- Gorgeous screen
- Impressive camera night mode
- Not available in North America
- Light on storage and memory for a flagship phone
- Some camera exposure and color balance quirks
- No Google apps or Play Store
Huawei’s P40 Pro (£899, or around $1,100) reminds me of the ouroboros, the snake eating its own tail. It has one of the most compelling screens I’ve ever seen on a phone, and a low-light camera that makes it possible to take photos even in pitch-black situations, all housed in a body that’s sleek and comfortable to hold. But since the US/China trade war stopped Google from providing Huawei access to Google Mobile Services, the P40 Pro is really only a device for hobbyists or those looking to exit Google’s ecosystem completely. We have first impressions to share after spending some time with the phone in London.
Design, Display, and Durability
The P40 Pro comes in either black or silver frost, with a ceramic back that feels really comfortable in the hand. The faux-leather finish on the Oppo Find X2 Pro provides better grip, but to me, the P40 Pro looks sleeker.
Turn it around and you’ll find a 6.58-inch, 2,640-by-1200-pixel OLED screen, which is simply fantastic. It’s brighter and shows better colors when viewing The Wolf of Wall Street than the Find X2 Pro, the Google Pixel 4 XL, and the OnePlus 7 Pro. The P40 brings out textures in hair and business suits, and really shows off Scorsese’s flashy direction. You can see the light playing off of cocktail glasses more brilliantly than the competition, and the screen is noticeably brighter than others, so you can read your texts outside on a sunny day.
However, there are some drawbacks: The P40 Pro only has a 90Hz refresh rate in comparison with the 120Hz screens on the Find X2 Pro and the OnePlus 8 Pro, which means scrolling through social media and other apps feels a little less slick. This is reportedly due in part to battery optimization, but it’s a disappointing omission nevertheless. The color balance is also slightly less accurate than on some competing phones, unable to capture skin tones as well as others, but it’s not at all a deal breaker.
At the bottom of the phone is a USB-C connection for charging and file transfer, and under the screen is a fingerprint sensor that Huawei has made larger so it’s easier to access; face unlock is also supported. The phone features an IP68 rating for dust and water resistance , the same as the Find X2 Pro.
The rear camera stack sports three lenses and Leica certification. The main lens features a moderately wide field of view, similar to the main lens on most smartphones, with a bright f/1.9 aperture and a 50MP sensor. It’s joined by ultra-wide 40MP f/1.8 and standard and 5x telephoto (125mm) 12MP f/3.4 cameras, as well as a depth sensor.
Like the P30 Pro before it, Huawei defines this phone by its photographic chops, and in this case, the devil is in the detail. The amount of information that this camera can capture is astounding, besting the Find X2 Pro, the Pixel 4 XL, and the OnePlus 7 Pro easily. The veins on leaves and the hairs on stalks of flowers come through commendably.
It’s not only detail where the P40 Pro stands out; switch off the lights, and its night mode is the best on the market. This should not be understated. As you can see below, in a bathroom with no light source other than the small crack between the door and its frame, the P40 Pro is able to capture not only the greens and browns of a stuffed owl, but also the yellow of a bottle behind it and the writing on its label.
Oppo’s Find X2 Pro offers similar capabilities, but its colors are slightly off and the image is simply not as detailed. The Pixel 4 XL’s night mode is unable to keep up, and even the P30 Pro looks lesser by comparison.
The P40 Pro’s zoom lens—capable of a 50x digital zoom—is terrific. The ability to stand a few hundred meters away from what you’re shooting and get a usable image is astounding (or anxiety-inducing, for those concerned about privacy). While the photos aren’t particularly detailed, the 10x zoom is superb as well.
Huawei also has its artificial intelligence algorithm baked into the camera, which uses image recognition to edit your photos on the device; cats look furrier, skies are bluer, and so on. While it appears Huawei has relented on the kind of overbearing changes its other phones automatically apply, we still prefer photos without automatic editing. Still, should you want a photo with more punch, it’s a simple tap of a button to enable or disable the algorithm.
