Huawei P8 review: A game changer

The P8 packs relevant features in a striking body, all at a price that is competitive

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Huawei P8
  • Huawei P8
  • Huawei P8
  • Huawei P8
  • Expert Rating

    4.25 / 5

Pros

  • Excellent aluminium unibody design
  • 5.2-inch, 1080p screen with one year replacement warranty
  • Competitive pricing
  • Competent hardware
  • 8MP front camera
  • 13MP RGBW primary camera
  • Good battery life

Cons

  • Primary camera can be soft on colours
  • Less powerful processor than flagship rivals

Would you buy this?

The Huawei P8 is a game changer. The implications it will have won’t be noticed by the big brands dominating the market today. This smartphone is a bit like the Tesla Model S in that it represents a much bigger picture.

Seven years ago Huawei was manufacturing $129 HSDPA modems for Vodafone. It was making smartphones that other companies could brand and then sell. This was its starting point in the Australian market; where it first found its footing.

Huawei is much more than some hardware manufacturer. Its hands are in a multitude of telecommunication businesses. That spiffy network Vodafone is touting — the one it upgraded following a network meltdown — was built by Huawei. Globally, it is the fourth largest smartphone company, figures from IDC reveal, behind Samsung, Apple and Lenovo.

All of the numbers point to the trend that tomorrow’s top selling smartphones will come from Chinese companies. The theoretical possibility seemed just that: a theoretical possibility. It was the gaps in taste that made it seem like a far fetched reality.

And this is why the Huawei P8 is such an important smartphone. It is the first smartphone from a Chinese company that has mainstream Western appeal.

Parts of its design echo sentiments popularised by Apple’s iPhone 5s — arguably one of the most striking smartphones ever. An aluminium unibody accounts for most of its construction. A strip of glass running along the top of its back aids reception. Bevelled edges border the smartphone’s perimeter. Speaker grilles have been precision drilled into its base.

Then there’s the shape, which brings to mind Sony’s Xperia Z3, with its rectangular form and curved corners. Only Huawei has taken it a step further — a step beyond Sony. The chassis of the Xperia Z3 is interrupted at the corners. Huawei’s, on the other hand, feels as seamless as HTC’s One (M7).

The smallest touch elevates the look of this smartphone. Hiding alongside the display are black bezels. When the screen is off, the two separate parts blend into one uniform piece. This gives the illusion the screen runs from the utmost edge on one side to the utmost edge of the other, free from any structural fat whatsoever.

This illusion could easily come undone, but the quality of the rest of the smartphone keeps it in tact.

Beneath the Gorilla Glass is a 5.2-inch display. It has a 1920x1080 resolution and it packs 424 pixels into each inch. This is a high resolution screen, replete with adequate levels of brightness and strong viewing levels. Then again, so are the screens on Samsung’s Galaxy S6, Motorola’s Moto X and Sony’s Xperia Z3.

A significant point of difference separates this Huawei from all of the smartphones on sale today. If misfortune strikes and the Gorilla Glass screen shatters or cracks, Huawei will replace it — free of charge — within the first twelve months. This warranty is only available to customers who buy the smartphone before 31 December, 2015.

Carriers haven’t thrown much support behind older Huawei flagships. Going against the current is Vodafone, which is offering the single-SIM variant of the P8 on its postpaid plans. Gaining carrier support is a critical stamp of approval for a smartphone maker. Suddenly its smartphones become a part of a conversation being had by people about to buy a phone.

Vodafone is selling the P8 at $10 on its $40 plan. This is an LTE smartphone and, armed with a Vodafone SIM in our North Sydney offices, it maxed a download speed of 38.63Mbps and an upload speed of 38.96Mbps. These are commendable real world speeds.

Another version of the smartphone is available as an outright purchase from JB Hi-Fi, Dick Smith and Harvey Norman. It differs by being a dual-SIM smartphone and it is priced at $699. That’s a lot less than the flagships from Samsung, Apple and HTC, but it’s a heavy touch more than Oppo’s comparable R7.

