Home Mobile devices Huawei P10. Watch out – the new kid has grown up (review)

Huawei P10. Watch out – the new kid has grown up (review)

Huawei’s new P10 (and its P10 Plus version) yet again prove that this Chinese designer/manufacturer has what it takes to seriously play in the flagship sandpit.

Last year’s Huawei P9 was good – the unique collaboration between Huawei and Leica to produce a dual lens camera and replicate the Leica look nearly got it right as fairly reflected in the DMOMARK of 80 out of 100.

I wrote, “good but not the best — it is certainly not the image quality Huawei led us (media) to expect at launch, but it does provide acceptable images under most circumstances. The camera is capable of so much more, but it is going to take a determined photographer to reach nirvana.”

But along came the Huawei Mate 9, a 6” phablet that had cured the P9 camera foibles with Leica Version 2.0 and it was a stunning phone and camera in every way.

Now we see the 5.1”, P10 – Huawei’s flagship and the spoiler alert is that it costs $899 and $1099 for the 5.5” P10 Plus – the latter has a Pro Edition Camera and more RAM/storage.

Some background to Huawei – why it is no longer the new kid on the block

There are three things that make the P10 and P10 Plus unique – two are hardware-related and one is “fèndòu”. The latter very loosely translated means “We were founded on the ideal that all are created equal and as self-made men, we strive and struggle for success." It is a very strong motivation and in part explains Huawei’s rapid ascent as a global brand.

Huawei only entered the smartphone market in its own right four years ago and really only had serious flagship products from 2016.

Hardware wise is the dual lens Leica camera V2.0 and its use of the Huawei developed HiSilicon Kirin 960, 8-core CPU. The first is reason enough to buy but the second is more of an indication of Huawei’s philosophy.

During a recent interview with Aussie expat Colin Giles, executive vice-president, Huawei Consumer Business Group, he said that Huawei had a major advantage [over other smartphone makers] because it designs the silicon and owns the foundry so it can do far more than those companies that buy off-the-shelf processors.

“Having our own silicon [chips] factory HiSilicon is a tremendous help as it allows us to innovate as well as have better control over the supply chain,” he said. Note: Samsung is the only other handset manufacturer with its own silicon foundry.

Huawei is also probably the only Chinese company with the determination to beat Apple and Samsung – not today, but as long as it takes. “We are going to take Apple step by step, innovation by innovation,” said Huawei’s consumer head, Richard Yu.

Out of the Box – Huawei P10 Model VTR-L09

Huawei P10 header 1It is an interesting box – prestige, bi-fold, gull-wing, style but you don’t buy it for that.

  • The phone (in Prestige Gold, Graphite Black or Dazzling Blue)
  • Pre-fitted screen protector
  • Clear protective bumper case
  • Huawei’s own SuperCharge – an interesting mix of 5V/2A, or 4.5V/5A or 5V/4.5A (22.5W) – more on that later
  • Premium buds and mic
  • USB-A to USB-C cable (with two extra pins – more on that later)

Initial impressions are small, light and svelte, perhaps because this is the 5.1” P10 that weighs 145g but the larger P10 Plus is only 20g more. Overall it has understated style.

Setup is easy and Google and Huawei’s HiCloud can be skipped.

My only pet peeve is that the forward and recent app buttons are part of the screen instead of the bezel and it makes that 5.1” screen just that little less usable.

Specifications

The P10 Plus is there for comparison. Logic dictates that for an extra $200 you get more and that is in four areas – 5.5” QHD screen, 6/128GB RAM, SUMMILUX-H lens Pro camera, and a 3750mAh battery. It would be the one I favour, but nevertheless, the P10 will be the volume seller.

If you looked at last year’s P9 and bought something else then it is time to look again.

 

P10 VTR-LO9 single sim

P10 Plus VKY-L09

Size/Weight

145.3 x 69.3 x 6.98 mm x 145g

153.5 x 74.2 x 6.98 mm x 165g

Colours

Graphite Black, Prestige Gold (Vodafone), Dazzling Blue (Optus)

Graphite Black (has a sandblast effect on the back cover)

Display

5.1” IPS Neo, HD 1920 x 1080, 432ppi

Gorilla Glass 5 on front

71.2% screen to body ratio.

5.5” IPS Neo, QHD 2560 x 1440, 540ppi.

Same

71.6% screen to body ratio

CPU/GPU

HiSilicon Kirin 960 (64-bit),

Octa-core (4 x 2.4 GHz A73 Plus 4 x 1.8

GHz A53

Mali G71 MP8 GPU

Same

Comms etc

Wi-Fi AC, dual band, MU-MIMO

Wi-Di, DLNA, Hotspot

Bluetooth 4.2

Same plus IR blaster

OS

Android 7.0

Same

Emotion UI

EMUI 5.1

Same

Memory

64GB storage

4GB RAM

MicroSD to 256GB, OTG to 2TB

128GB Storage

6GB RAM

Same

NFC

Yes

Same

Fingerprint

Capacitive on front lower bezel and acts as home, tap for back and swipe for tasks

Same

Front Camera

8MP, F/1.9

No autofocus

same

Rear Camera

Leica Dual-Camera 2.0

20MP monochrome and 12MP RGB, SUMMARIT-H F/2.2,

OIS

4-in-1 hybrid autofocus

2X hybrid “lossless” zoom,

HDR and dual tone flash

2160p @30fps vide

Pro Edition adds RGB, SUMMILUX-H F/1.8

Audio

Lossy MP3/eAAC+/WAV/Flac 24bit/192kHz

Dual Active noise cancelling mics

3.5mm combo jack

Earpiece speaker - mono

Down-firing speaker under bottom bezel

Speakers are stereo but the base speaker is louder

Battery

3200 mAh 75-hour endurance rating

Huawei SuperCharge (5-gate protection to manage charging, monitor temperatures and reduce risks).

