In 2019, the Huawei P30 Pro was rated as having one of the best smartphone cameras. In some instances, experts suggested it was the best ever to be fitted to any mobile phone. So, when the new range of P40 smartphones launched a short while back, the pressure was on for Huawei to deliver again.
That said, there’s quite a lot going on behind the scenes with the brand across the globe, which has affected the entire Huawei ecosystem.
No doubt, then, that the trade war President Trump has waged against China has had a lot of consequences. For some particular reason, and although it has impacted quite a few other companies and industries, it seems that Huawei has borne the brunt of it. While some of the 2019 releases still included the Google Play Store, the 2020 releases would not be so fortunate.
We reviewed the Huawei P40 Lite a few weeks ago, which was a great mid-range smartphone. The P40 Pro, however, has a lot more weight on its release competing against the top tier in the industry. But can its camera really put the Huawei P40 Pro on the top of the podium in 2020?
Build and Design
When not being compared to the P30 Pro side by side, you wouldn’t necessarily think there has been much of a change in the design over the year between the two releases. Even when compared side by side, the differences aren’t great. That said, Huawei has subtly made a number of changes to the design, which make for quite a different overall feel. Not to everyone’s preference, I may add.
The first notable change to the Huawei P40 Pro is the updated corners. The glass corners are a bit more pronounced (or curved) on all four sides. The design change was made to make it look like the aesthetic of water on the brink of break surface tension on the edges. And while it has achieved this look, some of already criticised the look and feel. Personally, I don’t mind this. What does bother me, however, is the ultra-slippery glass finish on both the front and rear. It’s so slippery, it kept sliding off my gaming mouse pad, which became my de facto testbed as a result.
Whether you like the new look or not, the ergonomics of it has been improved as a result. Yes, it may slip off everything, but the feel in hand is good, comfortable and makes it easier to use in one hand. The improves translate to how the phone is used as well, with software changes to aid this. The raised, but smoother edges make the swipe gestures from the edge a whole lot simpler to trigger. Compared to other smartphones with hard screen edges (e.g. glass screen against metal or plastic edges), there is a significant difference.
One of the more notable differences lies on the rear of the device. The obvious change here is the housing of the Quad-lens camera. The protrusion (or bump) is quite significant. Last year’s P30 Pro simply had a strip down the left-hand side for the triple-lens camera, which looked neat. The updated Quad-lens, not only has an additional lens, but also a sensor and flash added to it – this was separated in the previous model. It’s such a big deal being on the rear of the device, but it’s very noticeable nonetheless.
Overall, Huawei has made some good improvements on the overall build of the P40 Pro. It may not be to everyone’s liking in terms of the design approach, but it looks good, in my opinion.
Screen and Display
When it comes to the screen of the Huawei P40 Pro, there’s also been quite a reasonable amount of improvement. The screen has the same underlying technology, although it does seem to have been fine-tuned quite a bit. The screen has increased from 6.47″ on the P30 Pro to 6.58″ on the P40 Pro. The P40 Pro, however, has a slimmer design, which means that the screen-to-body ratio has improved quite significantly. Now at 91.6%, it has even surpassed that of the Galaxy range.
Last year’s screen had the teardrop design with the front-facing camera in the centre to resemble a, uh, teardrop. The updated screen on the P40 Pro is more reminiscent of the S10 Plus. The only difference with the dual-lens front camera is that the one is featured on the left, while the other is positioned on the right.
The display has also received an improved with a 1200x2640px, which has a 441ppi pixel density. It’s not quite Samsung levels, but it looks great. The colours are vibrant, with good saturation and contrast. Viewing angles are also good on the P40 Pro, although this isn’t always something of particular interest to me. The screen isn’t as bright as most, but still works well in direct sunlight, so you won’t have any gripes about it. That said, the curved screen does cause some discolouration (or a mix of colours). Viewing a solid colour, you’ll notice that the area around the curve has a bit of a shadow effect. However, it’s not really noticeable during everyday usage.
While it may not up there with some of the leading flagships, the 90Hz screen refresh rate is also an improvement over the 60Hz on previous iterations. While most leading smartphones are pushing 120Hz, let’s hope that Huawei can improve on this in future releases.
Performance and Battery
As with many of its hardware components, Huawei has gone from trying to catch up, when it switched to its in-house Kirin chipset, to be on par with, if not better than some flagship smartphones on the market today. The Huawei P40 Pro sports an Octa-core HiSilicon Kirin 990 5G chipset, which is coupled with a Mali-G76 MP16 GPU. In addition, it includes 8GB RAM and 256GB internal storage.
And the results are good, too. Yes, this is still the same chipset fitted to the P30 Pro, but there has been quite a bit of fine-tuning over the year in development of the P40 Pro. In addition, Huawei’s AI ecosystem also lends itself well to the power requirements or battery saving you may need between various types of usage. That said, with updates to mobile games such as Fortnite and PUBG, there is some performance lag from time to time, but doesn’t really spoil any of the fun.
