Review: Huawei P40 Pro, All the specs and no Google to use it

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With every new flagship phone that’s released, we all expect the best camera, the best performance, amazing battery life and ultrafast networking performance. Huawei’s P40 Pro on paper, is exactly that and from the second you have it in your hand it feels amazing, getting your hopes up that this is the next phone for your pocket.

In terms design, it’s sleek and incredibly comfortable in the hand, albeit a little slippery without a case. The screen is gorgeous and the camera can take stunning photos and video, but none of that matters.

Thanks to a very public, very ugly fight between Huawei and the US, Google aren’t allowing Huawei to access Google Play services on new devices. This means Huawei are left running AOSP, which while it is Android technically, it lacks almost every important part Android that you have come to know and love over the past decade.

Without the Google Play Store to download your favourite apps, Huawei have put together App Gallery. While they hope to attract developers to write for the store, let’s be honest, it’s a mess. Most apps I use frequently, let’s say at least once a week, weren’t available. Huawei knows this is the case and provides a Phone Clone app to copy the .apk file from an old Android phone to the P40. That is a hit and miss experience, but I managed to get Messenger, Instagram, Twitter and a number of other apps to come across that way.

On the surface, that could be a workaround (assuming this isn’t your first phone), but I found some apps, just wouldn’t clone. For those apps that do come over, having that specific version of the app, doesn’t really help long term, as new updates to apps are released on an almost daily basis. Huawei may be able to track down a URL to the latest release and offer you an update, but that’s certainly not guaranteed.

Over the past few years, I’ve reviewed a number of Huawei phones and they’ve been some of my favourite devices, I’ve happily used and recommended Huawei phones before, but this is such a compromised experience that I can’t do that with the P40 Pro. Probably my biggest deal breaker was the inability to get MFA apps like Microsoft or Google Authenticator. Having enabled MFA on basically any service that offers it, I rely on this heavily and without it, any phone is really a non-starter for me.

DESIGN

Beautiful and refined

In terms of design, I actually love this phone, it feels great in the hand, albeit with a slippery surface, the phone feels substantial when it’s in your hand. The 6.58″ OLED display looks amazing in brightness, colour and responsiveness, thanks to its 2,640 x 1,200 resolution and refresh rate of 90Hz. Of course it’s not the crazy 240Hz we’ve seen in some devices, but sure does make scrolling smooth.

When it comes to the physical dimensions, it’s a large phone, but almost identical to the Samsung S10+ I had been using as my daily driver. This size of a phone actually works great for me personally, offering a great blend of screensize and battery life, but if you like smaller phones, you should consider the P40, instead the P40 Pro.

On the back, you get the camera bump in an orientation that looks like a small P40 Pro attached the the back of the phone. The bump itself is big, I would say more substantial than any other phone I’ve used. The fact it’s not symmetrical, means that it will rock on the table. Personally I don’t use the device much on a flat surface, but I know others do and this may also be a concern.

The colour is known as ‘Deep Sea Blue’ and looks great, Huawei has had one of the best colour scheme of any device on the market and really innovated with the multi-coloured, gradient phones over the past few years which has now been copied by others.

Of course we’re talking about USB-C, but there’s no headphone jack, which means USB-C or Bluetooth headphones are essential. Given we’re in 2020, that’s really not a problem, you should be familiar with this and those phones still including 3.5mm are a rapidly dying breed.

FEATURES AND PERFORMANCE

What’s it offer and how does it perform ?

Every year, or every 6 months, we get a new flagship device and the expectation is clearly that it’ll be faster than the last gen. That’s true here with the P40 Pro, it really flies with app launches ultra fast and the camera is one of the fastest experiences I’ve had on a phone.

Powered by the new HUAWEI Kirin 990 5G processor, combined with a Octa-core CPU (2 x Cortex-A76 Based 2.86 GHz + 2 x Cortex-A76 Based 2.36 GHz + 4 x Cortex-A55 1.95 GHz) and 16-Core Mali-G76 GPU.

At the heart of any modern phone is AI and that typically leverages a dedicated chip. Huawei uses a Neural Processing Unit (Dual Big Core + Tiny Core NPUs) which help analyse the scene your capturing and adjust the image automatically to opimise for what’s in front of the lenses.

