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Coming back to a HUAWEI flagship is always a warm and familiar feeling. After the Mate 30 Pro, which we reviewed last year, the P40 Pro is the second HUAWEI phone we’re using without Google Mobile Services. While the status quo remains unchanged, the manufacturer’s own alternative ecosystem (HMS and AppGallery) is in a constant evolution.

The company remains committed to improving the overall user experience and to mitigate the effects that the lack of access to Google Play Store might have on its non-Chinese users.

We’ve been using the HUAWEI P40 Pro for a little over three weeks (granted, in isolation), and it’s been an interesting experience. Much like a roller coaster ride, there were ups and downs, involving some giving up, some adapting, and some success. This is our full HUAWEI P40 Pro review.

Hardware

Much like any flagship HUAWEI phone, the P40 Pro screams premium quality, materials, build, and offers an unparalleled sensorial reward. I would go as far as saying that the P40 Pro is among the phones, if not the phone, with the best in-hand feel.

We’re not referring to the way the glass feels in the hand, as we’ve all experienced that. We’re talking about the shapes, curves, the design HUAWEI adopted to make the P40 Pro a pebble-like device. Its front and back is tapered towards the edges in all four directions, left, right, and even top and bottom. This makes sliding inwards from the sides, as well as down from the top (for notifications), and up from the bottom (for multitasking) a real pleasure.

It’s still just as slippery as any glossy finish glass (and attracts fingerprints like a champ), but it’s when you grab it firmly that you get that extraordinary sensorial reward which can’t be described. You have to hold it to understand. It feels that good!

It’s not all about the looks though, but the smarts too. Underneath that gorgeous 6.58-inch OLED panel you will find the next-generation Kirin 990 5G chip that laughs off anything you throw at it, mostly thanks to its versatility, the 16-core Mali-G76 GPU, dual-NPU, and the 8GB of memory that help it out. We’ll talk more about this in our Performance segment below.

Said display can run at 90Hz refresh rates and a maximum resolution of 1200 x 2640 pixels. It now packs a faster fingerprint scanner, and a pill-shaped oval punch hole on the top left, which is where HUAWEI crammed all the hardware that was part of the notch on previous generation P and Mate models.

This is where the Face Recognition hardware and sensors live (IR, ToF, depth 3D), alongside the 32MP selfie shooter. Around the back, you’ll find the triple-camera system + ToF sensor (often referred to as quad-camera, if you consider the ToF sensor a camera by itself).

There’s a main 50MP shooter, with f/1.9, 23mm equivalent (wide) lens, 1/1.28″ sensor size, and 2.44µm pixels, with OIS. There’s a 40MP ultra-wide angle shooter, with f/1.8, 18mm equivalent, with 1/1.54″ sensor size. Next is the 12MP periscope zoom lens, with f/3.4, 125mm equivalent, with OIS and 5x optical zoom. A ToF 3D depth sensor completes the camera system on the P40 Pro, together with the LED flash and laser focus assist. The entire system is co-engineered and co-branded with Leica to deliver those signature photos we’re by now used to from flagship HUAWEI smartphones.

This unit has a generous 256GB internal storage, expandable via a proprietary NM Card. Powering everything is EMUI 10.1 (based on AOSP Android 10) and a generous 4,200mAh battery that won’t disappoint. It continues to support 40W fast wired and 27W wireless charging.

Wi-Fi supports 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax standards, Bluetooth has been bumped to version 5.1, and, while the 3.5mm headphone jack is now part of history, you will still find the IR blaster that allows you to turn your phone into a universal remote control. 

The smartphone is IP68 certified (ingress protection up to 1.5 meters, for up to 30 minutes), and, of all five available colors, our review unit is the Ice White. 

Software

“The more things change, the more they stay the same”, and I can’t help but remember the feeling I had when I first picked up the HUAWEI Mate 30 Pro, and its lack of Google Mobile Services. HUAWEI is making real progress in developing its own ecosystem, but, the same way Windows Mobile was facing a real challenge in closing the app gap to Android and iOS, HUAWEI’s AppGallery is more or less going through the same challenges.

HUAWEI AppGallery

We’re certain that the number of titles available in the AppGallery is significantly higher than it was six months ago, and the trend will continue, but the level of user satisfaction really depends on your own personal app and game needs.

Some of the Google applications, namely those that don’t require GMS, will work if you sideload the right version correctly. These include Chrome, Gboard, Maps (complains about the lack of GMS, but usable), Maps Go, but don’t expect any success with YouTube, Gmail, and Contacts.

Minutes before we published this review, HUAWEI managed to offer a real Google Maps alternative. We’re talking about HERE Maps, the second largest mapping solution out there, and it’s available on the AppGallery.

