Huawei’s P series has always been about the best of the best without you needing to sell a kidney, so can this year’s model fight the threat that is the iPhone, or is it just a poor cousin?
Another entry in Huawei’s performance range of handsets, the P8 aims to offer improvements to the company’s efforts in its EmotionUI Android overlay, with a fair heap of technology for not too flagship a price.
Inside this phone, you’ll find an eight-core chip, the Hisilicon Kirin 930 running at 3.5GHz, consisting of one 2GHz quad-core section and another quad-core at 1.5GHz.
This processor is paired with 3GB RAM and 16GB storage, with a microSD slot for upgrading this further if need be.
Google’s Android is also on the P8, running version 5.0 “Lollipop”, with Huawei’s EmotionUI flavour and overlay of the Google operating system.
Cameras on phones are part and parcel of design these days, and there are two here, with a 13 megapixel module on the back, as well as a 8 megapixel on the front. Both of these are capable of Full HD 1080p video capture, though only the rear camera supports a flash.
Connections on the P8 are fairly standard, including 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4 with A2DP and Low Energy (LE), Near-Field Communication (NFC), GPS and A-GPS, and 4G LTE for high-speed mobile connectivity.
All of this sits under a 5.2 inch Full HD 1920×1080 display, providing a pixel clarity of roughly 424 pixels per inch, with this protected by a layer of Corning’s scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 3.
Buttons on the phone aren’t found in abundance, hardly surprising given that phones are technically just touchscreen blocks these days, and the Huawei P8 is no different providing three soft buttons at the base of the display when switch on, and only two physical buttons, both found on the right edge with a volume rocker just above a square power button.
Two pin ejectable slots can be found below these buttons, the first of which is used for a microSD slot, while the second is for a microSD card.
Ports are also easily located here, with a 3.5mm headphone jack up top while the microUSB port sits at the very bottom.
The battery in this phone is not removable and is rated at 2680mAh.
Like the opening of a “Star Wars” film, you should almost expect this review to begin “The Clone Wars continue”, the words travelling up the side of the screen with cinematic fanfare, because that’s one of the first impressions the Huawei P8 offers.
With the P8, Huawei has dropped the “Ascend” moniker we’ve previously seen from the “P” range of handsets, what we’ve come to know as the “performance” line.
These devices are meant to represent the best of the best for Huawei, or close to it, with the right amount of tech thrown into a body that is super thin and meant for people who like to keep the phone close to their person, with sexy looks thrown in for good measure, too.
In the P8, you’ll be treated to some of that, but when you take a look at the design, it’s hard not to make the comparisons.
And so, the Clone Wars continue…
Like the Oppo R7, Huawei’s P8 takes its design cues from that of the iPhone 5, borrowing the design, flattening it, and stretching it out some, with a two-tone metal body, which on our review unit was white and a sort of silvery gold.
It’s both a comfortable design if not a tad confusing because if looks so much like an iPhone, though the metal does make it feel like you’re holding something of substance compared to yet another plastic box. Further, the 6.4mm thickness just barely undercuts that of the iPhone 6, which this is so trying to be.
Buttons are missed out on most of this handset, with the face pretty much just one piece of glass and a near edge-to-edge screen, while the back is mostly metal with a hint of glass near the camera, which is flush with the phone.
And really, this does look like an iPhone 5 made new again, adding to the fight of the clones.
Get those lightsabers ready, it’s time to turn this one on.
Switch the P8 on using the metal power button on the right just under the volume rocker and you’ll find a fairly bright and very clear Full HD 5.2 inch display staring back at you, revealing a version of Android that is a little different to what you usually see on devices running the Google operating system.
We’ll get into why this is both good and bad shortly, but the P8 relies on a skin to Android that has iOS-like properties and design, which Huawei calls “EmotionUI”. It’s similar in ways to Oppo’s own ColorOS, and feels catered for people who aren’t sure they want to move too far from the look and feel of an iPhone, but don’t necessarily want to pay Apple for the privilege.
That means it’s a similar experience, but with some of the flexibility of Android thrown in for good measure, with the whole environment being tweaked and tuned by Huawei to operate cleanly.
For the most part, the performance is one of the better things about the phone, and while we don’t often see different processors in smartphones, it’s nice to see a bit of something else, with the 3.5GHz eight-core chip providing next to no lag on general use of the phone, the device springing to life when you wake it up and allowing you to get stuck into various applications.
There are some catches to the fairly positive performance, because sometimes the P8 just feels sluggish. We found these odd spots of lag usually when we wanted to share websites with friends or jump between tabs in Chrome, which in Android 5.0 open up as individual apps.
In fact Google’s staple web browser Chrome doesn’t appear to play too nicely with Huawei’s EmotionUI throwing up another stability issue when we were scrolling down webpages and having it stall and feel like it would crash.
We’re not sure why this is the case, and this could be something Huawei or Google will fix later on, but this is the first time we’ve seen such extreme issues with Chrome, so we’re going to assume this is more a Huawei issue than anything else since it has yet to appear on any of the other phones we’ve checked out this year.
But the odd spots of lag are only part of the problem with the P8, because while the eight-core processor and generous 3GB supply of memory help the handset with a more than pleasing overall performance despite an underwhelming benchmark, the usability is a little confusing.
