Whichever way you look at it, the flagship end of the Smartphone market has hit somewhat of a plateau recently. The likes of Samsung, LG and a plethora of others have tapped that market, got it nailed down to a tee and have a winning formula that can’t really be trounced unless you have a bottomless pit of money to experiment with.
Is that necessarily a bad thing? Not entirely; although Samsung are the demigod of the Android world that are effectively untouchable, that’s only for the leaders in the high-end market. They tend to forget about one part of the market space that has an equal portion of user base: Budget Phones. Budget Phones have always had a bad wrap with just the name itself, giving them a bad reputation. The reason for this is that budget smartphones just weren’t that good up until their resurgence over the past 6-7 months. They had no rhyme, reason, even meaning to why it needed to BE there in the first place. Poorly designed chips, ghastly screen technology, and the price wasn’t something to be enticed about, either.
Now technology has reached its prolonged peak, it becomes cheaper to manufacture and makes its way to the budget market, giving you more value for money in the process of doing so. Huawei, the companies budget phone I’m looking at today, have been dominating the market in a high-velocity fashion in the past year, and with the recent release of their new flagship, the P10, they subsequently released a new budget smartphone replacing the previous P8 Lite, originally named the P8 Lite 2017. From the spec sheet alone, the P8 Lite 2017 had almost-flagship characteristics with that well-known Huawei trademark smartphone design.
I was lucky enough to get my hands on the P8 Lite 2017, sent kindly by the people over at Huawei PR.
Does the budget market now have a newly rejuvenated name? Let’s find out.
One thing that is usually an afterthought in the minds of manufacturers when it comes to a budget smartphone is its design. You get a feeling of uninspiration that leaves a sour taste in your mouth. From its unforgivable choice of material, or the way the device is built in general – there’s a reason why a lot of budget smartphones just aren’t worth the money you pay for it, in turn diminishing the name of budget and what it means. It sounds more of a con than a viable option since they started rearing their heads back in the Nexus One days of Android. Nowadays, however, budget isn’t a bad word being thrust around, with build quality being one major upsides to sub £200 phones.
The same can be said for the Huawei P8 Lite 2017. It’s an absolutely gorgeous device to behold. From its Nexus 4-like glass design, to the gloriously perfected chamfered edges; you could be easily mistaken to believe that this device was made alongside its Flagship brother the Huawei P10 in terms of manufacturing and attention to detail.
In terms of the phone’s design, it’s very much a rehash of the Honor 8, taking little bits of inspiration and the good parts of the previous Huawei P8 with it. As mentioned before, it has a very clean all-glass design taking up the majority of the device’s surface area, and it’s a pure treat to hold on a daily basis.
Getting down to brass tacks, around the front of the device is next to nothing other than a Huawei Logo, the 5.2″ 1080p display and, of course, the hefty 8MP front-facing camera. Although that sounds like a bad thing, I actually think it’s a fantastic thing. You don’t need distractions on the front of the device, dampening an immersive experience and the relationship you have with the device. The P8 Lite 2017 does just that in the business part of the device, especially with the Black version I have – Huawei created an immersive experience with no distractions to get in your way.
Moving around to the sides of the device now: Along the top is the 3.5MM headphone jack and a microphone – the left-side has the SIM/Micro-SD card tray sitting on its lonesome. Moving to the right-hand side and this is the busiest place you’ll find the P8 Lite, with the addictingly clicky volume rocker and power button.
This is where the only negative I have for its build, or mainly manufacturing thought-process is – In 2017 there shouldn’t be any devices with Micro-USB ports, and that’s exactly what Huawei decided to do with the P8 Lite 2017. USB-C is the new standard, and doesn’t cost all that much to implement. Sitting next to either side of the Micro-USB port is the speaker grilles. It’s worth noting that only one speaker is actually used as a speaker, the other grille has the microphone hidden behind it.
Switching to the back of the device, and you’re greeted with the well-known and trademark look of any Huawei phone, and that’s the fingerprint sensor. Perfectly positioned for ease-of-use, and I have nothing but great things to say about this sensor – It’s fast, easy to use and hasn’t once failed to recognise my fingerprint in any situation I throw at it.
All in all, the build quality of the P8 Lite 2017 is among the best I have seen in a mid-range phone, nevermind budget. It gives me a case of nostalgia every time I pick the device up thanks to how much tne Nexus 4 made a mark with its unique and illustrious design, and the P8 Lite replicates that beautifully. It’s extremely ergonomic, very small to hold yet has a beautiful 5.2″ display to boot.
