Huawei P40 Pro Review

Is Google Play Store still essential on an Android phone?

by David Phelan
Tech Review

45

Recommended
Huawei P40 Pro Review
SRP: £899.99

What is the Huawei P40 Pro?

The latest flagship from Chinese brand Huawei has just gone on sale. But hold on, you say, didn’t the last big Huawei phone launch just a matter of weeks ago? Quite true, that was the Mate 30 Pro, originally announced last autumn but only reaching the UK early this year.

The P40 Pro is brand, brand new and offers a new design, four cameras, a screen which slopes down in four directions and other new features. It has something important in common with the Mate 30 Pro, though. It’s the next leading-edge phone from Huawei that doesn’t have full Google services on board. So, while the open-source Android software is there in all its glory, there’s no Google Play Store and access to all the apps it has. Huawei has its own store, the Huawei App Gallery, but this is far from comprehensive.

Still, there’s enough intriguing about this phone that you shouldn’t write it off just yet. Maybe Google isn’t quite as essential as it used to be.

Design

First of all, it looks sensational. The satin-finish back is gorgeous, with lettering that doesn’t dominate and a camera panel which, well, does. The satin effect, by the way, means fingerprints don’t show up, unlike almost every other phone out there.

It’s a good fit in the hand because, although the display is bigger than on the iPhone 11 Pro, it’s not as wide: it has a 19.8:9 aspect ratio. So, although it’s fractionally taller and thicker, it feels more manageable, especially for smaller hands.

 

… it looks sensational

There are two colour finishes being made available in the UK, black and silver frost. The camera panel rises from the back and is hard to miss. It’s deep, with a flat top, unlike Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro which has a flatter protuberance but three raised lenses on top of that. On the whole, its main point of interference in your life is if you’re typing a text in landscape mode. If you are, don’t put it on the table as the phone rocks back and forth crazily because of the camera panel as you tap the onscreen keyboard.

The black colour means it comes close to blending in on the black-finish version but really stands out on the silver frost. Silver frost, for what it’s worth, is my favourite, with a subtle but striking sheen that’s eye-catching without being overstated.

Huawei P40 Pro
Huawei P40 Pro - side view

Although I liked the Mate 30 Pro’s styling with its circular camera array, this is the most sophisticated design from the company yet, classy and rich in detail. It looks like it’s metallic, though in fact the phone is glass back and front with an aluminium frame weaving between. The glass means wireless charging is possible and Huawei has included reverse wireless charging, too, so you can put a compatible phone back-to-back with this one and the Huawei can charge the other.

 

… fingerprints don’t show up, unlike almost every other phone out there

This is a 5G phone. Huawei is only making the P40 Pro, and others in the P40 series, with 5G connectivity. It’s not that there’s a less expensive option with 4G available, it’s 5G only. Huawei is taking a bet that as the year goes on the 5G networks will be widespread enough to justify this decision. Of course, it’s also cheaper to make one version of a phone than two, and it does add a degree of future-proofing to the P40 Pro.

The phone is water-resistant to the tune of IP68, which means it can survive being dunked in water 1.5 metres deep for up to half an hour.

As it usually does, Huawei includes a phone case in the box. It’s a soft, transparent case. Not overly attractive, but you will probably want to keep a phone as attractive as this in pristine condition, so it’s worth having.

Display

The Mate 30 Pro had a waterfall display that tipped the screen over the long sides of the phone. In fact, it went so far that there was no room for physical volume buttons (you tapped the screen edge to invoke volume controls).

 

It’s quite a big, noticeable cut-out in the display

Here, the display has curved long edges which creep down the sides but not as far, so regular volume buttons are in evidence. But the frame at the top and bottom is also set back, so the display also tips off the top and bottom, too. At least, the display and bezel edge round so while the picture on screen doesn’t appear on the top and bottom edges, the all-screen effect is pretty persuasive. The black edging at the bottom is pretty narrow, even more so at the top.

In fact, the biggest interruption to the screen image comes at the top left of the screen, where dual lenses peep through a hole in the display. One is the 32MP selfie camera, the other a time-of-flight camera to grab depth information quickly. It’s quite a big, noticeable cut-out in the display.

Huawei P40 Pro
Huawei P40 Pro - front view

The screen looks terrific, with resolution of 1,200 x 2,640 pixels, that’s 441 pixels per inch. It has a butter-smooth 90Hz refresh rate and HDR10 support. The display’s 90Hz refresh rate is set as default though you can save battery by dropping it to 60Hz. I never needed to do this: the phone has great battery life.

