I’m holding the Huawei P10 right now and wondering: How is this any different from last year’s P9? And more importantly: How can this compete against 2017’s flagship smartphones?
Physically, the only real difference between this and the P9 is the placement of the fingerprint scanner. The P10 now chooses a front-mounted fingerprint scanner which includes some gesture controls — more on that later — and a clean, free-of-functions rear. There isn’t even a camera bump.
Other than that, it’s tough to tell the two apart while holding them: The P10’s curvy 5.1-inch frame feels just like the P9’s 5.2-inch body, the display continues to have a Full HD LCD, and there’s still no water or dust resistance.
You can get a better look in our unboxing video:
As you’d expect, what really sets it apart from the P9 is on the inside. Huawei added a newer processor (an in-house Kirin 960 compared to last year’s Kirin 955), more memory for the base model, a larger battery, and — you guessed it — an upgraded dual-camera (one with 20 megapixels and the other with 12 megapixels) infused with the newest generation of Leica co-engineering.
That’s all well and good; successors are meant to introduce incremental upgrades in order to maintain brand recognition and please long-time fans (right, LG?). The underlying issue here, however, is how it looks and feels compared to phones that launched around the same time. I’m talking about the Samsung Galaxy S8, LG G6, and even the older Xiaomi Mi Mix and Huawei Mate 9.
There just isn’t anything exciting about the P10. What made the P9 so special was its one-of-a-kind Leica branding during its release. While it didn’t exactly leapfrog its image quality over rivals, it helped make marketing it easier and break Huawei into European territory, selling over 10 millions units in the process.
The P10 uses the exact same formula: sleek, one-handed use with a high-quality camera and Huawei’s own flavor of Android. If you want something even better, go for the 5.5-inch P10 Plus; it has a higher-resolution Quad HD display and slightly better camera, owing to its brighter f/1.8 aperture compared to the P10’s f/2.2 opening.
This isn’t to say the P10 falters when it comes to taking photos. In fact, we took it out for a spin and were pleasantly surprised by the colorful results. See them for yourself in our “24 Hours in Barcelona with the Huawei P10” feature. The two sensors (one full-colored and the other monochrome) work in tandem to produce sharper images — just no optical zoom tricks here, sadly.
And that’s what the P10 is all about. It looks good, feels great, and has a set of cameras anyone can use like a pro. You could stop reading here if you’re already convinced, but I suggest reading on to see my pros, cons, and everything in between during my time with Huawei’s latest flagship.
What I loved
Let me get this out of the way early: The P10 is faaaaast. Coming from a Pixel, which many consider to be the epitome of Android fluidity, I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by another phone’s speed for a long time. But here I am, enjoying the buttery-smooth interface and lightning-quick fingerprint scanner. Everything opens so quickly, even Facebook’s resource-hungry app and graphics-intensive games like Asphalt 8.
A lot of this can be credited to Huawei’s use of machine learning to understand your usage patterns and optimize apps as you go along, although I wasn’t expecting the performance boost so soon into my experience with the P10. Of all the apps I use frequently, only the camera takes a while to load from a cold start, but I’m comparing this to the Pixel, which seems like its entire existence is dedicated to its class-leading camera.
The P10 also gave me excellent signal and data speeds on my 4G+ network. And while this would normally destroy my battery within a day, the 3200mAh battery somehow manages to keep going until the sun rises. Heck, even when it doesn’t, the fast-charger that comes in the package is efficient enough to charge the phone within one and a half hours.
What I disliked
Huawei is doing the best it can to cater to long-time Android users from all brands and deliver its own user interface at the same time, but the execution is just ugh most of the time. Just setting the phone up from scratch is such a chore once you start repositioning the quick settings icons on top and digging through the Settings menu.
I mean, really — you must dig deep to find the options you want at times, and it’s extra infuriating when you find the same setting in different menus. All other Android Nougat phones I’ve used were able to simplify the interface, including fellow Chinese brand Xiaomi. With the P10, I have to go to Advanced Settings to configure Simple Mode, and stumble through four different settings menus in the Camera app for minor tweaks.
One good thing I have to say is Huawei brought back the app drawer like on the Mate 9. This means you don’t have to swipe through numerous pages to find an app like on iPhones. This is vital for users like me who need dedicated space for large widgets that can be accessed instantly from the home screen.
What I feel indifferent about
Another life-changing option you can toggle is whether to use on-screen navigation buttons (Back, Home, and Recent Apps) or enable gestures on the fingerprint sensor to navigate. Wanting more space on my screen, I chose to actually make use of the otherwise unutilized space on the bottom bezel.
Until now, I’m left wondering if this was a good idea. A single tap acts as Back, holding for more than second brings you back to the Home screen, and swiping left or right opens the app switcher. It’s definitely something you have to get used to, and will turn you into a swiping wiz after a week, but I wish it were customizable. Swiping up or down seems more logical for activating the app manager, and holding it feels more natural for turning on Google Assistant.
Instead, you’re forced to live with what Huawei wants for you. What I find most perplexing is the gesture needed for accessing Google Assistant. It takes a swipe up from the bottom bezel, to the left or right of the fingerprint scanner. Sounds like a good use of space, right? Yes, if it managed to actually work most of the time. I look like an idiot trying to reach my Assistant after several failed attempts.
Is this your GadgetMatch?
We have to go back to our original questions to get an answer for this. If you’re a P9 user, don’t bother upgrading; if you must, then go for the Mate 9 or the just-launched Honor 8 Pro instead. For a flagship device, the P10 feels so insignificant in Huawei’s lineup, despite being a great smartphone on its own.
Compared to this year’s competition, again, the P10 feels like it still belongs in 2016. I would wholeheartedly recommend it if not for the sky-high EUR 649 ($690) price tag, although you can find it for less in countries like the Philippines, where the pre-order price is only PhP 28,990 ($580), which even comes with a bundled travel kit worth $100.
If you’re inclined to go for a normal-looking phone and not the near-borderless handsets we’ve been seeing lately, buying a P10 is the way to go. Its closest rival right now is the Google Pixel, which is another smallish phone focused on photography and without resistance against the elements. You can’t go wrong with either of them.