What is the Huawei Ascend P7?Originally reviewed: 28/05/2014
The Huawei Ascend P7 is a flagship Android phone. It is designed to be an alternative to mobiles like the Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8 - that’s some serious competition.
An eye-catching design goes some way to justifying such a position. However, it isn’t as quick or swish as the best phones out there and lacks a standout feature to make up for this.
Huawei Ascend P7 – DesignHuawei’s P-series phones are known for being some of the thinnest mobiles in the world. The Huawei Ascend P7 is no different.
At 6.5mm thick, it is significantly thinner than the already wafer-thin 7.6mm iPhone 5S. Being so skinny makes handling a 5-inch _phone_ like the Ascend P7 a bit easier. We don’t find it tricky to reach from one side of the screen to the other, for example.
As well as being somewhat iPhone inspired in its dimensions, the Ascend P7’s look is quite iPhone-like. Its sides are textured aluminium, the back a flat pane of toughened glass. This is almost certainly the best-looking _phone_ Huawei has made to date.
Highlights particular to this phone include a curvy bottom edge and a textured-look finish to the rear, sitting under the top-most glass layer.
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It’s a striking phone, but there are a few elements that could be improved – things that show Huawei is dipping its toe into relatively new waters with a 'prestige' phone like this. The texture of the aluminium is nowhere near as accomplished as that of the iPhone 5S, for example, the squared-off silhouette of the Ascend P7 is not as inviting as something a bit rounder, and we’re not convinced the Huawei logo on the front is really necessary.
Or, to be more realistic, it’s probably necessary for Huawei’s brand expansion strategy, but it doesn’t do the Huawei Ascend P7’s design any favours.
These are all minor points but it is in these details that the devil resides. Nonetheless, the actual construction quality is good. There are no wide seams, the glass and metal body feels good to hold and all the buttons and sockets are thoroughly well executed.
All the main bits are laid out along the right edge – the neat circular power button, the standard volume rocker and the duo of pop-out trays that hold the microSIM and microSD card slots. Given the number of grace-free flaps we’ve seen on previous Huawei phones, this is a rare display of classiness.
Huawei has clearly put a lot of effort into the Ascend P7 design, and it does pay off – much as its relative inexperience in this high-end field is noticeable.
Huawei Ascend P7 – ScreenMuch of the Ascend P7’s front is taken up by the screen. The bezel is slim and as there are no physical soft keys, there’s not much else the phone needs to fit on the front - though the camera and sensor next to the earpiece are yet another of this phone's slight design slip ups.
Screen specs are up there with the best. It’s a 1080p IPS LCD display, and at 5-inches stays clear of the sort of size that makes a phone somewhat tricky to use.
The Ascend P7’s display quality is reasonably good too. Colours are well-saturated but natural looking and the 441ppi pixel density ensures everything looks super-sharp. This is one of those high-calibre displays where you can’t see individual pixels.
However, elements of its performance aren’t quite up there with the very best LCDs – seen in phones like the Sony Xperia Z2. Viewing angles in particular are noticeably so-so. There’s no horrible contrast shift but there is significant brightness loss from some angles and fairly severe IPS glow from others.
This isn’t the sort of thing you really notice in use, but it is an example of how the Ascend P7 lags behind phones like the Galaxy S5 and Xperia Z2.
Huawei Ascend P7 – Software and PerformanceThe Huawei Ascend P7 runs the latest version of Android, 4.4.2, and has a custom Huawei interface known as the Emotion UI. It is this, rather than Android, that really determines what the phone looks and feels like to use.
Huawei’s Emotion UI is one of the more unusual custom interfaces, because it fundamentally changes the layout of the system. Rather than having home screens and a separate apps menu, all your apps are laid out across your home screens.
This requires a bit more careful curation than standard Android, where your apps are normally laid out in either alphabetical or rough chronological order. Emotion UI’s inspiration here is iOS, the software used in iPhones, but as it is slightly less easy to use, it’s not quite a roaring success.
Perhaps the biggest issue is that you have to really try to get it looking and feeling as you would like, where there’s less preparation required in most other phones.
Another way the Emotion UI differs from other Android interfaces is that it positively encourages re-skinning of the phone. There’s a Themes section, which offers a bunch of interface looks, tweaking app icons as well as the lock screen, and the Ascend P7’s wallpapers.
Most are a quite stilted-looking, but the Balance theme we’ve not seen before in Huawei phones is pleasantly simple. There are actually loads of additional themes available online, but this is not well communicated, and finding them is itself a chore. You’ll find a great selection over at the Chinese Emotion UI website – on the UK one there’s only a smattering, designed for one ancient Huawei phone.
