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Huawei P8 Lite (unlocked) review: Though cheap, it lags behind competitors

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The Good The Huawei P8 Lite has a low price, a lightweight design, a sharp camera and dual-SIM capabilities.

The Bad The handset runs the rather dated Android KitKat OS, and its camera settings don't rotate when the phone is held in landscape mode.

The Bottom Line The Huawei P8 Lite's affordable unlocked price is compelling, but the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 is a much better deal.

6.9 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7
  • Camera 8
  • Battery 6

Without a carrier to subsidize their prices, unlocked phones can get expensive. Not so with the Huawei P8 Lite, however. At $250, £180 or AU$300, it's incredibly affordable -- it costs about the same as some high-end devices with a contract. In the US, you can purchase it directly from Huawei's online store or other retailers like Amazon.

Along with its low price, the device has some decent specs and features that make it a respectable mid-tier performer. It has a slim construction, a 13-megapixel camera that takes sharp photos, and its 5-inch display is clear and responsive.

But despite all this, the P8 Lite doesn't outperform its competitors. The Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 and the Oppo R5 , for instance, are better alternatives when it comes to midrange and inexpensive unlocked phones.

Design and display

  • 5-inch HD display with 1,280x720-pixel resolution and 293ppi
  • 5.6 by 2.8 by 0.3 inches (143 by 71 by 7.7mm)
  • 4.76 ounces (131 grams)

Though it doesn't have the same sleek all-metal body of its flagship counterpart , the P8 Lite is still an attractive and slim device. Available in black and white with either silver or gold accents, it has curved corners and a front and back side that lie completely flat. The side edges' metal trimming add a degree of luxury to the overall design, and because the control buttons are raised slightly above the surface of the handset, they are easy to feel for by touch. For a budget phone, the P8 Lite has considerable build quality and feels like a premium gadget.

On the top and bottom edges are a 3.5mm headphone jack and dual audio speakers, respectively. The right edge houses a volume rocker and a power/control key below it. There are also two tray slots for a microSD card (which is expandable up to 32GB) and a SIM card. You'll need to have a small pin to open these trays, which Huawei includes. The back side is made of matte plastic that is texturized with a subtle, horizontal hairline pattern. At its top, however, in the area that surrounds the camera lens and flash, the plastic is slick and glossy.

With its 0.3-inch (7.7mm) profile, the P8 Lite is a slim handset. James Martin/CNET

The device's 5-inch screen has a 720p resolution. While that isn't as sharp as, say, 1080p, it's pretty standard given its price. The display is bright, has a wide viewing angle, and is responsive to the touch. Upon closer inspection, you can notice pixelation with app icons and images and text has visible aliasing on the edges of letters. But most people aren't going to look at their phone under a magnifying glass at any given time. In general, the display is clear and sharp enough to provide a comfortable viewing experience for images, videos and games.

During my time with it, however, my review unit got a bit glitchy at times. Though it only happened on occasion, I've seen a small white line flicker at the bottom of the screen. It usually stops after I launch or close an application, or when I pull the notifications shade down, but it irritating and distracting each time it happens.

Software and other features

  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • EMUI 3.0 user interface
  • 16GB of internal storage, expandable up to 32GB via microSD
  • Dual-SIM

Android enthusiasts will be disappointed to know that the phone runs a rather dated version of Google's mobile operating system, 4.4 KitKat , instead of the more recent 5.0 Lollipop . (Don't let those geometrically shaped hotkeys fool you!) You'll still get Google's standard lineup of apps, though, such as the Chrome web browser, Gmail, Hangouts, YouTube and more. And by swiping up from the central home key, you can access the digital search assistant Google Now.

The P8 Lite features Huawei's EMUI 3.0 user interface (UI) -- a skin so thick that you could hardly tell this is an Android device. This is definitely not a negative thing; in fact, EMUI 3.0 looks quite nice. Though its squircle-shaped app icons are a bit childish, its overall aesthetic is clean and minimalistic. The thin, sans-serif typography also gives the UI a modern flair. Four themes let you change the wallpaper, widgets and app icons around the same motif, and there's a easy mode for your home screen that looks simpler and has larger icons.

Huawei's EMUI 3.0 interface with its homescreen (left) and dialer. Lynn La/CNET

The UI also comes with some nifty tools of its own. You can flip the handset over to mute incoming calls or alarms, and if you press the down volume button twice, it'll launch the camera even if it's locked. One-handed navigation pushes the dialer to either the left or right side, and a phone manager app enables you to perform processor and storage cleanups from time to time to optimize the P8 Lite's performance. It also has a power saving tool to conserve battery life and a harassment filter where you can manage block messages, calls and contacts.

Inside the tools folder, you'll find an FM radio, recorder and more. Two other apps take advantage of your cameras and turn your front and rear-facing shooters into a mirror and magnifier, respectively. The mirror app also has a fun (but ultimately useless) feature where you blow against the microphone, and "steam" appears on your screen that you can wipe off with your finger.

EMUI does have its drawbacks, however. A lack of a central app drawer risks cluttering the home screen if you have a lot of apps. The one-handed navigation toggle doesn't apply to the keyboard, and you can't access the settings shortcuts shade by a two-finger downward swipe like you can with Android. These aren't deal breakers for the device, but they are something to consider.

Camera and video

  • 13-megapixel rear-facing camera, records 1080p video
  • 5-megapixel front-facing camera, records 720p video

Camera quality for the handset's 13-megapixel camera was clear and satisfactory. Well-lit pictures were bright, sharp and in focus. Colors were also true to life and close-up shots focused easily. Indoor photos with dimmer lighting did end up being a bit more blurrier as expected, but objects were still easy to make out.

Video quality also performed well. Touch-focus capabilities prevent things from getting blurry as I moved the camera around, and both moving and still objects remained in focus. Colors were also accurate, nearby audio picked up well, and there wasn't any noticeable lag between the viewfinder and my moving of the camera. For more information on camera quality, click the photos below to view them at their full resolution.

Features for both cameras include seven Instagram-esque filters that you can preview in real time; a beauty meter that blurs lighting and softens focus; and the ability to record 10-second audio notes with a picture. You'll also get panoramic shooting, geotagging, watermarking, a timer, smile detection, four ISO levels, five white balance options and meters to adjust saturation, contrast and brightness.

In this bright outdoor photo, details in the people, grass and buildings are sharp. Lynn La/CNET

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