Huawei's come a long way since it shook its ODM label and started making devices for consumers, too. It's now the fourth biggest smartphone manufacturer in the world, and in the past year, we've seen the company unveil new phones big and small, as well as new wearables including an Android Wear smartwatch. Aside from a few special-edition variants, though, the Ascend P7 has remained Huawei's flagship product for almost a year, so it's high time for a successor to take that mantle. Cue the Huawei P8 -- no "Ascend" this time 'round -- the company's newest feather in its smartphone-shaped cap.
If you've been keeping up with the steady torrent of leaks surrounding the device, you might have caught a glimpse of it already. For those seeing it for the first time today, though, it's kind of reminiscent of the iPhone 6, albeit with squarer corners Huawei's typically fond of. It's dressed in a full aluminum unibody that measures 6.4mm thick, with a slightly pillowed metal rim giving it a vague resemblance to Apple's latest blockbuster (though it's supposed to take inspiration from the design of the good ol' book, of all things). Four color configs will be available: black, silver, grey and of course, gold. On the front of the handset is a 5.2-inch, 1080p display, presumably chosen over a Quad HD panel (the trendy choice for new flagships these days) to keep costs down. The display is basically as "edge-to-edge" as they come, with hardly any bezel either side of it.
Huawei's own 64-bit, 2GHz octa-core Kirin 930 CPU throbs away inside the handset, joined by 3GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage (expandable via microSD), a 2,680mAh battery and space for two 4G SIMs (one micro, one nano). For Huawei, one of the key selling points of the P8 is its imaging prowess. The handset sports a 13-megapixel main camera with "best-in-class" optical image stabilization and a dual-color temperature flash that "mimics natural illumination," supposedly. According to the company, the P8 has the "world's first four-color RGBW sensor" paired with a DSLR-grade independent image processor, both of which are said to reduce photo noise and improve low-light performance, image contrast and realistic color representation.
If the camera hardware details don't mean much to you, then you'll probably be more interested in what it can actually do. Well, with the new "Light Painting" low-light mode, for example, you can take long-exposure shots that capture the path of moving light sources. The "Director Mode" lets you capture video from the P8's camera and the lenses of up to three other paired Android smartphones. A new selfie mode enhances the results of pics from the 8-megapixel front-facing camera, too.
It might not be a very sexy topic, but Huawei is also highlighting the P8's dual-antenna design, which enables something the company is calling "Signal+ technology." This is said to help the phone quickly switch between cell towers, meaning you should have a very low rate of dropped calls when jumping between them often -- if you're on a train, for example. Signal+ also allows the phone to quickly pick up new networks while roaming.
The P8 has a couple of neat software tricks built into EMUI 3.1, which sits on top of Android 5.0 Lollipop. Double-tapping a knuckle on the screen takes a screenshot, for instance, while tracing a circle allows you to crop the screen cap before saving. If you've misplaced your P8, you can call out to it and it will respond with a message and music if it hears you. In terms of accessories, the P8 comes with headphones that reduce wind noise if you taking a hands-free call. Taking a leaf out of YotaPhone's book, you can also buy an optional case that has a E-Ink screen built into the back.
The P8 comes in two configurations, both of which launch in over 30 countries today, including much of Europe. Worldwide availability isn't too far in the future, however. The "standard" version, with 16GB of storage and grey or champagne color options, retails for €499, or roughly $530. The "premium" version, which comes in black or gold, has 64GB of internal storage and sells for the higher price of €599, or around $635.
My initial impressions of the P8 are something of a mixed bag. It certainly looks like a premium, flagship handset, with glistening aluminum covering the majority of its frame. The edges and back panel have a subtle, machined texture to them, whereas the chamfered edges are shiny and polished in contrast. It feels solid as a rock without being too heavy (it's 144g or just over 5 ounces, by the way), and every component fits together perfectly. I've seen a few Huawei devices that are lax in that department, but the engineering tolerances here are tight as a drum. The metal power key and volume rocker, flush SIM and SD card slots, the strip of glass detailing framing the main camera lens: these all come together for a well-considered, crafted and attractive smartphone. Looking good is one thing, but design compromises usability in this instance. Huawei's P8 is just not very comfortable in the hand, at least when you first pick it up. Those chamfered edges are noticeable sharp, particularly the bottom corners, which can dig into your palm to an almost painful degree.
While the P8 looks like it has a nigh edge-to-edge display, there's some design trickery involved. The glass stretches across the width of the device, sure, but when the display is active you can see it's framed in a dead, black border. In other words, a normal-sized bezel. It's a lovely, bright day in London, too, making it immediately obvious that sunlight readability will be a problem for some. Even at the highest brightness setting, the display doesn't cut through as much glare as I'd like. With an octa-core processor, you wouldn't expect it to hiccup while poking around the clean and simple EMUI 3.1 Android skin; and it doesn't, in case you're after confirmation.
One of the key selling points of the P8 is its fancy camera, but without testing it extensively, I can't really offer any opinion as to whether it's as great as Huawei makes it out to be. If you take the megapixel count in isolation, it doesn't exactly blow minds, which might be a problem for Huawei. I mean, it's by no means a cheap device, even if it doesn't command quite the same price as an iPhone 6, Galaxy S6 or HTC One M9. When you're talking €599 for the "premium" edition, though, you can't help but notice the lack of "wow factor." A "four-color RGBW sensor" might be the best smartphone sensor ever made, but it's hard for consumers to immediately grasp the benefits. When competitor products are rocking curved, Quad HD displays and you're still stuck on 1080p, you're just making things unnecessarily hard for yourself. I don't subscribe to the notion that better specs make for a better smartphone, but it's not me Huawei has to convince -- it's consumers that typically look for that killer feature I'm not sure the P8 has.
Nick Summers contributed to this report.