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Huawei’s P30 Pro excels on the camera front – TechCrunch

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It’s been a month since Huawei unveiled its latest flagship device — the Huawei P30 Pro. I’ve played with the P30 and P30 Pro for a few weeks and I’ve been impressed with the camera system.

The P30 Pro is the successor to the P20 Pro and features improvements across the board. It could have been a truly remarkable phone, but some issues still hold it back compared to more traditional Android phones, such as the Google Pixel 3 or OnePlus 6T.

A flagship device

The P30 Pro is by far the most premium device in the P line. It features a gigantic 6.47-inch OLED display, a small teardrop notch near the top, an integrated fingerprint sensor in the display and a lot of cameras.

Before diving into the camera system, let’s talk about the overall feel of the device. Compared to last year’s P20 Pro, the company removed the fingerprint sensor at the bottom of the screen and made the notch smaller. The fingerprint sensor doesn’t perform as well as a dedicated fingerprint sensor, but it gets the job done.

It has become hard to differentiate smartphones based on design as it looks a lot like the OnePlus 6T or the Samsung Galaxy S10. The display features a 19.5:9 aspect ratio with a 2340×1080 resolution, and it is curved around the edges.

The result is a phone with gentle curves. The industrial design is less angular, even though the top and bottom edges of the device have been flattened. Huawei uses an aluminum frame and a glass with colorful gradients on the back of the device.

Unfortunately, the curved display doesn’t work so well in practice. If you open an app with a unified white background, such as Gmail, you can see some odd-looking shadows near the edges.

Below the surface, the P30 Pro uses a Kirin 980 system-on-a-chip. Huawei’s homemade chip performs well. To be honest, smartphones have been performing well for a few years now. It’s hard to complain about performance anymore.

The phone features a headphone jack, a 40W USB-C charging port and an impressive 4,200 mAh battery. For the first time, Huawei added wireless charging to the P series (up to 15W).

You can also charge another phone or an accessory with reverse wireless charging, just like on the Samsung Galaxy S10. Unfortunately, you have to manually activate the feature in the settings every time you want to use it.

Huawei has also removed the speaker grill at the top of the display. The company now vibrates the screen in order to turn the screen into a tiny speaker for your calls. In my experience, it works well.

While the phone ships with Android Pie, Huawei still puts a lot of software customization with its EMUI user interface. There are a dozen useless Huawei apps that probably make sense in China, but don’t necessarily need to be there if you use Google apps.

For instance, the HiCare app keeps sending me notifications. The onboarding process is also quite confusing as some screens refer to Huawei features while others refer to standard Android features. It definitely won’t be a good experience for non tech-savvy people.


(P30 Pro on the left, P30 on the right)

Four cameras to rule them all

The P20 Pro already had some great camera sensors and paved the way for night photos in recent Android devices. The P30 Pro camera system can be summed up in two words — more and better.

The P30 Pro now features not one, not two, not three but f-o-u-r sensors on the back of the device.

  • The main camera is a 40 MP 27mm sensor with an f/1.6 aperture and optical image stabilization.
  • There’s a 20 MP ultra-wide angle lens (16mm) with an f/2.2 aperture.
  • The 8 MP telephoto lens provides nearly 5x optical zoom compared to the main lens (125mm) with an f/3.4 aperture and optical image stabilization.
  • There’s a new time-of-flight sensor below the flash of the P30 Pro. The phone projects infrared light and captures the reflection with this new sensor.

It has become a sort of a meme already — yes, the zoom works incredibly well on the P30 Pro. In addition to packing a lot of megapixels in the main sensor, the company added a telephoto lens with a periscope design. The sensor features a mirror to beam the light at a right angle and put more layers of glass in the sensor without making the phone too thick.

The company also combines the main camera sensor with the telephoto sensor to let you capture photos with a 10x zoom with a hybrid digital-optical zoom.

Here’s a photo series with the wide angle lens, the normal lens, a 5x zoom and a 10x zoom:

And it works incredibly well in daylight. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to use the telephoto lens at night as it doesn’t perform as well as the main camera.

In addition to hardware improvements, Huawei has also worked on the algorithms that process your shots. Night mode performs incredibly well. You just have to hold your phone for 8 seconds so that it can capture as much light as possible. Here’s what it looks like in a completely dark room vs. an iPhone X:

Huawei has also improved HDR processing and portrait photos. That new time-of-flight sensor works well when it comes to distinguishing a face from the background for instance.

Once again, Huawei is a bit too heavy-handed with post-processing. If you use your camera with the Master AI setting, colors are too saturated. The grass appears much greener than it is in reality. Skin smoothing with the selfie camera still feels weird too. The phone also aggressively smoothes surfaces on dark shots.

When you pick a smartphone brand, you also pick a certain photography style. I’m not a fan of saturated photos, so Huawei’s bias toward unnatural colors doesn’t work in my favor.

