(Pocket-lint) - Good things come in small packages. So do better things come in larger ones? That's the sentiment of the Huawei P10 Plus: this 5.5-inch smartphone is the top drawer P-series device from the Chinese maker, expanding not only on size compared to the smaller P10, but also flexing extra spec muscle with its higher resolution screen, more capacious battery, improved cameras and additional power.
It's also an example of Huawei's progression over the years. Not so long ago you could mention the brand name to typically be met with blank faces - "Hua-who?" - but the Chinese brand has put in the legwork to refine its offering and, as of 2016, it's the third largest smartphone maker on the planet. That's not by chance.
One glance at the P10 Plus gives way to its fashion focus: with colours like dazzling blue and greenery available, it's not entirely conventional. Saying that, its form echoes the appearance of the iPhone 7 Plus more than a little, which gives us the sense that's the customer base that Huawei is really gunning for in order to move further up the rankings. Its £680 price tag suggests much the same.
With all that in mind, does the P10 Plus get enough right to make it the go-to device for Android users? We've been living with one for a week to get a sense of its plus and minus points...
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Huawei P10+ review: Colourful design
- Colours: Graphite black, mystic silver, dazzling gold, dazzling blue, greenery
- 5.5-inch screen; 153.5 x 74.2 x 7mm device dimensions; 165g
While the standard P10 appeals on the very fact that it's not a big phone, the P10 Plus manages to slip into larger phone territory - but it's not so big that it feels ridiculous. It's slightly less wide than an iPhone 7 Plus or Huawei Mate 9, for example, which makes it a lot more comfortable to hold (especially compared to the latter, which we've used for many months of 2016).
The colour options are the first striking point about the phone. In the UK there will be five options - black, silver, gold, blue and greenery (Pantone colour of the year 2017) - with the gold, blue and green options featuring diamond cut textured rears which are designed to avoid prominent fingerprinting. We've seen the dazzling blue option in the P10, which looks lovely (albeit not specifically "dazzling" in our view), but it can collect deep set marks that are difficult to remove. Our P10 Plus review sample is a more conventional metallic silver.
Beyond the colour options the P10 Plus isn't a wild reimagining of the P-series: it looks like a nip and tuck revision of the P9 Plus. Those subtle design changes between the two devices are very noticeable, however, with the back plate avoiding antenna lines cutting through the body, by instead bending them along the top and bottom edges of the device. The rear camera plate extends almost right across the phone, too, making it look more complete and considered compared to the earlier P9 Plus.
Size wise it's worth pointing out how slender the P10 Plus feels too. At just 7mm thick it's slightly thinner than the iPhone 7 Plus. The Huawei avoids a curved back like the Mate 9 Pro (which, for us, appears to be the best Huawei phone to date - shame this Plus doesn't follow that form), so can feel a little "squarer" in the hand as a result. Those smoothed edges ensure it's comfortable to hold though.
Huawei P10 Plus review: Fingerprint scanner
- Front-positioned fingerprint scanner
- Optional swipe- and press-based gesture controls
One thing that's new for the P10 series is a front-facing fingerprint scanner, laying to rest the once hallmark Huawei rear-positioned scanner. It might not look like it, but the scanner is under the same single piece of glass as the phone's screen, it's just recessed within the body design.
It's a bold move, but one with purpose: this new scanner can be used instead of Android's soft keys for navigation, via gestures, should you chose to activate the feature. It also offers haptic feedback to gently vibrate when pressed to simulate a sort-of button press - much like the iPhone 7 Plus's Home key - but only for long Google Now On Tap presses (there's no Google Assistant).
The gestures feature works as so: press to go home; swipe left to go back; swipe right to open recent apps. It's responsive, but some inconsistencies such as the back gesture not functioning the same way within all apps have seen us turn back towards soft key usage instead. Sometimes it's tricky to learn a process; some will instantly get on with the method, others won't; some might never know it's a feature as it's off by default.
There's lots of potential here though. With no soft keys on the screen itself it means more screen real estate for viewing your content - which can only be a good thing - and after some learning you'll need not to thumb around the screen so much (which can only be a good reason given the screen's coating - which we'll come to in a moment).
Huawei P10+ review: Screen
- 5.5-inch, 2560 × 1440 resolution IPS LCD display
- No oil-resistant coating, so fingerprints can be a problem
One area where the P10 Plus really surpasses its smaller P10 brother is in the screen department. With extra scale to fill across that 5.5-inch panel, Huawei has opted for a higher-resolution qHD panel (not Full HD) - meaning heaps more resolution and sharpness. Brightness is ample (although auto-brightness can be too extreme when it bottoms out in the dark) and colour is user-adjustable as you see fit, including a low-light late-night comfort reading option.
