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

Huawei p10An 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 Apple 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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2 thoughts on “Huawei P10 review: A steady-as-you-go upgrade

  1. Phone designers are running out of options. This year’s phones show less innovation than in years past.
    Samsung’s Galaxy S8 goes on sale this week. The early 2017 phone picture is now complete. We now know what the mainstream phone market will look like until Apple reveals its iPhone plans.
    Here are ten things we’ve learnt about the state of the phone market:
    1. Samsung fans are forgiving, maybe too forgiving
    You couldn’t step on a plane at the end of last year with cabin crew reminding you of problems with the Samsung Note 7. Every safety announcement told passengers it was dangerous.
    The Note 7’s exploding battery was news for weeks. The tech business has rarely seen such damaging publicity. It seems Samsung raced the product out before completing testing.
    According to Ben Bajarin at techpinions that bad publicity is not enough to stop today’s Samsung owners from considering the Galaxy S8.
    2. S8 ain’t done until Bixby runs
    Bixby is Samsung’s voice-controlled virtual assistant. If it works it will rival Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa.
    Samsung says Bixby is different because it strings tasks together. It then manages complex tasks the others can’t. Among other things, Bixby can wrap-up and send your most recently taken photo to, say, your partner. It promises to hunt down, then stream a specific video to a Samsung TV set.
    Soon after announcing the S8 Samsung said Bixby features will not all be available on day one.
    Unfinished software is not on a par with unfinished and unsafe battery designs. Yet it seems Samsung hasn’t learned all the important lessons from the Note 7.
    If the signature feature of a new phone isn’t ready by launch, you might wonder if Samsung still cuts corners. Will anything else emerge, Note 7-like, after the launch?
    3. The case of the disappearing bezel
    Bezel is the name given to the rim around a phone’s screen. All phone makers have reduced the size of their bezels in recent models. Huawei and Oppo’s 2017 phones have tiny bezels.
    Samsung has taken this almost to the logical extreme. There is almost no bezel on the Galaxy S8. The front is almost all glass.
    In practice this means two things. First, you get more screen in a smaller package. The display on the Galaxy S8 is larger than the display on the Apple iPhone 7 Plus. Yet the S8 is roughly the same size as the non-Plus iPhone 7.
    4. Much ado about fingerprint scanner placement
    Put Note 7 fires and Bixby to one side for a moment. What is the main aspect of the Galaxy S8 that every phone reviewer wants to discuss? Is it the camera technology, the processor speed or large 5.8-inch screen?
    It’s none of these. Almost every review mention Samsung’s decision to move the fingerprint scanner. A smaller bezel on the phone’s front means there’s no room for a fingerprint scanner. Samsung moved it to the rear of the phone.
    Using the S8 fingerprint scanner is now a little more uncomfortable and a touch more awkward.
    Both points are true. It says a lot about phone innovation that reviewers focus on fingerprint scanner placement.
    5. Cameras, cameras, cameras
    Every phone maker at every launch says their latest model has the best camera on the market. I’ve been to five launches in the six months or so and have heard five different phone makers make that claim. They can’t all be right.
    For what it’s worth, all premium phones have great cameras. They can all take excellent pictures in the right circumstances. Exactly what makes up the right circumstances varies a little from brand to brand.
    To a degree the camera innovation battle has moved on from hardware to software. At least four of the five big phone brands now offer some form of software-generated bokeh effect. 1
    6. Enough with the fashion parades
    So far this year Samsung, Huawei and Oppo have all had big splashy phone launches with a fashion theme. Each launch included beautiful people from the fashion world.
    Oppo took this furthest with a Sydney Harbour boat cruise. It featured lurid coloured cocktails, a DJ and fashion models cat posing with phones.
    A fashion-industry big wig made a speech. She told boat passengers to throw their iPhones overboard and replace it with an Oppo.
    It’s worth pointing out that fashion-themed phone launches are not new. LG held a similar event in Auckland 10 years ago.
    The message, in case you didn’t get it, is that premium smart phones are fashion items.
    7. Hardware innovation slows in 2017 phones
    Related to the fashion metaphor is the fetish with phone colours. There are different shades of black, metallic blues, greens and reds and so on. Again, we’ve been here before with premium phones.
    In a sense modern phones have reached the point American cars got to in the 1960s. Then Detroit covered cars in chrome and added tail fins. They did this to create the impression of innovation where, in fact, there was little new.
    Innovation isn’t quite dead in the phone business, but it has slowed to a crawl. The fact that people fuss over the fingerprint scanner tells you that.
    Almost every hardware improvement in the last year has been incremental, cosmetic or unimportant. Screen resolution passed the point where the human eye could notice a different a few years ago. It’s been even longer since a phone processor wasn’t fast enough for all everyday tasks.
    8. The price isn’t right
    Premium phone price have climbed faster than inflation. This isn’t because of currency effects, phone prices are going up everywhere.
    In part this is because phone makers did not make much profit in the past. Although Apple has always enjoyed a good margin. Even Samsung struggled at times to earn a decent amount from selling hardware.
    In 2013 the Samsung Galaxy S4 cost NZ$1150 and the 16GB iPhone 5S was $1050. Today the cheapest iPhone 7 is $1430 and the bottom of the range Galaxy S8 is $1300. You can go all the way to $1830 with Apple or $1500 with Samsung.
    You can argue that you get more phone, or at least more memory and more screen. But that’s not the point, it now costs Apple fans over 30 percent more to buy the least expensive iPhone. Samsung customers pay around 20 percent more.
    Huawei has pushed its prices up even faster. Four years ago it made bargain basement phones, today the P10 is NZ$1000 and the Mate 9 is $1100.
    Bucking the trend Oppo’s $700 R9s has most of the features found in a Samsung phone for almost half the price. There’s a huge opportunity for a brand selling good phone hardware at that price.
    9. Everyone has a phone
    Almost every person in the rich world who wants a modern mobile phone now has one. This means phone sales have slowed to a crawl compared with the past decade.
    It also means phone makers rely on shortening the upgrade cycle to turn over more product. That keeps the money rolling in. There is one big problem with that…
    10. There are few compelling reasons to upgrade
    Today’s premium phones are good. When it comes to practical functionality they are not much better than the handsets on offer two years ago. Most of the changes in that time have made little difference to an owner’s everyday life.
    There are always going to be performance obsessed geeks who argue for some esoteric reason they need an even faster processor. But in reality, it’s been a long time since phones were slow in everyday use. Likewise, any new hardware feature, is often only of interest to a minority.
    Few people will hold onto phones for, say, 10 years, as they do with PCs. Apart from anything else, they take a physical beating day-in, day-out and get dropped or otherwise worn out after a few years. Most users who are not on plans have already moved away from annual or bi-annual phone upgrades. In the future more of us are likely to hang-on to devices for even longer.

    I can’t remember if Sony or Oppo mentioned anything about blurred image backgrounds. Apple, Samsung and Huawei all did. ↩︎

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