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Hands on: Huawei P40 review

Same old Huawei story

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

Early Verdict

The Huawei P40 undercuts the Galaxy S20, despite its higher resolution main camera, and the fact it has more front cameras. But it also loses out on some of the S20-series’ highlights, including wireless charging and a high refresh rate screen. With Huawei still ironing out its Google-free offering, exactly who the P40 appeals to in the west is yet to be seen. But there’s every chance that it could be the best smartphone camera at its price.

For

  • Versatile camera system
  • Premium design
  • Powerful internals

Against

  • No Google services
  • 60Hz screen isn’t class-leading
  • No wireless charging

Huawei’s P40-series is official, and while all eyes are on the Huawei P40 Pro Plus, with its dual zoom system and ceramic design, the Huawei P40 Pro and vanilla P40 will likely be the more popular options, given their comparative affordability.

The Huawei P40 is the smallest, lowest-spec’d option, but it's no slouch. While its demure 6.1-inch screen might lead you to think otherwise, inside, you’ve got the same power as found in the P40 Pro, 5G connectivity, and the same 50MP primary camera sensor too.

Huawei has also included some smart UI flourishes, including floating windows and simple multi-tasking; and anyone with a Huawei laptop or tablet can enjoy integrated multi-screen experiences. But is this enough to compensate for software limitations owing to the Huawei ban?

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Huawei P40 release date and price

The Huawei P40 is set for an April 7 release across selected European markets. You can expect it to land on April 16 in Australia. So far, we know the phone will be available in the UK, other parts of Europe, Australia and the Middle East.

Huawei will only release the phone in one configuration - 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, and it will be available in three colors: Ice White, Deep Sea Blue and Black. As for the price, you're looking at around £699 / AU$1,049.

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 unverified online retailers, and software may not be optimized for US networks.

Design and display

The Huawei P40 misses out on the 'Quad-curve Overflow Display' display found on the P40 Pro, so it looks much more traditional with its flat sheet of glass on the surface.

The phone packs a pre-fitted screen protector, a hefty dual-camera punch hole in the top left of the display, and buffed, curved metal around the sides, top and bottom. It’s a good-looking phone that feels premium, even if it isn’t as stand-out as its bigger brother, and the OLED screen tech is also a bonus.

(Image credit: TechRadar)

The 6.1-inch display on the Huawei P40 has a resolution of 1080 x 2340, making it Wide Full HD. This isn’t class-leading for the price, falling behind the screen of the OnePlus 7T Pro by some margin, for example. That said, it’s still better than the iPhone 11 from a clarity point of view.

At 148.9 x 71.1 x 8.5mm the Huawei P40 is a touch shorter than the Galaxy S20, which measures 151.7mm tall. That said, it’s thicker, owing to a pronounced camera bump, housing that huge 50MP sensor. There’s also a 3x zoom telephoto module, giving it the same zoom as the Huawei Mate 30 Pro.

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. The dual nanoSIM tray is also located here, and can also be used to expand storage with Huawei’s proprietary Nano Memory cards.

(Image credit: TechRadar)

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 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 of RAM and 128GB of storage, is 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 Huawei P40 is also equipped with a 3,800mAh battery, which should last you a full day of moderate to heavy usage. It supports 22.5W fast wired charging, but no wireless charging.

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Cameras

The Huawei P40’s Leica-branded camera setup consists of a 50MP f/1.9 primary camera, a 16MP f/2.2 ultra-wide camera, and an 8MP f/2.4 telephoto camera that’s capable of 3x optical zoom, just like the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20 Plus. Unlike the P40 Pro, there’s no time-of-flight (ToF) sensor here.

Huawei continues to use an RYYB sensor on its latest flagship line, and this time it’s a huge 1/1.28-inch size, which is the largest sensor Huawei has ever used, and bigger than the one found on the Galaxy S20 Ultra.

Using pixel binning (whereby four of the sensor's pixels are combined into one ‘superpixel’), the phone's main sensor can take 12MP shots that deliver improved low light performance over traditional 12MP camera phones.

(Image credit: TechRadar)

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 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.

An oblong cut-out on the front of the screen houses a 32MP camera sensor and a depth sensor. Packing autofocus, unlike most selfie cameras, the whole P40-series is built for self-portraits, and we can confirm - it’s incredibly flattering.

Add to the mix 4K video captured at up to 30fps across the front and rear cameras, and for the price, the P40 looks like a camera champ.

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Software

The Huawei P40 runs Android 10, with EMUI 10.1 over the top. Given the power inside, there’s no noticeable lag when scrolling through apps or settings, or switching between them, however, without a 90Hz refresh rate screen, the P40 just doesn’t feel as nippy as some other devices like the OnePlus 7T, even though, technically, it’s more powerful.

Huawei’s AppGallery is the brand’s alternative to Google’s Play Store (which is absent), and you can also get apps on board with Phone Clone or the APK Pure store. In fact, for the most part getting apps on it wasn’t the problem - it was guaranteeing they would work perfectly.

Uber, for example, doesn’t, as it relies on Google’s location APIs that require Google Mobile Services (which are also absent). Huawei knows this, and it’s trying its best to address the concerns; with a mapping solution set to arrive imminently. As it stands though, for certain core apps, it’s a watch this space situation.

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Early verdict

You just can’t argue with Huawei hardware. Even the least exciting P40 model looks good and impresses on the imaging front. It’s Huawei’s software story that’s a bit of a leap of faith right now. EMUI is cleaner and more functional than it has ever been - the multi-tasking feature and pop-up window options recently introduced are great.

That said, a Google-free Android phone will still be a challenge for most, given the fact many of us have sleepwalked into a state of dependency, and might find conscious uncoupling with the big G a challenge.

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.