Huawei P40 Pro full review
The Huawei P30 Pro was easily one of the best phones of 2019, but a year on both Huawei and the phone market itself are in very different places. Despite the Chinese company's obvious talents when it comes to smartphone creation, the arrival of the Huawei P40 Pro, though exciting, is also troubled.
For a phone that looks to as much of an impact as its predecessor, the P40 Pro launches at a time of huge uncertainty. The market, particularly at the higher end, is unquestionably stagnant and that's before you factor in the effects of the global pandemic, which have resulted in tighter purse strings and reduced demand for wares as luxurious as a new flagship smartphone.
Despite the circumstances under which the P40 Pro has released, however, there's no denying that the phone itself is an undeniably powerful piece of kit, taking (almost) everything that its predecessor brought to the table and upping the ante.
A familiar design, with more flare
Love it or hate it, it's one of the first things you'll spot when you see the P40 Pro. Of course, it's big in order to accommodate the phone's four rear camera sensors (more on those in a bit), so, perhaps more so than the likes of the Lite, its presence here is justified.
Move past the module and while for the most part formulaic, Huawei has still tried to help its new phone stand out in the crowd of metal-framed, glass-bodied, near bezel-free flagship handsets already released this year.
As you'll see and read about in our Huawei P40 review, the new Silver Frost (or Blush Gold) finish is the colourway of choice for this generation of P-Series phones. It reflects light in an eye-catching manner that's unlike any phone before it. The Deep Sea Blue P40 Pro sample tested here is also pleasing to the eye, but comparatively pedestrian as far as Huawei's finishes go.
One point against the phone is that even before you take into account its notable camera bump, the phone feels pretty thick and heavy for a device with a 6.58in display (it breaks the 200g mark). At least the rounding and proportions, not to mention the actual build quality, give it a great hand feel.
The P40 Pro is also IP68-certified against dust and water, forgoes a headphone jack but includes USB-C headphones in-box and there's an IR blaster at the top of the frame, letting you control everything from air conditioning units to you TV, once set up.
The most interesting aspect of the P40 Pro's body has to be the 'Overflow' display. Not only does it curve over the phone's edges along all four sides but the metal surround rises up at the corners for added protection, creating a strange 'draped' appearance that's wholly unique.
The panel at play is brilliant too. While not a resolution rival to the likes of Samsung's latest flagships or Sony's Xperia 1, the 2640x1200 screen should appear perfectly crisp to most users.
It's also helped by the fact that the P40 Pro is the first of the company's phones to embrace a higher refresh rate. Again, it doesn't match the 120Hz OLEDs of the S20 range or the Asus ROG Phone 2 but the fluidity of 90Hz will still look and feel like a huge leap to those accustomed to conventional 60Hz displays.
The front camera setup, now a dual-sensor array, has graduated from the Mate 30 Pro's notch to a fully-fledged hole punch. This pill-shaped module isn't exactly easy on the eyes but you can hide it behind a sizeable black bar if you prefer.
There's also the matter of the optical in-display fingerprint sensor, which feels a touch quicker than the one found on the P40 Pro's predecessor. It also uses a smarter-looking white light in place of cyan, as before, and sits a touch too high up on the display, in my opinion.
Come for the zoom, stay for the video
Unlike Samsung's S20s, which offer markedly identical camera setups between the base Galaxy S20 and the S20+ (save for the addition of a depth sensor) all three of Huawei's P40 range use decidedly different arrangements (even if there is an overlap).
The P40 Pro strikes the best balance of price and performance from the range in this regard, and most-closely serves as an evolution to last year's P30 Pro.
The quad-sensor setup on the back is fronted by a whopping 50Mp main snapper (with an f/1.9 aperture and optical image stabilisation). Not only is it big in terms of megapixels, it's a physically huge 1/1.28in sensor that, through pixel-binning, can operate with 2.8µm pixels (the Galaxy S20 Ultra's nonacell makeup creates 2.4µm pixels), making it extremely capable in low light. Best of all - this particular sensor is found across the entirety of the P40 range.
The periscopic zoom from the P30 Pro makes a return, complete with OIS, however, Huawei's now upped the resolution to 12Mp in place of 8Mp. It still delivers up to an astounding 5x optical zoom, 10x hybrid zoom and a maximum 50x zoom, all of which produce impressive results in their own right (so long as you're aware of the obvious degradation zooming past 10x will cause).
Next up there's the f/1.8 40Mp ultra-wide 18mm-equivalent 'Cine' lens, which while great for taking stills, really shines on the video front. This comes, not only thanks to the wider field of view, but also as a result of hugely improved low-light recording chops, able to capture content that the main sensor and rival smartphone snappers simply can't 'see'.
As on the back, the P40 Pro's 32Mp front-facer comes accompanied by a 3D depth-sensing module. As well as gauging depth data to render artificial bokeh in shots, it also assists with face unlocking, paired with an IR emitter to work reliably, even in low light.
