Huawei just launched a new P series device and considering how good the P30 series was I was super interested to see what the new P40 series had to offer. The livestream came and went and the spec sheets for the three new devices–the P40, P40 Pro, and P40 Pro Plus (yes naming is getting more and more confusing in the phone world)–and frankly on paper at least they didn’t disappoint.
Now, here in the US and a good portion of the Western world, this launch is tarnished, just as the Mate 30 series was, by the fact that thanks to an embargo between the US and China has stopped Google from being able to do business with Huawei and therefore Huawei is not able to include GMS or Google Mobile Services on the device.
We’ll go into more detail about that a bit late and for now I’ll just say that I’ve been using the P40 Pro as my main device with my SIM card in it for a bit now and I’m surprised.
But before we get to all that, since Huawei did send me a P40 Pro review unit to borrow and I’ve had some time to use it as mentioned, I figured I’d do a complete walkthrough on it for you guys.
Now, if you’re not familiar, a complete walkthrough on my channel is where I try and go through every since feature I possibly can on a new device so you guys are better prepared should you be in the market to actually go buy one.
With that said, there is a lot to go through, so let’s get started with the hardware.
Firstly, the P40 Pro has a 6.58” OLED display with a resolution of 2640×1200 and a 90hz refresh rate. That refresh rate can be controlled too, but only in the way that you can select High for up to 90hz and Normal for up to 60hz. So there is no way to force it to always use 90hz like some other devices let you and you just have to trust the software to decide when 90hz is useful or not–which will probably be better for battery life at least.
That display is curved but it’s curved a bit differently than normal. Instead of curving over the two sides like we’re used to on a lot of flagships now, it also curves at the top and bottom. Well, the glass does, not the screen necessarily.
Side by side next to a Galaxy S20 Ultra for example shows that the glass is curved more but the display itself, isn’t. So I’ve found that it isn’t as prone to accidental taps like other curved screens but still gives it a still more modern look of the curved glass which looks really good and honestly when combined with the size of this phone just feels really good, too.
The idea for this design we were told was to mimic the look of water in a cup just about to overflow but keeping held in place by surface tension (basically, waters molecules ability to cling to each other and resist spilling over like gravity would like them to. Science!).
Inside that screen, we have a 32MP f2.2 aperture camera with X-sized pixels that is not binned and shoots in the full 32MP size. Something interesting to note about the front camera though is that it also supports autofocus. Now I know that sounds like something that should always be in a camera just in general but actually most manufacturers don’t include it in the front camera. Part of the reasoning seems logical in that people’s arm lengths don’t differ terribly so there’s no need but still cool that it can do it.
Next to that camera we have a depth sensor to help the phone figure out subjects from backgrounds for portrait mode, but since it also uses infrared technology in it, it can be used to make for faster/more accurate facial recognition, as well.
The phone comes in five colors. We have a pretty standard silver and black but we also have some really cool multi-layered colors (which to give credit where it’s due, Huawei was the first to push these crazy colors back on the P20 lineup). We have Blush Gold, Deep Sea Blue, and Ice White which is what I have here and reminds me of the Pearl White a little from its predecessors that I and most reviewers when we first saw it lovingly called unicorn cause I mean, unicorn, no?
We have an aluminum frame sandwiched between glass on the front and back (no mention of Gorilla Glass or what type of glass that is).
The phone is IP68 rated meaning that it can be submerged for up to 30 mins at a depth of 1.5 meters.
Moving around the phone, we have nothing on the left.
On the right, we have out volume buttons and power button.
At the top, we have our seemingly nothing, but this black dot in the middle is actually an infrared transmitter. Now, this is for a feature we’ve seen on a few devices in the past but hasn’t really been on many since besides some other Huawei devices. You can use this and the included Smart Remote app to turn the phone into a universal remote for your TV, AC, a camera, basically most things that have an IR receiver. Becoming less useful as more things become smart and can be controlled over Bluetooth or Wifi but still a neat thing to have that they don’t even mention about the phone. And when we are allowed to all go out with other human beings, it’s great fun to use at bars to mess with said human beings.