Cameras

Normally I’d talk about the rear camera first, because it’s typically the star of the show. With the P40 Pro, it features a ridiculous 32 MP Selfie Camera with a f/2.2 aperture and can take the best selfies I’ve seen from a phone. Honestly comparing the photos to what I get out of a Samsung Galaxy S10+ front facing camera is an absolute joke. The image just has so much extra quality, it looks like it was taken with the rear camera, but with the obviously huge benefit of being able to see on-screen what you’re framing and focus is like.

The phone received the highest selfie camera DXOMark score.

Now for that rear camera. Naturally in 2020, it’s a multi-camera array with a 50 MP Ultra vision camera made up of a Wide Angle, f/1.9 aperture with OIS, a 40 MP Cine Camera for Ultra-Wide photos with  a f/1.8 aperture and a 12 MP SuperSensing Telephoto Camera with a f/3.4 aperture and OIS. The headline story on this phone was a big 100x zoom, but that’s a party trick and the quality of photos you’re getting from that are basically unusable. What does work great is zoom at 10-20x which takes you to a place where you can capture things up close, which maintaining awesome image quality.

Those looking for great video from their smartphone would be very happy with the 4K60 video the P40 Pro captures, it really is stunning. It does get impacted by which lens you’re using, so be conscious of that, there’s a lot more to video than just how wide the field of view is.

The phone is also capable of capturing content underwater, something I’d much prefer to use my GoPro for, but if you trust it, you could capture some unique content, just don’t take it swimming, it’s not that kind of waterproof.

Finally on cameras, the Night mode is great, but it’s the industry leaving super-slowmo that is pretty impressive. Some things in nature and plenty man-made happen at an amazing speed, too fast for the human eye to really appreciate. Capturing them in slow-mo can provide a completely different perspective on the world and Huawei’s 7,680fps super slow is amazing. Capturing that many frames means it takes a long time to play anything back, so I did find I wanted to speed up video before publishing. Of course you can capture with a lower fps in slow-mo, but that doesn’t create the same effect. As always, it’s important lighting levels are high when using slow motion as the speed of frame capture means no much light gets collected in each frame, so slow-mo at night may result in a grainy outcome.

Network

When it comes to Network, the Huawei P40 Pro features 5G compatibility. As with many Huawei and more broadly, Chinese phones, it supports dual-sim which allows you to separate your work and personal lives. This phone lets you use the dual slots with a 5G and 4G sim, but it looks like we’ll have to wait till next year before we see a true 5G dual-sim phone. 5G is still really new in Australia, however it is really rolling out fast. What would be ideal, particularly for those chasing the fastest possible mobile connection across the broadest number of locations in the country, would ideally place a Telstra and Optus 5G SIM.

I had the chance to test the 5G speeds around Albury Wodonga and can confirm they’re basically on par with speeds achieved in my HTC Hub 5G speed tests. In the real world (not standing on the tower) and at different times of the day), I got anywhere between 300 and 750Mbps, all much faster than 4G. Only time will tell how those speeds hold as more people buy 5G capable devices and pay up for 5G plans to take advantage of it.

Charging

I really don’t think much about charging these days. It’s something I think most of us have sorted by now, after being on the phone train for a while. With a charger on your bedside and a charger in your car, it’s very unlikely you’re not making it through the day and if you do struggle with that, a USB cable at your desk is all it takes to solve the problem.

That said if you do rely on the charger included with the phone, then you’ll be happy with the SuperCharge that uses 40W to rapidly charge your device in minutes, not hours. Maybe more impressive is the support for Huawei’s Wireless SuperCharge running on 27W (56% in 30 minutes), far beyond the 5-10W we’re used to from other solutions. This means you can leverage the convenience of a wireless charger, but still enjoy rapid charging.

When using the phone, this was perhaps the hardest phone to rate. While I have confidence the 4,200mAh battery and Huawei’s EMUI 10.1 OS (Based on Android 10), I didn’t have anywhere close to my normal set of apps, so was unable to get a good read on what real-world expectations would be. Huawei says you’ll get about 4hrs of Gameplay with the screen running at that slick 90Hz refresh rate, alternatively you can drop it to 60Hz to increase that play time.

ISSUES

Not everything’s perfect

There’s no question that Huawei being banned from Google Play services was a wrecking ball that tore through their plans for global domination (aka international growth). As a consumer, that decision has had a seriously negative impact on the experience of owning this phone.

