Hands-on: Huawei Ascend P7 review
Huawei has unveiled the latest addition to its Ascend line-up of devices at its launch event in Paris. The Huawei Ascend P7 makes a number of changes over the previous P6 model, including growing the display to a 5-inch HD panel, to present a competitive flagship Android device.
Where there was a brushed metal back on the P6, the P7 now features glass. But not any old glass: both the front and back are scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 3. That gives the phone a premium feel in the hand, something we've seen previously from Sony's Xperia Z devices, as well as the LG-built Nexus 4. It's a nice smartphone to hold, with a cool aluminium edge also housing the physical controls.
Like the Nexus 4, there's also some subtle detailing under the glass at the back. Catch it at the right angle and you'll see the micro-patterning revealed in an almost holographic way, so it appears to shimmer. That's thanks to the 7-layer surface treatment.
The design follows the same cues as the P6, and the cheaper G6 - the latter the basis for the EE Kestrel - with a slim, flat design and curved bottom edge. It's more manageable in the hand than Sony's larger Xperia Z2 on account of scale, but we don't think it is as nice to hold as devices that are more rounded at the edges at this size.
READ: Sony Xperia Z2 review
The display, however, looks to be very good from what we've seen. It has a full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels spread across 5-inches - that's 441ppi - meaning it is competitive in terms of both size and detail. Notice how the bezel to the sides of the screen is also minimal, measuring just 2.9mm on the left and right of the display.
Our first impression is that the viewing angles are also good from this JDI screen and the colours are nice and vibrant, but we need to spend more time fully reviewing the Ascend P7 before we can draw a definitive conclusion about display performance.
The handset measures approximately 139.8 x 68.8 x 6.5mm, making it thinner than the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S5 by just over 1.5mm. The Huawei also weighs 124g, which is very light for a device of this size. Huawei was in a similar position with the Ascend P6, so if space in your pocket is at a premium, then here you get a lot of phone for the size.
READ: Huawei Ascend P6 review
In terms of internal hardware, the pre-production P7 device we saw was not the final software build, so we can't draw definitive conclusions about the performance you'll get from the quad-core HiSilicon Kirin 910T 1.8GHz chipset with Mali 450 GPU and 2GB of RAM.
Sounds fair to us though, and if it performs like the Huawei MediaPad X1 then it should be pretty nippy. From our initial usage we found the P7's interface meant slick and fast operation, but given that the software was incomplete, we can't say too much else about performance at this time.
The same applies to the 2500mAh battery that powers it all, as Huawei says you'll get 14 hours of talk time from one charge. The most recent generation of handsets that the Ascend P6 competes with are strong on battery life too, so we'll be keen to put it through its paces in extended testing.
There will be 16GB of internal storage and a microSD card slot for expansion, accessed through the tray in the side, to insert an additional card up to 64GB in size.
The Huawei P7 will launch on Android 4.4 KitKat and comes with a new version of Huawei's own skin, known as Emotion UI. Now at version 2.3, the latest iteration we saw looks more colourful than before and at first glance you could say it's slightly reminiscent of Samsung's TouchWiz user interface.
READ: Samsung Galaxy S5 review
Like the skin that Samsung adds to its Galaxy devices, Huawei's Emotion UI 2.3 adds a lot of options to Android, from power-saving features to customisation options - many of which we've seen before on Huawei's devices. We didn't have the time to explore all the changes, but you'll find storage cleaning, a choice of home styles - normal or simple - as well as a new low battery mode which strips down the functionality and turns things mono... a bit like the Samsung Galaxy S5.
Huawei made a lot of noise about the camera on the P6 and continues to do so on the P7. There's a Sony 13-megapixel camera on the rear with f/2.0 aperture and a host of clever features. There's also a fast launch accessed by using the volume control, so you can quickly get snapping with minimal delay.
We didn't get the chance to test the camera in our preview - other than a precursory glance - but it looks like the expected features are in place, such as HDR mode, audio photo and so on.
However, the camera to really grab the headlines is the P7's 8-megapixel front-facing camera. We've seen increasing interest in front cameras in recent times, with the selfie trend helping, and it looks like Huawei is going all out with the Ascend P7.
You should be able to grab higher quality selfies, so you'll look even better when you post that gloating photo to Facebook. It's a 28mm (equivalent) wide-angle lens too, which should make for better group shots. There's even a feature that will allow you capture a panorama on the front camera, so you should be able to get yourself and the Golden Gate Bridge into that photo with no problem.
Huawei faces plenty of opposition at the top end of the Android market, with excellent showings from the premium devices like the HTC One (M8), Samsung Galaxy S5 and Sony Xperia Z2. But they all come in at the £500+ price bracket.
READ: HTC One (M8) review
At the time or writing Huawei hasn't confirmed the UK price, but with a European price tag of €449, a direct conversion means an approximate £370. However, we would anticipate the official price being closer to £400 upon its launch in June.
This might be the way to offer premium features at a more affordable price, for those who can't quite stretch to those rival devices or just fancy something a little different. And with colour options of pink, white and blue-black there are various expressive hues to choose from.
We're not entirely sold on the level of change that Emotion UI brings, but our first impressions of the Huawei Ascend P7 are good and we look forward to putting this smartphone through its paces when we've stretched the final review unit that is now in our possession.