Huawei P8 review - in full, including benchmarks and battery life tests
The Huawei P8 takes the Chinese smartphone manufacturer up a level, but can it really challenge Samsung, HTC and Apple?
Last year, Huawei Ascend P7 smartphone impressed us with its slimline good looks and top-quality camera, but it was undermined by sluggish performance and an over-fussy UI. This year, the company is aiming to improve on that with its latest flagship device, the Huawei P8.
Huawei P8 review: design and appearance
It certainly seems to have achieved that from a design perspective. The P8 is super-slim, measuring a mere 6.9mm from front to back, it weighs only 144g, and it looks great. The curved edges contrast pleasingly with the dead flat front and matte-finish rear, and the bevelled edges give it an expensive look that’s not too dissimilar to the Samsung Galaxy S6 - impressive considering the P8 is considerably cheaper.
There are a couple of areas where the Huawei P8 trumps the S6, too. Although there’s no removable battery, the P8 has a microSD slot for storage expansion, it’s water- and dust-resistant – so it should survive an encounter with a hot cup of tea, or a soaking in a rain shower – and the camera doesn’t protrude at the rear of the handset.
The only major downside is a lack of Gorilla Glass on the front, so in time you may find it picks up scuffs and scratches more easily than its pricier rivals. So far, though, we’ve yet to see any evidence of that.
Huawei P8 review: camera
A smartphone is about more than looks, and Huawei has done plenty to boost the phone’s credentials in other areas as well. In particular, the 13-megapixel camera sees a couple of innovations. First on the list is the “world’s first” four-colour imaging sensor: instead of merely three sub-pixels, the sensor has an extra white pixel. Huawei claims this RGBW arrangement is able to capture more accurate colours than a traditional RGB sensor.
Second is that the camera has its own image processor, which is supposed to deliver improved scene recognition and more balanced exposures. The above innovations are accompanied by optical image stabilisation (OIS) and a dual-LED flash, plus an 8-megapixel camera on the front.
The results are impressive. The camera is quick to launch and take pictures, plus it focuses quickly and confidently. Importantly, the quality is fantastic, particularly in low light, where the OIS and a wide-angle f/2.0 lens mean you can take handheld shots at shutter speeds as low as 1/4sec.
In good light we were impressed to find that the camera dealt well with even tricky scenes, retaining detail in bright skies without losing detail in shadowy areas. Video looks just as good - crisp and rock-steady in all but the most extreme situations.
Our only gripes are that in some conditions, pictures can look slightly washed out. That’s easily fixed by bumping up the saturation in a photo editor. There’s no 4K video capture, however.
There are also a number of gimmicky software functions that you’ll probably use only once or twice: a light-painting mode, aimed at making it easy to capture tail-light streaks, misty water and star trail photographs; and Director Mode, which allows you to combine four videos captured on different phones into the same project for multi-angle videos. More usefully, the camera’s macro mode can capture subjects from as close as 4cm.
Huawei P8 review: performance
Core components comprise a Hisilicon Kirin 930/935 octa-core processor with twin quad-core CPUs running at frequencies of 2GHz and 1.5GHz respectively. There's 3GB of RAM, a Mali T624 GPU, and either 16GB or 64GB of storage, depending on the model you choose.
It feels nippy - much more so than last year’s P7 - but benchmarks reveal that despite the impressive-sounding statistics, the P8 isn’t in the same league as top-end phones such as the HTC One M9 and Samsung Galaxy S6, with the GPU particularly letting the side down.
Pure number crunching is, in fact, pretty strong, with Geekbench 3 results only a touch behind the HTC One M9, but a frame rate of 18fps in the GFXBench T-Rex HD test is a long way behind the M9’s 49fps.
HTC One M9
|Geekbench 3 single-core||870||838|
|Geekbench 3 multi-core||3,491||3,677|
|GFXBench 3.1 T-Rex HD (onscreen)||18fps||49fps|
The battery looks competitive at a capacity of 2,680mAh, but it, too, lags behind. With moderate use, hardly any gaming and only a modicum of web browsing and photography, we found it would make it through a day, but it needed recharging every evening. Competitors such as the Sony Xperia Z3 and Samsung Galaxy S6 would comfortably last into the second day under such use.
This was very much reflected in our battery tests, with video playback depleting capacity at a rate of 14.9% per hour and audio streaming using it up at 6.9% per hour – both results are well below average.
The P8’s 1080p screen is better. Brightness is fine, reaching 419cd/m2 at maximum settings, and viewing angles are excellent. The IPS-Neo technology helps it to achieve a contrast ration of 1,461:1 - higher than normal for IPS panels. However, its colour accuracy isn’t all that great, and as a result it lacks the visual impact that phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S6 possess.
Huawei P8 review: other features and software
Elsewhere, as with most Huawei devices, the P8 is packed with novelty features. There's a crazy feature called “Knuckle sense” that allows you to capture a screenshot with a tap of your knuckle; utterly pointless unless you’re an IT journalist. In fact, we could do entirely without Huawei’s rather heavy-handed Emotion UI, which in our view doesn’t improve a jot on the underlying Android 5.02.
Still, Huawei has added some more useful features, including improvements to call quality via wind-noise reduction, automatic microphone sensitivity and earpiece volume control. We had no complaints about call quality whether indoors or outdoors, although during speakerphone calls, the speaker had an unpleasant scratchy quality when we turned up the volume.
You can also wake up the phone with a customisable key phrase, then say, "where are you?" to help you find the unit if it's lost down the side of the sofa. Huawei has also introduced a number of features aimed at improving the phone's ability to hold a strong signal. In the absence of an anechoic chamber in which to scientifically test this, however, it’s impossible to say definitively whether the P8 is better or worse than the average smartphone.
There’s even a dual-SIM version of the phone, where the micro SD slot can cleverly double as a second nano SIM slot. A simple idea, and one that could prove useful to frequent travellers.
Huawei P8 review: verdict
The Huawei P8 finds itself in an awkward position. On the one hand it isn’t a match for the very best smartphones we’ve seen. The S6 is secure on its throne at the very top, and the HTC One M9, Sony Xperia Z3, Nexus 6 and iPhone 6 are all better phones, with superior battery life and graphics performance in particular.
On the other hand, it isn’t quite cheap enough to get our wholehearted recommendation, especially with its disappointing battery life. The P8 is certainly an interesting proposition, especially if you value great camera quality above all else, but we recommend you investigate options such as Samsung Galaxy S5, which is cheaper SIM-free, or the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, which can be had for around £420, before you take the plunge.
Huawei P8 Max: half-tablet, half-smartphone
Huawei's big surprise at the launch of the P8 was the introduction of a ludicrously large companion to the P8: the 6.8in screened Huawei P8 Max. This boasts a huge, vivid screen, adds a multi-tasking view similar to that found on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, and an absolutely huge 4,360mAh battery.
Unsurprisingly, Huawei claims this will last longer than the iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4 under "normal use" - around 2.25 days. It has a higher screen to body ratio than these rivals at 83% compared to the Note 4's 80%, and it feels just as nicely put together as the standard P8 and surprisingly light in your hand.
No bones about it, though, this is a huge smartphone, no matter how narrow the bezel, and it makes for what will be for most people a completely impractical smartphone.
Despite Huawei's protestations, we'd venture that there are very few pockets that this "pocketable" smartphone will fit into. We'll let you know our full thoughts, however, when we get our hands on our review sample.