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Hands on: Huawei P40 Pro review

The P40 Pro wants to deliver a superb photography experience

What is a hands on review?
Huawei P40 Pro
(Image: © Future)

Early Verdict

The Huawei P40 Pro is looking to deliver a superb mobile photography experience. With four lenses and a dash of AI, the P40 Pro is capable of taking stunning daytime and low-light photos. It's also a good looking handset, with curved glass on all four sides and a premium finish. It's just a shame that it's not equipped with Google Mobile Services, which will limit its appeal.

For

  • Brilliant camera
  • Beautiful design
  • Fast performance

Against

  • No Google services
  • Screen isn't QuadHD/120Hz

The Huawei P40 Pro is the latest flagship phone from the Chinese firm, arriving in a trio of high-end devices in between the slightly smaller and more affordable Huawei P40 and the range-topping, wallet-busting P40 Pro Plus.

Huawei has positioned its P series smartphone to showcase the latest advances the company is making in terms of both design and photographing capabilities. 

The P20 and the P30 series helped Huawei become a household name in markets outside of its native China, and so expectations for the Huawei P40 Pro are understandably high.

As has been the case with the past couple of generations of its flagship line, Huawei has once again gone big on photography with four rears cameras and a 50x zoom.

Huawei P40 Pro release date and price 

The handset was announced on the March 26, and the Huawei P40 Pro release date is set for April 7 across selected European markets and April 16 in Australia. So far, we know the phone will be available in the UK, Europe, Australia and the Middle East.

Huawei will only release the phone in one configuration, which is 8GB RAM and 256GB storage. It's available in five colors: Silver Frost, Ice White, Deep Sea Blue, Blush Gold and Black – however, not all of these may be available to you, depending on what region you're in.

As for the Huawei P40 Pro price, you're looking at £899 / AU$1,599 (around $1,100, AED 3,499).

Huawei smartphones are currently not available through US carriers or major retailers, though it's still possible to buy them. This usually means a higher cost or relying on an unverified online retailers, and software may not be optimized for US networks.

Design and display

The P40 Pro features what Huawei calls a 'Quad-curve Overflow Display', with curved glass at all four edges. We've seen a few phones with curved sides, but with the Huawei P40 Pro you also get curved top and bottom edges. 

However, the display itself only curves at the sides, not from the top or bottom – it's just the glass on top that curves there. 

There are still very thin bezels at the top and bottom, and while these do look thinner than on competing phones, it’s not a drastic difference compared to, say, the Galaxy S20 Ultra.

Huawei P40 Pro

(Image credit: Future)

The 6.58-inch screen on the Huawei P40 Pro has a resolution of 1200 x 2640, which isn't quite Quad HD but equates to a pixel density of 441ppi, which is slightly lower than the current flagships from some other brands. 

The Galaxy S20 Plus comes in at 1440 x 3200, 525ppi while the iPhone 11 Pro is 1125 x 2436 pixels, 458ppi. In real-world usage, however, most people will be unlikely to notice much difference.

Huawei has increased the refresh rate of the screen to 90Hz, which is faster than the 60Hz of its previous phones, but not quite as fast as competing handsets like the S20 and Oppo Find X2 Pro that offer a 120Hz display. 

Huawei P40 Pro

(Image credit: Future)

At 158.2 x 72.6 x 9mm the Huawei P40 Pro is a touch shorter and narrower than the Galaxy S20 Plus and Oppo Find X2 Pro (yet slightly thicker) which makes it fit nicely in your hands; however, you'll still need two hands to use it comfortably. 

Flipping the phone over, Huawei has gone from the flashy dual-color gradients on the P30 to classier-looking solid tones on the P40 Pro. 

We've been testing the Silver Frost version, which has a satin finish, the tones of which change between a light silver to dark grey depending on how the light is hitting it.

We think it looks nicer than the Cosmic Grey of the Galaxy S20 series, and it hides fingerprints quite well, giving it a cleaner look than most other phones. 

This is the year of ever-expanding camera bumps, and the Huawei P40 Pro is no exception, with a rather large protrusion housing its camera array. Like it or not, if you want a high-end phone with impressive photography features in 2020, you'll have to embrace the bump.

The power button and volume keys are on the right side of the phone, while the bottom houses the USB Type-C port and the single downward-firing speaker, which pumps out reasonable audio at a good volume. The dual nano SIM tray is also located here, and can also be used to expand storage; the P40 Pro also supports eSIM profiles.

Huawei P40 Pro

(Image credit: Future)

Features and specs 

The Huawei P40 Pro is powered by the same Kirin 990 5G chipset that we’ve seen in the Mate 30 Pro 5G and Huawei’s folding phone, the Mate XS. This is based on 7nm+ manufacturing technology, and is plenty fast enough to keep up with the latest flagship phones from rival brands. 

The processor, which is teamed with 8GB RAM and 256GB of storage, is also currently the only high-end chipset with integrated 5G, meaning it will work well with the dedicated 5G networks of the future, as well as with the current hybrid LTE/5G networks.

The phone also supports the latest Wi-Fi 6 standard, which will come in handy once wireless routers supporting this new standard become more affordable and widely available.

The Huawei P40 Pro is equipped with a 4,200mAh battery, which should last you a full day of moderate to heavy usage. It supports 40W fast wired charging, as well as wireless charging and reverse wireless charging.