Continuing to the bottom of the phone, we have our mono speaker. Now, there is an earpiece speaker but it actually vibrates the screen to produce sound for phone calls, sounds fine by the way, but they don’t seem to engage it for anything else as it probably needs your ear close to it to sound good. Regardless, it gets pretty loud and sounds decent.
Next to that, in this model at least, we have our SIM card slot (and also support for a secondary eSIM, as well) and we have our NanoMemory card slot, which is Huawei’s own proprietary memory format that is the same size as a SIM card.
There is also a dual actual SIM version, as well, that will support sub-6 5G on the first SIM and 4G on the second one.
Lastly, on the bottom we have our USB-C port that is capable of using the 40W fast charger that comes in the box to charge the 4200mah battery inside it. Let’s plug it in though and see how it does.
Speaking of the battery, here is my battery usage and screen on time for a couple of typical days while using it. Now, of course, I’m in my own apt all day and night right now because of the quarantine so it’s not quite typical but should give you some idea at least of battery life. And considering Huawei has always been one of the best phones with regards to battery life, I’m not surprised this phone is no different.
The device also supports wireless charging and at a max of up to 27W which is nuts. But, unfortunately, this would require a special wireless charger from Huawei (I did manage to find them on Amazon though and I’ll leave a link below).
We also have fast reverse wireless charging that supposedly can support up to 27 watts of power to a wireless charging capable device that you place on the back.
Under the hood, it’s running Huawei’s own chipset the Kirin 990 5G and that is paired with 8GBs of RAM and the choice of either 128/256/512GBs of storage (which again you can expand but only using NanoMemory cards, which, by the way, seem to be about twice the price of the same sized MicroSD at least when I look here in the US on Amazon).
For security, we have the aforementioned facial recognition but we also have an optical fingerprint sensor under the display that is pretty responsive.
For connectivity, we have WiFi 6, Bluetooth 5.1, and sub-6 5G on certain models.
For more info on 5G and how it all works, check out my Decodr episode (a series where I do explainer videos on tech) here.
Moving around the back, we have our triple camera system that also includes a ToF sensor to help with portrait mode and AR apps.
The first of these cameras is our main 50MP f1.9 aperture camera with 1.22-micron sized pixels. By default, these pixels are binned or combined in a 2×2 squares. This gives us lower resolution but much better lowlight performance and dynamic range in general. So from the 50MP with X-micron sized pixels, we end up getting a 12.5MP image using 2.44-micron sized pixels.
Also, that all means that the sensor size is 1/1.28” which is just slightly larger than the S20 Ultra’s 1/1.33” and the Find X2 Pro’s 1/1.43” sensor size. Frankly, this is a race that I’m happy to see happening all of a sudden as I love these the fact that these larger sensors can accept more light (by having more room for larger pixels really) and the natural bokeh, the blurred separation between the subject and the background, that they produce.
Another interesting thing about this sensor is the fact that instead of using RGB they use an RYYB pattern (red, yellow, yellow, blue). Bottom line, without getting overly technical, the use of yellow instead of green let’s about 40% more light to hit the photosite so lowlight images should be further improved.
In addition to this, that sensor is also optically stabilized, and also supports all pixel auto-focus (instead of the more traditional dual-pixel autofocus). The general idea here is that the sensor can use 100% of the pixels to detect focus as well as has some changes to the sensor’s micro-lens layout and without going too far down the rabbit hole here, that means it can detect edges better and focus faster as well as focus better in low light.
Next, we have a 40MP f1.8 ultra wide camera that also bins it’s pixels in a similar fasion to get 10MP images with larger pixels.
Then we have a 12MP f3.4 telephoto camera with OIS that is a 5x optical zoom. To get this focal length, they are using a folded design that actually sits sideways in the phone and uses a set of mirrors to get the length needed without protruding out the back of the phone like a traditional mirrorless camera lens would need to.
Because of the fact that it’s an optical zoom we get good results up to 5x and 10x is even okay, but once you start passing 10x it starts to get more and more oil painting-like as it does with any of these flagships out there. Least they didn’t stamp it in writing on the back of the phone?
