Huawei P40 Pro Review — Shadow of Google

The Huawei P40 Pro is a perfect phone at the most imperfect time. Between Huawei being all but banned by the Trump administration and the global pandemic, this is a phone many people won’t even consider. And that’s a shame because P40 Pro may just be the best smartphone Huawei has ever made.

The hardware is the best of the best. It has exceptional pro-level cameras, a powerful processor, 5G connectivity, a stunning quad curved display and great battery. But the lack of Google services lobotomizes all that because it alienates an enormous chunk of the Australian market.

To its credit, Huawei has invested a lot to make a Google-less life easier with middling success. You need to jump through a couple of hoops and some apps you’ll just have to forget. But after using the P40 Pro for a month, I gotta say — Huawei has made a phenomenal phone. The question we need to answer is, is it enough to leave the Google life behind?

Exceptional craftsmanship

From the moment you unbox the P40 Pro and peel away the plastic wrapping, the insane craftsmanship screams at you. My review unit has the Frosty White color that refracts the light — giving it a slight rainbow shimmer that’s quite stunning. The surface coating is incredibly slippery though. I can’t tell you how many times the P40 Pro slipped out of my pockets or off the couch.

From the pictures, you’ll have noticed the giant, black camera array in the top left of the chassis. It houses the Leica cameras that give the P40 Pro it’s name. Leica is renowned for their lenses and here we have a system of four lenses; wide, ultrawide, telephoto and 3d depth sensor. There’s also an LED flash if you need it.

It’s one of the better looking camera bumps on flagship smartphones. It has great symmetry and the blue sapphire lenses add a nice contrast. However, having a large bump on the back means that the P40 Pro never lies flat on any surface. If you have it on a desk, it will keep rocking and rattling as you try to do anything on the screen. Putting a case on the phone can fix that, as well as the ridiculous slipperiness.

The front of the P40 Pro is an enormous 6.58-inch AMOLED Quad-curve Overflow display. The display curves on every side unlike most smartphones which have curved sides but straight top and bottom edges. This curvature gives a mesmerizing effect when the panel is on, almost like an infinity swimming pool. Breaking the illusion is the oblong cutout  for the 32 MP selfie-camera.

Keeping the display and back panel together is a stainless steel edging with raised corners. This rail also has power and volume buttons, the sim tray, a speaker grill and USB-C charging port. I couldn’t discern any gaps in the body which is probably why the P40 Pro has an IP68 rating for water and dust resistance. 

Into the looking glass

As stunning as the P40 Pro is, you’ll be staring at that stunning Quad-Curve Display the most. At 6.58-inches, it’s pretty big. Don’t worry though; thanks to those curves, the P40 Pro doesn’t feel so big in the hand. I prefer big phones and didn’t find it as unwieldy as the iPhone 11 Pro Max or Asus ROG Phone 2.

The display is an AMOLED panel which is one of the best display types available. It has exceptional contrast, colour saturation and vibrancy. You’ll love looking at your photos and watching videos on the P40 Pro. The display has a resolution of 2640 x 1200 which translates to 440 Pixels per inch for a pin-sharp picture. Fonts are sharp and easily legible so reading on this screen is far from strenuous.

The panel also has a 90Hz refresh rate and if you are a gamer, you know that the higher the better. This makes animations and scrolling on the P40 Pro feel faster, fluid and more responsive than on other phones that only have a 60Hz. This is especially noticeable in games or when scrolling long feeds like Instagram. It’s important to know that running the screen at 90Hz and full resolution will drain your battery faster but you can always turn these off.

The panel also has a built-in fingerprint reader and it’s really fast and accurate. Like other in-screen fingerprint readers, you can’t just place your finger anywhere on the screen. There’s a specific location around a third of the way up from the bottom. It lights up when you turn the screen on so you can easily find it. I had no issues with failed reads or slowness. And between that and the facial recognition, I was always into my home screen so quickly.

Shoot like a Pro

The thing that makes the P40 Pro is the cameras on the back. Huawei worked with photography lens specialists, Leica to create some of the best cameras on a smartphone. These cameras are single handedly the one aspect of the P40 Pro that I enjoyed the most and miss so much since handing back the review unit.

Huawei calls its unified camera system the Ultra Vision Leica Quad Camera. Using the magic of AI and machine learning, the cameras can work in tandem to get you the best shots with ease. The main lens is a 50MP with a RYYB colour filter array which allows for a a wider spectrum of light. This means higher clarity and detail in your photos especially in poor lighting conditions.

