Review – Huawei P10 – Killer Performance in a Small Package

I’ve been reviewing mobile devices for the better part of 15 years now.  I’m often asked, “What is the best phone to get?”  My answer is always the same:  The phone that works best for you.  For some, that’s iPhones.  For some, that’s Android.  But when it comes to any phone, rarely do you find one that ticks all the boxes when it comes to performance, a solid camera, good battery life and user experience.  I’ve found one of these rare phones in the Huawei P10.  It’s not perfect, but it is close and this 5.1″ phone is once to seriously consider.

I’ve had the opportunity over the past few weeks to use the Huawei P10 as my daily driver and it has not disappointed.  It has the power to get me through the day and the performance to do anything I need it to do – from email, to streaming music and video, to playing a game or two.  It is a device that I have no reservation in recommending.  Yes there are some things to get use to with it, most notably the multi-function fingerprint scanner, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll really unlock this phone.

Specifications

The Huawei P10 measures 145.3 x 69.3 x 7 mm or 5.72 x 2.73 x 0.28 inches in old money.  It weighs in at 145g or 5.11 ounces making it a compact, easy to hold phone.  The front of the phone is

Huawei P10
Huawei P10

dominated by the 5.1″ IPS display that renders at 1080 x 1920.  That gives you Full HD quality and a pixel-per-inch count of approximately 432.  That makes the P10 very easy on they eyes with vibrant colors.  Protecting the display is Gorilla Glass 5.  Below the display you will find the elongated oval fingerprint scanner.  The scanner itself works great but is much more than a scanner alone.  I’ll cover that bit later in the review.

Internally, the P10 is powered by the Huawei built Kirin 960 processor.  It is an octa-core design with four cores running at 2.4GHz and four running at 1.8GHz.  It is coupled with the Mali-G71 MP8 GPU.  If this configuration sounds familiar, it should.  It is identical to the larger phablet Mate 9, a device which I reviewed a few weeks ago.  I’ll get into the actual performance of the P10 later in the review but I’m of the opinion that the Kirin 960 could well be the best processor on the market today.  The P10 also has 4GB of RAM which makes the phone very responsive and has either 32GB or 64GB of internal storage depending on the configuration you buy.  You can expand that storage up to 256GB thanks to the MicroSD slot on the phone.  Huawei uses Machine Learning in EMUI 5.1 to optimize the CPU and RAM as you go, learning your behaviors and optimizing applications running to impact the phone as little as possible.

On the back of the P10 you will find the dual camera configuration featuring Leica optics in the upper panel.  The rear cameras are composed of a 12MP color shooter and a 20MP Monochrome camera.  Both are f/2.2, have OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) with phased detection and laser autofocus.  The camera is also capable of shooting 4K video.  The front facing camera is an 8MP shooter rated at f/1.9 while shooting HD video for Instagram and Facebook Live sharing.  All of the cameras have been co-designed with Leica, a brand that is synonymous with superior image quality and the P10 certainly does not disappoint in this regard.

The mobile antenna array of the P10 provides a wide range of GSM 3G and 4G frequencies that will support many carriers in the world even if the phone is not being sold in a particular country.  That is the case for the United States but the phone has no problem providing LTE coverage on AT&T and T-Mobile, the two networks I tested it for this review.  Keep in mind that there are two variants of the P10:  Single SIM (VTR-L09) and Dual SIM (VTR-L29).  For this review, Huawei provided the VTR-L09 single SIM model in Mystic Silver.  From a 3G perspective, the models are identical but the Dual SIM model there are some additional LTE bands supported.  Here is the breakdown of frequencies and LTE bands in the P10

  • HSDPA 800 / 850 / 900 / 1700(AWS) / 1900 / 2100
  • LTE band 1(2100), 2(1900), 3(1800), 4(1700/2100), 5(850), 7(2600), 8(900), 9(1800), 12(700), 17(700), 18(800), 19(800), 20(800), 26(850), 28(700), 29(700), 38(2600), 39(1900), 40(2300) – VTR-L09 (Single SIM)
  • LTE band 1(2100), 2(1900), 3(1800), 4(1700/2100), 5(850), 7(2600), 8(900), 9(1800), 12(700), 17(700), 18(800), 19(800), 20(800), 26(850), 28(700), 29(700), 38(2600), 39(1900), 40(2300), 41(2500) (Dual SIM)

As always, I recommend checking with your carrier before purchasing this phone to assure it will work on their network.

