Can I use an Android device without Google services for my daily driver and does having an awesome camera makeup for the lack of services? These are the two real questions that I have been trying to answer over the past few weeks in my usage of the Huawei Mate 40 Pro. As I previously mentioned in my first impressions post I am very heavily invested in using Google for a lot of things in my daily drivers. It is in fact one of the reasons why when I heard the news that Huawei were no longer going to be able to use the full Google services suite, I jumped ship to a Pixel device. Since then it has been over a year and Huawei has had a bit of time to get their App store off the ground and sort their back end systems out. I thought now would be as good a time as ever to investigate how good the devices are without Google on board.
I have been using the Mate 40 Pro on and off as my daily driver for the past few weeks now and in that time I have found that on the whole, it is an acceptable compromise. The camera is fantastic and is still one of the best available for those who really want to be able to dial in on specific setups and play with functions. The UI is as good as we have come to expect from Huawei devices of the past. I cannot fault the phone for the basics of what a phone needs to be. All this being said though I am not ready to give up on my Note 10 Plus though. Let’s take some time to dive into what that is by breaking the phone down into a few different categories.
The phone is wonderful to look at because it has very smooth lines and curves in all the right places. It is really nice to hold in the hand and is not too slippery. I have become accustomed over the years to using bigger phones so the size is no issue to me and is worth it for the stunning screen. The display measures 6.76″ diagonally (this measurement as a standard rectangle accommodating the curved edges) and has a really high resolution of 2772 x 1344 pixels which works out to be above FHD with a PPI 456 and an aspect ratio of 18.5:9. What also makes a difference is that the display is actually a 90HZ panel which gives a higher than standard refresh-rate, making scrolling really smooth. The palm rejection of the curved sides works pretty well too and I have not had that many accidental touches being recognised when just holding the phone. You can help to all but eliminate this via the included case if you wish to as well which is a nice bonus that not all manufacturers do. Brightness wise the screen is good enough that I was able to use it in bright conditions without too much bother although during my testing we have not had many days of sunlight to really push this aspect of the phone. It is on par with my Note 10 Plus which still has one of the best AMOLED panels i have seen in a phone (with the possible exception of the newer gen S20 and Note 20 series which I have not used)
Around the back, we have another of Huawei’s gorgeous colour shifting glass panels which I do really enjoy looking at as this phone can be so many different colours in different lighting conditions. It still amazes me how they have achieved this look and I really appreciate the effort that has been put into the manufacture. If you can get the Mystic Silver one then it is worth it!
This colourful design extends to the power button which has a nice little red accent making it easy to locate with a nice spacing below the volume rocker. The buttons are both located on the right-hand side of the device making it very easy for right-handed users. If you are left-handed then some minor adjustment may be required but it is something that you will be able to get used to very quickly.
At the top, you will find all the usual things including a speaker, a pinhole mick and the rare appearance of an infrared transmitter, something that is only really found on Huawei devices now. It is a feature that i can’t say i have ever found a use for but it is nice to know that if you want to use it to control TV’s home stereos etc it is there!
On the bottom is where you will find the USB Type C which will support both fast charging and Display output, a feature that has become the norm on a lot of flagships these days. The data transfer speeds were par for the course with this port and nothing to complain about. Also on the bottom is the dual sim card slot which will support either 2 sim cards or a sim and a Nano SD Card. Huawei is the only company that has really adopted this format so it is still somewhat niche and therefore cards are still more expensive than their Micro SD card counterpart (A 128GB Nano SD card on Amazon is £35.49 a Micro SD of the same size from Sandisk is £16.61).
The next thing of Note is the massive Camera ring that really is a large design element on this phone it houses four camera sensors and a two-tone flash. In the centre is a small disk that is colour match the rest of the back and the whole thing is raised above the back glass by about 2 to 3mm. It looks a bit like a miniature car tyre has been slapped on the back the phone and it is not the nicest looking thing in my opinion. Whilst I understand and appreciate that camera has got bigger and better part of me thinks that they could have made it a bit more subtle! When I compare the camera module to that of the one on my Note 10 Plus I definitely prefer the design of the Note 10 Plus implementation as it is more subtle and you’re less likely to get a finger in the way when you use it. That being said i have not had an instance where I have inadvertently covered a sensor but it is just something to be aware of.