USB-C V2.0 (480Mbps – not 3.0 of 5Gbps) with two extra pins in the charge cable

3750 mAh, 76-hour endurance rating

Note: SuperCharge is high current at low voltage and uses a “tricked up” USB-C cable supplied. Normal cables will only do standard charge.

Sim

Single (Dual Sim is VTR-L29)

Dual

LTE

Cat 12 (600/150)

1/2/3/4/5/7/8/9/12/17/18/19/20/26/28/29/38/39/40

 Same

Retailers

Vodafone, Optus, Virgin Mobile

JB Hi-Fi, Harvey Norman and selected retailers

Availability

May 25

May 25

SRP

$899

$1099

Global website

http://consumer.huawei.com/en/mobile-phones/p10/index.htm

http://consumer.huawei.com/en/mobile-phones/p10-plus/index.htm

What is it missing (in comparison to other flagships)

  • Formal IP rating (looks like IPX3 – spray resistant)
  • No stereo speaker on P10 or Hi-Res audio
  • AMOLED screen and therefore Daydream VR capability
  • Wireless charging

Huawei P10 range

Screen

It uses an IPS Neo screen that uses elongated RGB instead of round pixels giving good blacks but it tends towards colder colours. Outdoor visibility is good at nearly 600 cd/m2 and contrast is 1423:1 – not bad.

EMUI 4.1

Huawei overlays its EMUI 5.1 onto Android 7.x and provides its “equivalent” mail, contacts, calendar, gallery, camera, etc – all so you can avoid Google which is necessary in China. It also has Google apps pre-loaded here.

From what I can see, EMUI is more about tuning the OS to the device and eking out as much battery life as possible. It also has Ultra memory and Ultra response that can be set for more speed and a one-touch optimisation app. Avast has supplied its free AV scanner.

I particularly like the new wallpaper every time you turn it on – you can disable that to save data. There is also a “private space” that can be associated with another fingerprint. Fingerprint recognition via the capacitive front sensor is very good.

While purists will always want vanilla Android the Chinese market seems happy with EMUI and after a few days, I found it quite acceptable.

There are lots of nuggets in it including a harassment filter (blacklist), built in encryption, microSD card encryption etc. There is voice control, flip gestures, as well as picking up, tilting and even things like knuckle detection and drawing. All of those are extensively customizable to your liking as well.

Battery

Apart from the use of a special SuperCharge and proprietary cable (as OPPO do with its VOOC), the fast charge is brilliant – you can fill up over half the capacity in 30 minutes and all done in an hour.

In the first test — hundreds of photos (about 25% with flash), GPS and speed tests, in other words, a power user — I got just over 14 hours. In general use — still with everything running in the background — I could stretch that to 32 hours and there is an ultra-power saving mode that claims 130 hours on one charge.

I tested with other chargers and got 5V/2A from a Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 (about 2 hours to charge) but for the most part, it was 5V/1A or 3 hours plus – do not lose the charger or cable.

Comms:

After trying the HTC U11 and getting 866Mbps on Wi-Fi, everything else is in the shadows.

It gets 292Mbps in the same room as the D-Link AC5300 router and 175Mbps about 20 metres away through concrete floors. This is like the Samsung Galaxy S8 (Exynos) and reflects perhaps a lesser sophistication of the modem chip over Qualcomm.

Around town it managed to exreact just over 100Mbps from the Cat 12 LTE – that is more a carrier issue.

Sound

Despite having two speakers — the earpiece and a down firing speaker in the bottom bezel — it is still a mono device. The sound is good for a hands-free user.

It has not followed other flagships in adopting Hi-Res audio and while it provides a clean signal to an external amp it drops off a cliff in the high range from 15kHz and does distort more than I find acceptable at higher volumes.

Performance

The Kirin 960 uses the later A-73 ARM cores that have 30% more power efficiency than the A72 core typically used. It is the same chip as in the Mate 9 and it performs well. In the GeekBench 4 single/multi-core tests, it scored 1927/6069 over LG’s G6 and Google Pixel using a Qualcomm 821 at 1733/4029. Basemark for 1080p video performance is 39433 compared to the G6/Pixel at 30507.

No, it is not as fast as a Galaxy S8 or the new Qualcomm 835 powered devices but it is perfectly adequate for the task. However, be aware that it does practice performance throttling if it gets hot – a wise precaution.

Camera – love the Leica look

The Leica look has been described as reminiscent of film photography – no oversaturation or excessive post-processing sharpening.

