Huawei unveils new phone to rival flagships from Samsung, Apple — but its timing is unfortunate

Key Points
  • Huawei's P40 Pro Plus is the best and most expensive out of its new smartphone lineup and has a camera capable of 100x zoom.
  • But the timing of the launch is unfortunate, with many countries in lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The P40 Pro Plus will sell for 1,399 euros and is set to be released on Apr. 7.
The Huawei P40 Pro Plus.

Huawei unveiled a new smartphone Thursday with a premium camera it hopes can lure in Samsung and Apple users, but the company's latest product announcement is unfortunately timed.

The Chinese tech giant's P40 Pro Plus is the best and most expensive out of its new P40 lineup. Its camera has five sensors in total — four of them optical — and the firm claims a combination of optics and software gives it a total zoom range of 100x.

But the new handset's arrival comes as the buying habits of consumers around the world shift because of the coronavirus pandemic. The outbreak of COVID-19 has put many countries into lockdown in an effort to reduce the spread of the disease.

"Arguably there could not be a worse time to launch a set of premium smartphones given the current global headwinds, but Huawei may be in a better position than some rivals," Ben Wood, chief analyst at CCS Insight, told CNBC Thursday.

"It had already prepared for a steep decline in sales outside China, something its rivals are now grappling with. Furthermore, current indications are that its home Chinese market is starting to recover from the impact of Covid-19."

Huawei takes a leaf out of Samsung's book with its new camera, developed with German partner Leica. It features a similar design to the South Korean tech giant's Galaxy S20 range, as well as the addition of 100x zoom capability which puts it on par with Samsung's Galaxy S20 Ultra. The P40 series also comes with support for 5G, the fifth generation of mobile networks.

In all, Huawei's new lineup consists of three phones, which will be released on Apr. 7. The P40 Pro Plus, which comes with a 6.58-inch display, is priced at 1,399 euros ($1,535), while the P40 Pro will sell for 999 euros. The smaller P40 model, which has a 6.1-inch screen, will cost 799 euros.  

One big setback for Huawei is its lack of Android support. Thanks to U.S. trade restrictions put into place last year, Google was forced to cut ties with the firm, meaning Huawei can no longer include the latest version of Android or Google apps like YouTube in its new phones.

Instead, Huawei has made a big push for developers, committing to spend $1 billion globally to incentivize app developers and build out its own ecosystem of mobile services. It is also working on its own alternative mobile operating system, called Harmony OS, but hasn't deployed this in any of its phones just yet.

"Huawei has raised the bar again with its camera technology and other elements," said Wood. "However, the elephant in the room remains the inability to support Google's applications and services as a result of being on the U.S. Entity List. This will unquestionably limit Huawei's ambitions with these new products."

The launch of Shenzhen-based Huawei's latest phones follows a report that Apple may delay the release of its new iPhone range. According to Japan's Nikkei business daily, Apple is considering postponing the launch by "months" due to worries over a drop in consumer demand caused by the coronavirus crisis.