Speaking of displays, I’m struggling to really put any negatives beside this section of the review, because the display of the P8 Lite is frankly wonderful. You could put it up against a flagship from last year, say the G5, which had an admirable display, and you would be hard pressed to find a difference between the two.
Thanks to Huawei’s agenda to make everything customisable, you can change the temperature of the display, even the colour gamut if you were inclined to do so. Out of the box, and after the initial setup, the display temperature is more on the warm side, with tinges of orange seeping through the whites that are hardly noticeable when you bump up the brightness to its full capacity. I find a warmer colour temperature more off-putting in most cases; it gives off a lacklustre colour reproduction half the time and the whites usually appear washed out – but I think Huawei’s tweaking of the display made me hate the warm temperature slightly less. The whites were by no means washed out and packed a punch, the colour reproduction of the screen, much like any IPS display, were natural – although one thing to note, again, thanks in part to Huawei’s tweaking of the display, the colours came off a little more vibrant than a standard IPS panel. The usual RGB (Red, Green, Blue) spectrum appeared to me as if it had a little more contrast to it, making the images pop out at you more and easier on the eye.
In terms of how bright the screen can go (Spoiler: not very), the Huawei P8 Lite can only just manage to get up to 300nits in direct sunlight. Although that number isn’t impressive, especially for a modern smartphone, I had no issues viewing the screen in direct sunlight while using this as my daily driver for a week. Sure, the colour reproduction took a big hit when it reached the plateau of 300, but it was still perfectly usable and wasn’t tempted to put my phone away because I couldn’t see anything.
At a very respectable 1920×1080 resolution, the display is just fine for any needs you may have. Text is crisp, with no pixels to be found unless you have a microscope handy.
As much as the title states that the P8 Lite has ‘Unquestionable Performance’, that comes with a bit of the caveat that I will touch on quite a bit in this section. The P8 Lite has the Kirin 655, which, for all intents and purposes is an aged processor now in Huawei world. But that doesn’t mean by any stretch that this processor is ‘budget’, nor does it mean it’s a slug when it comes to the bigger tasks a smartphone can do. The 655 is known as a ‘workhorse’ processor in the industry, and the P8 Lite shines it in the same light for the most part.
Gaming performance is exceptionally speedy, with even the most intensive games like Modern Combat putting up a huge fight with no framerate drops to be seen. The usual foray of ‘pick up and play’ games work as they would, too – and with that beautiful 5.2″ screen, the immersion experience Huawei strive for show its true colours when gaming more than anything you can do with this smartphone as standard. The best part of all this, which you see from quite a lot of flagship devices out there on the market, is how little heat comes from the device when playing said games at lengthy amounts of time. As an example: I played a selection of 3 games, switching from them every 10 minutes or so (Bit City, Asphalt 8 and Clash Royale), for about 40 or 50 minutes. The P8 Lite only just managed to get luke warm throughout the whole time playing these quite intensive games. That, for me, sold me on how well the P8 can handle pretty much anything you throw at it if you’re an avid mobile gamer like myself.
Remember that caveat I was talking about? Well it comes in the form of the memory management. Now I’ve never owned or even played with a Huawei device before this one, but I sincerely hope the memory management is better in the P10 than it is its budget brother. For me, it felt like the P8 Lite was fighting for its will for survive in most basic situations like multitasking. Just as a note, the P8 Lite 2017 has 3GB of RAM out of the box, and with the memory management improvements that come with Nougat, that’s more than enough to handle effectively anything you do on a daily basis. Unfortunately I had quite the opposite experience, with multiple app crashes when going from app to app (Slack to Twitter/Talon), and the fact that apps just refuse to stay in memory for more than 10 minutes without it freezing and causing a cold refresh of said application. It made the experience cumbersome for me in the end, and I would pick up the phone wondering if the app I had open not more than 30 minutes ago would actually open up the first time.
After doing some digging further into this issue, I found it was the memory management that Huawei mustered up themselves that caused this detriment to the experience of the device. It doesn’t matter how much a phone’s aesthetic looks pretty; if the phone doesn’t perform in the tasks you will most likely be doing on a daily basis, I just won’t use the phone and put it to the side. This is what ultimately made me stop using the P8 Lite as my daily driver for that reason. It was an experience that I can only describe it being close to pulling teeth.
From a severely bad point to a good point: In general the P8 Lite does play ball in most situations, and it was only in half the circumstances that the memory management would let you down. The Kirin 655 is still very much a workhorse, it’s just that Huawei’s butchered job of the memory management causes it to falter by the wayside a little bit, leaving a bitter taste in your mouth.
