Huawei P40 Pro Review

If video games, films and TV shows have taught us anything, it’s that in our inevitable technological-laden future everyone will have some form of augmentation that allows them to take calls, read and send messages, and set GPS waypoints by simply thinking about it. Until such a time, people will continue to use smartphones, which funnily are already like extensions of our body, with many of us spending far too much time on them, just ask Don Broco.

Huawei has been a big player in mobile phones for a long time, with the Chinese company offering a plethora of low to mid-tier devices as well as premium handsets. Ever since my first smartphone I’ve been an Android fan, and Huawei has made some of my favourite smartphones. In fact my current Huawei P30 is probably the best phone I’ve owned to date.

With brand loyalty a huge part of any purchase (I remember wasting $500+ importing a Toshiba TG01 Windows phone because I loved Toshiba products), the onus is on the brand to keep fans coming back for more, otherwise they’ll spend their money elsewhere. Huawei finds themselves in a somewhat precarious position after being slapped with trade restrictions, yet the company has pushed ahead with its flagship P40 and P40 Pro series, packing in some serious power and quality under the hood. The question is can Huawei’s focus on camera quality and performance overcome the stigma and lack of Google Play services? We had the opportunity to take the P40 Pro for a spin to find out.

From a design perspective, the P40 Pro is a gorgeous phone. Featuring an edge-to-edge curved 6.58” OLED 90Hz display with a 1200×2640 resolution that allows for a crystal-clear viewing and an anodised aluminium frame and refractive matte back, the P40 Pro is a sleek looking flagship device. The front-facing camera is in the top left of the screen and the main camera is on the back and does protrude somewhat, meaning that it won’t lay flat, but that’s hardly the end of the world. The bottom of the phone sees a USB-C port, speaker and the sim card slot. The phone is available in two flavours in Australia: Silver Frost and Deep Sea Blue, and personally I really dig the Deep Sea Blue look.

Not only does it look like a premium product, but it also feels like one too, which isn’t surprising given the tech that’s packed into such a small space. Weighing in at 209g, the P40 Pro doesn’t feel cheap, which makes you feel like you’re handling a quality product. At 6.58” it initially felt a little too big for my small hands, but it didn’t take long to become accustom to the larger form factor and now I kind of dig it.

Powering that big screen all day is going to take a bit of juice, luckily there’s a 4200mAh battery, which according to the specs sheet will give you up to 23.5 hours of talk time, up to 17.3 hours of internet use and up to 24 hours of video playback. As someone who uses their phone quite a bit during the day, and usually gets a full day’s work from a single charge on my P30 (3550mAh), I was curious to see how the P40 Pro’s larger battery would compare.

Using the P40 Pro for roughly a day and a half saw the phone sitting on just over 50% charge, so I can see it lasting a full two days (or more) before needing to charge it. In saying that, with the phone’s software omissions (we’ll touch on that soon), the battery life was increased a little.

Much like the P30 series, the P40 Pro includes Huawei’s 40W SuperCharge charger, which will have the P40 Pro juiced up in about 70 minutes. Having already used the SuperCharger I have to admit this is one of Huawei’s best initiatives and using other, slower charges feel like slow motion in comparison.

iPhone_Huaweis

Deep Sea Blue P30 and Silver Frost P40 Pro

The P40 Pro is powered by Huawei’s very own Kirin 990 chipset has a built-in 5G modem, meaning you’ll have access to the latest tech, however whether it’s widely available in your area will vary. The model we got to review supported dual-sim, however only the primary sim slot supports 5G. We had 256GB of storage and 8GB of RAM to play with, if you need more storage you can buy a 256GB Huawei NM Card for $149.95 from Amazon.

For the most part, the phone handled every task I threw at it with ease, although I hardly pushed the phone to its limit. For those who like to play mobile games there’s a 16-core Mali-G76 GPU that provides a good amount of grunt here to have a good time. Moreover, the P40 Pro features face unlock which is accurate and responsive, as well as an in-display fingerprint sensor for those wanting different unlock methods.

