Huawei is stepping up the phone Camera wars with its P30 Pro’s 5x optical zoom

The Huawei P30 Pro is the first smartphone to have a 5x periscope-like optical zoom and four cameras on the back.

Stepping up the smartphone camera wars another notch, the latest flagship smartphone from the Chinese firm at the centre of a political storm looks to raise the bar not only for camera quality but also flexibility.

The previous Huawei P20 Pro had three cameras on the back with a 3x optical zoom. The £899 P30 Pro adds an extra depth-sensing time-of-flight (TOF) camera for improved portrait and augmented reality modes, joining the main 40-megapixel camera and a 20-megapixel ultrawide angle camera. The company says its new SuperSpectrum camera is capable of absorbing significantly more light for dramatically improved low-light performance, an area of smartphone photography the company dominates alongside Google.

But it is the new eight-megapixel SuperZoom camera, which like a periscope uses a prism to reflect light down the inside of the width of the phone to make room for the required series of lenses for a 5x optical zoom, that is the most interesting.

We’re going to completely rewrite the rules of smartphone photography, and we can do this because we own the complete ecosystem within the smartphone. All the little elements, not just the camera,” said Peter Gauden, the company’s global senior product marketing manager, talking about the use of Huawei-made processors and other chips.

Huawei says its resulting 5x optical zoom beats the digital zooms of competitors using only 2x optical zoom cameras, and that its additional 10x hybrid zoom and up to 50x digital zoom, which use data from multiple cameras to increase detail, is the best in the business.

Huawei says it has improved the speed and accuracy of its optical in-screen fingerprint scanner.

Ben Wood, chief of research at market analysis firm CCS Insight, said: “Huawei’s new 5x optical zoom is an interesting addition, but it will be tough to get people to upgrade from last year’s P20 Pro, which is still on sale and more of a bargain than ever. There’s no question, however, that particularly in smartphone photography, Huawei has some real momentum at the moment.”

The P30 Pro also has a giant 6.47in OLED screen with a small teardrop notch containing a 32-megapixel selfie camera at the top. Huawei has eschewed the 3D face recognition system it introduced on the Mate 20 Pro for an improved optical in-screen fingerprint scanner located towards the bottom of the screen. It has also removed the phone’s earpiece speaker, replacing it with what the company calls “electromagnetic levitation”, which vibrates the screen itself, turning it into a speaker.

The rest of the phone resembles last year’s Mate 20 Pro with curved glass front and back, a range of pearlescent and interesting colours, a fairly large-capacity battery and both 40W wired and 15W wireless charging. It can also reverse wirelessly charge another phone or device, a trick introduced with the company’s other phones last year.

Alongside the P30 Pro, which costs £899 with 128GB of storage or £1,099 with 512GB of storage, Huawei also unveiled the slightly cheaper and smaller £699 P30, which has a 6.1in OLED screen, the same in-screen fingerprint scanner, 128GB of storage and premium design. It has a triple camera system on the back but only 3x optical zoom, and has a traditional flat glass front and back, rather than curved.

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Smart phone is killing the art of conversation, and we don’t know it

So we’ve gone off voice calls yet spend hours glued to our phones. But it’s simply that the rules of conversation have been redrawn in the age of WhatsApp, Snapchat and emojis.

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News of the un-newsy kind this week, fresh from an Ofcom study designed to confirm a belief in our worst selves: we are a nation addicted to smartphones but are repelled by the idea of making or taking voice calls.

Is this the death of conversation? Not quite, but it’s certainly more than a blip in the cultural history of communication: in 2017, for the first time, the number of voice calls – remember, those things you did with your actual voice on your actual phone – fell in the UK. Meanwhile, internet addiction keeps growing, presumably because we haven’t quite worked out what to do with all those hours we’re saving on talking.

More than three-quarters (78%) of British adults own a smartphone, and we check them on average every 12 minutes. That adds up to 24 hours a week online via our phones – much of that time swallowed up by modern-style chat on WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, with some left over for texting. It has taken a toll on talking, sure, but few smartphone users might claim to feel less connected as a result.

