Huawei P40 review: A phone for the tech-savvy
The Huawei P40 range is here, and it looks to take on flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S20, Oppo Find X2 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro. Though it may lack some of the high-end features of the Huawei P40 Pro and Pro+, the standard Huawei P40 has a lot going for it – but is it enough to make up for the gaping hole left by the lack of Google Play Services? That’s a simple question with a very complicated answer.
From just about every angle, the Huawei P40 is a looker. Sporting a gorgeous blend of glass and aluminium that stands out from a crowd of plain-looking flagships from the likes of Samsung, the P40 is a beautifully-designed, well thought out bit of kit with a unique finish that I think other manufacturers will be ‘borrowing’ in the near future.
You see, it’s the rear of the Huawei P40 that’ll really catch your attention. The P40, along with the P40 Pro, are available in two new finishes – Silver Frost and Blush Gold – alongside the standard Ice White, Black and Deep Sea Blue that adds a soft-looking matte finish to the glass rear of the smartphones.
Matte finishes aren’t new, of course, but Huawei has done something interesting with Silver Frost and Blush Gold; the rear is reflective beneath the matte finish, and you can just about make out reflections of objects in your environment as you play with the phone in your hand. In a world full of dazzling light-refracting glass rears, this is a minimalistic, yet effective, approach.
Despite the matte look, the phone is still smooth to the touch – in fact, the new finish adds a smooth sheen to the rear that feels really nice in the hand, and it hides fingerprints and smudges really well too. Honestly, this may be the best finish on any Huawei smartphone, ever.
Of course, I can’t talk about the rear without addressing that camera bump. The vertical camera bump is certainly noticeable, rocking back and forth as it sits unevenly on tables and other flat surfaces, but the improved camera performance makes it a necessary sacrifice – something I’ll go into more detail about later.
Huawei has at least tried to make the module as attractive as possible, sporting a diamond-cut volcano-esque form factor that widens out as you get to the base of the bump and detailing that matches the main aluminium band of the phone. It also helps that the entire camera array, including mics and camera flash, are situated in a single module, giving it a cleaner look than some rivalling smartphones.
There is hope that a case may reduce the camera bump and let it sit flush on a table, but there wasn’t a case provided with my P40 to be able to say for sure (there are P40 cases available though, just to be clear).
A display that leaves you wanting more
On the front, you’ll find a bright, detailed 6.1in FHD+ display complete with dual-holepunch camera cutouts in the top-left. The dual holepunch camera setup is a bit like Marmite, but after taking a couple of days to adjust, I really don’t mind it – the only annoyance is that notification icons in the status bar now get pushed to the centre of the display, and that can look a bit messy, but really, that’s a tiny complaint.
Like much of Huawei’s current collection, the P40 sports an in-display fingerprint scanner that works well. According to Huawei, it’s 30 percent larger than that of the P30, reducing the number of failed scans, and it’s much quicker this time around too. Combined with the facial standard Android recognition tech on offer (only the Pro models work in low-light using IR scanners) you’ll barely have to enter your pin to unlock the phone.
Sadly, the Huawei P40 doesn’t feature the same bezel-less curved OverFlow display featured on the high-end P40 Pro and Pro+, losing out on the wow factor present on the higher-end models. The lack of curved edges means bezels are present on the P40, although they are slightly thinner than those present on the iPhone 11 range.
While I can accept that the entry-level P40 may not get access to the ‘Pro’ level displays of the more expensive variants, it’s not the only thing the P40 loses out on; the standard P40 display is capped at 60Hz, while the P40 Pro and Pro+ offer a higher 90Hz refresh rate. Considering budget phones like the £219 Realme 6 offers a 90Hz display, it seems like a huge omission on a flagship phone in 2020.
Phenomenal camera performance
Really and truly, the camera system is the main reason to pick up the Huawei P40. It doesn’t offer the quad- or penta-camera setups available on the Pro variants, but all three share the same main f/1.9 50Mp RYYB sensor that Huawei calls its most advanced to date.
Though it doesn’t sport the 108Mp resolution of the Xiaomi Mi Note 10, the Huawei’s main rear snapper boasts the largest camera sensor in any smartphone right at 1/1.28in, beating other flagships including the iPhone 11 and Samsung Galaxy S20 ranges – and it’s immediately noticeable when taking snaps using the P40.
Generally speaking, a larger sensor should allow for more intake, higher dynamic range and less noise, and that’s what the P40’s main 50Mp snapper offers. Whether you’re taking photos in bright daylight or a dimly lit room, the P40 does a stunning job at capturing detail, and the dynamic range of photos is incredible. Even when zooming in, the images remain detailed, allowing you to pick out small details missed by other smartphones at a similar price.
Of course, Huawei has always been a leader in low-light photography and, as you’d expect, the large sensor of the main 50Mp snapper means performance is better than ever with the P40.
