Huawei P8: Australian Review

Everyone knows how many millions of phones Apple and Samsung ship every year — they're easily the two largest smartphone manufacturers in the world. In Australia, the world's number three smartphone giant — Huawei — doesn't get as much love as it should; we're all seduced and distracted by Sony and HTC and the other guys. Hold the phones, though — Huawei is bursting onto the scene with the brand new P8.

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What Is It?

The $699 Huawei P8 is the latest flagship Android smartphone to come out of the gadget labs of the world's third largest smartphone maker. It's built around a 5.2-inch, 1080p IPS-NEO LCD, and under the hood is a homegrown Huawei HiSilion Kirin 930 octa-core processor with its four main cores at a gutsy 2GHz (and four lesser ones at 1.5GHz). As with any other top of the line Android, it boasts 3GB of onboard RAM and can be specced out with either 16GB or 64GB of onboard storage; you can also add up to 128GB via the P8's microSD card slot. That slot, by the way, doubles as a secondary SIM, into which you can put a data-only SIM or secondary voice/SMS/data card as you desire.

Specifications
  • Display: 5.2-inch IPS-NEO LCD, 1920x1080pixels (424ppi)
  • Processor: HiSilicon Kirin 930, 4x ARM Cortex-A53 @ 2GHz & 4x ARM Cortex-A53 @ 1.5GHz
  • Memory: 3GB
  • Storage: 16GB eMMC (up to 64GB)
  • Battery: 2680mAh, nonremovable
  • Dimensions: 145x72x6.4mm, 144g

The first thing that you take notice of when you pull the P8 out of its very fancy multi-part retail box is the large size of its screen versus the body of the phone itself; the bezels on the P8's long edges are very thin, while those top and bottom bezels are still pretty damn skinny, all things considered. This particular handset has a screen-to-body ratio of nearly 72 per cent, making it one of the most edge-to-edgiest phones you can buy in Australia at the moment. You can buy it with white or black bezels, each of which corresponds with a "mystic champagne" gold or "titanium" grey all-aluminium backplate. Said rear chassis is clean except for Huawei's logo and the side-skewed 13-megapixel camera.

While it doesn't have quite the allure of its higher profile competitors, the Huawei P8 doesn't cede any ground in its mobile data connectivity. Just like any top of the line Android or the latest and best iPhones, you can expect Category 6 LTE-Advanced support — that's theoretical 300Mbps downloads and 50Mbps uploads over any carrier-aggregated mobile data network, like Telstra's currently-rolling-out 4GX plus 4G bands. We usually look to Qualcomm's latest chipsets to find these numbers, but Huawei has clearly put in significant effort to create a modem that'll perform to the best of whichever Aussie network you use it on There isn't any 802.11ac Wi-Fi integrated, though, so you can't get the most out of your fancy new AC Wi-Fi router — the P8 is stuck with 802.11b/g/n.

What's It Good At?

The phone's battery life is also worthy of (carefully considered) praise. For its 2680mAh size — not exactly big when you consider the equal-screen-sized Sony Xperia Z3's 3100mAh cell, but on par with the 2550mAh Samsung Galaxy S6 and much larger than the iPhone 6's 1810mAh — the Huawei P8 posts excellent results in screen-on time and standby time. I easily got through a week of busy workdays with enough battery life to get home and to bed before hitting the 15 per cent low battery warning, easily on par with the significantly larger 3000mAh LG G4.

The P8 is built to high standards, and it shows; the aluminium back is finely and consistently polished, the central Huawei logo is precisely laser printed, and the front looks very stark and sleek and modern. I actually think the black-on-black looks better than the white-on-black of the golden Huawei P8 that I tested, but either is attractive. The phone looks even better when it's switched on, too, with a display that is one of the best LCDs I've seen on a smartphone — its black levels are amazingly deep and colours are amazingly vibrant, and actually make the P8's display look surprisingly like the AMOLED of the similarly sized Samsung Galaxy S5.

For such a small camera module on the rear, top left of the Huawei P8, it snaps surprisingly good photos. At 13 megapixels, it snaps 4160x3120pixel photographs at maximum (4:3-ratio) quality, with a f/2.0 image-stabilised lens and a dual-colour LED flash. Photos are good in a variety of lighting, and that image stabilisation really helps the quality of low-light photographs versus an equal-megapixel competitor like the Oppo R7. While not up to the standard of the best of the best — the S6 and the G4 — you shouldn't be unhappy with the vast majority of photos you capture. It doesn't record 4K video, though, nor 1080p video at 60fps or any higher frame rates — you're left with 1080p30 as your only high quality option. Sweep panoramas look great, though.

