What is the Huawei Ascend P6?

Slim is in. The Huawei Ascend P6 is the slimmest _phone_ in the world, at the time of writing.  It’s just 6.2mm thick, and that is without doubt the most striking feature of the phone.

The Huawei Asend P6 has plenty of other admirable features too, including a good screen and reasonably powerful quad-core processor. However, its software takes a bit of getting used to and we think Huawei cares about how slim the Ascend P6 is more than its prospective buyers.

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Huawei Ascend P6 – Design

Most people’s first reaction to the Huawei Ascend P6 is likely to be – ‘hey, that looks like an iPhone 5.’

Apple may have accused the Samsung Galaxy S3  of nicking the iPhone’s design (resulting in a epic legal battle), but where that was a minor case of mistaken identity, this is borderline identity theft. Several of the Huawei Ascend P6’s design motifs are identical to those of the iPhone 5 and iPhone 4S.

It’s all about the use of a strip of naked aluminium running around the phone’s sides, matched with sharp edges and flat, white front and rear panels. In-hand the two phones feel quite similar.

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Your palm may not fall in love with those sharp edges, but the Ascend P6 feels like a dense, well-made phone. It’s also significantly slimmer than the iPhone 5, at around 1.5mm thinner.

As much as the Ascend P6 might be accused of being an iPhone rip-off, this is no identikit copy – there are several very deliberate design differences too. First, the bottom edge of the _phone_ is rounded to make resting your pinkie on this part more comfortable. It's also one of the few non-metal parts of the phone, and houses the antenna (to avoid the common signal issues of all-metal phones).

The Huawei Ascend P6 also has a microSD memory card slot to add to the limited 8GB of internal memory. Both the microSIM and microSD slots are hidden behind (you guessed it) iPhone-style trays that are opened using either a paper clip or a little tool found on the Ascend P6’s body. 


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On one of the phone’s sides is a little round blip of metal. You’ll at first assume it’s a little design flourish – like the loop connector on an iPod touch – but it’s actually a removable SIM tray tool. This little thing stays in its hole well enough, but take it out and it’s horribly, horribly easy to lose.

When a paper clip does the job just as well, Huawei’s use of this tool is an unnecessary risk. Or perhaps we’re just clumsy.

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The SIM tool doesn’t just live in a dumb hole in the phone’s body – it’s the headphone jack. This is a very odd place to put a jack, and is a pain for anyone who holds their phone in their left hand, as any headphone cable will get in the way. Thanks to the rounded bottom edge, the microUSB slot sits up on the flat top edge – again not the most practical choice. Style is often prioritised over practicality here.

A sense of needless and slightly clumsy extravagance is common in the Ascend P6. It’s slim, but there’s little benefit to its slimness, and it causes some heat issues. After using the phone for 10 minutes or so, the rear becomes quite hot, even without doing anything too strenuous.

The construction of the phone has a hand in this. Aside from the curvy plastic bottom part, both the rear panel and sides are aluminium, whose conductive properties make the heat of the phone’s inside bits all the more obvious to your fingers.

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The Huawei Ascend P6 is a good-looking, well-made phone. But its obsession with having a slim body is unnerving and slightly destructive at times.

Huawei Ascend P6 – Screen

While the Ascend P6 may be super slim, it is blessedly not obsessed with screen size. It has a 4.7-inch 720p screen – big enough to feel luxurious to both your eyes and typing fingers, but not big enough to become awkward.

Screen quality is great. It uses an IPS panel, which provides natural-looking colours, strong top brightness and good angled viewing.

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Resolution is a good deal lower than the similarly-sized 1080p HTC One display, at 1,280 x 720 pixels, but most people would be hard pressed to notice the difference. Sharpness is excellent, making even small text look smooth. Pixel density is – suitably enough – almost dead on what the iPhone 5 provides, at 321ppi against the iPhone’s 326ppi.

Unlike an iPhone, though, the Huawei Ascend P6 also gives you control over the look of the display – thanks to a colour temperature dial within Settings. This lets you give the display an orangey (warm) or blueish (cold) hue, or keep it looking neutral. It's a top screen.

Huawei Ascend P6 – Software

Like so many other aspects of the phone, the Huawei Ascend P6 really wants to be an iPhone. But how do you do this when you’re lumbered with the most un-iOS-like Android operating system?