One thing I loved about moving from the Pixel 2 to the P30 was having access to a headphone jack. Call me old-fashioned, but I am not quite ready to move on from my trusty wired headphones just yet. That and the fact that I am too tight to spend the coin required on a good pair of Bluetooth headphones. This time around, both the P40 and the P40 Pro forgo the headphone jack, although Huawei does provide you with a USB-C to 3.5mm adaptor should you be stuck in the past like me.

As a phone, the call volume, both normal and on loudspeaker, was good and clear, so if you do use your phone as a phone then you’re all sorted here. Other main features of the P40 Pro include wireless charging and reverse wireless charging, Bluetooth 5.1, and an IP68 rating for water and dust resistance.

Knowing that this level of image quality can come from a smartphone is exciting given they are the key to capturing our most cherished moments nowadays

Now let’s talk about the phone’s crowning achievement: its camera. Huawei has made a name for itself in recent years as one of the industry’s best phone camera specialists. Year-on-year, the company’s flagship devices are praised for their camera quality, and the P40 Pro is no different – in fact it’s their best yet.

Featuring a 50MP Ultra Vision Camera (Wide Angle, f/1.9 aperture, OIS), a 40 MP Cine Camera (Ultra-Wide Angle, f/1.8 aperture), a 12 MP SuperSensing Telephoto Camera (f/3.4 aperture, OIS), and 3D Depth Sensing Camera on rear, the P40 Pro is a remarkable piece of imaging hardware. It currently sits second on DXOMARK with a rating of 128 (rear camera), only bested by the Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra with a rating of 130.

With Melbourne still in lockdown, my camera test subjects were limited, however the photos I did take full of incredible clarity and detail. My main subjects were a family of magpies that visit us every day (honestly they’re just the best), and I am glad I had the P40 Pro on hand to capture some glorious shots of my winged mates. Huawei’s new Golden Snap tech also allows users to take a moving picture, with the tech then identifying different scenes and ensuring you get the best shot.

The rear camera also packs a 50X SuperSensing Zoom with advanced telephoto stabilisation, which essentially helps to make zoomed-in photos not look like trash. I tested this using the Pro mode and got insanely-good detail – I honestly couldn’t believe how good the photo looked.

P40 Pro Magpie

P40 Pro Magpie 2

P40 Pro Zoom

P40 Pro Zoom Before

This isn’t what they meant when they said I’d be using zoom lots during lockdown

Testing the camera’s Night setting also yielded extremely good results, turning a photo taken at 8pm (when it was essentially dark outside) and making it look like it was taken much earlier. I took the same photo at the same using the iPhone 11 Pro Max and that didn’t fare as well in quality. It is worth noting that all of the photos I took were taken using the default settings across all modes used.

The front-facing camera, while not as powerful as the rear, is still impressively good, utilising a 32 MP Selfie Camera (f/2.2 aperture) and Depth Camera. I didn’t use this camera much, however those who did receive a selfie from me while testing it out were at least treated to image quality, but not so much a quality image. If you’re also in to making videos, both the P40 Pro’s rear and front camera will record at 4K and 60fps.

I’m normally not someone to wax lyrical about camera quality – I’ve usually been impressed each time I upgrade. But this is truly something else, and knowing that this level of image quality can come from a smartphone is exciting given they are the key to capturing our most cherished moments nowadays.

P40 Pro Night 2

P40 Pro Night Mode

iPhone_night

iPhone 11 Pro Max Night Mode

lockdown selfie

Glorious lockdown selfie

P40 Pro Pizza Raw

P40 Pizza Pro

Using Huawei’s Phone Clone app I was able to practically mirror my P30, with the majority of apps transferring across. I was also able to pick and choose what other files I wanted, such as photos, videos and music, making it a relatively smooth transition.

