Huawei Mate 40 Pro Hands-on: Another low light and zooming powerhouse
The Huawei Mate 40 Pro is arguably the most intriguing smartphone launch of the year, what with it being potentially the very last Huawei phone to use a Kirin chip due to ongoing U.S. sanctions that prevent most of the world’s chipmakers, including Huawei’s longtime partner TSMC, from supplying silicon for Huawei.
But even without the U.S. scrutiny drama, the Huawei Mate 40 Pro would still have been one of the more interesting launches of the year anyway. Ever since 2018’s Huawei P20 Pro, every Huawei flagship has brought with it a breakthrough in camera hardware, whether it be RYYB sensors that can literally see in the dark, a true 10x lossless optical zoom lens, or computational night mode photography before Google and Apple did it.
I’ve been testing a pre-production unit of the Huawei Mate 40 Pro for about a day and a half. Here are my first impressions.
Huawei Mate 40 Pro: Specifications
|Specification||Huawei Mate 40 Pro|
|Dimensions & Weight|
|RAM & Storage|
|Battery & Charging|
|Ports||USB 3.1 Type-C port|
|Audio||Dual stereo speakers|
Design: Evolution of an established look
The Huawei Mate 40 Pro continues the design aesthetics established with the Mate 20 series: a centrally-placed camera module with a 2×2 camera layout, a curved screen, and real 3D face scanning — a rarity in the Android space. Thankfully, the angular, unsightly notch of the Mate 30 is gone. In its place is a hole-punch cut-out housing a selfie camera, a TOF sensor, and an infrared camera, similar to what we saw in the P40 series.
The “waterfall” curved display first seen in last year’s Mate 30 Pro — meaning the sides of the screen slope at a more dramatic 88-degree angle and curves further down the sides of the phone — is back. Many people in the tech space criticized this design last year (mostly from looking at product shots), but those who actually reviewed the Mate 30 Pro reported no false touch issues across the board. The same can be said here — even with my palm rubbing all over the side, it doesn’t get in the way of scrolling or tapping. The 6.67-inch OLED panel is “just” 90Hz, so it’s technically slower than the 120Hz seen in rivals, but animations appear very smooth to my eyes. I suppose the OnePlus 8T’s animations zip around a hair more fluidly, but I don’t think many people will look at this 90Hz panel and complain.
The back of the Huawei Mate 40 Pro is glass, covered in this soft-touch matte coating that fights off fingerprints quite well. My unit has this silver color that subtly changes shade depending on how the light hits the back. The volume rocker, which had been removed from last year’s Mate 30 series, is back, but it is placed further towards the back edge than usual since the waterfall display curves substantially. However, the double-tap-side-of-screen to trigger the on-screen volume control trick is still here.
The Kirin 9000 SoC: 5nm and 5G
The Huawei Mate 40 Pro is packed with the HiSilicon Kirin 9000, a 5nm chip that also has a 5G modem built-in. This is an impressive feat of engineering, as even Apple’s 5nm A14 Bionic requires a separate radio for 5G.
Because this phone is running pre-production software, I was unable to install many benchmark apps, such as Geekbench 5, PCMark, and GFX Bench. However, I did successfully install 3D Mark, and in the “Wild Life” test that benchmarks graphic performance, the Kirin 9000 beat the Snapdragon 865 running in the Galaxy S20 FE with a score of 6,505 to 3,723. The score on the Mate 40 Pro is ~2x that from the Kirin 990 on the Huawei P40 Pro, and ~1.5x of the score from the Snapdragon 865+ in the ROG Phone 3. It is too early to arrive at a conclusion, but the Kirin 9000 showcases immense potential as far as improvements in the GPU performance is concerned. We’ll be doing more benchmarks in the near future.
Huawei Mate 40 Pro with Kirin 9000 vs. Samsung Galaxy S20 FE with Snapdragon 865
I was able to test the 5G in Hong Kong, and in the Speedtest from the Ookla app, data speeds were very similar to what the iPhone 12 has been getting.
