Huawei P10 review: A steady-as-you-go upgrade

An incremental update of last year’s P9. The Huawei P10 contains few surprises. 

Huawei P10 at a glance

For: Camera app well matched with hardware.

Solid performance.

Against: Dreary  software overlay.

Expensive.

So-so battery life.

Maybe: Attractive, although the style more than pays homage to iPhone 6.

Fingerprint scanner.

Verdict: Only worth considering if you’re upgrading from a phone that’s more than two years old.
Price: $1000 (P10 Plus also available at $1200)
Website Huawei

After a string of ever-more-impressive hit phones Huawei has taken a breather with the P10. There’s nothing wrong with the phone, but it is not going to entice recent customers to upgrade. Nor will it worry Huawei’s competitors.

You wouldn’t be disappointed if you upgraded from an Android you’ve had for two years or longer. However, there’s no compelling reason to move to the P10 from the Huawei P9. It could even be a small step backwards. The P10 performs about the same as the P9 and, if anything, needs to be charged more often.

The Huawei P10 is a mid-range Android phone at a little more than the usual mid-range Android price. If you want Huawei to delight you, take a closer look at the more impressive Mate 9 Pro instead.

Design

Huawei’s P9 looked a lot like the iPhone 6. The P10 takes this further. If it wasn’t for the home button, the gold coloured review model could be mistaken for an iPhone. However, it is a fraction larger than the iPhone 6.

There are metallic green, blue and red models as well as a hyper diamond cut finish and a ceramic finish. Yes, that’s all cosmetic, but given the amount of time you spend with a phone, you might as well pick something you’re happy to live with.

This time around Huawei has opted for a more curvy design. This means the P10 feels better in the hand than the P9. It also makes it look even more like the iPhone than the P9 did.

The fingerprint button has moved from the rear to the right-hand side. It’s an improvement, using the button is more natural.

Display, camera

Huawei has used a 5.1-inch HD display on the P10 with 1920 by 1080 pixels. If you want more, there is a P10 Plus model with a QHD. The display is a fraction smaller than the 5.2-inch screen on the P9. That’s not enough for the eye to notice. Despite not being a QHD display images are sharp and they are bright.

Like the P9, the P10 has a Leica-branded two-lens camera. There is a 20 megapixel monochrome sensor and a 12MP colour sensor, most of the time they work in tandem. The arrangement is similar to the Huawei Mate 9 camera. When you take a picture, both sensors capture the image. Software then combines the images. Huawei says the monochrome sensor adds detail and contrast to the finished colour image.

Huawei p10 camera

The Leica camera technology on the rear of the P10.

In practice this works well. Huawei has bumped the camera specification since the P9, you can get faster maximum aperture. In plain English that means it captures more light even when the shutter stays open for less time. The result should be brighter pictures.

Pictures

Thanks to the two lens system you can often capture amazing detail. The P10 isn’t the best phone camera at the moment, but it is good. What is more impressive is the phone has such a thin body and the camera doesn’t come with an annoying bump. The physics of getting great pictures from this device requires great engineering.

While the P10 takes excellent pictures in good light conditions, it tends to do less well the rest of the time. If you like to take photos at night or indoors, this may not be the best phone for you. It isn’t great for the kind of shots a technology journalist needs to take.

Huawei makes a big deal out of the phone’s Bokeh effect feature. That’s where the background blurs to emphasis the foreground image. There is also a beauty mode. They give your pictures a different look. Whether these features mean anything to you is a matter of taste. It may even be enough to choose the P10 over other phones.

Software

The Huawei P10 comes with Android 7.0. It doesn’t support all the latest Google software. There is no Google Assistant. The phone hardware does not support Google Daydream for virtual reality.  Huawei doesn’t say if Google Assistant will be added later. If you want these apps, choose another phone.

Like every other Android phone maker, Huawei thinks it can do better than stock Android. The company’s Emotion UI overlay is not the best in a lacklustre field. It adds a handful of features and makes the user interface look a lot more like iOS than other Android overlays. Huawei packs a few of its own non-standard apps which are unlikely to excite most people.

Another gripe is the home button. As you’d expect it takes you to the home screen, but it has other functions and they are not easy to master. After a week with the review phone I’ve given up trying to make the go-back function work, it only seems to do that when I don’t want it to.

Huawei P10 verdict

Huawei’s engineers could have been more ambitious with this phone. Sure, it’s a step-up from last year’s P9, but not always. Where there are change, they are incremental. There is no compelling reason for a P9 owner to upgrade.

At the same time, there is nothing to dislike. Most of the niggles mentioned in this review are minor irritations rather than reasons not to buy. It’s a solid, if uninspiring choice.

If there’s a questionable area, it is the price. At NZ$1000, it is not a bargain.

You can buy the similar specification Oppo R9s for NZ$700. It has more rough edges than the Huawei, but comes at a 30 percent discount. For the same price as the P10 you can buy the Apple iPhone 6s which inspired the Huawei phone’s looks. Another $200 buys an iPhone 7.

A Samsung Galaxy S8 costs $300 more than the Huawei P10, but you get more phone.

If you like Huawei, shop around. You should be able to find the Mate 9 selling for the same $1000. That would be a better investment for most phone buyers.

Huawei P10 specifications

Display 5.1-inch HD (1920×1080 pixel)
CPU  Huawei Kirin 960 Octa-core
Operating system  Android 7.0
Memory 4GB of Ram,  32GB storage + microSD card
Camera 20MP monochrome rear camera plus 12MP colour camera.

Optical image stabilisation. front camera is 8MP.

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