Huawei has created a phone with small dimensions and an attractive design, penalized by the absence of Google services.
Huawei is proceeding swiftly towards the creation of its ecosystem. From PCs, such as the excellent Matebook X Pro, to smartwatches, such as the Watch GT2e, the Chinese company is expanding its catalog a lot. Smartphones obviously cannot miss the appeal and so, after trying the P40 Lite and reviewing the P40 Pro, the time has come to see as the P40 is doing.
This manages to well differentiate itself from the other variants thanks to its small size and interesting specifications, which make it a true alternative to the top of the P40 Pro range. Unlike the next P30 Pro New Edition, this P40 uses the Huawei Mobile Service, no Google services or applications, an absence that weighs but that does not preclude the use of the smartphone.
Small and with a color that makes the difference
Huawei P40 distances itself from the generous dimensions reached by most smartphones. Ergonomics is definitely one of the strengths of this phone, thanks to a large enough 6.1-inch display makes the P40 perfect for one-handed use. The measures of 148.9 x 71.1 x 8.5 mm are lower than the average to which we are accustomed today, as well as the weight, of 175 grams.
The design fully resumes what was seen in the P40 Pro, including the photographic module, which however lacks the periscope zoom lens. A praise goes to Huawei for the Silver Frost coloring, really beautiful and elegant. The matte finish then has the advantage of retaining little fingerprints.
The Chinese house has managed to give personality to this smartphone in a simple and functional way, compared to the black and gold variants there is no doubt, this is the one to choose and use, possibly without a cover. On the front, however, the curvy design of the P40 Pro, which had the wraparound display on the four corners, leaves room for a more traditional screen with thin edges and no curvature on the sides.
As in the top of the range, the notch is in the upper left part, incorporated in the screen, and integrates the front camera and a depth sensor. Although being smaller than that of the P40 Pro, its presence is felt, we prefer other types of solutions but it is a very subjective consideration.
The ear capsule is not present, Huawei uses the display glass directly to reproduce the sounds, a functional technology that does not set limits during calls: the only drawback is that it cannot be used as a second speaker, therefore no stereo sound. Unfortunately the IP68 certification is missing, there is only the IP53 for splash resistance, an absence that does not spoil the excellent work done on the design of the P40.
Technical specifications almost top of the range
To propose the P40 at a list price of 799 € (but online it is already at 699 €) Huawei had to make sacrifices that affect the technical data sheet. Fortunately the cut was not too heavy, so much so that on board we find the SoC Kirin 990 5G, the same as the Pro model and the most powerful processor produced so far by Huawei. It is an Octa Core that can go up to the maximum frequency of 2.86 GHz on two cores, with a Mali G-76 GPU. Then there are 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of internal memory UFS 3.0 expandable via NM Card. The performance offered by this smartphone in everyday use they are the same as for the P40 Pro, Android 10 with EMUI 10.1 run great and without lag.
The display is a 6.1-inch OLED with Full HD + resolution and compatible with the HDR standard. Here we find the first renunciation made for cost containment, given the refresh rate of 60 Hz, against 90 Hz of the Pro model. It is a pity that this feature is absent because it makes the interface more pleasant and fluid to use, moreover Huawei, unlike other brands, has not suffered much from the increase in the refresh rate in terms of autonomy.
The display also works well outdoors, despite a lower brightness than another top of the range, also the small size allows a high pixel density despite the resolution is not very high, with 422 total PPI.
Two predefined calibrations are available, Intense and Normal. As this is not a device for video post-production, we preferred the first one, which makes the colours more vivid without distorting them too much, especially when paired with the colour temperature set to “Warm”. It is ultimately a good display, not the best we have seen but excellent for the price range in which it is located.
A rather quick and precise fingerprint reader is installed under the screen but our preference goes to the facial release, more comfortable to use and which also works in the dark, thanks to the infrared sensor installed in the front camera.
Connectivity is as complete as ever, after all the Kirin 990 is a guarantee in this respect, and includes 5G, 4G, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.1 and NFC. The phone is compatible with dual SIM and also supports eSIM. We then find a USB Type C 3.1 while the audio jack is not available, as is happening now more and more often.
