Huawei's P10 wraps familiar performance in colorful bodies

Imagine the Mate 9's performance, but in a smaller, more stylish package.

Nick Summers/Engadget

When it comes to hardware launches, subtlety isn't exactly Huawei's strong suit. It was no secret the company would unveil its new P10 smartphone today, so now there's only one question left to tackle: How is the thing? Well, even in my brief time with the phone, the answer was clear: It's pretty damn good.

A big part of that can be credited to how Huawei built the device. The P10 is a surprisingly slim phone (think 6.98mm thick) that fit really comfortably into my hand. For such a light device, it also feels impeccably well put together. This is nothing new for Huawei, but devices like this are nonetheless a handy reminder of why Huawei has gained so much steam in recent years.

We're also looking at a crisp, bright 5.1-inch screen running at 1080p, and just a hint of curvature along the edges of the Gorilla Glass 5 panel covering the display. Sitting just south of the display is a pill-shaped fingerprint sensor that worked well in my brief demo. I'm not just talking about unlocking the phone either; the sensor doubles as a navigation key, so swiping left and right goes back one level and opens the multitasking view, respectively. Toggling this option also means some extra screen real estate gets freed up, which is always helpful on smaller screens like this.

The similarities to other smartphones end as soon as you turn the P10 over. A slew of leaks before the show pointed to a surprisingly broad array of color options, and the full list is no joke. The P10 will be available in ceramic white, dazzling blue, dazzling gold, prestige gold, graphite black, mystic silver, rose gold and something called "greenery." Whew. And it gets better (or crazier, depending on your outlook). There are also three different material finishes, ranging from the basic (sandblasted, like the back of the P9) to the eye-catching (a high gloss) to the mildly ostentatious (a "hyper diamond-cut" pattern that feels like one of those lenticular cards). That last finish appeals most to yours truly, if only because of how neurotic I am -- I spent the entire second half of our meeting idly fondling that textured finish.

The chances of you and a friend winding up with identical P10s are pretty slim, and that's exactly how Huawei wants it; the P10 is apparently all about self-expression. (The sentiment is dulled a bit by the fact that an enormous company is using it to take your money, but hey -- whatever works for you.)

When it comes to the P10's guts, we're basically looking at a more pocketable version of last year's Mate 9. In case you hadn't read our review, the repeat spec list is mostly a good thing: The P10's familiar octa-core Kirin 960 chipset runs as smoothly as ever, though the company's lighter touch with its EMUI interface also helps here. And, as with the Mate 9, there's some additional machine learning going on inside that's meant to maximize performance. This time, we're told EMUI is better at allocating memory at startup based on predicted needs and managing RAM based on your behavior for better multitasking. The downside is that these changes will feel more valuable over time, so there's no way to notice them right out of the box. Regardless, the P10 feels more than adequately fast.

The similarities to last year's flagship continue beyond key specs. The 12-megapixel RGB/20-megapixel monochrome dual-camera setup around back has also been carried over from the Mate 9, and it's as effective as ever. Test shots (including the selfies Cherlynn insists on taking all the time) came out with an impressive level of color and detail, though the early model we played with had a few issues with locking down its focus. The ability to use the wide-aperture Portrait mode with the front-facing camera more than made up for those pre-production issues.

As with last year's model, there's an upgraded version of the P10 called (what else?) the P10 Plus. I haven't gotten to play with one yet, but it's just the sort of variation on the theme you'd expect. You'll find the same Kirin brain inside, along with an improved Leica dual-camera system -- the two sensors shoot at the same resolution as the P10, but you can dial the aperture as wide as f/1.8 for even more bokeh. Hold tight: We'll try to get our hands on this thing as soon as we can.

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