Huawei P10 Review: The Good, The Bad & The Forgettable

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Huawei’s made quite a name for itself since its first forays into the Western market a handful of years ago. Back then the firm was queueing up behind the likes of HTC and Sony, towards the back with Asus and Acer, but now it’s a bit of a powerhouse in its own right, while many of those firms are fading into the background.

Indeed, the latest report from IDC on the state of the smartphone industry shows Huawei is in the number three spot of the top five smartphone makers in the world, just behind Apple in the number two spot, and Samsung at the top.

And now after a long wait, the Huawei P10’s big brother, the Huawei Mate 10 Pro, has finally landed in the US for pre-order. The handset was already available in much of the rest of the world since late 2017, but US customers have had to wait. Now though, the pre-order period has gone live.

Several online retailers are making pre-order purchases available, including Amazon, Best Buy, B&H, Newegg, and Microsoft. It’s a pricey phone, however, with an RRP of $800. There’s only one storage model with 128GB of onboard storage and 6GB of RAM.

Other specs include a sizeable 4,000mAh battery, IP67 water and dust resistance, a 6in FHD AMOLED display with an 18:9 aspect ratio, and Huawei’s super-fast Kirin 970 processor, which is more than a match for Qualcomm Snapdragon chips.

The primary dual-camera is a 12 and 20MP setup with Leica branding.

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Buyers can choose between blue, grey, or black colour options, with shipping beginning on February 18. Any pre-orders made before then will also get a $150 gift card for the retailer from which the handset was purchased.

Huawei’s now launched a new colour option for the Huawei P10. Although it seems like a bit of an oxymoron, Huawei’s new colour is dubbed “Bright Black”, but there is some sense in there in that this is a shiny, gloss, polished finish black colour which should be different from the standard Graphite Black colour and a bit like Apple’s Jet Black iPhone. The colour option has only been confirmed in the Chinese market so far, but we’ll be keeping tabs on it to see if it comes to a wider audience.

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Latest Huawei P10 contract and SIM-free deals

Huawei’s sales climbed from 28.1 million units in Q1 2016 to 34.2 million in the same period for 2017 gaining 1.5% market share.

“Huawei reports that its smartphone market share in Q1 of this year grew by 9.8%, with a 20.6% year-on-year increase in smartphone shipments, totaling 73.01 million,” notes 9to5 Google. “The company’s sales revenue for the first six months of this year also grew by over 36% from the previous year to CNY 105.4 billion.”

It added: “The company’s growth in the smartphone market can easily be attributed to increased sales of its more expensive devices in key markets. That includes China and Europe, where the company saw 24% and 18% year-over-year growth respectively. Entering the US market with the Mate 9 also contributed to the growth.”

The Huawei P9 received favourable reviews last year and now the company is back with its follow-up, the Huawei P10. I’ve just spent a month using the phone, getting to grips with its finer points, and testing out its Leica camera.

Is it a worthy update? Should you get the Huawei P10 over the Galaxy S8? Or is this one you should avoid? At the end of this review, you will have a better understanding of what this phone is all about and whether or not you should buy it.

Let’s do this.

Huawei P10 Review: Design

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If you used the Huawei P9, the Huawei P10 is not a big step forward with respect to design and aesthetics. The Huawei P10 looks very similar, a little too similar for my liking, though it is still a very attractive handset.

Huawei has “borrowed” heavily from Apple’s iPhone 6 and iPhone 7 when designing this handset. The overall shape, styling and finish is all very “iPhone” – not that this is anything new. The Huawei P9 did exactly the same thing.

But who cares, right? If it looks good, why should any of us care. And the Huawei P10 certainly looks good, albeit rather similar to last year’s Huawei P9. The handset’s build materials look and feel ultra-premium; zero corners have been cut here.

And in order to make sure things stay that way, Huawei kindly includes a free case for the Huawei P10 inside the box. The case – at least, the one I was sent for review – is a clear sleeve that hugs the handset perfectly. Importantly, though, it doesn’t hide away the phone’s styling and curves.

The Huawei P10 is a smart-looking handset too. Very sharp. My review unit was the white/silver colour option and it looks great. It’s also very well proportioned for one-handed use, much like Apple’s iPhone 7 and iPhone 6s models. Indeed, I think in many respects fans of Apple design (who might not be fans of its software ecosystem) are the target demographic of this handset.

Thing is, you can’t just pick up floating Apple fans by making a handset that looks like their current phone. Samsung figured this out a couple of years ago and started “out-designing” Apple in order to steal its users. I think Huawei needs to do the same, as this phone feels too close to the iPhone.

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The handset is pretty, smart, and well put together, there’s no denying that, but it just doesn’t feel like Huawei has really pushed itself in the design department. Instead of hitting the ground running off the back of last year’s successes with something fresh and new, Huawei has, quite literally, “done an Apple” (translation: re-used the outgoing flagship’s design and updated the specs).

