Huawei has succeeded in becoming one of the biggest and best brands in the mobile phone industry thanks to innovations in software, hardware, and design. I loved the P9, P20, and the P30, which was one of the best phones of 2019.
The P40 Pro continues the P line which is their photography-oriented range. I’ve been testing the P40 Pro, and it’s an attractive phone with raised corners and a glass screen that curves over all four sides. In particular, The feel of sliding up from the bottom is particularly nice seamlessly. However, I’m not the biggest fan of the large round corners that cut into the screen, I would have prefered it if the radius was a lot smaller.
The P40 Pro is easily one of the nicest phones to hold and use. I love the feel in the hand, how easy it is to use the gestures and that the frosted finish on the back isn’t a fingerprint magnet.
On the right side is the volume rocker and power button, all of which have a nice clicky feel. On the top is an IR-blaster (always handy for a spare remote control for the TV) and microphone. The bottom has a SIM port, microphone, USB-C port, and speaker.
Unfortunately, the P40 Pro doesn’t have stereo speakers, which is a pity, but the mono-speaker does sound good. You can rest assured that your investment is protected with an IP68 dust and waterproof rating for some peace of mind.
The P40 Pro sports a 6.58-inch AMOLED Full HD+ display (2,640 x 1,200) with a 19.8:9 aspect ratio. For the first time in a Huawei handset, it has a 90Hz refresh rate for a super smooth UI and app experience. True, other flagship devices now have 120Hz displays and even higher, but I think most users will be more than happy with 90Hz at a higher resolution and better battery life.
The display is top-notch with excellent vibrance, sharpness and no noticeable colour shift when viewing it off-axis. It also gets more than bright enough to be able to see it in sunny weather.
There is a rather large punch-hole in the top left of the screen, but it does house a lot of tech including the 32mp front-facing camera and infrared scanner, which is used for a secure and reliable face-unlock that works well even in the dark. There also an optical in-display fingerprint scanner that’s quick and it certainly feels snappier and more reliable than the P30 Pro.
The P40 Pro uses the Kirin 990 5G chipset, which supports sub-6GHz 5G bands. Thanks to its integrated chipset, it claims to be more efficient on power consumption and I got download speeds of over 800mpbs in Cork City on the Vodafone network.
I’m not a hardcore gamer, but any of the games I tried had no problems playing at smooth frame rates. Overall performance is incredibly slick, in part thanks to the CPU and 90Hz combination, but also I suspect the lack of Google and the bare-bones Android 10 OS. There’s also the 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage and the option to increase storage via proprietary Huawei NVM memory cards.
Of course, the main attraction of the P40 Pro is the rear cameras, which have scored the highest of any current mobile phone so far this year on the independent site DXOmark.
The rear cameras consist of a main 50mp RYYB, f/1.9, 23mm, ultra-wide: 40mp, f/1.8, 18mm, telephoto: 12mp RYYB, f/3.4, 125mm and a time of flight (ToF) sensor used to improve depth sensing for those beautiful bokeh shots.
You can shoot video in ultra HD/4K at up to 60fps (front and rear) and super slow motion at a crazy 7680fps at 720p and 960fps at full HD 1080p. The latter is incredibly powerful and the best results are achieved in good lighting conditions. I had great fun capturing butterflies, bees, and birds as they landed on my feeders in my back garden. Seeing all that detail in super slow-motion makes you feel like a documentary filmmaker.
I was impressed with the large sensor on the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra recently, but the P40 Pro uses an even larger sensor on the main camera measuring 1/1.28 inches diagonally, it supports pixel binning to achieve a pixel size of 2.44m and Full Pixel Octa PD AutoFocus for high-speed focus.
I’m a big fan of the larger sensors because it improves low-light capabilities and it’s easier to get professional-looking, out-of-focus backgrounds in portraits and more creative shots without having to use software.
For most people, a decent camera is good enough and all of the current flagships will take fantastic shots, but for those who want to be more creative or love the process of taking photos and then doing something with them afterwards, the extra features and capabilities of the P40 Pro is for you.
The 5x optical zoom is similar to the P30 Pro with 10X hybrid and up to 50x digital. Night mode is even better than ever thanks to the upgraded RYYB sensor on the telephoto camera. In most situations, I found auto-mode produced the best night time shots and I didn’t need to use the dedicated night mode. However, particularly in urban scenes with a lot of street and artificial lights, night mode produced better results.
The new selfie camera takes much better portraits now that have more detail and no skin smoothing. The background blur in portrait mode and the back and front cameras is more realistic now and generally, gets the subject isolation right.
