Huawei P8 Review

The Huawei P8 is a good option at its asking price, although it falls ever so short of being an entirely “premium” experience.
I was notably taken with Huawei’s flagship 2014 phone, the late-arriving Huawei Ascend Mate 7. The Ascend Mate 7 was (and is) a genuinely great value device that really did challenge the leading lights of the smartphone industry in terms of features, build quality and speed.
I wasn’t quite so taken with the Ascend P7 earlier in the year, which was an alright phone in a body that kept on reminding me of Sony’s Xperia phones with a dash of the iOS environment to it. Depending on how you look at it, that’s either flattering or plagiaristic.
As such, I approached this year’s premium model, the Huawei P8 with a certain amount of trepidation. The P7 wasn’t a terrible phone, but it didn’t quite do enough to make it stand out from amongst the crowd. The Mate 7 was a great phone, although I’ve got to say that I haven’t really spotted any out in the wild, which doesn’t suggest great things for its sales figures.
The Huawei P8, as it stands, is a bit of a mix of both approaches, for better or worse. It doesn’t, to be fair, look like an Xperia phone any more, but that’s because it’s dipped even more heavily into the iPhone design style guide than last year’s model. Again, the lawyers can argue that one out in full, but I’m reminded of how the Internet briefly went insane when they realised that the very bottom of the Samsung Galaxy S6 looked a bit like an iPhone.
The Ascend P8 is like that all the way around. That means that it doesn’t have what could be called an “original” style, but it is a nice looking phone that escapes the budget look that so many Huawei handsets had for a while.

Everyone's going premium unibody these days.
Everyone’s going premium unibody these days.

In terms of baseline specifications, what you’re looking at here is a 5.2 1920 x 1080 424 ppi display resting on top of an octa-core HiSilicon Kirin 930/935 processor, 3GB of RAM and 16GB of onboard storage. That’s not terribly hefty on the storage front, but like the Mate 7, the Huawei P8 makes use of SIM and memory storage slots on the right hand side of the phone. Having used the Mate 7 extensively, I’d swear they were cut from the same factory — and they probably were — but for at least the review model supplied to me, the Huawei P8 is a single SIM (Nano) model, although online research suggests that dual-SIM variants do exist on a global scale.
That combo SIM/MicroSD card tray is something I've seen before.
That combo SIM/MicroSD card tray is something I’ve seen before.

Physically the Huawei P8 measures in at 144.9×72.1×6.4mm (HWD) with a carrying weight of 144g. Like most unibody phones it has a nice heft in the hand while still managing to be a little bit slippery.
Like the P7 before it, Huawei does some radical things with the Huawei P8’s launcher, giving it a distinctively iOS style all-apps-no-app-drawer on the top of Android 5.0. It’s not a style that every Android user will particularly appreciate, although,as with the P7, maybe they’re going for the iPhone crowd directly. Huawei’s own apps aren’t too much to get all that excited about — as an example, there’s a “mirror” app that uses the front 8MP camera to show you your face with a novelty “frost” effect if you blow on the screen — but being Android there’s plenty of scope for modification there.
Speaking of the screen, Huawei’s done something a little different when it comes to the Huawei P8’s display screen in terms of warranty. It’ll allow customers to break it once in the first year of ownership, with a replacement free of charge. Weirdly, despite only keeping it solo in a pocket, the Ascend P8 that Huawei sent me for testing has developed some small chip cracks in it. I’ve no idea how — sorry about that, Huawei — but I guess it’s exactly the kind of thing that this warranty is built for. It’s a very welcome step and one that other phone manufacturers could do well to pick up on.
In pure performance terms the Huawei P8 has at least skipped over most of the laggy issues that its forebear had, making for a reasonably quick, if not quite top tier smartphone experience, which is what you’d expect at its price point. If you’re the type who lives and breathes benchmarks, it managed 856/3477 (single/multi-core) in Geekbench 3’s mobile test. In real world use, it managed most Android tasks without complaint.
Huawei shoves a 2680mAh battery into the Huawei P8. It’s a reasonable enough basis for a single day’s battery life without too much fuss, and even a second day if I was only using it lightly. It’s again not quite best in class, but it’s quite competitive. It notably gets quite aggressive about apps using what it thinks of as a lot of power and gives you the easy option to kill them to maximise power usage, which is fine as long as you want to micromanage power usage. If you’re more hands-off, it’s somewhat on the naggy side.
The back of the Huawei P8 isn't much to get excited by. But who makes an exciting back of a smartphone, really?
The back of the Huawei P8 isn’t much to get excited by. But who makes an exciting back of a smartphone, really?

Huawei’s made a fair amount of noise about the Huawei P8’s rear 13 megapixel camera, which features a four-colour (RGBW) arrangement that Huawei claims makes it extra capable in low light shooting situations, where most mobile phone cameras struggle.
Every mobile maker likes to boast about the quality of their cameras these days, so Huawei’s no different there. The Huawei P8 shoots a little above its weight given the asking price, but it’s not quite the revelation that Huawei sells it as. It’s good in low light, without a doubt, but it often tends to oversaturate colours along the way, and if I was buying a camera for its low light performance, I’d still tend towards the LG G4 or Samsung Galaxy S6.
Decent light capture, but colours are often a little too heavy on the neon side.
Decent light capture, but colours are often a little too heavy on the neon side.

I also hit a weird bug where the P8 simply decided to stop showing me photos I’d taken in its gallery app for some reason while testing. It never outright deleted photos, but required a reboot before it would remember it had taken them, which was worrying to say the least.
The P8's low light capabilities are excellent for a smartphone at the top of the mid-range price point, but they're not quite world beating.
The P8’s low light capabilities are excellent for a smartphone at the top of the mid-range price point, but they’re not quite world beating.

Then again, the Ascend P8’s big selling point is that Huawei isn’t seeking a “big” asking price for ownership. The Ascend P8 sells outright at the time of writing for $699 from JB Hi-Fi, Dick Smith Electronics and Harvey Norman, as well as on contract from Vodafone from the 5th of August on a $70/month RED plan over 24 months — or in other words, for a minimum of $1680 including phone service.
The P8's light painting mode is fun in the right conditions. This was very much an ad-hoc shot.
The P8’s light painting mode is fun in the right conditions. This was very much an ad-hoc shot.

Is it worth buying, though? I’m a little torn on this one. It’s undoubtedly a huge step up from the P7, which was a phone that wanted to look premium but just couldn’t deliver. The Ascend P8 does deliver on most of its promises, and at a price point well below that of the “powerhouse” handsets, most of which start at around $999 currently in the Australian marketplace.
At the same time, I’ve no doubt that it’s still a slight step behind the overall speed and quality of those premium handsets, so you’re getting what you pay for. If I was spending $699 on a handset, I might just go a little bit further and buy, for example, the LG G4.

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