If there's one consistent talking point across the P40 Pro's cameras, it's dynamic range. From standard shots to wide-angle images, to selfies, the P40 Pro offers great dynamic range, standing up well, even in bright sunlight and high-contrast scenarios. As already touched on, low-light shooting is also superb, especially if you can lock the phone down to a tripod or fixed hands-free position. At the 10x hybrid zoom threshold, you're still getting a great image too.
Noise suppression is best when shooting using that main 50Mp sensor, the trade-off, however, is that the minimum macro shooting distance has increased and the camera's natural focal range seems a touch shorter. It's a similar trait to that of the Galaxy S20 Ultra's 108Mp sensor, but although still present, the issue is far less pronounced here.
On the software side, while there's little that stands out over previous iterations of Huawei's photography experience, it all seems surprisingly clean and easy to use, considering the camera's rich and varied feature set.
One new addition worth talking about is reflection removal (which actually lives under the Gallery's edit menu, rather than within the camera settings). Results vary pretty widely but when it does work, it's an impressive one-button fix for an otherwise difficult photographic faux pas to try and have to resolve.
Less Google, More Emotion
With Huawei now having released a handful of phones since the US government's ban took effect, the company has started to adjust to building a user experience without Google Mobile Services (including the Play Store and support for other apps that rely on the company's technologies) for users outside of China.
A world without Google
Using the Mate 30 Pro (the first phone that launched in markets, including the UK, without GMS) was a challenge, to say the least, and while Google's absence is still very much apparent on the P40 Pro, the infrastructure that's been built to shrink the resultant void is constantly growing and improving.
During setup, you're introduced to Huawei Mobile Services (or HMS) and the company's own App Gallery (see above), which now serves as the P40 Pro's defacto app store. In the time between the Mate 30 Pro and the P40 series, it's clear that Huawei has been busy trying to localise the App Gallery for users in more markets globally, as well as onboard as many of the big app makers out there right now.
You'll find entries like Snapchat and TikTok front and centre on the App Gallery's home page, however, it doesn't take long to run out of familiar offerings and find yourself faced with copycat apps masquerading as poor facsimiles of popular services instead.
It's a problem that Huawei is clearly aware of and the company even has a dedicated video, showing users various ways to transfer apps onto their devices that aren't yet on the App Gallery.
As it stands, such explainers are essential to anyone considering picking up any of the new P40 phones. Alongside the App Gallery, users will need to master Huawei's own Phone Clone app (at least for those moving from another Android phone - iOS users are out of luck) and understand how to directly download and install APK files (or use an installer app like APKPure) too.
I used the above methods when setting up the P40 Pro, paired with the likes of the Amazon Appstore, and of the 50-something apps I would typically use or download on an out-of-box Android phone, almost half have been rendered inoperable or are only partially usable without Google's support.
Google's own apps are the most obvious victims, with the likes of Google Drive, Google Photos and Google Podcasts outright refusing to function without Google Play Services, while offerings like Google Chrome and Google Maps work but can't pull in saved bookmark or location data tied to your Google account.
It's not just Google apps either. A wealth of games that make use of Google Play gaming integration can't function, apps like Uber use Google's mapping services to operate and so don't play nice here, and while offerings like WhatsApp are functional, no Google Drive support means you can't pull in existing backups that you may have there.
Getting the P40 Pro to a state that most users would be happy with in the day-to-day is no mean feat and only really suited to the technologically-inclined. If you're looking for your first Android phone or a fuss-free alternative to the likes of the Pixel 4, the P40 Pro is not it.
Exploring EMUI and meeting Celia
Despite everything that isn't there, the new EMUI 10.1 user experience (running atop Android 10) still has heaps of functionality worth exploring.
Huawei always bundles its own apps on its devices, many of which usually double-up on Google's offerings but here, no such contention exists. The native email app offers support for Gmail, the Gallery app comes with AI-powered search, so you can easily find images you're looking for and the Huawei Video app now operates as a proxy for Rakuten TV, letting you rent and stream the latest features, rather than simply serving up locally-stored video files.
The phone also comes pre-loaded with empty folders that offer app recommendations pulled from the App Gallery, relative to their labels. This feature is best switched off in my opinion but some might find it useful in order to discover App Gallery alternatives to popular Play Store offerings.
Between the options summoned by pinching out on any of your home screens and the Themes app, there's a pleasing level of customisation to the look and feel of the phone's user experience. A swipe right reveals the 'Today' screen, which consolidates your frequent contacts, user experience tips, news headlines and widgets in one place too.
EMUI's assistive features aren't half bad either. While the P40 Pro relies on native Android 10 gestures for navigation by default, a swipe in from the side (as if to go 'back') and hold, grants access to a customisable shortlist of apps that can float above others for quick multitasking. Swiping in from the bottom corners activates one-handed mode, which is essential when navigating the phone's sizeable display with a single mitt, and then there's Celia.
With Google out of the picture, Huawei chose to bring in its own voice assistant as a replacement - Celia. Aside from the fact that the name sounds suspiciously close to Siri (and can, in fact, set off an iPhone's "Hey Siri" wake command on occasion), Celia is a perfectly serviceable alternative.