Huawei is offering a 12-month "Screen Promise" warranty on any locally purchased P8 bought before the end of this year. The long and short of it is that if you accidentally break the P8's Gorilla Glass 3 front panel in your first year of ownership, you're entitled to a free replacement. This is excellent, and easily worth a significant extra upfront payment — it goes some way to justifying the Huawei P8's $699 RRP. To avoid any less-than-critical scratches, the P8 also comes with a pre-applied screen protector (but no case for the rear of the device, as per Oppo R7 and the previous Ascend Mate7).

What's It Not Good At?

The Huawei P8's battery is pretty damn good for its size, but it's hampered slightly by the fact that it just doesn't charge very fast. Because Huawei uses its own HiSilicon silicon in the P8, it doesn't have rival CPU manufacturer Qualcomm's excellent Quick Charge 2.0 technology, and it similarly misses out on a bespoke fast-charging standard like Oppo's VOOC and Samsung's Adaptive Fast Charging. And that means you where you might be charging your Galaxy S6 at 18 Watts or your Oppo R7 at a massive 25 Watts, you'll be charging the P8 at 5 Watts. What that means is that it just takes longer to get from empty to full, or even from the 20 per cent to 80 per cent marks where fast charging is at its most advantageous.

The other big caveat with buying a Huawei smartphone is the extent to which the company alters the version of Android on which the P8 runs. Huawei's Emotion UI 3.1 is a series of small but pervasive changes across the operating system — a bespoke Huawei camera app, a two-page notifications and quick settings drop-down menu, a default home screen skin that includes weather and music widgets and a live data usage feed from Vodafone, a swipe-up menu a la iOS on the lock screen. If you haven't used Android before, you'll love them — if you have, then you might find them annoying. This should also be taken into consideration for the life of the phone; heavily skinned operating systems tend to run at a delay of a few months versus Google's Nexus line and the Android of lightly-modified variants from brands like Sony and LG.

Should You Buy It?

Huawei P8
85

Price: from $699

Like
  • Cheaper than flagship competitors.
  • High screen-to-body ratio, thin bezels.
  • Surprisingly good battery life.
Don't Like
  • No fast charge or wireless charging.
  • EmotionUI skin significantly alters Android.
  • Average GPU performance.

The $699 Huawei P8 competes with top-of-the-line competitors from much more popular brands, but does so in a roundabout way. It uses a Huawei-built chipset, has two individual 4G-friendly SIM slots, has that typically-Huawei high screen to body ratio, and gets surprisingly good results from its relatively small nonremovable battery. Just about the only annoyance I have with the P8's hardware, considered in the context of its price tag, is the fact that it doesn't have fast charging — not even Qualcomm's Quick Charge 2.0, since it's a Huawei chipset — nor any kind of integrated wireless charging standard.

Because of that, the P8 is basically entirely opposite to the Oppo R7 — you don't have to charge it as often, but it charges slower. If your use case involves overnight charging and moderate use throughout the day — and you can avoid a situation where you'd need to charge quickly — then you'll mesh perfectly with Huawei's new phone. Beyond that battery charging caveat, you shouldn't anything to complain about — the P8's screen is lovely and large, the phone is very well put together, and the camera is versatile and can handle the demands of shooting in low light; just don't expect 4K video. And then there's that excellent screen smash warranty.

If you don't mind the particular flavour of skinned Android 5.0.1 Lollipop that is Huawei's Emotion UI 3.1 — it certainly has its advantages, as it's far more customisable than a competitor like Samsung's Touchwiz or Oppo's ColorOS, but it also has disadvantages in the way that it arranges icons and on-screen settings and notifications and expects you to interact with them — then you have no reason not to try out the P8. Huawei and Samsung, for example, both sit at arm's length from Android in that they're taking inspiration from the basic idea but applying their own hardware and software tweaks.

The last Huawei phone that I spent significant time with was the massive Ascend Mate7 — huge screen, huge battery, but all-round good phone. The battery and screen of the P8 are less so than its most recent ancestor, but that doesn't mean it's not good — it really is. Its price is probably slightly higher than it should be (at RRP) to offer unbeatably strong competition to the Galaxy S6, G4 and base model iPhone 6, but if you can find it at a discount you should be very tempted. Even at RRP, you should give it very special attention.

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