Conversation is delightful, but unsaid rules for how and when it happens have been established collectively over the past decade or so. No one – except your mum or someone asking about an accident you were never in – just calls these days. Some people will text to warn of a call; others will hold a conversation by swapping voice notes back and forth. (A youth truth: using the voice memo function on WhatsApp as a sort of dictaphone to “talk in turns” rather than hold “a live conversation” is now a thing.)

Many of us can agree that voicemail, as a concept, is dead: anyone listening to or leaving one has arguably too much time and too little regard for the recipient. Who likes listening to voicemails? The menu, the navigation, the unnecessary news that an energy service provider has been in touch to offer you a different electricity package. (As my phone keeps reminding me, I have 53 of these messages optimistically waiting to be heard.)

I hover near a generation in which long and pointless phone calls to the friends you’d spent all day with was an essential post-school afternoon ritual. Every minute was itemised, every telling-off for the small fortune this was costing, accounted for on the quarterly bill. Later, in my first taste of work as an intern at this paper, I was able to learn how journalists did their jobs because they were talking on the phone and to each other all day. Five years later, I was working at a start-up where real talk was at a minimum: conversations had migrated to the late, great MSN Messenger. Typing your talk officially took over.

Now, the idea of ringing someone for “a chat” has a quaint, retro quality. I can, and will, talk you under the table, but phone calls are a luxury usually reserved for about five people: my mum, my sister, two best friends and my editor, obviously. Even then, I’m rubbish at picking up.

Much is made about smartphones leading to dumber conversation – amid claims that the art of chatter has been lost. Arguably, however, conversation has simply been rebooted and reconfigured. Take the myriad ways in which we can and do communicate now. It’s a given that I will spend an embarrassing portion of my day glued to a screen (it’s work!) and much of that will be chatting (again, it’s work!).

Unlike most people I know, I don’t use WhatsApp for one-on-one conversations (the “two blue ticks” confirming that someone has opened and read your message allows for too much anxiety) but I think it’s the best way to conduct group chats: the family thread, your best friends, the meme crew, and the splinter cells set up around someone’s birthday drinks. It’s here that modern comms can be richer, and smooth out awkward conversational lags and silences: the speed of a group chat, the ability to send pictures, links, songs, videos and emojis – emojis! – shouldn’t be sniffed at.

My parents aren’t texters and my cousins in Pakistan prefer to write in phonetic Urdu; I maintain that the emoji is the most universal and democratic form of communication. No, a winky smiley face love heart kiss unicorn fish can’t replace a meaningful conversation with my dad about my bathroom pipes, but a bit of daily WhatsApp contact – a Good Morning! meme from him, 43 emojis from my niece – keeps us connected when time and life don’t allow for a Big Catchup Call.

There’s more: texting, for proper, considered, well-punctuated missives; iMessage for barely legible babble on my iPhone; GChat on Gmail for day-long office inanity; Facebook for lurking on other people’s conversations; Twitter for lurking on other people’s opinions, and Snapchat for pretending I’m in a demographic attractive to advertisers.

Talk isn’t dead. It’s just presented in ways that are to the point, quicker and easier to articulate. What we lose in tone we make up for in emoji.

Does ‘phone separation anxiety’ actually exist?

You know the feeling – you have left your phone at home and feel anxious, as if you have lost your connection to the world. “Nomophobia” (short for no-mobile phobia) affects teenagers and adults alike. You can even do an online test to see if you have it.

Does 'phone separation anxiety' actually exist?

Smartphone touchscreen

Last week, researchers from Hong Kong warned that nomophobia is infecting everyone. Their study found that people who use their phones to store, share and access personal memories suffer most. When users were asked to describe how they felt about their phones, words such as “hurt’” (neck pain was often reported) and “alone” predicted higher levels of nomophobia.

Solution

“The findings of our study suggest that users perceive smartphones as their extended selves and get attached to the devices,” said Dr Kim Ki Joon. “People experience feelings of anxiety and unpleasantness when separated from their phones.” Meanwhile, an American study shows that smartphone separation can lead to an increase in heart rate and blood pressure.

So can being without your phone really give you separation anxiety? Professor Mark Griffiths, chartered psychologist and director of the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University, says it is what is on the phone that counts – the social networking that creates Fomo (fear of missing out).

