Huawei P40 Pro, hands on: Another superb Huawei phone, but still missing Google services

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Huawei's newly released 6.58-inch P40 Pro (£899.99 inc. VAT), like its smaller sibling the 6.1-inch P40 (£699.99), is a stunningly designed handset that majors on camera capability and offers a range of other eye-catching features.

Just like the Huawei Mate 30 Pro (£899.99), and the more affordable Honor 9x Pro (€249), the P40 series handsets lack Google Mobile Services. Instead they run Android 10 with Huawei's EMUI 10.1 overlay and access to Huawei Mobile Services with the limited Huawei AppGallery. As a result, these devices don't compete on an even playing field with regular Android-based handsets, and it's this which -- despite all the other goodies -- defines the P40 Pro and P40, and the upcoming (in June) top-of-the-range P40 Pro+.

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No Google apps or services here.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

Last year's Huawei P30 Pro was a scene-stealer, with its superb quad-camera system, great screen and impressive battery life taking it right to the top of the handset tree. A year on and Huawei continues to innovate with its camera-focused 'P' series. But the lack of access to Google Mobile Services casts a long shadow over the new handsets' capabilities.

Software

As with my review of the Huawei Mate 30 Pro, it's worth starting with the software side of things. Interested users will find guides online on how to install Google Mobile Services, but these are not officially supported, and I'm doing no more here than mentioning this for completeness. This review was carried out with the handset in the form it was given to me by Huawei, which means it's running just the open-source version of Android 10, overlain by Huawei's EMUI 10.1.

In this condition there are numerous Google applications missing, including Chrome, Maps, YouTube, Gmail and the Play Store. There are plenty of other web browsers for Android, and Huawei has chosen to include its own as well as Bing, through which you can access YouTube, Gmail and Maps. Huawei also includes its own music and video players, plus a range of extras including a notepad app, weather app, translator, calendar app, a find phone app, Huawei Pay wallet and Microsoft Office. There's the useful Smart Remote, which uses an IR blaster on the top of the handset to control things like your TV.

Huawei has its own AppGallery, which it is populating with more apps all the time. If the app you seek is not in the AppGallery and you decide to install it via APK, then it will be a fresh, clean install. Your user history from an installation on a previous handset will be lost, although Huawei's Phone Clone app, which is preinstalled on the P40 Pro, can take care of that side of things.

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If you're not wedded to the Google ecosystem, you may be happy with what's on offer here -- especially if you're prepared to seek out workarounds to get your favourite apps running.

Hardware

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If you can live with what Huawei Mobile Services has to offer, the P40 Pro is a superbly-engineered smartphone.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet
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Four rear cameras: 50MP wide-angle, 40MP ultra-wide-angle, 12MP periscope zoom (5x), and time-of-flight (TOF). Note the pearlescent Silver Frost backplate.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

Huawei likes to ring the changes on handset design, and the P40 Pro is no different in this respect. The backplate is a prime example. Where last year's P30 Pro was about shimmering colours and reflective finishes, here we have two colour variants, a staid and demure black and the version I was sent, called Silver Frost -- or, more prosaically, grey.

The back is made from glass but has a pearlescent, almost opaque appearance. It has a matte finish that almost feels soft to the touch and doesn't gather fingerprints. It's smooth yet does not feel slippy, and is unlike anything I've seen on a handset before. It's entirely pleasing. 

The rear camera panel is large and protrudes significantly. It is rectangular, in proportion to the backplate itself, with its Leica branding and other writing in landscape format, just like the Huawei branding on the main backplate. As a result, it all looks neat and tidy.

The right side of the handset houses the power button and volume rocker. The Huawei Mate 30 Pro lacked a volume rocker, instead asking users to double-tap the long edge of the handset to bring up a screen-based volume slide, but here we are in more conventional territory. There's the aforementioned IR blaster on the top, while the left edge is clear and the bottom houses a speaker grille, a USB-C port and the SIM caddy. The handset is IP68 certified for dust and water resistance, meaning it is 'dust tight' and can theoretically withstand immersion in 1.5m of water for 30 minutes.

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Top: protected corner of the minimal-bezel Quad Curve Overflow Display. Above: front camera lozenge with 32MP selfie camera and depth sensor for IR face unlock.