Some may appreciate this level of customisation, but it is really quite out of touch with what other phone-makers are doing. These days, creating standard, simple and intuitive interfaces is the way forward.
There are a few neat extras in the latest version of the EmotionUI, though. It offers floating widgets for things like note-taking, SMS messages and the calculator, letting you perform basic tasks without stopping whatever you're doing at the time.
All these tweaks do have an impact on performance though, which is disappointing for a phone of the Huawei Ascend P7’s not-inconsiderable price. There is lag when flicking through the interface at times, more so than the £99.99 EE Kestrel, a phone also made by Huawei. It extends to quite basic tasks too. For example, you’ll often have to wait when typing as the keyboard catches up with your fingers. It’s odd in a phone of this grade.
While much of this slow-down is due to the software, and thus can be alleviated by installing another launcher such as the Google Experience launcher, the core hardware of the Ascend P7 comes in to play too. Its CPU and GPU really aren’t anywhere near as powerful as the big-name competition.
The Huawei Ascend P7 uses a HiSilicon Kirin 910T, a quad-core 1.8GHz CPU. This is a processor made by Huawei, rather than a silicon specialist like Qualcomm.
Benchmarks show that the Ascend P7 is, at best, on-par with the lead phones of 2013. It is not remotely a match for phones like the Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8 in pure performance, though of course this still makes it a fairly powerful mobile.
In the Geekbench 3 app, the Ascend P7’s score of 1810 is roughly comparable with the results of a Snapdragon 600 phone like the 2013 HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S4. A phone that really shows up this difference is the LG G2. It is around £100 cheaper than the P7 and has a much more powerful Snapdragon 800 chip.
Does this academic power difference matter when they can all play the same high-end 3D games? It should do, otherwise you might as well buy a significantly cheaper phone from last year, or something like the Nexus 5. Especially when there are some gaming performance issues here.
Aside from the general lag, we noticed more significant frame rate issues in the Ascend P7 than other high-end phones. Real Racing 3, for example, demonstrated fairly significant intermittent frame rate drops – enough to eat into the enjoyment of playing the game.
Part of this is likely down to somewhat lacking optimisation for the Ascend P7’s GPU, a Mali Mali-450mp4, which itself is not high-end. For some context, another phone that uses the chip is the HTC Desire 616, set to go on sale in the US for under $200.
Are the Huawei Ascend P7’s specs not in-line with the asking price? Absolutely.
Huawei Ascend P7 – CameraThe Huawei Ascend P7 has a 13-megapixel rear camera with an LED flash (there's no dual-tone LED flash here) and an usually high-resolution 8-megapixel front camera.
It would be easy to dismiss the Ascend P7 as a selfie-obsessed phone, but the rear camera is good too. In solid lighting you get highly detailed photos, with vivid colour reproduction and great sharpness. It’s still pipped by this year’s big boys like the Samsung Galaxy S5, but it’s a good performance.
The Ascend P7 images are noisier than the Z2's or Galaxy S5 and dynamic range is slightly poorer. But it doesn't lose out on too much.
Fine grain is evident throughout, but it's matched with great detail and high contrast
When the lights go down a bit, the Huawei Ascend P7 values sharpness and detail over a super-smooth finish. Noise reduction techniques aren’t too pronounced here, but that is arguably a good thing. Too-strong noise reduction gets rid of graininess but also tends to eradicate finer detail.
However, shots are also quite grainy in good lighting. This is more an indication of the phone’s noise reduction strategy than anything else, and a suggestion of Huawei’s confidence in its lens/sensor combo. For camera geeks, the Ascend P7 uses a Sony sensor.
Confidence is warranted. There’s virtually none of the purple fringing we’ve seen in some recent top-end phones (most notably the HTC One M8), pictures are pin-sharp in good lighting and you can even get some pretty good natural shallow depth of field effects if you shoot a very up-close subject.
The Huawei Ascend P7’s fast f/2 lens will help out with this. However, unlike many other phones reviewed recently, there’s no mode to artificially create this sort of background blur ‘bokeh’ effect.
Good colour, a bit of background blur and close-up focusing is a good combo
This is a 1:1 pixel crop from the above photo
Here we see a nice separation of the subject from the background, which you wouldn't get with a lesser sensor/lens combo
Extra modes seem deliberately limited. You get a Smart mode that gives the auto engine more control than normal, the usual Huawei obsession Beauty (which blurs out people’s wrinkles), HDR, Panorama, basic filters, Best Photo and Water Mark. The latter is the only one that doesn’t feature in just about every high-end and mid-range phone.
