Huawei P10 Review – Mini Mate, But Could Be Better

The name Huawei has been a huge hit in the smartphone market. The smartphones that rolled out by the Chinese manufacturer have been consistently good, thus the company was able to build a steady profile around the world for the past year, which is even why Google even collaborated with Huawei to create their flagship Nexus 6P, and by the sales figures, Huawei had a successful 2016 with their P9 and its series, as well as the Mate 9 that we all loved. For 2017, Huawei gave us the successor of the P9 – the P10, along with its little brother – the P10 Lite and its bigger brother – the P10 Plus. So, being one of Huawei’s most important product, what’s new for 2017? Should we praise it again like how we praised the P9 and the Mate 9 before? Let’s see.

In Malaysia, the Huawei P10 is retailed at RM2499, and it only comes in 4GB of RAM and 64B of internal storage configuration.

Unboxing

Almost immediately, we would like to praise the Huawei P10 for its rather unique packaging. Instead of a normal usual box like we get all the time where the top lifts off. This time, the top is vertically split into half and it opens towards the left and right. HOW COOL IS THAT? On top of that, there are magnets on the covers which holds both together when it is closed. While at the end of the day its only a gimmick, its still very cool and very special especially when you open it up for the first time and the phone is presented on the top. The box below holds the usual documents, the SIM tray ejector tool and a nice hard case. Other than that, it contains the usual USB-C cable, a rather familiar-looking set of earphones and Huawei’s USB wall adapter.

Design

We’ve seen impressive smartphone designs from Huawei from the past, and we do expect the P10 to feature Huawei’s latest and greatest smartphone designs. The Huawei P10 features Huawei’s latest mature and good looking design. Unlike other Chinese smartphone manufacturers who shamelessly trying to make their smartphone design look attractive by copying their designs from more popular smartphones in the market, Huawei is one of the very few if not the only Chinese smartphone manufacturer to have their own design. But, with the P10, it seems like they’ve kind of lost their way slightly. It’s not in any kind ugly or bad, and in fact, it still looks as premium as its predecessors, but it’s a bit too conservative, which makes it look slightly boring, like someone had done it before. There’s really nothing too special about the looks of the P10, especially when its next to its predecessors.

The use of materials is alright too. For a RM2499 device, it had to feature premium choice of materials like its predecessor. The materials make for a solid-feeling device in your hand. The front glass is smooth and premium feeling, with very little 2.5D-looking curved edges on all 4 sides. It does come with a standard pre-applied screen protector which ruins all the good experience. Its cheap feeling, too prone to fingerprints and makes the front look like a mess. A recommendation to all owners is to ditch that and change to a premium tempered glass which offers better protection to the front glass. The rear consists of metal with smooth edges and chamfered edges where the body and glass meets. It is especially good looking especially in the Graphite Black model, which makes it look and feel like a Matte Black iPhone 7. But, it does pick up a lot of fingerprints and finger grease, and its pretty annoying when it comes to cleaning it up. Worst of all, during the end of our testing period, which is around a couple of weeks, we noticed there are bits of paint chipping off the rear, which is unacceptable as we’re using the supplied hard case all the time to keep it protected. Huawei really needs to step up on the paint and quality control department.

The front is dominated by a 5.1-inch display. On both sides of the display are minimal, but enough not to trigger any accidental inputs when resting fingers on it. On the top is where the front-facing 8-megapixel lives, along with an earpiece and a couple of sensors. The Huawei branding at the bottom has been replaced by a touch-capacitive button with a built-in fingerprint sensor. The fingerprint sensor is fast, responsive and accurate, for most of the time at least. It’s really frustrating at times where it did not want to recognise your finger, while still buzzing to tell you that your fingerprint is not recognised. I’d prefer the one found in its predecessor, with a matte surface on the sensor, which picks up fingerprint easily even when its wet or greasy. The P10 gives you a couple of choices when it comes to Android controls – utilizing the standard on-screen Android navigation or using the touch-capacitive button at the bottom. We find it most comfortable using the on-screen navigation even though it takes up some of the already-small display as its straight-forward. Cramming 3 different actions into 1 “button” means its slightly confusing and awkward to use.

