On the heels of Samsung’s flagships, the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, Huawei announced its latest flagship, the Huawei P8 back in April. Although Huawei previous flagship, the P7, wasn’t considered by many to match up against the likes of Samsung, LG, Sony or Apple, it was a major turning point and step in the right direction for the company, offering a more premium smartphone outside of the Asian market.
The P7 was a well-liked smartphone, which gave users a more affordable option, not quite mid-range, and not quite flagship either. This time around, Huawei were a lot more serious when it came to the P8. They removed some of the gimmicky features, and kept those that garnered positive responses, in an attempt to keep the appeal to both Eastern and Western society.
Build and Design
Although the box doesn’t quite form part of the build or design of the P8, it’s clear from the unboxing that things would be a little different. Most other premium smartphone OEMs have jumped aboard the ship that is the recycled cardboard with soy ink printing as materials for their boxes, Huawei has stepped things up a notch with its black plastic box and smoked lid, which has the P8 logo printed in gold. The sides have the lettering, “Huawei Design”, while the front and back the Huawei logo.
Pop the lid and the P8 is fitted neatly into a groove that’s just barely thick enough for it to slide into, revealing on the aluminium side showcasing the volume rocker, power button, and pin-required slots for the microSD and SIM cards. Removing the device from its enclosure exposes the rest of its beautifully crafted body. The device has very strong similarities to the Sony Xperia Z3 and Apple iPhone 6, although, at the same time, notably different. The unit seems a lot more rectangular than most, with a smooth glass finish in the front with no logos, labels or home buttons at all. What’s left, then, is the earpiece, camera, and proximity sensor, which are all quite well blended in to appear negligible. The remainder of the device is covered in finely textured aluminium, with only a very thin, back cross-panel on the top of the rear, as seen on most other Huawei smartphones in the past. All of this and the device measures in at 6.4mm thin, and weighs 144g. The camera and dual-LED flash are positioned in the far, top left corner, almost shying away from the limelight of the design. And this is my only gripe with the design. That and the, ridiculously named, colour options. It’s easy for your fingers to get in a way of a quick snap, especially when considering the below functionality. There are a few other design elements such as the bottom facing speaker grills that have now been done on the iPhone and S6 devices, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it looks bad.
The P8 is not all looks, though. Huawei has added a few shortcuts to features such as the camera. Double tap on the volume rocker and you’ll immediately take a photo of whatever the P8 is pointed at. Interestingly, once the image is captured, Huawei has taken it upon themselves to measure the time it took from the second press to the picture being taken and displays it on-screen. Just in case you thought it wasn’t fast enough. Unlike the S6’s camera app that opens in less than 1s, the P8 opens and snaps your pic in under 2s.
Screen and Display
It may not be the be all and end all when it comes to purchasing a smartphone these days, but a good screen and display can add a lot of value for the consumer when weighing up their options. Huawei’s P8 is fitted with a 5.2” screen, which is a touch larger than the S6. What’s good about the screen is that it has a 71.4% screen-to-body ratio, which is very similar to the S6 Edge, but still not close to the Ascend Mate7 at more than 77%. The IPS-NEO screen technology is said to deliver a brighter, sharper and more vivid image to the user, while at the same time being a lot more energy efficient. Tests have indicated the colours measuring 99.6% sRGB colour gamut, which is pretty accurate. The result is also something that can appear bright and vivid, although at times with a little too much contrast. Users can set their preferred colour temperature in the settings. It’s certainly bright enough to use outside with any issues.
The S6, S6 Edge and Note 4 have all laid down the gauntlet when it comes to smartphone display, with its Quad HD offerings. The P8 doesn’t quite match up to these standards, but still has an impressive 1080p resolution display with 424ppi pixel density. Overall, then, the screen and display make for a good combination of colours, brightness, clarity and efficiency, making it quite a good screen. It comfortably outperforms the likes of the HTC One M9, and even the iPhone 6. Compared against the Samsung displays, however, it can hold its own in terms of colours and brightness, but doesn’t quite match up to the clarity, deep blacks, and white tones.