Huawei has managed to do, once again, a small miracle with the battery, 3800 mAh. The Kirin 990, combined with the software optimizations of the Chinese house, is today the best optimized processor on the market on the autonomy front, on this there are few doubts. The battery allows you to do a day and a half of intense use, with a quieter one you have reached two days without problems. Already with the P40 Pro we had noticed that Huawei has an edge in this area and the P40 proves equally valid.
Top-of-the-range main camera
The P40 has a photographic sector that has little to envy to the top of the range. We find indeed the same main sensor as the P40 Pro, from 50 Megapixel (f / 1.9) and optically stabilized, the largest presented so far on smartphones. The Ultra Wide sensor is 16 Megapixel (f / 2.2) while the latest available camera, 8 Megapixel (f / 2.4), is used to offer a 3x zoom.
The main cam has performances comparable to those of the P40 Pro, after all it is the same sensor, so we are facing one top-of-the-range quality in all respects. The shots offer an excellent level of detail and the focus on the subjects is very fast, thanks to theomnidirectional autofocus, introduced by Huawei with this sensor.
The quality of the other two sensors is lower than that of the P40 Pro but they still manage to do a good job, with the zoom proving useful in different situations to manage shots with distant subjects.
Most of the time it is the main sensor to be used and it is a nice plus to have the same cam available in a higher-end smartphone.
The 32 Megapixel front camera instead is average for 2020, in this area there are no innovations of any kind so the difference is not marked even compared to last year’s models.
Yes HMS, no Google
Huawei has decided to follow two paths this year. On the one hand it is presenting upgrades of the 2019 models, such as the P30 Pro New Edition, equipped with Google services, on the other hand it looks to the future with phones like this P40, which instead, they take advantage of the Huawei Mobile Service (HMS) and the proprietary AppGallery store. We have already dealt with this topic several times, for example in the Mate Xs review: the limits are there, but a lot depends on the level of knowledge of Android that you have.
Those with basic skills can use AppGallery and Amazon Store without problems to find many of the most used applications, from Facebook to Instagram, going from Amazon, Amazon Video, Telegram, Infinity, TikTo, Spotify and Office. WhatsApp is available by downloading the apk directly on the developer’s website. For messaging and social media, the waivers are limited, obviously all Google services and applications are missing, such as Chrome, Gmail (usable with alternative mail clients) and YouTube, viewable from a web browser. Apps arrive every month on the AppGallery but there are still several bank apps and payment services, such as Google Pay. The offer of games is also limited, many are missing from the appeal compared to the Play Store.
On the other hand, an expert user can get around many of these limits relying on APK Pure and F-Droid, to download APKs in a simple and relatively safe way (the phone checks each downloaded app to check its security), while always being very careful with the source from which the software is downloaded.
In this way you can find a web browser like Edge, based on Chromium, capable of synchronizing with your Chrome favorites from your PC. Or New Pipe, a practical open source client for YouTube, much more comfortable than using it via a web browser.
Google Maps also becomes usable again, as long as you don’t log in with your Google Account. In conclusion, in this way the limits are reduced but some problems remain, in fact, several applications still require Google Mobile Services to work.
We have tried to live without Google services several times in the last period and the limits are often around, but not always and still need some familiarity with the Android world to do it. As always, we do not recommend installing the Play Store following alternative methods, the security of your Google account must come first.
To learn more about the topic, you can read our guide to using smartphones with HMS.
Huawei P40 is probably the best non-“Pro” variant ever made by Huawei. Compared to the top of the range, the waivers to be made are relatively few in the face of a much lower list price. Huawei has done an excellent job to differentiate it from other smartphones, thanks to its small size and a really beautiful and particular coloring, moreover functional since it also keeps fingerprints away. The use of the Kirin 990 then gives access to the same performance as the P40 Pro, from which the main camera sensor is also inherited, one of the most advanced available today. In short, with Google services this phone would have been one of the best released in 2020, without a doubt. Also in this case, therefore, we are faced with a difficult evaluation, with a phone that can be easily configured for basic use (web browsing, email, main social networks and messaging) but that requires some experience to get around the limits imposed by the absence of Google, some of which remain impassable even for the most geeks. Huawei’s ecosystem needs to grow in order to compete with rivals, it takes time, until then the P40 remains an excellent smartphone but more complex to manage than competitors.