Connectivity is also available through the dual-band Wi-Fi antenna.  It supports 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac as well as DLNA and Wi-Fi Direct.  It can also serve as a hotspot for your other devices which is configured within the settings of the phone.  Bluetooth 4.2 LE is on board as well for connectivity to peripherals.  Lastly, there are the usual array of sensors built into the P10 such as accelerometer, gyroscope, NFC, proximity, and compass.

Powering all of this is the built-in 3200 mAh battery.  It is charged thanks to the USB-C connector at the bottom edge of the device and leverages Huawei’s SuperCharge technology for rapid charging.  The technology allows for a full days charge in 30 minutes according to Huawei.  In my tests, they are pretty much spot on with the claim.

Finally, the Huawei P10 is available in a wide range of colors and finishes.  The company worked with Pantone on color options, creating six options: Mystic Silver, Rose Gold, Graphite Black, Dazzling Gold, Dazzling Blue, Greenery.  Greenery is the one stirred things up when it was revealed for the first time as it is striking and certainly unique.  Along with the colors, three different textures are available on the phone:  Diamond-Cut, Sandblast and High Gloss.  Not all colors are available in all textures.

Form Factor

Looking at it, the P10 certainly has a similar look of the iPhone 6.  I don’t think you can overlook that fact but equally, it shouldn’t be a distraction.  After all, that form factor has been quite successful for Apple and Huawei certainly isn’t the first to closely follow it.

The P10 is comfortable to hold and easy to operate with one hand.  The 5.1″ display sits in a chassis that is just over 5.7″ in height so you have a nice screen-to-body ratio of 71%.  The front of the phone is dominated by that Full HD display which is nearly bezel-less on each side.  Above the display is where find the front facing camera, proximity sensor and speaker while below the display is where you find the fingerprint scanner.  Turning the phone over, you will find the aluminum back of the phone with the dual cameras in the panel at the top.  These cameras are accompanied by the dual-tone flash and the auto-focus arrays.  The phone looks fit-and-finished with all the makings of a high end phone.

Last year on the P9, Huawei kept the fingerprints scanner in what has become the traditional position on Android phones:  The middle of the back.  It makes sense as it is easy to reach with any finger while you hold the phone.  This year they moved it to the front, just below the display.  It is shaped much like a lozenge and if you are coming from an iPhone, this is going to remind you a lot of the Home button.  But on the P10, this is more than a scanner and home button.  It is actually multifunctional and designed to replace the on screen navigation buttons.  I’ll cover this in more detail later in the review.

The top edge of the phone is smooth with the edge corners gently rounded, much more so than the P9 from last year.  This makes the phone a bit more comfortable to hold.  On the bottom you will find the 3.5mm headphone jack and the speaker flanking the USB-C connector in the middle for charging.  Despite only having the one speaker, the sound quality out of the P10 is good enough for music and conference calls but it is the one thing I would like to see improved in the phone.

When I first unboxed the Huawei P10, it immediately struck me as a phone you wanted to touch.  The corners of the phone are comfortably curved and the all aluminum chassis feels firm and solid in your hand.  You want to touch this phone and you don’t really want to put it down which is a key point for phones.  We spend a huge amount of our waking moments with our phones on us or close to us.  It needs to be both functional and look good doing it.  The Huawei P10 has it covered for you.

Multifunction Fingerprint Scanner

Navigation Button Configuration
Navigation Button Configuration

While the internal improvements between the P9 of last year and this years P10 are note worthy, perhaps the most noticeable change between the two devices is the moving of the fingerprint scanner from the back to the front of the phone.  This move is, in large part, to facilitate the multifunction aspects of this button.  Huawei introduced this multifunction concept with the MediaPad M3 and it behaves in a similar fashion.

If you looked at the P10 and compared it to an iPhone, it looks like a Home button.  And it is – but it is more.  Huawei designed the scanner to be multifunction and in effect replace the on-screen buttons that every Android phone has on it.  With this button, you can tap to go back, either to your Home screen or, in Chrome, to the previous web page.  If you long press it, you will go back to the Home screen.  This motion will likely feel the most natural at first.  Finally, if you swipe either left or right, you will be brought to your Recents page with your running apps.  Sound familiar?  It should because these replicate the on-screen buttons.  In fact, you can configure the P10 to eliminate the on-screen buttons if you want.  Or you can leave them there and have the button simply be there to scan your fingerprint to unlock your phone.