Behind the smartphone’s low price is its processor. HiSilicon, a semiconductor company wholly owned by Huawei, manufactures the 64-bit, octa-core processor. It is based on the 28nm fabrication process and couples a 2.0GHz quad-core CPU with another 1.5GHz quad-core CPU.

Graphics are handled by a Mali-T624 GPU and it shares 3GB of RAM with the processor, while there’s 16GB of internal storage and support for microSDXC cards.

The processor compares less favourably to those featured in Samsung’s, LG’s and HTC’s flagships. Running a 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited benchmarking test reveals it occupies the mid-range of the market admirably with a score of 9137. This is greater than the 7775 of Oppo’s R7, but significantly lower than the 22,083 achieved by Samsung’s towering Galaxy S6.

Out in the real world, the differences are negligible. Eight processing cores still work behind the scenes to juggle a multitude of applications. It’ll appear effortless for the most part, seldomly straining or stuttering under heavy workloads. The P8 took the intensive Real Racing 3, a game with a 920MB footprint, in its stride.

Integrated into the body of the P8 is a 2680 milliamp-hour battery. PCWorld’s testing revealed it’ll last almost a full day, with most of our results tallying in at the 22 hour and 30 minute mark, although the longest recorded result reached 26 hours.

Huawei’s rendition of Android 5.0, cringingly known as “emotion UI”, is an attractive interpretation of the operating system — even more so than Oppo’s. This is a light redesign to the way Android already works. It doesn’t offer any additional functionality beyond presenting the OS with a fresh coat of paint.

Departing from the norm are the cameras. The 8-megapixel front-facing camera is rich enough in quality and colour to be used as the primary camera on rivalling phones. But the camera that draws our intrigue is the one on the phone’s back.

Sitting flush in the rear of the P8 is a 13 megapixel camera capable of recording 1080p videos. It has an aperture of f/2.0 and benefits from optical image stablisation technology. These are all specs in line with the cameras found in Samsung, Apple and Sony smartphones.

Where it differs has to do with the imaging sensor. Its sensor is composed of the traditional red, green and blue (RGB), only it adds a fourth colour to the recipe, and that colour is white.

The change results in light being captured differently. Consider how older streetlights illuminated roads with an orange tinge. Modern LED streetlamps differ by cloaking roads in a clinical, almost blinding shade of white. The roads were the same, but the shift in lighting undeniably changed how they looked.

A similar phenomenon is at work with the P8’s camera, only in the aforementioned analogy, it is the LED lamp. It favours whites over orange and yellow tones. Photos are well exposed and retain plenty of clarity — they are usable for all intents and purposes — but they are different.

Taken with the Huawei P8
Taken with the Huawei P8

A crop of the photo above at 100 per cent of its native resolution
A crop of the photo above at 100 per cent of its native resolution

Taken with the Huawei P8
Taken with the Huawei P8

A panorama photo taken with the Huawei P8
A panorama photo taken with the Huawei P8
Read more: Vodafone answers booming Internet use with 20GB plan

A photo of adjacent train platforms at Central station, taken late into sunset, rendered the platforms in a sanitary shade of white. This washed away some of the colour from the yellow safety markings on the floor. It was the same story with photos taken of waves crashing against orange-brown rocks under natural lighting. The rocks were prominent in whites, but softer in colour.

This isn’t necessarily to the camera’s detriment. Photos captured with the smartphone are still good enough to view on a large screen television, with little image noise and plenty of detail. There’s a variety of shooting modes too, including an excellent panoramic mode.

The P8 is proof China’s Huawei can make a flagship phone with mass Western appeal. Beautiful design, proficient hardware and a focus on relevant features make it a worthy contender to better recognised brands. Many people will stand in a Vodafone store tossing up whether they should buy it. “They’ll replace the screen if you break it in the first year”, the store assistant will say. To which, they will reply: “where do I sign?”

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Read more on these topics: Huawei, Harvey Norman, dick smith, Android 5.0, Vodafone, P8, jb hi-fi
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