Huawei P40 Pro+ review
Quick verdict: Huawei's innovations in design and especially camera technology continue to be impressive, but the lack of Google support and some highly dodgy alternative app suggestions still leave its premium P40 Pro+ phone as a device we just can't recommend.
- Amazingly flexible and powerful cameras
- 5G ready
- Stylish design
- Great battery life
- Quite heavy
- No Google apps
- APK installing is super risky
- Huawei App Gallery is still full of dodgy junk
Power, storage and battery
|Launch price (RRP)||$0|
While the mobile phone market is very mature, and there's a lot of recycling of designs and concepts, Chinese maker Huawei really has continued to impress with its focus on hardware innovation for its flagship P-series and Mate series lines. At a hardware level, the Huawei P40 Pro Plus is an amazing device, with the best cameras I've ever tested on a phone, superb processor performance and great battery life.
However, like every other premium Huawei phone since that US Google app ban came into place, it all falls over in a calamitous way when you actually try to use the Huawei P40 Pro Plus for everyday tasks you'd not even think twice about on any other Google Android phone.
It's a massive shame, because this is a truly exceptional bit of hardware – but not one that most Australians should actually buy.
- White Ceramic Finish
- 6.58-inch 90Hz curved display
- Fast in-display fingerprint reader
- Quite heavy
As the name suggests, the Huawei P40 Pro+ is the even-more specced-up version of the already pretty and shiny Huawei P40 Pro we reviewed a few months ago. While that phone was available in Australia in Deep Sea Blue and Silver Frost tones, the Huawei P40 Pro+ is only sold with a rather striking White Ceramic finish.
It's certainly eye-catching, from the prominent black camera bump at the rear to the gently curved 6.58-inch front display. Like the P40 Pro, you do have to put up with a very wide front camera hole punch. In fact, it's more like a front curved rectangle than a hole punch if I'm honest. Although, like many phones of this type, some apps simply won't stretch that far up the screen, so your experience in terms of noticing it can vary widely.
The Huawei P40 Pro+ is also pretty hefty in the hand, with my first impressions of this 226g phone being that it felt weighty. That's a plus in terms of enforcing its premium feel, but only to an extent, because it also makes it just that little bit easier to drop.
The 90Hz capable 2460x1200 pixel OLED display has curved edges that Huawei refers to as a Quad-Curve Overflow display, although that's really just fancy marketing talk for the fact that it curves on each side.
Huawei was one of the first to introduce in-display fingerprint readers in its premium phones, and there's one in the Huawei P40 Pro+ that works very well and very quickly indeed. I've tested so many mid-priced phones with dodgy fingerprint sensors of late that it was genuinely refreshing to hit a phone where fingerprint unlock simply worked every single time I tried it.
- Like the P40 Pro… but better
- Dual zoom works very well for a camera phone
- Still the best low light performance bar none
Huawei has put a lot of money, research and effort into its camera technology for its premium phones, and they've long been my go-to when it comes to recommending premium camera phones as a result.
Somehow, they've managed to up the already impressive ante from the Huawei P40 Pro in the Huawei P40 Pro+, although there are some obvious similarities.
You get the same primary 50MP f/1.9 sensor as the P40 Pro, as well as the same 40MP f/1.8 Ultra Wide sensor in play, along with a depth sensor, but it's in the zoom arena where matters get really compelling.
The not-at-all-regular P40 Pro features a single 12MP 5x optical zoom periscope lens, but the Huawei P40 Pro+ swaps that out for a pair of zoom lenses. There's a primary 8MP SuperZoom 10x optical f/4.4 sensor, paired up with an 8MP 3x optical f/2.4 sensor. You don't pick between the two, instead using their features meshed via AI in the most contextually appropriate way when taking telephoto shots.
Because it's 2020, there's also a ridiculous level of digital and hybrid zoom, all the way up to 100x. Even with a tripod you'll need uncommon luck or no appreciation for detail to get an even passable shot out of 100x digital zoom.
Still, the combination of lenses there means that you have a vast array of tools to pick from when taking a shot. This has been one of my favourite things about testing Huawei phone photography, because there's been so much attention to detail when it comes to making creative choices both flexible and easy.
Huawei has also held the crown for having the best low light performance of any smartphone for some time, and for the most part, the Huawei P40 Pro+ delivers on that promise. I went and ran my typical low light test at a local park with the Huawei P40 Pro+, and the results really were very tasty indeed. Here's a shot taken just with the standard lens and typical short exposure:
And then the same shot using the specific longer stacked exposure night mode:
As you might expect, the merged f/2.4 and f/4.4 telephoto array isn't quite as good in lower light situations, and as with any telephoto lens stabilisation will make a huge difference to the quality of your shots there too.
Here's a park in Wagga Wagga, shot using the lenses that the Huawei P40 Pro+ offers to give an example. We'll start with the wide shot, which is generally how you're going to want to shoot landscapes anyway:
Then the standard lens:
Zooming in still keeps detail nice, even though this was entirely a handheld shooting environment:
I am a long way from that clubhouse, but the detail remains good:
But you can totally push it too far with digital zoom. Don't do this:
Still, even in less punishing situations, the Huawei P40 Pro+ impresses. As an example, in a local and very dimly lit car park, I had the experience of having a huntsman spider decide that it rather liked my side window. Whipping out the Huawei P40 Pro+, I got this shot.
There's arguably a tough test of the OIS in the Huawei P40 Pro+ there too, because I freaking HATE spiders and I'm not even going to pretend my hands weren't shaking when taking that shot.
It's also a superb still camera for ad-hoc situations, such as when we had some local avians drop by for a snack:
From video to selfies, wide angle to telephoto and including video, there's really very little not to like about the Huawei P40 Pro+'s approach to photography. That very much should be the case for a phone that sells at this kind of premium price, however!