Another interesting thing about the telephoto camera though is that they managed to use an RYYB sensor like they did on the main camera so again low light should be improved.
For video, it can shoot up to 4K at 60fps (so no crazy 8K video recording like some others out right now).
Now, let’s quickly dive into the other camera modes on the phone.
- Aperture: Which allows you to use software to blur the background from the subject.
- Portrait: Basically the same as aperture but requires a person and allows you to add beauty filters, which always look terrifying to me but that’s just me.
- Pro: Which allows you to control things manually like ISO, shutter speed, etc. in the viewfinder.
- Slow-Mo: Allows you to record 32x slow motion at 1080p or up to 256x slow-motion but only for a split second, at 720P
- Panorama: Allows you to start taking a photo and move to have it stitch all of them together to create a panoramic, wider shot.
- Monochrome: Takes a black and white photo, but seems dumb to me as you could just change the photo to black and white after the fact instead of being forced to only have it in black and white like this mode does.
- HDR: Another redundant mode to me is HDR which is actually on by default in the normal camera mode so not sure why you’d ever use this mode.
- Time-lapse: Let’s you record and play things back sped up.
- Stickers: Let’s you bake in watermarks into the photo but again, I’d rather just add these after instead of being forced to have them in here when I take it.
- AR Lens: a
- Light Painting: Lets you capture a light source in a long exposure shot to create artistic streaks in the photo.
- Documents: When you take a photo of a piece of paper of some sort it will let you crop to that paper and then adjust the contrast to try and make it look more like a scan.
- Underwater: a
- Dual-View: a
- High-Res: Let’s you take a photo at the full 50MP of the main sensor to get more resolution at the cost of lowlight performance/dynamic range.
- Night: Takes a series of long exposure shots and combines them to get a much better lit lowlight image (check out my Decodr episode on how Night Mode actually works if you want to learn about).
- Huawei Golden Snap: ?
Also in the camera, you can tap the icon at the top left to get AI Lens, which is Huawei’s version of Google Lens (go figure) and allows you to scan QR codes, translate text, and shop by pointing the camera at an item.
And an editing feature they added allows you to use AI to remove reflections when you take a photo through a window, which as someone who takes a lot of photos out of airplane windows, I kinda like that.
Moving on to the software, we have Huawei’s EMUI 10.1 on top of the open-source version of Android 10. Now, because that means it’ll run very similar to any Huawei device that’s come out lately, I won’t dive into it too much. But, let’s quickly go through some of the stand-out features that Huawei has added and then, yes, we’ll talk about Google for those that are curious.
- Private Safe: Let’s you create a separate home screen complete with different apps, files, photos, etc. and switch between it by either using a different pin code or fingerprint when unlocking the phone.
- Multiscreen Collab: Let’s you see your phone screen on your Huawei laptop, drag and drop between the two, use your camera and mic on the computer to be used on the phone, as well as be able to open files directly from the phone on the computer without having to copy them over.
- MeeTime: Higher quality video/audio calling app similar to Facetime that is going to be preloaded on devices (mine didn’t have it as I don’t think it’ll come until launch day). Something’s clever about it compared to Facetime though, is that it allows for screen sharing as well as can be accessed by third-party accessories. So, for example, you can start a video on the phone with MeeTime but then switch what the person sees from your front facing camera to a Drift Ghost Action camera mounted to your head (one of the first partners to add this functionality).
- Air Gestures: Using that depth sensor on the front of the phone, it can recognize your hand when held up to the screen and allow you to hold your palm up or down to scroll up or down on a page, or make a fist to take a screenshot. Yes, this is similar to what LG did (and then immediately stopped doing after) on the LG G8X and what Google did with the Pixel 4 but with radar. Truth is, all of these air gestures feel like an engineer said “hey, look what we can do with this tech” which is great but in reality it 1. Takes longer than using your finger or buttons to do the action and 2. Makes you look ridiculous.
