We really, really want to love the P40 Pro. This latest flagship has so much going for it we should be telling everyone we know to get online and buy it over every other Android smartphone on the market right now. Sadly, we can’t do that. We really can’t recommend you order this device at all. And that’s a monumental shame as this could have quite easily been the best phone of 2020. So what’s so good and bad about the P40 Pro?
Let’s start with all the things that we adore about this new Huawei device and, believe us, the list of positives is pretty long. First up, the P40 Pro looks and feels fantastic with a premium design and curvaceous screen bringing a genuine touch of class.
This quad-curve “Overflow Display” bends gracefully around the edges of the case and not only means you get a striking bezel-free finish but also a device that’s incredibly comfortable to hold. Spin the P40 around, you’ll find a large quad Leica-branded rear camera. Despite its size, Huawei has somehow managed to make this snapper appear far more attractive than Samsung’s ghastly-looking S20 Ultra – which as you’ll see from our review isn’t going to win any prizes at the next beauty contest.
Our P40 Pro arrived in a glossy black colour which means you get a striking shiny finish. If you love a bit of bling this mirrored look has plenty of appeal – although it’s a shocking magnet for mucky fingerprints and will need endless cleaning to keep it looking box fresh.
Despite its large 6.5-inch screen, the P40 Pro doesn’t actually feel that big in your hands although its all-glass design is pretty slippy so a case could be a good purchase if you want to keep the display free from cracks.
Speaking of that screen this is another solid feature of the P40 Pro with its display offering a bright, colourful and very slick experience. Huawei has brought 90Hz high refresh-rate technology to the P40 Pro, which basically makes scrolling through websites and playing games buttery smooth and stutter-free.
It’s worth noting the rival Galaxy S20 range from Samsung and OnePlus 8 Pro come with an even more impressive 120Hz touchscreen, which looks even smoother. However, switching 120Hz mode on impacts battery life. According to Huawei, that’s why it has stuck with a 90Hz refresh rate since it believes this brings a good experience without impacting performance.
We have to be honest and say that Huawei may have a point here. Place the S20 and P40 Pro side-by-side and you won’t notice a huge difference when it comes to the screen and we’d take the extra battery life over the marginal difference with the refresh rate.
Away from the screen, another blockbuster feature of the P40 Pro has to be its new camera which can only be described as sensational.
The team at DXO Mark, who test every smartphone camera on the planet, have already crowned the P40 Pro a winner and it’s not hard to see why.With four rear lenses and some clever software, you’ll get a decent shot of almost everything you take.
Huawei has packed a giant 50-megapixel sensor along with a wide-angle and depth-sensing camera into its latest device plus there’s also an impressive 12-megapixel telephoto camera which offers 5X optical and 50X digital zoom.
Using this lens allows you to get much closer to what you are shooting without losing bucket-loads of detail. Huawei has also included some clever AI which helps to improve these zoomed images even further and it’s certainly a feature you’ll get plenty of use out of.
SEE OUR P40 PRO CAMERA ZOOM SAMPLES BELOW
There’s also a very good night mode, which makes pictures taken after the sun goes down look like they have been shot in daylight and Huawei has included a bunch of photographic tricks such as instantly removing people who may have photobombed your pictures and getting rid of reflections when shooting images through a window.
Video is also super impressive with support for 4K and GoPro-style image stabilisation making your movies appear as if shot by a professional.
So the design, camera and screen are all top class, but there’s plenty of other bonus features tucked inside the P40 Pro including the scarily-fast Kirin 990 processor and 5G technology which means you’ll get fibre-like broadband speeds when away from your home. A larger embedded fingerprint scanner improves the speeds and accuracy when trying to unlock the phone and the fast-charging 4,200mAh battery provides more than enough power.
Huawei deserves full credit for its latest hardware. The P40 Pro offers one of the best phone experiences of 2020. We’re totally smitten with it.
However, a phone is more than just glass, metal, and microchips as the software that powers it is also hugely important and this is where things go so badly wrong. With the US trade ban still in full force, Huawei can’t feature any Google applications or services, including Google Maps, Google Photos, Gmail, YouTube, and of course, the all-important Play Store. That means you won’t be able to download all the usual apps, games, eBooks, magazines, music or movies that you’d usually get from the Play Store to your phone.
Huawei is doing its best to solve this crisis by launching its own version of the Play Store known as the Huawei App Gallery. It also includes a feature called Phone Clone which transfers many apps from your old phone straight to the P40 Pro. To be fair to Huawei it’s not a bad attempt at fixing this digital nightmare with many applications working without a hitch.
We’ve been easily able to install popular services such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, plus you’ll find apps such as TikTok and Snapchat all available on Huawei’s new store.
However, despite plenty of positives we’ve still encountered way too many negatives and it just makes you lose all faith in the phone. For example, with no dedicated Gmail app, trying to install a secure work email profile on the P40 Pro is impossible and means we’re locked out of our most important messages.
Some apps we installed with Phone Clone failed to work and others simply won’t copy across. Many of these also cannot be found on the Huawei App Gallery, leaving you with no option but to find another app that does the same thing… or just cut the service or app out of your life.
Then there’s another problem with application updates. WhatsApp isn’t available on the App Gallery itself but can be downloaded with an APK file from the chat app website.
That’s fine, except that it’s unclear what happens when WhatsApp releases its next Dark Mode upgrade or crucial security patch – as these are usually automatically installed via the app store on your smartphone.
Also, downloading applications and installing them using APKs is something that many security firms warn users against – teaching the vast majority of users to instead rely on the Play Store, which is secured by Google’s own Play Protect anti-virus safeguard. Of course, downloading a WhatsApp APK from the Facebook-owned app’s website is fine. But getting into the habit of searching online and downloading APKs could led to P40 Pro users who aren’t well-versed with threats to Android accidentally installing malware onto their shiny new phone.
Of course, if you’re an avid Android fan then there are plenty of ways of getting around the block but with both Huawei and Google advising users not to do this we wanted to experience the P40 Pro in its most pure form.
As we mentioned at the start of this review, we really want to love the P40 Pro but it feels like you’re always using it with one hand tied behind your back.In fact, despite desperately wanting to make the P40 Pro our main Android device – once this review is completed we have a feeling the phone will be going straight back in its box and that’s a terrible shame.
P40 PRO VERDICT
Honestly, the Huawei P40 Pro is one of the most frustrating phones we’ve ever reviewed. This all-new flagship features some of the greatest hardware of the year so far – there’s no question we’d own one over the Galaxy S20 Ultra from Samsung.
The P40 Pro’s stunning looks, frankly brilliant quad-camera and glorious screen all make this a truly exceptional smartphone.
But switch it on and try to use it as your everyday smartphone and the Google absence quickly becomes more than just annoyance. Huawei is working hard to improve its App Gallery and maybe, by this time next year, it will be as good as what the US tech giant has to offer – but right now that is not the case.
Of course, if you’re an avid Android user there are ways around the Google block and loyal Huawei fans will no doubt be happy to spend hours customising the phone and accessing services via unofficial methods.
But without access to Google, the P40 Pro becomes a phone for the minority and that’s a massive shame as this is a device that should be for everyone. In fact, get those Google apps back and this is easily a contender for best phone of the year.
Unfortunately, until the US trade ban is lifted and that happens, we’d steer well clear of the Huawei P40 Pro. As painful as it is to type that.
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