Pretty. Petite. Plain. These are all words that start with the letter “p” and may as well be what that letter stands for in Huawei’s Ascend P7, a simple and slender phone for mid-range budgets that want a 4G handset to fit in their pocket for a night on the town.
Huawei’s 2014 mid-ranger looks to improve on last year’s model not just in looks, but also in performance, taking the design of the P6 and giving it a once over in some areas, and a twice over — if the term even exists — for other area.
Inside the handset, the parts are mostly refreshed, with the 1.5GHz quad-core switched out for a 1.8GHz quad-core processor, 2GB RAM kept inside, 16GB storage (up from 8GB last year), support for more storage via microSD, and one of the latest iterations of Android, version 4.4.2 also known as “KitKat.” For those who like their operating systems clean, that’s not quite what Huawei runs with, sticking with its own Emotion UI running on Android, as well as a much easier grid-system for those who want the phone to be basic.
While the bulk of system performance doesn’t seem like it’s had much of a change, you’ll find the real shift over in mobile performance, with the P7 adopting 4G LTE technology, supporting 150Mbps down and 50Mbps up on Category 4 networks around the world.
Regular 3G performance is also provided here, as is wireless networking across 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 with support for Low Energy (LE), GPS, and Near-Field Communication (NFC), with microUSB making up the wired connectivity for the handset here.
Cameras are here, of course, and for that, there are more improvements across the board, with a 13 megapixel rear camera with flash, while the front-facing camera supports a massive 8 megapixels.
This sits under a 5 inch screen running the Full HD resolution of 1920×1080, providing 440 pixels per inch (close to 441) in a body measuring 6.5mm thin. Corning’s Gorilla Glass 3 protects the screen from minor scratches, too, but don’t expect it to keep the screen in perfect condition if it takes a tumble to the ground.
Few buttons are included here with Huawei adopting the Google-preferred logic of incorporating the buttons in the touchscreen and using Android’s software to run the buttons, so this handset only has physical buttons for power and volume, both of which can be found on the right edge.
All the regular ports can be found, however, with a 3.5mm headset jack up top, a microUSB at the very bottom, and two PIN-ejector trays sliding out from the right edge, the top one supporting microSD while the bottom handles the microSIM.
The battery for the Huawei Ascend P7 is rated at 2500mAh.
The latest in Huawei’s “P” or “performance” range of handsets, the P7 attempts to bring a lot to the table for not too much dosh, which seems to be the general game of Huawei, allowing it to compete with the likes of Samsung and Apple, and the rest of the big names out there.
While the look might remind some of what Apple was doing in the iPhone 4 and 4S, and others of what Sony is doing in its Xperia Z range, the design is mostly an extension and gradual evolution of work Huawei is itself doing, taking the look of last year’s P6 and refining it just a little.
Take last year’s handset with its soft semi-circle end point and extend the screen further, eating into the arch that makes up the bottom of the handset, all the while keeping the phone slim at 6.5mm in thickness, or thin-ness if you want to go there.
That’s a fraction thicker than last year’s P6, though you do get a bit more in regards to modern technology, so we’re not surprised to see this bulk out, if 0.3mm can be considered “bulking out” at all (which it can’t).
To give you a real world understanding of how thick the P7 is, it’s about as thick as a couple of two dollar coins stacked on each other.
The P7 is certainly easy on the eye, with a mostly black shiny glass back sitting atop a slight holographic pattern underneath, similar to what LG and Google accomplished in the Nexus 4, while keeping the front simple too, with a 5 inch Full HD screen. The edges are very iPhone like, too, so if you like brushed aluminium on the side, you’ll get that here.
Plastic makes up the rest of the frame, and while it doesn’t quite match the quality of the glass or metal, it’s present in such a small area that you’d be hard pressed to complain or even worry.
In the hands, it’s very comfortable, and is basically feels like a thinner and slightly curvier iPhone from before Apple made the jump to the full aluminium design, managing a thickness that is more on a diet than Apple’s own current and up-to-date products (at the time of publishing, that was the iPhone 5C and 5S).
Buttons for this handset are located on the right side, and that’s a good place for a 5 inch handset, with the circular power button easy to feel for just under the volume rocker. Even with smaller hands, it’s easy to feel for the buttons and grip them, which can be a problem for the location of buttons of some larger phones.
Switch the P7 on and you’ll be greeted with a bright display, popping out the familiar 440 pixels per inch we’ve seen on 5 inch screens for some time. It’s a screen you won’t have any issues with
Just like what we saw on the Ascend G6, Huawei’s Emotion UI is an interesting change from the regular slight deviation from the stock interface we normally see on Android handsets, providing a middle ground between Android and iOS.