The fingerprint sensor, as with several other Huawei phones, is buried in the display itself, so there’s no disturbance to the image from that. It’s been moved further up the screen than on other phones, about two inches from the bottom, instead of an inch before. This is much better, because it means that if you pick the phone up one-handed, it’s much easier to plonk your thumb in the right place.

 

This is a great display which is consistently attractive to look at, whatever you’re using the phone for

This version of the sensor is faster than before and it’s certainly different. Place your thumb on it and the display lights a circle so the sensor can decide if it’s you. It’s a lot brighter than on the Mate 30 Pro and maybe that’s one of the things that makes it so fast. Huawei says that it’s as fast as it would be if it were a conventional fingerprint sensor button.

There are two display options, Vivid and Normal. Vivid uses DCI-P3 colour space. On each you can adjust the colour temperature using a colour wheel or choosing warm or cool. There is also a default button to reset things when you realise your colour temperature choice was just horrible, after all.

This is a great display which is consistently attractive to look at, whatever you’re using the phone for. The default screen ratio for watching video leaves black bars at top and bottom. This means the lozenge that is the front-facing camera unit is off the screen area and is the best way to do it. That notch is down in the bottom left corner of the display, when you hold it in landscape mode, which isn’t where great filmmakers tend to put the heart of the action. Even so, the black bars look better.

Operating Software

Like on the Huawei Mate 30 Pro, the software is a big deal on this phone because of the lack of Google Mobile Services (GMS) which bring Play Store, Gmail, YouTube and other apps to the table.

The open-source Android operating system is enough, and Huawei’s EMUI (EMotion User Interface) works just as it did on the P30, when GMS was present, so at first glance, things are pretty normal.

But it’s when you start to look for apps that things get more complicated. Huawei App Gallery is growing by the day – Deezer has just arrived, for instance. But a lot of big-name apps still aren’t there.

There are ways around this, and many are very simple. For instance, it’s a breeze to download the Amazon App Store via the phone’s browser. Once that’s on board, and obviously it’s a well-respected and trusted store, you have access to many more apps, including WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook, for instance. Amazon’s updates lag a bit behind the ones in the Google Play Store, though.

 

... Phone Clone lets you transfer apps from your last Android phone, along with photos, calendars, contacts and more

Then there are the apps which sort of work. The navigation app, Maps.me, is in the Huawei App Gallery, but many people like Google Maps. Well, you can have that as well, but not completely. There’s a very useful app on the phone called Phone Clone which lets you transfer apps from your last Android phone, along with photos, calendars, contacts and more. All those except apps can be brought across from an iPhone using Phone Clone.

If Google Maps is on your old Android phone, it can be transferred here, complete with newly updated logo. It looks just the same and it works, except you can’t log in to your account, so functionality is limited. That said, you can of course log into Google Maps using the phone’s browser. Not perfect, but not bad. And the same works for YouTube, of course.

Huawei P40 Pro
Huawei P40 Pro - front view

Better news is coming. Huawei is building its own mapping app in conjunction with TomTom, so it could turn out to have its own version which is as good. After all, it’s a new app being built from the ground up. But it will take time, though the arrangement with TomTom is already bearing fruit: take a photo on the phone and it’s TomTom’s location data that’s added to the image, if you wish.

 

Huawei App Gallery is growing by the day – Deezer has just arrived, for instance. But a lot of big-name apps still aren’t there

There are still gaps that many will find unacceptable – you can’t get Monzo and some other finance apps, for instance. For the intrepid, there are ways around this in many cases, with online videos showing how to get Google Play Store and the rest on to the phone. They work – I’ve tried a couple – and after a little legwork upfront, it’s like you’ve got any other Android phone.

But some will feel that the whole point of a smartphone is that it makes millions of apps easily, painlessly, securely available.

The gap between Huawei-accessible apps and the ones available elsewhere is getting smaller. Enough for many people to find that going without Google is increasingly practical. But it’s still not for everyone.

Camera

The turning point for Huawei’s photographic capabilities came when it teamed up with Leica for the cameras in its phones. Since then, it has gone from strength to strength with each successive flagship beating the one before. That’s the case here, with pretty much every aspect beefing up what the last phone could do.

The P40 Series has three phones in it, altogether. There’s the P40, which has three cameras, then the next one up is this one, the P40 Pro, with four cameras. Coming soon is the P40 Pro Plus which, though it may sound like a caffeine boost, is similar to the P40 but with five cameras.

Huawei P40 Pro
Huawei P40 Pro - rear view

Well, since three is more than most phones have, to have four seems pretty luxurious. The main sensor is big, in every sense. First, it has 50MP resolution and its physical size is enormous in cameraphone terms: 1/ 1.28 inches. Many DSLR cameras have sensors not much bigger.

