Huawei is already well-known in telecommunications circles. It builds most of the world’s phone networks. In New Zealand it works with Spark, 2degrees and Chorus.
Now Huawei’s P8 Android smartphone aims to put the company’s name on the map with consumers.
Is the Huawei P8 for you?
If you’ve already decided against an iPhone or Windows Phone your choices come down to price, taste and whether you like what a phone maker does with Android. Huawei scores on price. We don’t know what the P8’s official NZ price yet, elsewhere it sells for around NZ$700 to $800.
That’s a mid-range price for a flagship phone.
Like any modern smartphone worth considering, the Huawei P8 is slim, light and looks great.
It resembles an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus and comes with a software overlay making the software look and feel as near to iOS 8 as Android can.
If you love Apple phones, but can’t afford one, the P8 could be just the ticket.
Apple-like, Samsung beater
Despite the Apple-like looks and Huawei’s long-term ambition, the P8 poses more of a threat to Samsung.
It is a modern, flagship Android phone with all the trimmings sold at a mid-range price. Expect to see the Huawei P8 sell for hundreds of dollars less than the Galaxy S6. That’s a direct hit on Samsung’s most vulnerable spot.
Slim, all metal Huawei P8
Sit the Huawei P8 next to the iPhone 6 plus and you immediately spot the physical resemblance. Both phones are aluminium and glass slabs.
The P8 has a 5.2 inch (132mm) screen packed in a smaller 144.9 x 72.1 mm case. The screen and the phone are a little smaller than the iPhone 6 Plus. Both have 1920 x 1080 pixels.
The P8 is the thinnest flagship smartphone to date. It’s just 6.4mm thick. That compares with the iPhone 6 at 6.9mm, iPhone 6 Plus at7.1mm and the Samsung Galaxy S6 at 6.8mm. While the difference between the S6 and iPhone 6 is too small to notice in practice, there’s no question the P8 is thinner.
At 144g, the P8 is a heavier than the 129g iPhone 6 or the 132g Samsung Galaxy S6 and lighter than the 172g iPhone 6 Plus. It’s unlikely anyone will notice the difference in weight, all the phones feel fine in the hand.
There’s no question the Huawei P8 is flatter than its rivals. There are no annoying bumps around the camera. From a carrying-the-phone-in-your-pocket point of view that’s an advantage.
Huawei doesn’t have anything resembling Apple’s Touch ID. That’s a pity. While Touch ID may look like a gimmick, it makes a huge difference in daily phone use. Not having to type in or remember alphabet soup passwords removes a burden.
It’s normal to write about the chips driving a smartphone. Inside the Huawei P8 is a octa-core 64-bit HiSilicon Kirin 930 processor and 3GB Ram.
The Kirin is Huawei’s own chip design, so the only meaningful comparison is to talk about how fast it works in practice. Although we could run benchmarks, most people find the,m meaningless.
What you need to know here is that in terms of raw performance the P8 is on a par with every other flagship smartphone. The P8 handles almost everything you throw at it, so do iPhones and Galaxy S6s.
Geeks tell me the graphics processor isn’t as fast as the one found in the Galaxy S6. Perhaps. Unless you play demanding action games you’ll never know it. Or care.
More important, everything seems smooth and the phone doesn’t get hot in the hand.
Given the size difference between the P8 and the iPhone 6 Plus the battery life seems on a par. The battery fills much of the extra space in the 6 Plus, so Huawei is doing something smart here.
Both phones go for almost two days on a single charge when in normal use — at least the way I use phones. Tweak the settings, use the phone sensibly and you should get two full days use from both.
One compromise you make with the P8 is the standard phone comes with only 16GB of storage. Most rival Android models now start at 32GB.
This brings the price down. It is also where Huawei has done something clever. There are two Sim slots in the side of the phone. If you travel overseas and prefer a local pay-as-you-go account over roaming you can add a second Sim. Or do the same if you need to keep one account for work and another for play.
The second slot doubles as a microSD card slot, so you can use it to add more storage. The bad news is that you can’t do both at once.
Huawei hasn’t gone overboard on screen pixels. At 1920 by 1080 it lags the Galaxy S6 which boasts 2560 by 1440. While this may look like a negative on paper, Huawei consumer boss Richard Yu points out your eyes can’t see the difference, but the higher resolution display will drain the phone battery faster. It’s a smart compromise.
Yet another non-standard Android
When you first look at the P8 screen, you’ll see something that looks a lot like iOS 8. That’s deliberate. Huawei has tweaked its Android overlay to give an Apple-like look and feel.
No doubt this will offend Android die-hards. That won’t be the only thing they’ll get upset about.
Huawei uses Android 5.0 Lollipop overlaid with its Emotion UI software. One of the features of Emotion UI is that all the phone apps sit on the home screen, just as they do on iOS.
Because the phone is Android you can tweak the look and feel to your own taste. Most of the options are not much of an improvement on the stock look and feel.
Huawei went to great lengths at the phone launch to emphasis the P8 camera. Or should that be cameras? There are two.
The main camera is 13 megapixels. That’s less than the Samsung S6’s 16 megapixels. In practice you’ll struggle to notice much difference.
Huawei makes up the gap with optical image stabilisation which helps the camera take better pictures in poor light.
The camera uses four colour sensors, not the usual three. That’s red, blue, green and white. Huawei says this means you get whiter whites, blacker blacks in images. In practice this appears to mean sharper images too.
There’s a front facing camera with eight megapixels which Huawei says is for taking better selfies.
Huawei’s photography software is another department where it has followed Apple, not Samsung. There’s an iOS-like camera icon on the lock screen and the camera app controls are iPhone-like.
Many of the standard digital photography controls and settings are there. Huawei has added a few of its own. There’s a gimmicky light trails mode, a nice trick but most people will only use this once or twice.
More practical is the Beauty mode which softens skin tones. That’s hand for taking more flattering pictures of people.
High-end phone, mid-range price
Overall, you can’t walk past what marketing people call the value proposition. The Huawei P8 is a high-end Android smartphone on a par with the Samsung Galaxy S6.
Should, as Huawei hints, the P8 cost two-thirds the S6’s asking price, Samsung should be scared
Huawei may struggle to get noticed in a market where the Samsung brand is well known. It has a programme to replace broken screens which may interest some buyers.
If Huawei gets the marketing right and the carriers get behind the P8 it will sell well.
- Thinner, lighter smartphone with metal and glass case
- 5.2 inch display
- Eight-core processor. Fast.
- Two Sim slots. One doubles as a microSD slot.
- Android 5.0 Lollipop with Huawei’s overlay.
- Good price
- Powerful, long battery life
- High resolution display
- Great camera and software
- Non-standard Android could irritate
- Limited 16GB storage in standard model
- Some software rough edges
Bill Bennett travelled to Shenzhen and Singapore courtesy of Huawei.