Performance and Battery Life
The P8 sports a 64-bit processor in the form of an Octo-core HiSilicon Kirin 930/935 chipset. This chipset uses ARM’s big.LITTLE technology, which automatically switches between the two sets of Quad-core CPUs, a Quad-core 2GHz Cortex-A53 and Quad-core 1.5GHz Cortex-A53. This means that the device should make the most out of its non-removable, 2680mAh battery, while still being able to operate with the highest speed, optimisation, and efficiency. What it delivers, in the end, is a mixed bag of good and average. Yes, almost all functionalities and apps operate with ease and smoothness, the battery life isn’t nearly as good as it should be considering the above. Continuous use puts it at an average of about 7 hours of life before needing a charge. On the other hand, when used as you would on a day-to-day basis, the battery is easily capable of getting through a full day’s work. But, you’ll still be charging the P8 every night if you want to avoid issues waking the next morning.
An interesting observation was that the P8 doesn’t have the same Wi-Fi spec as most leading manufacturers, opting instead for Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, with Wi-Fi Direct and DLNA support, where most other OEMs have Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac with dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, and DLNA support. This leaves quite a few strange experiences when it comes to default Wi-Fi, something we often take for granted. Although features such as dual-band don’t really matter a great deal right now, especially on a smartphone, the power consumption and operability makes a difference. Often the Wi-Fi goes into power saving mode, even if the features aren’t enabled, which means that while the screen is locked, messaged and notifications won’t synced immediately, but rather once every few minutes or so.
The P8’s Mali-T268 MP4 GPU isn’t the greatest either, truth be told. The performance from both the One M9 and S6 are both more than double that, in terms of benchmarking, than the P8. While most games will still play as per normal, there are a limited few mobile games out there that require more oomph, which cannot be delivered by the GPU, which causes a drop in frame-rate.
Camera and Software
One of the more talked about aspects of the P8 is its camera. Tucked away in the left corner on the rear is fitted a 13MP camera, with 4160x3120px resolution, autofocus, OIS, duel-LED (dual-tone) flash, with support for geo-tagging, touch focus, face/smile detection, panorama, and HDR. Additional options include beauty shot, light-painting, and time lapse. The two latter aspects, more than any other, are what’s hot in discussion currently. And thankfully, the camera app is easy and intuitive to use, making using these features a breeze. In fact, taken photos using the P8 lasted a good few minutes at a time, getting the right angles, with the right focus, and this on a normal photo. Even more so when you’re playing around with the two mentioned features. The image quality is excellent, with no graining to speak of, even with indoor shots during the day. Night-time, however, throws a bit of a spanner in the works, with images taking a few seconds to capture, which still ends up looking a bit grainy. Thanks to the light-painting feature, however, your night shots don’t have to be dull, and certainly makes the lack of standard low-light picture not matter as a result.
Huawei’s EMUI 3.1 (Emotion UI) delivers much of the same as with its predecessors, and will, again, be familiar with Apple users. Huawei has made some improvements to the UI, including a few more features and customisations than before. There are a few interesting ones such as the knuckle use, which, as suggested, allows users to use their knuckles on-screen to touch. Not sure why one would need that unless you’re eating and using your device, but it’s there, we won’t complain. Then there are others such as the wake command, “OK Emy”, which lets you unlock the screen with the sound of your voice and command instruction to your P8. Then, there are a few annoying changes over the vanilla Android that don’t work as well, namely the notifications drop-down. Huawei has decided to split the shortcuts and notifications areas, reminding us of days gone by for Android users. I’m not quite sure why Huawei has removed the better looking and easier to use notifications area we’ve seen since the release of KitKat. But, that said, there are one or two tweaks of the notifications area that aren’t as bad, such as displaying the data transfer speed, or removing the network operator name.
The Huawei P8, once again, is a step in the right direction for the company, closing the gap at the top between itself and well-known smartphone giants in the form of Samsung and Apple. The true test, however, irrespective of how good a device is, comes from its performance in sales, almost entirely. If Sony’s Xperia Z series is anything to go by, the release of a well-liked, premium device doesn’t always guarantee the numbers at the end of the day.
But, from what this review can determine and draw conclusions from, is that Huawei have caught up quite substantially in a relatively short space of time. And while it isn’t quite the giant-killer as yet, the competitive pricing, at around R7,000, it is quite an enticing offer for anyone considering an upgrade. I wouldn’t think that the P8 will struggle to sell, given Huawei’s dominance in its home market. This puts the company in a great position to continue to build on its impressive line-up, and one can only hope the pricing remains as competitive as it is today, with the even better quality as an end product.