2020 is clearly the year of the ultra-premium super phone, with more than one manufacturer now offering a big, spec beast of a device that's also quite a lot more expensive than the traditional premium flagship. For Samsung, that beast is the S20 Ultra. For Huawei, it's the new P40 Pro+. Unfortunate naming perhaps, but one that makes sure we know it's not just Pro, it's extra Pro.
With a spec sheet that reads like a tech nerds wish list, can Huawei's latest all-singing all-dancing smartphone compete with the best?
- S20 Ultra: 166.9 x 76 x 8.8 mm
- P40 Pro+:
- Both IP68 dust/water resistant
- S20 Ultra comes in grey and black glass finishes
- P40 Pro+ available with white/black ceramic options
The design of a smartphone can often make or break an experience using it, and when building big, spec-heavy behemoths it's important to make ergonomics a focus. Both Huawei and Samsung take similar approaches in this regard, with both featuring slim metal edges, and glass that curves around the sides. Styling is a little different, but the ethos is the same.
Interestingly, Samsung has opted to only release two colours (or non colours) of Ultra edition: black and grey. Huawei has a few different coloured glass finishes, including white, black blue, 'blush gold' and 'silver frost' as well as ceramic options. This last finish is designed to be shiny but ultra durable. The other glass finishes are either glossy glass or matte/frosty glass. So there's no shortage of colours or textures.
Both have quite large rectangular protrusions on the back where the camera systems are housed, both are also water and dust resistant up to IP68 certification.
With Samsung having the larger display, the phone is noticeably larger than Huawei's.
- S20 Ultra: 6.9-inch AMOLED, QHD+
- P40 Pro+: 6.58-inch, QHD+
- S20 Ultra: 120Hz refresh
- P30 Pro_: 90Hz refresh
If what you want is the biggest display possible, the Samsung is going to be the best option here. The S20 Ultra features a 6.9-inch QuadHD+ resolution panel built using one of the company's own Dynamic AMOLED panels.
Similarly, Huawei's phone also has a QuadHD+ resolution screen, but measuring 6.58-inches diagonally, which means technically it will appear slightly sharper because it has a similar number of pixels in a smaller space.
Both have quite high refresh rates too, with Samsung offering up to 120Hz (as long as you use it in a lower resolution mode) and Huawei offering 90Hz. It should mean they both feel fluid and fast, with no lag in the interface or gaming animations.
Both feature hole-punch cutouts in the display to make space for the front facing camera, but Samsung's a really small singular cutout in the centre. Huawei's has a dual-coutout placed in the left corner.
Both of the phones also have invisible in-display fingerprint sensors, but using different technologies. Huawei uses an optical scanner, which means it uses a camera to take a picture of your fingerprint, while Samsung uses ultrasonic technology which doesn't need a light to flash, and is technically more accurate since it measures depth.
- P30 Pro has five cameras
- S20 Ultra has four
- P30 Pro offers 10x optical zoom
- S20 Ultra has 10x hybrid optical zoom
- P30 Pro primary sensor is 50MP
- Samsung primary is 108MP
Huawei has gone all in on the cameras for the P40 Pro. The primary camera is 50MP built on a 1/1.28-inch sensor, making it one of the largest smartphone camera sensors around for better detail, light capture and dynamic range. Samsung's primary camera 108MP on slightly smaller 1/1.33-inch sensor.
Curiously, Huawei has gone with two optical zoom cameras for the P40 Pro. One's a traditional 8-megapixel 3x optical zoom, the other is an 8-megapixel 10x periscope camera. Samsung has a 48-megapixel periscope zoom too, offering 10x hybrid zoom.
Of course, the both have ultra-wide cameras as well, with Huawei opting for a 40-megapixel sensor in that one, and Samsung going with 12-megapixels.
The additional sensor on both phones is a depth sensing background camera. You can't take pictures with it, but it helps the cameras get a better understanding of depth and distances to help produce those portrait shots with blur.
Both manufacturers also have their own versions of post processing and analysing to decide which effects to apply to a particular shot. Whether that's making skies more blue, or plants more green and so on.
Hardware and performance
- Both 5G
- Huawei: Kirin 990 processor
- Samsung: Exynos 990 or Snapdragon 865
- Huawei: 4,200mAh battery w/40W wired or wireless charging
- Samsung: 5,000mAh battery w/45W wired and 15W wireless
Both these phones are about as powerful as you can get right now. Huawei uses its own custom processor called the Kirin 990 with built-in 5G capabilities. Similarly, Samsung has either the Exynos 990 or Snapdragon 865. They're all octa-core processors built on 7nm processes.
What that means for the every day user is that the phones both feel fast and fluid and won't struggle to launch even the most demanding games and apps.
As for battery size, Samsung clearly has the advantage here with 5,000mAh capacity compared to Huawei's 4,200mAh. Huawei is known for its efficient battery optimisations in its software, so actually battery life will still be very good.
Charging speed is similar when you use a cabled connection. Samsung can accept 45W power to charge up quickly, although it only ships with a 25W adapter. Huawei ships with 45W, and is also able to charge wirelessly at a similar speed. Samsung's wireless charging is much slower.
A big reason to choose one of these phones over the other may end up just being software. Huawei is still being forced to try its own route, using the open source version of Android that doesn't come with Play Store or Google Play Services. That means hoping your most-used apps are on the Huawei AppGallery. While it's improving every week, not all the most popular apps are on there yet.
From a hardware perspective, Huawei's cameras seem to offer more, especially with the extra zoom capabilities, but Samsung's display being noticeably bigger and having a much smaller punch-hole camera means there's less intrusion.
In the end, it's still difficult to recommend any Huawei phone without Google Play Services, and so Samsung will still give you the most complete experience, even if Huawei's hardware is fantastic.