Huawei P40 Pro

(Image credit: Future)

Cameras

If there’s one thing that has made Huawei’s P series phones stand out from the crowd, it’s the camera tech. The P20 and P30 handsets raised the bar when it came to mobile photography, and Huawei is looking to raise it higher again with the P40 Pro.  

The Leica-branded camera setup comprises 50MP f/1.9 primary and 40MP f/1.8 ultra-wide cameras, and a 12MP telephoto camera that’s capable of 5x optical zoom or 50x digital zoom. There’s also a time-of-flight (ToF) sensor for creating bokeh effects in portrait-mode shots. 

Huawei continues to use an RYYB sensor and the one here is 1/1.28, which is the largest sensor Huawei has ever used and bigger than the one found on the Galaxy S20 Ultra; the RYYB (Red, Yellow, Yellow, Blue) sensor is an alternative to the more traditional Red, Green, Green, Blue 'Bayer Pattern' filter on most camera sensors, and in theory enables the P40 Pro's sensor to collect more light.

Using pixel binning (whereby four of the sensor's pixels are combined into one larger one, enabling improved low light performance at the expense of resolution) the effective pixel size is 2.44μm, which should allow for a good amount of light to be captured even in darker conditions.

With the P40 series, Huawei is debuting its XD Fusion Engine, which uses AI to optimize your photos. Huawei was one of the first manufacturers to get on board with AI, and the results on the P40 Pro are impressive. The phone can remove photo-bombing friends from a picture, and even reflections that appear when you’re trying to photograph anything that's behind glass.

The P40 Pro also features impressive zooming capabilities and Huawei isn't shy about talking up the 'real', optical zooming capabilities on its phone – something that Samsung doesn't advertise with its S20 range. 

Besides the optical zoom, the phone supports hybrid and digital zoom up to 50x. Photos at such high zoom levels aren't very clear, though, and we’d recommend sticking to 10x for better picture quality.

Huawei is also making much of the video capabilities on the P40 Pro with an ultra-wide sensor that natively supports the same aspect ratio as DSLR cameras.

On the front of the device there’s a lozenge-shaped cutout that houses a 32MP camera, plus an IR depth sensor that’s used for portrait mode shots as well as face unlocking. While this tech isn’t as secure as the dot projector system on the Mate 30 Pro, Huawei thinks it’s good enough for verification when using Huawei Pay, the company’s digital payment service. 

Given that, like much of the rest of the world, we’re largely confined to our homes for the time being, we weren’t able to properly test the P40 Pro’s cameras in the range of environments we’d have liked to, but we did manage to take some daylight and night time pictures – and they look fantastic. 

What we liked best was how fast and effortlessly the P40 Pro enabled us to take these shots – it really is just a case of pointing and shoot, with the AI doing much of the heavy lifting.

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Software

The Huawei P40 Pro is running Android 10, the latest version of Google’s operating system, but without Google services, such as Gmail and Google Drive, thanks to the restrictions the US has placed on Huawei. 

The interface that Huawei runs over the top of Android is EMUI, which is up to version 10.1 with the P40 Pro. Over the last few years EMUI has matured into a nice clean interface for Huawei phones, with colorful but simple interface elements that make it visually pleasing.

There’s no noticeable lag when scrolling through apps or settings, or switching between them. The 90Hz refresh rate enables smooth transitions and animations, although we do prefer the super-smooth 120Hz now available on phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S20.  

For your app needs, Huawei equips the P40 Pro with Huawei App Gallery, its alternative to replacement Google’s Play Store. This is still a relatively new venture, and Huawei has catching up to do – there are plenty of big names missing, which could be a deal-breaker for many – but Huawei is trying its best to attract developers.

Microsoft apps are available, as are the likes of SnapChat and TikTok, and if Huawei can convince Facebook to bring its apps over the App Gallery will become a more viable proposition globally. 

EMUI 10.1 supports Android's Dark Mode, but a feature we found missing was a setting to schedule the switch between it and regular mode. We've seen other phones that switch to dark mode at sunset and back to light mode at sunrise, and we’d have liked to see it on the Huawei P40 Pro as well.

Huawei is also introducing a voice assistant named Celia and a video chatting app, both of which will be added through software updates to the Huawei P40 series.

Huawei P40 Pro

(Image credit: Future)

Early verdict

The Huawei P40 Pro delivers on what Huawei’s flagship line has become known for: a premium phone offering an fantastic mobile photography experience. Daytime and night time shots look stunning, and this image quality is supplemented by improvements including auto zooming and enhanced AI smarts.

While the phone is capable of 50x digital zoom, it’s more of a gimmick, much like the 100x zoom on the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra. From our limited time with the phone, 10x seems to be the highest zoom setting at which you can expect decent image quality.

The Kirin 990 5G processor ensures the phone is suitably zippy, and the 90Hz screen refresh rate showcases that speed. Its 5G capabilities make the phone P40 Pro future proof against network improvements, while the 4,200mAh battery keeps the handset chugging along nicely. 

That being said, there are other flagship Android phones that tick most of those boxes, and which best the P40 Pro in some areas. For example, you can find better screens, higher-capacity batteries and faster performance with 5G capabilities on both the Oppo Find X2 Pro and the Galaxy S20 Ultra.

Those phones also support Google Mobile Services and the Play Store, which is the standard for downloading apps on Android and ultimately their absence means the Huawei P40 Pro lacks truly global appeal.  

What is a hands on review?

Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.