Huawei Ascend P6 review

4 out of 5
£310 (SIM-free)

For

Stylish, powerful enough for most uses, LCD screen looks decent, Huawei OS tweaks are pleasant enough

Against

The headphone cover/sim release pin is irritating, battery life is a massive problem, limited on-board storage, is it enough to consider over similar-priced phones?

When it comes to consumer-focused phones, things take one of two directions: dull and functional, or pretty and powerful. The Huawei P6 falls into the latter category. It's a phone that takes design cues from the iPhone, with a metal bezel around the outside, and a white case that gleams with the sort of brightness you'd expect from a brand new spaceship.

It's a funky looking device, and one that leaves us with a question: As good as the Huawei is, can it hope to break into the mid-high range handset market? A market which is currently in the process of chewing up HTC and spitting out broken circuit boards and partially digested lithium ion batteries. All that despite the clear strengths of handsets such as the HTC One.

It's certainly a market for the brave, and Huawei has the money to invest, but can it win over the rightly picky customers? We've put our hard-to-impress hats on and have been using the Huawei P6 for a number of weeks to find out.

Symmetry sells it

Huawei has always been a company worth watching. What it doesn't know about cellular telephony isn't worth knowing, as the Chinese firm makes a lot of the equipment that mobile operators use to make their networks operate.

It also seems to know a thing or two about design as the P6 certainly looks lovely enough. There's a rounded edge towards its bottom, and a square one at the top which makes up the device's shape. We are hardcore symmetry fanboys around here, and we still rather like this bold look.

On the right of the phone there are SIM and microSD trays, along with power and volume controls. The opposite side of the P6 is strangely barren, save a headphone jack which is concealed behind a removable pin. On the back there's no removable back cover, so the battery is fixed in place for good.

Our P6 review sample was finished in white but there are also black and pink options available, although we're not yet sure if the pink one is coming to the UK.

Pin-headed

But there is one detail on the P6 that will frustrate you. Inserted into the headphone jack is a cap, this looks fine but you must remove it and store it somewhere in order to use headphones. This seems like a complete waste of time, until you realise that the pin on the inside is used to open the SIM and microSD card trays.

But it's still unforgivable. Having something like this, which is in no way tethered to the rest of the phone, is a massive mistake. Take it out, put it in your pocket and it will scratch the phone without a shadow of a doubt. Or you'll just lose it.

We do understand that having something to open the SIM and microSD trays is a good idea - it's genuinely useful - but we also think having pin-pop trays like the iPhone is ridiculous. Just because Apple does it, doesn't make it the best system, and in the P6 it makes almost no sense at all. Why not use a push-in system, or a plastic cap with a tether, or pretty much anything else?

READ: Apple iPhone 5 review

The best advice we can give you is to take this thing out and put it somewhere safe. It's never going to be any use to you, and we promise that when it comes to opening the SIM and microSD slots you'll end up getting a pin like everyone else.

Powerful, but limited

A quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM on board the P6 mean this phone is powerful enough for pretty much anything. The phone feels fast in operation too, there's no noticeable lag - something the firm fixed from our hands-on with the pre-production device - and it feels like a proper premium handset.

Things take a dive in terms of storage though. Yes, there's a microSD card that means up to 64GB of extra capacity can be bought and On the back there's no removable back cover, so the battery is fixed in place for good. ed in. We urge you to put photos, videos and music on this storage; don't store any of those things on the phone because they will eat-up the already limited storage.

Included is 8GB, of which about 5GB is available to use for apps. This sounds like a lot, but with Apps2SD now absent in Android Jelly Bean, you can't move apps away when your storage fills up.

If you play any games, then you have to accept the fact that they start at 50MB, and go up to 1.8GB - Batman is this top-end size, which is bat-shit crazy amounts of space - so a couple of those big games and you're into hot water. Factor in apps that get progressively larger as they get updated, or apps that store their own data, and it doesn't take long for that 5GB to fill up. If you don't play games, it's manageable, but if you do then the P6 might not be the phone for you - irrelevant of how powerful it is.

Screenadelica

A good screen interface is crucial in phones, and the panel on the Huawei P6 is very pleasing to our eyes. It's a 4.7-inch LCD with a resolution of 720 x 1280, which translates into 312dpi. It's exactly 720p so good for HD movie file playback, but not the more premium 1080p resolution of some other competitors out there. Even if it's not the most detailed of screens, to look at it you wouldn't know. We think it's stunning.

Part of the reason it looks so impressive is the fact that the LCD is an IPS panel, so you get great viewing angles. But also the colours that are more natural than those from an OLED. Of course, some people like the bright, near-overpowering colour on an OLED, but if you're a fan of a natural look like we are, then LCD screens are your best option.

The icing on the screen cake, so to speak, is that it's got Gorilla Glass 2. That should prevent any cracks from normal use, or even occasional abuse. We have found in the past that Gorilla Glass is too easy to scratch, something we've encountered on phones. Scratching is more likely to be a problem than breaking in our view, but we had no problem with the P6 in all the time that it was rattling around in out pockets (without, we must add, that daft pin).

Camera

Good news, the P6's camera - a fairly modest 8-megapixel - is pretty good. We've used Huawei phones before that were a letdown in the photography department, but not so here.

Images have natural colours and there's plenty of detail too. There's not too much image noise, even in indoor photos taken in daylight, and there's not that "smooshy" look when you zoom in to 100 per cent scale.

Honestly this is a surprise - and a rather nice one - because it's unexpected and if you're someone who likes to share photos on social networks, or even keep snaps for memories of events you can't remember because you were too busy taking photos with your phone, then you'll be happy.

When it comes to moving images the P6 can capture video at 1080p aat a maximum 30fps. This is reasonable, and again, the video is good enough for social purposes. The 1080p thing is a bit misleading though, because of compression, but even so, the quality isn't dreadful.

Battery woes

When it comes to longevity per charge things take a turn for the worse, and some of our love for the P6 evaporates. The problem is simple: the battery just doesn't last as long as it should. We used this phone like we use any - it was our main handset for the duration of this test - and like all phones we used it extensively. The battery, despite being a pretty standard 2000mAh just couldn't hack it for a full day.

At times the battery would be approaching empty by lunchtime. Ouch. Sure, we tweet a lot and read websites, but there's not much high-end gaming going on in a typical day - we're too busy writing phone reviews for that.

This worries us, and if you need a phone that you'll use all day long, then we fear that the Huawei P6 just won't be the handset for you. There's no way to swap out the battery either, so no back-up.

Verdict

We like the P6. It's got good looks, runs well and it feels well built. Yes, there are some really minor niggles, like that daft headphone cover/pin, among some more major issues such as the limited battery life - but we still rather like the phone when it's in full swing.

From a price perspective £300 seems reasonable enough. The phone feels responsive and that means there's sufficient power and memory for it to justify a mid- to high-price, while the styling is easily good enough to compete against the likes of Samsung and Sony. It's only really HTC that makes more solid Android phones.

The Huawei P6 is worth considering, but its main problem is down to the other phones out there that are available for similar money. There's a lot of competition and the P6 probably needs to be better value to attract customers to a company that is still building its name in the the eyes of many consumers.

And we'll leave you on this notion: the HTC One is just £100 more at the time we write this. If you're buying on a 24 month contract (they're just about the only ones available these days) then that price difference spread over the duration isn't a great deal.