It’s quite likely that Huawei is the biggest manufacturer that you’ve never heard of. We’ve reviewed a fair few of their devices in the past, but they’ve hardly set pulses racing. In Asia though, things are a different story.
Huawei is China’s fourth most popular smartphone manufacturer, with a 10% market share. In fact, despite not even retailing in the USA, they hold 5% of smartphone sales globally. And yet, despite annual revenue of roughly £30bn, they’ve never really released a smartphone capable of going toe-to-toe with the big brands more familiar in the West.
As the world, both culturally and technologically speaking, continues to grow smaller, Huawei has begun to gain traction within the UK. So much so, in fact, that upon the launch of the Ascend P7 there was actually rather a lot of hype surrounding the device. It looked impressive. Very impressive, in fact, and we were told there would be some powerful specs behind it, too. Could it possibly challenge the established hierarchy in a UK market obsessed with brand recognition?
Whilst we can’t predict the market, we can review the phone. Not to spoil it for you this early on, but the Ascend P7 isn’t going to have you rushing to return your Samsung Galaxy S5.
It may be harsh to judge Huawei on expectations, but it’s always better to set the bar low and overachieve than vice-versa. For a flagship device, the Ascend P7 simply doesn’t offer enough.
One of the cardinal rules of designing a car is that it should never look faster than it is. A similar rule could be applied to smartphone design, and what should be one of the Ascend P7’s biggest upsides instead almost feels like a treachery.
There’s no two ways about it – it’s a great looking phone. It’s like the lovechild of a Sony Xperia Z2 and an Apple iPhone 5S. It’s supremely thin (just 6.5mm thick), with a metal band running running around the sides, just like on the iPhone. It’s large, flat glass back both looks and feels excellent, and is extremely reminiscent of the Xperia Z2. The same can be said of the side-mounted buttons, complete with small, round power/lock button.
Most will surely agree, unoriginal and attractive is better than unoriginal and ugly. It’s also unbelievably light, weighing in at a featherweight 124g – that’s 15% lighter than the Galaxy S5, 22.5% lighter than the HTC One M8 and 24% lighter than the Xperia Z2. Just so we’re all clear – this is a device with both a premium look and feel, and anyone who buys it will be able to hold it up alongside their friends’ more recognisable handsets with confidence.
From here on out, though, the cracks begin to show. The core issue with the Ascend P7 is it’s underpowered processor. For a device looking to compete with the giants of the industry, a 1.8 MHz quad-core processor simply isn’t enough. Huawei should be praised for attempting to buck the Qualcomm trend by creating their own Kirin 910 processor, and whilst it was most likely an attempt to save money, you get the feeling that a Qualcomm chip of equivalent power would perform to a better level.
This lack of power, and perhaps a poorly developed chipset, means that day-to-day usage on the handset takes a beating. Processing power isn’t something that should only be of concern to the hardcore smartphone user – you could hand the Ascend P7 to your grandmother and she would tell you that something ins’t quite right. Homescreen transitions stutter if there are apps 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 seriously strenuous games to a very good standard. You needn’t worry about large apps under-performing, it’s just baffling that the ecosystem should take such a hit.
It’s not just the processor which makes gaming so enjoyable though – the display really showcases apps to the fullest. Five inches is gradually becoming the norm for smartphones, and with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels the Ascend P7’s display offers a more-than-satisfactory 445 PPI. It pumps out an excellent amount of light, too, and you can even delve into the options to tweak the white balance to your personal taste too (colours appear a touch on the warm side by default, so the choice is greatly appreciated).
The visuals impress, as does the audio. HTC may have shown 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 set-up. The single rear speaker reaches impressive decibels, whilst the volume the handset pumps out through earphones is literally deafening.
The one feature which Huawei itself has been particularly vocal about promoting is its front-facing camera, and it’s something which certainly doesn’t disappoint. It’s an interesting area to focus upon, which Huawei claims is down to the increasing prevalence of ‘selfies’.
This means that the front facing camera on the Ascend P7 is, technically, the most impressive we’ve ever seen on a smartphone. It features an outrageous 8-megapixel lens, with a considerably wider field of view than a conventional self-snapper. It has 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 slightly less exciting. Its 13-megapixel lens is rather 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 waken and take a photo in less than 1.5 seconds. The shutter speed only improves when the phone is already unlocked, too.
Unique software throughout the rest of the handset is hard to come by. Running on KitKat 4.4, the latest version of Android, the Ascend P7 also make use of Huawei’s Emotion 2.3 user interface. It makes a nice change, but some users may wish it had just stuck with stock Android. The colours are bright and bold, perhaps bordering on a little childish, and the decision to remove a dedicated apps drawer is questionable. Instead, apps are contained entirely within folders across multiple home screens. Whilst these matters are often a matter of personal preference, it’s undeniably user friendly.
[alert type=alert-blue]Conclusion [/alert]
It’s a real shame that Huawei didn’t put their 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, this lack of power means that its price point sticks in the throat somewhat. Set to retail at £369, you can pick up a year-old handset with almost identical specs (such as the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the Google Nexus 5) for more than £100 less. Its lack of waterproofing doesn’t help to set it apart, either.
With most consumers opting to purchase phones via contractual instalments, would the difference between a mid-range phone at the current price and a genuine table-topper at £499 have been such a detriment to the company? 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.
[alert type=alert-blue]Verdict [/alert]
The Huawei Ascend P7 is many things, but market-leading flagship it is not. It’s front-facing camera may be revolutionary, but the rest of it is so-so and ho-hum. Its excellent aesthetics are undone by an unrealistic price-tag. Huawei could have done better, and so can you.