Huawei has been in the mobile industry for as long as I can remember. But for the biggest part of its history making mobile devices, it was manufacturing devices for other companies and carriers. Now it wants to make a name for itself. Never has that been more apparent than at its launch event for the Huawei P8. I attended that event a few weeks ago, and since then, I’ve been living with the P8. Here’s my review.
If there’s one stand-out component of the Huawei P8, it’s the design. From an aesthetic perspective, it’s beautiful. All four anodized aluminium finishes have their appeal - whether you go for the mystic champagne, titanium gray, carbon black or prestige gold. The polished, chamfered edges are attractive and contrast well with the softer, anodized finish on the edges. The back is almost entirely metal, apart from the glass panel at the top and the plastic antenna band on the bottom. It’s also incredibly slim at just 6.4mm thick. It feels light in hand, but doesn’t feel flimsy at all. It has a pretty solid feel to it.
From the front, with the screen off, it has a very striking look. In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it has a genuine edge-to-edge display. Sadly however, it’s an illusion. Switch the phone on and you’ll notice a black frame all the way around the edges of the actual display panel. Most manufacturers hide this with bezel. Huawei decided not to, and if you have a really dark wallpaper, you might not notice it. But I couldn’t un-see it afterwards.
The right edge features two card trays (one SIM, one Micro SD) the volume rocker and a power button set in side its own shallow groove and finished with a concentric circles pattern on top for texture. All of which have an attractive finish.
Even parts of the software and user interface have been nicely designed. There are lots of attractive fine lines and animations. Just switching the device off has pleasant to do, as is updating the software. But the user interface poses its issues. Although attractive, the standard Huawei launcher doesn’t feel like it makes full use of Android’s customizability.
Even when you install and use a custom launcher like Yahoo’s Aviate, or Google Now launcher, you’re still stuck with the Huawei app icons. Instead of just allowing any custom shape icon, it puts a color-matched rounded square behind it. What’s more, with Huawei’s own launcher, there’s no app drawer. Everything is on the home screens, or in folders. It looks and feels like a weird cross between iOS and Android. App folders open in their own screen and the drop down menu has two screens. There’s even a mini control center that comes up from the bottom. In some ways, it reminds me a lot of the days when I used to jailbreak my iPhones. And that’s not always a bad thing. but I have a feeling that - if you buy this - you’re either going to love it or hate it.
Apart from the black gap around the edges, this 5.2-inch 1080p display is actually rather good. It’s sharp and clear, colors are plenty vivid enough and accurate at the same time. What’s more, the viewing angles are superb. It doesn’t seem to lose much brightness, even when looking at it from a narrow angle content looks good on screen. Whites are still clean, and everything is clear. I have no issue with say this is one of the best LCD display panels I’ve used so far. At 424 pixels-per-inch, it’s really sharp and the fine lines in the operating system make the most of that.
A big part of this phone’s launch event was the camera. It’s 13MP and comes with optical image stabilization and a dual-LED tru tone flash. But more importantly, Huawei once you to use its handful of cool creative features. You can paint with light using its slow exposure tools, use the low light function to take pictures in the dark or shoot time-lapse videos. It also has a director mode in which it lets you combine video footage from multiple devices and splice them together in to one video, right from your phone.
As for quality, you get what you’d expect from an f/2.0 brand new Sony RGBW sensor. Which is to say: It’s pretty great. Daylight images are sharp and clear (even if the colors aren’t as lively as some may like them to be). And - as you’d expect from a phone camera - lowlight images can be a little on the noisy side. But overall, it’s a great camera. It might not be quite as good as the Galaxy S6, but, it’s great nonetheless.
Performance and battery
If there’s one are that really disappointed me with the Huawei, it’s the performance. It has been one of the most unreliable Android phones I’ve used this year. Apps that need to run in the background - like Strava’s running app - cut off after 10 mins or so, meaning my running sessions aren’t tracked properly. I’ve also seen multiple app crashes and some just don’t load data properly, leaving me with incorrect or incomplete information. And, although attractive, some of the user interface controls didn’t work properly. For instance, the screen brightness slider in the drop-down menu was the most frustrating I’ve ever had to use. 80% of the time, instead of detecting I was sliding the toggle, it would switch to the notifications screen in the drop-down screen.
Apart from those issues I had, the performance was generally good. Web pages load quickly and transitioning between screens and apps was smooth. That’s probably no surprise to anyone given that it has an oct-core processor built in. But 3rd party apps regularly didn’t run properly.
Thanks to its software improvements and clever use of processor power, the P8 has exemplary battery life. Its 2,680mAh cell may not sound like much on paper, but even with pretty heavy use I struggled to use it up in a day. Huawei promises it will get to 1.5 days with regular use. So even the heaviest of users should easily make it through the workday.
The Huawei P8 is an unusual case where you get exceptional hardware put together with temperamental (although attractive) software. I think it’s possibly safe to say that perhaps Huawei - although experienced in building products and components - hasn’t quite mastered software or user interface yet. If this came loaded with stock Android, it could be one of the best phones on the market right now. Quite easily. But given my experience with using the device over the past weeks, and how frustrated it made me a lot of that time, I find it hard to recommend. Thankfully, improving software should be as simple as releasing software updates. At least the company got the one thing right you can’t do anything about after launch: Hardware.