Huawei may not be the first name you think of when you consider buying a new phone, but with serious uplifts in the quality of its phones and considerable differences in price, the Chinese manufacturer could be the name subtly emblazoned across your next handset.
It’s not unusual for people to try and recognise familiar patterns in the world around us. We see animals in the clouds and Jesus in our toast; so it’s not surprising that we immediately liken new smartphones to older ones. Huawei makes this even easier by actively trying to look like phones we are more familiar with.
The Ascend P7 looks exactly like a cross between the iPhone 5s and the Sony Xperia Z2. Its black glass finish and stainless steel trim evoke Apple’s best seller, and it even has the same cutouts in the metal trim, which Apple uses to enhance reception. On the bottom end, the phone comes around in a rolled plastic base, just like the Sony Z2.
Unlike poor old Samsung, Huawei should get away with this aesthetic appropriation — we can’t imagine global law suits on the back of the P7 launch — and we, the customers, are better for it. Huawei’s design is a delight. The handset is lightweight, extremely slim, and it’s various controls are easy to find. It balances its weight well, so it is comfortable to hold.
As this is one of Huawei’s best phones, it doesn’t hold back in the display department. The P7 features a 5-inch full-HD screen with an IPS LCD panel. Though the price you pay is will be far cheaper, this screen looks and feels on par with Huawei’s more well-known competitors. It’s responsive to touch input, but more importantly it looks fantastic.
Huawei Emotion UI software comes with a neat lock-screen switcher which brings up a different image every time you turn you phone on. This is a great way for the company to showcase how good this screen seems to be, with colourful travel photos jumping off the screen each time you press the power button.
Viewing angles are good, with a true image visible from acute vertical and horizontal angles, thanks to the IPS technology used in the LCD panel.
It’s not uncommon for a manufacturer to install user interface software on Android phones, but few take the concept as far as Huawei does with its Emotion UI.
Using this software is like using an iPhone and an Android phone at the same time. Huawei ditches the ‘Applications Drawer’ concept that you see on most Android phones, and instead dumps all installed apps across the numerous home screens — like iOS. But the same screens can be used to display widgets too, like Android, so you get the best of both these worlds.
Huawei doesn't include many original widgets, and the ones that are included are pretty unattractive. By default, the P7 comes with a big widget block on the first homescreen page, but it's the sort of thing we'd delete and forget about as soon as we unwrapped the handset.
Icon design and wallpaper options are a mixed bag, but there is a lot to choose from thanks to the Theme app you'll discover among the various pre-installed tools. The aesthetic options range from tech chic to somewhat juvenile.
We love that Huawei’s software also includes this robust Theme setting, allowing you to transform the look of your phone with a single setting. Most of the themes available control the wallpaper and app icons, among other settings, so as soon as one is applied you feels like a whole new phone in your hand (sort of).
For Huawei to really compete with the world’s best phones, it needs flawless performance. A lot has changed in the way we use and view our smartphones, and anything short of seamlessly smooth performance is frowned upon by critics and customers alike.
Powering the P7 is Huawei’s own silicon, a quad-core chipset with a 1.8GHz clock speed and built in graphics processing. There is also a decent 2GB RAM, similar to the big name devices from Samsung and HTC.
We used the P7 for several weeks, and were surprised by how well the phone performed at the beginning of our trial. Animations don’t stutter and apps launch quickly, and in most ways this felt like a phone you’d expect to pay several hundred dollars extra for.
But the more we used the P7; as we installed apps and filled them with various types of data, we noticed lag spikes starting to creep in. There were long pauses when switching from an app back to the home screen and, infrequently, apps would become unresponsive and need to be closed manually.
Huawei includes a Power Management app as standard with the P7, and while we originally thought it quaint to include this sort of tool, we found we used it more often as time went on.
This may sound like a gloomy result for Huawei and the P7, but it honestly didn’t impact on our use of the phone too much. These issues, while noticeable and sometimes frustrating, are easy to fix and forget about.
In the P7, Huawei comes as close to a winning smartphone formula as it ever has. The P7 is slick in design, if derivative, and it works well on the whole. Huawei goes the extra mile in designing a unique user experience and a number of useful apps, and delivers the package for about half the price of the most popular phones in the category. It’s not flawless, especially in its performance, but it is a solid package that can do just about everything you’d expect from an Android phone in this price range.