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As posted on Huawei P10 review: a good but not groundbreaking phone

Huawei hopes that its latest flagship smartphone, the P10, will help secure it as the world’s third-largest smartphone manufacturer. But has this Leica dual camera-equipped device got what it takes to compete?

The P10 is Huawei’s most attractive and best made smartphone yet, with a very solid and smooth feel in the hand in an interesting variety of colours.

It has a 5.1in full HD LCD display, which is 0.1in smaller than last year’s P9, making it one of the more compact flat designs. The screen looks good, but not spectacular. It has good colour and viewing angles while the bezels on each side are pretty small. The screen sits under a single uniform piece of glass, which has a small indentation where the fingerprint scanner lies under.

The sides of the handset are rounded and the buttons are solid with a pleasing red accent on the power button. The back is a single metal sheet, with Huawei’s glass window containing the dual cameras and other bits at the top.


The power button has a subtle red colour on its chamfered edge. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

The design is certainly iterative and refined, but perhaps a tad boring compared to the bezel-less phones that are being launched in 2017. The most interesting design element is actually the finish on the back of certain colour variants.

The “dazzling” blue and gold colours have a diamond texture etched onto the back, which makes it look like a highly polished finish, but instead has a textured, gripping and, most importantly, fingerprint proof surface. It’s really quite stunning.

Specifications

  • Screen: 5.1in full HD LCD (432ppi)
  • Processor: Octa-core Huawei Kirin 960
  • RAM: 4GB of RAM
  • Storage: 64GB + microSD card
  • Operating system: Android 7.0 with Emotion UI 5.1
  • Camera: 12MP colour, 20MP monochrome dual rear camera, 8MP front-facing camera
  • Connectivity: LTE, Wi-Fiac, NFC, Bluetooth 4.2, USB-C and GPS
  • Dimensions: 145.3 x 69.3 x 6.98mm
  • Weight: 145g

HiSilicon


The matt black back is attractive, but not a patch on the dazzling blue. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

The P10 runs Huawei’s latest octa-core chip, the Kirin 960, which also runs within the Mate 9. In fact, the P10 has pretty much the same specifications as the Mate 9 with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage and performs very similarly.

It feels snappy. No lag within any games or apps was perceptible, and it handled everything I threw at it with aplomb. It’s certainly as high performing as any smartphone released in the last six months, but also has solid battery life, making it through a hard day of use.

Using the P10 as my primary device, snapping about 10 photos, listening to four hours of music a day via Bluetooth earbuds, browsing and using apps for three hours and with hundreds of push notifications and emails coming in through the day, it would last just over 24 hours per charge. Standby time was particularly impressive and there are various power-saving modes for extending battery life. Quick-charging technology means a full charge takes around 90 minutes in my testing – a significant improvement over last year’s P9.

EMUI 5.1


The fingerprint scanner can double as a multi-purpose home button. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

Huawei customises Android with both underlying changes to the core system as well as visual changes collectively called Emotion UI (EMUI). The P10 has the latest version, EMUI 5.1, which is the best version yet based on Android 7 Nougat.

It is streamlined and well optimised, meaning most actions are fast to perform with a minimal number of taps. Coming with a cool black, white, grey and electric blue colour scheme, there are also hundreds of different themes to choose from. There is also an option to either have an iOS-style home screen or a more standard Android look with an app drawer.

Under the hood, Huawei has made changes to the operating system with much greater control over power-hungry apps, which helps extend battery life greatly, but has also implemented a system to locally learn user behaviour and optimise the system to launch the apps that it predicts you’ll want faster at any given time.

In my testing, common apps do indeed launch very fast and are ready to go almost instantly. The final big tweak Huawei has made is a system that cleans itself, promising to keep out cruft and make sure the phone runs as fast 18 months down the line as it does on day one. That’s not something that I can test, however.

Overall, EMUI 5.1 is refined and is worth giving a chance. I don’t like all of it, but it has its positives. How fast Huawei is able to update it as new versions of Android and security patches are release remains to be seen.

Fingerprint scanner


Fast, accurate but at the bottom of the screen. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

The fingerprint scanner on the P10 is placed underneath the screen on the front of the phone in a little indent in the glass, instead of the back as with every other top-end Huawei model. As a way to unlock the phone, it’s fast, responsive and accurate – not once did it fail to unlock.

But Huawei has made the fingerprint scanner more useful with some new gestures that can replace the standard Android navigation buttons. A swipe left or right opens the overview of recently used apps, a tap acts as the back button and a tap and hold acts as the home button.

It works well enough, but it removes one of my favourite features of Android: a double tap of the overview to jump to the last used app and so I preferred the on-screen navigation buttons.

Camera


The camera app has enough options to keep most happy, but no automatic HDR mode. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

The P10 has the latest iteration of Huawei’s dual-camera co-engineered with Leica, which essentially means it meets the German camera and lens manufacturer’s standards, marked with the firm’s Summarit brand.

It has one 12-megapixel colour camera on the back paired with a 20-megapixel monochrome camera, which work together to boost the amount of light and detail captured in each image, as well as providing a lossless 2x zoom.

The results are really rather good. The P10 was capable of images rich in detail and accurate colouring in good light, even without the HDR mode active. It performed well in low and challenging light conditions too, producing good if not quite spectacular images, while images captured at 2x zoom were best in class.

Images shot in monochrome were particularly sharp, and added another fun element to photography with the P10.


The Leica dual camera on the back is flush with the rest of the body – no camera bump to be seen. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

The selfie camera also did a solid job, producing detail rich images. It has many beauty effects that some might find flattering, including a “perfect selfie” mode that allows you to automatically apply a set of modifications to your face using facial recognition.

One of the biggest new features is a dedicated portrait mode, that performs a couple of software tricks to improve pictures of people, including selfies. The first is a lighting adjustment, which highlights the face with a slider adjustment and works very well, enhancing detail and balancing colour in the face. The second is a bokeh effect, which works less well. Like most software effects, it struggles with hair and other bits and pieces that do not produce sharp edges or appear in the same focal plane. You can get good results, but more often than not I produced better images without it active.

Observations

  • The P10 is not compatible with Google’s DayDream VR headset
  • It has a similar antenna design as the iPhone 7
  • The phone has very strong signal performance, holding onto a reliable data connection in more places than many other smartphones on the market
  • Call quality was excellent
  • The smart gallery app performs similar functions to Google Photos, but performs the image processing on device
  • The machine learning systems store all data locally on the phone and do not send it to Huawei
  • The P10 has Google Now on Tap, not the newer Google Assistant for now

Price

The Huawei P10 costs £549 with 64GB of storage in a wide selection of colours. For comparison, the OnePlus 3T costs £399 with 64GB of storage, Google’s Pixel costs £599 with 32GB of storage, Samsung’s Galaxy S8 costs £689 with 64GB of storage and Apple’s iPhone 7 costs £599 with 32GB of storage.

Verdict

The Huawei P10 is the Chinese firm’s best phone to date. It’s well made, feels good, performs very well, has an excellent camera on the back and a good fingerprint sensor on the front.

If it had been released in 2016 it would have been one of the best phones of the year without a doubt, but in 2017 the goal posts have been moved. We’ve had not one but two smartphones released with a new, almost-bezel-less design already and they’ve changed what we should expect from a top end smartphone with a premium price.

The P10 is a great phone, and with smart systems I’m sure it will do very well, but it’s just not special.

Pros: fast and responsive, great standby, great, fun cameras, good build, nice feel, microSD card support, privacy features

Cons: boring compared to rivals, battery life could be longer, no Google Assistant

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