The way we worked around YouTube was to create a shortcut on our home screen to its mobile page. This gets you the icon and an interface that’s pretty similar to the app, so, with a little bit of adaptation, the YouTube problem is solved.

The problem we encountered with HUAWEI’s email app was that, while it lets you set up a Gmail account (we didn’t succeed with our business GApps account, but we did with our private Gmail address), if you also happen to have contacts in that account, you won’t be able to sync them. One alternative is to export your contacts to a CSV format and import them from HUAWEI’s own Contacts app. You get the contacts, but no sync. 

We ultimately decided to go with Microsoft’s Outlook, which allowed us to set up email, contacts, and calendar associated with the Gmail account. Let’s consider this solved, with some adaptation.

AppGallery has a neat trick up its sleeve: it will now link you directly to the developers’ APK files if it doesn’t host that particular app. It does so for WhatsApp and Facebook, as well as some other titles we came across.

Web version of YouTube in Chrome

In some cases, when you have to use a particular app that’s not available nor linked, you’ll have to resort to third party sources for side-loading your APK, like APKMirror, or APKCombo. You can get most of your apps to work, though some will still require Google Mobile Services, in which case they’ll simply crash. We’re talking about banking apps, airline apps, even the Fitbit app crashed on us, but we managed to narrow down the app gap to a manageable extent.

This is also the “hassle” you’ll have to put up with if you’re a potential customer outside of China. Whether this beautiful smartphone with excellent performance and stellar camera is worth this hassle is going to be ultimately your choice. It does require some minimal knowledge in how to sideload apps, so if you know nothing about that, a phone with GMS is probably something you should look at.

Other than that, EMUI 10.1 brings some performance and cosmetic changes over EMUI 10 on the Mate 30 Pro. It is still built on AOSP Android 10, and the most recent update brought us the March security patches.

EMUI does a great job at adapting its native apps to the punch hole, though some third party apps may struggle. You can choose to hide the entire top part by blending the punch hole into a black bar, which will fix some of the app incompatibilities, and conceal the dual camera hole.

500px app viewing image in full screen, with the visible white band at the top

That being said, there are certain third party apps that don’t play well with the top portion of the display. Instead of embracing the punch hole and extending all the way to the top, content stops at the notification shade, which becomes a plain white strip.

Similarly, because of the rounded corners of the display, some third party and even HUAWEI apps which have action buttons on the very bottom sometimes get cut out due to the degree of curvature in the corners. This is visible for example with the record button on a WhatsApp conversation.

Gestures for navigation work just as well as they did on the Mate 30 Pro, with swiping inwards from the sides for a “back” action, and sliding up from the bottom for multitasking.

You can also take advantage of gestures to scroll, take screenshots, and pictures, as well as use your knuckles for other actions you can customize within the settings.

There’s not a lot of bloat out of the box, but there are some apps you can remove, if you think you’ll never use them. Not that the 256GB of storage is not enough, but sometimes you can just unclutter your home screen by removing stuff you never use.

Memory management seems to be top notch. Of all the apps that work properly on the P40 Pro, we didn’t have any instances on apps crashing or being closed to free up memory. HUAWEI also fixed some bugs which would kill processes in the background, making some apps not sync or miss notifications. 

Split-screen display deserves a special mention. You trigger it by sliding in from the sides and holding for a customizable list of apps that you can set up to either float windowed on top of another app, or use two apps at the same time. It’s pretty self-explanatory, but the good thing about HUAWEI’s approach is that it works with some third party apps as well (Chrome not included), not just EMUI’s own.

Performance

As we mentioned in the Hardware and Software segments above, you simply can’t slow the P40 Pro down. Whether it’s the hardware (processor plus the generous amount of memory), the software (EMUI 10.1 is really, really, snappy and fast), or a combination of both, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter.

What matters is that anything you do is buttery smooth (the higher refresh rate of the display adds to that smoothness) and instant. Storage reads and writes are fast as well, ensuring fast load times for even demanding titles like games, which are being handled without breaking a sweat by the 16-core GPU.

You can forget about manually closing apps; you just focus on using the device to your heart’s content, and the phone will deal with it in the best way possible.

While we didn’t experience any issues with coverage, signal strength/quality, and alike, we did get some mixed feedback on how people were hearing us over the phone. While some said they could hear us very well, others said there were occasional dropouts and echoing going on. It might be related to our carrier or the other party, but nothing as serious as requiring a call-back.

Anything we say about the battery life at this point has already been said in the past. HUAWEI phones are known for being real road warriors. The least we got out of the P40 Pro, under heavy usage, was one and a half day (with 25 percent battery left at the end of a demanding day). Anything more conservative than that will give you at least two days of battery life, and, with SuperCharge fast charging you’ll top up the juice pack in no-time.

