Huawei P10 Review: One Of The Best Cameras On A Phone Right … – Forbes

Chinese tech powerhouse Huawei's got its sights set on the world. The P10 is its latest flagship product.

Ben Sin

Chinese tech powerhouse Huawei’s got its sights set on the world. The P10 is its latest flagship product.

When I reviewed the Huawei P9 about a year ago, one of the things that caught my attention was how proud Huawei was of its Chinese roots, flaunting that the device was “Made in China” when all other Chinese brands (and American brands, like Ivanka Trump’s  clothing line or Apple) tries to hide that fact. The most shameless of these may be Shenzhen-based ZTE, which puts “Designed in USA” on the box of its Axon 7 smartphone.

But why shouldn’t Huawei be proud? It’s a giant tech power that doesn’t just make smartphones and tablets, but telecommunication equipment to more than 170 countries.

The phones, of course, aren’t too shabby either. The company’s newest, the P10, continues on the trend of really well-built handsets with strong Leica-branded cameras. The P9 was a pretty good phone, and the Mate 9 Pro was a really great phone (in my opinion the best smartphone of 2016). Can the P10 continue the trend?

First, let’s talk hardware design. The P10 feels at once like a continuation of the P9 brand while also making some drastic changes. Example: the dual-camera Leica set-up in the corner of the device under a black visor from the P9 returns for the P10, but the phone’s fingerprint sensor has moved from the back to the front. The phone keeps the same cool brushed-metal back of the P9, but all the boxy/square-ish corners have been softened dramatically into an iPhone-like body in the P10. In all, the phone looks great, most likely because my review unit is in matte black, and I think that is, by far, the best color/texture on gadgets.

Phonemakers, please always offer a matte black variant of your phone. Men in general like this look, we don't want "rose gold" (aka pink) or Trump gold phones. Light blue is fun to look at but also not as classic as black. Just give us deep matte black.

Ben Sin

Phonemakers, please always offer a matte black variant of your phone. You want to experiment with all sorts of wacky colors, fine, but deep black is classic and timeless so always save a spot for that.

Huawei moving the fingerprint sensor to the iPhone/Samsung position of right underneath the display is likely because the company is trying to promote a new way of navigation within the phone that’s similar to what Meizu has done with its phones (I explained Meizu’s “mBack” system here last year). In short, the P10’s default navigation method does away with the traditional Android three button set-up (back, home, overview). Instead, the three actions are achieved by either long-pressing (home), tapping (back) or swiping (overview) on the fingerprint sensor. (Huawei actually first introduced this set-up on its Porsche design Mate 9, but given that phone’s crazy high price tag I doubt many people got to use it)

The new Huawei navigation set-up is admirable — I think Android’s three button set-up is getting dated and something more streamlined should be considered — but it’s quite buggy right now. Plus with Huawei’s set-up you won’t be able to take advantage of some Android Nougat tricks like quick switching between apps. That means you’ll ultimately go back to the traditional Android three button set-up, which the P10 offers. But once you do that, you have the awkwardness of having a fingerprint sensor sitting where the home button is on most phones, except on the P10 it’s not the home button, you still gotta tap on that circle on the display. I’d bet that Huawei will fix all this with the next phone (Mate 10?), as of now, it’s a slight inconvenience.

With dimensions of 5.72 x 2.73 x 0.28 in and weighing just 145g, the P10 is a small phone.

Ben Sin

With dimensions of 5.72 x 2.73 x 0.28 in and weighing just 145g, the P10 is a small phone.

That’s about the only part of the P10 that’s “below par.” Everything about the P10 (in terms of performance) screams top-of-the-line. The Kirin 960 is, in my opinion, the fastest chip on the market. I’m fortunately enough to get my hands on just about new phone, and the Kirin 960 beats the Snapdragon 821, Exynos 8890. I’m pretty sure the Snapdragon 835 on the Samsung Galaxy S8 won’t match the Kirin 960 too. The dual Leica cameras also take some of the best photos of any smartphone I’ve ever seen. Huawei’s consumer business group head Jim Xu told me the company spent a lot of time working with Leica to work on the software algorithm, and I believe him. Even though the P10’s cameras get a spec bump (it’s now 20- and 12-megapixel compared to the dual 12-megapixel on the P9), most of the improvement comes from just better software that’s able to stitch together a superior photo. I already wrote an entire post showing the P10’s photos during my trip to Italy, but below are more photo samples.

A shot from my hotel in Barcelona.

Ben Sin

A shot from my hotel in Barcelona.

Colors are accurate and balanced.

Ben Sin

Colors are accurate and balanced.

Florence.

Ben Sin

Florence.

Check out the details in the sculptures.

Ben Sin

Check out the details in the sculptures.

Here is a 100% crop of the same shot.

Ben Sin

Here is a 100% crop of the same shot.

Taken inside a dimly lit church in Florence. Check out how much details are in the 100% cropped parts.

Ben Sin

Taken inside a dimly lit church in Florence. Check out how much details are in the 100% cropped parts.

Hail Caesar! (Cropped bits are 100% scale)

Ben Sin

Hail Caesar! (Cropped bits are 100% scale)

Low light performance is also very strong.

Ben Sin

Low light performance is also very strong.

As you can see, in general the photos capture a lot of details, with great saturation. Huawei’s software has a myriad of filters and output modes (you can, for example, choose to have photos that come out punchier or more “realistic”), so there’s a lot to play with. I suggest checking out my Mate 9 Pro or (standard) Mate 9 review for more information on these modes.

