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Review: Huawei P10

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Apr 4, 2017, 4:38 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   @phonescooper

Huawei's mid-sized flagship handset is the P10, a slim Android smartphone that boasts a unibody metal chassis. The P10's hardware impresses, and the phone's core performance ranks with the best. Huawei encountered some software demons when creating the P10's user interface, however, that prevent the P10 from realizing its full potential. Here is Phone Scoop's in-depth review.

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Hardware 

Is It Your Type?

The P10 is Huawei's mid-sized flagship handset that combines an attractive design with solid specs and performance. Since Huawei isn't (yet) selling the phone directly to U.S. consumers, it makes the most sense for those who want an unlocked smartphone that's a bit off the beaten path.

Body

You've seen the Huawei P10 before and you'll probably see it again. It's a compact smartphone that strongly resembles the Apple iPhone and HTC A9 thanks to generic corners and rounded edges. Despite its familiar appearance, Huawei did a fine job assembling a quality piece of hardware that's pleasing to use.

The P10 relies on a unibody aluminum chassis that forms the entire rear panel of the phone and side edges. The front panel glass sits within the chassis. I've always liked this style of design and Huawei pulls it off well. The front of the metal frame has a nice chamfered edge to it, and the rounded side edges flow into the rear panel perfectly. One of the major selling points of the P10 is the wide variety of colors Huawei is offering. Our review unit is an incredibly boring black. If you're seeking a bit more individuality, perhaps opt for the green, blue, white, gold, silver, or rose gold colors. The white model has a ceramic finish, while others have what Huawei calls "sandblasted" paint and yet others have a ridged textured paint. The green and blue are my faves.

P10  

One reason to pick the P10 over other flagships? The size. Where many of today's top-of-the-line models are ginormous slabs, the P10 is refreshingly svelte. The phone's smaller, 5.1-inch screen allowed Huawei to keep the dimensions tight. I found the phone easy to use one-handed and my thumb was able to reach the entire screen comfortably. Truly, if you abhor monstrous handsets, the P10 is one of the most usable devices I've picked up in recent memory. Pockets, pouches, purses, and packs are no problem for the P10.

Huawei did a great job picking high-grade metal and glass materials and putting them together tightly. The P10 may not necessarily dazzle in the way the new LG G6 and Samsung Galaxy S8 do, but it's a fine phone all the same. The aluminum chassis is strong and sturdy, while the glass is polished and fitted into the frame perfectly. I'm very happy with the way the components are assembled. The P10 is a classy piece of bit of kit that impresses all around.

The phone's front face is fairly typical for a modern handset. The bezels are a wee bit bigger than I'd like them to be, particularly above and below the display. Atop the screen you'll easily spot the user-facing camera and earpiece, which is covered by a color-matched metal grille. A fingerprint reader and capacitive home button is the only design element in the bezel below the display. The button represents a bit of a break with Huawei's traditional design, which is to place the fingerprint reader on the back of the phone. In addition to serving as the home key, the button acts as back and multitasking buttons via swiping gestures. It's rather a lot to ask from a single button and Huawei's software isn't entirely up to the task (more on this later.) The transition between the indented fingerprint reader and the surrounding glass is among the smoothest I've encountered.

The thin outer edges of the phone host all the functional keys and ports you're used to. The screen lock button is on the right edge. It has a great profile, a textured finished, and a red accent to help call it out. This button works perfectly. The volume toggle, perched just above the screen lock button, is a long button with a smooth profile. It works very well, too, and offers excellent travel and feedback. You'll find the SIM card tray on the P10's left edge. The tray can accommodate one SIM card and one microSD memory card, or two SIM cards. I had no trouble using the tray.

Handset makers have adopted a fairly uniform arrangement for the bottom edge of their phones, and the P10's doesn't tread new ground. A USB-C port is centered in the bottom edge. Huawei installed a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack to the left of the port and slits for the speakerphone to the right of the port. Everything functions as it should.