On the left of the device, there is the usual removable tray since the unibody design means that there are no other ways of accessing the slots. In it houses 2 slots – a regular nano-SIM slot as the primary slot, and the secondary slot is larger. Like a lot of devices we’ve seen in the past, the secondary slot either takes a nano-SIM card or a microSD card, which will take cards up to 256GB. This means that you can’t have dual-SIM functionality if you need storage expansion, or have dual-SIM functionality while giving up on storage expansion. The power and volume buttons are located on the right. The power button in this device definitely stands out with textured surface and red accents on its chamfered edges so you do know what button you’re pressing in the dark.

The bottom is reserved for all the ports, including a 3.5-mm headphone jack, a microphone, a USB-C connector and a mono speaker.

The top part where the camera lenses live looks like its been lifted directly from the P9. The dual sensor which consists of a 20-megapixel and 12-megapixel sensors lives at the top right as usual, with the two-tone LED flash located in the middle and the Leica branding on the right, all under a sheet of glass. The rest of the back is metal, with Huawei branding in the middle and some regulatory icons at the bottom.

For the P10, Huawei did offer a wide variety of colours at launch, 8 of them, in fact. But for Malaysia, rather disappointingly, we only get 2 colours – Prestige Gold or Graphite Black like our tester.

Specs and Performance

As Huawei’s best-selling line-up, Huawei treated the P10 like a baby Mate 9 by giving their best specs. In fact, the specifications of the P10 on paper is almost the same as the Mate 9. Processor wise, Huawei opted the same HiSilicone Kirin 960, which is pretty much top of the line in Huawei’s in-house developed chipmaker HiSilicone, similar to the one found in the Mate 9. This goes head-to-head with Qualcomm’s previous top-of-the-line Snapdragon 821. Even though the Kirin 960 is an octa-core unit, half of them are primary cores which will go up to 2.4GHz, while the rest will only go up to to 1.8GHz. Since it’s very efficient and works really well in the Mate 9, we do expect it to perform the same on the P10. The rest of the specs are identical as well, with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage.

With the same specs as Mate 9, which we’re impressed with the performance, the P10 performed equally well. Although like most Chinese manufacturers, Huawei does throw in a pretty heavily-modified Android operating system, the phones that they produce are probably some of the best-performing in the Android range, and the P10 is no exception. In real life usage, there’s little to no frustrating lags or sudden slowdowns on either built-in or most third-party applications. It does slightly struggle when running high-performance apps, but that is a small problem to be dealing with. At maximum load, you do feel the heat from the battery while it starts draining it.

It’s not just about throwing in a big processor and lots of RAM and call it a day. Huawei is also very proud of their Ultra Memory software optimization which learns the way you use your apps and optimizes it, giving priority to your most used apps in terms of speed and response time when you first launch it. It will also notify you once in a while if an app is heavily consuming power and battery and recommends you to shut it down. It does work quite well even though Huawei is rather new to this technology, but due to the fact that its an Android operating system, its still slightly off when compared to iPhone’s native iOS apps optimization. Nevertheless, it’s the best in class.

Our standardized Geekbench 4 benchmarking apps spat out some very interesting numbers. The Huawei P10 achieved a rather respectable 1866 score for single-core and 6142 for multi-core. While the single-core score is almost identical to the Mate 9, it looks like Huawei has been working on improvements on the usage of the octa-score, hence the difference. Even today, the Kirin 960 remains a strong processor in the segment.

The Huawei P10 does come standard with wide array of connectivity options, including a dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi with Personal hotspot functionality, Bluetooth 4.2 with A2DP, NFC connectivity and GSM/HSPA/LTE connectivity. Our P10 gets the higher specification with 64GB of internal memory, and supports microSD storage expansions up to 256GB.

Speaker

The Huawei P10 gets a downward-firing mono-speaker which is located next to the USB-C charging port. At this price point, we really expected it to have stereo speakers, but Huawei still thinks it should be reserved for the more expensive P10 Plus variant and the flagship Mate line-up. Still, the mono speaker does not disappoint either. While its not backed by any software audio enhancements, it does sound pretty punchy for a mono speaker. The speaker itself is loud, but still manages to output best tunes with little to no distortion at maximum volume. One thing that they should improve on is clarity, where it sound a little muffled at all volume.

