Last year, Huawei decided to invest a lot of money into their smartphone arm and tried to take on the big boys with the Ascend P7, which after some retrospection we realised wasn‘t a great first attempt into the flagship line. The device wasn‘t bad by any means, but it wasn‘t anything to get excited about either.
Huawei then learnt from their mistakes and brought us the much more capable Ascend Mate 7, which was then renamed to just the Mate 7 as Huawei changed its marketing strategies. That strong entry into the phablet market brought them into the mainstream, and now they want to take on flagships from Samsung, HTC and LG with the Huawei P8.
Before we get to the full review, here are some key features:
Huawei HiSilicon Kirin 930 chipset – quad-core 2GHz Cortex-A53 & quad-core 1.5GHz Cortex-A53, 3GB of RAM
13MP autofocus camera with dual-tone LED flash, RBGW sensor and F/2.0 aperture, 1080p video recording
8MP front-facing camera, 1080p video recording, selfie panorama mode
Android OS v5.0 Lollipop with Emotion UI 3.1
16GB/64GB of built-in storage; microSD card slot
Design and Build
The look and feel of the Huawei P8 has evolved immensely when compared to its predecessor. It is also very much different then what we saw from the Mate 7. We admire Huawei for sticking to two different design languages for their two flagship products; a different story at the likes of Samsung and Apple.
The P8 remains a unibody design (thus no removable battery), and is crafted extremely well. Other than the antenna strips reminiscent of those found on the iPhone 6, this device feels very unique in the hand. And you wouldn‘t think that without holding it yourself, because it does look like a relatively generic slab.
The screws on either side of the micro USB port are for aesthetics only, as is one of the bottom mounted speaker grills ““ only one is actually a speaker. The metal on the back feels rigid yet comfortable all at once. The chamfered metal rim feels smooth, yet grippy and the circular detailing on the power button is beautiful in its simplicity.
In the hand the device feels damn near perfect ““ it‘s the right combination between heft and comfort. You have to commend Huawei for coming this far in a very short amount of time. Interestingly, at one stage I found myself thinking that this device wouldn‘t look out of place a couple of years ago, yet I think it will still fit right in over the next two or three years. The design is nothing revolutionary, but the elegant execution is crisp and clean. Screen
While the full HD 1080p display isn‘t a market leader in terms of resolution (compared to the Quad HD displays on the Galaxy S6 and the LG G4), we have always maintained that for a screen this size it isn‘t needed and in this case it still holds true.
The screen is bright, colourful and responsive, making everything look clear and crisp, and bezels have been kept to a relative minimum apart from the area of dead space below the screen.
Viewing angles are also great, which was a slight issue with Huawei displays in the past. Slimming down those bezels makes the extra screen real estate much more evident compared to the Ascend P7 than we thought it would.
This 5.2-inch display is on the cusp of what is usable with one hand, so beware if your hands are of the dainty kind. Nevertheless, it is still comfortable to use because of the small bezels.
The contrast on the display is very impressive, but despite that, outside visibility is somewhat compromised at times. It is still quite usable outside, but, we found ourselves often bumping the brightness to maximum while outdoors.
Even with the minor flaw, this is still one of the best 1080p displays around. You won‘t be disappointed with it at any stage, unless you are a spec hunter and want that Quad HD display. User Interface
Admittedly, that great screen can‘t really be shown off all that well when you first turn on the device. This is mostly due to Huawei‘s custom Android skin, Emotion UI 3.1. The stock theme has a muted colour palette and dull colour configurations for apps and folders. Fortunately, it does include a theming engine (like most flagships these days) so I immediately changed the theme to something that fits my taste.
As we stated in our Mate 7 review, Emotion UI has no app tray. It is something to get used to on an Android device, and is something we‘re not massive fans of. Forcing you to have all the apps on the phone on your home screens is an odd representation of Android and goes against the biggest mantra of Android ““ customisability. I ended up having to throw all the apps in folders and into a corner, which I never touched.
This includes all the stock apps, which aren‘t very useful. Not only that, they take up a large amount of space on your device, and in this 16 GB model it is an unsightly caveat.