The rear panel is mostly metal with a glass panel tucked up against the top. I appreciate the perfectly flat rear surface, as this makes the phone easier to use with it is placed on a table or desk. Similar to the Huawei-made Nexus 6P, the P10 features a large glass-covered camera module. The glass, which stretches from side to side, holds the dual cameras and two-tone LED flash. Huawei did a fine job fitting the glass into the metal chassis; the seams are tight and smooth. The glass also helps add some personality to what would otherwise be a rather plain backside.

Of course, the metal chassis means the battery is inaccessible. Moreover, the phone isn't waterproof. (The larger P10 Plus has a basic IPX3 rating for light rain, but that's it.) That's a bummer when you consider the growing number of waterproof flagships hitting the market.

The P10's simplicity is its greatest strength. It may lean toward a me-too, vanilla design, and yet Huawei did a fine job crafting a classy, well-made piece of hardware that should appeal to plenty.

Screen

Huawei opted for a 5.1-inch, full HD panel for the P10. As far as smartphone screens go, the size and resolution make for sharp text, smooth icons, and completely invisible pixels. I have no complaints about the clarity of the display. It's an LCD panel, and brightness is excellent. The screen puts out plenty of light, viewing angles are quite good, and colors are accurate.

The display has one near-fatal flaw; Huawei didn't give it an oleophobic coating, which means it attracts fingerprints and grime as though it were paid to do so. The gross grease doesn't impact indoor viewability, but outdoor visibility is really poor. I had to set the screen to max brightness and tilt the phone to find an angle not obscured by fingerprints. This is a puzzling and disappointing oversight.

Signal

Huawei sells the P10 unlocked and it supports the LTE networks of AT&T/Cricket and T-Mobile/MetroPCS (including band 29, but not bands 30 and 66.) I was able to test the phone on AT&T's LTE network in New York and New Jersey and found it performed on par with most phones. The P10 connected the majority of calls on the first dial. It dropped one call at highway speeds, but didn't miss any calls. Data speeds were good enough for the things I wanted to do. The phone worked well when surfing the web, checking social networks, staying on top of email, and downloading apps. I experienced a small amount of buffering when streaming music and video over LTE, but it wasn't bad.

Sound

The P10 is a fine voice phone. Regular calls made via the earpiece sounded very good. Clarity, in particular, impressed me; there was no background noise or distortion of any kind. Voices come through the earpiece with warmth, and the little speaker pushes enough air so calls are audible most anywhere. I was able to hear calls in the car, in coffee shops, in city streets, and over the din of screaming kids. The speakerphone is almost as good. The speaker is more prone to distortion when the volume is cranked, and, even at maximum volume, the speakerphone is hard to hear in noisy spaces. People I spoke to through the P10 said I sounded "far away."

Ringers and alerts are decent, but not the loudest I've heard. I was generally able to hear the phone throughout my house as long as the volume was cranked up. The vibrate alert isn't strong enough. I was able to feel calls when the phone was in my pants pocket, but not when the phone was in my coat pocket.

Battery

Huawei somehow jammed a 3,200 mAh battery into the P10's slim frame. To say that battery life is impressive would be an understatement. The P10 cruises through a full day easily, and often has enough juice to get through more than half a second day. The phone consistently pushed from breakfast one day to mid-afternoon the next. Few phones offer this much uptime. The P10 is a battery champ.

The P10 includes an extensive array of battery-saving tools. For example, the phone can be set to run in three separate power modes: standard, power-saver, and ultra power-saver. The phone also offers lots of analytical tools so you can see exactly which apps are draining your battery and learn how to manage them. These options are nice to have, but you're not going to need them.

Last, the P10 supports rapid charging (but not wireless charging). Huawei claims the battery can jump about 35% if you plug the phone in for just 20 minutes.

Battery  

Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, WiFi

I didn't run into any issues using the P10's ancillary radios. Bluetooth, for example, paired and connected with a variety of devices including phones, PCs, speakers, and headsets. Phone calls sent through my car's hands-free system were so-so, but calls patched via headphones sounded very good. Music pushed to a pair of Bluetooth headphones wasn't as clear or punchy as I would have liked. The NFC radio made pairing with some accessories a snap, and the P10 supports Android Pay if you care to use it.