- Kirin 990 benchmarks well (with caveats)
- 5G capable
- Wider app story is still a huge mess
At a hardware level, the Huawei P40 Pro+ brings the goods, although its internals really aren't that much different to those of the regular Huawei P40 Pro. It runs on Huawei's own Kirin 990 SoC with 8GB of RAM and 512GB of internal storage. The Huawei P40 Pro+ is 5G capable out of the box and should benchmark and compare very favourably against the current crop of largely Qualcomm Snapdragon based phones.
I say should, because for any of those phones I'd simply dial up the Google Play Store and install benchmarks and other testing apps to assess the Huawei P40 Pro+'s performance.
However, like all Huawei phones since the US sanctions were imposed, Huawei isn't able to bundle any Google Apps or services with any of its handsets. It can use the open source parts of Android in any phone, because you can't restrict those, so this is an Android 10 device, but it's one that's lacking in any apps and services you'd expect to be there. No Play Store, no YouTube, no Maps... you get the idea.
This isn't a new state of affairs for Huawei, which has worked on a few approaches to the problem.
There's the Huawei AppGallery, its approved solution that's designed to be a direct Google Play competitor. While Huawei has made some strides in getting more apps that you'd want into App Gallery, it's still utterly infested with awful clone apps and dodgy games. Because it's 2020, for example, there's a ripoff Fall Guys app in Huawei App Gallery, and plenty more besides.
Out of curiosity, I installed Fall Guys, being well aware it was a ripoff, but curious as Huawei's claim is that AppGallery is curated and checked, so it's possibly safer than anything else.
It launches to a cyan splash screen… and then nothing. Nothing at all.
Call me crazy, but I want a bit more action out of Fall Guys than this.
Huawei's other pitch is to use its "Petal Search" app searcher, which looks over the wider Internet for presumably compatible .APK install files for popular apps.
I've bemoaned this approach before when Huawei simply wanted you to find the APKs yourself, but it's no better and arguably worse now that it simplifies the process of finding these files. It's a problem simply because installing apps of highly unknown provenance is a huge security risk for your personal data and safety. Still, this was how I did "benchmark" the Huawei P40 Pro+, because I did want to at least test out the Petal Search install feature. It is at least fairly simple and easy to follow, but it's also ludicrously risky, so I cleared and wiped the entire phone after each install. In case it's not sinking in, you really shouldn't just download and install random Android install files you find on the Internet, even if a Chinese telecommunications giant is making it easier for you to do so.
It also means that I have to take the benchmark results that the Huawei P40 Pro+ produced with a very large grain of salt, because I cannot in any way prove that the apps that were used for testing were 100% genuine and up to date. That's the other issue with Petal Search, it will find apps for you online, but there's no update mechanism at all.
With that in mind, here's how the Huawei P40 Pro+ apparently behaves in a comparative benchmark sense, first using Geekbench 5's CPU test:
Here's how it compares using 3DMark's Slingshot Extreme:
Those figures are broadly in line with the performance of the Huawei P40 Pro, a phone I tested by sideloading APKs I'd ripped myself so I could be more confident with the provenance, and not shockingly, they do point to the Huawei P40 Pro+ being a solid smartphone performer.
Still, that anchor of a lack of apps combined with some very dodgy methods of adding apps is an enormous and very disappointing problem that Huawei just seemingly can't solve for now.
- 4200mAh battery runs well
Fast charging with optional 40W wireless charging
- Reverse wireless charging remains a novelty
The Huawei P40 Pro+ ships with an internal 4200mAh battery, and the capability of some truly blistering recharge speeds, thanks to support for 40W wired or wireless charging, although in the latter case you will have to opt for a specific Huawei Wireless charger to enable those kinds of speeds.
As I've commonly found with most Huawei phones in recent years, Huawei's approach to power management does rest rather heavily on lots of battery life optimisations and culling apps pretty brutally when they're not in use, but what you do get out of that is some really good battery life.
Here again, the lack of apps played something of a role in how I assessed the Huawei P40 Pro+'s battery life. In any other year with a Huawei phone with full app access I would have happily used it as my daily driver until they ripped it out of my hands, but a phone with much less access to the apps I want to use every day is a lot less compelling. Still, I perservered, and I can pretty easily say that it's good for multi-day use.
That's backed up by our standard battery life endurance test, which runs a Full HD YouTube video for an hour to get a picture of relative battery life rundown with maximum brightness and moderate volume. Again I had to slightly adjust the test due to the lack of a native YouTube app, instead streaming the video via browser. Still, the Huawei P40 Pro+ pretty easily jumped over the 90% barrier where I start to worry about battery life. Here's how it compared against a range of premium handsets.
Should you buy the HUAWEI P40 Pro+?
- Buy it if you absolutely must have that amazing camera array and nothing else matters.
- Don't buy it if you need a smartphone to be actually smart in an apps sense.
I can't fault the Huawei P40 Pro+'s hardware. I really can't fault the Huawei P40 Pro+'s camera, because it's amazing. The combination of the two should see the Huawei P40 Pro+ sit very proudly at the top of our best phones and best camera phones lists.
But it doesn't, and I can't recommend anyone drop the required $2,099 on one, because that lack of full Android support makes it a phone that's fundamentally crippled in comparison to any other Android phone you might buy. Petal Search is a cute way to surface APKs, but it's just fundamentally not safe to use. AppGallery continues to improve, but the progress is glacial and there's just so many apps that you'd want every day that aren't available within its walled garden approach.
The end result is the best camera phone you can get today, so substantially hampered by its software limitations that I really only want to use it for its camera. That's a huge shame, but it's very much been the story of Huawei phones ever since the Google block came into play.
Pricing and availability
Power, storage and battery
Images: Alex Kidman