By far the most surprising smartphone to come into the htxt.africa offices last year was the Huawei Ascend P6. Sure it looked like a budget iPhone 5, the display was only 720p and the processor was a bit sluggish but all of that was forgotten in the face of its incredible sub R6 000 price tag.
Just under a week since its official unveiling to the world in Paris we’ve had the chance to put the new Huawei Ascend P7 through its paces to find out if it too can reach the lofty heights of hold its predecessor which we still hold in such regard.
‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ has become the axiom of smartphone design and, realising that it had created something good with the Ascend P6, Huawei chose to build on, and improve the P6’s design with the Ascend P7.
The iPhone-esque aluminium band around the middle of the phone is back along with the microSIM and microSD card trays. The power button, now rounded and below the volume rocker, is reminiscent of those of Sony’s recent flagship phones.
The front is, of course, dominated by the new, larger 5-inch full HD IPS LCD display. Keeping the acronym-laden display in place is a layer of protective Corning Gorilla Glass 3 which extends almost the full length of the phone.
The biggest change from the Ascend P6 to the P7 is on the back of the smartphone. Gone is the brushed aluminium back-plate of the P6 replaced instead with new a seven-layer glass panel with a micro-dotted pattern in the Ascend P7.
With glass both front and back along with its aluminium sides the Ascend P7 not only looks absolutely gorgeous, it brings a fantastic, premium feeling in hand as well. Whatever else it may be, the Huawei Ascend P7 is first and foremost a stunningly beautiful smartphone.
The Huawei Ascend P7 ticks all of the hardware boxes that we expect from a flagship smartphone in 2014.
Huawei, like Apple and Samsung, designs and manufactures its own processors based on ARM’s designs. The HiSilicon Kirin 910T found in the Ascend P7 is a quad core 1.8GHz processor which is significantly more powerful than its predecessor and most importantly comes with built-in LTE, something Samsung’s chips in the Galaxy S5 can’t claim.
While it will almost certainly have hampered battery life, we would have loved to have seen the octa core Kirin 920 find a home in the Ascend P7, especially after it trounced Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 801 in benchmark tests in March.
System memory sits on par with Samsung’s Galaxy S5 at 2GB while the on-board storage has been given a much-needed bump to 16GB with expansion by as much as 64GB possible via microSD cards.
Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11n WiFi join the aforementioned LTE for wireless communications across all of the popular standards while an FM radio makes a surprise appearance in a high-end smartphone to remind us that it’s not quite dead just yet.
Imaging duties are taken care of by a 13-megapixel rear camera from the good folks at Sony but the real story is the 8 megapixel front facing camera which is bound to please the selfie-conscious masses.
While the Huawei Ascend P6 isn’t going to be updated to the latest version of Android in South Africa, the Ascend P7 will arrive bearing the latest version of Google’s operating system. On top of the Android 4.4.2 base is a layer of Huawei’s own Emotion UI interface.
Like its predecessor, this continues to offer a very iOS-like way to experience Android. Android’s app tray, which would normally list all installed apps, disappears completely and every app icon is placed on one of the home screens. Like iOS, folders can be used to clean up the multitude of app icons from your various installed apps but unlike iOS, widgets can still be added to the any of the home screens.
Unfortunately, before we can get into the good and bad of the customisations there was a glaring issue with our review unit: the dock vanished underneath the on-screen navigation buttons making it unpressable. A hard reset fixed this, but that means deleting all data on the phone – not something you’ll smile about if you’ve been using it for a few days.
A third party launcher like ADW or Nova gets you round bugs in Emotion UI, but one of the big advantages of Huawei’s default look is the ease with which the look and feel of the OS can be changed. A built-in theme manager replete with nine different themes ranging from flat and colourful iOS-like icons to more neutral coloured icons for the business conscious allows for quick customisation of the look of your P7 from the word go.
Where the Ascend P7 stands out from its contemporaries is in the granular control of each and every app that you install on it.
Is the app allowed to run when the display is off, consuming more battery power? Is it allowed to use mobile data as well as WiFi? Should an app be allowed to send you notifications? You can fiddle and tweak with individual apps abilities to your heart’s. It’s a feature every phone should have in the future.
The Huawei Ascend P7 also lets you take control of your apps to customise how they interact with you and it has proven both extremely useful and infuriating at the same time. Mistakenly disallowing an instant messaging app to run in the background for instance can result in messages arriving in a less-than-instant fashion.
