Huawei P10: Australian Review

Last year, we fell in love with the Huawei P9's excellent dual cameras and straightforward approach to Android. But it's half-way through a new year, and that means Huawei's P10 has a tough act to follow and some strong alternatives. How does the follow-up to its seriously impressive P9 perform when it's up against newly renewed competition like the very best of Samsung, LG and HTC?

What Is It?

The $899 Huawei P10 is a flagship Android phone built around a 5.1-inch, 1920x1080pixel LCD display. It has a larger sibling in the $1099 P10 Plus, with a 5.5-inch, 2560x1440pixel LCD and roughly the same hardware stack. Using Huawei's Kirin 960 octa-core processor paired to 4GB of RAM, the P10 is Chinese-built from top to bottom, and has 64GB of internal storage capacity and space for 256GB more through an independent microSD card slot.

The P10 is on offer in a variety of different colours in Australia, in gold and blue and black; the P10 Plus is only in black. Huawei actually partnered with Pantone on two different striking blue and deep green variants of the handset's rear chassis, and it's nice to see a bit of the choice that I still miss from the iPhone 5C start to filter back into the smartphone world. Different variants have different machined finishes, but I'm perfectly happy with the grippy matte black on my run-of-the-mill review unit.

Looking at the P10 from a distance, you'd probably be hard-pressed to differentiate it from an iPhone 6 from 2014, with those smooth curved corners and the gentle angle from bezel to rear metal. That's perfectly fine, of course, but be prepared for some less-educated viewers to remark on your weird-looking Apple handset. Huawei does differentiate the P10 with its very slim side bezels. And, of course, you have a headphone jack alongside the USB-C connector capable of extremely fast charging when using Huawei's 25-Watt wall adapter.

Huawei's calling card with the P10, as with several of its other recent flagship smartphones, is the Leica-branded dual camera setup that sits up the top left of its phone -- and with no camera bump to speak of. On the P10, as with the massive Mate 9, there are two 27mm-equivalent f/2.2 lenses, one hiding a 12-megapixel colour sensor and one hiding a 20-megapixel monochrome one, both side by side. On the front is a f/1.9 8-megapixel fixed-focus camera for all your selfies -- par for the course these days.

What's It Good At?

When you're out to take photos and enjoy taking photos, the Huawei P10 does not disappoint. Its monochrome sensor has to be demonstrated rather than just explained -- because it's natively black and white, it has more photosites than an RGB sensor, and that means it's able to capture a much wider range of shades in your photos. The 12-megapixel colour sensor is very nearly as good, especially in good lighting. Just about the only area it struggles versus the competition is in low light shooting, where noise starts to creep in.

That praise extends to the P10's camera app, too. Co-designed and conspicuously co-branded with Leica, the P10's app is just about the best I've used on any phone. It has a Pro mode that actually gives you easy access to shutter speed and white balance and ISO, it has a focus-driven and software-powered background defocus mode that actually works, and the photos it captures in almost every one of its many scene modes and colour bias settings always look impressive.

I want to give special attention to Huawei's form factor with the P10. It's so nice to have a proper flagship phone that doesn't have a massive display. You can, of course, just buy the P10 Plus if you're prepared to use that extra screen real estate. For me, the 5.1-inch Huawei P10 is more pocket-friendly than almost all of its competitiors, and that makes it more comfortable to carry and use on a day-to-day basis.

Huawei's top phones have always been very quick to operate, and the P10 is no different in that regard. It zips around its user interface with impressive speed, including in the alacrity of its fingerprint reader -- one of the fastest and most responsive and most accurate I've ever used on a phone. Whatever you're doing, the P10 doesn't stumble, and it hasn't slowed down noticeably in the few weeks that I've been using it. One caveat: that does come at the cost of mediocre, rather than great, battery life for a phone of this size and power class.

What's It Not Good At?

While the P10 does have two cameras -- one 20-megapixel monochrome sensor and one 12-megapixel RGB sensor, although both are used to capture focus and detail information and improve photos overall from each sensor -- the aperture on both those cameras' lenses is f/2.2, quite restrictively high in comparison to the f/1.7 on other flagships like Samsung's S7 and S8. A high aperture means less light which means more noise and less detail in your photos.

Not being waterproof may not be a huge disadvantage for some buyers out there, but it's one of the top things in my list to look for in a brand new device. Waterproofing just means you can use your new phone in more places with confidence without having to worry about it drowning and your investment going to waste. I loved my Google Pixel and the photos it could capture, but I had to take it hiking in an ultra-bulky case. The P10's lack of waterproofing should merit careful consideration when you're buying.

I suspect the lower-front-mounted, capacitive-touch-sensitive pressure button on the Huawei P10 and P10 Plus is going to be a godsend for some Android users and a real pain point for others. Anyone missing the physical home button on the latest Samsungs, for example, will probably enjoy its obvious location and super-fast fingerprint scanner, but that comes at the cost of potential screen real estate and a bit of a learning curve -- it doesn't actually move, but you have to press it to get back to your home screen. A quick tap sends you back, and it's sometimes easy to muck up the two.

And while Huawei's software on the P10 has come forward in leaps and bounds from older, cheaper phones from the Chinese smartphone giant, it's still not perfect. The Emotion UI adds far too many duplicate apps, for one, although some can be hidden. It's also a little bit less polished in its theme than Google or Samsung's best. I live in Google's ecosystem happily, and Android is so tied to Drive and Photos and other first-party apps that I don't need or want an extra Gallery or file browser cluttering up my phone's precious internal memory.

Should You Buy It?

Ultimately, the Huawei P10 remains an excellent choice for anyone that wants to enjoy the best that Android phones have to offer: powerful and versatile cameras with deep creative control, a highly customisable user experience, and superbly fast operation. All of this comes at quite a little bit of a cost, though, so you'll have to be comfortable stumping up $899 for the P10 and $1099 for its larger but equally compelling P10 Plus upsized sibling.

The P10 isn't perfect by any stretch. It's not waterproof, which is glaring omission for any modern flagship smartphone. The smaller P10 chews through its tiny battery not on the amount of screen-on time but on the power of its gutsy Kirin processor. Some users will find that front navigation key awkward to use, despite the speed with which its fingerprint sensor operates and the extra convenience it adds over a virtual one.

And, yes, it looks a lot like an iPhone. Whether that's an attractive quality or not is up to you, but I happen to think it's a high bar to aim for purely because it's an excellent benchmark, and Huawei has gotten most of the way there with the P10. If you want an iPhone running Android, with the dual camera idea of an iPhone 7 Plus, with that small form factor of a regular 7, you could do a lot worse than a Huawei P10.

But at the end of the day, the P10 and P10 Plus are very well designed, almost as well constructed, and boast not one but two excellent cameras that give any would-be photographer a huge range of creative control. It's a pocketable flagship Android phone, that comes in cool colours, that has almost all the hallmarks of a great phone. If you get one, you won't be unimpressed with your purchase.

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