The P40 Pro’s camera does have some drawbacks, however. While the color balance is better than we’ve seen on other Huawei devices, we still prefer the richness and contrast from the Pixel 4 XL and even the Find X2 Pro. The P40 Pro has a tendency to look a little overblown; while the inky blacks of a goose’s neck are astonishingly dark and its feathers a rich brown in one of our test images, it’s simply not accurate to the grubby colors of British wildlife. We imagine Huawei does this for the benefit of its Asian market that generally prefers this style over the stricter realism of Apple and Google devices, but it’s not our cup of tea.
The P40 Pro’s selfie camera, a 32MP lens matched with a time-of-flight sensor for depth, comes close the best front-facing camera we’ve tested, the selfie shooter on the Pixel 4 XL. While the P40 Pro doesn’t quite capture colors in the same way, it does a better job than the Find X2 Pro or the OnePlus 7 Pro when it comes to skin tones, and matches them for detail.
Specs, Software, and Special Features
Inside the P40 Pro is Huawei’s Kirin 990 5G SoC, alongside 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, as well as a 4,200mAh battery. This is certainly less than on competing phones; the Find X2 Pro has 12GB RAM and 512GB of storage with a 4,260mAh battery. This could be because Huawei wants to make space for its as-yet-unreleased P40 Pro Plus, but for the moment, the company’s most powerful phone (that does not fold) doesn’t quite measure up to competitors when it comes to processing power and storage capacity.
Then, of course, there are the inevitable issues with Huawei’s software ecosystem. Much like the Mate 30 Pro (and the MatePad Pro), the P40 Pro relies on Huawei Mobile Services rather than Google’s. This means popular apps such as Google Maps and Netflix won’t work even if sideloaded (downloading the source file from other application stores), nor will myriad other apps.
See How We Test Phones
Huawei is working on an alternative Maps application and a smart assistant called Celia. To fill in the gaps, it all but encourages sideloading apps from the Amazon AppStore, APKPure, AppSearch software, and the Phone Clone app. But technology shouldn’t be purchased based on promise, and although it is philosophically unfair to criticize Huawei for the almost impossible (and somewhat laudable) task of offering a tangible alternative to Google’s monopoly, that doesn’t overcome practicality for a device most people use constantly. The Google ecosystem is mature, and longtime Android owners are familiar with the Play Store and the bevy of apps and services provided by the search giant.
Huawei’s AppGallery is lackluster in comparison. A clone of Facebook Messenger, a YouTube downloader, and a poorly rated and untrustworthy VPN app are some of its top-rated apps. Until Huawei does some proper curation of its storefront, I wouldn’t recommend using it for any applications other than those with an established, widely known presence on other stores.
Huawei’s EMUI layer on top of Android remains solid, and its Share OneHop software allows control of the phone from compatible Huawei or Honor laptops with the interface appearing in a separate window on the desktop. Having not tested it extensively against Apple’s AirDrop, it’s difficult to say whether this is better, but Android still lacks a competitor to the file-sharing service that works as smoothly.
Once again, we come full circle, with a conclusion written on so many recent Huawei devices that we can all sing it in harmony: The P40 Pro is an impressive device with some class-leading hardware, but we can’t recommend it. Without support for Google apps and services, it’s nearly unusable in the West, not to mention unavailable for purchase in the US. If Huawei can deliver on its promises of a useful maps app and an actual Play Store alternative, the P40 Pro will become a bit more appealing. But for now, it’s largely just a technology showcase.
Huawei P40 Pro 5G Specs
|Operating System||Android 10|
|CPU||HiSilicon Kirin 990 5G|
|Processor Speed||2.86 GHz|
|Dimensions||6.23 by 2.86 by 0.35 inches|
|Screen Size||6.5 inches|
|Screen Resolution||2,640 by 1,200 pixels|
|Camera Resolution (Rear; Front-Facing)||50MP, 40MP, 12MP; 32MP|
|Battery Life (As Tested)||Untested|