The one notable problem is the same as we found in the P10: there's no oil-resistant coating meaning the natural oil of fingertips will not only smear onto the screen, but can disrupt the viewing experience slightly with rainbow-coloured marks that you'll end up pushing around the panel in a bid to clean them off. They're most notable against white backgrounds when the brightness is high and surroundings dark. The fact it's an issue is a shortcoming for a flagship device such as this. Best keep the pre-fit screen protector in place, eh?
Huawei P10 Plus review: Power
- Kirin 960 chipset, octa-core (4x 2.4GHz, 4x1.8GHz)
- Mali G71 MP8 GPU, Vulkan API
- 6GB RAM, 128GB on-board storage (plus microSD)
Beneath the P10 Plus's metal skin is the current top-spec Huawei processor: a Kirin 960 octa-core, paired with 6GB RAM and 128GB on-board storage (not 64GB as some report). That's an interesting choice regarding storage capacity as an equivalent 128GB iPhone 7 Plus costs £819 - a full £139 more than the P10 Plus's £680 asking price. A savvy position, despite the general expense.
Usage wise we've found the P10 Plus to function much like its smaller P10 brother. The full-on power opens apps quickly, scrolling is fluid and everything feels fast from the user interface.
However, sometimes it does feel like it can take a while to get into gear though, for gaming in particular. In apps such as Candy Crush Saga, for example, it can initially be as though there's a short delay in animations, before they then run smoothly. Once it finds that gear, however, it's silky smooth - but we'd like that from the very beginning, each and every time, please.
Also present is a microSD card slot in the dual SIM tray too (if you're not using two SIM cards) should you want to expand upon the 128GB by up to another 256GB. That's probably more space than you're ever likely to need.
Huawei P10 Plus review: Software and battery life
- EMUI 5.1 (built over Android 7.0 Nougat)
- New Highlights photo tagging and video-generating mode
- 3,750mAh battery capacity, plus quick charging
Over the years Huawei's EMUI software - which is a re-skin over an Android OS base - has received quite a lot of stick for being intrusive and generally over the top. Well, in EMUI 5.1 the company has its most mature and usable software to date, pulling back on some of the non-stop notifications and prompts for a much more balanced experience than before.
It also comes with its own benefits. Features such as App Twin allow duplicates of Facebook and WhatsApp (if you're using two SIM cards), which is handy if you run a business SIM. There are also knuckle-based commands (for when fingertips just aren't enough!), and machine learning for an optimum long-term user experience. We've written about EMUI's ins and outs extensively, take a look below.
In EMUI 5.1 the designers have added a quirk by making the default Theme follow the device's colour - if you pick blue, then it'll match; green follows green and so on - but that can't avoid the whole issue of EMUI's looks. It just ain't that pretty in our view. The default icons look off-colour with icons like camera and clock looking rather similar. A bit of manual intervention can pretty things up a bit, with the brighter, whiter options looking cleaner overall.
That aside, however, the general experience is the best to date. Especially when it comes to battery life, which we've found to be excellent from this slender device. A normal day's use is no problem, if anything the Plus is approaching a two-day device.
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We've hit the 25-hour mark without hitting the plug and still had 15 per cent battery remaining. Some days it'll be a little less, depending on workload, but typically we're getting nothing 16-18-hours with a bit of gaming thrown in, ensuring it's an all-day phone. To some extent this kills off the need for the Mate 9.
If you do end up needing a quick plug-in then the rapid charging technology sees the P10 Plus's battery top-up in ultra-fast time too.
Huawei P10 Plus review: Dual cameras
- "Leica Dual Camera 2.0": 20MP B&W sensor; 12MP colour sensor
- 28mm equivalent lenses, f/1.8 aperture (better than f/2.2 on the P10 standard)
- Front camera is 8-megapixel Leica optic/sensor for first time
- Portrait mode, with 3D facial tracking; Highlights for auto-tagging
In the P10 Plus Huawei has its best camera to date too. It's even more advanced than the standard P10 thanks to f/1.8 aperture lenses (not f/2.2) which can let in more light to avoid the additional processing required when there's little light to work with.
Huawei has paired up with Leica once again for this camera experience, delivering colour and true monochrome sensors in respective 12-megapixel and 20-megapixel resolutions. The front camera is 8-megapixels and also Leica endorsed for the first time.
As with many dual camera setups from other manufacturers a lot of the reason behind it is to depth-map scenes, thus creating the ability to deliver pseudo bokeh (those soft, blurred backgrounds) via automated software post-production.
