Huawei P40 Pro+, hands on: A top-class flagship phone with super-zoom camera system, but no Google services

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Huawei has an extensive lineup of P40 smartphones: the P40, P40 Pro, P40 lite and P40 lite 5G -- and now the P40 Pro+, reviewed here. As its name suggests, this is the flagship for the P40 series, and it costs a princely £1,299.99 (inc. VAT) with 8GB of RAM and 512GB of internal storage. Like all new Huawei handsets these days, it lacks Google Mobile Services following political moves by the US government, which means no Google Play store, Google apps or services.

Huawei's handsets are highly regarded for their industrial design, performance and AI-assisted camera capabilities, and the P40 Pro+ is no exception. With its quintet of rear cameras, it was described by consumer chief Richard Yu as "a camera monster" at its (online) launch in March, while the quad-camera P40 Pro model currently heads up the influential DXOMARK smartphone camera rankings.

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The 6.58-inch P40 Pro+ shares many features with the P40 Pro model, but has five cameras at the back, including 10x periscope zoom and 3x telephoto cameras, plus a 'nano-tech ceramic' backplate in white or black.

Images: Sandra Vogel / ZDNet
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Tempting offers...but the price tag is still high.

Image: Huawei

Despite these advantages, the Google issue and the pricing are likely to be the most relevant factors for anyone considering the P40 Pro+ as their everyday handset.

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Prospective buyers are left in no doubt about the Google Mobile Services issue.

Image: Huawei

At £1,299.99, the Huawei P40 Pro+ is even more expensive than the iPhone 11 Pro Max (£1,149 with 4GB of RAM and 512GB of storage), Samsung's Galaxy S20 Ultra (£1,099 with 12GB/128GB) and the Sony Xperia 1 II (£1,099 with 8GB/256GB). Still, you do get a couple of freebies from Huawei with the P40 Pro+ in the shape of the SuperCharge Wireless Charger Stand, which retails for £119.99, and the Huawei Watch GT2, which usually costs £219.99.

The absence of Google Mobile Services (GMS) from the entire P40 range means that this phone lacks not only the Google Play Store, but also numerous Google apps including Chrome, YouTube, Google Maps and Gmail. Huawei provides its own web browser, and this provides a viable, if not entirely satisfactory, route to some Google services.

Instead of GMS, there is Huawei Mobile Services complete with Huawei AppGallery, which is continually being populated with apps. Still, if you regularly use a wide range of apps you may not find everything you need -- your bank's mobile app or your favourite messaging app might be absent, for example. If you draw a blank in the AppGallery, Huawei's Petal Search, which sits on the phone's home screen as a Find Apps search bar, might help: enter an app name and Petal Search will scour multiple online sources, and you might find what you want in another third-party app store, or as a self-installable APK.

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There's also the option of copying favourite apps over from your current phone, and Huawei provides its Phone Clone app on the P40 Pro+ for this purpose. Download it from the Google Play Store onto your existing phone, link to the P40 Pro+ and port across what you need. It's really easy, but the downside is you only get the apps as they currently are -- no updates, no Google sign-in. It's a bit of a fudge, and isn't really a viable long-term solution.

If you're not invested in the Google ecosystem, most of this will be irrelevant. But for many others it will be a deal breaker.

The main selling point of the P40 Pro+ is its camera system, which comprises two at the front and five at the back. The five rear cameras are: 50MP f/1.9 wide angle; 40MP f/1.8 ultra-wide angle; 8MP f/4.4 super-zoom (10x optical 'periscope' zoom); 8MP f/2.4 telephoto (3x optical zoom); and a Time-of Flight (ToF) depth-sensing camera. On the front, a 32MP f/2.2 wide-angle camera and a ToF depth sensor sit in an unobtrusive lozenge in the top left of the screen.

All of this camera technology caters for a wide range of photography styles. I took lots of close-up photos of flowers and was really impressed both by the colour reproduction and the sheer quality of the output. Zooming in to take macro shots gets some very strong results, although you shouldn't take it too far. Look at the zoomed image below to see this: some of the image is pin-sharp, but much of it is not.

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Macro images from the P40 Pro+.  

Images: Sandra Vogel / ZDNet

Still macro shots can be rewarding, and if you have a little patience it's possible to take some nice shots.

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More macro images from the P40 Pro+.

Images: Sandra Vogel / ZDNet

For general point-and-click shots, the main camera can produce lovely photos.

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Point-and-shoot images from the P40 Pro+.

