Review : Huawei Ascend P7

Huawei Ascend P7 offers stylish appearance, high-resolution 8MP front camera

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Product Manufacturer: Huawei

Price: $410

The Good

  • Thin, stylish design
  • Close-to-stock Android
  • Rear 13MP, front 8MP cameras
  • Responsive to use

The Bad

  • Battery life
  • Not as powerful as other flagships
  • Beauty/mirror functions
Huawei's pursuit to create a smartphone that is able to compete competently against flagship Android devices led to the creation of another device in the Ascend P-series range. The Ascend P7, following after the Ascend P6 and the Ascend P6S, is a thin and fashionable smartphone with a specifications list that strongly suggesting it is up to the task, but has Huawei managed to make a flagship-killing mobile phone?

Design and Construction
At first glance, it seems that Huawei has taken a number of pages from Apple's design book for the Ascend P7. Glass backing and a brushed metal edge along three sides is broken up by a curved base edge joining the front and back sides together, creating a nice design. Measuring just 6.5mm (0.26 inches) thick and weighing 124 grams (0.28 pounds), it feels like a rigid, well-built device. Its 140mm (5.5 inches) by 69 mm (2.7 inches) size doesn't make the phone feel big at all, despite the five-inch display. While the glass backing may lack friction for some when holding the phone, the square edges help reintroduce any lost grip.

The attention to detail for smaller components is good, with a few minor issues. On one side is a metal power button within its own concave section flanked by a volume rocker and trays for the SIM card and microSD storage, leaving the other long edge unused and plain in appearance. At the bottom on the curved edge is a Micro USB connection, while at the top is a single headphone socket that appears to take up the majority of the metal band's width. People running their fingers across the hole will notice the inner edges feel a bit sharp. The front and rear speaker grilles have a nice finish, though the microphone at the base is represented by a single hole rather than having its own grille.

The five-inch IPS LCD screen has a resolution of 1080x1920, giving it a more-than-adequate 441ppi pixel density and a nice sharp picture. However, the color temperature appears to be slightly warm by default, though this can be altered in the settings menu. Despite the physical size of the screen, the phone's svelte size means it has extremely thin side bezel widths measuring just under 3mm each, a nice touch to the design. Horizontal viewing angles are a little lacking, with a noticeable dip in brightness when aimed more than 30 degrees to the side. This is not as noticeable for vertical viewing angle changes.

On the back is a 13-megapixel camera, sitting slightly proud from the glass back, accompanied by an LED flash, while the front camera has a large 8-megapixel sensor. The accompanying camera app offers an ISO range between 100 and 800, in addition to typical white balance, timer, and HDR functions as other cameras. It also boasts high-dynamic range (HDR), panorama, audio control, "best photo," watermarking, object tracking, and smile-capture modes. For recording a 1080p video at 30fps, it adds a software stabilizer and object tracking.

Though it is extremely easy to accidentally place part of a finger in the shot thanks to the rear camera's placement, the quality of the resulting image is pretty good overall. Zooming in does show some noise, but the entire image usually looks good to the average viewer. The HDR mode works extremely well, but it does struggle with panoramic pictures.

The high quality is also mirrored with the front camera and its 8-megapixel sensor. While it's expected to have quite a few of the same functions as the rear camera, there are some slight oddities. The front camera can perform a panoramic shot, an odd choice of mode to include for a camera used close to the subject, Even though it appears to give a decent picture, the three-picture shot sequence asks the user to take the middle image first followed by the flanking left and right shots, a puzzling design choice which would probably be better as one continuous sweeping shot.

Even stranger is the "Beauty" mode. Users can take a picture of themselves and have the phone automatically adjust the skin to make it smoother, with an option to set it at one of 10 different intensity levels. The lower settings are typically more than enough to give a "make-up" appearance to the subject, with higher intensities causing a strange overworked effect that can also slightly blur the face. In one test, the mode oddly tried to smooth out bright spots in a beard, though people more likely to use this mode won't worry about such issues.

Normal image, Similar image under a medium "Beauty Mode" setting
Normal image, Similar image under a medium "Beauty Mode" setting

When used as a phone, the Ascend P7's front speaker is good, if a little quiet. For media playback, Huawei's choice to put the main speaker on the back rather than the front may have been a misstep in terms of design, but the sheer volume coming from the speaker more than outweighs the issues of a rear placement. The quality of the speaker output is also decent despite facing away from the user, and is almost certainly helped by DTS audio processing. Using a front-facing speaker for media playback like the HTC One M8 or the Sony Xperia Z2 may have given it a bit of room to improve the quality even more.

Storage, Battery Life & Connectivity
Just like some other flagships the Ascend P7 ships with 16GB of storage, but only 11.07GB is available from the very start. Though this is marginally disappointing, it does have a microSD card tray in the side, capable of accepting up to 64GB of extra storage.

