If you’ve not yet read the other content we’ve published around the Huawei P40 Pro, I encourage you to do so. We’ve discussed Android life without Google, the camera and the battery. Today we’ll take a closer look at the hardware in a general sense, but more importantly real-world look at the software.
When looking at the software, it would be remiss to not at least mention the political issues that have caused the situation. The push from the USA that ultimately resulted in a ban of US-based Google being allowed to do business with Huawei. Now we have an Android phone, except with no Google apps or services. In total honesty, this is for many users an instant deal-breaker, and rightly so.
But if you’re not totally invested in the Google Ecosystem – or able to work around it – there’s still a lot to like in the Huawei P40 Pro.
We’ve already taken a bit of a look at a bit of the hardware, particularly the battery and a more in-depth look at the camera. There’s a ton of features included in the hardware that are worth taking more of a look at.
Standalone, the specs of the device are impressive. The Kirin 990 5G processor is one of the factors in the phone’s power efficiency. We’ve previously covered the 40W wired supercharging, 27W wireless charging and reverse wireless charging.
The physical chassis measures 72.6mm x 158.2mm x 8.95mm and houses a 6.58-inch OLED “overflow display” (curved edges) which runs 90hz, 2640 x 1200 resolution at 441ppi. In plain English, that’s a decent-sized screen that looks really nice and is really easy on your eyes viewing media.
Under the surface, there are more good points to enjoy that help with daily use and performance. The fingerprint sensor is under the display, it’s functional but a touch slow at times. That being said, it’s one of the more efficient and speedy under-screen fingerprint sensors I’ve used to date.
You’ll be carrying 256GB of storage and 8GB of RAM in an IP68 chassis that weighs 203 grams. The connectivity of the device is highlighted by NFC for payments via Huawei Wallet. Bluetooth as you’d expect and Wi-Fi 6 give the usual range of connectivity that meets the expectations of devices of users buying top end devices.
It’s probably not going to surprise any regular readers that I really prefer like stock Android. EMUI has some quirks I’m not a huge fan of, most can be overcome by whacking a launcher like Action Launcher, Nova or any of the other options available. Even without this though, I could certainly learn to live with if I liked the rest of the user experience enough.
When you’re dealing with a phone that costs $1,599 the user experience needs to be top notch from the second you drop your coin. The retail packaging is clean and tidy and the hardware presentation is really slick. We’ve already covered what Android life without Google is like, but what’s the software like to use every day?
The User Experience
The core operating system is Android 10 with EMUI 10. Now, this is enough to tell some users what they need to know because anything other than stock isn’t acceptable for a certain market segment. It’s been a little while since I used a phone with EMUI and it’s come a long way, but still has some annoying quirks.
On the positive side, the menu system is far more like a stock build of Android than previous iterations of EMUI. There’s a lot of nice to have inclusions and tweaks you can play with to make your phone that little bit nicer to play with including 5G capability. There are limited 5G towers in SA at the moment so I only spent a short time in a covered area and — no surprise — data is fast. Just a small tip: Make sure you load the 5G SIM in the first of the two slots, as it won’t work in the second.
The sound quality is excellent, not just for incoming calls and media playback but for calls as well. Eagle-eyed readers will have spotted the fact that the P40 Pro doesn’t have any speaker grill for the call sound. That’s in part due to the IP68 rating, but also due to the acoustic display that transmits excellent quality sound during calls.
Interestingly there were some odd issues with notifications and apps not working as I expected at times. I’m fairly confident that the reason the apps weren’t working as expected is some of the optimisations done to conserve battery, a big driver for the outstanding battery life. I’m pretty confident that this is also the root cause of the notifications being delayed at times.
The troubles don’t stop there though, there’s a distinct lack of mainstream apps available through the App Gallery. This alone is going to be a deal-breaker for a lot of users despite the workarounds like using the Amazon App Store or APK mirror. If that’s not, the lack of Google services, including Google Assistant and apps will be.