“People don’t use their phones to talk to other people – we are talking about an internet-connected device that allows people to deal with lots of aspects of their lives,” says Griffiths. “You would have to surgically remove a phone from a teenager because their whole life is ingrained in this device.”

Griffiths thinks attachment theory, where we develop emotional dependency on the phone because it holds details of our lives, is a small part of nomophobia. For “screenagers”, it is Fomo that creates the most separation anxiety. If they can’t see what’s happening on Snapchat or Instagram, they become panic-stricken about not knowing what’s going on socially. “But they adapt very quickly if you take them on holiday and there’s no internet,” says Griffiths.

Deliberately separating from your phone by turning it off or leaving it at home can reduce dependency and anxiety. Griffiths says the criteria for phone addiction include it being the most important thing in your life, building up the time you spend on it, withdrawal symptoms, using it to de-stress or to get excited. Your phone-use also needs to compromise relationships or work and provoke inner conflict – you know you should cut down, but can’t. Few people, Griffiths says, fulfill these criteria. But surely many of us experience some of them.

How turning your phone into grey scale can do wonders for your attention

As someone who finds giving anything my continuous attention difficult, I’m always on the look-out for tips and tricks that can improve my concentration and render my digital life marginally less scatterbrained than normal.

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Could turning my phone grey save me from procrastination? Composite: imagebroker / Samuel Gibbs/Alamy Stock Photo

So when the Lifehacker website offered a seemingly perfect One Weird Trick For Saving My Concentration, I just had to try it. The site cites Tristan Harris, a former Google project manager, who has reinvented himself as an anti-distraction campaigner. Harris’s own phone is a paean to tranquility, with colourful icons hidden in folders, the folders hidden on a second page, and then apps launched through search rather than icons to boot.

But Lifehacker’s idea was simpler: rather than trying to hide the “colourful” icons, why not use your phone’s own accessibility features to drain the colour from everything at once? Both iOS and Android offer the option to set your phone to greyscale, something that can help those who are colourblind as well as let developers more easily work with an awareness of what their visually impaired users are seeing.

For people with full colour vision, though, it just makes your phone drab. Perfect! But does it work to hinder tech companies’ attempts to capture your attention? I spent a week with my phone in greyscale mode, to give it a go, and I can report that the answer is: sort of.

Some effects are immediately notable. The bright red notification badges on iOS become much less shouty when they’re a mute grey. It’s the best of both worlds: they’re still easily legible, performing their function as notifications, but because they’re not screamingly bright, the desire to go through your apps consistently clearing the notifications is diminished. Score one for greyscale.

How turning your phone into grey scale can do wonders for your attention

Alex Hern’s colourless iPhone. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

In other ways, however, there’s almost no effect. Once you’re actually in a social network, the slot machine effect continues to work just as well as it always has: pull to refresh, see if you’ve got more likes, look at the new posts that appear, rinse and repeat.

I still found myself spending long periods aimlessly trawling Twitter, or sending garbage Snapchats to my friends. But the whole thing was just suffused with an air of bleakness: images literally had the colour sucked out of them, I could never quite be sure what my own pictures would look like on others’ phones, and occasionally I’d have to switch the greyscale off altogether to interpret some badly-coloured chart or graph. (Yes, my social media accounts are full of graphs. Aren’t yours?). The whole thing served not to make me use social media less, but to ensure that I only ever put my phone down feeling worse than I had before.

Perhaps the biggest single change was that I simply stopped playing games on my phone. Some, like the otherwise fantastic Typeshift, were broadly unplayable (though that game does have the option to shift to colourblind-safe colour schemes); others, like the fun adventure game Love Me To Bits, lost so much of their charm that I didn’t want their impact to be lessened.

Eventually, I decided that losing those things weren’t worth the small boost to my attention that I gained. But switching my phone back to colour has, so far, had a different effect to what I was expecting. Everything seems incredibly garish; I find myself wishing that app designers would use a few more pastel shades, and a lot fewer striking reds and greens, in their icons. I’ve made changes to my phone to try and get some of the simplicity back: turning off badges on apps that don’t need them, setting my backgrounds to greyscale pictures, and even taking more photos in black and white.

I’m still a compulsive smartphone checker, though. Some people just can’t be saved.

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