There's nothing to fault the hardware mix of the P40 Lite. From the excellent screen to the top-notch camera array and the raw horsepower of the new Kirin 810 processor backed with 6GB of RAM, its immediately obvious that no corners have been cut here. It's certainly one the best equipped phones for the price.
And if you have the geek smarts and tenacity to work around the missing Google Play store which entails finding, installing and hacking your apps to work you will have a unique and surprisingly rewarding Android experience.
Huawei has built up a very strong position in emerging markets with its excellent budget phones. In a country like South Africa, for example, it's Lite phones have always been marketed as lookalike clones of the flagship phones, and have sold very well as a result even though the actual hardware was really a pale shadow of the flagship it imitated.
Of course, this is a very different strategy to that pursued by Samsung and Apple, for example. The Samsung Galaxy S10e and iPhone SE (2020) have much of the same processing and graphics capability as the top of the range phones, and they are accordingly priced much closer to the flagship models.
Huawei P40 Lite release date and price
- Launched in SA ahead of the P40 Pro
- No sign of it coming to the US
- Launch price was ZAR6500 (£288)
Launched in South Africa in May 2020, it was unusual that the P40 Lite arrived many weeks ahead of the rest of the P40 range. Strategically it is possible this gave Huawei a chance to take the temperature of the local market, and to test how both retailers and consumers would react to a new kind of Android experience that presents some very challenging consumer experiences without Google Mobile Services.
The P40 Lite costs R6,500 (£290) which is about one third as much as the P40 Pro at R19,000 (£840), but in both horsepower and RAM it comfortably trounces Samsung's comparable A51 and the A71 mid-range models, both of which actually cost more.
If you're a Huawei fan you could be forgiven for getting confused about where the forthcoming Y8s budget phone fits into the picture, since they compete in the same space and might be more realistic competitors with Samsung's impressive A31 and A51.
The P40 Lite lands in the middle of the most competitive market segment: phones priced around R6,000 (£280). At around this level you can expect decent screen tech, some horsepower and multiple camera sensors, and we were not disappointed on any of these counts. We think you're getting a lot of phone for your money. In our opinion Huawei has played its cards well: this fully loaded product might yet incentivise shoppers to take a chance on Huawei Mobile Services to replace Google.
Huawei smartphones are currently not available through US carriers or major retailers, though it's still possible to buy them. This usually means a higher cost or relying on unverified online retailers, and software may not be optimized for US networks.
- Noticeably different to other P40 models
- Feels good in hand
- Side-mounted fingerprint sensor
The P40 Lite looks nothing like the rest of the P40 range, which is a departure from previous design strategy where the "lite" models would mimic the design language of the flagships. Instead the P40 Lite version has much more rounded corners than the distinctly angular square-cut corners of the Pro. This makes it a lot more user-friendly to handle and certainly more comfortable when pressed against our ear cartilage.
The square camera bump housing the four sensors on the rear is not subtle, but it's not ugly either. The overriding concern is that, placed off centre, it causes some rocking when you're using the phone flat on a table. Assuming you're putting your phone in a cover of sorts, this is probably not a deal breaker issue for most people.
The hole punch front camera is well positioned in the top left corner where it disappears into the phone's black status bar, or under the left thumb of a gamer or into the black bars down the side of a video.
We particularly enjoyed the button layout, with a deep recess for the power button (which houses the fingerprint sensor) so it's easy to locate by feel and as well as sight. And we were delighted that there was no corresponding button on the opposite side of the phone to get in the way.
It's not the lightest, but it does exude a kind of solid, compact and quality build that feels fantastic in hand. The tiny ridges where the glass meets the aluminium frame and flows to the plastic back panel give your fingers something to grip as opposed to the usual slippery, high gloss contoured glass that threatens continuously to slide through your fingers and on to the floor.
After two weeks of continuous use we couldn't detect a single scratch on the back panel, although it certainly is a fingerprint magnet. Our review unit was an all-black number which is the least exciting colour scheme compared to the emerald green (only available in select markets) and the clever, pearled white and pink finish, both of which would doubtless do a better job of hiding fingerprints.
- A large 6.4-inch compares well with OLED
- Pixel density equals 2019 top screens
The 6.4-inch FHD+ screen (1080 x 2310) was one of the highlights of the P40 Lite package. The contrast and brightness were nothing special, but the consistency and accuracy of the colour reproduction feels very satisfying throughout, both in the OS and watching HDR video. This certainly sets it apart from Huawei's own Y-series phones which, while still pretty good, don't offer this kind of visual feast.
In this price range Samsung is now offering beautiful OLED screens on the Galaxy A31 and above, but this LCD screen would give it a run for its money. Its beautifully sharp, too, with pixel density of 398ppi which compares with last year's Galaxy S10 flagships, although its off the pace against the 500ppi offered by today's top end phones.
- Main wide camera is a 48MP shooter
- 2MP macro worked best at 4cm
- 16MP selfie shooter on the front of the phone
A traditional strength for Huawei the cameras on this model certainly didn't disappoint. While the array of sensors isn't wildly different to that offered by Samsung, LG, Xiaomi and others in this price range, we especially liked that the default settings produced excellent results straight out of the box with very little fiddling. Which is not to say there isn't a full box of photo tools to help you improve your results.
