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Huawei P8 review: Solid performance from a slick, metal body but without the high price

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Huawei's new P8 is the company's best phone to date, but don't confuse it with a bleeding-edge mobile like the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge. It doesn't have the S6 Edge's curved glass screen and it's not quite as powerful, but it does carry a far more affordable price tag without forcing you to compromise on performance.

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7.9

Huawei P8

Pricing Not Available

The Good

The Huawei P8 has a bright and bold screen, a sleek, all-metal body, plenty of power and a decent camera.

The Bad

The camera quality suffers at full screen and Huawei's custom software makes drastic changes to the Android interface which won't appeal to everyone.

The Bottom Line

The Huawei P8 lacks some of the shine of its flagship phone rivals, but it still delivers an uncompromising mix of features and performance for a far cheaper price.

Replacing the P7 , and sitting at the top of Huawei's range of smartphones, this Android Lollipop phone squashes a 5.2-inch full HD display into an attractive one-piece metal body and includes an 8-megapixel front-facing camera and a 13-megapixel camera on the back.

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Design and storage

The P8's all-metal body wraps around the edges of the phone to meet the screen. This one-piece unibody design helps make the P8 feel quite solid and secure to hold. It certainly feels nicer than the previous P6, which has a body made from multiple parts, resulting in it feeling cheaper and less premium to hold.

It has a fairly attractive design -- the metal edges are a little reminiscent of Sony's Xperia Z3, although Sony's phone has a more attractive and more premium-looking glass back panel. Next to the curving sides of the S6 Edge, it's nowhere near as beautiful, but it does cost half as much, which is a fair trade-off. The edges of the metal have been milled down, which helps it be a touch more attractive too. Both the P6 and P7 before it had rounded bottoms, which I was never keen on -- thankfully, that's a design trait the P8 lacks. The phone will come in three colours: black, silver and gold.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

With a 5.2-inch display, the phone is quite large, but a narrow bezel around the screen helps keep the body from ballooning out too much. It's comfortable to hold and unlock with one hand, but I definitely needed two thumbs to type properly.

The P8 maintains the slim design of its predecessors, although at 6.4mm thick, it's not quite as narrow as the 6.18mm P6. The solid metal design does make it feel less fragile than the P6 though and less like it could snap in half the first time you sit on it. The P8 Max looks just like its brother, but goes bigger with a 6.8-inch screen.

The headphone jack sits on the top of the phone, while the Micro-USB port is on the bottom, between two sets of drilled speaker holes. The speakers are reasonably loud for a phone -- you won't struggle to hear your podcast in the kitchen while cooking, but you'll want to use an awesome set of headphones like the Klipsch X11is if you want to feel properly immersed in a movie. The back isn't removable, so the micro-SIM slots (yes, two of them) sit on the right edge of the phone.

One of the SIM slots also doubles up as the microSD card slot -- although oddly, you can't use a second SIM and a microSD card at the same time. The standard model comes with 16GB of storage, but a 64GB model will also be available. It supports microSD cards up to 128GB in size, so if you want to keep loads of videos and pictures stored locally, load them on a capacious card.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Display

The display has a full HD (1,920x1,080-pixel) resolution, resulting in a pixel density of 424 pixels per inch, which is a way below the Galaxy S6 's whopping 577ppi. The fact remains, however, that super-high-resolution panels on phones aren't really necessary -- it's very difficult to discern the extra pixels when you go above full HD, and only really result in draining the battery faster.

A full HD panel like the P8's is more than sufficient to display text and icons with excellent clarity. It's vivid too, with bold colours -- although not quite bold enough to look unnatural -- and it's reasonably bright. Indoors under office lights, it's very easy to read although it did struggle slightly under the unusually sunny London sky.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

It's a great screen for multimedia, as well, displaying photos and videos with enough vibrancy to help you feel more immersed. If movies on the move are important, the P8's screen makes it a worthy option.

Software and processor

The P8 arrives with the latest Android Lollipop software on board, over which Huawei has applied its usual Emotion UI interface. Emotion UI changes everything from the colour scheme and fonts to the app icons. It even goes so far as to get rid of the app tray, meaning all your installed apps are scattered across multiple home screens. I'm not a fan of this, as it's easy for the interface to become cluttered once you've downloaded your favourite apps and slapped a bunch of widgets down, too. The iPhone also doesn't employ an app tray, so clearly it's not a problem for everyone.

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Although it has the latest version of Huawei's skin, there are no new interface tweaks or software additions to speak of. If you've spent any time with Huawei's recent Ascend Mate 7 , then there will be absolutely no surprises here. It has had some network optimisation tweaks behind the scenes, which Huawei reckons helps the phone connect to a network faster when it boots up, although this isn't something I could particularly notice in my time with the phone.

You'll find the same array of customisation options as on other Huawei phones -- including a range of preset themes, and a Simple Mode, for those who just want the absolute basics put right at the front.

