The Huawei P40 Pro has some steep hills to climb.
The flagship smartphone could not have been revealed to the world at a worse time. This as COVID-19 has the world fighting a pandemic, and most countries enforcing some sort of stay at home policy for its citizens. In fact, the Huawei P40 series was unveiled to the world via a live streamed event on the eve that South Africa began its own national lockdown.
There’s also the fact that the device does not support Google Mobile Services, and has no access to the Play Store, with Huawei Mobile Services (HMS) and the App Gallery replacing it.
We’ll touch on that later in this review, but with so many issues gathering at the same time that Huawei wanted to reveal its flagship phone for the first half of 2020, is it worthwhile buying the P40 Pro?
We discuss all of that in the review below.
Let’s start with design, and here the P40 Pro is about what you’d expect from a flagship phone in 2020. There’s a large 6.58″ (2650×1200) display up front. It has a few changes from last year’s model, with the most noticeable being the removal of the teardrop notch for the selfie camera in favour of a long punch hole one in the top left corner.
In general it isn’t too much of an eyesore, but there are some sacrifices. When watching videos on YouTube in landscape for example, a large chunk of the screen in full video mode is filled by borders on either side. It’s not really the kind of viewing experience we’ve come to expect from Huawei over the years.
The other key change is the rounded edges, with portions of the screen cascading over the sides slightly to reduce the amount of bezel. It’s a nice touch in general, but when you put a phone cover on the device, all those design elements go missing.
Flipping the phone over you notice a couple of issues too. Gone is the gradient colour design that proved so popular on the P20 series, with our review model in a plain black variant. While our personal preference leans towards cleaner colourways, it cannot be overstated how big a selling point the gradient colours like Twilight were for Huawei phone users.
The other thing that attracts the eye (not in a good way) is the massive rectangular camera housing on the P40 Pro.
We’ll get to camera performance shortly, but the housing really bulges out compared to the rest of the back cover. We thought the plastic phone cover that comes in-box would provide a decent buffer, but even with it on, the housing still juts out slightly, and consequently will never sit flat on a straight surface.
These aforementioned elements are not game changers, but when you’re trying to maintain your place among the top three smartphone vendors in the country, these things matter. Given how impressive from a design perspective previous P series phones have been, the P40 Pro is a tad disappointing.
A real workhorse
While the design provided a mixed experience on the device, the internal components have proved mightily impressive over the past month we’ve been reviewing the phone.
Huawei has not held back in this department, and fitted the P40 Pro with the octa-core Kirin 990 5G chipset. While we have not been able to enjoy the 5G connectivity just yet, future-proofing the flagship phone with this feature is a smart move, especially as few other manufacturers have done so locally.
As for the performance of the processor, it is a real workhorse. Multitasking is easily handled by this phone, and there were no traces of lag whatsoever, despite how many processor-intensive applications we opened on it.
The benchmark testing also bore same result, with the P40 Pro registering a total of 462 801 on AnTuTu. The P30 Pro for example got 290 186 on the same test, which should give you an idea of the improvements.
We try not to place too much value in benchmarking, especially given Huawei’s sketchy recent history with it, but in-hand the P40 Pro performs as a premium smartphone should.
Now let’s get to the much-talked about HMS element of the device. We’ve written about the experience and how it compares to a phone that fully supports Google, and there were two aspects that stood out.
Prior to a recent update being downloaded and installed over Easter weekend, the mail client on the P40 Pro would not sync with Gmail properly. Had that problem persisted, it would have been very difficult to recommend the device to any Android phone user.
Luckily it has been addressed, but there is still one lingering issue – no dedicated YouTube app. There is a simple enough workaround, but its absence illustrates that while HMS is a serviceable solution, it still has some ways to go before it can match the Android and iOS ecosystem.
Perhaps we’re being harsh on the P40 Pro and Huawei, but given the ~R20 999 price tag on the device, you’ll be wanting as polished an experience as possible. As such some people may be put off by having to find workarounds for certain apps, especially if you make heavy use of Google ones.
Not as sharp
One of the elements we’ve truly enjoyed on past Huawei flagship phones have been the cameras. The company’s partnership with Leica has truly yielded a great all-around performance that feels a good distance clear of the likes of Samsung and Apple.
In fact, the P30 Pro still remains one of the best smartphone camera setups we’ve reviewed to date.
The P40 Pro should be fairly similar then right?
For whatever reason, the experience simply is not as sharp on this new smartphone, especially when it comes to autofocus and framing. As such, when taken close up images and macro-esque shots, the P40 Pro will take a few seconds longer to get the desired result.
The mix of 50MP wide-angle, 40MP ultra wide-angle and 12MP telephoto lenses should be great on paper, and for the most part they are, but the experience on the P30 Pro and Mate 20 Pro were just a little better.
The P40 Pro costs R20 999. That’s about par for the course when it comes to a flagship phone these days, and in most respects, the device does not disappoint, with a powerful chipset and performance to match. The camera setup is solid too, but could use some refining via an update.
The most significant element is the software ecosystem. Android may be running things at the base level, but Huawei and HMS is handling everything else. Naturally there are some growing pains, so at the moment only die hard fans of the brand will be able to stick it out.
If you can handle the workarounds and new app marketplace, then the P40 Pro is as good a flagship phone as you can get in 2020. Our thoughts though, is that it could have been even better.