To say Huawei has had a tumultuous year would be something of a gross understatement. Having spent a good number of years building its reputation globally as one of the big name smartphone makers, even working its way into the top three manufacturers, and then having its ability to partner with Google taken away from it, was a little like getting the rug pulled from under its feet.
Since May last year, Huawei has doubled down on its own platform, and started trying to build up an ecosystem for itself while it still waits to be able to work with Google officially again. That’s meant for the past 10-11 months, the company has piled money, time and effort into an app store, getting developers onboard, and bringing in partners for search, maps and media.
That's the environment the P40 launches into, alongside the P40 Pro and the P40 Pro+.
It’s the 2020 look
- Curved glass on the back
- Ice White, Black, DeepSea Blue, Silver Frost and Blush Gold
- IP53 rated
Gone are the days where cameras were simply built into subtle single round protrusions or pill-shaped cutouts. It seems for 2020, smartphone manufacturers couldn’t care a bit if the cameras stick out of the back of their phones. And Huawei’s no different.
It doesn’t seem that long ago Huawei was proud of the fact its flagship phones had no bump where the camera lived, and now - like Samsung - it has a chunky big rectangle protruding from the rear, taking pride of place. With cameras becoming more advanced, and systems now featuring at least three lenses, that’s no particular surprise on the P40.
The glass back itself - on our review unit - features a colour changing glass. It’s DeepSea Blue, which means you’ll see a subtle shift between a dark blue and teal. It appears the days of eye catching unicorn colours are gone, but the design techniques that enabled them have remained. We really like the look of it, but the glossy finish is something of a fingerprint magnet. It barely took five minutes holding it for the first time to cover it in hand-oil smudges and marks.
Turn it over to the front and you’ll see the most noticeable difference between the P40 and the Pro/plus models. The screen has even bezels all the way around it, without the curves that make the bigger models appear as though they’re virtually edge-to-edge. It’s not a terrible look, but it does make the regular version seem not quite as ‘flagship’ as the others in the series. Almost as if this is a ‘lite’ model. Still, they seem thinner than the frame on the iPhone 11, so you still get a pretty expansive screen.
As for that pill shaped hole-punch cutout in the top left corner, that’s kinda hard to ignore. It’s instantly noticeable, and a lot larger than the subtle single cutout you’d find on a Galaxy S20. That’s because it features a dual camera system, as well as an additional sensor of some kind between those two lenses.
The edges are polished and shiny, as we’ve come to expect from Huawei, and finished in a way to complement that blue finish on the back, with the usual ports and buttons placed in sensible positions. The dual SIM/NM card tray is in the bottom edge, next to the Type-C port, while the accented power button is below the volume controls on the right, within easy thumbs’ reach.
- Flat 6.1-inch display
- 1080 x 2340 OLED panel
- 60Hz maximum refresh rate
- Pill-shaped cutout
There will be more than one instance of us talking about the P40 as if it’s not quite as premium as its Pro and Pro+ counterparts in this initial review, because there’s more than one element within its feature list that make it seem that way. One of those elements - adding to the design - is the display.
Rather than equip the smaller model with a Quad+ resolution panel capable of up to 90Hz refresh rate, the P40 has a FullHD+ (1080 x 2340) screen that maxes out at 60Hz. That may not seem like it’s quite competitive enough, but in a display this size and - for the regular consumer - it’s perfectly fine.
We’ve not had a long time with it yet, but the display panel itself seems great. Blacks are really deep and inky, while colours pop and whites are bright and clean. It’s certainly sharp enough too. At 6.1-inches diagonally and with the resolution it has, it’s certainly not lacking in crispness. Yes, it might look a bit more pin-sharp if it was QuadHD, but that difference would be barely perceptible from arm’s length.
Being a flat display does have its benefits too. Since the display panel isn’t curved at the edges, there’s no risk of getting any colour distortion or inconsistency in brightness that you might get from some of the fancier curved screens.
Performance and battery
- Kirin 990 5G processor
- 8GB RAM + 128GB storage
- Expandable via Huawei NM Card
- 3,800mAh battery
- 22.5W fast charging
If there’s one area this phone will match its bigger siblings, it’s in general every day performance. It uses the very same Kirin 990 5G processor inside, and has that paired with 8GB RAM to ensure that it should nail all the tasks you set it to just as easily as the Pro might.
This is one area Huawei has always been strong in. It develops its own custom SoC (system on a chip) in-house, and they’re typically very fast, and well optimised to ensure the most is squeezed out of the battery as possible. What’s more, this new generation - like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 - has 5G built right into it. There’s no separate additional chip on the circuit board for tackling that.
The battery capacity itself is 3,800mAh, which should easily be enough to last a full day, especially since this is a Huawei phone, and one that has ‘just’ a 1080p display. Of course, having only used it for a short while, there’s further testing required before we can comment fully on its performance, but it should get you to the end of a work day without even trying.