With Huawei being a company based out of China, software isn’t really something that’s on top of their ‘to tweak’ list for its agenda. The Chinese market is a completely different kettle of fish compared to the rest of the world when it comes to Smartphone sales – the consumer in China want something that’s cheap, primarily used as an actual phone, and the rest can be left, or give little attention to. Obviously times are changing now thanks to Apple’s ever-growing popularity in each market, ensuing world domi-I mean market domination. This meant that the consumers mind in those markets had shifted considerably, and they wanted more than just a ‘phone’ when it came down to it. Huawei capitalised on this shifting thought process, making some exceptional smartphones for the price they were retailed at and eventually becoming the third most popular smartphone manufacturer in the world.
Now the whole landscape of a smartphone has changed for the majority of markets, software is something that needs to be taken seriously. Huawei were never known for making the best software in the world, accused of ‘copying’ Apple’s style, even going so far as designing the operating system after iOS. This isn’t by any means a bad thing, especially for Chinese markets – I mean, that’s all they’re used to seeing. But now the Chinese company are tapping into European/US markets, its software needs to have its own personality, and not a shadow of its competitors personality.
The P8 Lite runs the latest version of EMUI (5.0), with, very surprisingly, Android 7.0 Nougat. Upon setting the phone up for the first time, you will find the setup process a breeze to go through and the built-in tips and help that Huawei implemented is a breath of fresh air. It doesn’t treat the consumer as if they have no common sense, and is more of a pointer which I prefer.
If you’ve used Android phones before and expect a similar experience with a Huawei device, get that thought out of your head right now – EMUI is like nothing you will ever see before when it comes to its ingenius flat design, easy on the eyes interface and quite frankly a very easy experience for a first-time Android user.
There’s a couple of things in there that are very much iOS-inspired, namely the fact you don’t have an app drawer as default. Thankfully in EMUI 5 you can simply go into the settings menu and enable that.
I’ve seen multiple iterations of Huawei’s software design before, and EMUI 5 is easily their cleanest implementation. It feels more like an Android phone, an authentic experience and you get a little feel of joy when experiencing the animations that Huawei put in there. The settings menu isn’t flustered with a claustrophobic amount of information, the apps follow the guidelines Google provide, and it feels like the material design Google have been striving for manufacturers to follow since Android KitKat.
Overall, the software on the P8 Lite has been very pleasant in my time with the device. It didn’t get in the way of what I wanted to do, and the design gets a massive thumbs up from me.
Unfortunately the 12MP rear shooter on the P8 Lite isn’t Leica co-engineered like the P9 was, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s out of the game just yet. I was actually very impressed, if not dumbfounded when I first opened the Camera app on this device. The software itself is very simple to use, and shares some familiarities with Apple’s camera software, which is a great thing. The options don’t take up half of the screen, distracting you from the viewfinder, and the options you have are more than enough to get that perfect shot.
For the shots themselves, they get the right amount of light, blending it with some wonderful colour reproduction with no over sharpening of the imaging. This is because the post-processing of the images that Huawei have engineered is nothing short of fantastic. Perfect amount of sharpness, vibrancy and white balance.
For normal lighting conditions, and with the notably quick shutter speed, the P8 Lite won’t leave you unimpressed that you didn’t take 2 pictures just in case the first one didn’t focus properly. Focussing in normal lighting, such as daylight, posed no issue for the focus speed, taking less than half a second to focus, adjusting the brightness and getting the colours perfect for the end product.
In moderate conditions, the P8 can become a little sluggish at focussing on some objects, and this becomes more apparent when you attempt to take a picture of a singular object in the foreground – it doubles the focus speed up to 1, in some cases 2 seconds. The image it produces is still fantastic with no grain to be seen, but it’s worth mentioning that the focusing can become quite cumbersome.
Low-light is effectively a no go for this camera, as the grain takes up most of the images, trying to overcompensate the situation with oversharpening.
In a nutshell, the P8 Lite camera is absolutely fantastic in normal lighting and moderate conditions, and you won’t be disappointed with the image it produces. The only place it falls drastically is the low-light conditions, but that is an issue for much more expensive phones than this device.
My favourite part of this device, among a lot of things, is the battery life. It actually came very close to beating my iPhone 7 Plus in a couple of situations.
The phone will get you through a whole day, at a push a day and a half before having to rush to a charger. My usage is quite high, messaging regularly throughout the day, playing quite intensive games (Pokemon Go, Bit City, