PARIS: CHINESE HARDWARE MAKER Huawei has stepped up its game in the smartphone wars with the unveiling of its latest flagship smartphone, the Huawei Ascend P7.
Huawei claims that despite the smartphone set to go on sale for a modest €450, or about £370, the Ascend P7's advanced imaging and 4G technologies make it more than a match for the Samsung Galaxy S5 and iPhone 5S.
Design and build
The Huawei Ascend P7 adheres to the same design philosophy as its predecessor, the Ascend P6, having been built to be as light and thin as possible. At just 6.5mm thick and weighing 124g, the Ascend P7 is significantly thinner and lighter than competing Android handsets, but it's not as light as the 112g iPhone 5S.
Like the Ascend P6, the Ascend P7's top and sides are slightly sharp while its bottom edge is rounded. The front and back are covered in Gorilla glass, which feels nice but tends to show fingerprints. Despite its slightly sharp edges, the device is fairly comfortable to hold, and it also felt fairly solid and capable of surviving the odd accidental bump and scrape.
This year has already seen an influx of handsets boasting superb displays. Not to be outdone, Huawei has configured the Ascend P7 with a 5in 1920x1080 resolution IPS screen with a pixel density of 441ppi, which performed impressively during our hands-on, with icons and text looking sharp and clear even under the showroom's bright lights.
Colours were generally vibrant and rich, but when hit by direct sunlight the display became reflective and all but impossible to use, although to be fair to Huawei this is an issue we experience on 99 percent of the smartphones we review.
Operating system and software
The Huawei Ascend P7 comes with Google's Android 4.4.2 Kitkat mobile operating system (OS), overlaid with Huawei's custom Emotion 2.3 user interface (UI). While we're pleased to see Android 4.4.2 KitKat, the Emotion UI is less appealing.
This is because the Emotion UI reworks Android's user interface to the point that it's all but unrecognisable. It replaces all application shortcut icons with custom alternatives and moves the location of many key menus and settings options. The Emotion UI also removes Android's native app tray feature and places all installed applications on the main menu screens, like they are on Apple iOS. The changes are generally to the detriment of Android and make it less intuitive to use.
This heavy-handed approach to skinning the OS will also impact the phone's ability to receive Android updates as Emotion will have to be tweaked to work with every new release from Google, a process that could take weeks or even months.
Unlike most 2014 flagship smartphones, the Huawei Ascend P7 is not powered by Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 801 processor and instead has Huawei's own quad-core 1.8GHz Hisilicon Kirin 910T processor.
We were impressed with the handset's performance. Featuring 2GB of RAM, the Ascend P7 ran smoothly, and opened applications and webpages close to instantly both on the showroom WiFi and outside on Three's 4G network.
We haven't yet had a chance to test how the Ascend P7 copes with more demanding tasks like 3D gaming, or benchmark the handset during our hands-on, but will be sure to do so for our full review.
Huawei made a big deal about the Ascend P7's 13MP rear and 8MP front cameras during the phone's Paris unveiling, claiming that they will offer better imaging quality than the Samsung Galaxy S5 and iPhone 5S. This is thanks in part to the device's DSLR level Image Signal Processor (ISP), which Huawei claims radically improves low-light performance. We were impressed how well the Ascend P7's rear camera performed. During our initial tests images shot around Paris in bright sunlight looked crisp and featured decent contrast and colour balance levels.
The 8MP front camera also performed very well and actually managed to match the performance of many 2013 smartphones' primary rear cameras during our opening test shots.
Battery and storage
The Ascend P7 is powered by a 2,500mAh battery that Huawei lists as offering users 14 hours of talk time. If accurate, this figure means that the Ascend P7 should offer above-average battery life. We didn't get a chance to test battery life during our hands-on but will be sure to do so come our full review.
The Huawei Ascend P7 review unit we tested came with 16GB of internal storage. Further storage can be added using its microSD card slot, meaning that most users shouldn't have to worry about running out of data storage space.
Set for release in the UK this month, the Huawei Ascend P7 delivers the kind of performance and imaging quality usually seen on handsets costing as much as £200 more.
Our only significant gripe so far is with its less than stellar Emotion skin, which as well as making the Ascend P7 rather unintuitive to use, will also undoubtedly hamper its ability to receive software updates from Google.
Check back soon for our full Huawei Ascend P7 review. µ