Let’s be honest, Huawei hasn’t had the best 12 months. The US government’s decision to single out a foreign company and heavily impose restrictions on them is a sticky situation for any manufacturer to be mixed up in but with handsets like the Huawei P40 (and the Huawei P40 Pro) Huawei is certainly doing its best to weather the storm.

Hardware-wise, at least, Huawei’s latest high-priced flagships continue to exceed expectations. Despite unfavourable odds, the Mate and P-series have maintained their usual mix of positives from previous phones. But can Huawei continue to peddle something solely on the merits of its hardware?

Huawei P40 review: What you need to know

With the recently launched P40, Huawei hopes you can look past its limited software offering. Google’s suite of Android applications such as Maps, YouTube and Gmail don’t come preinstalled on the phone and the apps that are available – downloaded via Huawei’s App Gallery – add up to a very limited selection.

You’re going to have to decide whether you can live without these apps. Personally, I’m completely absorbed in Google’s architecture but your views may differ. If you don’t mind settling for Huawei’s alternatives, then you’ll find a competent flagship in the Huawei P40.

It has a 6.1in FHD+ OLED display and a Leica-branded triple camera setup on the rear, with a 30x hybrid zoom. It’s powered by Huawei’s own flagship mobile chipset, the Kirin 990, and comes with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, which can be expanded if you have one of Huawei’s nano memory cards. The Huawei P40 also comes with access to 5G networks (provided you have a 5G SIM).

Huawei P40 review: Price and competition

With a comparatively shorter list of features, the Huawei P40 is cheaper than the P40 Pro. Where the P40 Pro costs £900, the regular P40 costs £700, which is still a good chunk of change to spend on any handset.

The Huawei P40 doesn’t stand alone at this price. For that money you can opt for an iPhone 11, although Apple’s equivalent has half the storage and lacks the telephoto camera and OLED screen offered by the Huawei. Its closest Android rival at this price is perhaps the OnePlus 8, since the Samsung Galaxy S20 is much more expensive at £900.

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Huawei P40 review: Design and key features

The Huawei P40’s pared-down feature list is the reason it costs so much less. For example, it lacks the P40 Pro’s exotic “quad-curve” design, instead favouring a standard flat front, combined with straight(ish) sides.

It’s a boring, yet functional, design decision, but I reckon the P40 is just as captivating as countless other premium-priced handsets. Its mirrored, metallic edges softly glisten in the light, the hole-punch camera is neatly placed in the top-left corner of the screen and the frosted glass effect on the back panel gives the illusion of added depth. It doesn’t pick up fingerprints as easily as a glossy finish, either.

Beyond mere aesthetics, though, the design changes on the P40 are limited to subtle tweaks. The display bezels are slimmer than ever and the rear camera housing is now rectangular in appearance. The camera bump sticks out a little further, though, rocking from side to side when you rest the phone on a flat surface.

The 3.5mm headphone jack has also been removed, so you might want to invest in a decent pair of Bluetooth headphones, or buy a wired USB-C adapter if you buy a P40. I do like that the display is smaller, however. By current flagship standards, the P40’s 6.1in screen makes it feel comparatively compact.

Huawei P40 review: Display

The Huawei P40’s screen may be 0.38in smaller than the P40 Pro’s but it’s just as good. It has an aspect ratio of 19.5:9, uses an OLED panel and has a resolution of 2,340 x 1,080 for a pixel density of 422ppi. That’s not the highest resolution you’ll see on a phone at this price but it’s perfectly sharp at normal viewing distances.

As for colour performance, I found the screen was capable of producing 97% of the sRGB gamut in the phone’s ‘Normal’ display setting, with a total volume of 105%. The P40’s “vivid” mode is better suited for watching movies and TV shows, however, with a DCI-P3 coverage of 96%.

It doesn’t quite match the iPhone 11 in the vibrancy stakes – HDR content looked a bit muted by comparison but, rest assured, most content looks fabulous. The only real downside is that the P40’s screen is limited to 60Hz refresh rate, as opposed to the buttery-smooth 90Hz offered by the P40 Pro and OnePlus 8.

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Huawei P40 review: Performance and battery life

Internally, there’s not a jot of difference between the P40 and P40 Pro. Both are powered by the latest and greatest of Huawei’s home-grown Kirin range: the Kirin 990 5G. As the name suggests, this is a 5G-enabled chipset that consists of three CPUs: one dual-core CPU running at 2.86GHz, another dual-core CPU running at 2.36GHz, and a low-power quad-core CPU running at 1.95GHz – all manufactured with a 7nm fabrication process.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the Kirin 990, so the P40’s performance figures were not at all surprising. Comparing the Geekbench 4 and GFXBench results with the OnePlus 8, Samsung Galaxy S20 and iPhone 11, we see that the Kirin manages to keep pace with those Snapdragon 865, Exynos 990 and A13 Bionic chips. It also has a 27% performance gain on the P30:

An area where the P40 doesn’t improve on its predecessor is in the stamina department. Lasting 17hrs 59mins in our video playback test, the P40 is just shy of the 18hrs 30mins achieved by the P30 under the same conditions. For my money, this slight downgrade is a worthy trade-off when you take into account the performance gains, though.

Huawei P40 review: Cameras

The Huawei P40’s primary camera is a 50-megapixel (f/1.9) affair, which is the same used by the more expensive P40 Pro. The other two cameras differ slightly: an 8-megapixel 3x telephoto unit (the P40 Pro is 5x) sits above a 16-megapixel wide-angle camera. It also lacks the Time of Flight (ToF) sensor of the P40 Pro.

Despite the subtle differences, the P40’s cameras are still great. Whatever the lighting conditions, the P40 captures intricate details without kicking up a fuss, such as stormy clouds, complex brickwork, window reflections and lush tree foliage. If I was being picky, pictures on the iPhone 11 have a touch more punch to them and a little more detail and texture. The iPhone is very slightly better in low light, too, but not by much.

The iPhone 11 has a wider field of view, but the P40’s ace in the hole is its 3x telephoto zoom camera. Notably absent on the iPhone, Huawei’s zoomed-in images are nothing short of exceptional, and allow you to snap distant objects like squawking birds flying in formation or the occasional helicopter zooming above neighbouring buildings with ease.

Another positive is that the P40 can finally record video at 4K resolution at 60fps. An area where Huawei has been lagging behind its iPhone rival for a few years, both OIS and EIS are enabled in this mode by default for super-stable video and the footage looks very good indeed.

Huawei P40 review: Verdict

Huawei’s software challenges continue to put its latest phone releases in a tough spot. On the one hand, the P40’s hardware innovations break new ground of what’s expected of a flagship release. On the other hand, imposing a restriction on which apps you can and can’t download ultimately weighs down an otherwise flawless handset.

Perhaps things will change in the future. Perhaps Huawei will be allowed to work with Google again. Perhaps Trump won’t be re-elected as President for a second term and this entire ordeal will be brushed under the carpet.

In the meantime, Huawei will surely continue to expand its App Gallery. It’s entirely plausible – with Huawei’s mighty budget – that the currently limited App Gallery could eventually exceed the range of apps offered by the Google Play Store. Until that time comes, however, be sure to approach the P40 with a sprinkle of caution.

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