The last thing of note is the selfies camera on the front of the phone which comes in the form of the pill style cutout on the screen. I am not a fan of this as it is a bit of an eyesore. I understand that it is needed as the phone offers two sensors for the front-facing camera but I just don’t think it is necessary at least not for my use. I also don’t really like the offset camera cutouts that we are seeing on phones these days and would have preferred it to be centralised. To be fair, Huawei’s designers thought this would have also looked a bit strange so I suppose they have done the best with what they have got. I personally can’t wait for under-screen front-facing cameras to become a thing.
That covers things from a design perspective and in summary, it is a nice enough looking phone but i think some elements could have been more subtle and less in your face. There is one thing for sure it will certainly stand out. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing is not for me to say but I guess it will come down to your own personal taste with this one.
This is an area where Huawei needs to get the Mate 40 Pro right and I am pleased to say that for the most part they have. The main requirements of a modern pro-grade flagship have all been ticked off. So what have we got in terms of hardware then?
A large amount of RAM
Large storage capacity
Excellent Signal strength
The only thing that they are missing from the mix to make it a real pro-grade device in my eyes would be stylus support, that being said I am coming to this from being a Note 10 Plus user so I am little biased and no other “Pro” level phone has this feature either so I can forgive this shortcoming.
I do want to dive into the specs a little bit but before I do that this is as good a time as any to show you what they actually are.
-Processor-HiSilicon Kirin 9000 8 x 2.1 – 3.1 GHz, Cortex-A77/-A55
-Graphics adapter-ARM Mali-G78 MP24
-Memory-8192 MB, LPDDR5
-Display-6.76 inch 18.56:9, 2772 x 1344 pixel 456 PPI, capacitive, native pen support, OLED, 240 Hz touch sampling rate, glossy: yes, HDR, 90 Hz
-Storage-256 GB UFS 3.1 Flash, 256 GB, 237.89 GB free
-Connections-USB 3.0 / 3.1 Gen1, USB-C Power Delivery (PD), 1 HDMI, 1 DisplayPort, Audio Connections: USB-C, Card Reader: nano memory card (FAT, FAT32, exFAT, up to 256 GB)
-Sensors-Brightness Sensor, gesture sensor, 3D face recognition, gravity sensor, infrared sensor, barometric pressure sensor, gyroscope, compass, proximity sensor, laser sensor, colour temperature sensor
-Networking-802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax (a/b/g/n = Wi-Fi 4/ac = Wi-Fi 5/ax = Wi-Fi 6), Bluetooth 5.2, 2G (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz), 3G (1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 19), LTE (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12, 17, 18, 19, 20, 26, 28, 32, 34, 38, 39, 40), 5G (1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 28, 38, 40, 41, 77, 78, 79, 80, 84), Dual SIM, LTE, 5G, GPS
-Size-Height x Width x Depth (in mm): 9.1 x 162.96 x 75.5 ( = 0.36 x 6.42 x 2.97 in)
-Battery-4400 mAh Lithium-Ion
-Charging-Wireless charging, fast charging / Quick Charge
-Operating System-Android 10
-Camera-Primary Camera: 50 MPix (Ultra Vision, wide, f/1.9), 20 MP (ultra-wide, f/1.8), 12 MP (5x telephoto, f/3.4, OIS), 4K video at 60 FPS, Camera API level: Limited
-Secondary Camera: 13 MPix (f/2.4) with 3D ToF sensor
-Additional features- Speakers: stereo, Keyboard: onscreen, 66-watt charger, USB cable, SIM tool, headset (USB-C), documentation, EMUI 11, 24 Months Warranty, DRM Widevine L1, IP68, fanless, waterproof
-Weight-Phone 212 g ( = 7.48 oz / 0.47 pounds), Power Supply: 136 g ( = 4.8 oz / 0.3 pounds)
The phone is fast and fluid as one would expect and I have not had any reason to find any issues with its performance. It will do everything I am asking of it at the same speed as my Note 10 Plus if not a bit faster sometimes. An area where the hardware is just simply better is the biometrics. My fingerprint is recognised much faster as is my face when using the option for that. The Optical sensor being used in the fingerprint reader just seems to be better tuned than the one on the Note. It should also be said that I was doing all my testing with the screen protector that was applied in the factory on the Mate 40 Pro still in place! I have not got a screen protector on my Note and it is much slower to recognise. The face detection software also seems to be quicker but this is down to software more than hardware so I will leave it there for now.