You can ask about the weather, open apps and set reminders - all standard stuff for sure, but at least it works as you'd expect, not to mention the phone can pick up your voice from a decent distance away, even in the presence of background noise too. Some more unique features include letting it help you shop for items on-screen and having Celia perform a Google search using Huawei's own browser, which goes some way to mitigating the loss of the direct convenience of Google voice search.
Strong performance, impressive battery
In testing, Huawei's Kirin 990 5G chipset and 8GB of RAM serve up competitive results that consistently match or outperform rival phones, most of which come running Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 865 chipset. In artificial benchmarks, particularly graphical tests, the Pro model actually slightly underperformed compared to the standard P40 model, but this most likely comes down to the phone's need to drive a higher resolution display.
In real-world use, the P40 Pro is stacked to withstand demanding tasks, including gaming, and should last the average user at least two years before showing its age, from a performance standpoint. There's also the matter of network speeds. With an integrated 5G modem and WiFi 6, Huawei has also future-proofed the P40 Pro in this regard.
The battery inside the P40 Pro is also top-tier. In artificial testing, it doled out an outstanding 12 hours (and 12 minutes) of screen-on time. Real-world testing cut that figure in half (and some) but both scores are still highly respectable. What's more, if you do have concerns about the phone's 4200mAh cell, it's also choc-full of fast-charging goodness.
The phone supports the company's own 40W wired SuperCharge tech, which has clearly been improved despite to change in wattage, as it'll bring the P40 Pro up to 78% in just 30 minutes. Then there's the addition of support for 27W fast wireless charging and the option of reverse wireless charging too - ideal for owners of wireless charging-compatible earphones, like Huawei's own FreeBuds 3. Check out our Best True Wireless Earbuds feature for more alternatives.
Price & availability
The 8GB/256GB Huawei P40 Pro is on sale now. In the UK, it's available from Huawei's own website in black or Silver Frost for £899.99. The price includes the free gift of a black P40 Pro case too (valued at £24.99).
Other online retailers include Amazon UK, who is offering the same choice of colourways and includes the free PU case too (shipping from Amazon UK commences on 16 April).
eFones lets you pay for the Pro in full or spread the cost over up to 24 months (no free case here, though), while Carphone Warehouse is selling the phone SIM-free and on-contract (across EE, Vodafone, Virgin Mobile and iD Mobile). Very and Three are also selling the P40 Pro SIM-free and on-contract from £42 a month, respectively.
There's no denying that from both a hardware and software standpoint, the company has improved upon the recipe of last year's P-Series in every sense with the Huawei P40 Pro.
The camera setup is now even more versatile than before, as is the enhanced Emotion UI 10.1 user experience. Raw performance is among the best in the business right now and the phone comes future-proofed with the latest networking technologies. Battery life is superb, granting you up to two days use on a charge and you can fill the phone back up at pace too. It all works as promised and consistently impresses.
If that was all there was to say about the Huawei P40 Pro, its £899 price tag would also land just about where we'd expect for a phone of this calibre, perhaps even a little less than what one might expect to pay, based on its competition. But, of course, the P40 Pro - and all Huawei (and Honor) phones coming to market at this time - are effectively handicapped compared to their competitors.
Whilst Huawei's user experience without GMS is more palatable now than it's ever been, there's still so much that needs to happen for it to become a like-for-like alternative to a phone sporting a UX with GMS. The hoops that prospective P40 Pro owners will have to jump through and the sacrifices that they will have to make aren't to be sniffed at.
Die-hard Huawei fans may still jump on the offer of the company's superb hardware, but even they might struggle to truly fall in love with the P40 Pro. Frustratingly of all, the solution to the phone's biggest problem remains out of its creators' control.
For those outside of China, aware of the challenges that a phone without Google Mobile Services like the P40 Pro presents, there's no question that in every other sense, this is a superb handset. But for the average user shopping for a powerful new flagship phone - whether they're looking to move away from an iPhone or jumping from another Android device - they'd best look elsewhere.
The P40 Pro's most like-minded rivals at present are probably the Oppo Find X2 Pro (£1099) and the Samsung Galaxy S20+ (£999). Alternatively, you could pick up a P30 Pro at a huge discount (RRP = £629.99 but available for even less elsewhere) and take those sacrifices out of the equation completely.
Huawei P40 Pro: Specs
- Main cameras: 50Mp (wide, f/1.9, OIS) + 40Mp (ultra-wide, f/1.8) + 12Mp (5x optical telephoto, f/3.4, OIS) + 3D depth-sensing module
- Front cameras: 32Mp f/2.0 + depth-sensing module
- Android 10 w/ EMUI 10.1
- Huawei Mobile Services (HMS)
- No Google Mobile Services (GMS)
- 6.58in 2640x1200, 19.5:9 90Hz OLED ‘Overflow’ display
- Kirin 990 5G processor
- 8GB RAM
- 256GB storage (expandable via NM card)
- WiFi 6
- Bluetooth 5.1
- 4200mAh battery
- SuperCharge 40W fast charging
- Wireless SuperCharge 27W wireless fast charging