We have been asking for a compact flagship smartphone for a long time. And the Huawei P40 Pro, with its design does exactly that. Retailing for Dh3,499, you not only get high-end processing but 5G support for future proofing. Not to mention, the impressive Leica quad-camera. However, one question still remains. Is it worth buying despite its lack of official Google Play support?
Design and build quality
As we said earlier, the Huawei P40 Pro is well designed. While it is 8.95mm thick and 209g, it does not feel that way. Its weight distribution is good and the phone being slightly less tall definitely makes it more manageable. For some reason, we have seen flagship smartphones release with rather muted colours this year. However, the P40 Pro in this Silver Frost finish is a treat to look at.
The device on the overall is refined and smooth feeling. And that is also to do with its display, which we will get to in a later section. Otherwise, you find the power and volume keys on the right with an added IR blaster on the top edge of the device. The rest of the hardware is as standard including the Type-C USB port, a SIM tray with proprietary nano-memory expansion support, the speaker grill and the microphones. And if you are worried about the camera bump, it is not that bad. We have noticed that larger camera bays pose less problems when used on a flat surface and with the P40 Pro, that is exactly the case. Just touching on the phone’s endurance, it has a glass build. However, we are not sure whether it uses any form of Corning Gorilla Glass for added protection. Something we are sure of though is the phone’s water and dust resistance. The full IP68 certification is great to have and allows you to be a bit more carefree with the smartphone.
Carrying the P40 Pro’s design language forward is its display. It is a 6.58-inch panel with curves on all four sides. The top and bottom curves are subtle although they do make a difference in making content look slightly more immersive. As far as the panel goes, it is a 2,640 x 1,200 resolution OLED display with HDR10 and 90Hz refresh rate support. Being an OLED, the in-screen optical fingerprint scanner works as expected. And while the display’s colours are vivid, they do not feel as vibrant as competing higher resolution panels. This may be due to the lack of HDR10+ support however it is high time that Huawei invests in a display that is of a higher resolution, closer to QHD+.
Something else that is new with the P40 Pro is the display’s higher refresh rate. Although, it is still only 90Hz. And we say that with the utmost apprehension. 90Hz for last year was more than enough and for anybody switching from a 60Hz panel, it will be an upgrade. But to us, it seems like Huawei’s 90Hz does not perform as smooth as the 90Hz from other panels. Not just that, with the likes of Oppo, OnePlus and Samsung now boasting 120Hz panels, it seems Huawei has left itself with some catch-up work to do. Likewise, it is the same for the smartphone’s speaker. The single speaker while loud is not that great. If you were you cover it up accidentally, it would result in a complete block-off of sound. We addressed this with out P30 Pro review too, and the major driving factor behind this is the smartphone’s in-display speaker for calls. However, it seems to have had a negative impact on multimedia consumption. At least, you can still use a pair of wireless or Type-C headphones to improve the experience.
We think when it comes to processing power though, the P40 Pro has things sorted. Inside, you find the Kirin 990 5G chipset, which delivers a decent balance of both power and battery endurance. In our unit, it is accompanied by 8GB of RAM and 256GB of UFS 3.0 storage. As expected, the phone is able to handle everything we threw at it. But it definitely is slightly less powered than the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor running smartphones out there. One thing that was a pleasant surprise was RAM management. The phone rarely had to reload applications and that was good. A good chunk of that is also due to the P40 Pro running EMUI 10.1, which delivers a close-knit experience. However, the biggest drawback we found here was the lack of Google Play services.
Without these, you are can rely on Huawei’s AppGallery. To be fair to it, it does sport a wide variety of applications. And the collection seems to be growing day by day. Another neat feature to it is its App Finder, which basically looks for applications that are not on AppGallery. However, this still means an extra step when it comes to downloading applications. And at the end of the day, people have become very much reliant on Google services and to see them not on the P40 Pro is a setback for sure.
There are definitely ways to fix this though. You can still get Google Play services running on the phone given it is based on an AOSP build of Android 10, although it is a bit more complex this time around. The only catch is that once you set it up, you cannot add more Google accounts as you can on other smartphones. And that is a big deal. Certain applications like Google Pay still do not work and we are certain you may run into these issues in the long run. But even if you can live with this workaround, the typical consumer splashing this much for a flagship smartphones expects to not have to go through complex tutorials to avail services that are basic on other smartphones. And because of this, we cannot wholeheartedly recommend the P40 Pro.
On the rear of the P40 Pro, you find a Leica quad-camera setup. It is made of a 50MP primary sensor, a 40MP ultra-wide lens, a 12MP periscope lens with 5x optical and a 3D ToF sensor. In combination, it is safe to say that the camera can take some incredibly detailed pictures, even at up to 10x zoom. More so, Huawei has not focused too much on raising the megapixel count of their camera. Rather, it has focused on sensor size. The primary sensor on the P40 Pro is the largest on any modern-day smartphone available which improves low-light photography drastically.
We still think the phone’s AI mode is a bit aggressive but perhaps it is meant to be that way. Users tend to appreciate vibrant and rich colors and that is exactly what you get with it. Although this means you will lose out on realism when it comes to colors in the photo. Another area where AI and Huawei’s NPU processing comes in handy is with night mode. We think the P40 Pro is the undisputed king when it comes to photos using night mode and the samples we have taken show that. Oddly though, in pitch black conditions, the phone tends to perform better without night mode than with it.
This year, Huawei has gone the extra mile to improve AI performance once a photo has been taken. This allows you to remove unwanted subjects or glare in photos which comes in fairly handy. Even on the video front, the camera does well. Although we would say its stability and dynamic range still needs a bit of work especially when recording 4K 60fps samples, which is the maximum the phone is capable of. For selfies, it is still a 32MP sensor, this time with a 3D ToF sensor in addition. We think it is quite good for selfies although it shows some inconsistencies in dynamic range when taking selfies outdoors. As with night time performance, it is still a bit lacking when it comes to night mode performance in low-light situations. But above all, it can finally record in 4K resolution up to 60fps.
Given the 4,200mAh battery and the FHD+ display, we thought battery life would be great. And we have not been disappointed. The P40 Pro will easily get you through a heavy day of usage and perhaps even more if you use it more conservatively.
Something that comes in handy though is the phone’s Supercharge, allowing for quick top ups during the day. Having added wireless charging support also helps it score a few more brownie points.
There is a strong argument when it comes to recommending the Huawei P40 Pro. From a performance standpoint, it is up there with the best. The only drawback when it comes to hardware is its display. Both the resolution and refresh rate of the panel are not up there with the best. However that aside, there is nothing you can nitpick about this phone. Except for software. EMUI 10.1 has also evolved a fair bit on top of the phone’s AOSP build of Android 10 however not having Google services out of the box will put a lot of buyers off, considering how heavily we are invested in the ecosystem. Perhaps in the long run, Huawei’s AppGallery can catch up. But for the general consumer not willing to go through the extra process of manually downloading Google services, the smartphone is not the right fit.