Another area where the Mate 40 pro is better is in the playback of the sound. This is mainly because the Mate has got 2 actual speakers whereas the Note doesn’t have an earpiece speaker using the screen vibration instead which doesn’t give as good an experience for music playback. Calls are fine on both but the Mate is just better for media playback. This is true of video playback as well although the Note does catch up a little bit here.
As for the display, this is where the phones are both matched very well against each other as they are both vibrant and both excel at showing content. The Mate’s screen is a tiny bit more natural-looking by default than the Note but that is something that has become synonymous with Samsung devices. I have enjoyed viewing content on both displays. There is however one key difference that I was able to detect between the two displays. It is the refresh rate. The Mate 40 Pro has a 90hz screen whereas the Note 10 Plus still uses the older 60hz display. Now for those of you who have not had the chance to experience the faster screen, you will not think that this is important. For the most part, you would be correct in that thought as it isn’t really that important for daily use. It does however come into play when you are using the phone for web browsing and gaming in particular. Having a higher refresh rate allows for a much higher level of fluidity on the screen and it is something you can see but you will need to look for it. Where it is a bit more prominent is within games but as this is something i have not done much of recently I haven’t been all that bothered by it.
Battery life is another area where I have my concerns with a smartphone these days. I have found that I can nearly run my Note down to 20% most days however with a similar workload the Mate 40 Pro was getting the same time of the day with closer to 40% left in the tank. This is due in part to the battery being more aggressively managed by the software but having a 4400mah battery doesn’t hurt either! Whilst we are talking about the power the Mate 40 Pro also features Wireless Charging along with reverse Wireless Charging as well. This is very useful if you pair the phone with a QI enabled Smartwatch or Wireless earbuds. I have also used this system in the past to give my backup phone a boost when i have been travelling and i forgot to bring a spare battery pack. As before and also on previously implemented solutions from both Samsung and Huawei the speeds of power transfer are not that high but this is perfect for charging accessories. Nonetheless, it is nice to have it as a feature onboard.
The last area I want to address before I get into what you all really want to find out about is the Processor and the memory. So in the Mate 40 Pro, we have the fastest Chipset that Huawei has made to date in the form of the HiSilicon Kirin 9000. This brand new chipset supports an Octo care design utilising 4 x [email protected] 2.05 GHz, 3 x [email protected] 2.54 GHz and 1 x [email protected] 3.13 GHz. In operation, it will only really utilize all eight cores when it is under its highest load in activities such as gaming and photo/video rendering. Here is a bit of the spiel about the chip from HiSilicon’s website
Cutting-edge 5 nm manufacturing and up to 15.3 billion transistors make this 5G SA solution available in the smallest footprint possible. The brand-new Arm Cortex-A77 CPU ensures superior performance while the groundbreaking 24-core Mali-G78 GPU enables uninterrupted gaming. Two big and one tiny core support AI video applications with better energy efficiency. The NPU is integrated with an embedded Kirin ISP 6.0 for camera functions – HDR video synthesis with real-time exposure to excel in low light and backlit conditions.
So we have a fantastic chip on board which is also paired to very fast 8192 MB, LPDDR5 memory which helps to ensure that things open fast but perhaps, more importantly, are retained in memory for a tad longer leading to easier multitasking.
The NPU is also very busy working away behind the scenes to carry out the previously mentioned battery management ensuring that the phone runs at optimal levels and a lot of number crunching when the camera is being used. It is in the camera that the NPU is most evident as it is very active in assisting the Image Sensing processor (ISP) to allow for scene recognition. This is an area that Huawei are very keen to push and something that leads us very nicely into the camera section of this review.