When I decided to move to Android, I never realised how much I went all-in. I use Google Photos to backup photos, I use my Google account to sign in on a bunch of services, I use the Google Authenticator app, I have YouTube Premium and watch lots of it and no, creating a web shortcut on the home screen is not the same as a native app experience. I also use a lot of Microsoft services and I certainly wasn’t ready to lose access to those as well.

On the surface, you just lost Google Services, but in reality, you lost access to a lot of developers who aren’t small niche developers, but high profile, tier 1 developers that just haven’t published their apps in the App Gallery.

You may get asked what your top 5 apps are, but that’s not really the question is it, it’s more like.. what are the apps you use every week, or every month, imagining you may be able to find alternates for the once a year tasks. Personally I’m using apps for social media, productivity, banking, IoT, gaming, ordering, online purchases, analytics, notetaking, security, news and entertainment. Practically this translates to a couple of home pages (5×9) and a couple of those contain folders with half a dozen apps. This means my real number of apps that I need and expect from my phone is really around 100-110.

I feel about 5 of these are on the App Gallery. The whole thing is a disaster to browser through, the top charts are full of things you’ve ever heard of.

Even for those apps you can side load using Phone Clone, they often have a dependency on Google Play Services, so they don’t work.

Finally the biggest and deal breaker for me was the lack of a MFA solution, that’s simply unacceptable. If it’s a choice between buying this phone and reducing security by disabling MFA on my accounts.. I’m sorry, Huawei will lose that battle every day of the week.

PRICE & AVAILABILITY

How much and when can you get one ?

The Huawei P40 Pro (and baby brother P40), are on sale now. Unlikely previous generations that had carrier support, there’s nothing like that this time around. This mean you’ll be buying the phones through Huawei directly, or from a retail partner, but not through Telstra, Optus or Vodafone.

The P40 Pro is available in both Silver Frost and Deep Sea Blue in one storage size – 256GB. The device costs A$1,599.00, while JB Hi-Fi have a A$100 cashback offer until May 13th. The cheapest we’ve seen it outside that offer is Office Works which has the Silver version for A$1,588.00. 

For that price, it’s definitely in flagship territory but despite amazing hardware, the compromised software experience just can’t justify that price. You can do less with this phone than you can with a S20 Ultra or the latest iPhone.

For more information or to buy the phone, head to Huawei.com/au

OVERALL

Final thoughts

The software problems with this phone are so severe that Huawei should stop what they’re doing and focus 100% of their attention on getting Google Services back on their devices. Without them, this just doesn’t work. I wish them well on their endeavour to have developers pay attention to App Gallery, but if Microsoft couldn’t make a 3rd mobile platform work, I don’t like Huawei’s chances.

I feel bad for the hardware engineers at Huawei as they are clearly continuing to make amazing products and it’s just so badly let down by this software experience. Even the devs that work on the software layers, EMUI 10.1 is actually a perfectly acceptable adaptation of Android, but without the apps or Google Play Services, the P40 Pro really is dead in the water.

That may sound harsh, but imagine you buy this phone, with the understanding its an Android-based phone, then get in your car with Android Auto and it doesn’t work. Imagine you buy a Fitbit and go to connect it, but can’t get the Fitbit app. I can imagine a thousand instances where this will bit a customer and no scenario where its people outside China to ignore what they know is possible with the benefits of the Google ecosystem.

This phone has amazing specs and sadly none of that matters. I believe this problem is so severe that Huawei’s international future, especially their future in Australia depends on them getting Google and the US back on side. If the issue that started it all was a security concern, regardless of the merit of that accusation, Huawei need to go above and beyond to be transparent, regulated whatever it takes if they have any hope of making amazing devices that I’m going to recommend, because the App Gallery in no way, is solution, it’s like applying a band aid after a bomb went off.

6.5
Review: Huawei P40 Pro
The Good
  • Display quality
  • 5G/4G dual-sim
  • Camera quality
  • Fast charging
  • Comfort in the hand
The Bad
  • No Google Services
  • Limited apps
  • Camera bump
  • Design
    9.5
  • Features
    5.0
  • Value
    5.0
Categories
MobileReviews

Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis.
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