The Huawei P40 Pro might have the largest smartphone camera sensor ever. It might not matter.

The Chinese tech giant's latest handset has impressive specs but its debut is overshadowed by a sense of futility

Credit: Huawei

Huawei are pulling no punches here: the new P40 and P40 Pro have their sights set on winning back the smartphone photography crown from Apple.

Announced overnight via a virtual conference, the new handsets run on the same Kirin 990 processor introduced with last year's Mate 30 Pro. Like those handsets, the Huawei P40 and P40 Pro will run on a version of Huawei's EMUI operating system - which is based on Android but doesn't feature things like Google Mobile Services or the Google Play Store.

Instead, you've got to rely on Huawei’s own App Gallery. This digital storefront lacks most of the things you’d consider a standard part of the modern smartphone experience: Twitter, WhatsApp, Gmail, Google Maps, Microsoft Office, Google Pay, Uber and Spotify. For more info on what it does offer, check out this feature here.

Still, this time around, Huawei are looking to try and alleviate some of the pain of moving from a Android experience with Google apps to one without. To that end, the P40 and P40 Pro are set to prompt users to pull all their Android apps over from their last device using the Phone Clone app when first setup.

As with the Mate 30, you can also directly download and install APK files onto the device. Of course, if the app in question relies on Google's Mobile Services, it still likely won't function as intended.

To try and fill this void, Huawei are talking up their own Huawei Mobile Services platform - which launched back in August 2019. On paper, HMS solves some of the problems here. However, in practice, it's a big well-wait-and-see-won't-we situation.

Either developers will embrace it to the benefit of consumers and Huawei.

Or they won't.

We'll find out soon enough.

When we reviewed the Mate 30 Pro last year, we concluded that "It might sound obvious but no smartphone camera is worth losing the Google Play Store over." Nevertheless, the P40 and P40 Pro double down on this pitch by offering an even more powerful multi-lens setup.

The new Ultra Vision sensor is the secret sauce here. Picking up where the previous Super Sensor left off, Huawei claim the Ultra Sensor found in their latest handsets is the largest image sensor available on a smartphone. The company say it allows the lens-arrays on the P40 and P40 Pro to achieve higher light intake, higher dynamic range with less noise than on the P30 Pro or Mate 30 Pro.

The regular P40 features a 6.1-inch OLED screen clocked at 90Hz plus a triple-lens rear camera that works out to include a 50-megapixel wide-angle lens (f/1.9), a 16-megapixel ultra wide angle lens (f/2.2) and an 8-megapixel telephoto (f/2.4) lens. There's also a 32-megapixel selfie camera on the front, housed in a S10-style hole-punch notch. For more on notches, click here.

Then, for those who want the best, there's the larger P40 Pro. Built around a 6.58-inch OLED display (also clocked at 90Hz), the P40 Pro features a quad-lens rear camera that tallies out to include a 50-megapixel Ultra Vision wide angle lens (f/1.9), a 40-megapixel Cine ultra wide angle lens (f/1.8), a 12-megapixel SuperSensing telephoto camera (f/3.4) and a 3D depth sensing camera.

Credit: Huawei

The P40 Pro also features a better selfie setup, pairing a 32-megapixel camera with a depth camera for better bokeh shots. Appropriately, the Pro model also breaths further life into the comparison by adopting the "double notch" last seen in the Samsung Galaxy S10+.

As with last year's P30 series, the P40 and P40 Pro emphasize high-end zoom as a point of difference over other photography-focused flagships like the new Galaxy S20 Ultra. The P40 offers up to 3x optical and 30x digital zoom. The P40 Pro ups the ante to 5x optical and 50x digital zoom.

In addition, Huawei say that the latter "features a SuperSensing Periscope in the zoom camera to create quality images from a distance and includes advanced stabilisation so images don’t appear blurry."

AI image enhancement is also a big part of the broader pitch for the cameras on the Huawei P40 and P40 Pro. Both devices are kitted out with upgraded motion-detection algorithms, optimised portrait photography settings and the videographer-empowering Cine Lens modes - originally introduced with the Mate 30 Pro.

Gazing beyond the camera bump, the hardware specs for the Huawei P40 and P40 Pro are pretty much what you'd expect from a Huawei flagship at this point. The former boasts 8GB of RAM, 256GB of ROM and a 3800mAh battery.

The P40 Pro is appropriately beefier with a 4200mAh battery. It's also a little more durable - with an IP68-rating that puts it ahead of the P40's IP53 one. Otherwise, it features the same 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. Both devices also support memory expansion via Huawei's NanoMemory format.

Credit: Huawei

Both the P40 and P40 Pro also feature 5G connectivity, USB Type-C fast charging and an in-screen fingerprint sensor. Huawei say they've actually improved the latter this time around with a 30% larger sensor that's said to be about 30% more reliable.

In terms of key differences between the two models, the P40 doesn't have wireless charging where the Pro variant support Qi.  

Overseas market will also get an even more premium option in the form the Huawei P40 Pro+. This model features a dual-telephoto lens setup that be used to offer up to 100x zoom. Unfortunately, at this stage, it doesn't look like the P40 Pro+ will be coming to the Australian market.

Locally, the Huawei P40 has an Australian price of AU$1099. The Huawei P40 Pro is a little pricier at AU$1599. Huawei say that both devices come with a "complimentary VIP service to help set up your device" and that preorders will be rewarded with a free set of the company's FreeBuds 3 true wireless earbuds.

Of course, being billed as the smartphone with the best camera on the planet isn't as ironclad a sales proposition as it was twelve months ago.

With airlines grounded and coronavirus keeping consumers indoors, you have to question if anyone is going to bother spending extra for a smartphone with a better camera right now? You're not going anywhere anytime soon.

Credit: Huawei

The Huawei P40 Pro might have the best smartphone camera ever made. It might not matter.

In Australia, the P40 and P40 Pro will be available for pre-order from Friday 27 March ahead of a local launch on the 16th of April.

The Huawei P40 will be available through the Huawei Authorised Chatswood Store, Mobileciti, JB Hi-Fi, Officeworks. and Harvey Norman while the P40 Pro can be found through JB Hi-Fi and Officeworks.

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Fergus Halliday
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