Instead of just the typical home screen and app menus Android normally comes with, Huawei’s Emotion UI is more about linking the two together, with widgetised home screens that act like the iOS app menu, showing all of your apps as well as widgets if you so choose.
For people coming from the world of Apple, we can see why this makes sense, and even the lock screen is reminiscent, with a simple swipe away to get you back into your menus, while a swipe up from here will show a variety of options, including shortcuts for the calendar, calculator, torch (flashlight), mirror, music playback controls, and a shortcut taking your straight to the camera.
The lock screen even changes images for you all the time, making it feel almost like a living smartphone, providing a different scope of the world you live in, instead of the same old drab background you might be used to with other devices.
In the flesh, the P7’s interface is easy to use, and very easy to get accustomed to, but if you like it even easier, Huawei has left its Windows Phone-esque grid system in place from the G6, too, meaning there’s an easier option if you so choose.
There are some colour issues as white buttons for Google’s Play Music blend into the near white background of the drop down menu creating a little bit of chaos and confusion, but for the most part, it’s not a bad effort.
Or you can just switch launchers altogether, but Huawei’s Emotion UI is easy to get used to, so we’d try that first.
We’ll tackle the issues with performance later on, but to give you a head’s up, it’s a bit of a mixed bag.
Some of the time, you’ll find the system handles itself well, while other times, there are some obvious struggles, even though Huawei has the right balance of hardware here, with 2GB RAM and a quad-core processor.
Some nifty inclusions can also be found here, with Swype used for the keyboard, which still could do with some usability tweaks, but produces a much better keyboard than Huawei has ever had.
There’s also an improved power saving mode which will let you select specific power modes, as well as tell you which apps are draining the most battery life, a neat inclusion for sure.
On the camera side of things, the 13 megapixel camera isn’t bad, though it won’t be replacing a full-time camera, nor does it really compete with the high end offerings from the likes of Nokia, Sony, or LG, all of which rate the best from the handset makers Huawei is competing with.
From far back, the images look sharp enough, but get in just a little and you’ll see plenty of softness, with colour and brightness blowing out as well. For basic photography that will be tweeted and used on Instagram, this will suit, but anything else and you’re likely to be disappointed.
At night and in low lighting conditions, the quality drops substantially, too, with softness and obvious image artefacts.
Equally, the front-facing 8 megapixel shooter will be perfectly suited to the social sharing systems, and Huawei’s “look here” rectangle helps to point your eyes in the right direction, which is great for making sure you’re looking in the right place where the camera fires a shot.
We’re still not huge fans of the beauty mode, which softens skin to a ridiculous level, but if you feel like seeing what your head would look like if airbrush was an automatic part of human life, you can drag the option from level zero — none at all — all the way to an overly Photoshopped “my face is blurry as fog” ten.
Over to the battery, and this is an area where Huawei’s 6.5mm thickness struggles a bit, producing only a day of life on the Ascend P7.
You might find a little more if you opt to not actually use your phone often, but if you’re someone who takes pictures, surfs the web, check and writes emails, makes phone calls, sends text, plays the odd game here and there, and generally uses your phone, the Ascend manages a day of life with a little bit of life beyond this, though we’d recommend a nightly charge.
Beyond this, you’re not likely to get much out, though Huawei has provided an ultra-low power saving mode, similar to what’s offered in Samsung’s Galaxy S5, so if you really need battery life and you’re in a bit of a pinch, you can switch this on.
But while the “P” in the Ascend range normally stands for “performance,” that is one thing missing from the Ascend P7, at least when it comes to software speed.
As you use the P7, you’ll find slowdowns jumping between apps or waiting for pieces of software to load, sometimes to a frustrating level as several seconds can be found waiting for the right thing to start up or be switched to.
If you’re keen on having something thin, sleek, and light, the Ascend P7 is a solid effort, with plenty to offer, from its 4G speeds to the 8 megapixel selfie camera, all the way to the version of Android which will definitely appeal to anyone coming from an iPhone.
We are a little weary of its performance issues, which from a system point of view make the phone feel a tad sluggish.
With a price of $549, we’re in two minds, though, because while the P7 is a decent value, there are probably better choices from the past year which offer better performance across the board, even without the massive front-facing camera.
If you love the idea of a thin phone that won’t blow out your clothing, we’d look into the P7, but given the price and performance, also advise looking around, because while the P7 is a decent little mid-ranger, there are plenty of deals to be had right about now.