The Huawei Ascend P7 is the best phone that Huawei’s ever produced. That doesn’t mean that it’s stunningly original, or for that matter a phone you should particularly rush out to buy.
The first time I laid eyes on the Ascend P7, it seemed oddly familiar. It’s Huawei’s premium smartphone for 2014, which is an odd position for a company most associated with OEM products for telcos and its own run of budget phones to be in. “Premium” isn’t the tag that you’d normally associate with Huawei.
It certainly does look the part, but then again there was that nagging feeling that I’d seen it before. At first I thought it looked like an iPhone 4/4s, what with the metal banding around the sides, but then it hit me that it was a much less subtle clone of another maker’s distinctive look.
The Ascend P7 looks a lot like Sony’s Xperia phones. Visually that’s no bad thing, unless you’re a design lawyer, because Sony has stuck to its own design language for its Xperia phones for some time now. The Huawei-flavoured brand of that design has the same near edge to edge screen design and a rectangular frame, along with rounding at the base that, according to Huawei, was “inspired by the natural curves of a water droplet”.
Umm.. yeah. OK then. What it really means is that the base is curved for slightly easier grip, but also slightly easier slip, something’s that’s exacerbated a little by the Gorilla Glass 3 front and rear glass panels. This is a slippery little smartphone with little to differentiate the front or back, which means if you’re quickly flipping it out of your pocket to take a call, the odds are fair that you’re going to try to talk into the back of it.
The back is quite pretty, with a microdot pattern under the glass. It’s predictably fingerprint smudge prone, and it can make it tricky for taking actual phone calls. The Ascend P7 is gloriously light at only 124g, but that does exacerbate its slippery nature, because you’re more likely to let it slip between your fingers. Gorilla Glass 3 should see it survive at least a few knocks and drops, but even one is a scary prospect.
Further under the glass lies a 5 inch 1920×1080 pixel display screen, 2GB of Ram, a 1.8GHz Kirin 910T processor and Android 4.4.2 operating system with Huawei’s “Emotion UI” overlay. Android 4.4.2 is a nice inclusion, but the rest of those specifications are veering dangerously close to mid-range rather than premium territory to speak of, something that’s borne out in the Huawei Ascend P7’s benchmark results. In Geekbench 3 it scored 588 in single core and 1731 in multi-core and in Quadrant it managed 7071.
In real world usage, its mid-range status was borne out. Most of the time it’s an entirely responsive unit, but every once in a while you’ll find it stuttering where it should be flying.
What you’ll find long before you get to the stuttering stage is that once again Huawei’s dipped into a bag of tricks that aren’t exactly its own. The Emotion UI does give the Ascend P7 a look that’s unique amongst Android handsets, but that’s because it is, to put it politely, more than just a little informed by a competing operating environment.
Which is the nice way of saying that it looks a lot like iOS 7, probably as close as Huawei could manage without having Jony Ive’s laywers breathing down their necks. This even extends to odd design choices like having no app drawer at all. Install an Android App and it automatically clutters up your display screens. That’s a very iOS-style choice, and one that might not sit well with every Android user. Then again, this is Android and you can reskin and relaunch to your heart’s content.
Huawei’s big pitch for the Ascend P7’s premium credentials beyond the design is in the camera. At the rear it houses a 13MP sensor, and at the front an 8MP sensor, which is high by the standards of most phones. It’s a very direct play for the selfie-loving market, right down to a slider in the default camera app for the level of “beauty” required. Beauty in this case not being in the eye of the beholder, but in how much artificial softening you want around your face. Like most beauty face modes it will eliminate wrinkles, but unless used subtly, it’ll also probably take most of your humanity along the way.
Huawei’s forte has historically been in inexpensive phones, and with the Ascend P7 it shows that it can’t quite let that feeling go. For a premium phone it appears quite competitively priced at $549 outright. It’s an exclusive to Harvey Norman in Australia, which means that outside direct importers you’re not likely to see much price competition for it in Australia.
$549 for a premium handset sounds like a bargain, but the reality is that the Ascend P7 is mostly a mid-range handset in premium style clothing. The core design, while hardly original is pleasant enough, but not stellar and a little bit too slippy for my tastes.
Intermittent app stuttering is just annoying in a device that’s meant to be “premium”, and that essentially means that while the Ascend P7 is undeniably the best smartphone Huawei’s made to date, if you’re looking at outright purchase you’d be better off either laying down more money for a genuinely premium device, or less for a device that’s likely to match the P7 step for step.