Tech

Huawei unveils new phone with beefed-up camera features it says 'surpass' Apple and Samsung's

Key Points
  • Huawei touted the phone's high-end camera features — the more advanced P30 Pro comes with a quad-camera setup.
  • Another feature it's introducing is called dual-view video, which lets a user put two cameras to work simultaneously when recording clips.
  • A Huawei executive says the phone will "surpass" its predecessor, "and nobody is catching up with what we did last year."

Huawei launched its new P30 smartphone alongside a new set of wireless headphones Tuesday, marking the Chinese tech giant's latest challenge to Apple and Samsung.

The company touted the phone's high-end camera features, with a more advanced model — the P30 Pro — coming with a quad-camera setup made in partnership with German firm Leica.

The quad camera consists of a main 40 megapixel lens, a wide-angle lens, a telephoto lens capable of 50x digital zoom and an additional so-called "time-of-flight" camera aimed at capturing a blurred effect in parts of pictures.

Huawei's P30 smartphone lineup on display at a pre-announcement briefing in London.
Ryan Browne | CNBC

Huawei boasted the phone's ability to take pictures in darkly-light environments. It comes with a new light sensor that registers yellow pixels instead of green to absorb more light.

It's a step up from last year's P20 Pro, which came with a triple-camera system.

Another feature the company is introducing with the new phone is what it calls dual-view video, which lets a user put two cameras to work simultaneously when recording clips.

It gives a user the ability to make a video that zooms in on one element of the action using one half of the screen, while showing a wide-angle view of the shot on the other.

The new device is the latest in Huawei's P series of phones, which typically cost less than its flagship Mate range.

Huawei said the P30 will have a starting price of about 799 euros, or $900, while the P30 Pro will cost 999 euros. For reference, its most recently announced premium tier phone, the foldable Mate X, is set to come with an eye-watering 2,299 euro price tag.

Huawei's P30 smartphone lineup and new "Freelace" wireless headphones on display at a pre-announcement briefing in London.
Ryan Browne | CNBC

Peter Gauden, global senior product marketing manager at Huawei's consumer business, told reporters at a briefing last week that the new phones would "completely rewrite the rules of smartphone photography."

Asked how the new lineup of phones stacked up against competitors Apple and Samsung, Gauden said: "We're expecting again to surpass what we did last year and nobody is catching up with what we did last year."

The P30 Pro comes with a 6.47-inch display, while its less pricey counterpart comes with a smaller 6.1-inch screen. The phones also come with the in-screen fingerprint sensor seen in Huawei's Mate 20 and Samsung's Galaxy S10.

The phone also comes equipped with Huawei's Kirin 980 artificial intelligence chipset, as well as the reverse wireless charging feature it introduced last year with the Mate 20 Pro, which lets a user charge their phone wirelessly from another phone.

The 'joy factor'

Huawei also debuted new wireless headphones on Tuesday, called FreeLace. The earphones come with a cord, unlike Apple's AirPods and Samsung's Galaxy Buds.

Huawei's P30 smartphone lineup and new "Freelace" wireless headphones on display at a pre-announcement briefing in London.
Ryan Browne | CNBC

The headphones automatically pair with a smartphone via bluetooth when a USB cable hidden in the cord connecting them is inserted into the device, Huawei said. They can also be charged this way, using the phone's battery life.

Magnets in the FreeLace buds mean they can also be attached to each other when no longer in use.

Peter Richardson, research director for tech strategies at Counterpoint Research, said the Chinese smartphone manufacturer's phones come with a "joy factor" because of their cameras that can't be found in Apple's iPhone.

"I went from using the Mate 20 Pro to iPhone and the number of pictures I took just dropped dramatically," he told CNBC. "And the only thing I can pin it down to is it's just not very enjoyable using the iPhone camera."

He said the P30 Pro's telephoto lens, designed to take long-distance shots, was "just extraordinary," noting it's often an area of "weakness" for smartphones.

The P30 launch comes not only at a time of slowing growth for the smartphone industry as a whole, but also as Huawei faces heightened political pressure from the United States.

The U.S. has banned government agencies from buying its equipment, alleging it could be used as a backdoor for Chinese government spying. Huawei disputes the claims, and is suing the government.

To add to the company's problems, its chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, was arrested in Canada late last year and faces extradition to the U.S. on charges of violating Iran sanctions. Meng's lawyers have sued Canadian authorities in retaliation, claiming they violated her constitutional rights.

Huawei has also struggled to find a telecom partner to sell its phones in the U.S. — AT&T notably pulled out of a planned deal to do exactly that early last year.

"We believe the people who lose the most out of all this are U.S. consumers," Gauden said, responding to a question about the company's political troubles. He added that some U.S. customers are crossing the border into Canada to purchase Huawei devices.

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