Exclusive: Hands-on with the unreleased Huawei P40 Series

What do you do when you’re happily spending quality time with the Huawei Mate Xs folding smartphone, and the Huawei staff member with you happens to put a phone that you’d never seen before down on the table? At first you give it some sideways glances, casually ask about it without being too eager, then finally pick it up, before asking if it’s fine to take photos of it.

It was a special day, because the phone in question was a member of the unreleased, as-yet-unofficial Huawei P40 family.

What are those names on the back?

The phone was an early prototype, and I was unable to photograph the screen, use the software, or try the camera. It was made clear the phone was not final, and aspects may change between now and the launch. However, the overall shape and feel of the phone is likely close to what we’ll see at launch on March 26. If you’re wondering why it says Polarie and Blink where we’d expect to see Huawei and Leica branding, Huawei commonly uses codenames on its prototypes in this way.

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What we don’t know is which member of the Huawei P40 family this is. We’re expecting a Huawei P40, a P40 Pro, and perhaps a P40 Lite too. There has also been talk of another, even higher specification version than the P40 Pro, called the Premium Edition. We can speculate that the phone in our pictures is the P40, due to the camera lens array not matching that of the recent P40 Pro leaks, assuming they are accurate. Those renders depict a phone with the same overall shape as the phone I saw, but with a larger camera bump containing at least one extra lens or sensor compared to this model here.

Refined, superb in-hand feel

This was one of the most exciting parts of handling the P40 Series phone. It’s clear the company has worked a lot on in-hand comfort, and the P40 Series reflects this. The phone is almost exactly the same size as the P40 Pro, yet the corners and sides are wonderfully rounded off. This means the sides aren’t as sharp as the P30 Pro, and the corners don’t poke into your palm like the Mate 30 Pro’s do. It’s exactly right, and highly reminiscent of the iPhone 11 Pro’s curvy corners and expertly judged comfort.

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The real surprise comes when you run your fingers around the edge of the entire phone, as the glass curves around the body at each corner, and even along the bottom of the phone. This is especially interesting, both visually and structurally, as it departs from the squared-off base of the Mate 30 Pro. This seamless blending of the screen glass into the metal body continues on the back of the phone. The rear glass panel is flat, yet each corner is beautifully curved, much like the Mate 20 Pro, repeating the design from the front. It exudes, modernity, maturity, and stylishness.

It’s a definite evolution of the P30 Pro — the lineage is obvious — but there are crucial aspects of the Mate 30 Pro’s design visible too. Huawei has learned some lessons from its last major phone release — most notably regarding the gorgeous waterfall screen. The curved screen’s sides here aren’t so dramatic, thus increasing grip-ability, plus the P40 Series will include physical volume buttons too. The Mate 30 Pro has virtual buttons that work well, but not all the time. The volume buttons sit alongside a physical power button and there is a USB Type-C charging port on the bottom of the device, but no 3.5mm headphone socket.

Inferences from the design

Outstanding camera performance is a Huawei P-Series trademark, and this emphasis once again shines through in the overall design of the P40 phone seen here. It’s made to be held in landscape orientation, just like a point-and-shoot camera, a style first adopted on the Huawei P20. The oversize camera bump runs down the side of the rear panel, following on from the P20 and P30, and we doubt Huawei will alter this to copy the Mate 30 Pro’s centrally mounted, circular camera bump.

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The phone is a little thicker than the P30 Pro, and this means we should expect the P40 series to continue another Huawei hardware tradition — a strong battery. Potentially, it could be larger in capacity than the 4,200mAh cell inside the P30 Pro, and the 4,500mAh cell in the Mate 30 Pro. This thickness didn’t translate into additional weight though; the phone felt lightweight and well balanced. There was no evidence of a fingerprint sensor, so expect it to be under the display.

Huawei has led the way in bringing color to smartphones since the P20 Pro, something many others have copied since. The blue finish here is pretty, and upon close examination reveals more about what Huawei has planned for the P40. Unlike the highly reflective P30 Pro, there is considerable depth to the P40’s finish. It was hard to capture in the photos, but in the right light a flash of different color revealed itself running horizontally down the back of the phone. Perhaps it’s a hint that a true follow-up to the P20 Pro’s stunning twilight color is coming — I certainly hope so.

Another replete camera system

Looking closely at the lens array on this P40 Series phone, it was obvious the bottom sensor was a periscope zoom, as it looked identical to the P30 Pro’s periscope zoom. The other two camera lenses appeared larger than the P30 Pro’s sensors. The camera hump is longer, less curved, and a little wider than that on the P30 Pro. It’s set alongside what looked like a time-of-flight sensor, a microphone hole, and a flash unit.

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Huawei has set the standard for high-quality zoom in smartphone cameras, something Samsung’s Galaxy S20 Ultra, and some of Oppo’s latest phones have just recently caught up to. If this is the P40, rumors say it will have a 52-megapixel sensor, a 40-megapixel sensor, and an 8-megapixel telephoto lens.

What does this mean for the P40 Pro, which has always had more features and better hardware compared to the standard model? It, or the rumored Premium Edition, may bring the total to four or even five lenses on the back, and the ability to take 10x optical zoom shots.

It’s certain Huawei will collaborate with Leica again on the P40 Series camera, and there is giveaway branding on the phone we saw. Next to the camera lenses, the text says the lenses are Leica’s Vario-Summilux-H 118-2 4/16-80 ASPH, but this may not be the final lens specs, as it almost matches the older Mate 20 Pro’s camera.

March 26 will reveal all

Huawei will launch the P40 on March 26 at an event in Paris, exactly 12 months after it revealed the P30 series in the French city. Huawei Business Group chairman Richard Yu said the P40 would be, “the world’s most powerful 5G flagship,” teasing that it would likely have the same Kirin 990 5G chipset as the Mate 30 Pro and the Mate Xs folding phone.

From what I’ve seen, the P40 Series phone doesn’t stray far from the P30’s overall design, while mixing in some of the best parts of the Mate 30 Pro, and even the P20 Pro too. If the rumors are correct, expect the P40 Pro or the P40 Pro Premium Edition to deviate further with larger camera lens enclosures. The curvier, thoughtfully designed body promises to make the P40 comfortable to hold for hours, while you take photos with the anticipated superb camera. Expect 5G, the Kirin 990 processor, and a choice of colors with real depth to the finish.

Huawei will launch the Huawei P40 Series on March 26, at which time we’ll see where this phone fits into the new family.

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