Huawei Mate 40 Pro first impressions: The last of its kind

This is the Huawei Mate 40 Pro and even though I only got to spend about an hour with the phone, I can already tell that it has almost everything you’d need in a high-end Android flagship smartphone. Almost.

And I’m not even exaggerating. Just look at it.

It’s a gorgeous smartphone. Sure, you might say that looks can be subjective, but I’d also argue that build quality isn’t. And the Mate 40 Pro’s build feels right up there with the best of them.

This phone feels well-engineered, and that’s not really surprising to me. Huawei’s flagships have been arguably one of the best made devices in the market, and I think this DNA is evident here.

Every seam feels like it has been machined closed to perfection, with a selection of materials that feel expensive in the hand. The screen curves and bleeds over the edge probably more than any other phone in the market right now and it looks wild.

In fact, it goes so far over the edge that Huawei’s basically had to put the buttons on the back of the device. But it still works, as these tactile buttons still feel comfortable and nice to press even at that angle.

And yes, I said buttons. They’ve finally come to their senses and reinstated the volume rocker right above the home button. You won’t have to deal with that bullshit virtual volume rocker from the Mate 30 Pro.

If I had any criticisms of the body, it would simply be that I preferred the more squared-off shape of its predecessor, but I think that’s more of a personal thing.

Speaking of the screen, the Mate 40 Pro has an excellent combination of specs here. The 6.76” panel pushes a resolution of 2772×1344 pixels, meaning it’s nice and sharp. Plus, it’s an AMOLED screen so you get those vibrant colours and beautiful contrast too.
On top of that, it features a refresh rate of 90Hz, which for me is the sweet spot right now.

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It’s fast enough for you to enjoy the smoothness of having a fast refresh rate, but is probably easier on the battery than like a 144Hz panel would.

I also really appreciate the fact that this phone comes with a pair of stereo speakers. I was always never sure why Huawei seemed so hesitant to put these on all their flagships, but I’m glad it’s here.

The speakers sound good too. Good left-right balance with a nice and full sound. I like that the vocals come through clearly, which is not something I can say for all stereo speakers.

Huawei also didn’t slack when it comes to performance. It features their best, and probably last Kirin processor, the Kirin 9000 5G. Paired with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage, you should be able to expect flagship-level performance out of this device. I didn’t have much time with it so I can’t really say how it performs, but I don’t think it’ll be a slouch.

Perhaps the weakest link when it comes to internal specs is the 4,400 mAh battery. Granted, it’s not a small cell, but I would have liked to see a 5,000 mAh battery because right now it’s smaller than a lot of its competition.

Still, I’m not saying this will have bad battery life, because the capacity could be offset by the more efficient 5nm processor. But, for a big device targetted at the power user, I think 5,000 mAh should be the minimum.

Huawei does balance this out with 66W wired fast-charging and 50W fast wireless charging, so that’s nice to see.

Although the camera isn’t usually a huge focus on the Mate series, the Mate 40 Pro does come with what looks like a capable triple-camera setup.

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There’s a 50MP Ultra Vision camera, a 20MP Cine camera with an ultra-wide lens as well as a 12MP optically stabilised periscope telephoto camera that gives it 5X optical zoom. This means the Mate 40 Pro takes really nice photos, and is also capable of 50X max zoom.

I also like that Huawei’s added the little viewfinder picture-in-picture thing so you can tell what your camera is pointed at. There is also what looks like a fourth camera on the module, but Huawei tells me that’s a laser camera for autofocusing and AI focus tracking.

From what I can tell, you can turn this AI focus tracking feature on, then lock on to your subject and the camera will “follow” it. It seems a lot like what I’ve already seen on devices like the Vivo X50 Pro, but I couldn’t really test it out in this short time frame.

Up front, you’ve got a dual selfie camera setup with a 13MP camera paired with a 3D Depth Sensing camera which isn’t unlike what we’ve already seen from Huawei. Biggest difference here is there’s no notch, the cameras live in a punch hole instead.

Besides the solid main specs, the Huawei Mate 40 Pro also has your typical collection of useful flagship features and gimmicky flagship features.

For example, this phone comes with IP68 dust and water resistance, as well as support for Huawei’s M Pen stylus, which is great to see.But, it also comes with the gimmicky AI hand gesture controls that have been upgraded apparently. It still looks absolutely ridiculous though.

With a flagship package as complete as this, I should be really happy for the Mate 40 Pro. I commend Huawei on fixing the sillier gimmicks, and giving people a great selection of practical specs with really good hardware.

But I’m actually sad. I’m sad because this Huawei Mate 40 Pro has the same issue every other new Huawei smartphone does. The same reason why I can’t really recommend this device to anyone.

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No Google apps & services

If you don’t care about Google, or you’re OK with the security risks that come with sideloading, or Petal Search or whatever it is you want to call it, then you can stop reading. I’ve said everything I want to say about the Mate 40 Pro.

But I do want to monologue a little because contrary to what a lot of you angry Huawei fans who call me names in the comments section: I was a big fan of Huawei products.

Ever since the Huawei P9, I’ve always been impressed with Huawei’s smartphones. They were genuinely good, and what Huawei provided was meaningful competition in the high-end Android market.

I bet Samsung must have been terrified of them, seeing how much improvement Huawei’s smartphones make year after year. So I was really upset when Huawei lost GMS support, and even moreso when I saw how they responded to it.

Because now, who’s going to compete with Samsung in the flagship Android market? Who can offer the same kind of product and service? No one, at least no one has. And we’ve seen the effect this has on the industry.

Remember paying RM4,999 for a 128GB Galaxy S20 Ultra? That must not have felt good.

What’s even sadder is that at this point, we don’t even know if Huawei will make any `more high-end flagship phones. The Mate 40 Pro may be the last of its kind, but I guess the bright side is that if it were to end with any phone, the Mate 40 Pro looks like an appropriate swansong.

Photography by Zachary Yoong on the Sony A7 III.