I believe Huawei can do a lot better. And I think they will in the coming months and years. For whatever reason, Huawei played it very safe this time around and I think that was a mistake.

Nothing about this phone is particularly unique; nothing makes you want to reach out and use it more than any other phone on the block. And that sucks because Huawei can design the crap out of a phone when it wants to. Just look at the Nexus 6P, the Huawei Mate 8, and the Huawei Mate 9.

For some crazy reason Huawei has decided to go with a big finger print sensor/ Home button on the front of the handset. Why is this odd? Simple, because it acts as the Return, Home, and Back button as well as a finger print sensor, despite both the Return and Back keys ALSO being available on the P10’s display.

Why both, Huawei? It doesn’t make any sense. It just seems wasteful to have the Home key on the front for this express purpose alone, unless Huawei knows something I don’t about consumer preference for fingerprint sensor placement?

Why not just remove the Home button completely, plop the fingerprint scanner on the back, then you could thin down the bezels and make the front of the handset ALL about about the display, and then, all of a sudden, you’ve got yourself a flagship that looks nothing like the Huawei P9 or the iPhone 7.

Huawei P10 Review: Software

On first inspection, Huawei’s EMUI appears to resemble a dog’s dinner. It looks cheap, is full of rubbish you will never use and it doesn’t have an app drawer (new apps simply appear on one your home screens), which kind of begs the question; who in the hell signed off on this!?

Dig a little deeper, however, and you will find some positives; things that make EMUI a lot more palatable and, in some instances, actually rather useful. The first thing you need to do is change the theme and install a nice, eye-catching wallpaper; once you’ve done this things start to look a bit better. Next, you’ll want to remove all the bloatware apps from the home screens and then add in the option to have an app tray icon (rather than just home screens); you see, unlike previous iterations of EMUI, this time you can actually toggle the app drawer on or off (another plus for Huawei), it’s just off by default.

Huawei has integrated some pretty clever machine learning into the software that powers EMUI. This machine learning aspect learns which applications you use most and places them in favourable positions on the homescreen; it also manages power in a smarter fashion which translates into better power management.

You also get the AWESOME Twin feature, which lets you run two WhatsApp and Facebook accounts at the same time. This is excellent for people that have a personal and business WhatsApp and Facebook. I have never come across this before, but it is a brilliant feature and I have no idea why other phone makers aren’t using it!

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There’s tons of other cool stuff inside – a large, expansive drop-down Settings menu, Ultra Battery Mode, and even built-in Screen Recording. But the one a lot of people have been waiting for is split-screen multitasking, which is now present and accounted for inside EMUI. It works brilliantly, with the Kirin CPU taking everything in its stride. I used this feature multiple times throughout my testing period and never had any issues.

All too often I find myself making knee jerk reactions based on how things look or, in this context, appear to look. I see other reviewers doing the same, writing off things like EMUI as nothing but an exercise in bloatware, but once you take the time to dig a little deeper and make use of its customisation options you will find an entire universe of possibilities.

My only REAL issue with EMUI is that Huawei has tried to cram in far too many applications. You could easily get rid of 80% of them and the software would still be just as good, as most of its USPs are features built into the system OS (not standalone applications), and some of these USPs – built-in screen recording, for instance – are truly impressive.

I also think the look and feel of EMUI would benefit from a redesign; the style of the app icons just doesn’t sit well with me. I like the way stock Android looks. But what I would love is if Huawei took all of EMUI’s best parts and merged them with a stock-looking build of Android.

Huawei P10 Review: Specs & Performance

Huawei P10 Key Specs:

  • Display: 5.1in 1080p LCD panel 
  • Cameras: Dual 20 MP + 12 MP, f/2.2, OIS, Leica optics
  • Software: Android Nougat (With EMUI)
  • RAM: 4GB
  • CPU: HiSilicon Kirin 960 (4×2.4 GHz Cortex-A73 & 4×1.8 GHz Cortex-A53)
  • Storage: 32/64GB + SD-support (256GB)
  • Battery: 3200mAh

The specs and hardware inside the Huawei P10, as ever, are on point. The company’s own-brand Kirin CPU has proven itself time and time again as a viable alternative to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon setup, holding its own with respect to almost every task you could wish to perform.

The handset is snappy, the camera operates brilliantly and there is zero lag, even when you’re pushing the phone really hard. Gaming, browsing, videos – the Kirin CPU takes everything in its stride. But performance has never been an issue for Huawei (or, most high-end phones for the past couple of years for that matter).

No, the problem here is finding someone who would buy this phone over the Samsung Galaxy S8, the iPhone 7, the LG G6 or the Google Pixel. If someone asked me what phone they should upgrade to in 2017, the Huawei P10, while decent enough on paper and in practice, wouldn’t even make my top five.

