bearing Note 9.

In summary, its main attractions start with its super-bright 6.4-inch Amoled screen which is the most vivid on the market. Its light weight and slim form factor are also a marked bonus. And its battery life is second only to Huawei's Mate 20 Pro and P30 Pro.

On top of this, the added wide-angle camera on the back is a major addition, capable of producing some stunning images.

Samsung has increased the screen-to-phone ratio to 93pc, very nearly the entire front of the handset. What that means is that you get a gorgeous, high-definition 6.4-inch display in a frame that fits more easily in your pocket and is slightly easier to operate one-handed.

Samsung has done this in two ways. First, the fingerprint reader is now no longer a button (either front or back) but sits 'ultrasonically' under the screen. Second, Samsung punched two small holes in the top right hand of the display for the cameras, rather than having them sit up there separate to the screen.

While some may crib about the flow of the display being disrupted (when watching a video, for example) because of this 'punched' hole, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.

The quality of that screen is pretty incredible. Technically, it has a maximum brightness of 1,200 nits, which makes it really robust in outdoor sunshine. But the colours positively sizzle on this device.

This is also the lightest large-screen phone I've used in some time. That matters, especially when you carry it in a pocket. (The S10's corners are also more rounded than, for example, its Note 9 device. This is helpful in not shredding pocket lining.)

In the imaging department, the S10+ adds something hugely useful - an ultrawide lens. That means you can now shoot at the regular (26mm), 2x optical zoom (52mm) and new ultrawide (12mm) focal lengths. And at any point in-between. The quality is generally excellent.

If I have one slight niggle, it's that the 12mm ultrawide lens may actually be a little too wide: in my testing so far, the photos from it aren't quite as sharp as the 16mm ultrawide lens on Huawei's Mate 20 Pro. I also miss a proper HDR night mode, which Huawei's top cameraphones have, as well as Google's Pixel 3 XL.

But otherwise, this is a top cameraphone. Samsung has added a second front-facing camera to add nice depth of field to selfies.

The Galaxy S10+ has one of the biggest batteries on the market, at 4,100mAh. In general, this has seen me through a heavy day's usage, although Samsung's power optimisation isn't quite as good as Apple's - the Xs Max, which has a much smaller battery, lasts almost as long with the same usage patterns.

That said, under the hood is a very beefy engine with 8GB of Ram in my test unit. While mine has 128GB of storage, it actually comes in flavours of up to 1,000GB of internal memory, expandable to a whopping 1,512GB if a memory card is added.

There is also a constituency that will be delighted that Samsung has decided to retain the 3.5mm headphone jack.

3 iPhone Xs Max

€1,279

Apple's flagship phone remains the handset to beat in many ways. Principally, this is still because of its software interface. While the Oled screen, cameras and overall styling are up there, its software remains the clear selling point. Simply put, iPhones still synchronise better with business-ready systems than Android devices.

On top of this, iOS remains a year ahead of Android when it comes to small, everyday things like fluency and reliability: there are fewer mis-taps, fewer false positives. This is why many find it harder to go from iOS to Android than the other way around, despite the pricing and individual spec advantages that the latest Samsung or Huawei has.

The only possible negative one might mention is its eye-watering price, a new high for the market.

While its battery is about a quarter smaller than those on its main competitors from Samsung or Huawei, the iPhone's power management is the best in the business, meaning that you'll almost always get all-day performance from it.

For those thinking of upgrading from an iPhone 6 Plus, 7 Plus or 8 Plus, it's worth dispelling one myth floating around: the iPhone Xs Max is not bulkier than the large iPhones of previous years. Indeed, the iPhone 8 Plus (and 7 Plus and 6 Plus) is slightly bigger than the iPhone Xs Max in terms of its overall size.

But because the screen on the iPhone Xs Max covers more of the front of the device (thanks to the removal of the Touch ID button in favour of Face ID), the overall size of the phone is actually smaller, despite having a longer screen.

In terms of storage, the new iPhone Xs goes up to 512GB. This is good if you plan to hold on to the phone for a couple of years and use it a lot for photos and video.