This is really what people who are interested in this phone are looking for. This is one of the better phones on the market for the camera especially if you want to be able to delve into the settings of it further than your typical point and shoot. That being said if you do want a simple good quality camera then you may want to look at the significantly cheaper Pixel 4a as it will give you very similar quality photos for near half the price! If you are wanting an all singing all dancing setup though you will not be disappointed with the Mate 40 Pro. The specs of the camera alone means this thing packs a punch as you would expect for a camera that has been co-developed with Lecia. Here are those specs again:-
Camera-Primary Camera: 50 MPix (Ultra Vision, wide, f/1.9), 20 MP (ultra-wide, f/1.8), 12 MP (5x telephoto, f/3.4, OIS), 4K video at 60 FPS, Camera API level: Limited
Secondary Camera: 13 MPix (f/2.4) with 3D ToF sensor
How do these relate into actual images though well I have taken some sample shots which I have included below for you to check out.
Next up is some scenic shots
Here are some low light ones that were taken in difficult conditions for most camera phones
Now a few macro shots
Last but not least some product style shots.
I think it fair to say that the phone copes with taking the photos very well and can produce some very good quality pictures if you play about with the functions of it. For those who wish to really get into the nitty-gritty of the camera, there is an extremely comprehensive Pro Mode. However, if I am being completely honest I have not delved into it very much and I don’t tend to go into it on any phone these days. There is one very simple reason for this. The reason is the combination of a fast and efficient ISP and the use of AI to detect what settings are needed to get the best out of your photos. I am confident in its results 95% of the time in that it will produce a better result than I could if I were to tweak the settings myself!
Video is also handled very well and you can even use a split-screen mode to show the video as a zoomed-in version of what you are filming should you want too! It will also allow you to use various different filters such as colour isolation etc which is a nice touch.
Not something I would use often but a nice way of showcasing the tech onboard the phone!
I really don’t have much more to say on the camera front part from it is very good but is it enough to overlook the next section where there is one very large omission. Let’s tackle the software now to see.
This is my biggest area of concern fo this phone and in my opinion, it will be the parts that makes it or breaks it. At the very beginning of this review, I asked a simple question. Can I get on with a phone that does not allow Google’s core services on it? Well, the simple answer is in my case no. The reason for this is a fundamental one for me. I use Google Services a lot. I have found that although some of the apps will flash up with a message saying that they won’t work you can still signing to them eg WordPress. I have also found that some won’t even allow you to sign in, The app is to charge my car is one example (OHME Charging App). I also use Google Photos to back up all my images and this is an automatic function on my Note 10 Plus which means I don’t need to worry about it. On the Mate 40 Pro, I would have had to switch to using either Huawei’s Cloud or another service.
Had this phone come out before the Apps market had become so dominated by the likes of Google and Apple then it would be in a great position to establish itself as a player with the Huawei App Store. However, it is just behind the curve in so many respects. Some of the mainstream apps that I use were obtainable via the petal Search app but I was then having to download those apps via an APK mirror site which could cause the potential for security concerns. I was certainly not confident to set this up as my work device. It was this that made for a difficult testing period for me as I have various systems that are now core features of my daily use for work that I didn’t want to set up on the Mate 40Pro due to the possibility of them not working correctly and it causing me a problem.
The biggest problem I can foresee for Huawei though is not that the phone’s software is bad because the core features are good but the perception of a phone without Google is not going to be one to overcome easily. I feel that for a market such as some of the Far Eastern locations i.e. China etc there will be no significant issue but for the UK and the USA at east the damage has now been done and this will be in most customers mindsets irreversible.
I really wanted too like the Mate 40 Pro and there are certain elements to ut that I do really enjoy the design is great (with the notable exclusion of the camera array). The power being delivered by the phone is fantastic. The screen is beautiful and is on par with the best from Samsung and Apple. The phone feels great in the hand as well. All these things are great and set the phone to a very high standard. It is just such a shame that the phone is in my opinion stymied for the Western market due in most part to an Orange skinned lunatic that was (thankfully no more) in charge of the American Government.
If and I for one hope that it can Huawei are able to get back into the good graces of the US government then perhaps they will be able to bring a phone as competent as the Mate 40 Pro back to the western markets with Google Services onboard, then will be back. For the time being in this reviewers opinion, it is better to stay with a brand that does support Google in all its forms. Sadly I cannot foresee this happening anytime soon and it is not a fault of Huawei in any way maybe there will be some hope from the recently separated Honor brand especially if they can get Google back on board.