MANILA -- With 5 rear cameras on the premium model, a new screen design that curves on all 4 sides and a price tag that undercuts the flagship competition, Huawei hopes to draw specs and value-conscious buyers to its P40 smartphones.
The 2020 edition of the P series (with cameras co-engineered by Leica) also ships with emphasis on Huawei's own App Gallery, hoping to win over buyers to its growing ecosystem that challenges Google and Apple.
We spent 2 weeks with middle child of the series, the P40 Pro, for this review. Save for the fifth lens, the P40 Pro with quad cameras is not too far from the most premium model in terms of optics. It also keeps the same design, down to the most border-free screen experience on a smartphone today.
GROWN UP LOOKS
It's a pity that gorgeous phone designs live in cheap plastic cases most of the time. Held naked, the P40 Pro is gorgeous, with the "overflow" display spilling over to the top and sides. The curves are subtle and there's more flat surface area to work with.
On the back, the frosted Matte Gray finish feels smooth without being slippery. It glimmers without shining like a mirror. It's a new understated color scheme for the P Series that popularized gradient colors (think "Twilight" from 2018 and "Breathing Crystal" from 2019).
The front-facing camera is huge, so big that you can't unsee it. It floats on the screen and takes a lot to get used to. The trade-off: It's 32 megapixels and offers a more secure face unlock. Huawei could have gone for a notch, but it would ruin the quad-curve screen.
How clear are the P40 Pro's front cameras? On a Zoom meeting during the lockdown, one colleague said my mug appeared to have an Instagram filter.
Unlike on the Mate 30 Pro which has on-screen volume buttons, the P40 Pro has a physical volume rocker, which is a nice comeback.
Smartphone fans consider the P series primarily for the cameras (Huawei has been adding one lens per year in the last 4 years) and the P40 Pro delivers.
The P40 Pro is the new number 1 on mobile camera review website DxOMark, overtaking Oppo's Find X 2 Pro. It's front-facing camera array is the only one to score above 100 so far, also at the top of the heap.
The P40 has a 50 megapixel main lens; a 12MP telephoto with 5x optical zoom, 10x hybrid zoom and 50x maximum zoom; a 40MP ultra wide with low light and slow-motion video, telephoto video and time lapse; and a 3D depth sensing camera.
It excels in the dark and in zooming, as shown in these night shots during the "Super Pink Moon" on April 8.
Here is another shot just before sunrise, with rich amber hues.
The P40 Pro captures vivid greens, blues and reds. The Master AI is also not as aggressive in past models, making the sky look natural with just enough pop of color.
The new 40MP ultra wide captures more detail than competing ultra wides, where the image quality tends to be inferior compared to ones taken with the main shooter.
The 50X zoom is powerful alright, but at the cost of detail. In our tests, 10X is the sweet spot. At 10X zoom, the golden spires on the Philippines' tallest building still sharp without much oversharpening.
Video quality is similar to the Mate 30 Pro, one of the best smartphone cameras for video. Images are stable even without a gimbal.
We will update this review with full video performance once the situation permits. Meanwhile, here are a few samples.
Video samples taken using the Huawei P40 Pro. ABS-CBN News
The camera also packs new tricks. The P40 Pro can remove bystanders in the background and reflections on mirrors. We tried the remove reflection feature which erased much of the reviewer's image on a glass door, but not entirely.
FAST AND FLUID
The big upgrade aside from the cameras is the screen that refreshes at 90hz, which makes animations look smoother. While not 2K, the 6.6-inch panel on the P40 Pro is sharp albeit not as bright as we would have wanted.
The 90hz refresh rate is also kind on the battery, as the P40 Pro lasted from sunrise to sundown of typing, streaming and browsing. The 4,200 battery charges at 40 watts with the bundled super charger. In our tests, it went from 35 percent to 100 in around an hour.
Our review unit is 5G capable but there was no 5G coverage in our area yet.
Needless to say, the Kirin 990 processor on the P40 Pro is blazing fast. We've also been using the Mate 30 Pro which has the same chip and it performs just as fast months after it was unboxed.
We tested the P40 Pro relying on just the App Gallery and APK Pure for apps and we got almost all our go-to apps on the phone. For some apps, the web version with a desktop shortcut did the trick.
Huawei has invested a lot to bring developers to the App Gallery fold and the number of apps on offer grew since the Mate 30 debut in September. It's not the third biggest app ecosystem in the world after Apple's App Store and Google's Play Store.
MORE CAMERA, MORE PHONE
The P40 series shows how much the design is keeping up with the camera improvements in Huawei's P flagships. It's no longer camera first and phone second.
And at P50,990 (with wireless earbuds and a fitness band worth a combined P12,000 if bought on pre-order), the P40 Pro makes a compelling case for a 2020 flagship. It will also give the the buyer a headstart on a new app ecosystem backed a tech firm that can produce smartphones by the million.