Huawei P40 Pro review: Breaking Point

This isn't cute anymore

Huawei P40 Pro
  • Huawei P40 Pro
  • Huawei P40 Pro
  • Expert Rating

    2.00 / 5

Pros

  • - Superb camera
  • - Premium design
  • - Simple 5G
  • - 3D Face Unlock!

Cons

  • - Deeply compromised software experience
  • - NanoMemory still sucks

Bottom Line

The Mate 30 Pro was the phone with the camera so good it was almost worth considering leaving the Google ecosystem to have but the P40 Pro can’t even manage that.

Would you buy this?

  • Price

    $ 1,599.00 (AUD)

Should You Buy The Huawei P40 Pro?

No.

Price when reviewed

In Australia, you can buy the Huawei P40 Pro for AU$1599. 

Huawei P40 Pro (2020) full review

The Mate 30 Pro was the phone with the camera so good it was almost worth considering leaving the Google ecosystem to have but the P40 Pro can’t even manage that. A second time around, Huawei’s blend of cutting edge hardware and compromised software isn’t nearly so cute.  

Overall, the design of the P40 Pro doesn’t stray too far from what’s become the house style of Huawei’s premium handsets. It’s a polished, if conventional, Android smartphone that oozes premium charm. Like other 2020 flagships, the screen on the P40 pro is clocked at 90Hz and can be set to resolutions as high as QHD (2560x1440). 

Like its predecessors, the P40 Pro incorporates an in-display speaker system. Unlike last year’s P30, however, the P40 Pro adopts proper 3D face unlock in addition to an in-display fingerprint sensor. 

The P40 Pro is appropriately beefy with a 4200mAh battery. It's also a little more durable than predecessors with an IP68-rating that puts it ahead of the standard P40's IP53 one. In addition to 256GB of on-board storage, the P40 Pro supports memory expansion via Huawei’s NanoMemory format. 

Where the P30 leveraged the power of one really big sensor to enhance camera performance, the P40 uses two.  It features a 50-megapixel Ultra Vision wide angle lens (f/1.9), a 40-megapixel Cine ultra wide angle lens (f/1.8), a 12-megapixel SuperSensing telephoto camera (f/3.4) and a 3D depth sensing camera. 

Credit: Huawei

Since Huawei’s Kirin 990 comes with an integrated 5G modem, there’s no connectivity-split SKUs on offer here. There’s just a single model - which supports 5G. 

Like the Mate 30 Pro, the Huawei P40 Pro runs on a version of Huawei's EMUI operating system - which is based on the open source version of Android but doesn't feature things like Google Mobile Services or the Google Play Store.

Instead, you've got to rely on Huawei’s own App Gallery. This digital storefront lacks most of the things you’d consider a standard part of the modern smartphone experience: Twitter, WhatsApp, Gmail, Google Maps, Microsoft Office, Google Pay, Uber and Spotify. For more info on what it does offer, check out this feature here.

For those looking for the deal-breaker, this is probably going to be it. 

The short version here is that Huawei’s latest flagship phone has a outstanding camera and commits to fixing many of the problems that its 2019 counterpart left unsolved but, ultimately, the company has done little to tackle the biggest problems facing them. 

Until that changes, buying the Huawei P40 Pro is going to remain out of the question for all but the most enthusiastic of importers. Nobody should have to work this hard to make a flagship smartphone work for them. 

Price

In Australia, you can buy the Huawei P40 Pro for AU$1599 through JB HiFi and Officeworks. 

The device is not available on a postpaid plan through any of Australia’s three major carriers.

Design - Look, Feel, Features and Camera

Right from the moment you take it out of the box, it becomes apparent that Huawei’s new P40 Pro has learnt a lot from its predecessors. 

Where the P30 Pro was a little chunky, the P40 Pro feels sleek and slim. The digital volume rocker is out. A curved “Chin” is in. Like last year’s Galaxy S10+, the P40 Pro’s display also boasts a double hole-punch notch. For more on notches, click here.    

And where the Mate 30 Pro was egregiously curvy for the sake of it, the P40 Pro opts to bend its 6.58-inch OLED display in more subtle ways. Like other 2020 flagships, this screen is clocked at 90Hz and can be set to resolutions as high as QHD (2560x1440). 

Credit: Huawei

Like the P30 Pro, the P40 Pro incorporates an in-display speaker system. Unlike that device, however, the P40 Pro adopts proper 3D face unlock in addition to an in-display fingerprint sensor. 

Huawei say they've actually improved the latter this time around with a 30% larger sensor that's said to be about 30% more reliable. For more on 3D Face Unlock, check out our guide here. 

Ultimately, camera bumps aside, the design of the P40 Pro doesn’t stray too far from what’s become the house style of Huawei’s premium handsets. As opposed to last year’s P30 Pro, the P40 Pro doesn’t feel like a flagship phone that’s straining itself to support a powerhouse camera. 

