So much can change in a year. Since the Huawei P30 launched, the Chinese tech giant has seen its Google Play privileges stripped at the will of the US government, the UK has left the EU for real, and the whole world is self-isolating. Heavy stuff. Thankfully, phone makers are still giving us much-needed blips of distraction, and today’s comes from Huawei, which just unveiled the P40, the P40 Pro and the ultra-caffeinated P40 Pro Plus.

While it may be the least flashy of the pack, the P40 keeps the Huawei P30’s torch burning brightly, combining a premium fit and finish with flagship internals and slightly paired back camera tech.

Competing head-on with the Samsung Galaxy S20 and Oppo Find X2, not to mention the iPhone 11 - all excellent phones, the P40 has its work cut out for it. Huawei hopes a huge new 50MP camera sensor and a dual selfie camera can do the trick - and as far as we’re concerned, it’s off to a decent start.

Design and screen: good things etc

The Huawei P40 is smaller and lighter than the P40 Pro. It’s actually incredibly cute, a bit short and stout, though still built like a unit - glass on the front and back plus a buffed metal frame; this thing could do some damage.

The screen measures 6.1 inches, just a bit smaller than the 6.2-inch Galaxy S20, and with its OLED screen tech and FullHD Plus resolution, it’s all deep and zingy on first impression. That said, it isn’t quite as sharp as Samsung’s finest, with a pixel density of about 422 pixels-per-inch (PPI) versus Samsung’s 500+ PPI, and there’s no high refresh rate goodness either.

Design-wise, Huawei’s colours are more standout than those of the S20 series, with our favourite - a breathing crystal, as found on the original P30 Pro, not to mention a traditional black version, and ocean blue, which is the colour option we got our mitts on. All these are high on gloss and fingerprint loving.

Design highlights are predictable - a USB-C port at the base alongside a loud-speaker, buttons are all on the right, and around the back is a camera bump which houses three snappers.

Camera: triple threat

The holy trinity of cameras, the P40 packs a wide, ultra-wide and telephoto combo. The primary camera is the same as that found on the P40 Pro, a 50MP Red Yellow Yellow Blue (RYYB) sub-pixel sensor. This is Huawei’s secret weapon in the war against image noise, and serves as a great start if last year’s Mate 30 Pro and P30 Pro’s RYYB cameras were anything to go by.

Next up, there’s a telephoto camera that clocks in with an 80mm equivalent focal length. In English, that equates to a roughly 3x zoom, which is paired with an 8MP resolution sensor. Finally, the ultra-wide angle camera is 16MP with an aperture of f/2.2.

It isn’t just about the hardware here though. Huawei has refined the AI features of the camera to extend to photo editing. For example, after taking a photo, you can edit a passer-by out of the frame, remove reflections, and even haze from a scene.

The P40 also grabs video at up to 4K resolution, and selfies at a whopping 32MP. Better yet, the selfie camera auto-focuses, and is matched with a depth sensor, so in addition to snapping painfully sharp pore-tastic shots, it can defocus the background like a champion.

Interface and performance: workaround

Running EMUI 10.1 on top of Android 10, Huawei’s interface is familiar in essence, but if you haven’t used a Google-free Huawei phone before, it’ll take some getting used to.

The Google Play Store isn’t accounted for, so you’ll need to find other ways of getting apps on-board. This is actually a piece of cake. Set up the phone with Huawei’s pre-installed Phone Clone tool, and most apps will transfer over.

Next, you can download a third-party app store like APK Mirror to find any that didn’t. That said, it’ll get a bit more complicated when a few of your apps grump at you for not having a full-fat Google phone. Uber, for example won’t work with mapping services on the P40 at the time or writing. Additionally, WhatsApp backups don’t work without Google Drive - so you can use the chatting app, but you’ll be starting your chats from scratch.

Powered by a Kirin 990 processor, if you’re after a more Google-free life, the P40’s a powerful device to pick up. It benchmarks a bit better than a Snapdragon 855 device, features 8GB RAM, and serves up 128GB storage too - plenty for most. Additionally, this storage capacity can be bolstered by a Huawei Nano Memory card, which sits in the second SIM slot when not in use.

Given the fact Huawei makes its own 5G radios, you can expect future-proofed internet speeds here, as well as WiFi 6+, enabling wireless speeds of up to 2400Mbps.

Battery: back to life

Fast 22.5W wired charging means you can fill up the Huawei P40’s 3800mAh battery relatively quickly, and while there’s no wireless charging on the P40, the phone does offer some smart battery management features.

These include simple staples like dark mode which takes advantage of the phone’s OLED screen’s innate battery saving chops, and a more advanced trickle charge feature, that understands your charging habits and slows down the rate of charge to best preserve the battery’s lifespan.

Huawei P40 initial review

The Huawei P40 is a lovely, fun little thing, and a charming addition to the line.

As with all Huawei phones, it’ll be hampered from an app stability point of view until the brand can completely respond to the pretty rubbish hand it’s been dealt by the US China trade woes.

That said, it’s laying the right foundation - and making hardware that still makes us coo with delight. So if the price is right and the fact it’s Google-light doesn’t put you off, the vanilla P40 could be just the ticket.