Display

As a “in-the-middle” device, the Huawei P10 features a 5.1-inch display with Full HD resolution (1080 X 1920 pixels). If you require larger screen, you need to step up to the P10 Plus which offers a 5.5-inch display with Quad HD resolution (1440 X 2560). But for most people, the P10 is good enough. At 432 pixels-per-inch, there’s nothing to complain about the sharpness of the display. Text and images are noticeably sharper and clearer compared to the rest of the competitions with larger displays but with the same resolution.

The P10 uses IPS-NEO LCD panel from JDI, which Huawei promises a brighter display with deeper blacks. In real-world conditions, it definitely delivers its promise. With brightness as high as 600 nits, the display is pretty bright and has no issues using it under the sun, and it delivers great viewing angles as well. Colour reproduction is solid. Images displayed on the P10 looks vivid, if not a little too artificial, and the deeper black nature of the IPS-NEO panel makes the colours shine more, even though it still does not match the performance of an AMOLED panel, and far off an OLED panel. It’s still perfectly fine.

There are software enhancements where it allows you to alter the colour temperature of the display from a colour wheel instead of just a simple warm or cool setting, and we find that the default settings are good enough. The “eye comfort” feature is also present on the P10 where it filters out blue light to aids in better sleep. The yellow tint that it applies when its turned on is natural and you can barely notice its there, but it does get the job done.

Camera performance

The P9 was a big hit when it was launched last year mainly due to its dual-lens setup which was co-engineered with Leica. We then saw their second collaboration when the Mate 9 and Mate 9 Pro debuts. Even though this time they do collaborate again for the third time, the “Summilux” lens is only found on the more expensive P10 Plus, while the regular P10 features the same camera setup as found on the Mate 9. Codenamed “Summarit”, the setup consists of a 20-megapixel monochrome sensor and a 12-megapixel regular RGB sensor, both of which have an aperture of f/2.2.

The dual-lens setup works in a way where the 20-megapixel monochrome sensor captures the fine details, and the 12-megapixel RGB sensor captures all the colours. Combining both together and you do get a final product which is rather impressive. Since it’s the identical setup as the Mate 9, the output is almost identical as well since there are no difference between the two. The standalone 12-megapixel images are already pretty good with plenty of details, vivid but natural and accurate colours and wide dynamic range. The hybrid images with the combination of 20-megapixel sensor does look slightly better with more details and natural sharpness, but there isn’t really much difference.

There is basically no need to toggle the HDR mode as in auto mode, it kicks in at the right time producing images with the right amount of dynamic range. The P10 also has optical image stabilization which prevents blurry images from shaky hands.

In low-light conditions, the performance of the P10’s camera is pretty much identical to the performance of the Mate 9, which is surprisingly good as well. Thanks to it’s dual-lens setup, even though the f/2.2 aperture lens might sound like a disaster for lighting, it is actually able to capture twice the amount of light and brighten up the image without the need to increase too much of the shutter speed. While low-light images are well with lots of details and colours preserved with little to no artificial spicing up, often times you may find it lacks sharpness, either due to the poor focusing issues or camera shake. It’s best to mount the phone on a tripod to eliminate the camera shake and allows it to do a better job at the focusing department. Use the included Night Mode while you’re at it, where you can play with the ISO and shutter speed and find the best settings to capture the best image.

The dual-lens setup also allows portrait modes with variable aperture. Both lens were able to measure, gather and process depth information, thus producing pictures with simulated bokeh effect (blurred background) like what you would get from a more expensive high end DSLR cameras with expensive lenses. While it’s only a simulated effect and at times the effect may seem weird, most of the time it worked really well. It even allows you to toggle the amount of simulated apertures, from f/0.95 to f16. The portrait mode combines both variable apertures and software beautification, thus producing images with beautified faces and a blurry background. This function works on both the front and rear cameras, but somehow we could not get live beautification feedback from the rear cameras.

Huawei P10 Sample Photos
Click on the above image to view more.

