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Huawei P8 Lightning Review: A beautiful phone but how well does it work?

by Jim Louderback | June 14, 2015

The Huawei P8 is a beautiful phone. It’s super slim, has an aluminum body, a bright 5.2” 1920×1280 screen and a look that’s more than uncomfortably similar to Apple’s iPhone6. I loved it. Until I started using it.

I just spent the last two weeks with a “Mystic Champagne” colored P8, which is certainly a head turner. My first impressions were positive, as I was found the modified Android Lollipop interface –which also closely resembles iOS – to be elegant, clean and relatively easy to use. It was certainly cleaner than the KitKat-based Oppo N3 I’ve been using for the past few months. Unfortunately the drawbacks – at least today outweigh all the positives. It’s certainly sexy. It’s just not a very good phone.

Bluetooth

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My problems started with the Bluetooth stack. I quickly connected the phone to both the companion Huawei Talkband H2 that I was also testing, and my Plantronics Blackwire headset. Those connected without a hitch. But then I tried to pair the phone with my Audi A4, and ran into a world of pain. After about 20 tries, I finally got the two to talk to each other (note this same car has connected with dozens of other devices without a hitch).

But my Bluetooth problems didn’t stop there. The P8 had terrible luck actually reconnecting with those three devices. It would only connect with the Audi on one of every eight connection attempts, and it would often just hang trying to connect up to the Blackwire headset. It didn’t fare much better with its corporate sibling, the H2.

Even after the phone updated its OS a few times the problems still remained. This was almost a dealbreaker right there, as Bluetooth connectivity seems so fundamental to the whole concept of a phone. But I decided to give it one last try – so I wiped the device, and reinstalled all of my accounts and apps and then set out to reconnect those devices. Perhaps the Talkband was causing problems, I mused, and so this time I connected car, then Plantronics, then H2. This time everything worked perfectly, so I decided to give the P8 another chance.

Unfortunately that wasn’t the end of Bluetooth problems. I still ran into issues from time to time where previously paired devices just wouldn’t reconnect with the P8. I discovered a fix though – turning Bluetooth off, and then back on again seemed to reset enough of the system to circumvent the problem.

Thin is great but at what cost?

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I could have overlooked that had the battery life been better. Unfortunately you have to pay for thin – and in this case it’s a non-removable 2680 mAh battery that never seemed to last a full day without draining – thus leaving me high and dry. The battery is just 12% less than the Oppo N3 – yet even with the bigger screen I never ran out of power over the last three months. Clearly there’s more going on here than just a lack of juice.

Knock it off!

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Oh, and while I’m dishing, I really disliked the knuckle-dragging feature of the P8. The phone is supposed to tell whether you’re tapping it with your finger or banging it with your knuckle. The latter behavior – which Huawei proudly calls “knuckle sense technology” – snaps a quick screen shot. Except it really couldn’t tell the difference between my finger and my knuckle in my tests, and now I have a gallery full of screen shots that I’d rather not have to go delete manually. Every day.

In case you were wondering, no, I did not test it with my “knuckle-head” to see if that would work as well. I have limits too, you know.

The Good

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Enough about the drawbacks though. If you can get around these three problems this is a fine, fine phone. The screen is bright and crisp – albeit not 2k. The interface is snappy and lean, and I even liked the tweaked version of Lollipop with its rounded corners and soft buttons – even though there’s no off deck repository of downloaded apps.

The phone is built around a Huawei designed system on an 8-core chip that combines two separate processors together, four cores running at 2 gigahertz, the other four at 1.5Ghz. Theoretically this should let the phone run many functions on the slower, and less power hungry chip, but as I found in practice it just doesn’t work that way in real life. But there’s hope – maybe down the road a software update will improve battery life, as the company tweaks the load balancing. Still, if you’re really worried about battery life Huawei’s P8 Max has a 4,360 mAh battery inside, and that should last you a full day under even the heaviest load. You can also opt for the “Ultra” power saving mode, which only supports basic call and messaging functions – and more than doubles battery life. But if you’re going to cripple all the powerful features of this expensive flagship phone to gain battery life, you might just as well pick up an old feature phone instead (or the new P8 Lite, just announced).

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I found the camera to be quite good. The 13 megapixel sensor is the first I’ve seen that uses four pixels – adding white to red, blue and green. The company claims that this increases brightness in high-contrast situations while reducing noise in low-light photos. All I can say is my pictures looked pretty awesome, as it excelled in both low and bright lighting conditions.

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Phone audio quality was good too, as the built in speaker is clear and loud. The loudspeaker isn’t amazing – but it did a good job as a speakerphone, and reproduced sounds and music with richness and clarity.

The P8 includes a variety of sensors, including an accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity sensor and compass. The proximity sensor is used with the Lollipop’s built in security stack to unlock the phone when it’s near a “trusted” Bluetooth device, like a headset. This worked with the Huawei Talkband H2 that I tested, but I was unable to get any other Bluetooth device to become “trusted” in my tests.

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Speaking of GPS, although it seemed to function well during my two weeks with the phone, one day the popular navigation and traffic avoidance app Waze couldn’t access location services. It was certainly running, as Google Maps worked just fine. Even after rebooting, Waze was still blind.

A few hours later, though, everything worked great. Ordinarily I’d blame the app, but with the other problems I had with the P8, I can’t rule out something wonky in the phone itself.

The problem didn’t reoccur, so I’ll just chalk that one up to “gremlins”.

I liked this phone, but didn’t love it. It’s pretty – although it’s also a blatant iPhone rip-off. And apart from the battery and Bluetooth problems I found it a breeze to use. If Huawei can fix those problems, this phone – which is available for roughly $750 to $800 online – offers a solid mix of usability and functionality. At $500 or so it would be a steal. But at $800 you might look elsewhere.

If you’re looking to save money, Huawei just announced a stripped down version of the P8, called the Huawei P8 Lite. It runs KitKat, alas, which means the interface will seem tired. It also has just a 2200mAh battery, which may decrease the already anemic battery life of the P8. The screen is just a 1280×720, and it uses a slower 1.5Mhz snapdragon processor. It’s also all plastic, which means you won’t get the same feel of the more premium P8. The camera is also watered down. But still, for just $250 unlocked, if it’s even 75% of the P8 then it’ll be a good value.


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Jim Louderback

Jim Louderback joined Revision3 as the CEO in July 2007, and guided the company to a 20-fold increase in viewers, a 12x increase in revenue, 39 new...Jim Louderback joined Revision3 as the CEO in July 2007, and guided the company to a 20-fold increase in viewers, a 12x increase in revenue, 39 new...


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