Everyone and his dog seem to be making Android smartphones these days. The latest company to climb on the Android bandwagon is Huawei, a Chinese manufacturer better known for making 3G dongles than premium smartphones. Clearly, they’re aiming to change that perception with their latest attempt at the high-end smartphone market, the Ascend P6.
At only 6.18mm thin and weighing 120g, the P6 sets a new benchmark for thin and light smartphones; even the slender iPhone 5 looks and feels thick in comparison. Holding it in your hand is a pleasure: the weight distribution is just right and the generous use of aluminium in the P6’s frame really makes the phone feel high-end. Its delightfully thin frame lets it slip easily in and out the skinniest of pockets which will be a win for the hipsters of South Africa.
It’s hard not to compare the P6 with the iPhone 5: the Ascend’s silver aluminium aerial band and the anodised aluminium backing are strongly reminiscent of the iPhone 5’s design. The resemblance is skin-deep, though: Huawei’s error tolerance in manufacturing is not quite of the same standard as Apple’s, with small details like the aluminium backing being sunk a tad too far into the phone, giving a slight edge that catches on your finger when you’re examining it closely. The unit we reviewed though is a sample device and the retail device we received at the launch of the phone seems to have sorted that out.
A strange design choice is placing the headphone jack on the P6’s side. It makes for an uncomfortable experience when the phone is pocketed with headphones plugged in, and a potentially dangerous one for your headphone jack because it might break or bend when you take it out of your pocket. Another noticeable problem, especially with a phone as thin as this one, is its tendency to get very hot when in use because of the proximity of the SoC to the back panel.
While the P6’s external design isn’t perfect, its few flaws are easily forgiven considering its very competitive price and stunningly-thin body.
Inside, you’ll find a custom-built quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM and 8GB of storage, which, along with the 720p display, places the Ascend squarely in competition with the high-end smartphones of 2012. Unfortunately, its benchmark scores are middling, and day-to-day performance is competent, but unspectacular. That said, the phone is still more than adequate for the daily use most people will put it to.
The 4.7inch display may only have a 1 280×720 resolution, but it packs a decent 312 pixels per inch into that space, making for screen quality that’s almost Retina-like. The IPS+ panel has brilliant viewing angles and stands up well to bright sunlight. Colour saturation is well balanced, but you can make the colours warmer or cooler in the settings if it’s not to your liking.
The phone’s 8MP camera takes decent shots, although occasionally the images we took came out a bit oversaturated and unnatural. It struggled to take good low-light photos, requiring the use of the flash more often than not. The most unusual feature of the Ascend P6 is the 5MP camera with a ‘Beauty Shot’ mode that uses some exposure trickery to improve the photos it takes of people. This unusually capable front-facing camera makes the P6 ideal for taking selfies, WIN.
The Ascend P6 runs on what was until very recently the latest version of Google’s Android OS, 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, with Huawei’s custom Emotion UI skin overlaid atop it. Huawei claims they’ve made hundreds of changes to the basic Android software, and we found many of them to be fantastic additions. The Power Manager especially, which allows you to adjust the P6’s performance to increase battery life, yielded particularly brilliant results, allowing the phone’s 2000mAh battery to provide a full day of serious use.
Keeping with the Apple comparisons, Huawei decided against an ‘App Drawer’ that holds all of the icons for downloaded applications, and instead requires them to be placed on a home screen or in a folder, like in iOS. Unlike iOS, though, you can easily download different themes for the Ascend P6 to customise the operating system’s look and feel.
So, is this the best phone available in South Africa? No. I think that the HTC One and the iPhone 5 are both better phones but for the price I don’t think that there is anything better available. Huawei is definitely hitting the ground running with the P6 and if you’re in the market for a top phone that won’t break the bank, you can’t go wrong with a Huawei Ascend P6.
Battery life: 4/5
Value for money: 5/5