This device from the manufacturer of five per cent of smartphones sold worldwide, is very impressive. But it won’t have you rushing to trade in your Samsung Galaxy S5
It’s quite likely that Huawei is the biggest manufacturer you’ve never heard of. We’ve reviewed a fair few of its devices, but it’s yet to break through properly in the UK. In Asia, though, things are quite different.
Huawei is China’s fourth most popular smartphone manufacturer and accounts for five per cent of smartphone sales globally. But even with an annual revenue of about £30bn behind it, the company has never really threatened more familiar brands here.
Now, the company is beginning to gain traction in the UK – so much so, in fact, that much hype surrounded the launch of the Ascend P7. The phone looked impressive. Very impressive.
And we were told there would be powerful specs too. So could it possibly challenge the established hierarchy in a brand-obsessed Britain?
Alas, we must dampen the excitement early on, because the Ascend P7 isn’t going to have you rushing to trade in your Samsung Galaxy S5.
It may be harsh to judge Huawei on expectations set by rivals, but it’s always better to under-promise and over-achieve than vice versa.
For a flagship device, the Ascend P7 simply doesn’t offer enough to match the best mobile phones out there.
One of the cardinal rules of designing a car is that it should never look faster than it is. A similar rule could apply to smartphone design, and what should be one of the Ascend P7’s biggest upsides instead feels like a disappointment.
The Ascend P7 is a great-looking phone. It’s like the love child of a Sony Xperia Z2 and an Apple iPhone 5s. The body is supremely thin (just 6.5mm thick), with a metal band running around the sides, like on the iPhone.
The handset’s large, flat glass back looks and feels excellent, and is reminiscent of the Sony Xperia Z2.
The same can be said of the sidemounted buttons, complete with a small, round power/lock button.
The phone is also light, at a featherweight 124g – that’s one per cent lighter than the Galaxy S5, 22.5 per cent lighter than the HTC One (M8) and 24 per cent lighter than the Z2.
Just so we’re all clear, this is a device with a premium look and feel, and anyone who buys it can confidently hold it up alongside their friends’ more recognisable handsets.
The core issue with the Ascend P7 is its under-powered processor.
For a device designed to compete with established favourites such as Samsung’s Galaxy range, a 1.8GHz quad-core processor simply isn’t going to be enough.
Huawei should be praised for attempting to buck the Qualcomm trend by creating its own Kirin 910 processor.
But while it was most likely an attempt to save money, you get the feeling that a Qualcomm chip of equivalent power would perform better.
This lack of power, and perhaps a poorly-developed chipset, means day-to-day usage on the handset is affected.
The processor’s power isn’t just for hardcore smartphone geeks to pore over; you could hand the Ascend P7 to your grandmother and she would tell you that something isn’t quite right.
Home screen transitions stutter if apps are running in the background; scrolling through web pages can lag hideously; and loading times can dip.
The most confusing thing about this is how well the handset handles high-demand apps. The Ascend P7 is capable of running some strenuous games to a very good standard. So you needn’t worry about large apps underperforming.
It’s not just the processor that makes gaming so enjoyable though, the display really showcases apps to their fullest.
Five inches is increasingly the norm for smartphones, and with a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, the Ascend P7’s display offers a more than satisfactory 445 pixels per inch.
It pumps out an excellent amount of light, too, and you can even delve into the options to tweak the white balance to your taste (colours appear a touch on the warm side by default, so the choice is greatly appreciated).
The visuals impress, as does the audio. HTC might have shown us what a world of difference front-facing speakers can make, but the Ascend P7 proves that there’s still some life in a more traditional audio set-up. The single rear speaker reaches impressive decibel levels, while the volume the handset pumps out through earphones is deafening.
Huawei has been particularly vocal about promoting the Ascend P7’s front-facing camera, and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s an interesting area to focus on; Huawei claims it has given the front cam more attention because of the growth of “selfies”. The front-facing camera is technically the most impressive we’ve ever seen on a smartphone. It features an outrageous eight-megapixels, with a considerably wider field of view than a conventional self-snapper.
It also features a “Beauty Mode”, which automatically applies filters to your mug for a smoother portrait. And you can set the camera to trigger when it detects that everybody in shot is smiling. It may sound gimmicky, but a good front-facing camera is useful to have – even if you’re not selfie-obsessed.
The rear camera is less exciting. Its 13-megapixel lens is par for the course, but the software at least attempts to set it apart from the rest of the pack.
If you raise the Ascend P7, locked and inactive, to landscape in your hands and double press the volume rocker, it will automatically awaken and take a photo in less than 1.5 seconds.
The shutter speed improves when the phone is already unlocked, too.
Unique software throughout the rest of the handset is hard to come by. Running on Google Android KitKat 4.4, the Ascend P7 uses Huawei’s Emotion 2.3 user interface.
Some users might wish it had stuck with regular, unadulterated Android instead.
Colours are bright and bold, but some might question the decision to remove a dedicated apps drawer – apps are contained in folders across multiple home screens – but it’s undeniably user-friendly.
It’s a real shame that Huawei didn’t put its full weight behind the Ascend P7.
With the only major technical downside being a sub-par processor, it feels like it’s only a few tweaks away from being a top-class device.
Unfortunately, a lack of power means its high price sticks in the throat.
Set to retail at £369, you can pick up a year-old handset with near-identical specs, such as the Samsung Galaxy S4 or the Google Nexus 5, for £100 less. Its lack of waterproofing doesn’t help, either.
Unless you really feel like trying something different (or really value a good selfie), the Ascend P7 is a hard sell.
It’s not a bad handset, it’s just a missed opportunity.
The Huawei Ascend P7 is many things, but market-leading it is not. Its front-facing camera may be revolutionary, but the rest of it is so-so. Excellent aesthetics are undone by an unrealistic price tag. Huawei could have done better, and so can you.