Instead, the P40 Pro looks and feels like the phone that the P30 probably should have been. It’s a polished, if conventional, Android smartphone that oozes with premium charm even if it often lacks the same distinct sense of identity found in the Mate series

In addition to a baseline 256GB of on-board storage, the P40 Pro supports memory expansion via Huawei’s NanoMemory format. This has always sucked. This continues to suck. NanoMemory is not competitively priced against traditional MicroSD and offers little in the way of advantages for consumers. Not even Apple is attempting a money grab so shameless. Nevertheless, Huawei seem confident that Camera Is King and that having flagship-level optics gives them a license to do whatever they want. 

This brings us to the main event and the primary question facing any potential P40 Pro buyer: is the hype real? Is it worth putting up with the myriad inconveniences that come part and parcel with all new Huawei devices to get access to the best smartphone camera money can buy? 

Credit: Huawei

The last four generations of P-series handsets have seen the brand ascend to the pinnacle of the smartphone photography world and, in line with that legacy, the P40 Pro’s camera is their most ambitious effort yet. At least, until the P40 Pro+ comes to Australia.

The P40 Pro features a quad-lens rear camera that tallies out to include a 50-megapixel Ultra Vision wide angle lens (f/1.9), a 40-megapixel Cine ultra wide angle lens (f/1.8), a 12-megapixel SuperSensing telephoto camera (f/3.4) and a 3D depth sensing camera. 

If that reads as a bunch of jargon to you, the short version here is that where the P30 leveraged the power of one “really big” sensor to enhance camera performance, the P40 uses two “really big” sensors to enhance results. 

Credit: Fergus Halliday

AI image enhancement is also a big part of the broader pitch for the Huawei P40 Pro. Both the front and rear cameras here are kitted out with upgraded motion-detection algorithms, optimised portrait photography settings and the videographer-empowering Cine Lens modes - originally introduced with the Mate 30 Pro. 

Credit: Fergus Halliday

As with last year's P30 series, high-end zoom is emphasized here as a point of difference. Unfortunately, this time around, Samsung has actually beaten Huawei to the punch.  

Credit: Fergus Halliday

The Huawei P40 Pro features 5x optical and 50x digital zoom. The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra features 5x optical, 10x hybrid and up to 100x digital zoom. The latter isn’t especially usable but, if Huawei’s best camera phone can’t keep pace with the competition, then the argument for why you should put it up with its issues begins to fall apart. 

Credit: Fergus Halliday

The other thing that wounds the argument for the Huawei P40 Pro is the current coronavirus pandemic. 

Credit: Fergus Halliday

There’s a world in which the angle for this review revolved around the tension between having the most powerful smartphone camera and being unable to use it due to the coronavirus. When you can’t travel overseas or even grab brunch at your favorite cafe, it feels like you get a whole lot less bang for your buck when it comes to splurging for a better camera.

Credit: Fergus Halliday

However, the reality here is that there isn’t much to say here. Having a matching set of SuperSensors in your handset isn’t going to make my TikToks any funnier. And when you can’t go anywhere, you just end up taking a lot of food photos. 

I was hardly unhappy with the results that the Huawei P40 Pro’s quad-lens camera delivered but, sans the opportunity to actually push that hardware to the limit, I can’t see a world in which it makes sense to pay extra for a camera this powerful. At least, not until the era of social distancing has passed. 

The final piece of the puzzle worth touching on here is 5G. Since Huawei’s Kirin 990 comes with an integrated 5G modem, there’s no connectivity-split SKUs on offer here. There’s just a single version of the P40 Pro - which supports 5G out of the box. This is great. I have plenty of reservations about the P40 Pro but this isn't one of them. More smartphone vendors should adopt this model.

Performance - Specs, Software, Benchmarks and Battery Life

Specs

  • Processor:  Kirin 990

  • Operating System:  Android 10 Open Source + EMUI 10.1

  • RAM:  8GB

  • Storage: 256GB

  • MicroSD slot: No.

  • Headphone Jack: No. 

  • Fingerprint sensor: In-Display 

  • SIM: Single + eSIM

  • Battery: 4200mAh

  • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5, Wi-Fi 6, 5G

  • Rear Camera: 50-megapixel (f/1.9) + 12-megapixel (f/3.4) + 40-megapixel (f/1.8) + TOF 

  • Front-Facing Camera: 32-megapixel (f/2.2)

  • Dimensions: 158.2 x 72.6 x 9mm

  • Weight: 209g

Software 

Of course, for all that Huawei has learnt from their own past mistakes, they’ve done little in the way of adapting or attempting to solve the fundamental problems that now facing the brand.

Like the Mate 30 Pro, the Huawei P40 Pro runs on a version of Huawei's EMUI operating system - which is based on the open source version of Android but doesn't feature things like Google Mobile Services or the Google Play Store.

Instead, you've got to rely on Huawei’s own App Gallery. This digital storefront lacks most of the things you’d consider a standard part of the modern smartphone experience: Twitter, WhatsApp, Gmail, Google Maps, Microsoft Office, Google Pay, Uber and Spotify. For more info on what it does offer, check out this feature here.

