Tech review: Huawei P40 Pro excels at night photography

Singapore will be the first country in Asia to get the smartphones when the P40 and the P40 Pro (above) become available on April 4.
Singapore will be the first country in Asia to get the smartphones when the P40 and the P40 Pro (above) become available on April 4.PHOTOS: HUAWEI

Huawei's new photography-centric flagship P40 smartphone series comes in three versions - the 6.1-inch P40 (with a rear triple-camera system and up to 3x optical zoom), the 6.58-inch P40 Pro (a rear quad-camera system and up to 5x optical zoom) and the P40 Pro+ (a rear penta-camera system and up to 10x optical zoom).

Singapore will be the first country in Asia to get the smartphones when the P40 ($1,048) and the P40 Pro ($1,448) become available on April 4. The availability and pricing of the P40 Pro+ will be announced at a later date.

I reviewed a silver-hued P40 Pro, which I feel looks better than the blue and gold models that will also be available here.

The silver rear surface has a smooth matte finish that is not a smudge and fingerprint magnet, unlike glass surfaces. I also like the glowing effect created by light reflecting off the surface. It is sure to draw admiring glances.

The front is almost all display with very thin bezels. An aluminium frame wraps around the gorgeous Oled display with curved sides. To my surprise, I did not once touch the edge of the display accidentally with the base of my thumb while holding the phone.

The display (2,640 x 1,200 pixels) has a refresh rate of up to 90Hz - 50 per cent higher than conventional displays' 60Hz. This makes for much smoother Web browsing and less screen-tearing while playing games. I find this refresh rate a good compromise between the battery-sapping 120Hz and the slow 60Hz refresh rates.

The display has an enhanced in-display fingerprint sensor that is supposed to be 30 per cent faster than the one on its predecessor, the P30 Pro.It certainly is the fastest I have used, unlocking the smartphone almostly instantly and with very few errors.

A "quirk" is its rather big elliptical hole-punch front-facing camera system at the top left corner of the display, which comprises a 32-megapixel (MP) autofocusing (AF) camera, a depth-sensing camera and ambient and proximity sensors. The sensors are needed for the face unlock feature.

Selfies taken with the front-facing camera system, even with backlighting, look great with smooth skin texture and "bright" faces without the background being overexposed.

On its rear is a quad-camera system consisting of a 50MP wide-angle camera, a 40MP ultra-wide-angle camera, a 12MP periscopic telephoto camera (with 5x optical zoom and up to 50x digital zoom) and a depth-sensing camera.

The wide-angle camera offers a high-resolution mode that fully utilises the 50MP image sensor. Otherwise, it produces 12MP still images with pixel binning, which combines four pixels into one.

Comparing normal and high-resolution shots of a same scene, I found the latter sharper with greater details. But the normal mode is no slouch, with photos looking sharp and detailed and with great dynamic range.

There are some new bells and whistles, such as using artificial intelligence (AI) to remove passers-by or reflections in photos. The remove passers-by function works like magic in certain scenarios. But I find the remove reflections function merely darkens the reflection.

The real standout feature is night photography. I was able to take handheld shots with up to nine seconds of exposure. The results were phenomenal - rich details in the dark areas while not overexposing the bright areas. And unlike Apple's Night mode, the P40 Pro's night mode works in ultra-wide angle as well.

 
 

The 5x optical zoom camera offers great convenience as there are times when you just cannot go near to the action. While photos taken at 5x optical zoom are not as sharp and detailed as the wide-angle or ultra-wide-angle shots, they are usually good enough for social media posts.

The P40 Pro uses Huawei's Kirin 990 5G chip, which provides 5G support and is touted for excellent performance and power efficiency. In the Geekbench 5 benchmark test, it scored 745 (single-core) and 3,010 (multi-core). In comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra scored 917 (single-core) and 2,769 (multi-core).

For everyday use, the phone feels zippy with apps launching quickly. Playing first person shooter games such as PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (Pubg) Mobile and racing games such as Asphalt 9 feels smooth and lag-free.

Like the P30 Pro, the P40 Pro has a 4,200mAh battery. However, its 15 hours 55 minutes endurance in our video-loop battery test is less than that of the P30 Pro, which lasted 18.5 hours. Still, given it has a display with a fast 90Hz refresh rate, its battery life can be considered really good.

Using it with WhatsApp, Telegram, e-mail notifications and all my social media apps turned on all the time, as well as playing Pubg Mobile and Asphalt 9 several times a day, it still has about 50 per cent of battery life left by the time I go to bed.

The P40 Pro runs on Huawei's latest EMUI 10.1 user interface, which is based on Android 10. It provides some nice touches such as multi-tasking, whereby you can drag inwards from a side of the display and hold to pull out a vertical bar of apps, tap on an app and drag the resulting window to fill one half of the display.

Still, it is hard not to ignore the elephant in the room. The P40 Pro lacks Google Mobile Services due to the continued ban of Huawei arising from the US-China trade war. Thus, it does not have Google Play Store and its library of apps.

Instead, the P40 Pro comes with Huawei's own app store, the AppGallery. It provides a great selection of apps and even download links to apps that are not available, such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram.

There are also third-party app stores such as APKPure that you can use to get your Android apps and games to run on the P40 Pro. But while such workarounds might appeal to the geek instincts of some, they could be too troublesome for others.

FOR

- Great-looking design

- Fast in-display fingerprint sensor

- Great overall performance

- The display's 90Hz refresh rate

- Convenient 5x optical zoom

- Amazing night photography quality

AGAINST

- No Google Mobile Services

TECH SPECS

PRICE: $1,448 (without contract), available on April 4

PROCESSOR: Kirin 990 5G (dual-core 2.86GHz, dual-core 2.36GHz, quad-core 1.95GHz)

DISPLAY: 6.58-inch, Oled, 2,640 x 1,200 pixels, 441 ppi pixel density

OPERATING SYSTEM: EMUI 10.1 (Android 10.0)

MEMORY:256GB (Nano memory card expandable to 256GB); 8GB RAM

REAR CAMERAS: 50MP wide-angle (f/1.9), 40MP ultra-wide-angle (f/1.8), 12MP telephoto (f3.4), 3D depth-sensing camera

FRONT CAMERAS: 32MP (f/2.2), Depth-sensing camera

BATTERY: Non-removable 4,200mAh battery

WEIGHT: 209g

RATING

FEATURES: 4/5

DESIGN: 4.5/5

PERFORMANCE: 5/5

BATTERY LIFE: 4.5/5

VALUE FOR MONEY: 4.5/5

OVERALL: 4.5/5 [ST Tech Editor's Choice]

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