Huawei P8 Review
TLDR? Try here.
First Impressions: So if you can cast your minds back, those of you in the UK anyway, to the launch of Carphone Warehouse’s new MVNO (mobile phone network) called iD. Well they had a promotion / maybe misprice where whey had the brand new Huawei P8 on a 12 moth contract with 300 minutes, 5000 texts and 1GB of data a month for £21.50 per month, with the handset thrown in for free. So yeah for £258 you got the phone and a years’ worth of usage. Having had a play with the Honor 6 and 6+ just before I had been getting really tempted by the upper end offerings from Huawei and that price pushed me over the edge.
The box, is a weird side entry thing, its trying to be very different, not to mention that its outer card sleeve conceals a plastic box. It all feels so very different and it really instantly makes you note how thin the phone is. Why makers all think we want phones razor thin I don’t know but hey, its super thin. Sliding it out and it’s a nice object, it feels nice in your hand. Oh FFS. Pulling out the inner box with the accessories, so nicely packaged and they are all white. Plug, cable and sodding earphones too are all gleaming bright white. If I had a white phone great, I got the “dark” one, grey something so just what on earth makes you think Huawei that I want blindingly white accessories?!?!?!? I hate that!!! They will never getting removed from their box. Grumble grumble.
Phone on and oooooooooooooh, pretty, pretty, pretty screen. The blacks on it look genuinely black, colour saturation looks lush too. Oooh so much pretty. The rest hmm feels very angular in the hand, all metal edged, metal back, little metal speaker / microphone grills. Ooh and little metal screws at the bottom.
Hardware: Physically it’s a lovely object, all glass and metal so no one I think is going to criticise its construction. It is Huawei’s flagship and it’s built in a way that fits that persona, however the hardware inside is more varied. First off the screen is stunning. I would happily declare it to be the best LCD screen I have seen on a phone. Blacks look actually black and the colours all look so vibrantly colourful, not super saturated like an AMOLED would but just beautifully rendered. Top notch screen in everyway.
Things then start to go weird. The CPU used in one of Huawei’s own, the Kirin 930. The 64GB version however gest the 935 which is the same chip but clocked a tiny bit faster, why god knows. Storage, 16GB or 64. Sim cards, yes card’s. Sim 1 and sim 2, like those Far East phones have long had so you can have 2 networks both running at once in the phone. However if you use the second sim slot you then cant insert a micro SD because they use the same card slot. WTF?!?!?!? Is it a space issue? For the love of god if needs be make the phone bigger to fit them both or just scrap the 2nd sim. For me I’d love the 2nd sim slot for on holiday, put your home sim in slot 2 and get a local sim in slot 1 for data usage. Though if I’m on holiday ill probably want a micro SD card full of stuff too on the phone. I just don’t get it. Also I use Three and they give me free roaming anyway soooo, err yeah.
Next up the GPU. The CPU maybe close enough to high end to be thought of as such but the GPU is relatively much more lacking. Now I’m not a gamer, so for me I don’t care in the slightest but it’s odd for a “flagship” to have such a notable deficiency, if you’re a gamer that is.
In short, there are weird omissions and deficiencies so pay attention, make sure you don’t want NFC or Qi charging or 5GHZ Wi-Fi before picking up one and just assuming that a “flagship” will of course have such things. They are all missing.
Audio Software: Ahh, well noticeably there is an FM radio in the thing. There is an App called “Music” as the stock Huawei app. It looks nice, it’s pretty, but simple but attractive. Of course being Android you can install whatever the hell you want (cough Google Music Play, cough.) Naturally there is every streaming service you could possibly want. Weirdly “Music” has 3 screens, to swipe between, far left is the list. Sensible so far, then in the middle there is the album art photo which again seems reasonable. On the right however, it wants to display lyrics. I’ve seen this before on audio players from the Korean Cowon. So is this some Far East thing? Given I speak English it’s pretty rare for any music I ever hear to not be in English. You only have to look at Eurovision these days, pretty much everyone sings in English. Now I can’t imagine there being a high degree of my music being in a foreign language. So maybe if you’re listening to songs in English but your first language isn’t English then having the lyrics there could be really desirable?
For me, Google Music and Deezer were what I cared about and both worked perfectly.
Audio Hardware: Like every other phone maker they tell you sod all about what audio internals are in them. Give the unusualness of the CPU and innards I’d expect its some random Chinese thing but without ripping the thing to bits, well who knows. Still it seems to be not unlike the recent wave of Snapdragon 400 sounding things I’ve seen and have impressed me. Head to head with the 400 this actually wins. The 400 hisses like a bag of snakes on the Moto G but the P8 is dead silent. This meant sensitive things were good but where the P8 shone most is actually with the big PM-3’s from Oppo. Yeah, Cyndi Lauper’s “la Vie en Rose” with the volume dial cranked up was really impressive stuff for a phone. It is as of this moment the most capable audio I’ve had from an Android phone. The Lumia 735 is still the better with its more even-handedness. The P8 likes to get a little too exuberant.