The Telephoto lens is just 12 MP but can do 5x Optical Zoom. This can also be stretched digitally to 10x Hybrid and a whopping 50x digital zoom. You can see this in action from my sample shots. I will say that anything over 10x is just too blurry to be useful.

The third lens is a 40 MP Ultrawide Cine Camera which is great for low-light and slow-motion video. Rounding out the lenses is a fourth 3D Depth Sensing camera which does exactly what it sounds like. This comes in handy for Portrait shots and night shots where the P40 Pro needs to separate subjects from the background.

The camera offers so many shooting modes including night mode, portrait mode, a pro mode, panoramas and so many more. I fell in love with the Aperture mode which is essentially a portrait mode for everything that isn’t pets or people. I enjoyed taking product shots for some other reviews. I also enjoyed the Black & White shooting mode which creates some really slick looking noir pictures.

The P40 Pro isn’t just about photos though. It’s a highly capable video shooter. It shoots video up to 4K 60FPS with both the front and back cameras. I’m not one to shoot much video but given my Youtube megastar aspirations, I can see how a phone like the P40 Pro can be your entire toolset.

It also helps that the P40 Pro comes with a massive 256GB of storage so you won’t have to worry about running out of space when shooting. It also takes nanoSD cards up to 256GB so this is definitely a viable all in one camera solution for content creators.

Lost without Google

The P40 Pro uses EMUI 10, Huawei’s overlay on Android. Unlike Samsung that also uses a custom overlay, the Huawei device is using an open source version of Android that doesn’t have Google Play Services. Play Services is critical to accessing Google’s wealth of apps like Mail, Calendar, Maps, Pay and YouTube.

But so many other apps also rely on Google’s infrastructure for distribution, authentication and storage. Here in Australia, that includes several local apps and services that you’ll be unable to even download. My note taking app Notion and many games require Google services to run. Before using the P40 Pro, I never realised how hooked into Google I am.

To its credit, Huawei has poured millions of dollars into alleviating this very real problem for millions of Android users. The most basic of those solutions is Phone Clone. This app allows you to clone the apps and data from your old phone directly to the P40 Pro. This works great except for those apps that require Google services — those just won’t start.

There’s also AppGallery, which is Huawei’s alternative to the missing Google Play Store. At the moment, it’s populated with mostly Chinese apps but you may be able to find some Western apps. You won’t find smaller Aussie apps and several of the games like Call of Duty Mobile or Fortnite are missing. The AppGallery gives you an option to request apps to be added via the Wish-list feature. Huawei says it will then go work with the developers of that app to bring it to the store.

Petal Search finds Apps as well as news and media

This brings us to the third option which is Petal Search. This is like Google search but for App APK’s which are the installation files. Simply type in the name of an app and it will search through ‘trusted’ APK repositories online. Once you get a result, clicking it will open AppGallery Installer which scans it for malware and continues to install it.

Some apps will still be unavailable to install but the AppGallery can create browser shortcuts to the web app. This is what it does for apps like YouTube that are really a bookmark to the mobile website of YouTube. The icon is marked with a symbol to differentiate it from full apps.

There are some unsanctioned methods to force install Google services but that’s beyond the technical knowledge of most people. Nor should they have to. It’s this sort of thing that will ultimately determine if you buy the P40 Pro. I was able to scrape my way by without Google services but the fact that I couldn’t access my work G-Suite apps was too big of a problem.

EMUI

Moving past the Google dilemma, EMUI isn’t too bad as far as Android overlays go. Coming from my Google Pixel 4 XL with it’s very clean and fast Android implementation, I did find the P40 Pro somewhat bloated. There’s a ton of features baked into EMUI that it would take another article to do it justice. The UI feels heavy somehow but not slow or anything. 

Suffice to say that it’s intuitive enough whether you are an Android diehard or an Apple iOS convert. The home screen is laid out like an iPhone although you can dive into the settings and bring back the traditional app drawer. There’s also gestures for navigation or on-screen menus. There are always two or more ways to do the same thing.

Take for example multi-tasking. EMUI allows you to split the screen between two apps. It can also let you run two of the same apps – like two Instagram accounts. Plus, you can have a third app floating above those two as well as a video playing floating in Picture-in-Picture. Phew!

Huawei has also packed in a ton of health features to monitor your steps, sleep, exercise. Hell, the phone even warns you to stop using it while you are walking. It has the Huawei Assistant, Ai Lens, Smart Remote, AR Measure and so much more. EMUI is jam packed with useful features that I didn’t have time to go through them all.

