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Huawei Ascend P7 review: Only selfie lovers need seek out this skinny Android phone

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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 .

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6.7

Huawei Ascend P7

Pricing Not Available

The Good

The Huawei Ascend P7's skinny, glass body looks quite classy, it has a decent camera and enough power for the everyday tasks, plus the latest version of Android on board.

The Bad

Its slow processor, slightly cheap feel and often awkward Android skin means it doesn't really do anything to put itself above the competition.

The Bottom Line

Although the Ascend P7 is certainly skinny and not too expensive, its unimpressive power and sometimes awkward interface makes it an acceptable -- albeit uninspiring choice. If you can find the P7 on a subsidised contract at a good price then it's worth a look, but some of last year's flagships could be a better choice for the same money.

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?

Design

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.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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.

Strong and clear: Huawei Ascend P7 Sapphire Edition (pictures)

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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.

Display

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.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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.

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Watch this: Huawei P7, now with sapphire

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.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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.

Battery

The phone comes with a reasonably capacious 2,500mAh battery, which will get you through the day, with moderate use at least. As with all phones, the more demanding you are of it, the less time you'll squeeze from the battery. Keeping the screen brightness down and avoiding intense tasks like gaming or video streaming will help keep it going for a day.

If you're a heavy user however, sending a lot of texts, having push email turned on, using GPS location and running background tasks like Spotify, you'll likely find you need to give it a boost in the afternoon if you hope to have enough power left to see you through a night out at the pub.

If you're running low on juice, the P7 has a power-saving mode that turns the display monochrome and restricts 4G data and other battery-heavy processes -- the phone will really just be for calls and texts. If that sounds at all familiar, it's because Samsung has the exact same feature on its Galaxy S5. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery though, right guys?

Camera

The back of the phone is home to a 13-megapixel camera, which captured some decent snaps in my tests.

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Huawei Ascend P7 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

My first shot, looking over the Thames at the beautiful St Paul's cathedral, the P7 achieved a fair overall exposure, with enough detail to look crisp at full screen -- although zooming in, the details on the brickwork on the building don't have the same clarity I've seen on the Galaxy S5 or Xperia Z2.

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Huawei Ascend P7 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Similarly, this rock on the Thames' banks was exposed well, but the clarity at full screen isn't brilliant. For a Facebook snap, it's more than adequate, but there's not a lot of scope for cropping in to the image to zoom in on details.

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Huawei Ascend P7 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

It handles colour well though, as this shot of a fruit and veg stall shows.

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Huawei Ascend P7 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

It can focus quite close as well, which has allowed me to snap this shot of a flower.

You'll find the usual lineup of scene modes, HDR modes and a panorama function that works fairly well (I've seen better auto-stitching on other phones, but it's not bad) as well as a "new" function that pairs 10 seconds of audio with a still image. Just to clarify, I mean it was new when Samsung included the exact same feature, named Sound Shot, on the Galaxy S4 last year.

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Huawei Ascend P7 front-facing camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Perhaps more impressive is the 8-megapixel camera on the front. That's a huge resolution for a front-facing camera and it far outstrips most of its rivals -- on paper at least. Huawei is evidently keen for the P7 to land in the pockets of selfie-lovers everywhere. I took it for a spin and certainly found the clarity to be excellent.

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Huawei Ascend P7 front-facing camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Like all front-facing cameras though, you need to be careful where you use it. As my second shot shows, having a bright scene behind will plunge you into darkness.

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Huawei Ascend P7 front-facing camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Huawei has paired the camera with some software that supposedly makes you more "beautiful" by softening the skin to eradicate any nasty blemishes. At full strength, the result is, let's be honest, a bit much. I recommend a light touch with this effect.

Conclusion

While the Huawei Ascend P7 has an acceptable lineup of specs and a super-slim body, it doesn't really offer a huge amount to really get excited about. Although it's a bit cheaper than current flagships like the S5 or Sony Xperia Z2, Huawei would have been wise to make it even more affordable to give customers a definite reason to opt for a phone with less brand appeal than Sony, Samsung or Apple.

The P7 is a decent all-rounder though and is worth considering, particularly if you can pick it up on a good-value contract. Alternatively though, it's worth looking towards last year's flagships like the Sony Xperia Z1 or Galaxy S4, both of which have more powerful components for roughly the same price as the P7 and, in the case of the Z1 at least, a waterproof design.

huawe-ascend-p7.jpg
6.7

Huawei Ascend P7

Pricing Not Available

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 5