Still, this time around, Huawei are looking to try and alleviate some of the pain of moving from an Android experience with Google apps to one without. To that end, the P40 and P40 Pro are set to prompt users to pull all their Android apps over from their last device using the Phone Clone app when first set up. Alternatively, you can also directly download and install APK files onto the device. 

Credit: Huawei

However, doing either of these things isn’t a guarantee that any of your apps will actually work. If the app in question relies on Google's Mobile Services or uses the Play Store for software updates, it still likely won't function as intended. 

Even apps that work one day might not work the next. Google has previously acted to discourage users from hacking Huawei devices to support their apps and services and there’s no reason not to expect them to do so again. 

For those looking for the deal-breaker, this is probably going to be it. 

However, perhaps-more frustrating is Huawei’s overt and unjustified optimism towards the whole affair. Being unable to use UberEats or Gmail because you bought a certain brand of smartphone is bad enough but without suffering through the company’s insistence that their alternatives - EMUI and AppGallery - are anything close to acceptable. 

Huawei’s email app sucks. Huawei’s web browser sucks. Huawei’s gallery app sucks. If Huawei don't want me to feel like I'm missing out, their baseline software experience needs to be a whole lot better than what it currently is. 

Having to put in extra effort to make this phone work for you sucks. Having to throw away the conveniences of the Android ecosystem because you want a better camera is a rotten deal that no consumer should accept. If Huawei can’t deliver what even budget Android brands offer as standard, they have to deliver something better. They haven’t done that. They don’t deserve your money. 

Benchmarks

When it comes to benchmarks, the Huawei P40 Pro proved itself a little problematic. Some of our usual benchmarks didn’t work. Still, where it did rate, the Kirin 990 inside the device delivered more or less the same level of performance achieved by the Mate 30 Pro. It kept pace with Snapdragon-powered fare like the Galaxy Fold but couldn’t keep up with Samsung’s latest Exynos processor.

Credit: Fergus Halliday
  • PCMark (Work 2.0): 8694

  • 3DMark SlingShot Extreme (OpenGL): 5706

  • 3DMark SlingShot Extreme (Vulkan): 5461

Battery Life

Battery life also proved particularly troublesome to test. The P40 Pro is armed with a 4200mAh battery and, in practice, this served us pretty well. Usually, I’d get a solid two days of usage out of a single charge. Sometimes, I’d even scrape into a third. Running down the battery on the P40 Pro through streaming video playback took 11 hours and 50 minutes - which feels like long enough for a flagship like this one.  

That being said, it can’t be denied that pattern of usage here is far from what it ordinarily would be. As a result,  it’s genuinely difficult to get a read on whether the battery life of the P40 is particularly good if this level of performance is mostly a result of the unusual conditions I’m testing it in.

The Huawei P40 Pro supports 40W fast charging plus 27W wireless charging through the Qi standard. As with the P30 and Mate 30, you can also use the phone to charge other Qi devices through reverse wireless charging.

On one hand, Huawei have traditionally excelled when it comes to battery life and a 4200mAh cell is nothing to scoff at. On the other hand, the battery life of pretty much smartphones is going to benefit from government-enforced social distancing measures and the fact that I’m now working from home. 

Credit: Huawei

In context, it’s hard to draw any conclusions here. I can’t say I was disappointed with the battery life of this device but, at the same time, I can’t say that I put the P40 Pro to the test in the same way that I ordinarily would have. 

When it comes to battery life, my gut says that what you’re getting here sits above the average for flagship smartphones but I couldn’t really tell you far above that mean the P40 Pro places. 

The Bottom Line

As someone who writes about tech for a living, it’s been exciting to see how Huawei’s ambition and penchant for innovation collides with the seemingly-insurmountable obstacles now being placed in the company’s way. 

However, as someone who has now reviewed both the Mate 30 Pro and the P40 Pro, I am tired of making excuses for this company and their products. As someone who loved and recommended the last few generations of Huawei smartphones, I feel well and truly done with this shit. 

The Huawei P40 Pro is not a phone anyone in Australia, bar the most hardcore of Android enthusiasts willing to live with or work around its limitations, should seriously consider buying.  

Sure, Huawei’s latest flagship phone has an outstanding camera setup and fixes many of the problems that their 2019 devices left unsolved. Ultimately though, the company has done little to tackle the biggest obstacle facing them. I’m tired of waiting to see if they do and you should be too. 

The Mate 30 Pro was the phone with the camera so good it was almost worth considering leaving the Google ecosystem to have but the P40 Pro can’t even be that. In a world where the competition has caught up, the compromises remain and Huawei aren’t competing on price, it’s no wonder that local carriers aren’t ranging the follow-up to one of last year’s most popular premium handsets. 

Huawei can act like losing access to Google apps isn’t the end of the world but, unless they radically change their approach, it might just be the end of my interest in engaging with the brand outright.

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Read more on these topics: Huawei, Huawei P40 Pro, Huawei P40, Huawei P40 Pro Review
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