It's also good if you use video services such as Netflix, Sky Go or YouTube Premium, all of which now allow you to download full movies or television episodes for offline viewing. This requires a lot of free storage, although maybe not quite as much as 512GB.

The other storage options are 64GB and 256GB (which will probably be the sweet spot for most Xs Max users).

It comes with Apple's A12 chip, a beast of a processor. You will never lack power with this device.

Physically, the iPhone Xs Max is probably Apple's best-looking phone (although the now-discontinued iPhone SE still has its admirers). It has an attractive steel frame and toughened glass rear casing.

The Xs Max has two rear 12-megapixel cameras (at 28mm f1.8 and 52mm f2.4) and a 7-megapixel front 'selfie' camera. Apple has slightly increased the size of its sensor, leading to a 30pc increase in the its 'microns', from 1.22 to 1.4.

Generally speaking, this makes it more capable in low light than iPhones of two or three years ago.

The iPhone Xs Max costs from €1,279 for the 64GB model. 256GB and 512GB storage versions are available for both models at increments of €170 and €230, respectively. They're available in silver, space grey and gold.

4 Google Pixel 3XL

Price: €1,049

Google's Pixel 3XL isn't the flashiest phone on the market, nor does it pack the most powerful engine. But it has arguably the best interface of any high-end Android phone. That's because it uses Google's own 'pure' user interface, without any of the unwanted apps and software that manufacturers insist on cramming into their flagship handsets.

In terms of aesthetics, the Pixel doesn't quite match a Samsung, Huawei or iPhone in exterior flashy design. But it grows on you.

Probably the design highlight is its black frosted glass rear casing, which feels a bit like a matte metallic finish.

This also ensures that the phone doesn't slip off surfaces that have tiny inclines, as some handsets do. Its high-gloss screen does a remarkable job at avoiding being a fingerprint magnet. In hand, the phone is fairly comfortable, too, with no angular edges.

The handset features an 'almost all' front side display, but keeps a small 'chin' bezel. The one design feature on the Pixel 3 XL that is questionable is its 'notch'.It may not have been needed (it's not there for facial recognition, like the iPhone's notch) and some will regard it as a flaw.

The fingerprint sensor is on the rear of the handset and is a good distance from the camera lens, meaning I never confuse the two when reaching around to unlock the phone.

The 6.3-inch Oled display is quite excellent. There appears to be almost no latency or lag when scrolling and colours are really vivid.

As mentioned, it does an incredible job of being relatively fingerprint-proof. It also now has an IP68 water resistance rating. That means that it can stay up to 1.5m under water for up to 30 minutes and still work fine. (The iPhone Xs has a similar rating.)

Google's 'pure' Android has now matured into a really decent smartphone interface that is choc full of features. It makes a compelling case as to why you don't need the operating system overlays that the likes of Samsung, Huawei or Sony provide.

One of the reasons for this is that Google is arguably starting to pull away with some of its AI-based features.

A good example of this is its Google Assistant. It can already do some fairly useful things.

For example, if you say 'tell me about my day', the default response will be to tell you the time, weather and give you calendar information followed by a few short news clips from local stations. (In my case, the phone jumped right into the latest news bulletins from RTÉ and Newstalk.)

With the Pixel 3 XL, Google's Assistant gives you a real glimpse of how far things are going. For example, the Assistant can now effectively answer your calls and show you a transcript as it's happening live.

In terms of the camera, the Pixel 3 XL does an excellent job with the 12-megapixel lens it has, but is missing the flexibility of additional cameras that all of its rivals now have.

One area in which its camera excels is its 'night sight', which controls the camera to maximise any available light and, hence, show you things that a conventional phone camera wouldn't manage. (Huawei is also very good at this.)

It saves the multiple cameras for its front-facing option, with a wide-angle selfie feature letting you get way more into a selfie-shot than the usual 28mm field of view on most smartphones. This wide-angle option also makes for an excellent video selfie camera.

The Pixel 3 XL's battery life is decent, but not outstanding. The actual size of the batter is 3,415mAh.

This week, Huawei launched its latest flagship phone, the P30 Pro, onto the Irish market. Technology editor Adrian Weckler compares it against the other leading business handsets vying for your cash

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