Huawei nips at rivals' heels with affordable P8
DESPITE much improvement, Chinese handset maker Huawei's flagship phones haven't quite been able to compete with the best of the best and have often been let down by disappointing benchmark performance and average image-processing.
This year, Huawei hopes that will change with the Huawei P8. The P8 boasts an ultra-thin, one-piece full-aluminium design and an in-house designed octa-core 64-bit Kirin 930 processor that Huawei says is 80 per cent faster than last year's P7.
The P8 also has a 5.2-inch full high-definition display with an ultra-thin bezel and a 13MP camera.
But will it finally let Huawei take a seat at the big boys' table?
The P8 will be available in Singapore early next month. There will be a standard version with 3GB RAM and 16GB internal storage for 499 euros (S$752; local price to be released next month), or a premium version with 64GB internal storage for 599 euros.
Both versions support expandable microSD storage up to 128GB. But you'll have to give up one of the nano-SIM slots to use it - yes, it has dual-SIM support.
It will come in two colours here: mystic champagne and titanium grey.
At just 6.4mm, the P8 is one of the thinnest phones out there. Best of all, unlike the iPhone 6 and Samsung Galaxy S6, it's completely flat, with its camera bump sitting flush with the rear of the device. Compared with last year's P7, the P8 looks a bit more squarish, without the curved edge along the bottom of the P7.
The frame of the phone is slightly rounded. But the curve is far less pronounced than that of the iPhone 6. It's just enough to make the phone comfortable to grip, without being too slippery.
The P8 is armed with a 5.2-inch full HD 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution IPS-LCD display, topped with Gorilla Glass 4. This means the display has 424 pixels per inch (ppi), which actually gives it a slightly lower ppi count than its smaller-screened predecessor, the 5-inch P7 (445ppi).
Still, picture quality is very crisp, with vivid colours and excellent viewing angles. Contrast could be slightly better and the blacks aren't as deep as they could be, appearing slightly bluish with the lights off. But this is a problem shared by many LCD displays.
The P8 runs on Android 5.0 Lollipop with Huawei's EMUI 3.1 running over the top of it.
Huawei has also thrown in some new features. For example, there's a "Loud mode" for taking phone calls in noisy areas, and even a wind-reduction feature to cut down the sound of wind interference on your phone call. You can customise the user interface with the P8's themes feature too.
Then there's the Knuckle Sense feature, which Huawei claims can recognise the difference between your finger and your knuckle. For example, double tap the screen with your knuckle and you can take a screenshot, or draw a rectangle with your knuckle to crop a picture.
But it's not something you can do one-handed and the recognition itself is a somewhat hit-or-miss affair. At times, I wish I could turn it off entirely, but there doesn't seem to be an option for that.
There's a useful but oddly implemented "find my phone" feature. Using a voice command, you can wake your phone up and yell "Where are you?", and it will cheerfully respond "Here I am!"
But my experience of its browsing performance wasn't that bad. There were some occasional stutters but, for the most part, the phone was quite responsive.
In a test that evaluates an Android device's central processing unit, memory, data transfer and 3D graphics performance, the P8 performed 21/2 times worse than the S6. The P8 was likely let down by its older graphics processing unit.
The star feature of the P8 is its 13MP camera module. It has optical image stabilisation, which is able to correct camera shakes of up to 1.2 degrees (better than the iPhone 6 Plus' 0.6 degrees).
The P8's RGBW (red, green, blue and white) imaging sensor is said to be able to more accurately capture a wider range of colours than traditional RGB sensors and keep noise down in low-light shots.
The phone also has an independent image processor, just like in a DSLR camera, providing more natural colours and more balanced exposure.
Still, image quality was a bit of a mixed bag. Colour reproduction was very good and, thanks to the optical image stabilisation, images were quite sharp.
In good light, the camera definitely performs well. But it struggles a bit indoors and is noticeably grainy in non-ideal lighting conditions.
The P8 is powered by a non-removable 2,680mAh capacity battery, which is on a par with the Samsung Galaxy S6's 2,550mAh battery.
The P8 lasted just under 71/2 hours, compared with the S6's nearly eight hours under our battery test. But the P8 has a feature that can block "abnormal" power usage from background apps, so actual real-world performance could be somewhat better.
At 499 euros, the Huawei P8 is affordable for a flagship smartphone. For that price, you're getting a premium, slim and lightweight build, with a sharp 5.2-inch full HD display and a decent camera that performs very well under the right conditions.
But the P8 is let down by its poor benchmark performance, and anyone that enjoys mobile gaming should look elsewhere.
Huawei hasn't quite reached the level of flagship smartphones from other brands, but I'm glad to see that it continues its steady rate of improvement.