Unsurprisingly, being a writer for Ausdroid, I’m invested in the Google ecosystem. Some items like Gmail can be substituted with other apps. Unfortunately — and perhaps a moment of enlightenment for me — because I use YouTube Music, Drive, Docs, Keep, Sheets, Movies and Photos really heavily – My daily workflow was really heavily affected by switching to the P40 Pro.
Once you get into the phone itself and the Huawei software there are further aggravations, starting with adverts in the web browser. About 1 minute after I realised that the ads were going to be a consistent issue, Firefox was installed and I was far happier with the web experience.
One thing I just can’t move past with some of the Chinese manufacturers is the volume of pre-installed software that I’ll never use. Labelled “tools” and having apps that are supposed to “clean up” your phone, sim tools and top apps they really didn’t offer any value to me personally. Given there are well-known alternatives with proven track records of delivering, I suspect most users will have their preferred options too.
One of the default behaviours of EMUI that I struggle with is the mass dump of apps on home screen after home screen. I far prefer, to set up my home screens with the apps I want then I’ll go looking for the others on an as-needed basis.
As earlier mentioned though, this can be resolved by the use of one of the many excellent third-party launchers on the Play Store – or if you’re really desperate to use Huawei’s launcher, there is an option to force a more standard app drawer type arrangement.
Other includes software and extras
On a positive side, general navigation and gestures are a big tick. Huawei hasn’t touched the default setup and it just works exactly as you’d expect it to if you’ve used gestures on another “stock” Android OS recently. There’s a couple of nice inclusions that are worth a mention as well.
Face unlock is a feature I’ve used a lot over the past couple of years. The first iteration of this was woeful, it could be fooled with a photo of a person and sometimes just pointing it at a face (not the person’s face who owns the phone) could unlock a device. Now it’s pretty reliable, generally fast and offers a happy middle ground between speed and convenience vs security. The face unlock is pretty quick on the P40 Pro, when it works… I found that if there isn’t good, clear lighting on your face when you unlock the device then you’re going to be using a code or fingerprint. So while Huawei has done a good job of the face unlock, in my experience OnePlus, Oppo and even Samsung are doing a better job right now.
While many of us — by design or default — have migrated from the likes of Swift Key to G board, the former is included. Not a proprietary, self-developed option which is such a wonderful change as they’re often slow and inaccurate. Why re-invent the wheel when there are apps out there that specialise in exactly this – Mobile device input.
Very little has changed since I last used Swift Key as well. Once I logged in, all of my usual language construction habits appeared in predictive text and it just felt normal. Would I prefer G Board? Absolutely, but there’s a minor issue with that and the politics that are still playing out in the USA.
The P40 Pro is a gorgeous piece of hardware that delivers a lot in a really nice sized package. The camera is excellent under varying light conditions and in a variety of settings, including fast focus requirements like sports.
Delivering the current version of Android on a $1,599 phone is a no brainer, you have to deliver the best of the best when you’re asking users to part with a lot of money. EMUI has come a long way and is now at a point where the user experience is very much ready for the western market, albeit with some issues. I’m not alone just wanting the UI to be as Google intended, without some of those invasive features and functions.
But then you get deeper into the software…
The Huawei P40 Pro is a hugely complex device both technically and politically. Sadly the politics have outshone the technical brilliance of the device. The lack of apps on Huawei’s App Gallery is really troubling and a potential deal-breaker for users who don’t want to go through the workaround processes. But for users who have invested in the Android ecosystem, the lack of Google services and apps on the P40 Pro isn’t just an inconvenience it’s crippling an otherwise brilliant piece of hardware.
Should you buy one?
In the short term, no. In case the underlying theme of this article hasn’t shone through, the software is just too limiting. I’d be very interested to revisit the device in 6 months time once Huawei has had the opportunity to bolster their app library to see how far the device and Huawei’s Google-less platform have progressed.