I’ve said this many times: Huawei makes great phones. They’re built to last and their software won’t cause you many headaches after you get used to it. All the Huawei phones I’ve tested in the last couple of years worked very well, even after I’ve been using them a while (which can’t be said for many Android phones).
But while the company’s latest flagship, the Huawei P10, follows in that path, it has one pretty big flaw: it’s boring. It doesn’t bring any truly exciting features, and it’s not even keeping pace with competitors.
There’s no huge screen. No waterproof design. No significant design changes compared to the last year’s model, the Huawei P9.
The only major change between this model and that one is the placement of the fingerprint sensor, which also replaces Android menu buttons, from the back of the phone to its front.
That’s right: When every other major phone maker is removing buttons from the front of their flagships, Huawei is actually adding one.
A new button and little else
So let’s start with the fingerprint sensor. It’s a nice thing: No moving parts, resides under the glass, reads your fingerprints fast, and after a while it’s nearly as good as using the standard Android menu buttons (which can be enabled in the settings).
But does it offer any advantages over the onscreen buttons? Absolutely not. It’s located right below the screen, so it prevents Huawei from making the screen any larger, contrasted by the beeg screen of the LG G6, which also launched during this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
The button’s “home” and “back” gestures (a simple long and short presses) worked well, but getting the recent tasks to show up — which is supposed happen when you swipe the button left or right — didn’t always happen for me.
Regardless of your experience, the button is just another way to do things, and perhaps it’s a mid-step toward actually placing the fingerprint sensor under the screen. And while that would be pretty cool (Apple is rumored to be planning something like that for its next iPhone), it’s not here now, and I don’t really care for learning new gestures to perform the simplest of operations on the phone.
Beyond the button, the design of the phone can best be described by an anecdote. When Huawei handed out the review units to journalists in Barcelona, absolutely everyone opted for the blue one. Why? Because it’s the only one that stands out — the standard white and silver colors look bland.
Don’t get me wrong: The Huawei P10 is a nice-looking device. But besides that button on the front, and a rougher surface on the back that prevents slippage, it’s very similar to the P9, which is in turn very similar to the P8. It’s an OK design that won’t wow anyone, and it’s getting pretty old.
A healthy mix of features
Specs-wise, the P10 is actually a hybrid between the P9 and Huawei’s bigger flagship, the Mate 9. It has all the Mate 9’s innards: the Kirin 960 chipset, the 20-megapixel monochrome/12-megapixel color camera combo, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage.
On the outside, the P10 is more similar to the P9, but it has a smaller screen — 5.1 vs. 5.2 inches. It’s once again a full HD (1080p) screen — a notch down from the current flagships, which typically boast 2,560 x 1,440 resolution. If you want that many pixels, look towards the 5.5-inch Huawei P10 Plus, which I haven’t had a chance to try out yet. It also has a slightly larger battery (3,200 vs. 3,000 mAh), a nice improvement but not one that will make you rush to buy it.
With GeekBench 4 benchmarks, the Huawei P10 performed a little better than the (already great) Huawei Mate 9. Its multi-core score was the best around, while the single-core score lagged only behind Apple’s iPhone.
There’s absolutely nothing bad about these specs; in fact, the Huawei P10 performs great and has never felt slow in daily use, no matter what I threw at it. But there’s also nothing entirely new; it’s essentially the Mate 9 in a smaller body.
Software gets smarter
The Huawei P10 comes with Android 7.0 and the latest version of Huawei’s UI software, EMUI 5.1. You won’t notice many visual differences compare to EMUI 5.0, which was introduced on the Huawei Mate 9.
For this version of the software, Huawei decided to focus on performance. The phone now responds to touches quicker and even prepares the next app you might want to use in advance for an even faster response. A feature called Ultra Memory is a RAM optimizer that learns from your usage habits and frees the RAM from the stuff you probably won’t need.
One new feature that will be familiar to anyone who’s ever used Google Photos is Highlights. The phone will automatically sort your photos and create highlight reels of the best ones; this happens in the background when the phone is idle, so you don’t have to worry about slowdowns. To see how it works, open the Gallery app and tap on the Discover tab.
Generally, I like the last few iterations of EMUI and the new version is not an exception. It’s solid, stable, easy to get used to and fairly unobtrusive. Die-hard stock Android fans might disagree, though.
A familiar camera setup
On paper, the Huawei P10 has exactly the same Leica-branded camera setup as the Huawei Mate 9. However, I’ve tested the two phones’ cameras directly against each other, and I’ve gotten very different results.
In well-lit conditions, the P10 takes photos with far more vivid and intensive colors, but the software appears to apply a lot of contrast and saturation to achieve that look. The photos might look more attractive at first sight, but a lot of details are lost, and I prefer the more subdued photos produced by the Mate 9.
You can, of course, take matters into your own hand by swiping upwards in the camera software to reveal Huawei’s extremely powerful Pro mode, but most users will stick to auto mode for the majority of their shots.
There’s one mode in which both the Mate 9 and the P10 take similarly great shots: the 20-megapixel monochrome. These will often match the results you’ll get with an actual camera, and again, it’s a pity that the color sensor only goes to 12 megapixels.
The Huawei P10’s camera has an f/2.2 aperture size, which is not great compared to top Android smartphone cameras. It shows: The camera will struggle when you try to take a photo in a dark room, and the only way to improve the quality is to enable the HDR mode. You will get a significantly brighter photo that way, but it will be quite grainy.
I also pitted the P10’s camera against the one on the new LG G6, which has dual 13-megapixel cameras on the back. The P10 would often take better outdoors photos in the daylight, but in the dark (with HDR turned off on both devices), the G6 took much brighter photos with far more accurate colors.
The 8-megapixel selfie camera is good, and it comes with a portrait mode (which somehow creates a shoddy bokeh effect using only one camera) and tons of beauty-enhancing features that didn’t really help my troubled-looking self much. That said, the selfie cam’s wider, f/1.9 aperture makes selfies look better in low light, and the overall quality of the selfies was good.
An evolutionary upgrade
There’s absolutely nothing bad about this phone. It’s a hybrid of last year’s P9’s size and the newer Mate 9’s features, and it looks OK and performs great.
That said, there are few innovations here, and the new fingerprint sensor is not reason enough to go for this phone — in fact, I’m not even sure it’s a step forward.
Furthermore, while competitors such as LG are showing waterproof phones with beautiful, large screens, Huawei appears to be lagging behind. The price is 649 euros in Europe, which is on par with top Android flagships and a hundred euros cheaper than the iPhone 7. But it is also a whopping 100 euros more expensive than its predecessor, the Huawei P9, was at launch, and I don’t see how that price jump is warranted with what the P10 has to offer.
Good specs • Great build quality
Too similar to its predecessor • New fingerprint sensor isn’t an improvement • Pricey
The Bottom Line
The Huawei P10 is an all-around solid phone, but it does not stand out in the crowd.