The 40mp ultra-wide cine-camera is a welcome upgrade from the P30 Pro. It has a much larger sensor and resolution making it far more usable for things like landscape shots. However, the field of view is slightly narrower going from 16mm to 18mm (35mm equivalent).
Video features are greatly improved over previous generations, and stabilisation is also much smoother. In my mind, the P40 Pro’s complete camera package is the best out there for stills. Like every other phone out there, it isn’t perfect, but it’s the best-in-class of the current crop I’ve tested.
Available now from three.ie €300 with Bill Pay or €810 on Prepay. You can also get it at Harveynorman.ie SIM-free with a free set of Huawei Freebuds3 earbuds for €999.
The Google isolation question
Anyone who buys the P40 or P40 Pro will do so with the knowledge that you are leaving Google behind.
Is this a bad thing? Well, yes and no. If you’re entrenched in the Google ecosystem then you need to bear in mind that you have given them the rights to all your information.
They know your every movement, internet search, purchasing history and all manner of personal information. This does come with a lot of benefits and conveniences. The latter is why most of us choose to willingly choose Google’s apps and services. I understand people's concerns around security, but most of us choose convenience over our privacy.
Is now the time for an alternative for Android users other than Apple’s iOS?
Huawei Mobile Services is an alternative to Google Mobile Services, but at this point in time, the migration isn’t a smooth one for those heavily invested in Google.
However, those who are willing to move to HMS can reap the benefits of breaking free from a Google dominated platform and all of that entails.
There are several ways of getting apps onto the P40. The main and best option is to use the Huawei Phone Clone app. This is incredibly easy and fast for getting most, but not all of your apps from your old phone to the new one.
If you’re coming from an iPhone, it will only copy over your contacts and not apps. The Phone Clone app works with all Android phones and not just Huawei ones. Of course, It won’t copy over Google apps like YouTube, Gmail, Google Pay, Drive, Photos, and the PlayStore. Some apps that successfully install on the P40 Pro will open, but not work properly due to a requirement for Google Play Services.
Some of the apps that failed like this during my testing were PhotoPills, WeatherPro, Weawo, Minut, Tado, EBay and EufyLife.
Unfortunately, some of these apps don’t have an alternative app since they’re manufacturer apps used to control smart devices or apps like PhotoPills that I wouldn’t want to give up, although there are alternatives.
This could mean that if you buy a device that has a companion app, you may not be able to download it for your P40.
Once I did the initial setup using Phone Clone, I had a look at what apps were available on the Huawei App Gallery. Big-name apps like TicToc, SnapChat, RTE Player, Amazon Shopping, Deezer, and Ryanair, Booking.com, Viber and Opera are all present but you'll find most common apps including banking apps are absent.
Apps like Facebook and Whatsapp can be downloaded directly and you can submit apps that you’d like to see on the Huawei App Gallery in a Wishlist option. However, that isn’t a guarantee it will make its way there anytime soon despite a massive commitment in time, resources and money from Huawei to encourage app developers to publish in the App Gallery.
For the most part, you can get by using Phone Clone and using alternative apps for most of Google's offerings, but not all. In particular, I definitely missed Google Pay and Google Password manager while using the P40 Pro as my main device. Also, you’ll need to hang onto an old android device each time you want to install a new app on the P40 Pro with Phone Clone or to do updates.
There are alternative apps that allow you to install apps including APK Pure, Aptoid and the Amazon App store. Almost all of the apps you’ll need are to be found in these app stores but you will run into issues where apps will still require Google Play Services to run property. I was able to find apps like Netflix on APK Pure, but I had to install a slightly older version to get it to run on the P40 Pro.
The combination of Phone Clone and alternative apps stores will get you most of what you need including alternatives apps if what you’re used to doesn’t work. For example, Google Maps will transfer using Phone Clone, but won’t allow you to log into your Google account. There are lots of excellent alternatives including Waze for navigation as an alternative to Google Maps.
You just have to be willing to look and try for these alternatives if what you’re used to doesn’t work.
Finally, there are lots of YouTube videos you can check out that tell you how to install Google Play Services on the P40 Pro. I’ve tried a few with good results.
The steps have to be followed carefully, but it really isn’t too difficult if you have some technical skills. Unfortunately, none of these hacks made it possible to use Google Pay.
So, if you like tinkering and don’t mind jumping through some hoops to get your P40 Pro running all the apps you need then you won’t be disappointed in the hardware, overall software experience and class-leading camera system.
If the lack of Google is just a bridge too far for you, then look at the still excellent P30 Pro if you want to stick with Huawei.