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Cameras can save Huawei smartphones

With Huawei’s license to use Google products expires, its handsets must rely on their own merits. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK looks at how the P40 Pro and Pro+ stack up

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The refusal by the American government to allow Huawei to renew its licence for Google services has created widespread concern that Android phones from the company can no longer be updated. However, as long as the handset is already running Google Mobile Services (GMS) and has the Google Play Store installed, it will continue operating as normal, and will update as normal.

 The only limitations are in services that require active collaboration between Google and Huawei. So it is likely that, for these phones, Huawei won’t update its own EMUI “skin” that runs on top of Android. The phone will still operate without problems.

The phones that are affected  are new devices or new versions of older phones, which will not be able to operate on GMS. It is for this reason that Huawei has focused heavily on refining its own equivalent, Huawei Mobile Services (HMS), and dramatically enhanced the range and compatibility of apps in the Huawei App Gallery.

It is possible, then, to live without the Google Play Store, if one is willing to forego the standard apps for Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube, and Chrome. But even then, there are workarounds. A browser shortcut bookmarked on the home screen of a P40 Pro, for example, offers a semblance of my Gmail experience. Transferring apps from an Android device to the P40 allows me to use Google Maps apparently seamlessly.

No one wants to mess with workarounds if they don’t have to, so that becomes the key question for the P40 Pro and Pro+. What makes one feel this is a “have to”? The answer is one feature set: the cameras.

And one feature in particular: optical zoom. It is necessary to understand the difference between optical and digital zoom to appreciate the power of this device. Digital zoom merely magnifies and crops the image, so it is the equivalent of downloading it onto a computer and blowing it up. Optical zoom represents the lens itself zooming in on a scene, and the results are dramatically better.

Until now, most high-end phones, like the iPhone 11, have offered 2x optical zoom. The new Samsung S20 Ultra takes it to 4x. The P40’s predecessor, the P30 pro, went to 5X optical zoom, as does the current P40 Pro. But the P40 Pro+ blows the market out of the water with 10x optical zoom. In other words, that is a real zoom lens.

In practise, the key difference between the two will be noticed in the extent to which digital zoom lenses at the same magnification tend to saturate the colours or increase contrast in order to achieve an equivalent aesthetic impact. But blow up the two images on a computer, and the quality difference quickly becomes apparent. The P40 Pro+ level of detail at that zoom range is unprecedented on a phone.

This tells us that it is a handset for the serious smartphone camera enthusiast, who would like to use the same device for portraits and, for example, for wildlife photography.

Let’s look at the full camera array: no less than 4 lenses on the rear, namely a 50megapixel (MP) standard lens, 40MP ultrawide-angle, 8MP 3x optical zoom, 8MP 10x optical zoom, and a time-of-flight (range-finding) depth-sensing lens.

To get an idea of how far ahead of the market this phone is, its little brother, the P40 Pro, with 4 lenses on the rear – 50MP, 40MP, 12MP and time-of-flight – is a match for the new Samsung Note20 Ultra. The latter sports an eyewatering 108MP main wide-angle lens, 12MP telephoto and 12MP ultrawide. But despite offering 100x digital zoom, its optical zoom remains at 5x.

On the front, both the P40 Pro and sP40 Pro+ selfie cameras have had a time-of-flight upgrade, with a 32MP wide-angle lens, along with depth-sensing lens. The Note20 Ultra, by comparison, sticks to a basic 10MP wide-angle lens.

Aside from the camera array, the P40 Pro and Pro+ are similar devices, with 6.5-inch display, Kirin 990 chipset and octa-core processor, 8GB RAM, infrared face detection and 4200 mAh battery. The Pro+ starts at 256GB storage, and the Plus at 128GB.

Both offer ultra-fast charging, at 40W, as well as fast wireless charging, with the Pro+ at 40W and the Pro at 27W – still more powerful than regular fast-charging on the Samsung flagship. Both also offer reverse wireless charging at 27W – meaning one phone can charge another wirelessly.

Oh, and both devices are IP68 waterproof, meaning they can be submerged in 1.5m of water for half an hour, not to mention a sand bath, by virtue of being dust-proof. That makes it an ideal phone for a post-lockdown adventure into the wilds – with or without Google services.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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