That’s partly due to the third-generation DaVinci NPU engine that automatically analyses every photo taken, going pixel-by-pixel to individually enhance every part of the shot. You can actually see this happen if you’re fast enough – viewing a recently-shot photo will show you the ‘before’ while the AI engine is enhancing the image, and while most automatically-enhanced photos look a bit ‘off’, I haven’t found that once with Huawei’s system.
That AI postprocessing extends to the P40’s 16Mp f/2.2 ultra-wide and 8Mp f/2.0 3x telephoto lenses too, offering all-round improvements to enhance the quality of photos taken. The secondary lenses perform just as well as the main sensor in most environments, although we did find that the 3x telephoto lens would sometimes misjudge focus and capture a blurry shot. If you want more from the secondary cameras, the quad- and penta-camera systems of the P40 Pro variants may be the better choice.
The main sensor features Octa PD AutoFocus tech, and while that might not mean much to you at home, it means the sensor is incredibly fast – and accurate – when it comes to focusing. It makes the 50Mp sensor perfect for shooting fast-moving subjects like animals and kids, with the P40 managing to perfectly capture my German Shepherd Luna mid-run without any focus issues. Combine that with near-instant capture and the main P40 sensor really is a beast.
You’ll also find a bunch of new AI functionality on offer, most of which are focused around the live photo functionality – making it a shame that you can’t use the AI mode and Live Photo mode at the same time. But if you do happen to take a Live Photo, the AI analyses each frame in realtime and suggests the three best shots to you – ideal for group shots. And, using the collection of photos from Live Photos, the AI can analyse and remove passers-by in the background of images. It’s limited to three people, but the results are surprisingly good.
Despite the dual holepunch cutout on the display, you’ve only got a single 32Mp camera available. The other is used as a depth sensor, and while it takes up valuable display space, I’d argue that the results are worth it.
Selfies are incredibly well detailed and the dynamic range is impressive too – even with challenging light conditions, like having the sun directly behind you. It’s one of very few phones that I don’t mind taking selfies on, and that’s not only because of the subtle beauty effects it can apply!
It should come as no surprise that the Huawei P40 offers incredible performance, sporting the same 7nm Kirin 990 5G chipset found in the likes of the Mate 30 Pro and MatePad Pro as well as the rest of the P40 range. There’s also a Mali G76 GU that offers a 36 percent boost in performance compared to the G76 found in the P30 range, along with 8GB of RAM and 128GB storage (expandable via Huawei Nano Memory Card) to play with too.
You can get more RAM and storage if you opt for the P40 Pro or Pro+, but with the P40 handling things so well, performance shouldn’t be a reason to opt for one of the more expensive variants.
In reality, the Huawei P40 is about as smooth as it can get, making light work of media-heavy apps like Twitter and Facebook that typically stutter on mid-range (and even some flagship) smartphones, and lag-free high-end 3D gaming is on offer too. It’s not quite as smooth as what’s on offer from the 90Hz-enabled P40 Pro and Pro+, but it’ll be tough to find an app that’ll make the P40 lag.
That’s backed up by our benchmark results, with the P40 largely performing better than the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, OnePlus 7T Pro and Google Pixel 4 XL, although it does fall slightly short of the powerful (and incredibly expensive) Oppo Find X2 Pro in terms of raw CPU power.
When it comes to battery life, the P40 sports a 3,800mAh battery that, in our experience, easily lasts all-day with average use. It won’t quite make it to the two-day mark without needing a top-up, but with 22.5W fast charging on-board (and a fast charger in the box) the P40 can regain 38 percent of battery in 30 minutes – it did during my testing, anyway. It’s not exactly industry-leading in either aspect – there are flagships with faster charging and bigger batteries – but it should suffice for the everyday consumer.
The only disappointment is the lack of wireless charging; while the P40 Pro and Pro+ feature fast 40W wireless charging, the P40 features nothing of the sort, and that’s becoming a standard feature of smartphones across the board.
It should come as no surprise that the Huawei P40, with the Kirin 990 5G chipset, supports 5G connectivity, but it doesn’t stop there with next-gen connectivity. It also features what the company calls Wi-Fi 6 Plus – as if Wi-Fi 6 wasn’t already next-gen – which offers support for the 160MHz bandwidth, boasting top theoretical speeds of a whopping 2.4Gbps. That’s an impressive claim, but it’s highly unlikely (as in, virtually impossible) that your home router will offer Wi-Fi 6 Plus connectivity, so don’t expect those kinds of speeds in the real world. Still, it’s a nice futureproofing option.
Alongside 5G and Wi-Fi 6 Plus, you’ll find Bluetooth 5.1, NFC, USB-C connectivity and seven GPS systems to help provide accurate location data, even in congested areas.