It’s a typical Huawei-style addition – a bit of an oddball. It lets you paste odd little bits of word clip art onto your photos, the sorts of things young teenagers might add post-shoot before uploading to Facebook.
If you’re not part of that demographic, the mode is easy to ignore and the actual camera app is very well laid-out. You access the mode selection with your left thumb, which pops-up as a translucent overlay, and use your right thumb to shoot.
After criticising many of the Huawei Ascend P7’s other software elements, we’re glad to say it’s one of the quickest-to-use camera apps around. Like some other recent mobiles, it also lets you pick separate autofocus and metering points with a simple hold and drag gesture.
The one slight disappointment of the Ascend P7 camera is that its HDR mode isn’t all that effective. Especially when compared with the super-effective Galaxy S5.
In an unusual move, the Ascend P7’s front camera almost wins as much of the spotlight as the rear one. It uses an 8-megapixel sensor, far better than the 1-2-megapixel sensors used in most high-end phones.
By a simple move of tech superiority, the Ascend P7 can produce far better selfie photos than other phones. Its one high-end rival is the HTC One M8, which has a 5-megapixel front camera.
One slight issue with this is that looking at yourself on a 1080p screen, through the eyes of an 8-megapixel camera really is not forgiving of any crow’s feet or under-eye bag issues you may have. There is Beauty Mode to help out, which softens out part of your face, but this is cheating really.
As well as creating high-def selfies, Huawei has tried to go ‘next-gen’ with the Ascend P7. There’s a three-shot selfie panorama, designed to let whole groups of people get in on the action.
It’s a cute idea, and one that works fairly well if the background behind your subjects isn’t too close. Like any selfie-related features, though, it’s Marmite stuff.
Huawei Ascend P7 - Battery LifeThe Huawei Ascend P7 is a phone that sacrifices battery capacity a little in order to get as slim as it is. It uses a 2500mAh unit, which is a good deal smaller than the batteries seen in just about all the phone’s major rivals.
It shows in the phone’s stamina too – it is poor compared with phones like the Sony Xperia Z2. When tasked with playing a video with the screen at mid-level brightness and Wi-Fi/mobile internet turned off, it’ll last for between seven and a half and eight hours.
With the Xperia Z2, we got 15 hours off a charge.
Part of the reason for this is not to do with battery capacity, but the way the phone’s processor handles power management with tasks like this. But one saving grace is that the Ascend P7 uses very little power in standby, which was one of the leading benefits of a recent rival Qualcomm 800/801 processor. In other words, the phone will last for ages if you leave it in standby, but not so long if you actually use the thing.
This will be an everyday charge phone for most people – we found it will last a full day, but you often don’t get enough charge on the second day to act as insurance.
Huawei Ascend P7 – Internal SpeakerYou might expect the internal speaker to be another victim of the Ascend P7’s slim body. But given the design, we’re quite impressed.
The phone uses just a single speaker output that sits on the phone’s back. It’s not the optimum arrangement, but it is loud and quite powerful-sounding. You don’t quite get the warmth and body offered by the HTC One M8’s BoomSound speakers, but the sound quality is a pleasant surprise.
The quality of calls in general is less remarkable. Sound from the earpiece speaker is quite boxy, and lacks a little volume and authority compared to the Xperia Z2, for example. However, it's not ouright bad so most people should experience no serious problems.
Should I buy the Huawei Ascend P7?Among Huawei phones, the Ascend P7 is a step forward. The design is reminiscent of other phones but is definitely a cut above the likes of the Galaxy S5 and marks the fanciest phone the company has produced. And that’s important when Huawei is out to establish itself as one of the world’s top premium phone-makers.
However, while it’s a bit cheaper than the latest and greatest from Samsung, Sony and HTC, it’s also not quite as good in some respects. The screen is a cut below the best, there are performance issues, raw power does not impress and the quirky software doesn’t really suit a phone of this grade.
These limitations mean many of you will be better off with one of last year’s high-end phones, such as a Nexus 5, LG G2 or HTC One. One of the best reasons to buy the Ascend P7 is that it is very slim, which does come with minor benefits in a 5-inch phone.
VerdictThe Huawei Ascend P7 is a bold phone, and the most expensive-looking one the company has made to date. It has a good camera and a fairly good screen, but performance issues and software quirks mean it’s not quite up there with the best.
Next, read our first look of the new LG G3