I admit that when I first looked at the P10 back in March, I was skeptical.  I felt that the button location and general design would be too confusion, especially for those coming from an iPhone background.  I’ve changed my opinion however as I’ve used the P10 more.  Navigating with this button is a breeze and once you get the hang of it, it makes a lot of sense.  I’ve found it to be particularly handy when I’m using the phone one handed.  I encourage readers that pick up the P10 (or the MediaPad M3) to give this way of navigation a try.  It doesn’t take a bit of getting use to but it a pretty elegant way of navigating around your phone.

By default, the scanner button is going to have the multifunction capabilities disabled.  If you want to change that, you can do so within the settings of the phone.

Overall Performance

The Kirin 960 processor may well be the best silicon in the market today.  In a world that is dominated by Snapdragon processors from Qualcomm, the Huawei built Kirin processors are stunningly impressive.  This octa-core processor is amazingly fast.  You combine that with a solid GPU, 4GB of RAM and Machine Learning that is learning how I use the phone, you end up with what I would contend is the fastest phone out there.  Using the Benchmark OS II app to test the phone, it scored a stunning 3951.  That is the fastest phone I’ve ever tested and according to the testing done at GSMArena, makes it the fastest phone they have ever tested.  It outpaced the Google Pixel XL and destroyed my Nexus 6P using the same test.  The speed of the P10 is noticeable.

Benchmarks aside, using the P10 in normal, day-to-day scenarios proved to be a fast and fun experience.  Like all phones I review, I ran it through a set lineup of apps:  Gmail, YouTube, Chrome, Real Racing 3, and Angry Birds 2.  In each of these activities, the phone was very responsive.  I did not experiency any lag or hesitation in any of the activities, especially in gaming where this counts most.  While the 5.1″ screen isn’t exactly conducive for long periods of gaming, playing graphically intense games like Real Racing 3 was no problem.  It kept up with all of the graphics wizardry fully engaged.  Likewise, streaming video was not an issue on YouTube or Netflix in my testing.

Camera Performance

My temptation for this part of the review is to simply post a photo from the P10 and let you judge.  But that wouldn’t be very informative on the whole because it doesn’t tell the entire story.  First, the

Huawei P10 Outdoor Photo
Huawei P10 Outdoor Photo

photo quality from this phone is amazing.  Color accuracy is stunningly good and it does well in outdoor and indoor shooting.  Flash photos are equally solid with the P10, not washing out or looking too “cool”.  The dual-tone flash does a great job.  The photos are rich in color, contrast and depth.  I found shooting with the P10 in all situations proved to be no problem for it.

Second, is the camera app itself.  Huawei has done a fantastic job with the camera app in this phone, which is the same as the one in the larger Mate 9 and the MediaPad M3.  It has loads of options and settings for any shooting situation.  Accessing these different modes is done by swiping to the right in the app then selecting the type of photo you are going to shoot. For example, if you use the front facing camera, automatically it will put the camera into portrait mode.  This gives a wide-angle effect so your face is clear but the background is blurry.  It adds a dramatic effect to your photos.  There is also a panoramic mode as well as an HDR mode.  All-in-all, the combination of the Leica optics and the Huawei camera app make a powerful combination.

Display Performance

With ~432 PPI, the display on the P10 is excellent.  Color accuracy and depth is great and viewing the display for long periods of time, even at 5.1″ in size, is not a problem.  That solid PPI count makes text clear to read be it an eBook in the Google Play Books or the Amazon Kindle app.  Huawei has built a lot of technology into the display such as a warming mode that makes it easier on the eyes when reading in low light.  You can schedule this feature to start automatically so if you are a bedtime reader like me, that elimination of the blue light in the display makes reading longer easier.  Add to this the excellent touchscreen technology Huawei has built into the phone.  Touches quick, responsive and more importantly, accurate.  One of the challenges that some users find, especially those of us who have larger hands, is that typing on a 5.1″ display makes things cramped which, in turn, makes typing accuracy go down.  I haven’t found this to be the case on the P10.  Huawei has done built an excellent touchscreen matrix on the display which makes this accuracy possible.

