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HUAWEI P40 Pro one year on: Last call for HUAWEI's Western ambitions
The 2020 release of the HUAWEI P40 Pro and its siblings marked the first entries in the P series without Google apps. It was a big deal then and it remains the headline issue for Huawei today. The lack of popular Google apps and services made the phones a tougher sell to Western audiences than the previous generation. Ultimately, this move halted HUAWEI’s rapid rise toward the top of the market in its tracks.
Months have passed since then and HUAWEI’s market share is still reeling from the US trade embargo. Its HONOR sub-brand has been sold off and rival brands, such as Xiaomi, are quickly growing to fill the void. HUAWEI has plugged along, attempting to paper over the software cracks with improvements to App Gallery and Petal Search functions. There’s even been some dubious-looking progress on its “in-house” alternative, Harmony OS.
The HUAWEI P40 Pro may have suffered these same software woes, but it also offered bleeding-edge hardware, particularly in the camera department. The package hasn’t gone out of style in just a year. In our review, we praised the handset for a range of sizzling specs, from tweaks to HUAWEI’s already excellent camera system, to a new 90Hz display, and stellar ergonomic design. One year on, have HUAWEI’s software efforts finally made the HUAWEI P40 Pro a phone worth spending your hard-earned cash on? Let’s find out.
HUAWEI P40 Pro review recap
Before we dive in, be sure to check out our original video review of the HUAWEI P40 Pro above and read our written review.
About that software …
The HUAWEI P40 Pro has been running the company’s latest EMUI 11 software version for months now. If you’re a fan of HUAWEI’s Android skin, EMUI 11 is a familiar refinement. HUAWEI made a few changes to its interface, animations, and the always-on display. EMUI 11 also presented closer integration with the brand’s other devices, like multi-screen collaboration for laptops. It’s a heavily customized skin loaded with HUAWEI flavor on top, but in keeping with the direction EMUI has been heading over the years. Even without Google, EMUI still feels like EMUI.
However, EMUI 11 remains running on Android 10 rather than the more modern Android 11. Even though HUAWEI’s in-house features go above and beyond the basic Android package, EMUI 11 doesn’t include everything that Android 11 offers. HUAWEI told Android Authority that it plans to integrate select Android 11 features into EMUI 11. We’re still not sure what this means for the future of HUAWEI’s handsets regarding OS and security updates, though. Going forward, HUAWEI’s software situation remains a big unknown for potential customers, and that doesn’t compare well when other manufacturers are increasingly promising three years of upgrades.
Still, HUAWEI’s Play Store alternative — App Gallery — has been given a couple of makeovers lately. It’s more pleasant to look at and use, with many familiar app store features. Although the store start-up ads and home screen app recommendations remain an irritant. Searching for apps is better than before, but it’s still very hit-or-miss if you’ll be able to find what you’re after. Petal Search steps in to pull a wider range of apps from websites and third-party APK stores like APKPure and Apitode. It has also expanded to become a more comprehensive search tool and, to HUAWEI’s credit, Petal Search has grown into a reasonably good workaround. Although, it still can’t find every app you need, as it’s pulling from GMS not HMS compatible APK stores.
We still can't recommend the app setup to anyone looking for a 'just works' smartphone experience.
It is easier to find apps now than when the phone launched. Unfortunately, the broader process is still patched together (see running web apps in a browser), and sourcing from multiple locations is less secure than Google’s ecosystem. Despite the growing capabilities of HMS core, some apps are still built to be Google-first. The ability to find apps you want and that actually work remains a hassle. It’s still not a setup we can recommend to anyone looking for a “just works” smartphone experience.
Continue reading: What is HMS? All you need to know
What about the hardware?
The rest of the HUAWEI P40 Pro’s package fairs better a year down the line. While not boasting bleeding-edge processor specifications, the phone’s Kirin 990 chipset is more than fast enough for most tasks and moderate gaming. I’ve included some benchmarks below for those who are interested.
The key takeaway is that HUAWEI’s last-gen chip is rather underwhelming for gaming and definitely isn’t one for performance enthusiasts. For the rest of us, the HUAWEI P40 Pro is a reliable day-to-day performer.
While the processor may be a little behind the curve, the HUAWEI P40 Pro still packs in very competitive hardware across the rest of its spec sheet. The package is still competitive with slightly new high-end smartphones. With 5G support in tow, this device comes with an IP68 rating, an in-display fingerprint reader, 40W fast wired and 27W snappy wireless charging, and a 90Hz QHD OLED display. The 4,200mAh battery is also plenty for a full day of use and then some.