But if you like extremely vivid shots with insanely good sensors the P30 Pro is for you. That array of lenses opens up a lot of possibilities and gives you more flexibility.

Fine prints

The P30 Pro isn’t available in the U.S. But the company has already covered the streets of major European cities with P30 Pro ads. It costs €999 ($1,130) for 128GB of storage — there are more expensive options with more storage.

Huawei also unveiled a smaller device — the P30. It’s always interesting to look at the compromises of the more affordable model.

On that front, there’s a lot to like about the P30. For €799 ($900) with 128GB, you get a solid phone. It has a 6.1-inch OLED display and shares a lot of specifications with its bigger version.

The P30 features the same system-on-a-chip, the same teardrop notch, the same fingerprint sensor in the display, the same screen resolution. Surprisingly, the P30 Pro doesn’t have a headphone jack while the P30 has one.

There are some things you won’t find on the P30, such as wireless charging or the curved display. While the edges of the device are slightly curved, the display itself is completely flat. And I think it looks better.

Cameras are slightly worse on the P30, and you won’t be able to zoom in as aggressively. Here’s the full rundown:

  • A 40 MP main sensor with an f/1.8 aperture and optical image stabilization.
  • A 16 MP ultra-wide angle lens with an f/2.2 aperture.
  • An 8 MP telephoto lens that should provide 3x optical zoom.
  • No time-of-flight sensor.

In the end, it really depends on what you’re looking for. The P30 Pro definitely has the best cameras of the P series. But the P30 is also an attractive phone for those looking for a smaller device.

Huawei has once again pushed the limits of what you can pack in a smartphone when it comes to cameras. While iOS and Android are more mature than ever, it’s fascinating to see that hardware improvements are not slowing down.

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This 22-year-old builds chips in his parents’ garage

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Enlarge / Sam Zeloof completed this homemade computer chip with 1,200 transistors, seen under a magnifying glass, in August 2021.

Sam Kang

In August, chipmaker Intel revealed new details about its plan to build a “mega-fab” on US soil, a $100 billion factory where 10,000 workers will make a new generation of powerful processors studded with billions of transistors. The same month, 22-year-old Sam Zeloof announced his own semiconductor milestone. It was achieved alone in his family’s New Jersey garage, about 30 miles from where the first transistor was made at Bell Labs in 1947.

With a collection of salvaged and homemade equipment, Zeloof produced a chip with 1,200 transistors. He had sliced up wafers of silicon, patterned them with microscopic designs using ultraviolet light, and dunked them in acid by hand, documenting the process on YouTube and his blog. “Maybe it’s overconfidence, but I have a mentality that another human figured it out, so I can too, even if maybe it takes me longer,” he says.

Zeloof’s chip was his second. He made the first, much smaller one as a high school senior in 2018; he started making individual transistors a year before that. His chips lag Intel’s by technological eons, but Zeloof argues only half-jokingly that he’s making faster progress than the semiconductor industry did in its early days. His second chip has 200 times as many transistors as his first, a growth rate outpacing Moore’s law, the rule of thumb coined by an Intel cofounder that says the number of transistors on a chip doubles roughly every two years.

Zeloof now hopes to match the scale of Intel’s breakthrough 4004 chip from 1971, the first commercial microprocessor, which had 2,300 transistors and was used in calculators and other business machines. In December, he started work on an interim circuit design that can perform simple addition.

Zeloof says making it easier to tinker with semiconductors would foster new ideas in tech.
Enlarge / Zeloof says making it easier to tinker with semiconductors would foster new ideas in tech.

Sam Kang

Outside Zeloof’s garage, the pandemic has triggered a global semiconductor shortage, hobbling supplies of products from cars to game consoles. That’s inspired new interest from policymakers in rebuilding the US capacity to produce its own computer chips, after decades of offshoring.

Garage-built chips aren’t about to power your PlayStation, but Zeloof says his unusual hobby has convinced him that society would benefit from chipmaking being more accessible to inventors without multimillion-dollar budgets. “That really high barrier to entry will make you super risk-averse, and that’s bad for innovation,” Zeloof says.

Zeloof started down the path to making his own chips as a high school junior, in 2016. He was impressed by YouTube videos from inventor and entrepreneur Jeri Ellsworth in which she made her own, thumb-sized transistors, in a process that included templates cut from vinyl decals and a bottle of rust stain remover. Zeloof set out to replicate Ellsworth’s project and take what to him seemed a logical next step: going from lone transistors to integrated circuits, a jump that historically took about a decade. “He took it a quantum leap further,” says Ellsworth, now CEO of an augmented-reality startup called Tilt Five. “There’s tremendous value in reminding the world that these industries that seem so far out of reach started somewhere more modest, and you can do that yourself.”