The Huawei P10 will now record 4K videos, along with 1080p videos in either 30 frames-per-second or 60 frames-per-second. It will also let you go all the way down to 176 X 144 pixels, which is useful if you’re sending it as a MMS message, but we think users will barely use those settings. 4K videos are smooth with little to no choppiness, has rich details and high saturated colours. Do keep in mind that the 4K videos are recorded with H.265 HVEC codec which promises smaller file sizes, and most video hosting sites or video editing programs does not support it. The usual 1080p videos are fine, and at 60 frames-per-second, the video is really smooth, where credit had to be given to the high bitrate. Whichever resolution you go for, colours are alright with decent dynamic range and good contrast. While it does have optical and digital video stabilisation, we’ve seen better stabilised videos from other smartphones. There’s no problem with audio as well as they are loud and clear.

At the front is where the P10 features slightly different sensor from the Mate 9. While it is still an 8-megapixel sensor with f/1.9 aperture, it’s a new sensor which is now co-developed with Leica too. You can rely on the front-facing shooter of this thing for a nice and confident selfie. Raw images produced have vivid yet natural colours, good angle of view and plenty of details. While it lacks autofocus, it’s easy to get your face in focus without having to hold the phone too far or near. The software beautification mode works alright in the lower settings, while higher settings completely destroy the details and adds lots of artificial weirdness. The variable aperture feature is also available for the front-facing camera too, but its not as good as the rear. Often it’s a hit and a miss.

The P10 comes with a camera app which looks simple at first glance, but starts to get complicated when you start exploring all the functions. There are lots of toggles on the left, and the right features the video and shutter button, as well as a preview button. Swiping left on the little PRO icon to the left of the shutter button reveals the settings for Pro mode, and you can play around with the shutter speed, ISO, exposure values, focus mode and white balance. With all in auto settings, it will display the relevant real-time information. Swiping left on any empty space reveals more settings, including changing the image size, changing the grid size, adjusting the image colours as well as toggling RAW mode, amongst other things. Swiping to the right reveals even more modes. Even though they are so many things to play with, we think that average users won’t even touch most of the settings and just leaving it in standard mode.

Software

The Huawei P10 runs Android 7.0 Nougat right out of the box, which is a good start. As with all Huawei devices, it comes preloaded with Huawei’s latest EMUI 5.1, which is their own customisation on top of Android. There are little to no indication of vanilla Android at all. While the overall performance is snappy and rather well, it will never match the performance of a vanilla Android system. Still, it’s very close thanks to Huawei’s Ultra Memory optimisation software. Things are pretty responsive and more priority is given to most used apps. Overall, it’s not the best experience nor it’s the most perfect user interface, but it works well.

Battery life

The Huawei P10 ships with a sealed-in 3200mAh battery, which is pretty average. While Huawei promises up to 2 days of usage on a single charge, we do actually struggle to hit that. On a pretty average day with 1 SIM card running with mobile data turned on all the time, it usually returns close to 20% at the end of the day. A full charge will only last us 18-20 hours. A lot of owners have reported the same issue, especially regarding its instability during standby times.

The P10 supports Huawei’s SuperCharge technology. Using the included charger and USB-C cable, the P10 can be charged from 0% to 50% in just 30 minutes, and it will slowly slow the charge as the battery capacity gets filled up.

Conclusion

It us undeniable that the Huawei P10 is a good phone, but being their best-selling line-up, we do expect more. And at RM2499, it seems a little too pricey for what we get. And it looks like Huawei played it safe this time and only gives us what works well for them right now. The phone does not disappoint, but it does not wow either. Existing P9 users may find that they aren’t left out on too much and decided not to make the switch to P10. But, at the end of the day, the combination of some brilliant hardware and choppy software does not stop Huawei from proving that they can produce a device which goes head-to-head with the other larger giants in the industry.

Recap:
5.1-inch IPS display, 1080 X 1920 resolution, 432 pixels-per-inch
HiSilicone Kirin 960, 4x 2.4GHz + 4x 1.8GHz Octa-core processor
4GB RAM, 64GB internal storage, microSD card support up to 256GB
12-megapixel RGB sensor + 20-megapixel monochrome sensor, 4K video recording
8-megapixel front facing camera
3200mAh battery

Pros

Cons

Good build quality Battery life could be better
Good camera quality and algorithms Quality Control could be improved
Good performing Android smartphone Nothing much new compared to Mate 9
Brilliant memory handling A bit pricey for the specs
Display with sharp and vivid colours Operating system is slightly messy