This is called Wide Aperture mode, which can operate from a pseudo f/0.95 down to f/16, for more blurred backgrounds or additional depth of detail than the f/1.8 lenses would offer as standard. Sometimes it works quite well, other times it produces throw-away images, over-softening edges with the inaccuracy that's typical of this software solution - and we've seen the very same issues from Apple, HTC and others before now. It's not perfect.
A slightly different take on the Wide Aperture mode is Portrait mode, which is effectively a reworked version of what used to be called Beautification (which smoothed out areas of the face and enlarged eyes). Portrait is slightly less crass than that, however, as it can 3D face map and adjust colour more accurately, soften backgrounds as per Wide Aperture, and smooth out faces (dial it down and it's workable). Sometimes this is effective, but Huawei's insistence to switch it on by default when using the front-facing camera is infuriating: while taking a selfie with a camel (as you do), it blurred out our animal companion to such a degree that the shot was ruined and there was nothing that could be done about it.
What we think is best about the P10 Plus's dual cameras is how they work as actual cameras. The ability to shoot either colour or true black and white at decent resolutions is great to have. The 2x zoom works well and doesn't downgrade resolution as the 20MP mono is used as a base to upsample the 12MP's colour without resolution loss. The ease by which manual settings can be adjusted as you choose. The quick-tap autofocus. All the kind of things you want from a camera, without the gimmicks.
Image quality is typically decent, with the ability to tackle various lighting conditions well. Sure, there's some image noise when things get darker, but that's typical of a phone camera. The only thing we feel is overworked is the sharpening - edges are a little overdone, which you won't see obviously on a phone screen, but which looks a little off at true scale. Oh, and the placement close to the edges of the device can be an issue with stray fingers getting in the way.
Lastly there's another push from EMUI 5.1: a Highlights reel, found under Discover in the Gallery app, which auto-tags images to arrange everything by categories, dates, events, and so forth. The P10 then auto-produces video snippets via the Quik app (produced by GoPro, but hidden behind the scenes in the P10, minus any branding) and offers them to you. Save them, delete them, tell the phone to stop making them - the choice is yours.
Having used the P10 Plus for a week, we know for sure that we won't be stepping back into the smaller P10 (despite having the more exciting looking blue colour in that device). Why? Because the Plus is the better device. And while it's not quite as budget as was suggested at Huawei's unveiling press conference, it's still worth its asking price considering everything that's on board.
Visually it's one of the best looking Huawei devices to date (and, yes, it'll pull iPhone comparisons), the EMUI software is the most mature it's ever been, the battery life is great, the dual cameras are capable, there's loads of power and storage on board and, well, as Android phones go it's right up there.
It's not perfect though: the screen's finish means smeary fingerprints are more of an issue than we've found in other devices (once the screen protector is off), which is frustrating from a flagship product. The camera software isn't always perfect in its handling of depth-mapped images. And for all the speed of the software, there's the odd hiccup when gaming and it's not that pretty to look at by default.
It's also worth mentioning the £680 price tag. It's a far cry from the £599 we were expecting (but at least it helps segregate it from the standard P10), which is going to make that purchase decision between this, the LG G6 and imminent Samsung Galaxy S8 that bit tougher. Because in the world of 5.5-inch phones there are certainly many other options.
That said, the P10 Plus shows that Huawei has put in the legwork. It's paid off, too, as for the most part this is a solid example of a 5.5-inch phone.
The alternatives to consider...
The G series has been on a bit of a rollercoaster ride, with the G5's modular approach really not taking off. The G6 sweeps that under the carpet and pulls out a cracker, though, with a 2:1 ratio screen that looks stunning. It doesn't have the best-of-best processor on board, but that doesn't affect its fluidity in use. This feels like a well oiled machine and the first great flagship smartphone of the year.
Read the full review: LG G6 review: The first truly great flagship phone for 2017
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge
Sure, the predictably ultra-expensive S8 is just around the corner, but let's not discount just how good the S7 is - especially in its striking "edge" form, with rounded screen edges. It's super-fast, great to look at and was the phone of the year 2016, so it's a strong option - and slightly cheaper than the brand new Huawei, too.
Read the full review: Samsung S7 edge review: Still a smartphone champion
Ok, so the OnePlus isn't in the same pricey league as the Huawei, but given its £280 saving by comparison you're not letting a lot slip by the wayside. Its software experience is better looking and generally cleaner, too, we feel. Well worth a look in, if budget is a driver of your purchase.
Read the full review: OnePlus 3T review: The best mid-price phone
iPhone 7 Plus
The inevitable comparison. If Android isn't for you then Apple's option makes a lot of sense. It's got a sleeker software design for starters, but it will cost you a pretty penny for the privilege of owning one.
Read the full review: iPhone 7 Plus review: Big changes from the big iPhone