The Huawei Ascend P7’s display measures in with a 5-inch diagonal and full HD resolution which puts it on par with the best premium handsets available on the market today.
The high pixel density display makes for text that is both smooth and crisp with great contrast between dark and light colours making reading anything from a short message to a book a pleasure. As with other IPS LCD displays the Ascend P7’s display offers great viewing angles with the only real complaint coming outdoors where reflections can be overwhelming at times.
While most smartphones are content to brag about the cameras on their backs, the Huawei Ascend P7 will brag about the incredible 8 megapixel selfie-cam it has up front. While low light conditions will make hard work of getting the best selfies the Ascend P7 has by far the best front-facing camera we’ve ever tested.
Huawei has even attempted to create a new “thing” by adding the ability to take panoramic selfies using the front cam and while the feature does work rather well we think that “groufies”, the attempted portmanteau coined by Huawei, is destined for failure.
On the back, Huawei has chosen to go with a Sony-sourced 13-megapixel unit as the ‘main camera’ on the Ascend P7 and boy are we glad they did.
Pictures are clear with good colour representation in natural light as well as indoors with decent lighting. In low-light, however, the P7 struggled a bit, especially when the flash was needed. Pictures would tend to come out over exposed and blown out with the flash on leaving your subjects rather with a rather ghostly glare on their faces.
All told it’s the Ascend P7’s Ultra Snapshot function that remains as the killer camera feature we wish every smartphone had. Double-clicking the volume down button when the P7 is in the lockscreen or even completely asleep wakes the camera up and immediately takes a picture in as little as 1.2 seconds. It even brags a little by flashing a message at the top of the screen telling you how fast it managed the feat, cute at first but ultimately a meaningless waste.
What good are hundreds of apps and features if your phone is lying dead on your table like a glorified paperweight?
Last year the Ascend P6 impressed us with some of the best power saving features in the Android game and it’s good to see that the P7 hasn’t dropped the ball in this regard.
Even using the ‘Normal’ power profile we saw prolific battery life from the rather averagely-sized 2500mAh battery in the Ascend P7.
Switching to ‘Smart’ mode, which limits the processor’s power consumption and prevents network connections from constantly being used, did improve battery life but not enough to justify the mild sluggishness that crept in with the slower processing speeds.
Just as Samsung’s Galaxy S5 could cut down on features to keep your phone chugging along with minimal battery life, the Ascend P7 also has its own ‘Ultra’ efficient battery mode. Should battery life dip below a preset level (8%/20%/30%) your Ascend P7 will prompt you to engage the power saving mode which dims the display, disables your data connection and all of your apps keeping just your contacts, messages and phone available to you. Huawei says that it will stretch 10% battery life out for 24 hours.
For reference, with all of my mail, social media and instant messaging accounts signed in and syncing, the P7 managed to get to the end of a full day’s work with 40% charge left in the handset. That’s an impressive feat that both Samsung and Apple’s latest flagships can only dream of achieving.
In isolation the Ascend P7 is a great phone due in large part to its phenomenal build quality. A lacklustre processor and an irritating Android skin hurt its overall scores with superb battery life making a strong case for the Ascend P7 to anyone looking for a new smartphone.
When all is said and done, much of whether the Huawei Ascend P7 will be a contender for our smartphone of the year will depend on its price when it finally comes to South Africa.
At €449 the Ascend P7 is priced exactly where its predecessor was at launch, which translated into an incredible sub-R6 000 price when it launched in SA. With the rand having depreciate against the Euro over the last 12 months we’re expecting the Ascend P7 to be a little more expensive, but still come it at around R700 more which would put it roughly at R6 499.
At nearly R4 000 less than the Samsung Galaxy S5, iPhone 5s et al, the Ascend P7 offers more than enough reasons to choose it over the competition. There will always be those who want the absolute best and are willing to pay a premium for it, but for those who cannot justify the added expense, the Ascend P7 is perfect.
Price: [UPDATE] The launch price of the Huawei ascend P7 will be R6 699
R6 499 (Estimated on €449 price)
Display: 5 inch, 1080×1920 resolution full HD IPS LCD display (441 ppi)
Operating System: Android 4.4.2 with Emotion UI 2.3
Processor: HiSilicon Kirin 910T 1.8GHz quad core processor
Memory: 2GB RAM
Storage: 16GB expandable by up to 64GB with microSD cards
Battery: 2500mAh non-removable
Camera: 13 megapixel rear, 8 megapixel front-facing
Networking: Dual band 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 and LTE