Huawei has completely turned their brand around in the last few years, going from a small time maker of budget Android handsets to one of the biggest makers of premium smartphones in the world. While their hardware has more or less caught up to the rest of the industry, it’s largely been Huawei’s focus on style that has gotten them far — pretty colors and diamond cut edges go a long way in an era when one premium smartphone is as good as the next.
The Huawei P10 is their latest flagship smartphone, following up the excellent, if overpriced, P9. The commitment to style is still there, with Huawei introducing some pretty new colors like a metallic blue and green, in addition to mainstays like silver, gold, rose gold, and, following the iPhone 7’s lead, black. Textured metal backs on some models give the P10 a distinctive look and feel, too, but ultimately, this capable phone is held back by an overall design that feels stuck in last year compared to this year’s premium competition.
We got to check out the dazzling gold P10, which has that hyper diamond-cut texture on the back. It’s a cool style, although without a case, it gets dirty easily because of all the tiny grooves (doesn’t help that the screen is a fingerprint magnet, too). As before, Huawei has gone with a slim frame, an all-metal build, rounded corners and a textured power button. That makes for an attractive phone, but one that missed the boat in 2017.
The Samsung Galaxy S8 and the LG G6 set the benchmark for Android phones this year with their shrunk down top and bottom bezels and elongated aspect ratios, which put more screen into the same sized case. The P10 still looks like a 2016 phone — Huawei has moved the fingerprint sensor to the front, and the top and bottom bezels are large compared to those two competitors. It’s a little surprising considering Huawei’s business-oriented phone, the Mate 9, has thinner bezels than the P10 despite being larger.
The P10 is about on par with the competition in terms of power, with Huawei’s Kirin 960 catching up to Qualcomm’s chipsets in graphics processing (it’s long been a solid competitor in CPU performance). But, that’s in comparison to the Snapdragon 820 and 821 — 835 phones like the Samsung Galaxy S8 may end up being significantly better. Also, I did notice that the P10 gets a bit hot, even with normal use — odd, because the Huawei Mate 9 has the same chipset but runs much cooler. The phone also has 4 GB of RAM, and comes in 32 GB and 64 GB models. Note: I can’t personally speak to this, but Huawei has gotten into some trouble over revelations that they used substandard flash memory for that storage.
|PC Mark for Android Work 2.0||6039|
|GFXBench GL 3.1 1080p Manhattan Offscreen||1,163 frames|
|3D Mark Sling Shot Extreme||2268|
|PC Mark for Android Work Battery Life 2.0||6 hours and 16 minutes|
But, that’s splitting hairs. The P10 performs wonderfully, and can handle tabbed browsing and 3D games without any hitches. The 3,200 mAh battery isn’t the biggest in the premium market this year, but it’ll get you through a full day with mixed use — thanks to improvements to Android over the years, these phones consume hardly any power when they’re idle. Huawei has their own version of quick charging, which brought the phone from 19% to 91% in one hour.
Huawei has stuck with a 1080p display, which is still surprising considering other premium phones have long since moved on. Usually, we’d say a 1080p display is good enough, but LG and Samsung had more than just higher resolution displays this year. Color contrast was already better thanks to the use of AMOLED displays, but now the two also have support for HDR (mobile HDR premium for the Galaxy S8, Dolby Vision for the LG G6). While there isn’t much HDR content yet for mobile devices, it’s hard to justify charging a premium price when you’re not on the cutting edge.
The fingerprint sensor has moved to the front, which I don’t like for Huawei. It works fine for logging in, but I preferred Huawei’s backside fingerprint sensors, which could also be used as small touchpads to bring down and clear the notification center or swipe through photos. This front-side fingerprint sensor has its uses, too — it can replace Android’s navigation buttons, with a long press for home, a tap for back, a swipe up for Google, and swipes to the left or right to bring up recent apps. But, that doesn’t end up being intuitive, and swiping left or right to bring up recent apps doesn’t work reliably enough to make it worth switching.
The P10 only has a single speaker on the bottom, with the headphone port on the opposite side. Again, it’s nothing that will endear premium phone shoppers when there’s so much better available on the market. The speaker on the earpiece is OK for calls, but nothing special.
Huawei has retained the dual rear camera array, but instead of two 12 MP sensors, there’s now one 12 MP and one 20 MP. It still has phase detect and laser autofocus, and Huawei is still using Leica-branded f/2.2 lenses. Like the P9, one camera (the 20 MP) takes black and white shots, while the other takes in color. Data from the two images is then processed to create one image, although you do have the option to just take a black and white picture.
The camera performs ably in well-lit conditions, but starts to fall behind in low-light conditions and at night. This is another example of Huawei being a step behind — competing smartphone makers now have wider aperture lenses, with some as wide as f/1.8. That allows the phone to take in more light at once, making for more detailed and less noisy low-light shots.
As with the P9, you can use that dual camera system to take bokeh shots, focusing tightly on the subject while blurring the background. You can nitpick the results (the effect sometimes looks too artificial), but generally you’ll get pleasing results in good lighting conditions. Photos taken in wide aperture mode can have the bokeh effect added and adjusted after the photo has been taken.
The front camera has an 8 MP sensor with an f/1.9 lens. It’s good for getting a tight focus for selfies, even in some lower-light conditions. Not too big of a surprise, as selfies (and beautification editing tools) have long been a point of emphasis at Huawei.
As I discussed in the Huawei Mate 9 review, the move to Android 7.0 Nougat and EMUI 5.0 has done wonders for Huawei phones. Past annoyances have been fixed, and the company has pared back (but not totally eliminated) redundant apps. Most importantly, there’s an option to bring back the app drawer on EMUI in settings.
The P10 also comes preloaded with icon themes that match the color of the phone. It’s a pretty cool touch, but unfortunately, all those gold Huawei icons (in our case) ended up clashing with the other, regular looking apps. Kind of a bummer, because some of the themes look pretty nice.
Huawei has also kept KnuckleSense around, which allows you to do things like take a screenshot by rapping or dragging your knuckles on the screen. Unfortunately, after a couple of years of reviewing Huawei phones with this feature, I’ve never found the knuckle gestures reliable enough to use with regularity. It’s possible to disable the feature, if you want.