Lows: Good. It seems for the inability makers have in specifying what audio bits they contain this sounds not bad. I don’t know if that’s because they are all starting to care more or just that the cheapest whatever’s they can throw in happen to be improving greatly. Still here we have a fairly clean lower end. The depths do trail away, I don’t think the amp for all its ability to go loud has the vigour to hold it while going down. Still it’s something you can live with, most music doesn’t have great depths and in the more middling and the mid/bass ranges there is plenty of power. It might actually do with a bit of softness as it’s a bit hard and well, a bit soulless. Pairing it up with the sultry and rich IE7’s things balance more and are most agreeable. Still it wants to be vigorous and aggressive in the bass. Mainstream users will likely appreciate its assertiveness but me, I think it needs a Gin or three and to relax a little.
Mids: Similarly they are going for a slightly clean, dry, open sound. Which if your plugging in some very warm, bassy, thick, (cough cheap crap, cough) then it’s the way you want to steer things to boost their clarity. Hey I can’t fault it, they have made an assumption of what’s likely going to get plugged into it and angled to get the best of out that. Pulling out the little AM12’s by Huawei’s sub brand Honor. Hmm yeah, mids not so much. You know they aren’t bad but the mid/bass hump is overshadowing many vocals. Not bad per say, just it’s still all a very thick offering and while there is a time and a place for something thick and creamy, I find it all a little overly weighty.
Highs: Highs on the AM12 are err so so. The P8 is trying to give them a little nudge forward, cool them and lighten things up a touch but the overall pairing is still warm. Though should you whip out something much more sprightly like the wondrous q-JAYS, then all the light and wonder comes out but they start edging towards sibilance and towards little leaps and spikes. Each in themselves not fatal but it can be like getting ear stabbed with tiny needles. The clarity is pretty good for a phone but it feel like it’s trying too hard to lighten those slow and weighty earphones. Ahh but you know it’s a phone and it’s not trying to be an audiophile, neutral paragon. Its clarity boosting lightness does what it sets out to, eeking out detail that slow and heavy earphone tuning would otherwise drown out.
Soundstage/Instrument Separation: Not bad actually, a cooler more open and lighter sound always lends itself to feeling more open and airy. You get that, nudge towards open, airy spaces and surrounding space. It’s a little nudge but it’s what you likely want when pairing with over heavy earphones.
Battery Life: There is no way to gloss over the fact that the super duper thinness of phones the industry seems obsessed with is that battery size suffers. Smaller battery means smaller capacity which means shorter battery life. The Battery here is only 2680mAh. So it’s not super tiny but it’s on the smaller side. However Huawei seem to have worked a little magic as its battery life is actually not bad, not bad at all. I’m not saying it’s “good” but it rarely didn’t make it through a day for me. I would have preferred it to be thicker and have a bigger battery. That headline figure strikes fear but in usage it’s not bad. But…… the reason I think for that is its desire to turn apps off that aren’t on screen anymore. So when you start using the phone, it will ask you constantly if x can run in the background, notifications telling you y is still running, that z is consuming too much power and do you want to kill it. Once you’ve told it for each app this largely goes away but when you first are using it, its gets mightily annoying.
Build Quality: In no way can I fault it. Lovely.
UI: Ahh phone makers all do like to “differentiate” their devices from others. Why I don’t know, I’ve never met anyone who has used stock to say, “oooh you know I like that Touchwiz better.” Anyway so Huawei has EMUI and at first I didn’t hate it. Like many Far East makers their version has no home screen, so it’s just all app list like iOS is. They have customised lots of icons and I found myself visually loving it. Then I decided to install all my apps and start properly using the phone. When you add 200 apps my positive thoughts towards EMUI did not last long. In fairness it was the no home screen issue that did it for me, so EMUI is not alone in that regard. I had to install Nova and get things looking more manageable. The other tweaks in EMUI seemed fairly inoffensive but really, just what was in stock Android they found so visually offensive? I wish they would all just stop it.
Two notable changes I liked, the lock screen, its variety of stock images it changes between with every close, love it. I wish it was a standalone app. Second was the drop down notifications list. Its more organised looking than the stock one so gets a big thumbs up from me.
In The Hand: Well it’s lovely for sure but you know what? Metal, not so grippy. I quickly began to miss the textured black plastic on the Nexus 5, it doesn’t feel like it could just slide out of my hand. The P8 does. Then to make things more precarious the thing is insanely thin. There is so little to grip at the sides. So premium yes but I’m going to be sticking it in a case to give me something with more grip and that’s likely to double its thickness anyway.
Format Support: Android, plays pretty much everything.
Volume: It really goes rather loud. Louder than I would ever need on pretty much every IEM I threw at it. Hiss remained absent even at high output levels. Though the louder you made it the more rowdy it became, liked to grow more dynamic and wild. Hmm I could see it being super fun for lively and playful music but it got on my nerves. It could drive the big PM-3’s perfectly well and plenty loud enough, so should be way more than enough volume for anyone.