Cameras: Another zoom and low-light beast
Whether you like the look of the Mate series’ centrally-located camera module or not, you can’t deny that it is fairly unique and stands out from the sea of similar-looking camera modules on the market. This year’s design, dubbed “Space Ring,” houses a 50MP, f/1.9, RYYB primary camera, and a 12MP, f/3.4 Periscope zoom lens. Both of these sensors appear to be the exact same ones used in the P40 Pro earlier this year. The other two cameras consist of a 3D ToF sensor and a 20MP ultra-wide-angle camera.
The latter camera — the ultra-wide — is interesting. It’s still an 18mm lens (meaning the field-of-vision is 100-degrees, relatively narrow compared to other phones’ ultra-wide sensors), but the pixel count has been halved from the 40MP lens used in the Mate 30 Pro and P40 Pro. Huawei has not released a spec sheet or early information at the time of me writing this article, so I don’t know why this change happened, but I can tell the ultra-wide camera is still the sharpest in the mobile space (but with framing being a bit too tight), and excels even more in even extreme low light condition. See the ultra-wide samples below. The Mate 40 Pro’s ultra-wide shots are sharper, and at night, they exhibit a lot less noise than the iPhone 12’s ultra-wide.
Ultra-wide: Huawei Mate 40 Pro vs iPhone 12
In the below set, I took ultra-wide, 1X, and 10X zoom shots with both the Huawei Mate 40 Pro and the Apple iPhone 12 Pro, and to my eyes, Huawei won the ultra-wide and 10X zoom, but loses the 1X to Apple’s new shooter.
Ultra-wide, 1x, 10x: Huawei Mate 40 Pro vs iPhone 12
In night time photography, I’m a fan of the Mate 40 Pro’s contrasty vibe. For example, the neon lights in the image below look far cleaner than on the iPhone 12’s shot.
Night Shots: Huawei Mate 40 Pro vs iPhone 12
Huawei added a similar ultra-wide camera to its front shooter this year, giving it also a 100-degree field-of-view. For the most part, selfies on the Huawei Mate 40 Pro appear excellent. In the set below, the Mate 40 Pro’s selfie camera has the widest field-of-view, and is a happy medium between the iPhone 12’s all-natural look and Samsung’s overly beautified, skin-smoothened aesthetic. Notice the Mate 40 Pro’s shot is the only one that didn’t completely blow out the sky behind me — you can actually see some semblance of clouds.
Selfies: Huawei Mate 40 Pro vs iPhone 12 vs Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
Software — You already know where the issue is
The Huawei Mate 40 Pro runs EMUI 11 over Android 10. I haven’t had time to dive too deep into the software yet, but my early impressions are that the UI mostly feels the same as previous Huawei phones, with the most notable addition being improved multitasking in the form of a slide-over menu that allows the user to launch apps in a floating window.
There’s also a new Always-On Display that intelligently only turns on when you move your head towards the screen. It works like magic — anytime I tilt my head over at the phone screen, the AOD lights up. Huawei hasn’t explained how exactly it’s doing this at the time of writing this article, but I’m assuming it’s using the 3D face scanning system to detect head movement, perhaps?
But of course, the elephant in the room: The Huawei Mate 40 Pro does not ship with Google’s Mobile Services core and they cannot be installed without some sort of hack or unofficial methodology. I’ve used the last two non-GMS Huawei devices so I’ve gotten pretty familiar with what apps I can use and what I can’t: key Google services like YouTube, Drive, Docs, Keep are all no go. But Google Maps and Chrome work. Other widely-used apps (for me) like WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter all work.
Thoughts so far
As is the case with the last four or five Huawei flagships, the Huawei Mate 40 Pro has absolutely top-notch hardware — arguably the best in Android. But the software issue is going to require compromises in usage habits for many people around the world. I’m going to be testing this phone thoroughly over the upcoming days, so stay tuned for more coverage.