It's powered by a 64-bit Kirin 930 octa-core processor, clocked at 1.5GHz with 3GB of RAM. That's a hearty engine, even by top-end phone standards, so it wasn't a surprise that the P8 is a very capable piece of kit. Swiping around the Android interface was smooth and free of the annoying lag that hints at a struggling processor.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

It achieved 13,579 on the Quadrant benchmark test, which is a significant step down from the 36,000 achieved by the Galaxy S6 and below too the 23,700 achieved by last year's Galaxy S5. The P8 easily handled playing demanding games like Implosion: Never Lose Hope, and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, while photo editing in Snapseed was a breeze.

Camera

The phone has two cameras: a 13-megapixel one on the back and a generous 8-megapixel around front for selfies -- both are made by Sony. With a 16-megapixel camera on the S6 and Sony's Z3 packing a 20.7-megapixel sensor, a 13-megapixel rear camera doesn't immediately sound particularly exciting. Huawei, however, reckons it's given it a boost for low-light shooting and paired it with some cool new shooting modes. I took the camera for a spin to find out how it handles.

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Huawei P8 camera test (click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

I was very pleased with my first shot in this sunny park. There's a great balance in dynamic range between the shadowy fronts of the trees and the bright blue sky, resulting in an evenly exposed photo overall. The colours are good, too. At full screen it has plenty of detail, but zooming in, the image quickly degrades -- there's a definitely lack of sharpness and clarity on fine details.

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Huawei P8 camera test (click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

This second shot of some lovely tree blossom again has a great exposure overall, with bold colours. Zooming in, the same quality issue is very much present, making the fine petals look almost out of focus. For posting on Facebook or Twitter, the image is fine, but there's little option to crop in if you wanted to.

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Huawei P8 camera test without HDR (click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

This park scene is generally well exposed, although some of the shadows towards the back are a little dark.

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Huawei P8 camera test with HDR (click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Turning HDR mode on has lifted those shadows, resulting in a balanced scene. As before, quality at full screen is still an issue.

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Huawei P8 camera test (click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Heading indoors to test the low light skills, the P8 delivered a good low-light result when on its fully automatic mode. This shot is bright, colours are decent -- if a little muted -- and there's not too much image noise, which is often a big issue in low-light for many smartphone cameras.

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Huawei P8 camera test (click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Oddly, there's a super night mode on the phone as well, although the low-light results in this mode weren't as good as on automatic mode.

As well as the standard array of photo filters and panorama mode, the P8 also comes with a couple of nifty new tools for shooting at night. One is designed to capture star trails -- something you'll only be able to do if you live in the middle of nowhere where you can actually see stars -- and a mode for capturing light trails of car headlights or other moving bright objects.

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Huawei P8 camera test (click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

I actually like the light trails mode and was really impressed with the shot of a bus going by (and a plane taking off) I was able to capture. The phone does a lot of stabilisation when taking the shot so as to avoid it being too blurry allowing me to shoot this picture without a tripod. Still, if you want to get it as sharp as possible, you'll want to use a little travel tripod like the Joby GorillaPod.

The camera is generally good, in terms of exposure and colours, which are the things most important for a nice photo for Facebook. Those scenic beach shots or sunsets over the city will no doubt come out very nicely, but it is disappointing that there's such a lack of quality when zoomed in. When deciding if the camera is good enough for you, think back to when you've ever wanted to heavily crop into a picture or print it in large format -- if you've pretty much never done it, the P8's camera will be fine.

Huawei's claim that the P8 is a skilled low-light shooter certainly has some truth to it -- the brightness and lack of image noise on the low-light example is impressive for a midpriced phone and the night-time trail function is a novel addition and certainly one that's worth experimenting with when the sun goes down.

Battery

The 2,600mAh battery is a generous size -- by comparison, the Galaxy S6 has a 2,550mAh battery and that has to power a more demanding high-res screen. Huawei claims you'll easily get a day of use from it, if not more. That's a fairly bold claim for a smartphone, but if you're reasonably careful, you shouldn't struggle to hit that time. In my drain test, which involves looping a video file from a full charge, until the phone runs out, the phone managed to keep going for a little over 10 hours before giving up the ghost, which is a bit less than average.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

For comparison, the Galaxy S5 achieved around 15 hours, the Sony Xperia Z3 managed 12, Google's Nexus 6 managed 12 also, while the HTC One M9 achieved only around 9 hours. It's a demanding test, however, and your own times will depend very much on how you use the phone. If you keep the screen brightness down and avoid demanding tasks like gaming or video streaming, you shouldn't struggle to get a day of use from the P8.

If however, you keep the screen on, checking for messages almost all day, stream music and keep Wi-Fi and GPS switched on, you'll almost certainly need to give the battery a boost in the afternoon if you want any power to last you through a night out.

Conclusion

If you're after the best, most technologically advanced phone around, the P8 isn't for you. Instead, go for Samsung's curved-edge powerhouse, the Galaxy S6 Edge. What the P8 delivers, however, is a solid all-round experience, including a good camera and vibrant display, all wrapped up in an attractive all-metal body.

Best of all, though, is that it doesn't charge the Earth for it. If you've been eyeing up the latest crop of flagship phones, but can't stomach the high prices, the P8 is a much more affordable option, that doesn't force you to compromise on features or performance.

huawe-p8-product-7.jpg
7.9

Huawei P8

Pricing Not Available

Score Breakdown

Battery 7Features 8Design 8Camera 7Performance 7