Huawei P40 Pro Review: Spectacular hardware let down by less than stellar software

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Last year’s P30 Pro set a benchmark in smartphone photography and now Huawei is back with the follow-up act in the P40 Pro. The quad camera array packs an even larger image sensor this time around and 5G as well as a host of other improvements. But is it enough to make up for the loss of Google services and apps? Read on to find out, writes Krishan Sharma.

Huawei P40 Pro: Feels good in your hands

P40 Pro back

The first thing that strikes you about the P40 Pro is how good the handset feels in your hand. Most premium handsets feel too slippery to hold without a case but by contrast, the P40 Pro rests effortlessly thanks to the almost perfect weight distribution combined with the slightly angled aluminum sides and super soft touch finish. There’s also no harsh edges from where the glass meets the metal rails both on the sides and top and bottom of the phone, making swipe gestures feel seamless.

The flashy dual colour gradient finish that turned heads on its predecessor has made way for more restrained solid tones on the P40 Pro. I tested the matte gray model which resembles more of a satin finish with the colours shifting between light silver and dark grey depending on how the light is hitting the phone. All in all, it’s a stunning piece of hardware design.

Another nice inclusion is an IR blaster on the top frame of the phone which means you can use your phone as a universal smart remote for any IR-controlled device like air conditioners and televisions.

Compare SIM-only phone plans

Looking for a SIM-only plan to pair with your new handset? Let’s take a look at a range of prepaid and postpaid SIM-Only phone plans that you can pair with your new device.

Here is a selection of postpaid plans from Canstar Blue’s database with a minimum of 10GB of data, listed in order of standard cost, lowest to highest, then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our comparison tool to see a wide range of plans from other providers. This table includes products with links to referral partners.

Here is a selection of prepaid plans from Canstar Blue’s database with a minimum of 10GB of data, listed in order of standard cost, lowest to highest, then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our comparison tool to see a wide range of plans from other providers. This table includes products with links to referral partners.

Display & Specs

P40 Pro Camera

The P40 Pro has a 6.58-inch OLED display that runs at 90Hz. It isn’t technically as sharp as Samsung’s S20 Ultra and it doesn’t feel as smooth to use as the 120Hz refresh rate of the OnePlus 8 Pro, however, most people won’t notice much difference in day-to-day use. Disappointingly, there is only a single downward-firing speaker and while it does a decent job of pumping out reasonable volume, it’s a noticeable step down from the stereo speakers found on rival handsets.

The P40 Pro boasts two forms of biometric authentication – face unlock and the in-display fingerprint scanner. The face unlock system uses infrared technology to help detect the user’s face even in the dark but it is still a 2D based system meaning it isn’t as secure as the 3D-based dot projection system found on Huawei’s other flagship smartphone, the Mate 30 Pro or on Apple’s iPhone. For added security, you can use the face unlock in unison with the fingerprint scanner which works well.

Under the hood, the P40 Pro uses Huawei’s own Kirin 990 5G chipset which makes it comparable in performance to the Snapdragon 865 found inside most Android flagship smartphones. But where the Kirin 990 outshines competitors is that the 5G modem is integrated into the chipset as opposed to being discrete, which should mean greater power efficiency and less battery drain when using a 5G connection. However, it’s worth noting that the 5G modem only supports sub-6GHz 5G bands which while fine for Australian networks won’t work with 5G coverage in other countries like the United States where mmWave bands are used.

P40 Pro on back

Huawei P40 Pro: Simply superb images

Now let’s get to the part of the phone that really put Huawei’s P series of phones on the map – the camera. The P30 Pro raised the stakes for smartphone photography forcing the handsets that followed to raise their games in the process and the P40 Pro is looking to do the same with not just one but two of the biggest image sensors you’ll find on any smartphone. The Leica branded camera setup comprises of a 50MP f/1.9 aperture primary shooter, a 40MP ultra-wide camera with a fast f/1.8 aperture and a 12MP telephoto camera that’s capable of 5x optical zoom (lossless) and up to 50x digital zoom (lossy). Rounding out the rear camera package is a time of flight (ToF) sensor for creating bokeh effects in portrait mode shots.

The images produced by the P40 Pro are simply superb regardless of whether I was shooting with the primary shooter, ultrawide or zoom camera. The pictures simply pop with incredible amounts of detail particularly in low light backed up by a very wide dynamic range that make photos look very pleasing to the eye. The autofocus is also consistently fast and the camera overall has a knack of naturally isolating subjects from the background, enabling you to take dramatic looking shots without much effort. In short, this is the best smartphone shooter that money can buy.

P40 Pro on front

Not for the average phone user

While last year’s P30 Pro was an easy recommendation to make, this year’s effort isn’t as clear cut. The hardware is stunning and the camera is best in class and yet, it isn’t a phone I can recommend to the average user. Due to the US trade ban, the P40 Pro is devoid of Google which means the handset doesn’t have access to the apps that most people use whether they be Google’s own Play Store, YouTube, Maps and Gmail or third party apps that rely on Google services such as Uber and Netflix.

Huawei’s own App Gallery has some popular apps like Snapchat and TikTok but it is missing a lot of heavy hitters. I was able to fill in some of the app gap by sideloading applications like What’s App and installing third party app stores to get things like Instagram, however, these methods are hardly secure and present their own challenges when it comes to keeping the apps up to date.

As a fall back, you can always use Huawei’s web browser to access other services but again, this is far from ideal and it does mean you lose out on app specific features such as offline viewing and background play.

It’s a shame as the P40 Pro is a truly spectacular piece of hardware that is ultimately crippled  by the absence of Google’s Play Store. Unless you’re willing to compromise on the software front and find new ways of getting things done on your smartphone, the P40 Pro is not the phone for you.

Image credit: Framesira/Shutterstock.com

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