Computer chip fabrication is sometimes described as the world’s most difficult and precise manufacturing process. When Zeloof started blogging about his goals for the project, some industry experts emailed to tell him it was impossible. “The reason for doing it was honestly because I thought it would be funny,” he says. “I wanted to make a statement that we should be more careful when we hear that something’s impossible.”

Zeloof’s family was supportive but also cautious. His father asked a semiconductor engineer he knew to offer some safety advice. “My first reaction was that you couldn’t do it. This is a garage,” says Mark Rothman, who has spent 40 years in chip engineering and now works at a company making technology for OLED screens. Rothman’s initial reaction softened as he saw Zeloof’s progress. “He has done things I would never have thought people could do.”

Zeloof’s project involves history as well as engineering. Modern chip fabrication takes place in facilities whose expensive HVAC systems remove every trace of dust that might trouble their billions of dollars of machinery. Zeloof couldn’t match those techniques, so he read patents and textbooks from the 1960s and ’70s, when engineers at pioneering companies like Fairchild Semiconductor made chips at ordinary workbenches. “They describe methods using X-Acto blades and tape and a few beakers, not ‘We have this $10 million machine the size of a room,’” Zeloof says.

Zeloof had to stock his lab with vintage equipment too. On eBay and other auction sites he found a ready supply of bargain chip gear from the 1970s and ’80s that once belonged to since-shuttered Californian tech companies. Much of the equipment required fixing, but old machines are easier to tinker with than modern lab machinery. One of Zeloof’s best finds was a broken electron microscope that cost $250,000 in the early ’90s; he bought it for $1,000 and repaired it. He uses it to inspect his chips for flaws, as well as the nanostructures on butterfly wings.

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Google Labs starts up a blockchain division

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Here’s a fun new report from Bloomberg: Google is forming a blockchain division. The news comes hot on the heels of a Bloomberg report from yesterday that quoted Google’s president of commerce as saying, “Crypto is something we pay a lot of attention to.” Web3 is apparently becoming a thing at Google.

Shivakumar Venkataraman, a longtime Googler from the advertising division, is running the blockchain group, which lives under the nascent “Google Labs” division that was started about three months ago. Labs is home to “high-potential, long-term projects,” basically making it the new Google X division (X was turned into a less-Google-focused Alphabet division in 2016). Bavor used to be vice president of virtual reality, and Labs contains all of those VR and augmented reality projects, like the “Project Starline” 3D video booth and Google’s AR goggles.

Just like “algorithms,” “AI,” and “5G,” “blockchain” is often used as the go-to buzzword for rudderless tech executives hoping to hype up investors or consumers. A blockchain is really just a distributed, P2P database, sort of like if BitTorrent hosted a database instead of pirated movies and Linux ISOs. The database is chopped up into blocks, and each new block contains a cryptographic hash of the previous block, forming a chain of records that protect each other against alterations. On a traditional database, transactions are verified by the database owner, but on a blockchain, nobody owns the database, so each transaction needs to be verified by many computers. This is the big downside of blockchains: everyone’s constant transaction verifications use a massive amount of electricity and computing power.

The decentralized nature of blockchains means nobody can take down your database, which cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin leverage to make a wealth transaction system that no government controls. But it’s not always clear why you would add all the complication and energy usage of a blockchain to your project.

Not much is known about the group, except that it is focused on “blockchain and other next-gen distributed computing and data storage technologies.” Google’s growth into a web giant has made it a pioneer in distributed computing and database development, so maybe it could make some noise in this area as well.

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The reviews are in: AMD’s mining-averse RX 6500 XT also isn’t great at gaming

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Enlarge / The Sapphire AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT, yet another GPU that you probably won’t be able to buy. (credit: Sapphire)

When AMD announced its budget-friendly RX 6500 XT graphics card at CES early this month, the company suggested that the product had been designed with limitations that would make it unappealing to the cryptocurrency miners who have been exacerbating the ongoing GPU shortage for over a year now. But now that reviews of the card have started to hit, it’s clear that its gaming performance is the collateral damage of those limitations.

Reviews from Tom’s Hardware, PCGamer, TechSpot, Gamers Nexus, and a litany of other PC gaming YouTube channels are unanimous: The RX 6500 XT is frequently outperformed by previous-generations graphics cards, and it comes with other caveats beyond performance that limit its appeal even further. (Ars hasn’t been provided with a review unit.)

The core of the problem is a 64-bit memory interface that limits the amount of memory bandwidth the card has to work with. Plus, the card has only 4GB of RAM, which is beginning to be a limiting factor in modern games, especially at resolutions above 1080p. Many tests saw the RX 6500 XT outperformed by the 8GB variant of the RX 5500 XT, which launched at the tail end of 2019 for the same $199 (and you could actually find and buy it for that price).

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