The Mate 40 Pro is Huawei's latest superphone, which the company hopes will go up against the iPhone 12 Pro and Samsung's Galaxy S20 and Note series. Wrapped up in an attractive body, it's packed with the latest top tech and 5G. But while it's got solid specs on paper, it suffers from one major problem.
Due to the ongoing restrictions imposed by the US government, Huawei's phones can't use any Google services, including Gmail, Maps and Chrome and, most importantly of all, the Google Play store. While Huawei has its own app store (which I'll come to later) it's nowhere close to rivalling Google's and it makes this phone difficult to recommend over any of its rivals.
The Huawei Mate 40 Pro will be on sale later this year for 1,199 Euros (converts to £1,082, $1,418, AU$1,996).
But the lack of apps aside, there are still things to like about the Mate 40 Pro. Let's begin with the positives.
Mate 40 Pro has a gorgeous design
I adore the pearlescent finish on the back of the phone. Look at it from one angle and it shows soft orange and light blue tones. Tilt it in the light and those colors shimmer and blend into deeper blue and purple hues. Move it around more and I'm sure you'll be able to identify even more colors that I can't even name.
The design is satisfying and simultaneously gives the phone a beautiful and classy aesthetic. The frosted glass feels extremely premium too, as does the metal edging and the overall solid build. There's no question that it feels like a top-end device when I'm holding it in my hand.
The 6.76-inch display is bright, pin-sharp with narrow bezels that stretch right to the edge. It curves attractively to meet the metal frame. Images look vibrant, small text is crystal clear and it's easy to read outdoors in sunlight.
Mate 40 Pro's 4 rear cameras are good overall
The four rear cameras are decent, but not outstanding. The main camera balances exposure well and delivers accurate, vibrant colors. The 5x optical zoom captures impressively detailed shots, and even at 10x zoom there's still a lot of clarity in the image. The super-wide camera is less impressive, producing shots often with more subdued contrast and sometimes a noticeable shift in white balance, likely due to an overenthusiastic HDR mode lifting the shadows.
Video has been a big focus for the Mate 40 Pro, but there's room for improvement. The stabilization is excellent, and it managed to capture smooth footage even when I was walking at a fast pace. The optical zoom comes in handy for shooting different compositions, although I found that the focus frequently drifted in and out when shooting at 5x zoom. Also, the HDR mode in video is as heavy-handed as it was in photos. Its processing brought up the shadows and turned down the highlights to such an extent that the resulting footage was a bit disappointing and suffered from odd stabilizing distortions. Specifically, I could see the software struggling to balance a bright sky that was moving around in the frame.
There's no question that it's a good camera overall, but I feel that a few software tweaks could go a long way to making it a great camera.
Mate 40 Pro processor, 5G and battery life
Inside the phone is Huawei's Kirin 9000 processor, which provides superfast 5G connectivity, and 8GB of RAM. Navigating around the phone's interface is swift and I didn't notice any lag while playing the demanding racing game Asphalt 9: Legends. The game also showed consistently high frame rates. However, on paper at least, its score of 7,827 on the 3D Mark Slingshot: Unlimited benchmark test sits below both the OnePlus 8T (9,802) and the iPhone 12 ($630 at Best Buy) (10,988).
While I haven't ran the usual battery rundown tests on the phone, based on our anecdotal experiences so far, the phone seems capable of getting through a full day of mixed use, with plenty to spare into the next day. It supports fast charging too, so giving it a quick boost before heading out isn't a problem.
Mate 40 Pro's big software and app problem
While the phone runs Android software at its core, it doesn't use Google's services, which means it can't access the Google Play store. Apps like Gmail and YouTube are not available at all, although you can still access YouTube through the web browser.
To help combat this, Huawei launched its own app store and, to its credit, it's done a lot to close the gaps in recent months. Big names like Amazon, Snapchat, TikTok and Tinder are available while Facebook and WhatsApp can both be downloaded as apk files directly from their respective official websites. I couldn't find an official download for Instagram, but the apk is available from third-party services, as is the case for a variety of Android apps.
The issue of doing this, however, is that you have to trawl through websites that seem adamant on tricking you with adverts. Many I visited used the trick of a big "Download Now" button that's actually an ad, and buried the actual, much smaller "install apk" button further down. You have to be on your guard and it's not as pleasant an experience as browsing through a regular app store. Also, installing apk files from unknown sources is inherently risky. Because they don't come from official sources, you don't know if they're even up to date or if they're loaded with malware. I didn't mind trying this out with my review device, but I wouldn't be comfortable doing it on a phone that also contained my banking details, contact lists and work email accounts.
Huawei says it's working with developers to bring more apps to its store. For instance, it launched a system whereby if a certain app isn't available, you can log your interest and, assuming enough people do the same, Huawei will prioritize that app and bring it to the store. It's also launching its own maps service in the coming weeks. But the fact remains that its shelves are relatively bare right now and if you're into getting the latest games and services then this isn't the phone for you.
Huawei Mate 40, Mate 40 Pro Plus and accessories
Alongside the Mate 40 Pro that I've tested, Huawei also has the standard Mate 40, which has a slightly lower-spec camera setup, including 3x and 5x optical zoom lenses and a lower resolution ultra wide lens. The top-end Mate 40 Pro Plus meanwhile packs a 3x telephoto, a 10x telephoto and a huge 17x optical zoom lens which is the biggest optical zoom we've ever seen on a phone. What images look like at this zoom range remains to be seen. The ultra wide lens on the Mate 40 Pro Plus also promises less image distortion thanks to a 'free-form' lens.
There's also the Mate 40 RS, made with design firm Porsche Design. The technology remains basically the same as the Mate 40 Pro, but it's got a tweaked overall aesthetic and there's a Porsche Design version of Huawei's existing Watch GT2 as well. The company also
The Huawei FreeBuds Studio are the company's first over-ear wireless headphones that promise noise cancelling, high resolution audio and up to 24 hours of playtime from a full charge.
Huawei Mate 40 series pricing
- Huawei Mate 40: 899 euros (converts to about £810, $1,060, AU$1,500)
- Huawei Mate 40 Pro: 1,199 euros (converts to £1,080, $1,420, AU$2,000)
- Huawei Mate 40 Pro Plus: 1,399 euros (converts to £1,260, $1,660, AU$2,330)
- Porsche Design Mate 40 RS: 2,295 euros (converts to £2,070, $2,710, AU$3,820)
- Huawei FreeBuds Studio: 299 euros (converts to £270, $350, AU$500)