I’ve been reviewing Huawei devices for a while now, and am invariably pleased with them. The Chinese handset maker has gone from being an almost unknown to worthy of running with the big dogs. Their Mate 9 is one of my coveted devices, and I check daily for the Android Wear 2.0 update for my watch.
With that in mind, I was really excited to attend a press event in March, where their new Wear 2.0 devices, the Mate 9, and new flagship P10 were being shown off. The first two blew me away for reasons I will hopefully go into in future reviews. The P10 though? Well, that I got to take home to try out.
The goal was to see if my P10 could replace my Honor 8 as a daily driver (the Honor 8 ending up in the hands of my very happy daughter) and I have to say… barely.
First let’s talk design. Several other reviewers have been slamming the P10 for having a more traditional design than some of the phones recently announced. Yet those same reviewers are also slamming the nontraditional approaches they took. You can’t win for trying.
What’s nontraditional? Aside from including a glass cover for the screen pre-installed (please, all manufacturers start doing this!). Huawei has replaced the typical virtual buttons of Android with an under-the-counter fingerprint sensor/navigating element. I actually prefer my scanner in front, but the navigation element is a mixed bag. I used it for a week before going into settings and enabling the virtual navigation elements. It’s not that the button is a bad idea per se, it just does not work. The half gesture for back and full gesture for task switching are just too similar. I ended up going to the home screen way too much; it felt like an older version of iOS. And yet when I switched back to virtual buttons, I kept trying to use the home button—and even tried when using other phones. So I settled on the home navigation.
Speaking of Apple, my white review unit was so reminiscent of an iPhone 6 that I actually tried to put a lightning cable in it a few times. Yes, Apple cribbed the design from HTC, but it’s still really close. Oh, and the white earbuds don’t help either.
I do have to give Huawei props for making a wider range of colors (I want to lick that green, it’s so neat), and for keeping the camera area from bulging, but other than that, it’s unremarkable.
Note I said “initial review unit”? That’s because I had to send it back. My P10 kept getting hot—not something you want in our post-Note 7 world. I also had an insane power loss—my battery was half drained after 5 hours of moderate use. Plus, I had a really, really hard time getting a good GPS signal. That’s not something I’m used to having to fight for on phones anymore.
Now my second unit? That was perfect. Great GPS lock, great battery life, and amazing sound. No heating up to speak of at all. Whew.
Let’s talk software: The P10 runs Android 7 (Nougat) perfectly, with no stutters or issues. And yet, Huawei felt the need to skin it with EMUI 5 again. 5 is better than 4 (now you can turn the app drawer on), and I do like the notification numbers on the mail and message apps (another “cribbed from Apple” element), but even so, it’s tiresome. Keep in mind that I’m saying that as someone who has been using an EMU skinned phone for over half a year now. It’s usable… just… why?
They also load on a bunch of “value added” software, both their own and third party. It’s like buying a Compaq in the ’90s—first you remove all the shortcuts from the desktop.
The heavy hitter of the P10, though, is not the design or the software of even the powerful chip under the hood. It’s the Leica dual camera system in the rear *and* the Leica in the front. I find Huawei’s camera app to be one of the best I’ve used, simple enough for an idiot like me, and every picture I took was sharp and detailed. Professional photographers might have quibbles (a friend of mine gave me a long rant about how the Bokeh mode was not “true Bokeh”), but I think your average shutterbug and selfie takers will be happy. Note that no selfies are included in the tests below, because no-one should have to suffer by seeing my mug.
So, final verdict? Huawei has made a good phone, but since they have two *great* phones in the form of the Honor 8 and the Mate 9, I’m not sure who the market is for this. Heck, it even costs more than the Mate 9. So why get it? I can’t think of an angle aside from “it’s smaller.”
I’m going to dip back to the Apple analogy. The P10 is the equivalent of a [number]S release; it’s an incremental improvement. But in 2017, Huawei really needed a phone that would take away attention from LG and Samsung’s more experimental, flash models. Instead, we get a hardware bump in a pretty okay body.
But in their defense, they did keep the headphone jack, so they’ve got that going for them.
Note: Huawei gave me the P10 to keep, and all I had to do was stand around and drink cocktails. It’s a hard life, this one.