If it were cheaper, this would change. But Huawei is asking for a lot of money for this handset and with strong releases from Samsung, LG, and Google – and Apple in a few months – it is really hard to see where this phone, which doesn’t really offer anything all that exceptional, fits in.

In a world of super-high-powered and well-designed Android phones, the Huawei P10 feels adequate at best. In this sense, it reminds me of Apple’s iPhone 7; it’s decent enough but compared to  the competition (including the iPhone 7 Plus) it just feels like rehash update which very little thought went into.

And this type of handset (unless you’re Apple, of course) stands very little chance of trumping the likes of Samsung, LG, OnePlus, and Google, which are more established and, overall, better, more accomplished phones. It’s really that simple: this phone is good; but good REALLY doesn’t cut it in the current flagship market – not by a long shot.

HTC and Sony know this fact very well from their own poor flagship performance with perfectly adequate, if unexceptional phones.

Huawei P10 Review: Camera

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The Huawei P10’s biggest USP is its camera; this is really what this phone is all about. Huawei has made this phone for people that take photography on their phones very seriously.

Like the Huawei P9’s shooter, the Huawei P10’s is a Leica-branded setup. It is also still a dual-lens camera, only this time Huawei has paired a 12MP sensor with a 20MP monochrome unit behind f/2.2 lenses. Results right off the bat are immensely impressive.

But first let’s look at why Huawei chose this camera setup in the first place. The decision to use a monochrome unit alongside a normal one, according to Huawei, is for more detail in images; the monochrome sensor produces unparalleled black and white shots and, when combined with the normal sensor, adds in tons of additional detail to colour shots.

The other brilliant thing about the Huawei P10’s camera is the application itself and its awesome software, which, more than any other phone I have tested in recent history, really puts you in charge of what you’re attempting to capture. Swipe up from the shutter button to access Pro mode, where you can lock in ISO, change the shutter speed and alter the balance of the shot.

Plenty of Android phones offer Pro mode, but I especially like the way it is integrated here. I just wish the same designers who built this app were used on the rest of the Huawei P10’s software!

There’s also a myriad of effects and “shooting styles”, like night shots or, if you’re a foodie, taking a picture of a meal. Night shot, for instance, combines a bunch of exposures and parameters into a single shot in order to create a more detailed, well balanced image.

Used in conjunction with a tripod, you can capture some utterly stunning images with the Huawei P10. Especially when shooting in black and white. The camera is easily the best thing about this handset. But whether this alone is enough to persuade anyone to buy it remains to be seen.

Overall image quality, in general, is up there with the Pixel, iPhone 7 and Galaxy S8 but the rest of the phone isn’t and that fact alone will give plenty of potential customers pause for thought when eyeing this handset up.

Latest Huawei P10 deals:

Huawei P10 Review: Battery

With moderate to heavy use the P10 will handle a full day of use. In my experience, the only thing that really degrades battery life is lots of video or gaming, and when using it for navigation on extended drives.

It’s worse than the Pixel and Galaxy S8, but likely on a par with the iPhone 7 for overall performance. Again, this is an area where Huawei could have tried to push things further; why not make the phone thicker and add in a bigger cell and push for best overall battery performance?

The Huawei Mate 8 was exceptional in this regard; so good, in fact, that battery life, alongside its decent overall styling, performance and imaging capabilities, made it an easy recommendation. With the Huawei P10, things are distinctly more average and this, obviously, makes it harder to recommend. Even more so given the handsets that it is up against.

Huawei P10 Review: Verdict

In its own right the Huawei P10 is a solid piece of kit across the board, both in terms of design and specs. But once you start looking at other handsets – the iPhone 7 Plus, the Google Pixel, the LG G6, the OnePlus 3T, the Galaxy S8 – things start to fall apart quickly. And a good camera alone cannot change this.

I did really enjoy my time with the Huawei P10. Much more than I thought I would. It does everything well and looks and feels nice in the process. But the real question I have to ask myself is this; would I choose THIS phone over an iPhone, the Galaxy S8, Google Pixel or OnePlus 3T?

The answer is no – I would get all of those handsets in front of the Huawei P10.

Had the Huawei P10 retailed for the same price as the OnePlus 3T it would almost certainly be a KILLER phone. In fact, this is exactly what Huawei has just done with its latest Honor release – the Honor 8 Pro – which looks and sounds very impressive.

In this bracket the Huawei P10 (if we forget the Honor 8 Pro) wouldn’t just be a contender, it’d be the king. It has all the hallmarks of a brilliant phone and, in its defence, it does have moments of greatness. But up against LG, Samsung and Apple, the P10 will always fall short. Not in any real, tangible way but because given the choice I don’t know anyone that would choose the Huawei P10 over the LG G6, Galaxy S8 or OnePlus 3T.

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