The main shooter is a 48MP f/1.8 sensor which does most of the heavy lifting. The standard shots are superb with a great balance of colour and texture throughout and certainly on par, or better than, the slightly more expensive Samsung A71 and LG G8S.
There are several extra options here including a straight shot when you have loads of light to work with, and automatic pixel binning to reduce fuzzy noise for sharper 12MP shots in low light conditions.
There is no optical telephoto lens. All the zoom offered (up to 5x) is digital, so cropping into the 48MP picture, effectively. We never expect too much from this process, but the P40 Lite still put up a decent show of it, and managed up to 2x before things got weird. See our zoomed in results below.
Huawei P40 Lite defaul camera settings
We developed a strong affinity for the Ultra Clarity feature which lets you switch into a high resolution mode then takes a series of pictures over a second or two and combines them all into one sophisticated 6MB photo using a kind of machine learning (which Huawei is calling artificial intelligence, here). The results are fantastic and gives you that extra option for a snapping a complex subject without having to figure out the pro settings.
Digital zoom to 5x
Across the rest of the sensors, it continued to impress. The 8MP wide angle produced sharp images in both daylight and low light using HDR. The 2MP macro sensor was also adequate and seems to be optimised for extreme close-ups of 4-5cm, as seen in the sample shots. There's also a 2MP time of flight sensor for more accurate scene modelling.
Night Mode works well, and it's also available on the 16MP front shooter, although it's obviously not a patch on the low light capabilities of true flagship phones.
Specs and performance
- Huawei Kirin processor has some kick
- Generous 6GB of RAM
- 5G now an extra option too
Processing power is where the P40 Lite really outshines its rivals. It turns out there's nothing "lite" about the Huawei's homegrown HiSilicon Kirin 810 deployed here. There are 8 cores in this 7nm SoC which is a big step up on last year's Kirin 710, and it's paired with the popular Mali G52 GPU found in many mid-range phones. The alchemy is that the Kirin 810 thumps every other octa-core equipped phone in this category, in both CPU and GPU performance.
That's topped off with a very generous 6GB of RAM to keep things flying.
Very little slowed it down: not HD gaming or multiple video windows, and we detected no slowdown even when we plugged the phone into a full-size monitor to use the EMUI Desktop mode like a full-fledged PC.
Given the enhanced camera options and the resulting larger files created we did feel a little short-changed by the 128GB storage. Luckily removable storage (microSD memory cards) are still an option here which they are not on the rest of the P40 range.
Software and user experience
- Hampered by the lack of Google Mobile Services
- That means you won't have access to Play Store and more
Despite the lack of Google services the overall experience still feels like proper Android because, of course, it is. Wisely Huawei has not radically changed its EMUI skin so all operating system functions are intuitively where you would expect to find them. Changing from Google Mobile Services and experimenting with its Android overlay in one handset would just seem reckless right?
One change is that the far-left screen is now given over to Huawei Today which is a clone of Googles service. We spent some time fiddling with it, failed to achieve any satisfaction quickly killed it within a few annoyed swipes.
We find side-mounted fingerprint sensors far more sensible than front facing or under-screen alternatives, and this one worked very quickly and reliably, but we were a little surprised that face unlocking is not an option as it is on pretty much every phone these days, even the budget models.
We have intentionally downplayed the single most important feature of the phone. The elephant in the room is the lack of Google services, but this experience has already been thoroughly detailed in the P40 Pro review and elsewhere.
- Runs nearly two full days with normal use
- 40W fast charger supplied
The 4200mAh battery ran for nearly two full days with normal use, including updating social feeds through the day and playing hours of streaming media, and that places it near the top of our battery life rankings.
Fast charging is supported here, and there is a 40W fast charger included in the box. Huawei claims a full charge in one hour, and our results were not far off that. Altogether very impressive.
Should you buy the Huawei P40 Lite?
We started using Huawei Mobile Services three months ago and the experience has already been improved a lot since then.
We persisted with a tricky HMS setup months ago and since then we have been able to seamlessly duplicate that configuration on to a new Huawei tablet and on to another Huawei phone by using our HMS profile saved in the cloud.
Although its clearly Android inevitably your home screens do end up looking somewhat different, partly because some familiar Google icons are missing and partly because you have replaced those icons with alternative apps.
More top 20 apps are becoming available every week, and there also more ways to get them quickly and easily without Google's Play store.
Setup is far from a painless process, and it is still pretty geeky, but it did turn the P40 Lite hardware into a powerhouse budget phone.
Buy it if...
You are ready to experiment
Huawei is building what amounts to the third big phone platform after Apple and Google. They're moving fast to close the gap, and there's a lot of novelty in being amongst the first to use it, but prepare to make some sacrifices.
You want a budget camera phone
The cameras on the P40 Lite punched well above their weight, delivering great photos at default settings, but with plenty of options to tweak and improve.
Don’t buy it if...
You want a safe and simple Android experience
The missing Google services on the Huawei P40 Lite create a lot of complexity in getting set up and running with your preferred apps, and that's not for everybody.
First reviewed: August 2020