Our original HUAWEI P40 Pro review can be found here.
A new normal – a term that is used frequently these days. And while I'm trying to work through all of the recent changes in the past few months, it's quite fitting that I'm using a phone that is the result of some radical changes for HUAWEI. One of the results is a high-end smartphone that has been isolated from one of the key tools that users around the world may want to access. So what is it like to adapt to this new normal?
Obviously the P40 Pro is not offered in the USA, which is a shame because many manufacturers could learn a thing or two from it. The design language from HUAWEI here. I only start with the strong feel of the phone. Due to the good weight, gripping the phone feels very safe. The weight is also balanced, which is interesting because the P40 Pro is actually a bit smaller than other phones I've used with even bigger screens recently. We'll go into the different curvatures in a second more, but the fact that the back has a curve further smoothes the feeling. And the glossy white background is a real eye-catcher, which again takes on the design aspects of a point-and-shoot camera. Of course, the large camera square in the corner is an eye-catcher, but at the moment I will praise the camera shocks for not protruding too much.
So let's get to the screen that really doesn't cut corners. I mean it quite literally – you can see that the left and right sides as well as the top and bottom sides have curves that take this edge display to another level. The corners are still there, so it looks like the case is literally gripping or clamping the screen. There's a small bezel everywhere, and while we're always aiming for full-screen display, this little black on the control panel helps to add a little contrast to the viewing experience and is likely to aid palm rejection.
The display experiences on the display are top notch, even if there are none. The clipping literally cuts into some content from time to time, which is a bit of a nuisance considering how some elements fall under the display corners. The pill clipping is quite large due to three elements: the camera lens, a depth sensor and infrared. Aside from selfies, this all helps unlock the face, which is nice and quick here, especially when Raise to Wake is enabled. There is also a built-in fingerprint reader that works fine, even if the sensor graphics seem a bit small.
Scrolling through everything is done with a good refresh rate of 90 Hz and a QuadHD resolution. Some displays go far beyond that, but the P40 Pro OLED panel is still among the best. Even though my usual viewing experiences are somewhat limited – for obvious reasons – the possibilities for enjoying content come through very well. The same goes for games, though we'll cover the app experience in a moment.
Overall, this could be one of the best-looking, high-end smartphones I've used for some time. In no design aspect is it too difficult, especially in terms of size, which leads to a pleasantly balanced start.
There's no denying that this phone has high performance thanks to the Kirin 990 is the in-house 7nm processor with proven improvements like GPU Turbo for gaming. Call of Duty: Mobile was sharp, yet buttery smooth, with all settings enabled. The 90 Hz refresh rate has established itself and continues even if you only jump around the EMUI. Have an additional 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of onboard storage. A 4200 mAh battery doesn't have a particularly high capacity, but with all the performance modes that you can access in the battery settings, there are many ways to save more time. Refilling is super fast anyway – there is not only fast wired charging of 40 W, wireless charging can reach up to 27 W. It is also possible to charge other devices via reverse wireless. (Using this with the Pixel Bugs felt ironic, maybe even a little naughty …)
So let's go into the cameras – I keep mentioning the "new normal", which is evident from the fact that I can't show you everything. This camera is very capable. Imagine that you have this phone in some beautiful parts of the world and use the 50-megapixel main sensor for the main shots, the 40-megapixel wide-angle camera for the tight spots and the 12-megapixel periscope zoom lens around this background to compress and burst motifs. Even if 10x with additional digital help is possible, a lossless 5x is enough to take good close-ups. The good result of the partnership between HUAWEI and Leica seems to continue in the P40 Pro because I was able to take some really great photos in my house and in my neighborhood. However, I can only take as many photos and videos of myself as I make coffee. The 12 megapixel results with pixel binning definitely show how much more light and data can be captured in Pro mode compared to 50 megapixel full resolution shots. This is also a big sensor, which means that the focus plane is pretty good – note that my fingers are very close together, but not all of them are sharp.
