Huawei has a new flagship phone, set to do battle in the brutal smartphone arena against the Samsung Galaxy S5, HTC One M8 and Sony Xperia Z2. It's called the Ascend P7 and, if the name didn't give you a clue, it's the successor to last year's Ascend P6.
Like the P6, the P7 is extremely skinny and it comes with a set of features that no flagship phone should be without -- Android 4.4 KitKat, a quad-core processor and a full HD display. You'll also find an 8-megapixel camera on the front, which is a seriously healthy serving of pixels for a front-facing camera. The Ascend P7 may be the ideal phone for selfie-lovers.
It's on sale now in the UK, SIM-free from Amazon for £330 or in the US for $479. In Australia, it's a Harvey Norman exclusive and will cost AU$549. It's undercutting the Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8 by a fair amount, both of which sit around the £500 ($650, AU$800) mark, but is that enough for Huawei to challenge the more fashionable Samsung and HTC names?
The Ascend P7 follows many of the design cues of its predecessor. It's still ludicrously skinny at only 6.5mm thick, it has a metal band running around the edge, and the bottom of the phone curves around from the front to the back -- something I'm still ambivalent about. It has had a few tweaks since last year, however.
The metal back panel has gone, replaced with a glass one. It gives it quite an elegant feel (if not a bit too similar to the iPhone 4) and, when the light is bright, you can see a dotted effect beneath it -- although it's almost impossible to see under any other lighting conditions. Huawei could have been a little more bold in its design choices to keep it looking interesting. The glass is the latest toughened Gorilla Glass 3, which is designed to be extremely hard-wearing against scratches and breaks -- put it in your pocket with your keys though and it'll still pick up scratches.
The glass panels help make it feel a little more luxurious than the metal back of its predecessor. My excellent colleague Stephen Shankland, who has spent a while with the phone, found it difficult to tell the front from the back in his pocket, which can be awkward when trying to turn the volume down. He also found a very faint rattling appeared after a while when he shook the phone -- something I heard too when I had it. It's very quiet and may not be important, but it does hint that build quality may not be as high as it could be.
Although its sizeable 5-inch display is a smidge bigger than the P6's 4.7 inches, its narrow bezel means the actual body of the phone hasn't ballooned out too much. It measures a little under 69mm wide, making it reasonably comfortable to use in one hand, and its 124g weight isn't likely to drag your jeans down around your ankles.
Tucked into the metal edges are the micro-SIM card and microSD card slot, both accessible using a SIM-tray removal tool. You can expand the 16GB of internal storage with microSD cards up to 64GB in size. The 3.5mm headphone jack, which used to be awkwardly placed on the side of the phone, has now been moved to the top -- much more sensible.
The 5-inch display has a full HD (1,920x1,080-pixel) resolution, and seems every bit as crisp, bright and bold as you'd expect a flagship phone to be. Icons are sharp and small text is perfectly readable -- helped by the display's decent viewing angles, which means you don't have to be looking exactly square on to get a good view.
It's a bold display too, with rich colours and satisfyingly deep black levels. It helps make TV shows in Netflix look punchy and gives colourful games like Angry Birds and Cut the Rope an extra "pop". The screen is fairly bright too, although I did find that it's not bright enough to completely counter bright sunlight -- if you live under the perpetual California sun, you may want to give the phone a try first.
Processor and software
Android 4.4 KitKat -- the latest version of Google's mobile operating system -- is on board as standard, but you probably won't notice, given how heavily Huawei has skinned it. Huawei has loaded its Emotion UI on to the phone, which makes a bunch of key changes to standard Android. On the downside, it ditches the app tray, forcing you to keep all your app icons scattered among your widgets across numerous home screens. I found this to quickly become cluttered and awkward to use -- as I also found to be the case on other Huawei phones.
On the upside you can download a wide selection of themes to customise the home screens, menus and even the app icons, and there's a simplified view that makes it easy for even the most technophobic people to use.
The P7 runs on a Kirin 910T quad-core processor clocked at 1.8GHz. That's a slower clock speed than the 2.3Ghz (and higher) speeds we've seen from the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chip inside the Sony Xperia Z2 and Galaxy S5 and it shows.
On the Geekbench test, the P7 consistently achieved a score around the 2,000 mark, far below the nearly 4,000 both the Z2 and S5 achieved on the same test. Similarly, the P7 managed a score of 7,243 on the Quadrant benchmark test, again falling short of the 23,707 the Galaxy S5 managed to score.
On paper then, the P7's engine is less than impressive, but in everyday use the difference is less obvious. Swiping around Huawei's Android interface is reasonably swift, with little delay in flicking between home screen panels, opening apps or opening the camera. Gaming too was handled fairly well -- Asphalt 8 played with consistently high frame rates for smooth gameplay. High definition photos took a long time to render on-screen though, which was annoying when quickly flicking through a gallery.