I can remember reviewing my first Huawei phone, back in 2012, and wondering whether the company would ever be able to compete with other, better-known smartphone manufacturers. At the time there was really no contest and that was before smartphones from Samsung, LG and Apple really started getting good. But here we are, just a few short years afterwards, and Huawei are in with a shot.
But a shot is all that they’ve got. The company has managed to dislodge Microsoft in the world smartphone rankings so you have to know that they’re on the way up but there’s still a way to go before they realise their very apparent ambitions to make Samsung look over their shoulders nervously. That day will probably come some day but today is not that day. The Huawei P8, the company’s current flagship handset, is good but it’s not that good. Yet.
The Huawei P8 is definitely a Huawei handset. It might be because I’ve seen a few of them but the rear design, even without the large logo in the middle, is a hallmark of the company. The glass strip near the rear camera lens, the strip of plastic at the base and even the look of the Mystic Champagne aluminium backplate (the colour we were supplied for review) screams Huawei.
From the front, though, you could be looking at just about anything. The P8 looks like an odd cross between Sony’s Xperia Z-series phones, the Galaxy S6 and the iPhone 6 but it’s Sony coming through the hardest in the P8’s DNA. But that’s not really a fair assessment of Huawei’s phone though, because it’s also a very Huawei-looking phone – if a bit sleeker and sexier than their entry-level and mid-range contenders. It’s just that Huawei’s phones have tended to look a little generic, though there’s only so many ways you can spice up a smartphone.
There’s a metal strip running around the phone’s 6.4mm thickness, with the audio jack on the top of the handset. There’s nothing down the left side, followed by speaker vents and the charge port (microUSB) on the bottom. Then there’s the SIM card slots – one of which doubles as a microSD (up to 128GB, look you), the power button and the volume rocker up the right hand side. Overall it’s just a neat design, if a tad boring. It’s solid all round though and you’re never going to feel as though you’re holding something fragile unless you actually go and shatter the screen.
Average-ish looks aside, the P8 is undoubtedly the best phone that Huawei has fielded to day. Whether it’s the 5.2-inch 1080p display, which uses the company’s IPS-NEO screen tech, or the octa-core Kirin processor setup, you’ve got a decidedly good phone headed your way at eye level.
The display looks as good as I’ve ever seen on a smartphone, at least in terms of HD screens. It’s still a step below the new flagship 2K standard but if we were competing on stock HD Huawei might have snatched a lead on Samsung and Sony. The P8’s display is brilliantly clear and detailed and the default lockscreen, which uses a rotating selection of images, shows that off. Or you could unlock it and actually use the phone but I’ll admit to spending five minutes poking the power button and and off and waiting for those images to rotate. Oooh, pretty…
Huawei uses a HiSilicon Kirin processor setup, which combines a Kirin 930 2.0Ghz quad-core and a Kirin 935 1.5Ghz quad, for its main brain, supported by 3GB (2.76GB or so actual) of system RAM. The review handset I was sent featured 16GB of storage and, on the first boot, there was 10.5GB of that available. Thankfully there’s that microSD slot in place. Or you could opt for the 64GB model of the handset if you’re feeling antsy.
P8 In Numbers
The octa-core processor, that tasty wedge of RAM and Android Lollipop equal the sort of environment where a benchmark is needed so that’s just what I did. Geekbench 3 and AnTuTu were the weapons of choice here and it’s also here that you’ll see that Huawei’s not quite ready for the big-time just yet.
In Geekbench the P8 scored 875 for single-core performance, scaling up nicely to 3308 for multicore. The scores aren’t bad, with the multicore performance beating out the Galaxy S5’s Snapdragon 801. The 801, last year’s favourite, scored higher for single-core though. In other words Huawei have had to throw an extra four cores at last year’s chip of choice to come out on top.
AnTuTu’s score of 46,103 is also respectable enough, putting the P8 above the HTC One M8 in terms of performance. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 manages to beat it still, so we can safely assume that this year’s flagships are all ahead of Huawei’s front-runner this year. Like I said, not this day.
Huawei seems to know this and so they’ve put their focus away from the performance and more onto the camera. Huawei have included a WRGB imaging sensor in the P8 that they trumpeted with much fanfare when the phone was announced. The point was supposed to be that the phone would perform better across the board but especially in low-light conditions. And, to be honest, I don’t see it.
That isn’t to say that the 13MP rear camera isn’t great. It’s detailed and responsive and I can see that Huawei have been messing with the sensor but does it take better photos than the LG G4 or the Samsung Galaxy S6? Er… no. The P8 is good, even in low-light, but it’s not that good. That said, the P8 is runs them quite closely outside in broad daylight. Huawei have a full featured camera app in place and also a few other light-specific features like light-writing. It’s cool but ultimately a bit pointless after the first couple of times you’ve used it.
The 8MP selfie-cam is also no slouch, with the option to make yourself look prettier than you actually are. I’m not sure what you’d call that, I call it false advertising. It’s a shame that the battery isn’t quite as nippy as the cameras are. The 2,680mAh battery in the P8 will probably get you through an entire day but probably not a whole lot more than that. There are battery-saver mode but even these can only squeeze out a little extra time for you to get to the charga!
Huawei have a good phone here. If fact, this is the best phone that they’ve released onto the market to date. But it just doesn’t match up to the competition. You can get a better camera from LG, a better screen from Samsung, a better battery from HTC (as odd as that is), and better performance from just about everyone else’s flagship. But you won’t be getting any of those things at this price and that’s one area where the P8 is a winner. It’s at least a few grand cheaper than anyone else on the market at this point, though you’re making some sacrifices in the name of a budget. If you get a P8 you won’t be disappointed but there are better options a little further up the road.