When it comes to charging the battery after emptying it, the regular P40 is left in the dust by its Pro versions. First, there’s no wireless charging built in, so that convenience is out of the window. Secondly, the wired charger that comes with it maxes out at 22.5W charging, which is almost half the 40W charging that you’ll get by opting for the P40 Pro or P40 Pro+.
We’re not saying it’s slow by any means, but it’s certainly not going to be close to as fast as some of the speediest refill options out there like Oppo’s Super VOOV 2.0, or Huawei’s own 40W.
No Google, no problem?
- EMUI 10
- Based on Android open source, but no Google Play
We wish it was that simple. There’s no denying the work that’s going on behind the scenes at Huawei to build up its own ecosystem of apps and services to compete with the likes of the iPhone and Google Play. But it’s no surprise to see it’s still quite far behind. After all, it’s attempting to make up a 12 year gap, having only really gone full steam ahead on its own services in the last 10-11 months.
The long and short of it is, however, that there’s still a lot missing from Huawei’s App Gallery and from the built-in software. Take maps, for instance. Huawei may have partnered with TomTom to work on maps and navigation, but as of yet, that partnership hasn’t yielded any fruit. At least, not as far as any maps on the P40 goes. There just isn’t a maps app. And being locked out of Google Play means no access to Google Maps.
Make a list of your most used messaging apps, or games, or other software, and there’s a good chance it isn’t on Huawei’s App Gallery, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get them.
In our initial setup of the P40, we used the manufacturer’s Phone Clone services which copies over apps and data from an old device, to the new one. We found that it copied apps, even those that weren’t in Huawei’s own downloadable app offerings. So, we ended up with fully working versions of Slack, Telegram, Messenger, Whatsapp, Twitter and Instagram, ensuring we had pretty much all we wanted. But there is a slight issue here.
Given that the apps were copied over, and that they’re not in the App Gallery to download, it’s likely they’ll be impossible to update to later versions automatically, which makes them vulnerable to security issues and means we won’t get new features when released. That is - of course - unless Huawei App Gallery includes them at some point in the future. Then there are also apps and games that carry over that need access to Google Play in order to sign into your email account, or Google Play Games account for progress and points, which don't work on the Huawei even when copied over.
- Triple camera on the back
- 50MP 1/1.28-inch sensor primary f/1.9 camera
- 16MP f/2.2 ultrawide
- 3x telephoto lens
- Dual selfie camera
Huawei has been producing some of the best phone cameras around for a couple of years, and the P40 promises to be even better still. The primary sensor - at 1/1.28-inches is easily one of the biggest (if not the biggest) ever put in a smartphone. That means more surface area to capture more light, and less noise.
It’s a 50-megapixel sensor, but uses a popular pixel binding method to convert four pixels into one, creating a 12.5-megapixel image by default. You can switch on the 50-megapixel images in ‘Pro’ mode if you want to. It’s actually great to see Huawei has used this sensor, and the optically stabilised lens in the regular P40, and not gone with a lesser quality main camera.
Where it differs from the Pro and Pro+ is with the other two cameras. Its ‘telephoto’ camera has 3x optical zoom, which isn’t quite as impressive as the periscope zoom on the top-of-the-line model. It can zoom digitally up to 30x if you use the slider on screen too, but those images are hard to get looking good, especially if you’re shooting handheld.
Then there’s the ultra-wide camera to, but it uses a lower quality 16-megapixel sensor and aperture setup than either of the two big models. Again, we need to test it further and it’ll likely be fine for pretty much everyone, but it may not compare as well against the more expensive models in the series.
The Huawei P40 - on first impressions - seems like a perfectly good piece of hardware. The camera system looks really promising, and the general performance should be really good, but it is placed in an awkward position by a number of factors.
It’s competing with the Galaxy S20, which offers a lot of the same features as its Plus and Ultra-sized siblings. The P40, on the other hand, has a display with reduced resolution, a not-quite-as-strong camera makeup, and lacks the same level of waterproofing as the P40 Pro and Pro+. Not to mention, it doesn’t have wireless charging.
That means, if you’re looking for great hardware in a small-ish size, it’s not likely going to persuade many they shouldn’t get the Galaxy S20. And for those shopping for a flagship Huawei, it doesn’t look as enticing as the bigger P40 models.
Then there’s the elephant in the room: no Google Play. Huawei has done a lot of work behind the scenes, but it’s clearly not in a finished position yet. Especially since Huawei’s app gallery is lacking in a number of important apps, and EMUI itself is still showing it needs a few basic services and features built in before it can compete fully with Android and iOS.
If Google and Huawei were suddenly allowed to work with each other again, and we could have Play Services installed on the P40 officially, it would be a phone worth considering. Right now, however, it isn’t. Not unless you’re willing to put up with missing some important apps, updates and features. If you really want a Huawei phone, your best bet is the P30 Pro from last year, it still holds up really well.