Huawei has jammed a custom UI into the P6 that bridges some of the gaps between Android and iOS, and it’s called the Emotion interface.

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This is the primary way it makes Android more iOS-like. Rather than having the standard two-part interface of Android – home screens on one side, the apps menu on another – everything lives side-by-side on a bunch of apps and widgets pages.

It’s a novel idea, but one that’s initially confusing for Android stalwarts and newcomers alike.

The default layout of your home screens is emblematic of the Ascend P6’s identity crisis. The first home page is packed solely widgets – a half-dozen of them – while the second is a dead ringer for the iOS home screen, in that it houses all the core shortcut icons.

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Emotion 1.6 supports app folders

The Ascend P6 is so eager to show you what it’s capable of that it’s off-putting. Having to dump all apps onto a home screen somewhere also makes the initial process of getting your home screens looking how you want them all the more laborious.

You have to work against the UI to get the phone how most people will want it – with a central home screen that tells you the time, and gives you space for a few favourite app shortcuts.

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This is roughly how we like our Android homescreens

What’s more successful is the Ascend P6’s use of themes, which tweak the look of the emotion UI with new wallpapers, lock screen and app icons. There are five pre-installed themes, and they do give the phone a pretty different look each time.

There is once again an element of confusion here. You can install additional themes (the official P6 site boasts about its “hundreds” of themes), but Huawei doesn’t make the issue of getting on the phone at all clear.

Even the official EmotionUI website only offers themes for the Ascend P1, released a year ago. Granted, they do work on the Ascend P6, but this is a poor execution of something that is a defining feature of the Ascend P6’s software.

Huawei Ascend P6 – Apps, Games and Performance

Given Huawei’s slightly flaky approach to both software and hardware design, we’re happy to see it doesn’t try to do anything too ambitious with its built-in apps.

All the pre-installed apps are utilities that are out to please tech heads and the more pedantic phone user – things like a file manager, a backup tool and an app to let you sync with Huawei’s cloud storage service. There’s no ill-advised attempt to create a social networking hub, which is a blessing.

An early trip to the Google Play store is necessary. The phone leaves you with 4.7GB of user-accessible memory to load up with apps, not all of which is actually free from the off.

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Huawei is pretty keen to stress the gaming potential of the Ascend P6, pre-installing a Huawei-branded version of 3D waterski racer Riptide GP on the phone. Performance is a particular point of pride here as the Huawei Ascend P6 has a Huawei-made CPU, a quad-core K3V2 – the same processor used in the Ascend Mate.

Matched with a generous 2GB of RAM – currently only seen in top-end phones – it’s a pretty powerful combo that makes most high-end 3D games play well. We did notice some minor frame drops in Real Racing 3, but performance was significantly better than in the identically-specced Ascend Mate, suggesting Huawei may have performed some software-optimising work here.

For a less objective look at the Ascend P6’s power potential, we tried a few benchmarks. In the AnTuTu bench, its score of 13,394 is a mid-range result. With a Samsung Galaxy S4 you could expect to score 25,000 or more. A quad-core 1.5GHz processor may sound like a rival to the top dogs, but it is not.

It’s not so much down to the clock speed of the processor, but its system architecture. It uses 40nm construction where the latest mobile processors are down to 28nm – more compact construction results in greater efficiency.

If this sounds like tech gobbledegook, what matters is that the Ascend P6 is closer to something like the dual-core HTC One Mini than the quad-core HTC One. Good, but not jaw-dropping. Let’s not forget – this phone’s processor was launched in early 2012. That’s a long time ago in the mobile world.

Huawei Ascend P6 –Video and Internal speaker

The Huawei Ascend P6 makes a decent little video player thanks to its bright, bold screen and reasonable video support off the bat. A few of our test files stuttered a little, but it can play MKV, DivX and Xvid formats.

Get tooled-up with a good third-party video player app like MXPlayer and the P6 will be able to play just about anything that the screen can do justice to. There’s not much point playing Full HD videos when the phone only has a 720p display.

As you might expect of a phone that’s thinner than a biro, the Ascend P6’s internal speaker isn’t a barnstormer. It’s a mono speaker with a single output grille on the phone’s back panel.

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It’s not a patch on the HTC One Mini’s stereo speaker array, but it’s not a disaster either. With the bass-boosting Dolby mode engaged, there’s at least a pinch of body to the sound that stops it sounding too reed-thin and harsh. It’ll do for YouTube clips and the like.