Again, we’re back to being an iClone, as Huawei’s EmotionUI does its best to imitate rather than innovate.
Much like Oppo’s ColorOS, the name of this game is to make Android as much like iOS the company possibly could, with a skin that doesn’t offer app menus and widgetised homescreens, but instead is made of app menus that are widgetised homescreens.
It’s scare how similar Huawei has tried to make this, and this isn’t just the look of iOS we’re talking about here, but also functionality.
On the P8, you can swipe down on any of the main screens and get the search bar just like you can on iOS. The camera offers the same swipe to change camera modes, offering time lapse and video as options. There’s even the exposure controller popping up on the side of whatever you’re trying to focus on.
At least you can’t easily remove necessary apps like you could on the Oppo R7, but there’s no mistaking how this phone completely removes all sake of originality from its grasps, leaving this to be an iPhone clone and very little else.
And that’s not something all Android users are going to be happy with either, though we’re sure there are some that will see the copy as being useful if not easier to adapt to.
Battery life could be a little better, too, as the P8 offers only a full 24 hours with wired headphones, telling us if you relied on Bluetooth, you’d very likely need to recharge it the moment you got home.
Fortunately, this handset — like pretty much every other Android out there — charges from the universal standard that is microUSB — but Huawei doesn’t rest on its laurels and tries something a little bit different to help you get the most out of this phone’s rather limited battery, and that’s with a suggestion of apps to close.
This one is interesting, and not so dissimilar from what AVG does with an app you can install to tell you which apps are killing your battery, offering suggestions for apps that stay running and showing how much life they’re draining from your phone. Touch the notification in your drop down bar and this will take you to a screen showing this, and also offering to switch the app off to save your battery life.
On the one hand, this is an intelligent little solution, but on the other, apps should be able to run in the background, and a notification telling you that Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are taking up valuable life is like saying “please don’t use that smartphone for anything internet related unless you’re near a recharge point”.
We get it, and it’s a neat inclusion, though it’s one that feels a little out of touch, especially since the reason we have such large screen phones is for viewing the web and social media on the go in a large capacity.
Storage on the device is also a little low, with 16GB available here, though you do have the option of installing a microSD.
We’d have appreciated a little more storage inside — 32GB would have been nice — as well as possibly some stronger connectivity options, because while 802.11a/b/g/n is nice, most flagships arrive with 802.11ac and have for a good two years now.
Fortunately, 4G LTE is super fast on this handset, and tested in Sydney, we found speeds as high as 81Mbps were quite easy from the P8. Depending on where you are, you might even get faster.
Camera is the last area worth mentioning, and like the Oppo, it’s a little hit and miss.
For the most part, owners of the P8 will be happy with what’s on offer, and it’s really quite hard to complain about a combination of 13 and 8 megapixel cameras.
In fact, provided you don’t get up close and personal with the images, you’ll find decent colours and fine exposures, it’s just there is pretty much little to no clarity up close.
Most should be fine with this, and the software is easy enough to deal with — it’s a direct copy off Apple’s iPhone camera interface, complete with an exposure controller, as well as a few extra bits and pieces — but it’s not the best camera in the world, just an acceptable one.
There’s no doubting that the P8 is a good phone, but it is also yet another iClone, and this brings up a curious question: when did all the iClones come out of the woodwork?
We’re beginning to long for the days when phone makers were so afraid of being sued by Apple that they went their own way and designed their own products, not just imitations of the juggernaut that always has a strong marketing budget behind them.
Sadly, Huawei’s P8 isn’t that product, and it isn’t remarkably different from another product that even undercuts it, the Oppo R7.
And that leads us to another point: the price.
At $699, it’s not hard to view the P8 as an inexpensive not-quite-iPhone, but compared to other iClones out there, it doesn’t really nail the price. In fact, while the P8 has better software than Oppo and ZTE, as well as a few more features, you can’t help but think something you might not use is being factored into the price.
We’re talking about the “free screen repair”, which is one thing Huawei promises for the first time you shatter the screen. Forget paying the usual $100 or so, because this is included in the price.
Except for that it probably shouldn’t, and if it’s a policy, it might be one that should be in place and hidden, and that’s because this reviewer can’t help but feel that this screen repair and replacement is being factored into the price, and that seems unfair.
We may well see a whole ton of broken screens out there in the world, but that doesn’t mean the recommended retail price of a product should be penalised for all who might want to buy the phone if they plan to take care of the phone.
Huawei will likely come back to us and say that this has no bearing on the final RRP, and that may well be the case, but it doesn’t feel like it, especially when this phone fetches $250 more and doesn’t feel like it offers that much more in features or reliability over it.
What it does offer is an iPhone-like experience for under $700, even if that iPhone-like experience comes pretty close to an iPhone price.
Granted, this is $300 less than a 16GB iPhone 6, and you can upgrade this memory here, something which isn’t possible on the iPhone. Any iPhone.
If that feature is so important that the money is easily saved, the Huawei P8 is worth looking at, but given that there’s more than one iClone out there, you might want to have a little look before deciding, as Huawei isn’t the only game in town.