Yesterday Huawei revealed its new P40 series of smartphones during an isolated live streamed press conference, but most South Africans were more concerned with the impending lockdown which came into effect at midnight.

It means that for the next three weeks, all public spaces are off limits as people are inside their homes. Luckily we received a review unit of the P40 Pro 5G ahead of its mid-May launch locally, so we’ve spent the past few hours with the device to get a better feel of what Huawei has to offer.

Our fully fledged review, as well as a look at Huawei Mobile Services (HMS), is still on the way, but this is our first impression of the P40 Pro 5G.

Design

In terms of design, the P40 Pro 5G is not doing anything fantastically unique. It looks a lot like its predecessor, when placed on a table, but there are a couple of hints that there is something different going.

The longer punch hole on the left of the display for one is one element. As is the way that the bezels have been handled, with the quad-curved overflow display, which is making us think back to when Samsung was doing its Galaxy Edge devices a few years ago.

All in all though, up front, there doesn’t seem to be anything vastly different to what Huawei has served up in the past for its P series phones.

The back of the device is a wholly different animal though, with its rectangular quad-lens camera housing immediately catching the eye.

If we’re being frank, it’s not the best thing to look at either, but it is on trend for flagship phones of late, with the iPhone 11 Pro Max and Galaxy S20 Ultra both having ugly rear camera housings.

Unlike past P series and even Mate series phones, which featured subtle and interesting looking camera housings, the P40 Pro 5G’s one is not doing it for me. But the lens inside, however, are a different story, but more about those later.

User Interface

Now for what will likely be the most divisive element of the smartphone when it hits the market in May – the UI. While Android 10 is handling the backend, and EMUI is layered on top of it, there is of course the distinct lack of Google Mobile Services.

For many then, the P40 series will be their first taste of HMS, and it may prove a bit jarring at first.

It must be said that Huawei has done a good job of ensuring the collaboration, look and feel of different applications is seamless, and the lack of duplicated apps and bloatware is welcome, but not having the Google Play Store available takes some getting use to.

As is the App Gallery, which has a number of solid options and alternatives to your usual Google-specific apps. If you’re happy to utilise workarounds, the device shouldn’t be a problem, but I do question how many consumers will be initially put off by this.

We’re going to do a deep dive on HMS over the next two weeks, but for it gets a passing grade.

Camera

We’re back to the camera, and here Huawei shines once again. As has been the case in past years, a lot of attention has been paid to the camera setup onboard. For the P40 Pro 5G, a 50MP wide-angle, 40MP ultra wide-angle, 12MP telephoto and depth sensing lens are present.

We’ve only been shooting with it for a couple of hours, but it is already proving impressive. The P30 Pro was the best smartphone camera I used in 2019, and is still my daily driver, so it will be interesting to compare the two.

The most immediate feature that the new model has is the 50MP RYYB sensor, which is a change up from the usual RGB ones found on most smartphone cameras. The colour accuracy, and clarity has been faultless thus far, but a comparison to the P30 Pro is needed to find out if upgrading on camera performance alone is required.

Performance

Here the P40 Pro is not utilising brand new silicon, but it will be the first time most South Africans get to experience the Kirin 990 5G chipset.

It performed very well in benchmarking, registering an overall score of 462 801 on AnTuTu. For context the P30 Pro scored a far lower 290 186 on the same benchmark, but most importantly the new model has shown no signs of sluggishness or overheating while multitasking and setting up of the device.

An equally important element is the 5G support, and while spectrum has not been allocated locally, the P40 series will be the second batch of devices to support the standard in SA, behind the LG V50 ThinQ. That may prove an important buying purchase for some, especially with Samsung and Apple not having 5G models in the country.

Early verdict

Our early verdict is that the Huawei P40 Pro 5G is an impressively specced smartphone, which is what we’ve come to expect from the Chinese firm in recent years. The camera is already winning us over, and the processor appears to be a powerhouse piece of silicon.

Where it falters slightly is design, with the rear camera housing in particular being an eyesore. We also need more time with HMS to see whether this device is one you should drop R20 999 (RRP) on.

For now though, it looks promising.