The Mali-G71 GPU in the Huawei P10 is plenty fast for keeping up with games and other high drawing apps.  In play games like Real Racing 3 or F1 2016, games which have high frame rates and draw speed needs, the phone had no problem keeping up.  I noticed no artifacts as I played these games.  On less intensive games like Angry Birds 2, I’m not sure that the P10 was even really taxed by them.  If you want to play games on the P10, it can keep up with you with no problem from all perspectives, including the display.

Audio Performance

If there is one area that is weak for the Huawei P10, it is the external speaker.  It is okay, not horrible but not outstanding.  Frankly I expected it to be worse than it was so that was a pleasant surprise but all-in-all, if you are buying this phone for the audio experience, it isn’t going to wow you.  The P10 does support 24-bit audio so if you are listening to music, especially utilizing the 3.5mm headphone jack, audio is excellent.  Equally, if you have a Bluetooth headset, you won’t have many struggles with sound quality there either.

Battery Performance

Back to the positives, the battery life of the Huawei P10 is outstanding.  It is easy to get through an entire day through normal usage and even with heavy usage, can make it a long way through your day.  The 3400mAh battery was easily able to make it through a typical day of email, music streaming, YouTube viewing and conference calls.  Even on days where I utilized heavy GPS tracking while skiing, the battery was able to last a solid 6 hours with 4 hours of this type of use.

While the technology of the battery itself is nothing particularly special, the management of power in the Huawei P10 is special.  Huawei has built in aggressive but powerful (and user friendly) battery saving software into the phone.  It is constantly reviewing apps in use and providing notifications on apps that are using an excessive amount of power.  You can configure the phone where these heavy battery apps get killed off automatically if you want to do so.  Further, Huawei builds in two battery saving modes that all-but shut down notifications and data access to really stretch the battery out, upwards 100 hours of battery life.

EMUI 5.1

With the Mate 8 last year, one of my biggest complaints about the device was EMUI 4.0. The then Android Marshmallow based UI that Huawei built for the phone was clunky at best and simply unworkable at worst.  I had no issue with the hardware but it was overshadowed by the UI.  Thankfully Huawei addressed this with EMUI 5.0.  It is based on Android Nougat and more-or-less is a complete revamp of the user experience.  EMUI 5.1 has taken that further with improved machine learning and other refinements but it still runs Nougat 7.0.  This is what is running on the P10.

Yes Huawei skinned everything and made modifications to the notification panel but all the changes make sense.  Things are no longer buried in the Settings.  Add to that the significant boost in performance that 5.1 has over 4.0 and you have a much more pleasant and dare I say fun experience.

A key element of EMUI 5.1 is the integrated Machine Learning from Huawei.  In effect, this allows the P10 to learn your behaviors on how you use the phone.  It monitors how you move around the phone, the apps that you use and other things to optimize the experience.  This optimization includes optimizing the CPU and RAM to give you the best user experience possible.  As you use the phone more, it learns more and it speeds up as it anticipates what you will be doing next with it.  It sounds like a great promise and is an excellent application of ML in the real world.

Like its predecessor and as I mentioned earlier in the review, this build of EMUI is pretty aggressive when it comes to battery saving features.  Most of these you will be able to adjust to your liking to improve performance.

All this said, there is no requirement that you stick with the launcher elements of EMUI.  You can change to another launcher that meets your needs, like Nova Launcher or the Google Now Launcher (while it is still available) if those are more to your liking.  There are some things about EMUI that I still don’t like such as the lack of an App Drawer.  All of your apps are on various pages on the launcher.  As I’ve said on other phone reviews from Sony, BLU and Nextbit:  Don’t let the launcher turn you off.  You can change that easily enough.

Conclusion & Recommendation

I will conclude this review the same way that I started it:  I’m smitten by the Huawei P10.  It is a powerful, fast and frankly beautiful phone with an incredible camera with Leica optics.  Equally, I stick by my statement that it is not a perfect phone.  It is close but the external speaker isn’t outstanding and EMUI 5.1, while a vast improvement over 4.0, still needs some tweaking.  That said, I still don’t have a problem recommending it.

The Huawei P10 is not currently available in the United States but is expected to be here, likely under the Honor name, later this year.  Expect a retail price of around $645.

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