Huawei Shared Experiences

One very cool feature on the P40 Pro is Huawei Share. This nifty feature allows you to fully access and control your P40 from a compatible Huawei laptop like the excellent Huawei Matebook 14 that we recently reviewed. Using the phone’s NFC chip, all you need is to tap your phone on the Matebook and then your phone will be mirrored on a fully interactive screen.

You can do everything you normally would such as texting, calling(even video calls). But the key thing is that you can share files, photo’s and clipboard between the two devices just by dragging and dropping. It’s a smooth experience and far more handy than you might think.

I used the Matebook 14 for work and it’s super convenient to be on Zoom calls and still be able to answer those text messages from my wife without my callers being any wiser. Or if someone texted me a link on my phone and I wanted to see it on a big screen, I can just drag the link from my phone to my laptop browser. The use cases are numerous.

The problem of course is that it only works with Huawei devices which is a big ask. Apart from Apple die hards, I don’t know any other brand that can convince buyers to get a phone and laptop because of the seamless operation. But I suspect that if Huawei offered the laptop and phone discounted as a bundle, it would be a great buy.

5G if you can find it

The Kirin 990 5G means that the P40 Pro can enjoy the benefits of 5G networks. Unfortunately, this wasn’t something I could test given the poor availability of 5G here in North Brisbane. And thanks to the world turning upside down thanks to the pandemic, I wasn’t anywhere near the 5G hotspots that Optus would have in the CBD.

So while I can’t tell you how well the P40 Pro performs, I can tell you that it’s likely to be excellent given how well it performs on 4G LTE. Depending on where you live and which network you ascribe to, you should see 5G downloads as fast as 1000Gbps. I should note that even though the P40 Pro is dual sim capable, the 5G works only on SIM 1.

However, be warned that with 5G comes great power drain. Combined with the rest of the high-end, power hungry components in the P40 Pro, battery life becomes an immediate buyers concern. But don’t fret. The P40 Pro’s 4200mAh battery will easily last the average user two to three days on a charge.

Battery and SuperCharging

Huawei SuperCharge is very fast indeed

I was doing very heavy testing for the purpose of this review and there was only one time that the P40 Pro didn’t make it through at least 48 hours. And that’s with at least 6 hours of screen on time. I was doing a ton of photography, videos, Instagram and YouTube video binging, some gaming, loads of email and messaging. And I wasn’t even using any of the power saving modes.

Eventually, you will run out of battery and need to charge up. If you use the bundled 40W charger, the phone will use Huawei SuperCharge to go from empty to 50% in just under 30min. I actually recorded 27min on one run. It slows down after that but still fills up the battery in just over an hour.

This means you don’t have to charge it overnight but can charge it while you freshen up in the morning and it will be ready for you to head out the door. This fast charging also applies to wireless charging provided you have a compatible charging pad.

The P40 Pro can also charge your earbuds or a friend’s smartphone thanks to Reverse Wireless charging. It won’t be mind-blowingly fast but it’s good for when you need a quick top up and there isn’t any power source available.

Verdict

I really like the P40 Pro from a pure hardware perspective. It’s gorgeous, it’s powerful, the battery life is fantastic and those cameras, oh man. I can not fault Huawei with the sheer engineering on this phone. But phones aren’t just about great hardware. The software experience is even more important — Google has proven this with their Pixel phones.

And while Huawei has done a phenomenal job creating a persuasive ecosystem, it still can’t match Google. I’m a total nerd and I can find ways around the limits but even I don’t want to do that. And most people lack the patience or the know-how to make the P40 Pro fit into their way of life.

Phones may differ but the apps should be available regardless of brand. With so many personal and professional apps relying on Google, the P40 will be difficult for many to live with. Sure, it’s possible but it really depends on how much you are willing to do.  Which is a damn shame, because the P40 Pro is truly a magnificent phone.

Huawei P40 Pro
LIKE
Gorgeous design
Fantastic big screen
Best cameras on a phone
Long battery life
Powerful performance
AppGallery & PetalSearch
DON'T LIKE
No Google services is tough
Missing apps
9
Truly for pros

Related articles

Kizito Katawongahttp://www.medium.com/@katawonga
Kizzy is our Tech Editor. He's a total nerd with design sensibilities who's always on the hunt for the latest, greatest and sexiest tech that enhances our work and play. When he's not testing the latest gadgets or trying to listen to his three whirlwind daughters, Kizzy likes to sink deep into a good story-driven single player game.

Share article