As a navigation tool, the P10 performed as well as any other phone on the market. The GPS radio pinpointed me quickly and to within about 25 feet most of the time. It coordinated with Google Maps and worked fine when put to use for voice-guided, point-to-point directions.

The P10's WiFi radio did its job.

Software 

Lock Screen

The P10's lock screen is fairly typical for an Android handset. P10 owners can set a fingerprint, PIN, password, or pattern to secure the device. The fingerprint reader is easy to set up and I recorded a couple of thumb prints in no time. The reader recognized my print on the first attempt the majority of the time. I've seen faster, but the P10's reader is certainly fast enough.

The P10 doesn't offer anything like an always-on display. You'll find the clock at the bottom of the lock screen — accessible with a quick press to the lock screen button — along with the date and a shortcut to the camera. Notifications populate the middle of the screen in the order they are received. You can dismiss notifications from the lock screen, but not act on or reply to them.

Lock Screen  

Huawei has its own lock screen dock that's somewhat useful. You can access some basic tools (voicemail, calculator, flashlight, and camera) by swiping up from the bottom of the screen in a manner similar to Apple's iOS. This can be handy, but I often forgot it was there.

The P10 includes a few gestures, as well, such as flip-to-mute, pick-up to silence ringer, and lift-to-ear to answer incoming calls.

Security  

Home Screens

Huawei's “Emotion UI” 5.0 is based on Android 7 Nougat and is the over-wrought interface for Huawei's phones.

One of the biggest usability tweaks is that it doesn't include an app drawer. When you first boot the phone, all the apps are dropped on the home screen. Huawei put most of the apps in folders on the second home screen panel. Thank goodness you can, via the settings menu, switch the home screen experience to one that includes an app drawer.

You can add as many home screen panels as you wish and arrange them however you like. They support the typical set of wallpapers, shortcuts, and widgets. I like that Emotion UI includes a handful of screen transitions to choose from, and allows the home screens to loop.

Home Screens  

The notification shade / Quick Settings drop-down works as expected. When you swipe down, the shade reveals five toggle controls, a brightness slider, and notifications. Since the phone is running Nougat, you have lots of options when it come to interacting with incoming notifications. The Quick Settings tool provides plenty of room for customization. The full settings menu works like most other Android phones.

All right, we have to talk about the fingerprint reader / home button. When you first boot the phone, the fingerprint reader is just that, a fingerprint reader. It doesn't do anything other than read your fingerprint. Since there are no other physical buttons or controls, you'll find the typical back, home, and app-switcher buttons in software form on the P10's display. They are super small and crammed up against the bottom of the display, which makes them way too difficult to use.

Customize  

If you want, you can turn the fingerprint reader into a multi-function button that does a whole bunch of things all at once, (but none of them well.) For example, a quick press takes you back one screen, while a long press takes you to the home screen. Good luck getting the phone to accurately recognize which of these you really want. It's a crapshoot. Want to switch apps? Put your finger to the right of the button (on the glass) and swipe your finger left into the middle of the button and release. This brings up the app switcher maybe 50% of the time. Last, you can launch a Google search by putting your finger on the glass to the right of the button and swiping upwards. Again, I found my success rate was around 50%. Seriously, Hauwei, these controls are horrifyingly awful. At a minimum, Huawei should allow the fingerprint reader to simply double as a home screen shortcut, but it doesn't. It wouldn't be so bad if the on-screen software controls weren't so small an unusable. But they are. This is bad, Huawei, very bad.

The P10 relies on Huawei's top-of-the-line Kirin 960 processor rather than silicon from Qualcomm. It's an octa-core chip (8 cores at 2.4 GHz) paired with 4 GB of RAM. The P10 crushed every task I threw at it. Nothing taxed the P10; it delivers killer performance.

Camera

The P10 has a fine camera app and you have plenty of ways to launch the app. For example, a double tap of the lower volume toggle will open the camera. You can also use the lock screen shortcut. The camera launches in a blink.

The basic layout is typical of most camera apps. Using the controls on the left side of the screen you can jump to the selfie camera, open the filter tool, set aperture, and toggle through the flash controls.