Strangely, there seems to be very little left of Android 5.0 Lollipop it ships with. This gives the device a very unfamiliar Android experience, but it still feels very familiar ““ in the vain of iOS.
Emotion UI has been improved over the years, but it still lacks the polish of stock Android and HTC’s Sense skin. The general settings feel more familiar, but can also seem cluttered. Another oddity is the multi-tasking pane, which we didn‘t care for. At least you can close all apps at once with a single upward swipe.
The UI is without a doubt the most divisive part of the whole device. What I did find is that once you get used to it, it makes the software experience unique and unlike anything else on the market. Performance
In terms of power Huawei uses its home baked Kirin 930 processor inside the P8, and its 64-bit architecture and eight core setup along with 3GB of RAM means it’s more than ready for the demands of today’s applications and games that previous iterations.
The Android interface didn‘t experience any major smoothness issues, which was great to see. We have heard that previous Huawei devices slow down over time, so we will be pushing this device for a couple of months and report back with a long-term performance review.
Overall, moving around the Android Lollipop interface was fluid and smooth, although I didn’t experience the zip I got on the Galaxy S6 Edge. Firing up processor intensive games did leave a bit to be desired, but once they were off it played very well.
Some hiccups when switching between apps happened every once in a while, but the very slight delay won‘t bother most. Overall, it performs among the better Android devices, but arguably not in the league of the LG G4 and Galaxy S6. Battery Life
The Huawei P8 is powered by a 2680mAh battery. It is non-removable and slightly bigger than the one in the Ascend P7, although not be a whole lot. Still, the P8 really shows improvements in this department.
Power management is at the forefront of the software once you boot up the device, and the UI hits you over the head with it a couple of times to be sure you know and understand all the power management capabilities. Luckily, they all work and work well. If you use the best modes, it turns everything off you don‘t truly need if the device is sleeping. I found it a bit annoying that it would turn off the WiFi when asleep, so I turned off that setting. Afterwards, the battery improvements were very minor.
That being said, you will still get through a full day without any issues, even with heavy use. If you are an average user, you might even be able to squeeze out a second day on one charge. The battery pack isn‘t the juggernaut we had on the Mate 7, but it still won‘t let you down. Camera
The rear-facing 13-megapixel sensor can’t match the Galaxy S6 or One M9 for resolution, but Huawei claims its ‘world’s first’ 4-colour RGBW imaging sensor. It is said to cut noise in low light conditions by 78% while providing 32% higher brightness and contrast levels.
We found exposure to be on point, with a great balance between colour and over-saturation. Photos in general are of a high quality, with a good level of detail although colours aren’t quite as vibrant as the Galaxy S6 – possibly the best mobile camera currently on the market.
Low-light performance has indeed been enhanced a lot over its predecessor. More impressively, mixed lighting situations are handled extremely well, not over-exposing the lit areas while maintaining detail on the dark areas.
A nice trick Huawei introduced with the Ascend P7 and has carried over to the P8 is Instant Shot. It allows you to snap a picture while the handset is locked by double clicking the down volume key.
You won‘t be disappointed with this shooter. It has taken as step forward from the Mate 7, and is one of the better Android shooters out there. We would place it just behind that of the LG G4 and Galaxy S6. Conclusion
The Huawei P8 is definitely the best smartphone to come out of the Chinese firm to date. The massive steps taken from the Ascend P7 to the Mate 7 and now to the P8 is akin to the levels of skill represented in the Currie Cup, to Super Rugby, to the international stage. It might not seem much on the surface, but dig a little deeper and you‘ll find Huawei‘s game plan has evolved to make them more competitive at the top level.
Its screen, power, camera and battery life are just about on par with the high-end competition and comes in at a slightly lower price. If is exquisitely made and can easily compete in the big leagues when it comes to quality. The slight hiccups with the software performance far from a deal breaker for the majority of likely users.
The Huawei P8 should be on radar if it isn‘t already. When you take price into consideration with its great design and camera, it is one of the best options on the market today. If they fix some of the issues mentioned in this review, the P9 could be a world-beater.
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