As expected, night mode is also good. But I have to admit that the inherent pixel binning and multi-frame HDR recording of auto mode does a damn good job in these scenarios. I can best describe it by making night mode better represent that it is actually night and not just a low contrast version of a real evening scene. Night mode definitely makes a difference once you zoom in.
The front-facing camera is a 32-megapixel shooter that delivers crisp and detailed regular selfies. Portrait mode does more work to blur the background and removing my freckles in beauty mode is on. A 4K selfie video is possible here, which makes this camera a useful camera for social media like TikTok. The beauty mode even works with videos on the front, although the resolution is reset to 1080p. Speaking of video: The main sensor does an excellent job of getting the right markings with lots of details, gentle stabilization and good auto focus. The wide-angle sensor delivers similar results, even if it is a lens with a fixed focus. Colors can be a bit washed out, but the same filters that are available in photo mode can also be used in videos – but I kept everything at the Leica default setting. You can have a lot of fun with this camera, including super-super slow-motion video that is insanely impressive, even if it's 720p.
HUAWEI generally does a lot right with the raw data of this phone. They all lead to an experience that corresponds to the bonus. From performance to recording quality, the parts of the P40 Pro that some of us miss are what count. This is because the software is a completely different and effective story.
The Missing Link
EMUI may not be for everyone, but I remember when this user interface was a pretty rough way of using Android every day. Over time, HUAWEI was able to optimize its appearance while maintaining many of the various functions that gave it additional functions. But now we're in a situation where everything EMUI has achieved is withdrawn through a trade war that deprives this version of Android of an important element – Google. Jaime had to deal with this new normality with the Mate 30 Pro, and – spoiler alarm – I basically agree with his assessment.
So the way I approached this phone started out simple: I would simply rely on everything that the phone preinstalled as these are the obvious basics. Google Photos may not exist, but the HUAWEI Cloud offers a significant amount of free data storage. I wouldn't have GMail, but there is an email app – and it uses the browser to log in to Google, so at least I don't have to deal with IMAP settings. Incidentally, the EMUI browser can easily access other web-based applications such as YouTube, but of course you miss certain functions such as background playback or picture in picture. But that's exactly what happens when you are a power user of such apps. I understand that this is a slightly larger niche. For most people, this communication device will still have most of the tools required to get work and some play done.
This is due to the App Gallery, HUAWEI's long-standing app store, which to my delight had some of my other essentials. Some of the main pillars of the Chinese market are front and center, such as TikTok and WeChat. I have received a telegram for sending messages to colleagues. HERE maps are now HUAWEI's answer to the lack of Google Maps, and even games like Asphalt 9 and the Epic Games launcher were prominently represented. I think there will be some curve for most people to get a proper workflow – especially if you are used to a Google-based work-life balance. The nice thing about Android, however, is that there are always alternatives – for example, there is even the Microsoft Office Mobile Suite in the AppGallery. Just as a number of people say they would get a simple laptop for browsing and occasional media consumption, pretty much every casual app user can do a lot with the P40 Pro. To get creative, there are places where you can get the list of can purchase additional apps. The Amazon App Store brought me Facebook and Instagram and surprisingly DDPYoga, and then I had to find APKs for other things like my password manager Dashlane and my calorie app LoseIt. A mix of both methods helped me get Call of Duty Mobile and War of the Visions. However, I have found that apps or games that are otherwise behind a paywall in the Google Play Store either have to be bought again when they are available on the Amazon App Store or simply no longer available.
So I have to think that the necessary switch to HUAWEI Mobile Services basically means that we have a somewhat new third category of smartphones. There is iOS, Google-based Android and then non-Google-based Android. So if you come from a Google supported phone, the P40 Pro needs to do some real customization and a little creativity to repeat previous experiences. Users who are less reliant on Google for their work-life balance still find the entry barrier quite low because there are many apps, including those in the AppGallery that do the same job. We don't know what the future will be like for HUAWEI's problems in the U.S. and Google, but for now, it's worth hoping the company can continue to build its own ecosystem so that the best parts of this phone – design, performance, and cameras with Leica – can stay.