Images: Sandra Vogel / ZDNet

It isn't all fantastic, though. I tended to avoid the AI mode, for example, as it can over-saturate photos. With practice and used in the right settings AI mode may be useful, but I'd need much longer with this handset to really get the best from it. 

Then there's zooming. This is a big selling point for the P40 Pro+ with its 10x optical zoom periscope lens (double the 5x on the P40 Pro), but caution is advisable. It's easy to zoom up to 10x using tap points on the screen to kick in at 3x and 10x. There's a bit of refocusing while the handset switches between its 3x and 10x lenses, but it's not a big issue, and I found photos to be of very good quality.

Thereafter you use your fingers to zoom out to the 100x maximum using digital zoom. Results degrade as you push the digital zoom, and at 100x they are far from edifying.

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Views of Wembley stadium, clockwise from top left: 1x, 10x, 50x, 100x zoom.

Images: Sandra Vogel / ZDNet

The arch at Wembley Stadium, several miles away from where I was standing at the time and barely discernible in the 1x photo, slowly comes into view as you increase the zoom. But applying digital zoom through 50x and up to 100x delivers diminishing returns in terms of image quality. What you can't see is the number of shots I had to take to get the stadium arch in the centre of the image -- camera shake is unavoidable unless you use a tripod. All of these photos were taken on a bright, sunny early July day.

These headline factors aside, what else do we have here?

The seven-camera setup and a hefty 4,200mAh battery add to the weight of this phone, which tips the scales at 226g. The back of the handset, white in my case, but also available in black, is made from ceramic, compressed and fired so that it has a glass-like quality look to it. Naturally, Huawei has a fancy name for this durable, scratch-resistant material -- 'nano-tech ceramic'. It feels less slippy in the hand than glass, but the handset still managed to fall to the carpet from my chair when calls came in, and at various other unpredictable times. Still, it's an attractive finish that didn't gather a single fingerprint during testing. 

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The 226g P40 Pro+ measures 9mm thick, although the rear cameras protrude noticeably from the ceramic backplate. The power button is accented in red.

Image: Sandra Vogel / ZDNet

The camera unit protrudes rather a lot, and so the phone wobbles when its screen is tapped when lain on a desk. The edges and buttons are silver, and the power button has a distinctive flash of red. The chassis is IP68 rated for dust and water resistance. 

The 6.58-inch AMOLED screen is an 'overflow display' -- that's Huawei's term for a screen that's curved on both the short and long edges, so that the bezel is minimised all round. The screen-to-body ratio is an impressive 91.5%. The display itself has a 90Hz refresh rate and is sharp, bright and vibrant. There's a fingerprint scanner embedded in the screen, or you can opt for face login if you prefer. Both worked perfectly for me.

Like the P40 Pro, the P40 Pro+ is powered by the Huawei/HiSilicon Kirin 990 5G chipset. It has the same 8GB of RAM as the P40 Pro, and our review unit had a generous 512GB of internal storage. Of this, 16GB was used out of the box for Android 10 and Huawei's EMUI 10.1 overlay, leaving 496GB free. You can augment storage further with Huawei's proprietary Nano Memory (NM) cards, if you're prepared to sacrifice the second SIM slot.

To run Geekbench 5 and the PCMark for Android battery test, I used Huawei's Phone Clone app to port these benchmarks across to the P40 Pro+. Performance was pretty impressive, with average Geekbench CPU scores of 747 (single core) and 2923 (multi core). This is close to the top of the current Geekbench leaderboard.

SEE: 5G smartphones: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Battery life was strong, too. A three-hour YouTube video loop (accessed via the web browser) consumed just 16% from a full charge, while the handset lasted for 12 hours 27 minutes under the PC Mark battery test. That's not bad for a phone with a 4,200mAh battery, and better than the 10 hours 52 minutes that Sony's Xperia 1 II managed from a 4,000mAh battery. The P40 Pro we tested in April lasted longer though -- 13 hours 51 minutes.

Fast charging (40W) and fast wireless charging (40W) are supported, with the appropriate Huawei chargers. Fast reverse wireless charging (27W) is also available.

Conclusions

The P40 Pro+ is another extremely frustrating handset from Huawei. It's beautifully designed, with a great AMOLED screen, good battery life, a high-end 5G chipset, plus plenty of RAM and internal storage. And the five-camera array at the back is superb, provided you don't overdo the digital zoom. But without access to Google apps and services, it's hard to recommend at the price.

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