Finally, there is a decent amount of bloatware on the device. Even folders that just say “Games”, “Social”, etc. and when you tap on them it opens AppAdvisor which as far as I can tell is Huawei’s way of pushing apps that are in their own AppGallery on to you. This, of course, is probably a way Huawei is enticing larger developers to port their apps to their new app store–do so and we can promote you prominently on the device. Which brings us to the Google dilemma.
Now, a quick recap for those who might not know. Google and Huawei can’t do business that’s to a trade embargo between the US and China. Now, while most people just think of this means that Huawei phones don’t have Google apps like Gmail, the Play Store, Google Maps, etc. it goes deeper than that to also into a collection of pretty popular APIs and services Google offers other app makers to make their apps easier as part of GMS or Google Mobile Services.
So login management, location services, etc. are provided by GMS to make app development easier for developers so even non-Google apps are affected.
So Huawei has their own app store called AppGallery and their own version of these APIs/services called HMS or Huawei Mobile Services. So technically, with HMS they can give developers a way to add back in that functionality that GMS helped with and with the AppGallery they have a way to distribute the apps on their devices. The issue is that this still requires developers to add in the HMS code and make their apps available in the AppGallery and well, at the moment, not a lot of the most popular ones (least for those of us in the West) have done so.
Now, Huawei has committed to spending $1 billion to try and get more developers in each local market to do just that, but it’s taking some time as expected.
In the meantime, here’s what it’s like to use this phone without GMS.
Firstly, I was able to get a decent amount of my apps from the LG V60 I was using before this onto the P40 Pro pretty quickly by just installing the Phone Clone app from the Play Store (yes this app is still in there for whatever reason) and opening it on both phones it’ll copy all your contacts, texts, and even your apps.
Now it didn’t install all of them, Google apps of course didn’t come, but neither did a few others for some reason so I just went and installed APKPure, an app store replacement, and got the rest through that.
Opening those apps makes you realize the extent that GMS is used as a bunch of them yell at you the minute they open saying that they won’t work without Google Play services, others I have connected to my Google account to login to them so tapping that button just doesn’t do anything.
Now, to get around some of this, I downloaded Chrome from the APKPure app, then I was able to get some of the sign in with Google’s to work as it just opened Chrome and let me login via a web page.
Then for Gmail and my Google Calendar (both of which I use to run my business) I used Microsoft’s Outlook which is interestingly enough in the Huawei AppGallery and that actually works pretty well even lets me swipe to archive and snooze, etc. so that solved my need for those.
After that, I was able to go to Google Maps’ mobile site and save it to my home screen which made it look like an app and opening it, it lets me log in with Google to get all my map data, grabs my location from the browser and let’s me use it for directions basically like the app.
I did this for a few of the more crucial apps that I need on a daily basis and some of them work as well as the app like Todoist for example, and some I have to force the Desktop view to get them to work like I want, like Google Drive (the mobile site doesn’t let you upload or making it into a web app like the others might have worked better).
There was however just one app that I use a lot that I truly could not find a workaround for and that’s Lyft/Uber. They apparently use GMS for location services and since there is not web version of their app, there’s no other way to use them. Right now, we’re all quarantined so not affecting me in the slightest, but normally that would be a big problem for me.
Bottom line, as someone who is very engrained in Google’s services, I was able to use the phone without them. Now, there was definitely some friction and inconvenience but if I had to, minus the lack of ride sharing which honestly kills it for me right there, I could.
The question is, would I. Is the phone enough to have me forgo my Google ties and use it over another phone that has GMS. No. It isn’t. But, it’s a lot less of leap than I expected and if they can actually pull off getting the big app developers into the AppGallery, that leap will only get smaller and smaller.
Now, of course, if you are watching this and you’re either not in the Western hemisphere or you just don’t really use the apps that I just showed struggle to work on here, then sure, this is less of a factor for you and that’s why I waited to the end of this video for all of that and I apologize for you having to watch that part then, I guess.
Regardless though, the P40 Pro starts at 899 euros and will be available in most of the launch regions on April 7th. I’ll leave a link to wherever I can find the best price on it for anyone interested in learning more about it.
And there you go.