The P10 has just received a DXOMARK of 87 for what is the same camera hardware to the Mate 9 (85) but with improved camera firmware and app features.

The P10 Plus (yet to be tested) is likely to meet or beat the current DxoMark champion, HTC U11 on 90, if only for its brighter, top quality Lecia lens. I have noticed international reviews claiming even better low light performance and much lower noise.

It is easy to get obsessed with things like DXOMARK. Frankly, 87 is damned good and in many of the DXOMARK tests it exceeded the Google Pixel – it’s 88 still score was lowered by video performance (84) to average 87.

You buy the P10 (or Mate 9) for its Leica Look, and the use of two lenses — a 20MP monochrome and 12MP RGB — both with f/2.2 apertures. But don’t let that figure fool you – you have two lenses letting in twice the light with the 20MP mono lens adding details missed by the 12MP RGB.

In still shots, I found that with a little attention to some manual settings (yes, all tests are in full auto, idiot-proof mode) I got the best extremely low-light shots, amazing details and textures (ahead of the Pixel), and its auto-focus was amongst the fastest I have used.

In video tests, I found detail, fast autofocus, average OIS but colours tended to wash out and there was a lot of noise at low light. There is some more work that can be done here and thankfully it appears to be firmware based, not hardware limitations.

Like many cameras you cannot have HDR and flash on at the same time. In very low light HDR will take multiple exposures – it can slow things down and you need a steady hand.

I will mention bokeh effect – the ability to adjust focus after a shot has been taken. It is fun and occasionally useful.

Outdoors, bright daylight: Amazing shots, great colours, razor crisp details. It made little difference with HDR on or off – shadows and sky had definition and it did not impact on exposure times. The almost absence of “noise” is very good. Ten out of ten for this and it proves beyond doubt that the dual lens on the P10 (and Mate 9) is superior to single lens camera.

Outdoors, early evening, muted lighting: The dual lenses extracted all the light needed and HDR filled in any washed-out highlights. OIS handled the longer shutter times. 10 out of 10.

Indoors, 500lux normal office/home lighting: Good detail, good colour, OIS worked well with HDR. 10 out of 10.

Indoors, low light down to 5 lux: This dual lens is about detail and capturing every ounce of light. With HDR (instead of flash) colours can be a bit muted. Flash gave the best results, albeit losing some detail and inducing some noise.

Video: It can do UHD 2160 @30fps H.264/5 compression but the real star is 1080p @60 or 30fps. Autofocus in fast, OIS works (but as with any video the use of a tripod or selfie stick will improve quality), and colours are accurate. Indoor video can see a loss of contrast – I suspect due to the mono lens overpowering the RGB one. The noise cancelling audio recording was excellent.

Selfie: 8MP, f/1.9 Leica lens, automatic wide angle switching, auto-screen and portrait beautification (artistic effects mode) produced some excellent selfies. It lacks autofocus but that simply means hold the camera still.

Panorama: Excellent daylight shots to 3100 pixels tall.

Summary: The Mate 9 camera was Leica V2.0 – the P10 is more like V2.1+. Its autofocus speed is probably the best I have tested to date.

But if you buy this be prepared to learn more about how to get the best out of dual lenses – tweak settings, experiment with ISO to 3200 and look at longer shutter times to 30 seconds.

I have had a Mate 9 on loan and it is interesting to see the difference – not so much in the hardware but in the added maturity of the camera firmware. I can only hope that comes to the Mate 9 soon.

Huawei – the photo studio in your pocket

Huawei needed a tagline to differentiate and it is “Make every shot a cover shot”. You will see an emphasis on beauty and portraiture. All the hype aside you will be very pleased with this camera and even more so with the P10 Plus camera.

Huawei P10 pocket studio

Pros

  • Elegant, understated looks and great build.
  • Dual lens Leica is unique and can take amazing shots – even better is the P10 Plus.
  • Good daylight readable screen.
  • Good battery life and apps to extend it.

Cons

  • No hi-res or stereo sound (only on P10 Plus) but unless you specifically want that it is no deal breaker.
  • No VR/Daydream capability – only a factor if you need it.
  • Do not lose the charger or cable.

Summary

Is it the best? No, the camera is very close to the best, but the HTC U11 and the Samsung GS8 have a slight edge.

Is it the fastest? No, the Kirin 960 is faster than last year’s flagship Qualcomm 821 but a little behind the 835.

Does it have a QHD display and is it VR ready? No, but that is only a factor if you need it.

Is it the cheapest – sorry best value? No, the excellent ZTE Axon 7 takes that award for the absolute budget busting price of $699 and it has an AMOLED Daydream screen and Dolby Atmos.

Huawei expects iTWire reviews to be honest. If it added IP67 it would raise the rating a notch. If it added an AMOLED screen to the P10 Plus ditto. I have a bias towards wireless charging and IP67/8 ratings – ditto.

The P10 is an excellent upper-range phone meeting all the flagship criteria and with what could be the best camera in the right hands – someone who learns how to use a dual lens to capture stunning shots. You will be happy with it, but shell out for the P10 Plus! 

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!