While we still wish, as we did in the case of the Mate 30 Pro, there were two speakers, or at least the earpiece acting as a secondary speaker (like in the case of the iPhone 11 Pro), we do understand why HUAWEI decided to ditch the earpiece and go with a sound-emitting display.

That leaves us with a single bottom firing speaker, granted, loud and clear to the point many we played music for were surprised of the amount of sound coming out of the phone.

Camera

Never did it cross my mind, during more than a decade of reviewing phones, that I won’t be able to properly test the camera on a smartphone in real life. The irony is even more obvious when you couple isolation and shelter in place with arguably the best smartphone camera available on the market today.

HUAWEI phones have been historically great shooters. The partnership with Leica, and the company’s dedication to photography, have made HUAWEI phones a standard, a benchmark in mobile photography, pushing the envelope with every generation.

Thought the P30 Pro was great? Enter the Mate 30 Pro! Thought it can’t get any better? Enter the P40 Pro, not to mention the P40 Pro+. It’s been like this for several generations, and, if the past is of any indication, it will continue this way.

There’s only so many scenarios and subjects you can shoot while in isolation, and, while the results are a pretty good indication that we’re looking at a great shooter, we simply don’t have enough data to properly assess or exploit the P40 Pro’s camera to its full potential.

Once life returns to normal, we will get back to this particular segment and update it accordingly, including more shooting scenarios, videography, and stabilization.

Until then, we’ll tell you our limited findings with partial conclusions. The P40 Pro handles everything you throw at it with ease. Let it be bright, dark, backlit, tricky white balance, or other scenarios, its camera (and subsequently, image processing and software) doesn’t disappoint.

Of course, AI can generate some strange results at times, but disabling (or enabling) Master AI is just a switch away in the Settings. It is helpful in most scenarios, where it lights up darker portions of the frame, or automatically sets the proper shooting mode, but it might generate some unnatural results. We found this to be the case especially with taking pictures of food. While the goal here is to make said food look its best, exaggerating with contrast and saturation makes the food in your photo look nothing like the one on your plate.

Night photography, as you’ve probably expected, is exceptional. The P40 Pro can generate some results where you might even wonder whether it was really dark outside or not. Not only does it make the scene brighter than what your eyes perceive, but it often times is able to turn night into day.

And then there’s the zoom. On the P40 Pro, you get a 5X optical zoom with the periscope lens, but the software is able to go as far as 50X, though anything beyond 15X will generate artifacts and quality degradation as we’re cropping more and more onto the otherwise large sensor.

The 32MP selfie shooter inside the punch hole on the front is great for taking selfies or participating at video calls. If you don’t like the Beauty effects applied by AI, either choose Photo mode over Portrait, or tone down all of the beauty effects (they’re quite a few).

Video recording will be good enough for anyone who’s not a professional videographer or YouTuber. If you’re the regular user, and not a professional content creator, this will likely be your best video camera, both front and back (4K 60fps supported), though stabilization could have been a little more aggressive for selfie videos.

Pros

  • Great design;
  • Beautiful display;
  • Stellar performance;
  • Exceptional battery life;
  • Superior camera;
  • SuperCharge fast charging;
  • 5G capabilities.

Cons

  • Lack of official Google support;
  • No 3.5mm headphone jack port;
  • Single, down-firing speaker;
  • Somewhat tinny/flat earpiece sound during calls;
  • Microphone can be easily muffled due to bottom center placement.

Conclusion

This is a €999 phone. Depending on where you live, it may vary from £899.99 to AU$1,599, but, regardless of how you put it, it’s an expensive phone that’s not for everyone. It is competing with the iPhone 11 Pro (somewhat more expensive), and the Galaxy S20 Plus (similarly priced).

Because of the overall performance of the phone, including blazing fast operation, an excellent camera, and incredible battery stamina, the HUAWEI P40 Pro is a real “Road Warrior”. You can rely on it to get any job done, promptly, with class and style, and that’s why it is our Editor’s Choice for an all-around road warrior.

Is it worth buying? That’s a tricky question, and this appears to be the ongoing theme with HUAWEI flagship reviews as of late. Just as we mentioned with the occasion of our Mate 30 Pro review, if you’re the type of person who is not invested in the Google ecosystem, or are willing to put in a little bit of extra effort to make this phone really yours, user experience-wise, then definitely!

If, however, your skills go just as far as firing up and using apps that you only download from the Play Store, watch a lot of YouTube or Netflix videos, and side-loading apps from third party sources not only scares you, but you don’t even know what it means, either look elsewhere, or, even better, take it for a spin and if you learn that you can’t live with it, you might decide to return it. You might also just as well find that Google, or the lack of its support, isn’t such a big deal.

Updates

Update April 30, 2020: The AppGallery now hosts my carrier’s app in my country (Vodafone Romania), as well as the banking app for my particular bank, as the selection of apps is growing.

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