The Google Play-less experience
Huawei has worked hard with AppGallery since it lost access to Google Play Services in 2019. The app itself is well-built and installs are largely instantaneous thanks to Huawei’s expertise in networking tech, and although it’s still lacking some of the biggest and best Android apps, the offering is slowly improving.
You can now find apps like Amazon Shopping, Microsoft Office, and Snapchat on AppGallery, and even though they aren’t natively available, the store provides links to download apps like Facebook and WhatsApp. It’s also possible to use Huawei’s Phone Clone app to transfer compatible apps to the P40 – even if they aren’t available in AppGallery.
The only issue with using Phone Clone is that unsupported apps won’t receive future updates that fix bugs and add new functionality. For that, you’ll have to use an unofficial resource like APKPure to update apps like Facebook and WhatsApp that aren’t fully integrated in the AppGallery ecosystem just yet.
APKPure also provides access to apps that aren’t available in AppGallery, including the likes of Instagram and Call of Duty Mobile, making it a handy unofficial resource for those that do make the jump to the Google Play-less smartphone. Apps that require access to Google Play Services – like Google Maps and Youtube – still won’t work though, so don’t think about trying to install Google Assistant.
On the Assistant front, EMUI 10.1 introduces Huawei’s own virtual assistant: Celia. Yes, it sounds suspiciously like Apple’s virtual assistant Siri, and saying the phrase “Hey Celia” will likely wake any Apple products in the vicinity as well as your P40 – it certainly did when I tried it. It’s early days for Celia in the UK, and although it does a good job of understanding what you’re saying, it can’t do a lot right now. It’ll handle basic tasks like sending texts and disabling Wi-Fi, but don’t expect the level of integration with apps and smart home tech that’s available with Google Assistant, Siri and Amazon Alexa.
Huawei has laid the foundation, much like Apple and Google’s assistants in their early days, and it’ll be interesting to see where Huawei takes Celia over the coming months and years.
The Huawei P40 costs £699 in the UK and is available to pre-order from Huawei and Carphone Warehouse (which holds exclusivity for the Silver Frost finish in UK stores) and on contract from carriers like EE and Vodafone ahead of release on 7 April.
The P40 marks a return to Huawei’s earlier ethos of undercutting the competition while still offering premium hardware, coming in at £200 cheaper than the Samsung Galaxy S20 and £30 cheaper than the iPhone 11.
Of course, Huawei’s hand has been forced by the lack of Google Play Services – as well as Huawei has done to recover from the gaping hole that Google left, key apps remain unavailable on Huawei’s AppGallery, ultimately making it less useful than most Android alternatives.
As it stands, it’s a very competitive price for a flagship smartphone in 2020, but you’ll have to seriously question whether the savings are worth the sacrifice of Google Play Services.
The Huawei P40 is a hard one to sum up. The P40, though lacking in some aspects compared to the premium Pro and Pro+ models, can hold its own compared to many 2020 flagships. The main 50Mp rear sensor is amongst the best I’ve seen in any smartphone, capturing incredibly detailed images further enhanced by the smartphone’s third-gen AI system, and the secondary ultra-wide and 3x optical zoom lenses can hold their own too.
It’s also a good-looking smartphone, with a unique Silver Frost matte glass finish that leaves a soft sheen and a large 6.1in FHD+ display.
The crux, as with all Huawei products at the moment, is the lack of Google Play Services. Huawei’s AppGallery has come a long way in the past year, now offering some popular western apps, but it still has a long way to go to truly be able to compete with Google Play. There are workarounds, like using Phone Clone to bring unsupported apps over from your old smartphone and using APK sharing websites, but it’s still not a perfect experience – there’s no way you’ll be able to use apps that rely on Google’s services, regardless of how you sideload them.
The lack of Google Play Services means it simply isn’t for the everyday consumer. If you’re more tech-savvy, don’t mind sideloading apps and can live without the Google ecosystem then the Huawei P40 is a solid option at an attractive price – you just need to decide whether the savings and impressive camera are worth the sacrifice.
Huawei P40: Specs
- 148.9 x 71.1 x 8.5 mm
- Dual-SIM with 5G connectivity
- IP53 dust and splash protection
- 6.1in 60Hz OLED display with FHD+ (1080 x 2340) resolution
- Kirin 550 5G chipset
- Mali G76 MP16
- 8GB RAM
- 128GB of storage, expandable via Huawei Nano Memory Card
- 50Mp RYYB camera, f/1.9, 1/1.28in, OIS
- 8Mp 3x telephoto lens, f/2.2, OIS
- 16Mp ultrawide, f/2.0
- [email protected] video
- 32Mp front-facing camera, 1/2.8in, f/2.0
- Wi-Fi 6 Plus
- Bluetooth 5.1
- USB 3.1
- 3800mAh battery
- 22.5W fast charging
- Android 10 Open Source running EMUI 10.1