Accessories: There is a fair selection to choose from, some are super curious too. You see the P8 uses on screen buttons, like many phones do. However it has the ability to add pretend capacitive buttons just underneath. It’s called “TouchPlus” and it adds some buttons to the bottom of the facia and fancily redirects the touches to some exact location on the actual screen thus creating pretend buttons. I want it, I really want it, it’s just so intriguing. However its US$30 for a screen protector, just to try something???? Err no. Still it’s the first I’ve ever seen anything like it for a phone so it is something I’d love to play with. The rest, well hit up eBay and there is an assortment of cases and stuff, though it does keep pulling up P8 lite stuff too. Why must companies do that, sharing names between devices?
Speaker: Despite the two speaker grills it’s just one, the other is for the mic to use. It is reasonably loud and the quality is pretty good for a phone speaker, good for hands-free calls. Could even use to watch a little Netflix. Like all phones though, anyone using it for music should be shot on sight.
Camera: Supposedly this has the first 4 colour CCD, red, green, blue and white. Supposedly this makes it much better at shooting decent pics in minimal lighting. I however am useless at taking photos. To me it seems pretty good, wildly better than my Nexus 5 but then so is just about everything. Others say the P8’s camera is rather good, I’d agree with that but I’m no expert. It’s a 13MP one on the back and an 8MP one on the front. One camera feature that it has that’s rather funky is that if you double click the volume button it auto launches the camera and takes a snap. In something like 0.8 of a second.
Reception: Ever the bane of phone users, crappy or no signal. Now I’m only going to give a very quick check, signal at my desk that could be influenced by a million factors I can’t control so this is in no way definitive. It in use was consistently a tiny bit worse than the Nexus 5, very slight but signal strength consistently a fraction lower. If you will clad a phone in metal that will happen
The Good: Well right of I must say the screen. The screen is excellent, no ifs no buts, no caveats it’s a great looking screen. I really, really like the screen, photos don’t do it justice. Then the build, the feel, now I’m not one of these metal = better than plastic people. I’m very happy with plastic nicely put together. Now as Huawei’s “flagship” they have clearly gone out of their way to polish the P8. It is really well put together and it feels like a finely crafted object. The price too, can’t really get away from that given that this isn’t “flagship” in parts of its spec but its price says you get a bargain and who doesn’t love a bargain.
The Bad: First off, why the hell do Android makers keep feeling the need to add in their own launchers? EMUI isn’t terrible as they go, actually at first I liked its unified colour scheme that re coloured all the app icons, lovely I thought. I thought that right up until I installed my 100+ apps and it became a mess. Not all had colour icons for things and the no freekin’ home screen thing!!! Yeah Nova got installed and then I was much more happy. The thinness. Why is the thing thinner than a blade of grass??? When was the last time anyone looked at a phone and said “oh I’d buy that if only is wasn’t so fat?” I betting no one has ever said it anywhere. The phone is stupid thin and thus has a small battery. Now its battery life is actually okay but I’d rather it was fatter and had a bigger battery. The last “bad” is that it’s got no 5GHz Wi-Fi support. Sure it’s not a killer for most people, nor even me but it just seems like such a bizarre omission, oh and no NFC nor Qi.
Value: Pretty great actually. Sim free it goes for about £350 and on contracts it variable. I have seen some deals where it works out that the phone is being sold for in the region of 200 to 150 compared to sim free contracts. For that you get a really nice, pretty phone that is for the most part a really pleasant device.
Conclusion: I like the P8. Its god some weird quirks (seriously Huawei no 5GHz Wi-Fi???) but otherwise its abilities all punch above its price point for the corresponding big name brand. It’s no surprise as that’s how it’s been in the headphone world for years. New things coming out of China are not “better” than those from Japan or South Korea but they slice off a chuck from the price tag. The P8 in its audio terms are really not at all bad when you’re pairing it with mediocre earphones. It’s clearly adequately capable and so long as you steal away from bright things you’re golden.
The other phones stuff, battery, its fine but I’d trade some of the lack of thickness for a battery double the size in a heartbeat. The UI overlay, like them all have admirers (surely at least one person likes Touchwiz) but I’m not one of them.
For audio, it’s not aimed at me. It’s just not, it’s there to please the masses and it pairs up to produce a hugely crowd pleasing sound with their own AM12’s or the also bargainlishous Piston 3’s. They are pairings that work. Solid punchy, hearty bass, passable vocals, and a sprinkling of treble. So it’s a good contender for phone audio use, awesome if you love midbass punchy humps but me, I’d like something more quiet and boring frankly. Never the less its quality for a phone is high and when you combine its micro SD card carrying abilities you really could use it as your audio player of choice. I wouldn’t (cough, battery cough) but you could, it’s certainly rather better than the Iphone 5 I have here and many people survive using that, a P8 therefore would be a notable step up in audio quality. Really nice as a phone, but only a fairly good audio device.