But once we’re set up and ready to go, it’s here, sadly, that the caveats of the P40 Pro are exposed. While the P40 series still utilises Huawei’s customised EMUI variant of Android, the P40 series marks the first time its flagship devices have launched without Google Play services. So what does this mean? It means that the P40 series (both standard the Pro) will still look and operate like previous Huawei smartphones, but they will simply not have access to the Google Play Store or the majority of Google’s apps, such as Gmail, Google Drive and Docs, YouTube, Hangouts and more. Google Maps is available thankfully, however there are reports of it suffering issues within third-party apps.

Instead, owners will have to utilise Huawei’s App Gallery for their app needs, which annoyingly displays ads from time to time. A Huawei representative told me that the company is working hard to expand its app offerings, and people can wishlist apps within App Gallery and when (if) they make their way to the App Gallery you’ll be notified. Furthermore, Huawei has introduced a new app called Petal Search, which will trawl the internet for safe apks of apps (such as Chrome and Firefox) for an easy install.

There is a loophole that will allow you to utilise Google’s services, however it’s far from convenient, and that’s using the web browser to access the aforementioned apps. I tried to embrace the loophole when using the phone for a day, but after a handful of times loading a web browser to check my emails it had already become tedious. Sure, I could sync my email account to one of the many email apps available on the App Gallery, but I like Gmail and I’m used to Gmail, and I want to keep using Gmail.

For someone like myself who uses Google’s apps on a daily basis it’s pretty much a dealbreaker, and it doesn’t help that Huawei’s own offerings are nothing more than serviceable

The true impact of this will depend on how engrained into Google’s ecosystem you are. For someone like myself who uses Google’s apps on a daily basis it’s pretty much a dealbreaker, and it doesn’t help that Huawei’s own offerings are nothing more than serviceable.

A lack of Google services means there’s also no access to Google Pay, meaning you’ll need to find an alternate way to use your phone as a bank card if you do use Google Pay. Furthermore, if you’re a Melburnian there’s no way to have a digital Myki card, which right now during lockdown isn’t a massive issue, but once things start returning to normal (finger’s crossed) it will be a royal pain in the arse to have to go back to carrying another card around.

The other significant missing application was any vehicle app, such as Android Auto, which allows drivers access to a host of apps such as Maps, Spotify and more while driving (safely of course). As someone who enjoys listening to podcasts while driving, this was a huge omission. I did search Huawei’s App Gallery for a similar app, but surprisingly there were no options. Of course, if you just want to make calls while driving (handsfree), then you can always Bluetooth the P40 Pro to the car. It may not seem like much to those who haven’t utilised or don’t use these services. But they are disappointing omissions for a company that considers themselves a leader in smartphone technology.

The phone is backed by a two-year warranty, meaning you don’t have to flex your armchair consumer law knowledge to have the phone repaired during the second year, and Huawei’s partnership with Happytel means that you can drop your phone off at one of the collection points located around the country.

P40 App Gallery

Huawei’s App Gallery

P40 Petal Search

Petal Search

Final Thoughts

From a hardware perspective, the Huawei P40 Pro is a beast of a device; it’s jam-packed full of power, has a battery that could power a generator for a week during an apocalypse, and the quality of the camera is close to the best on the market. Sadly however, it’s the software side of things that really makes the P40 Pro a tough sell. Not only does it lack Google Play services, which in a way isn’t really their fault, but it fails to mitigate this with its own software offerings. I really want to tell you the P40 Pro is the best phone I have ever used. It does so much right, but it’s hard to justify a price tag of $1599 when a phone priced under $150 will do more of what I want from a smartphone from a software perspective.

Good
+ Design is sleek and sexy
+ OLED screen looks amazing
+ Battery life is huge
+ Great performance
+ Truly incredible camera quality

Bad
– Lack of Google Play support/basic Google apps hurts user experience
– Expensive for what you miss out on
– App Gallery and its own software offerings still needs work

Co-Founder & Managing Editor of WellPlayed. Sometimes a musician, lover of bad video games and living proof that Australians drink Foster's. Coach of Supercoach powerhouse the BarnesStreet Bois. Carlton, Burnley FC & SJ Sharks fan Get around him on Twitter @tightinthejorts