Huawei has returned to South Africa with another flagship effort, but can this contender improve on last year’s P9? We dive in with our Huawei P10 review!
Let’s take a trip down memory lane to 2016, where we felt last that the Huawei P9 was one of the best smartphones to arrive on the local market, given its wide feature range, handsome looks, and wallet-friendly price tag. Now, a year later, Huawei has returned with yet another P-series flagship effort in the form of the P10.
Where the P9 issued a break from previous iterations – bringing with it a design language hybridizing the best parts of its forebears and the Mate series alongside another camera in a Leica-designed configuration for good measure – the P10 is more of a careful, evolutionary step; designed to cement foundations and establish a following all on its own.
That’s perhaps most visible in the sense that this year we’ve been graced by the P10 and P10 Plus; where Huawei has traditionally relied on the Mate series to play the role of big brother, the P10 gets a Plus-sized sibling for consumers seeking more real estate. The implication is that the P10 might well be Huawei’s headlining act for 2017, and that places the smartphone in a challenging position. Read:Huawei’s Watch 2 brings nanoSIM support and a rugged, sportier design
Not only will the P10 have to hold out against the likes of edgy rivals such as the Samsung Galaxy S8 and the LG G6, it will further have to entice consumers away from Apple’s iPhone 7 and – potentially – an edge-to-edge iPhone Edition later this year. The odds, then, are greater than ever for the company.
The question we set out to answer, then, is can the Huawei P10 not only find its own voice, but cultivate a show-stopping role in the hearts and minds of consumers?
With a cemented pedigree and talent of its own, it’s time to open the curtains and begin the show.
Where the Samsung Galaxy S8 is first-in-line to acquire Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 and the LG G6 makes use of the elder but refined Snapdragon 821, the P10 employ’s Huawei’s home-grown HiSilicon Kirin 960 chipset – an upgrade from last year’s Kirin 955.
The P10 is rounded out by the presence of 4GB of RAM and 32/64GB of internal storage, a large 3,200mAh battery, and making debut is the presence of USB Type-C support and a front-mounted fingerprint scanner.
In the camera department, the P10 utilizes a dual-camera array constituted by a 20-megapixel monochrome lens and a 12-megapixel colour unit, while the handset leverages an 8-megapixel front-facing camera for selfies.
Last year’s Huawei P9 did a great job in establishing its own visual identity with a design that oozed class and refinement, and this year the P10 takes a somewhat different approach.
At first, one might be remiss not to mention that the P10 takes some stylistic approach from the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus – the presence of a horizontally-aligned dual camera array, rounded corners, and a front-facing fingerprint scanner makes for a handset that – at least in profile – resembles some of Cupertino’s better efforts.
There are two dimensions to deal with here, and both of these tend to improve the look and feel of the device rather than detract from it.
The first is that – like the iPhone 7 – the P10 employs a unibody design that feels absolutely solid in the hand; if one was at any point hesitant about scratching or damaging the Huawei P9, the P10 instead gives a sense of reassuring satisfaction. This isn’t a frail device, and it is one that survived the drops and scrapes we subjected it to with ease.
The second is the sense that the P10 feels like a familiar product, but not one that feels gimmicky or overwhelming iterative; rounded corners and the subtle presence of an aluminium ring around the surface of the device give an air of sophistication and stamina; a rare find where this year’s flagships tend to represent either flash (as with the Galaxy S8) or durability (as with the LG G6).
The end result is a device that feels premium without the added compromise of a bulky or risque design – an increasingly rare accomplishment in 2017’s premium smartphone arena. Perhaps akin to crooners who belt out Frank Sinatra songs, the narrative here is that one knows what to expect – and that one’s enjoyment is only amplified when the proverbial high notes are hit.
The presence of a front-facing fingerprint scanner might well deter some hard-core Huawei fans, though in good news the module is one of the fastest we’ve ever had the pleasure of using. That’s due, in part, to the fact that the P10 benefits from a recessed fingerprint scanner rather than one mounted on a button – such as Galaxy devices preceding the S8.
A svelte touch is the presence of a grip atop the Huawei P10’s power button; a welcome addition in an age where it has become far easier to mistake opposing function keys for one another. The convenience of the grip is emphasised when one holds the P10, in that one’s thumb naturally gravitates to hold the button gently while using the smartphone.
At the end of the day, the Huawei P10 sacrifices some novelty for familiarity; and while other rival Android devices have offered bolder takes on cutting-edge design, the P10 serves rather as a contemporary classic.
The Huawei P10 brings with it Android 7.0 Nougat replete with the latest version of Huawei’s custom software skin in the form of EMUI 5.1.
While EMUI has traditionally kept an iOS-style control over proceedings, a few important differences have been made this time around; the P10 leverages Android 7.0 Nougat‘s multitasking capabilities to bring apps side-by-side, and the latest build of the Chinese firm’s software skin allows users to finally summon an app drawer if they so desire.
EMUI remains an interesting oddity amongst other Android manufacturers’ software skins; while some Chinese manufacturers continue to offer custom skins atop Android to bridge the Google features consumers are unable to enjoy in China, the presence of the skin in South Africa is an interesting oddity considering that some major market players – Samsung among them – have mulled or executed moving towards an experience closer to stock Android.