Of course, the selling point of the P10 is the Leica dual-lens set-up, which can take photos with a digital depth-of-field effect (aka the “bokeh” effect). Apple called this “portrait mode,” and I guess the name stuck because I see quite a few other sites refer to “bokeh effect” as portrait mode now. Anyway, the P10 can still shoot photos in portrait mode with the rear cameras, of course, but Huawei and Leica’s built a software algorithm into the single front-facing camera to pull off the same trick. Have a look below.

I used the bokeh/portrait effect on my hand and my friend's dog. The best part about this mode is you can change the focus point post-shot. That means if I want, I can blur out my hand and have the photo highlight the MacBook behind my hand if I want.

Ben Sin

I used the bokeh/portrait effect on my hand and my friend’s dog. The best part about this mode is you can change the focus point post-shot. That means if I want, I can blur out my hand and have the photo highlight the MacBook behind my hand if I want.

On the left is another "bokeh effect" portrait mode; on the right is a photo shot with the P10's monochrome shooter.

Ben Sin

On the left is another “bokeh effect” portrait mode; on the right is a photo shot with the P10’s monochrome shooter.

So as you can see above, the “bokeh effect”, aka portrait mode, can make certain photos look more dramatic. It’s nothing game-changing, but a fun little effect to play with when you’re taking photos of people and, uh, hands. As mentioned, you can also use this effect with the selfie camera, but the results are a mixed bag (or maybe it’s just because I’m not photogenic …).

The left is a selfie taken "normally," the right is with the "portrait mode" turned on. Other than some digitally blurred background, I don't see much difference.

Ben Sin

The left is a selfie taken “normally,” the right is with the “portrait mode” turned on. Other than some digitally blurred background, I don’t see much difference. Also, I really, really hate taking selfies.

In all, the P10’s camera is arguably the “best” mobile phone camera on the market, because it has the best combination of photo quality/detail when blown up, and also a bunch of fun modes. Black-and-white photos with the P10 (and the Mate 9) look absolutely fantastic.

The phone can shoot videos in 4K and 1080p, up to 60 fps. OIS, however, works better in 1080p. You can also choose to use filters for videos. 

The P10 (right) next to the Huawei Mate 9 Pro.

Ben Sin

The P10 (right) next to the Huawei Mate 9 Pro.

As a media playing device, the P10 is a mixed bag. The 5.1-inch LCD panel is bright and vibrant, but it’s still only 5.1-inches (tiny by today’s standards) and not AMOLED. The single bottom-firing speaker is solid but pales in comparison to stereo speakers on the ZTE Axon 7 or even the Huawei Mate 9 Pro. The P10 isn’t a phone you’d want to watch movies with anyway, since it’s so small (you can get the Huawei P10 Plus or the LG G6 for that).

On the software front, not much has changed since the Huawei Mate 9 Pro. The phone runs Android 7.0 with Huawei’s EMUI on top, and as I’ve written before: EMUI is not bad! It’s cleaned up a lot. In fact, I love the dark notification/quick toggle shade. The phone ships with no app drawer out of the box, but Huawei lets you set one up. I ended up just slapping Nova launcher on all my phones anyway.

The 3,200 mAh battery inside is enough to last you a full day. That’s to be expected, since the phone has a small(ish) display, only 1080p resolution, and being a Chinese phone, has some aggressive software optimization built-in. It’s pretty hard to run out of battery when you’re using a Chinese phone released after 2015.

Like all of Huawei's recent devices, the P10 ships with a very high quality case that's made of hard plastic.

Ben Sin

Like all of Huawei’s recent devices, the P10 ships with a very high quality case that’s made of hard plastic.

So we know the phone has great build quality and battery life, is super smooth/fast, and has a fun, high-quality camera. So what’s not to like about the P10? Well, a couple of things.

First, this phone isn’t waterproof. I can handle that for a budget OnePlus or Meizu device, but Huawei markets and sells their phones at a tier closer to Samsung and Apple flagships. Second, as sexy as the P10 looks, those bezels top and bottom will be considered large when placed next to the LG G6 or the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S8. 2017 is the year of slim bezels, and the P10 has sadly missed the boat on this. And slim bezels matter! It’s not just for looks. Slim bezels means a phone can have a large display while keeping body compact. For example, the LG G6 has a display that’s half an inch larger than the P10, yet the G6 is only a bit larger, because it has really slim bezels.

I’m sure the Mate 9 will catch up to the trend and drastically trim the forehead and chin of the device. But as of now, the P10 has a slightly dated design. Still, it’s not the end of the world — this phone is still worth getting if you travel a lot and don’t want to lug around a full sized camera. Trust me on this — I went to Florence, Milan and Rome for a week and the P10 captured so many great shots, friends kept asking me what camera I was using.

Here’s a parting shot from the Spanish steps in Rome, taken with the P10 using its “night mode.”

This photo, to put it bluntly, simply couldn't have been possible on other non-Huawei phones. Because it was during the evening and the streets were already dark, photos with other phones would have to either focus on the skies and leave the streets dark, or focus on the streets and overexpose the skies. The P10, using "night mode," was able to capture lighting in an even manner.

Ben Sin

This photo, to put it bluntly, simply couldn’t have been possible on most other phones on the market. Because it was during the evening and the streets were already dark, photos with other phones would have to either focus on the skies and leave the streets dark, or focus on the streets and overexpose the skies. The P10, using “night mode,” was able to capture lighting in an even manner.

 

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