Huawei Ascend P6 – Camera

The Huawei Asend P6 has two cameras – an 8-megapixel sensor on the back and an alarmingly high-resolution 5-megapixel front camera. More on that oddity later.

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In good light, photos are decent. There’s plenty of fine detail, and images are punchy with only mild desaturation of colour.

Compare directly with the rival HTC One Mini and Galaxy S4 Mini, the Huawei clearly renders much more detail than the HTC, and its photo is punchier than the Samsung.

However, focusing could be a little quicker. There’s no pesky shutter lag, but focusing takes fractionally longer than we’d like and it does result in out of focus shots unless you have hands on stone and patience of steel. This becomes particularly noticeable when shooting close-up. And looking closely at the London vista, there's clear evidence of overexposure. In real life, the 'white' building is nowhere near as bright as it appears in the shot.

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Low-light performance is rather more unusual. Photos taken in relative darkness without a flash are a noisy mess, but they’re much brighter than the average. You may not want to print them out, but you will at least be able to discern what’s in them, more or less. For sheer photo practicality, it’s a solid bonus.

Ascend P6 flash


The flash doesn’t have the most even spread, though, and the Ascend P6 absolutely does its best work in daylight. In our sample, there's also clear evidence of overexposure with the flash enabled - check out how the line between the phone and its stand is more-or-less invisible.

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A close-up shot

Huawei has provided its own camera app in the phone, and its tastefully intuitive. It puts common modes like HDR and Panorama within a couple of screen taps, leaving more advanced features like object tracking and photo resolution in a sub-menu.

The Ascend P6 does have a slightly weird obsession with a mode called Beauty Shot, though. This sits in the main mode menu and is constantly on-screen when using the user-facing camera. It’s a mode that smoothes out wrinkles to make faces look younger and more… perfect. 

Unlike most smartphone front-facing cameras, the 5-megapixel secondary sensor of the Ascend P6 is much, much higher quality than the norm. It’s still a fixed-focus affair, but any ‘selfies’ taken with the P6 are much better than the noisy, low-detail shots we’re used to. The app is designed for the purpose too, giving a countdown sound effect before taking each snap. If we thought anyone other than young teenage girls would care over here, we’d be impressed. 

Huawei Ascend P6 – Battery Life

Whether or not we think Huawei has got its priorities entirely aligned with reality or not, the Ascend P6 is clearly aimed at a reasonably youthful, image-conscious audience. That’s part of the reason why the phone is so slim.

It doesn’t have a remarkable battery, though. It’s a 2,000mAh unit, which is about the size we’d expect to see in a phone of this stature and resolution.

If you don’t challenge the phone too much, you’ll get a day’s use out of it. But it drains down quickly when set to more advanced tasks like gaming – draining over 10 per cent of its capacity in under 20 minutes.

That the phone gets worryingly hot when under stress and that it displays in remaining battery in the unnervingly precise percentage figure as standard is enough to flare-up battery OCD in even the most relaxed phone user.

   
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Huawei Ascend P6 – Call Quality

Like almost all decent smartphones these days, the Huawei Ascend P6 uses a secondary microphone to perform active noise cancellation during calls. This monitors ambient noise and attempts to remove most of it from the call signal before it reaches whoever you’re talking to.

The earpiece speaker is of decent quality, with good clarity but a slight lack of weightiness that may make calling in noisy environments a bit of a pain. It’s nothing to be alarmed about, though.

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Should I buy the Huawei Ascend P6?

If the Huawei Ascend P6 were a person, it’d be a quirky individual full or neuroses, always concerned with what other people think without every really managing to impress the people it wants to. It’s an oddball.

It does get a lot of things right, though. Its screen is top-notch, the camera is fairly good and there’s no better phone out there for taking photos of yourself – if that’s what you’re into. However, it doesn’t really raise itself above the mid-range competition in the way its ‘2GB RAM’ and ‘quad-core CPU’ might suggest.

The Ascend P6 is a good phone, but thanks to its quirky software we’d rather go for an HTC One Mini – or a Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini if screen resolution isn’t much of a concern.

Verdict

The Huawei Ascend P6 has a good screen, solid construction and a decent camera. However, software quirks and a quad-core processor that is no more powerful than the latest dual-core models mean it’s no superstar.