The presence, then, of a theme engine is one that consumers will either love or tire of – though the option to download and use a custom launcher with varying visual touches is a choice best left to each and every user. The fact that Huawei has opted for a close-to-stock app management screen will likely delight those seeking to experience Google nirvana.
EMUI remains smooth and consistent thanks to deep learning technology that prioritizes certain apps over others; meaning that the slow-down experienced by some long-time Huawei users has long since vanished. Other oddities remain, however, such as the presence of a shrunken navigation bar that sits terribly close to P10’s bottom chin.
Huawei has typically opted for style over stamina – in the past, its handsets have usually prioritized battery life, photography, and fluidity as their main focus points – and the P10 in this regard is little different.
Perhaps alike a slow and steady jazz singer, the P10 left unflapped at the slightest change – day-in and day-out performance equate to a smartphone that, while not shattering benchmarks, does do an enormous amount to place its user first.
Day-to-day performance is smooth and steady, and the P10 easily accommodates the promise of Android 7.0 Nougat’s side-by-side multitasking; during our review period, we experienced nary a second of lag while navigating through a multitude of apps.
The P10’s camera can at times be slow to navigate between modes (more on that later), though the device usually transitions between states with aplomb. Physically navigating the device is made easier thanks to one of the fastest, most reliable fingerprint readers we’ve yet used on a smartphone.
The P10’s 5.1″ 1080p display might be outclassed in some regards by rival contenders offering 2k displays, but the great news here is that Huawei’s warmer colour palette remains; giving visual media an opportunity to shine through.
The P10 can become somewhat toasty when placed through the rigors of a high-end game, though the device never truly reached the spicy levels some of its other Chinese counterparts have on our review bench. The device usually cooled quickly thereafter – offering a fast way to get back to the action.
Call and sound quality is full and throaty, and the pain of sometimes obscuring the device’s bottom firing speaker (which we all too often did when reviewing the P9) has been abated thanks to a rounded profile – making it far more difficult for one’s palm or finger to obscure the speaker itself.
Huawei has made an amazing habit of cramming in large, powerful batteries into relatively small smartphones, and the P10’s 3,200mAh unit is no exception.
The P10 regularly achieved a standby time well into a third day, and as a result of heavy use the handset regularly finished each working day with 15-30% remaining.
Given the fact that the device only supports an additional capacity of 200mAh compared to last year’s P9, this is a crowning achievement; particularly considering the brains behind not only the handset’s CPU, but further its camera system.
Huawei has cemented itself as a respected figure in mobile photography thanks to a winning partnership with German imaging brand Leica – and the results of that teamwork continue to show fruit in the P10.
The P10 iterates heavily on the features first introduced on the P9, with additional aplomb – an upgraded 20-megapixel monochrome sensor handles black and white detail, giving users extra power when capturing images in low light situations.
The P10’s dua-camera array leverages its monochrome lens to capture fine detail, and this is perhaps best illustrated in two different use cases; the first is that the device excels in capturing close-up detail – expressly so when it can demonstrate its prowess in capturing contrasting shades of black and white.
The second is perhaps best illustrated in images with a wide variance of highlights and shadows; the P10 is able to expertly balance both to craft a holistic image which most smartphones try – and fail – to do through capturing with high dynamic range.
Of course, another strength of having a dual-camera array is the ability to achieve depth-of-field effects and capture bokeh in a background; this feature is locked to a specific camera mode aboard the P10, but its results are often stunning. Care must be taken, however, to ensure that the device accurately captures the required area in-focus:
One of our greatest criticisms of the P9 was the fact that only one lens was able to handle video duty; the P10 rectifies this by leveraging both its 12-megapixel and 20-megapixel sensors to capture rich, 2160p video.
The handset’s 8-megapixel selfie camera achieves a warm colour tone, an impressively manages to eke out detail even in low light settings.
To return to our earlier premise, the Huawei P10 arrives on the market at a challenging juncture.
Both Samsung and LG have outed new forays with vibrant, bold form factors, and Apple continues to chalk up wins with the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. Though Huawei remains one of South Africa’s most beloved mobile brands, does the P10 do enough to market itself?
The answer is one found expressed best in the form of subtlety; where other companies have relied heavily on the presence of new technology to craft exciting offerings, the P10 is an understated and refined addition to the local market that not only looks good in a suit pocket or handbag, but further won’t assault anyone’s wallet, either.
South Africa’s flagship market has well been propelled above the R15K range, and the Huawei P10 manages to differentiate itself by offering a crisp and clear package at a far more affordable price point both on contract and prepaid.
There’s an old saying – beautiful things don’t ask for attention – and this is, perhaps, the P10’s style and method of delivery as a performing artist.
If there are two words that perhaps best describe the Huawei P10, it’s that of quiet confidence – this is a smartphone that knows its niche, emphasises its strengths, and controls its delivery; a little like any well-known blockbuster artist. Read: Remember Apple’s ‘I’m a Mac’ guy? He’s defected to Huawei
For some, the song might remain the same with the Huawei P10; arguably, however, that remains its biggest strength. The core features which made the Huawei P9 great are all present here in new and updated capacities, and its shortcomings have been addressed in equal measure.
For those seeking an affordable flagship with a powerful slew of specs, great camera, and bags of stamina, the Huawei P10 hits the high notes.
Have your say!
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Follow Bryan Smith on Twitter: @bryansmithSA