Huawei’s been steadily improving each version of its flagship P range and the Huawei P10 marks the point at which it’s truly ready to join the big boys.
We spent a bit of time with it at MWC 2017 and from what we’ve seen there’s really very little wrong with it. It has an excellent camera, nice build and plenty of power – plus a few neat tricks too.
Here are our early impressions of the phone.
SLEEK, STYLISH AND COLOURFUL
There are eight tones in total, of which we saw and handled three. The most striking by far are the two Pantone efforts, Greenery and Dazzling Blue. Greenery won’t be to everyone’s taste, but we rather like it. It’ll certainly make your phone stand out among the sea of black, silver and gold handsets you’ll come across on your normal day-to-day.
Dazzling Blue is more subtle but does have the lovely ‘Hyper Diamond-Cut Finish’ on the back. Despite being super-shiny this magically repels fingerprints. Alright, it’s not magic – it’s science. But either way it works; fingerprints will be confined to the front of the phone here.
The other finish we handled was the graphite black model and here you’re firmly back in standard smartphone country. The photo above shows the black version next to the Greenery version of the P10 Plus, and as you can see it gets somewhat overshadowed due to its lack of truly distinguishing features. There’s nothing about it which would make somebody clapping eyes on it for the first time say “Oh, that’s the new Huawei isn’t it?”
That’s not to say it’s not nice, though, because whatever the colour the P10 is, it’s a smart and smartly built device. It’s about iPhone 7-sized despite having a much larger 5.1in screen than the iPhone’s 4.7in one, reasonably thin and solid. It’s also nice to hold, with shallow curves on the side which help it nestle into the palm. We really like the fact that the camera module is entirely flat with the back of the phone, whereas almost every other handset these days has one that juts out and prevents it sitting neatly on a tabletop. It’s the little things in life that matter…
The power and volume keys are well placed on the right-hand side and don’t suffer from any flexing, and there’s a USB-C port and headphone socket on the bottom. Oh, and the fingerprint sensor has been moved from the rear, where it’s lived on previous Huawei phones, to the front. It’s a touch-pad rather than a clicky button, as on the HTC 10, and is fast and accurate in use.
TWICE THE CAMERA FUN
Two-camera phone setups are all the rage these days. The iPhone uses its twin cams to zoom, while LG used the ones on the G5 to do both wide-angle and normal shots. The Huawei P9 and Mate 9, meanwhile, had one 20MP monochrome sensor and one 12MP colour one, and the P10 revisits that format.
While you can use the monochrome cam to take black-and-white pics, that’s not really the point of it. Instead, it supposedly helps the phone focus in low light and improves the clarity and detail of the shots themselves. And, as with the iPhone, it also lets you zoom.
Let’s start with that feature, because the P10 actually handles it better than the iPhone. Whereas on the Apple phone you just get a choice of 1x or 2x optical zoom, on the P10 you can zoom at every point between 1x and 2x. To do so you pinch the screen, or move a little slider up and down. It’s really easy to do and gives you total control over focal length within that range.
It’s not optical zoom as on the iPhone, but nor is it your bog-standard digital zoom that ends up making every image look like a bag of mushy peas. You can only use it with 12MP images, presumably because the 20MP monochrome sensor is handling some of the zooming duties, filling in detail or whatever. But the result is that whether you zoom to 1.2 or 1.8 or whatever, your 12MP images will have what appears to be identical quality. It’s a really neat feature, if not new even for Huawei.
Low-light photography is also theoretically improved by the P10’s two cameras, although here we’ll have to reserve judgement until we’ve had more of a play with the phone. What we can say now is that it snaps on to a target quickly even in the traditionally poor lighting of a phone launch event, helped no doubt also by the laser- and phase detection autofocus. Optical image stabilisation is also on hand to help keep shots sharp despite slow shutter speeds.
That it seems to do well in low light is a bit surprising in one sense, because the P10’s cameras have only f2.2 lenses; the bigger P10 Plus gets f1.8 glass, among other enhancements.
The camera app is comprehensive but not terrifying. You can swipe one way to select various modes such as monochrome and HDR and panorama, or the other to access the camera’s settings. Swipe up, meanwhile, and you’ll go into Pro mode, where you can control ISO, aperture and the like manually. It’s all pretty intuitive and if you just want to leave it in auto there’s nothing stopping you.
The other photo feature to mention is the Portrait mode. This uses various software tricks to beautify the face of your subject (or yourself if you’re taking a selfie). We tried it out on myself a few times but it clearly decided it couldn’t improve on perfection and didn’t seem to make much difference. Again, we’ll put it to the test more thoroughly in a full review.
HOME BUTTON HEROICS
Android’s default navigation keys have survived the move from mostly being hardware buttons in the old days to mostly being software buttons now. And they’ve survived the fact that some phones have ditched the ‘Recent apps’ shortcut entirely at times. But they may not survive our favourite of the Huawei P10’s software innovations.
It’s simple: you use the fingerprint sensor to do all three tasks that the nav keys would usually do. A short tap goes back, a long press goes home and a swipe brings up recent apps. No need for software keys taking up space on the screen, and once you’ve mastered it a far more efficient approach in general.
Some people who’ve tried it hated it straight away, but we love it. So far.
That aside, you get a reasonably subtle take on Android 7 here. Huawei’s EMUI 5.1 is present, but it mostly lurks in the background and didn’t annoy us in our time with the phone.
SCREEN AND SPEED
Outside of the camera and those pretty coloured finishes, the Huawei P10 is a fairly solid almost-flagship. The P10 Plus definitely gives you a bit more to get excited about, with its QHD 5.5in display and optional 6GB of RAM, but the P10 itself has to make do with a 5.1in full HD screen and 4GB.
Don’t worry about the resolution though, because you’re getting a good screen here anyway. It’s bright and handles colours well and the relative lack of pixels won’t bother you unless you spend a lot of time watching 2K YouTube vids.
The smaller amount of RAM is even less of a problem, because a) 4GB is plenty and b) the P10 has a really fast Kirin 960 processor inside it. We’ve not benchmarked it, and we didn’t get a chance to push it to its limits, but it certainly seemed snappy in use. Plus, it’s the same setup as that in the Mate 9, and that fairly flies through tasks.
We like the fact that you get 64GB of internal storage on the P10 – there’s no 32GB option at all. And of course you can upgrade via microSD if that’s not enough. Or even get the bigger version of the Plus, which has 128GB of space.
You shouldn’t want for battery life either, given that it has a 3200mAh cell inside it. Huawei reckons it’ll get better-than-average juice out of it through software trickery, but obviously we’ve yet to put that to test.
We really like the Huawei P10. We like the Dazzling Blue version with its Diamond-Cut back, we like the sleek look and feel of the black version and we like the fact that it’s at least trying something a bit different with the green model. Not that we’d buy that one ourselves.
We’re impressed with the camera, and given that it’s basically the same as the very good one in the Mate 9, that’s no surprise. And we like the fact that it feels responsive in use and offers up a couple of nice software extras.
Is there anything we don’t like about it? Well no, not yet. In fact the P10’s biggest problem is probably that the P10 Plus exists – because with its 5.5in QHD screen, bigger battery, better camera and extra RAM, we might like that phone even more.
All that said, it’s not a cheap phone – though we’re waiting for SA details, the European price of €649 is higher than we’d have liked. Still, expect to see it challenge the likes of LG, HTC and yes, even Samsung, when it arrives later this year.