That’s unusual, as is the make-up of the sensor itself. Most cameras have red, green and blue micro-sites. This sensor instead uses red, yellow, yellow (yes, another one) and blue. It’s a system designed to suck in more light, more quickly.

Although it’s a 50MP sensor, it’s designed to take 12MP images. That’s because it uses pixel binning, a process which treats four adjacent pixels as one much bigger one. Other phones do this, and it’s a great way of adding versatility to the phone’s photographic capabilities.

 

This camera is fast, accurate and very enjoyable to use

The next camera is an ultra-wide, the equivalent of 0.75x the zoom of the main camera. It’s a 40MP sensor, almost as big (1/ 1.54 inches). The third camera is a periscope, meaning it looks different because it’s a mirror that reflects light along the inside of the phone to the 12MP sensor. The periscope mechanism means it can create a real telephoto experience, the equivalent of 5x optical zoom compared to the main lens.

Huawei P40 Pro
Huawei P40 Pro - camera

Finally, the fourth camera is a time-of-flight sensor, used to grab depth information quickly to inform features like portrait mode with bokeh effects to make your subject pin-sharp and the background blurred. This works well, managing to spot what’s close to the lens and what isn’t and defining as subject and background accordingly.

DXOMark, the respected institution that evaluates cameras and cameraphones, has given the P40 Pro the highest score yet, 128, a big leap of four points over the last highest-scorers. DXOMark really rates this phone. So do I.

This camera is fast, accurate and very enjoyable to use. The Artificial Intelligence that Huawei has built in can recognise scores of different scenes, telling snow from grass and dog from cat, exposing the photos slightly differently accordingly. In fact, you can leave a lot of the decisions to the phone to make.

 

...this phone is pretty good at situations where there’s not enough light

As with any phone, it’s worth shooting on each lens in their purest form to avoid any digital zoom. When the telephoto is 5x, as it is here, it can take you too close, so it’s not always suitable. But this is good glass so it’s best to make the most of it.

If you want to go in really close, 50x zoom is possible. To stress, it’s not suitable for decent photographs but if you need to make out the writing on a distant poster, for instance, it has its uses and seems to deliver more detail than many rivals at extreme zoom levels.

Huawei P40 Pro
Huawei P40 Pro - camera

Low light is the traditional enemy of cameraphone sensors but this phone is pretty good at situations where there’s not enough light. Then there’s Night mode which, previously good, is even better now. It creates photos which see better than your eyes do in the dark, brightening the images while still being faithful to the scene.

Video is strong, though there’s no 8K recording here, as found on the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra.

One new element is something called Golden Snap. That sounds more like a biscuit, I grant you, but it means that it takes multiple shots and picks out the best one, though you can make your own choice. By combining multiple shots you can even take photo-bombers out of the back of the shot.

Performance

The chip here is the Kirin 990 5G chipset, previously found on the Huawei Mate 30 (in its 5G variant) and the Mate XS, which is the folding phone that is available with 5G connectivity. As such, though it’s not brand new, it’s easily up to the job: fast and powerful across the board. Apps launch fast, games run smoothly, video is stutter-free. Kirin is Huawei’s own silicon and in recent years it’s been exceptional.

Battery

Battery life is also a source of pride for Huawei and it’s certainly the case that the P40 Pro breezes through a full day and part way through a second. The battery is 4,200mAh which is decent enough and, combined with Huawei’s energy management features (guided by AI, of course), is enough to banish any uncertainty and create peace of mind.

It’s also fast to charge, and as mentioned is wireless-chargeable and includes reverse wireless charging.

Verdict

The Good

  • Spectacular good looks
  • Outstanding cameras
  • Great battery life
  • A fast performer

The Bad

  • No Google Mobile Services

Huawei P40 Pro Review

Huawei’s latest is easily the most attractive phone the company has made and is one of the very best-looking designs from any manufacturer. It turns heads. Then there are the cameras which are outstanding. Add in strong performance and battery life and you have a phone which is, on paper at least, irresistible.

The only downside is the lack of Google Mobile Services. For some, this won’t matter much as the range of software easily accessible is enough. But for others, managing without the missing apps will be a bridge too far.

Recommended

Scores

Design

10

Usability

.
.
8

Display

.
9

Call and Signal Quality

.
9

Operating System

.
.
.
7

Email, Browsing, Calandar, Contacts

.
.
8

Media support

.
.
8

Camera

10

App support and functionality

.
.
.
.
6

Build Quality

.
9

Value for Money

.
.
8

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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