What’s the first thing you notice about a phone? Its body, its screen or maybe how much your wallet would hurt if you bought it?
With Huawei’s P8, the first thing you notice is the box. While other manufacturers are using recycled cardboard with soy ink, Huawei has opted to use a black plastic box with a smoke black lid instead.
On top of this, the phone is slotted in sideways so your first impression is a rather sexy, rather mysterious side profile.
That packaging is no doubt designed to make sure that your first impression of the P8 is a positive one, and it totally works.
The question is, does this clever marketing mean Huawei has reached a point where it can compete with the bigger brands, and even provide compelling reasons for smartphone lovers to consider its phones for their next upgrade? That’s what we set out to find out.
In some ways the P8 looks very much like its bigger brother, the Ascend Mate 7, at least from the front. But unlike the Mate 7, the P8 does not bear the Huawei logo on its front face.
Normally I would be moaning about it being a waste of space, but in this case that blank white strip makes the phone feel a little non-descript. Minimalism is all good and well but these days owning a Huawei is like owning a Hyundai; not something to be ashamed of.
The metal body feels very iPhone-y. It’s hard to not look at the P8 and feel like the Huawei design team stared at an iPhone 6 for far too long; even the back has a matte metal finish.
Interestingly, the nano SIM and SD card slots are located on the right hand side of the P8, the same side as the power button and the volume rocker. The entire front face is covered with a sheet of Gorilla Glass 3 but so is the top strip at the back, including over the camera lens which should protect the camera from daily handling.
The Mate 7 is woefully underpowered when compared to its 6-inch rivals but the P8 does not suffer from a lack of clout. Inside you’ll find a 2GHz quad core Cortex-A53 and a 1.5GHz quad core Cortex-A53, and both processors dynamically adjust their frequencies depending on the workload, which helps to save battery power.
The chipset is Huawei’s own HiSilicon Kirin 930 and has a Mali T628 MP4 GPU. While not as powerful as the flagship Qualcomm and Samsung chipsets, Huawei’s choice has meant a lower cost to the consumer.
We ran two different rounds of AnTuTu due to the simple fact that the processors are 64-bit, which allowed us to compare 64-bit performance with 32-bit. The results were staggering.
In 32-bit mode the P8 delivers a score of 46 942 which is better than the Mate 7 but sees it fall behind last year’s flagship devices. But when you unleash the full capabilities of those processors you end up with a score of 49 812; it’s like a shot of NOS.
The P8 also has a little party trick: the microSD card slot can serve as a secondary nano SIM card slot. To enjoy this convenience you have to forgo the extra storage space but it’s a nifty little feature if you need a dual-SIM phone.
With this little feature Huawei has delivered one phone that can appeal to a larger audience.
If you read our review of the Huawei Mate 7 you would know that Huawei promised to upgrade the operating system from Android 4.4.2 to 5.0 in April, May at the outside.
Sadly, that did not happen, but thankfully the P8 comes with Android 5.0.2 straight out of the box. It also has Huawei’s Emotion UI which is not my favourite UI (I like an App drawer), but it could be worse. It could come with Samsung’s TouchWiz, for example.
There are a ton of pre-installed apps, which is normally a bad thing, but I was pleased to note that those that have been included are actually quite useful, like WPS Office that handles all of the phone’s document needs.
The P8 has a 5.2-inch IPS NEO LCD display with a resolution of 1 920×1 080, which is a very complicated way of saying that the screen delivers stunning HD clarity and very vivid colours.
However, the screen is only splendid when viewed straight on. View it at an angle and it’s less exciting and more average. There is a serious loss of brightness which makes the screen rather dark and unimpressive. Put another way, while you will love looking at it passers-by will be less impressed.
The touch sensitivity is spot on and at no point did I feel the need to resort to poking at it like an octogenarian. In fact when put through AnTuTu’s touch test it registered all 10 fingers. Not the most practical way to use a phone but it does prove that Huawei hasn’t gone cheap.
The front and rear cameras are an improvement over those found in the Mate 7. The front camera has an 8-megapixel sensor which should officially be called the Super Selfie Snapper (trademark pending); but it is important to note that the stock camera app plays a big part in making it a narcissist’s dream.
The rear camera uses the same 13-megapixel sensor as the Mate 7’s, but this time it comes with a dual LED flash and optical image stabilisation. In good light it captures images relatively quickly, if it’s got a focus lock.
In poor light it takes an age to take the photo, and the resulting image is less defined than I’d like yet not as noisy as I expected.
The stock camera app is a magician’s toolkit, and it’s a pity that the rear camera isn’t amazing because I have no doubt the camera app could deliver even better results with a better camera.
It includes clever little features like the ability to take time lapse photos, or “Light Painting” which is long exposure mode allowing you to take car light trail photos or light graffiti. Really neat.
The Huawei P8’s battery is not like the BlackBerry’s I tested last week, so you aren’t going to get almost a business week out of this phone even though its battery is close in size.
But it’s not bad, either: putting the P8 through its paces, jumping between WiFi and mobile data, a few phone calls and some YouTube meant I was plugging this phone in by the afternoon… on the second day.
Not bad for a flagship device, especially for one that is at least R4 000 cheaper than other flagship phones.
The P8 is not perfect. It doesn’t have the latest WiFi tech – no 802.11ac here, sadly – and nor does it have a screen with more pixels than you can count, and the styling does feel a little “borrowed”.
But for its price, it’s bloody amazing. Dual-SIM functionality, an amazing camera app and a decent set of processors makes the P8 very hard to resist, and as a man who has been using and enjoying the Mate 7 I would happily trade it in for Huawei’s latest little beauty.
If you’re even remotely considering the P8, I can confidently tell you to go for it, you won’t regret it.
Price: R6 700
Display: 5.2 inch, 1920×1080 resolution IPS-NEO LCD display (424ppi)
Operating System: Android 5.0.2 Lollipop
Processors: 2GHz quad core Cortex-A53 & 1.5GHz quad core Cortex-A53
Memory: 3GB of RAM
Storage: 16GB expandable with a microSD card
Battery: 2 680mAh Li-Po
Camera: 13 megapixel rear camera, 8 megapixel front-facing camera
Networking: 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth, LTE