The HUAWEI P40 Pro has a few niggles, though. The company’s comparatively expensive proprietary expandable storage — dubbed Nano Memory — remains an irritant when a microSD card would do the same job. I can well imagine that power users with just 128GB of internal storage may have run into this issue a year down the line. I also find the phone rather bulky which, combined with a slippery glass back, makes it a little more awkward to hold than other flagship phones.
Overall, the HUAWEI P40 Pro’s hardware package is a steal as you can now grab it well below its original price-tag.
Still a solid camera package
One of the biggest reasons to own a HUAWEI P series smartphone is for the camera. The HUAWEI P40 Pro is no exception. It’s not as powerful as the 10x periscope zoom options appearing at the ultra-premium end of the market or its larger sibling, the HUAWEI P40 Pro Plus. However, with a high-quality wide-angle lens, large main sensor, 5x periscope zoom, and dual selfie setup, the HUAWEI P40 Pro still offers a very competitive camera package at around the €700/£700 mark.
Related: The best camera phones you can get
I’ve spent a lot of time with some of the best smartphone cameras on the market today, and the HUAWEI P40 Pro still ranks pretty highly in my estimations. Although it’s not without some issues and isn’t as consistent as some other cameras. I’ve grabbed a few snaps against the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Google Pixel 5, and more in the past few months. I’ll let you be the judge of the results.
Without writing out thousands of words on the differences, the HUAWEI P40 Pro remains very competitive with both phones. Camera technology doesn’t change all that fast anymore, after all. I’d say it’s a fraction behind the much more expensive Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra in terms of image quality and shooting flexibility, but not by much.
For me, photography is still the handset’s biggest selling point. There’s a reason it came out on top in our 2020 mega shootout. You can dive deeper into the HUAWEI P40 Pro’s camera capabilities at the links below:
HUAWEI P40 Pro long-term review: The verdict
HUAWEI handsets rose to popularity on the back of great hardware, and the HUAWEI P40 Pro remains compelling. Processor aside, the HUAWEI P40 Pro still offers specs a year down the line that compete with other phones at this price point and even above. Throw in a camera that remains one of the better packages on the market — especially if you spend a little more on the P40 Pro Plus variant — and you have a recipe for a smash hit.
Hardware is just half the equation, though. There’s no escaping that HUAWEI’s recent phones are hard to sell to Western audiences who are ingrained in Google’s ecosystem. Even if you don’t use Google apps, the situation with updates and the difficulty with finding apps isn’t up to par with what we expect from a flagship smartphone. You shouldn’t have to turn to ad-infested third-party stores to find the apps you need. Even a year down the line, the HUAWEI P40 Pro hasn’t solved these issues completely.
Petal Search is surprisingly powerful but it shows how poor the AppGallery's selection is.
I took another look at the HUAWEI P40 Pro six months after release, and my conclusions are surprisingly unchanged since then. At the time, it felt like HUAWEI had gained some momentum towards solving its app issues; introducing Petal Search and its Celia assistant, for example, to fill in the gaps left by Google. App Gallery also underwent a few improvements and HUAWEI, to its credit, has worked with a small selection of developers to offer replacements to popular Google apps like Maps.
That momentum feels like it has slowed down in the past few months. Yes, HUAWEI likes to talk about the hundreds of millions of active App Gallery users, but its best efforts can be found in Petal Search. It’s a reasonably good way to find apps from third-party stores, such as Netflix or Spotify, and has grown into a more universal search tool too. However, it still can’t guarantee the availability of your favorite banking or fitness subscription apps. The app experience remains second class when compared to Google’s ecosystem, not to mention Apple’s.
Apps are still by far the phone's biggest weakness, and not enough has changed to recommend HUAWEI's phones to most consumers.
A year from release, it’s looking more like these patchwork solutions are the best the HUAWEI P40 Pro will ever see. A few more popular apps may be months down the line, but who knows. It’s also looking likely that the handset will remain stuck on Android 10, or some hybrid form, while other smartphones will see Android 12 this year. What we’ve seen and heard about Harmony OS looks no more promising for solving these issues either.
There are certain consumers out there who can happily live outside of the Google ecosystem and could love the HUAWEI P40 Pro, warts and all. However, as much as I’ve tried to fall for the phone’s solid hardware, the software situation is still the heart breaker.