In terms of the 4,200mAh battery, it’s also the same as that fitted to the P30 Pro. It does, however, last just that bit longer thanks to the software improvements, as mentioned previously with the updated AI. The box also includes the same 40W SuperCharge adapter. The units supports 27W wireless SuperCharge, as well as its own 27W wireless reverse charge for good measure.
Software and Features
Most of my comments on the new Huawei AppGallery has been summed up during my review of the Huawei P40 Lite, a little over a month ago. That said, now having been familiar with the ecosystem, things were far easier to manage and setup at the start. It’s also worth noting that there has been a reasonable amount of growth to the AppGallery’s list of apps in the month between the two reviews.
The growth has already shown numbers up to 400 million active monthly users, while also cementing its place as the 3rd most popular app store for smartphones. With Huawei’s rewards programmes for developers, there has been a hive of activity, even locally, with a number of the everyday South African apps available for consumers to download.
Another change, which has already been in the Design section is the swipe (and other) gestures. While the changes in the design does make it a lot easier to pick up gestures, the one-handed use is a change in gesture-based actions in the software as well. While the default screen layout and usage of the P40 Pro is the gesture-based, Huawei does allow you to switch back to the standard operating mode, which includes the navigation bar. Using the gesture-based mode, users can swipe from the edges to go back and forward, swipe from the bottom to minimise the current app, or long swipe to open a menu shortcut. It’s not a novel idea, or even the first time it’s been used by Huawei, but it just feels a lot better on the new smartphone, which could also mean a wider acceptance of the new layout.
We all know this is mainly what you’re here for – the P40 Pro’s camera. The P-series smartphones have always offered something in the way of their camera, all the way back to when it first expanded beyond the borders of China. While their first cameras lacked the overall quality to really compete, new features such as beautify was still novel in Western markets. These days, however, Huawei, in conjunction with its partnership with Leica, is now setting the benchmarks for all things related to the smartphone camera.
This time around, the Quad-lens setup has been the talk of the town since it was officially revealed back in April. The four cameras on the Huawei P40 Pro include the following:
- 50MP, f/1.9, 23mm, wide lens, 1/1.28″, 2.44µm, omnidirectional PDAF, OIS
- 12MP, f/3.4, 125mm, periscope telephoto lens, PDAF, OIS, 5x optical zoom
- 40MP, f/1.8, 18mm, ultrawide lens, 1/1.54″, PDAF
- TOF 3D for depth
The 1/1.28-inch 50MP camera sensor is one of the largest available on a smartphone today – excluding those oddities such as the Nokia Lumia 1020 and the likes. Huawei makes use of dual phase-detection, which delivers great results, especially for low-light images. Images are crisp, colourful and dynamic. In recent years, I’ve always been one to have my smartphone at the ready for those photo-worthy moments, with shortcuts set up for easy access to the camera app. This is also where the P40 Pro’s camera shines, as you can easily point and shoot and it takes care of the rest, whether day or night.
During my camera tests, I took a few shots of the night sky, which were very good in its own right, but really stands out when taking photos of objects in the dark that I could barely see myself, before it’s lit up on the screen in great visual representation, almost always to great delight.
The 5x periscope telephone lens has been improved to a 12MP unit, which improves the overall quality and resolution. The zoom feature isn’t as great as a number of other smartphones on the market today, but works well nonetheless. The ultrawide camera has also been increased to 40MP on the P40 Pro, with a 1/1.54″ sensor. This is useful because the disparity between the main camera and ultrawide isn’t as great as it was previously, so users may actually want to snap a few more wide-angled shots that before. The 18mm lens isn’t as wide as a number of other flagship units (some offering 13mm), but you don’t need that extra wide, often rounded wide-angle shots.
The camera on the P40 Pro still isn’t as good as the purpose-built DLSR, but it’s getting ever closer to producing results that could, sometime in the future, be on par with modern cameras. There are still quite a few differences, not including the very many lenses to pair with DSLR cameras, but there are some features on the P40 Pro’s camera app that you sometimes wish was also available on the DSLR itself.
The Huawei P40 Pro is a great smartphone, despite its lack of Google Play services. It still offers some of the latest Android features, but not the full suite of apps many users need. Again, if you’re willing to put in the effort to download the required APKs and the like, then you won’t find any issues.
That said, the extremely powerful Quad-lens camera is sure to lure any prospective buyer, more so that the P40 Lite. This is really the trump card for the P40 Pro, and definitely the ace up the sleeve for the team when comparing directly with all other flagship smartphones in 2020.
Huawei P40 Pro
The Huawei P40 Pro improves over last year's flagship, especially when it comes to the camera and screen hardware. Users may be turned off by the lack of Google Play services support, but it's manageable if you're willing to put in the effort. You won't find a better camera available on a smartphone at the moment.
- Excellent Camera
- Improved screen with 90Hz refresh rate
- Aesthetically pleasing water design
- No Google Play services
- Poor loudspeaker
- Limited AppGallery apps
Ease of Learning
Ease of Use
Value for Money