You’ve probably never heard of Huawei. With a brand name that few recognise and which many who do can’t pronounce, the Chinese company has struggled outside developing markets – but that may be about to change.
Its new flagship P8 Android smartphone – thinner than an iPhone 6 – could be about to put Huawei on the map.
As one of the largest mobile infrastructure companies in the world, and known for devices that take advantage of new technologies, such as 4G, first, Huawei is now aiming to mirror the success of Google’s Nexus series and offer a top-end experience at a mid-range price.
The P8 has a rather understated design in aluminium and glass. It looks a little like an iPhone 5 from the back, but also resembles the Argos MyTablet with white inlaid glass at the top of the back plate.
Unfortunately, the resemblance doesn’t stop there. Despite being thin and well made, with smooth sides and a solid back, the finish to the aluminium looks slightly cheap.
The back also sounds hollow when tapped with a finger, which is surprising given that at 6.4mm thick the P8 is one of the thinnest phones going – the iPhone 6 is 6.9mm and the Samsung Galaxy S6 6.8mm.
The 5.2in full HD screen fills most of the front, with thin bezels at the sides. It’s bright, crisp and good. It’s not quite up to par with the fantastic quad HD screen fitted to the LG G4 and Galaxy S6, but is easily as good as similar screens fitted to the HTC One M9, for example.
With a small body and a 5.2in screen, the P8 is one of the most manageable top-end smartphones available at the moment, although people with smaller hands will still struggle to use it one-handed.
- Screen: 5.2in full HD LCD (424ppi)
- Processor: Octa-core Huawei Kirin 930
- RAM: 3GB of RAM
- Storage: 16GB + microSD card
- Operating system: Android 5.0 “Lollipop” with Emotion UI
- Camera: 13MP rear camera with OIS, 8MP front-facing camera
- Connectivity: Dual-Sim LTE, Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0 and GPS
- Dimensions: 144.9 x 72.1 x 6.4mm
- Weight: 145g
Huawei’s own silicon
Like Samsung, Huawei designs and makes its own processors. Its Kirin 930 has similar specifications to Qualcomm and Samsung’s latest, but with slightly less powerful graphics processors.
The P8 feels snappy, if not quite as quick as the fastest-feeling Android smartphone, the Galaxy S6. Performance all round was solid, only stuttering slightly with some graphically heavy gaming.
I never noticed the phone getting overly hot, which is impressive given how thin it is. Equally impressive is how the battery life. Performing general duties, including hundreds of push notifications, email, Twitter, music streaming and an hour of browsing, I got a good two days out of the P8 between charges.
I also found it got and maintained a stronger 4G signal than any other smartphone I have tested.
The standard P8 only has 16GB of storage built in (most high-end smartphones now come with 32GB in 2015). It has a microSD card slot for adding more storage for media, but it also doubles as a secondary Sim card slot, allowing users to have two phone numbers and two services attached to one phone.
Dual-Sim support is extremely handy for those with personal and work numbers, saving needing to carry two phones, as well as those travelling and using a local Sim card.
Android, but not as you’d know it
The P8 is an Android smartphone running version 5.0 Lollipop. But Huawei modifies Android to look very different, calling it “Emotion UI”.
There is no app drawer, which means every app is forced on to the homescreen pages, much like an iPhone. The apps can be placed in folders and the homescreens behave like standard Android with moving wallpapers and widgets.
The notification tray looks and behaves differently. Some apps have multiple notifications – Gmail, for instance, clusters all messages together, but a secondary notification shows each one individually.
Various themes are available, which change icons as well as colours and backgrounds. Most app icons have a coloured background, which looks a mess; standard Android uses transparent background instead. Other apps have custom icons, which look a bit warped, such as Instagram.
The P8 also has a few phone management tools baked in for clearing apps from the Ram. With 3GB of Ram installed, they’re a bit of an overkill, but good for those obsessed with cleaning and tweaking.
Another interesting addition is a power monitor that warns you when an app is consuming battery power in the background. It rates apps in milliampere hours – a measure of battery capacity – recommending shutting down any app that uses more than 40mAh when not in use. Again this seems like overkill, but could be useful for those trying to eke out every last hour of battery life and the notifications can be turned off if they become annoying.
The 13-megapixel camera is one of the best currently available. It’s not quite as sharp as the Samsung Galaxy S6 or the LG G4’s camera, but has solid low-light performance and good detail.
The camera app, however, is very iPhone-like. A simple photo selector on the left, with options to enable HDR and a load of other features buried behind a menu.
The front-facing camera does a solid job for selfies, although its beauty mode can create some horrifyingly alien-looking images.
The 16GB version of the Huawei P8 comes in champagne or grey, costing £360, which is around £200 less than most of the competitors, including Samsung, LG, Sony, HTC and Apple. Samsung’s mid-range Galaxy A5 costs £349.
The Huawei P8 is a high-end device that costs the same as a mid-range smartphone. It is very thin, light and made of metal, with a solid camera and a decent processor.
It also has dual-Sim capability and good battery life, but it lacks a little polish and its alterations to Android aren’t the best.
With the P8, Huawei has proved that it is a smartphone manufacturer worth paying attention to, and the P8 is certainly worth considering, especially given it costs significantly less than rivals.
Pros: Very thin, solid build, decent camera, good battery life and performance.
Cons: Lack of premium finish to the body, software modifications are a little unpolished and change Android significantly.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010