Images: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

Huawei has also given the screen a makeover, and the P40 Pro now packs a Quad-Curve Overflow Display. Unpacked, that terminology means that all four edges of the screen curve so as to maximise the immersive viewing area and minimise bezels. We calculate the screen-to-body ratio to be an impressive 91.6%. The four corners of the phone are raised and shaped so as to protect the screen edges, providing a little elegance and design novelty.

The screen's rather spectacular curved design is punctured by a sizeable lozenge in the top left corner housing the front camera and a depth sensor that also supports face unlock. Although a fair amount of screen space is given over to the front camera array, I prefer this approach to mechanical pop-out cameras.

The 6.58-inch OLED screen has a resolution of 2,640 by 1,200 pixels (441ppi) and a 90Hz refresh rate. Other vendors may go for higher resolutions or faster refresh rates, but they do so at the expense of battery life, and striking the right balance between the two is important. Huawei has made good decisions in this respect. The screen is sharp and bright, while video looks smooth. If you want to conserve battery life you can drop the refresh rate back to 60Hz in the handset's display settings. 

Sound quality from the bottom-mounted speaker is a bit of a weak link, though, with a lack of bass at higher volumes.

Battery life from the 4,200mAh battery seems very good. Anecdotally I got through two days from a single charge -- although limited access to apps meant my daily usage pattern was less intensive than it usually is. Three hours of continuous YouTube video played through the web browser at 90Hz took the battery from 100% to 86%. The PC Mark Work 2.0 battery life test reports 13 hours 51 minutes for the Huawei P40 -- 84 minutes less than the Mate 30 Pro with its 4,500mAh battery. Fast charging (40W) and wireless charging (27W) are supported, with the appropriate Huawei chargers.

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And so to the cameras, which are always the main event with Huawei's P-series handsets. 

The front camera array comprises a 32MP f/2.2 selfie camera with autofocus and support for 4K video recording at 60fps and, as noted earlier, a depth sensor that enables IR face unlock.

The Leica-branded quad-camera array at the back comprises a 50MP wide-angle (f/1.9, OIS) camera, a 40MP ultra-wide-angle (f/1.8) camera, a 12MP periscope zoom (f/3.4, 5x optical zoom, OIS) camera, and a time-of-flight (TOF) depth sensor. The main 50MP wide angle camera uses a large 1/1.8-inch RYYB Ultra Vision Sensor with 2.44μm pixels that delivers exceptional low-light performance. As well as 5x optical zoom on the periscope lens, you can get 10x hybrid zoom and 50x digital zoom.

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Huawei P40 Pro images shot with 10x hybrid (left) and 50x digital (right) zoom.

Images: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

It's difficult to adequately test a camera system at the moment, due to social isolation restrictions. However, the P40 Pro's 50x zoom delivered some interesting results (see above). I look forward to testing the P40 Pro in more expansive conditions. For the record, the Huawei P40 Pro currently heads up the influential DxOMARK smartphone camera rankings.

The general specifications are top-notch, as you'd expect from a flagship-class handset.

Huawei's leading-edge Kirin 990 5G chipset provides plenty of power for the P40 Pro, which performed extremely well with 8GB of RAM in support. My review unit had 256GB of internal storage, of which 17GB was used out of the box, leaving 239GB free. The handset supports two SIMs, or one SIM and a proprietary Huawei Nano Memory (NM) card. There is also eSIM support.

Conclusions

Huawei has brought some interesting new features to the P40 Pro, including a 90Hz refresh rate for the OLED display, a curved screen on all four sides, leading-edge cameras, and a backplate design that really does break new ground.

Sadly, these features are not enough to earn the P40 Pro an unequivocal recommendation. That's because we don't know how far Huawei can take its AppGallery, or how long it will be before there's a critical mass of applications that will satisfy most users. This is all that holds the P40 Pro back: with Google Mobile Services on board, it would have been my handset of the year so far.

If you're impressed by the P40 Pro but put off by the software situation, consider last year's still-excellent P30 Pro. It costs £270 less (£629.99 inc. VAT with 8GB RAM and 128GB of storage) and still comes with Google Mobile Services.

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