Huawei P40 Pro review: Evolving smartphone photography against all odds
Overview, Design, Display & Audio, User Interface
Note: This review was first published on 10 April 2020.
Pushing smartphone photography to new heights
How do you improve on something already good that was expressly designed for that purpose? As many phone enthusiast would be familiar by now, Huawei's P series is meant to showcase the apex of what smartphone photography can offer, packaged within a top-tier flagship body with equally premium components. Starting with the P9, P10 Plus, then the P20 Pro, readers would recall last year's Huawei P30 Pro packed a powerful and versatile quad-camera setup with fantastic battery life.
But Huawei and their phones are not without challenges. Political instability in the world has resulted in Huawei opting to use Huawei Mobile Services (HMS) and a proprietary app store, AppGallery, since the Huawei Mate 30 series. That said, the company has been working hard at on-boarding and including popular apps via their app store, even if they no longer have access to a host of Google-related services.
Other challenges, such as 2021 launch of 5G network infrastructure in Singapore and the ongoing Covid-19 travel bans would mean that the 5G capabilities of the Huawei P40 Pro would unlikely be accessible to consumers in 2020, let alone be tested.
Despite the odds, the Android-based Huawei P40 Pro is here to make several points. One, it can improve on photography by introducing two new photo editing features that capitalise on their AI processing technology. Two, people will do just fine with HMS and AppGallery, and finally, it's a flagship phone worthy of being among the people's top choice in the first half of 2020. Since the P40 Pro+ isn't coming until June 2020 or later, will Huawei succeed making these points with the P40 Pro? Let's find out.
|Huawei P40 Pro|
Does the phone look familiar to you? That's because of the P40 Pro's Quad-Curve Overflow Display shares many similarities to the Samsung Galaxy Note10 series. The phone's front glass features rounded glass edges to emulate a near-overflowing glass of water, granting it an almost bezel-less appearance. What sets it apart is the 'notch-hole' front camera, where Huawei decided it'd look better on the left (Samsung Galaxy S20 models have theirs centred, while the previous generation Galaxy S10 models have it on the right).
The phone's front panel isn't wholly edgeless since it's still housed within a black frame on all sides, with the thickest bordered area across the bottom rung of the display.
Flip the P40 Pro on its rear and you'll find a reflective matte finish (our unit is the Deep Sea Blue colour variant). It uses a similar (if not the same) curved sides, with a raised rear camera housing to contain all the lenses and sensors packed within the device. Like most flagship phones, the P40 Pro is quite the fingerprint magnet on both sides of the device, but it's a trade-off many would make for an appealing looking phone (when it is wiped clean).
Like the P30 Pro, both volume buttons and the power/lock button rests to the right. Across the bottom 'chin' resides the USB Type C charging port, two of its four antenna bands, and a nano-SIM card slot (with an optional second slot at its rear for its proprietary Nano Memory card or another SIM card). If you intend to use the Nano Memory card slot and still want dual SIM capability, the Huawei P40 series have eSIM capability built-in - but that option is highly dependent on which telco provider you're using.
It's worth mentioning that the P40 Pro comes boxed with a basic phone casing made from polymer that's soft and grippy, so there's no need to hunt for a transparent phone case separately if all you need is a basic one.
Display and Audio
The P40 Pro has a 6.58-inch OLED display featuring refresh rates up to 90Hz, and has a display resolution of 2,640 x 1,200 pixels (which translates to a pixel density of ~441ppi). However, the Quad-Curve Overflow Display design it adopted means that the actual viewing area and effective pixels are a little less than what the spec sheet says. It's still an upgrade from its previous P30 Pro's 2,340 x 1,080 pixels resolution (~339ppi) display. However, the P40 Pro's pixels resolution is still lower than current-gen flagships, such as the Samsung Galaxy S20 models with 1440p resolution.
The OLED panel and its 16.7 million colour reproduction capabilities give the P40 Pro its vibrant hues. What makes the display stand out a little more was its EMUI interface being well-designed enough to appear crisp and sharp to the eye. Apps and videos render quite nicely on the device, befitting of its flagship status. Folks who like to customise the colour temperature and resolution can do so via its proprietary Settings app.
Even if the display isn't the best, resolution-wise, Huawei did a decent enough job to ensure that the screen is working admirably. Going by our test image (below), the P40 Pro's colour reproduction is no slouch, partly also because it's crucial to the P series's photography features. It's quite good at reproducting detail as well, capturing all the finer bits like lines between balloons and the snow-capped mountains in the rear.
The single downward-firing speaker does a decent job, but the P40 Pro's audio capabilities aren't something to write home about.
Huawei P40 Pro uses the Android 10 operating system with an EMUI 10 skin sitting on top of the OS. If you're coming from an earlier version of EMUI, it's worth noting that Huawei is finally bringing a Dark Mode interface to its users.
Where Huawei did put the effort in is the EMUI 10's design emphasis. For instance, it tries to mirror the stock Android OS by using a Morandi colour palette, giving it a neutral and professional-looking interface. It added several animations to make phone-browsing feel natural to the touch, such as its swiping trajectory (when exiting apps) and elastic touch animations (when jumping between different apps). While it doesn't make using the P40 Pro feel any snappier than the EMUI version before it, the animations help to make it feel a little friendlier to the touch. If you're big on design language and style, the EMUI 10 offers a lot to uncover.
A key EMUI 10 productivity feature is Multi-Screen Collaboration, but it requires the user to have an NFC-capable laptop or workstation and the Huawei Share app.
Of course, there's no way we'd review this Android-based smartphone without addressing the elephant in the room. As with the Mate 30 devices, the P40 Pro and its accompanying sister models are the second wave of Huawei flagship smartphones that ship with Huawei Mobile Services (HMS).
As of writing, Huawei has vastly expanded its proprietary app store (AppGallery) offerings, becoming the world's third-largest app store, while offering an ever-growing list of core Singapore-centric apps within the consumer banking and consumer transport space.
Even if the app is not available via AppGallery, most Android enthusiast would already be familiar with using alternative app stores to install popular apps easily. For instance, all of our benchmarking tools - except for AnTuTu - were not available via AppGallery, so we merely sourced for the latest APK for the apps we needed. That also included looking for Google Chrome, since that's the browser we use for testing Internet browsing performance on these mobile devices.
For most users, they could simply port all the apps over from their older phone using Huawei Phone Clone, exactly like how our video here demonstrates.
The real difference between using the Android-based P40 Pro next to some other Android smartphone can only be felt when you're using an app that also uses Google's backend services. Some will simply not function unless you use the mobile or website version via a browser, such as Google Maps and Gmail. Some localised apps, such as Grab, uses Google's API to triangulate your ride's location. The list goes on.
If you're used to workarounds, then grabbing a bunch of apps outside of AppGallery should be an easy affair. Plus, there are Web App options, which are just shortcuts to the respective web services which you launch as app shortcuts on your phone. But it's up to the individual to decide if they feel that they can get by without any Google-related backend service on a P40 Pro. While there are phone users out there that don't use Google Maps, don't watch YouTube or check emails on a smartphone, folks of that demographic will likely do fine with any smartphone device.
Beyond that, flagship features like the in-display fingerprint sensor still work as intended, and so does facial recognition unlock — little things like these help to affirm that the P40 Pro is of flagship quality.