There are a significant number of shooting modes, the most worthy of discussion is called "aperture" since it is accessible from the control panel on the left side of the screen. The P10 has two Leica camera sensors: one normal and one monochrome. The monochrome sensor collects contrast and depth-of-field data, and is meant to assist in improving focus and creating the bokeh (background blur) effect. The "aperture" name is confusing and the in-app explanation doesn't really make things any more clear. In order to get the bokeh tool to work, you need to place the subject within about 5 feet of the camera and ensure that there's plenty of distance between the subject and whatever is behind it. It takes practice.

Swipe right from the main viewfinder to access other shooting modes and swipe left to access the settings tools. Shooting modes include auto, B&W, video, HDR, pano, night, light painting, time lapse, slow-mo, watermark, audio note, and document scan.

The pro photo and video modes allow you to manually adjust exposure, brightness, white balance, ISO, focus type, and shutter speed. This is great for those who know what they're doing. The ring-based tools make sense and are easy enough to use.

The watermark tool lets you add a time, date, location, weather stamp to your photo. The light painting mode is for capturing long exposures of headlights/taillights, flashlights, or other light sources. Audio note records several seconds of sound along with a still image. The document scan mode automatically finds and captures text, such as menus, though it isn't making the documents into editable text (OCR); instead, it simply enhances the image to ensure text is easily legible. Each of these modes has been around a while. I found them easy to use.

It's worth noting that the selfie camera has a significant number of its own shooting modes. The basic selfie cam lets you apply a blurred-background effect, but you can also take selfie panoramas, selfie timelapses, selfie audio notes, and selfie watermarks. The tools may mirror those of the main camera, but stuff like the selfie pano lets you do fun things such as include huge items in the background.

I have no complaints about the camera's performance. Truly, it's quick to do everything. The Kirin 960 processor does its job well here.

Camera  

Photos/Video

The main sensor has a resolution of 12 megapixels and I'd say the P10 is an excellent camera for everyday photo needs. The majority of images were sharp, showed good exposure, and maintained proper white balance. This goes for images taken indoors and out. Outdoor shots looked best, of course, but indoor pictures were mostly free of grain and other artifacts common in low-light imagery. Bottom line, it does all right. Further, the fun shooting modes produce usable results without too much work.

Photos  

The 8-megapixel selfie camera, which has its own Leica lens, also produces very, very good pictures. The alternate shooting tools open the door for creativity, and useful options such as the selfie flash mean you're going to get a good shot more often than not. Whether you're shooting vast landscapes up up-close personals, the P10 has a great set of cameras.

Selfie with Blur Effect

Selfie with Blur Effect

The P10 records video at a max resolution of ultra HD (4K) and the results are quite good. Most video looks excellent good, with crisp focus, accurate exposure, and proper white balance.

I think most people will be able to use the P10 as their main camera and video device. Not only does it excel at everyday photography and videography, it offers a plethora of usable extras that deliver.

Mono Photos  

Wrap-Up 

The Huawei P10 is one of those phones that snatches defeat from the jaws of victory. In baseball, the P10 would be a home run that winds up being a double because some dumb fan caught the ball and threw it to third base. The P10 is so close to being a killer phone, and yet it falls disappointingly short.

I have no complaints about the basic hardware. Aside from the too-familiar design, Huawei pieced together a nice set of high-quality materials in a compact form that's a pleasure to use day in and day out. Call quality is very good, data speeds are fine, the screen is nice (though prone to grime), and battery life is outstanding. The camera app is incredibly powerful and produces mostly excellent results.

Huawei's Emotion UI could be better. The biggest problem is how Huawei treats the fingerprint button. You're better off ignoring its duplicative and confusing navigation actions in favor of the simpler on-screen controls, even though they're not great.

Then there's the price. Unlocked phones have their own appeal, and dual SIM phones even moreso, and people are often willing to pay a small premium to get these features. And yet the P10's $685 price point feels too high. It costs more than the iPhone 7 and LG G6, and doesn't quite perform on par with either.

If you need support for two SIM cards, the Huawei P10 is one of the better options in the market. If not, most people will be better served by a more mainstream handset that has fewer tradeoffs.

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