Battery life is the biggest issue with the smartphone, with its 2,500mAh battery just not able to keep toe-to-toe with other devices. In testing, involving the constant streaming of a video from YouTube over Wi-Fi at its highest brightness and volume, it managed to take just over six hours to go from a completely full battery to 9 percent under its Smart power profile.

The test results suggest that under normal use it would survive a typical day, but it won't last long long into the evening like some other devices. This may be disappointing to people who effectively live through their phone, but to the infrequent user or those who keep a spare micro USB cable with them at all times, it isn't a major problem.

The power system also includes a more power-hungry mode for maximum performance, and an ultra power saving mode. The power saving mode keeps just basic calling and messaging available to use in order to preserve the battery. Users can manually enable the mode at any time to effectively double the usage time at the expense of usability.

Connectivity options include the usual mix of dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, GPS with GLONASS, the aforementioned NFC with tags, and Category 4 LTE over cellular, which potentially offers download speeds at up to 150Mb/s depending on the LTE network. Buried in the settings is a "Network Apps" option, providing the ability to limit on an app-by-app basis what can connect to the Internet using just mobile data, Wi-Fi, both, or neither, making it an extremely useful function for those with low bandwidth caps.

Huawei's Emotion UI 2.3 overlay for Android is presented as an almost friendlier version of the stock Android 4.4.2 it covers, with the use of round-cornered shortcuts that have a slight "bubble" effect. For the most part, it doesn't appear to be too far away from stock Android at all, with the overlay's light appearance felt throughout the software, including in the white-background settings pages. A "Themes" section gives users the option to change the overall appearance of the UI, including background and lock screen images, audio prompts, and even the appearance of app icons.

Onboard apps are relatively typical, with few in the way of added extras. A "Phone Manager" app can be used to optimize the phone by closing apps and clearing unneeded files, manage blocked calls and messages with the "Harassment Filter," alter the do not disturb settings, and also switch between the different power modes. Huawei also included some NFC tags with the Ascend P7, ones which can be used to trigger a combination of modes or settings quickly, or just to turn on specific apps.

Even so, it is not without its foibles. As with other Emotion UI iterations, it does not have an app drawer to store all on-board software. Instead, new apps appear on the home screen, forcing users to manage all of their apps into folders or in collections on different screens. This could be an issue for users installing a vast array of apps onto the device, but average users will be able to manage by relegating the rarely-used apps to a single folder, or by forcing themselves to be more selective in which apps to install or delete. It also includes a "Mirror" app, one which turns on the front camera and surrounds the picture with a pink floral frame. Though it's a relatively silly addition, it could be useful to people who use smartphones as a mirror by not requiring them to venture into the full camera app.

As a flagship smartphone, you would expect it to be close to other flagships in terms of performance, but sadly the Ascend P7 is slightly lacking. Using a Kirin 910T quad-core processor clocked at 1.8GHz with a Mali-450MP GPT and 2GB of RAM, it doesn't quite reach the same level as the HTC One (M8) and its competitors in the synthetic benchmarks. AnTuTu scored it at 28,907, down from the 35,000-plus scores other flagships typically get. It's a similar story in 3DMark, getting 4,522 and 2,368 in Ice Storm and Ice Storm Extreme respectively. In Geekbench 3, it achieved a single-core score of just 607, along with a multi-core score of 1,811. For comparison, the HTC One (M8) scored a single-core total of 1,019 in GeekBench 3, and a multi-core figure of 2,777.

Despite the disappointing totals, in general use it appears to be powerful enough to meet most user demands. The camera fires up in under two seconds, though it does take a second to snap each photograph, and most pre-installed apps are quick to load. Navigation between pages and apps seems to be rapid with no stalls, and though it has a long 33-second boot time, it is extremely quick to wake from standby.

During intense usage, it was found that the Ascend P7 would get fairly warm, especially on the back. This may be a byproduct of its extremely-thin construction, as well as Huawei's use of "thermal gel cooling." Though the warmth can alarm people the first time it occurs, it doesn't get uncomfortably warm at all.

Final Thoughts
The Huawei Ascend P7 is a marked improvement on earlier models in the range, and it is to be commended. While it is a considerable upgrade for existing Huawei smartphone users, it doesn't quite keep up with the top-of-the-range devices released by the other major manufacturers. It certainly has power, and quite a few of the specifications would have make it a decent contender if Huawei released it last year, but against the current crop it appears lackluster.

That being said, there's certainly a lot more in terms of appeal to the phone than the specifications. The user interface is familiar and modern-looking, it's fast and responsive in normal use, and while it has a great rear camera, the sheer resolution of the front-facing version has to be commended. It's physical design is also quite startling when you consider its thinness, with a decent amount of attention to detail expended on the phone by the company.

Overall, it is hard not to recommend the Huawei Ascend P7. Sure, it may have a few quirks and a slightly under-par battery life, it is still a great smartphone that manages to do pretty much anything a person could want a smartphone to do, and in some cases, surpasses expectations.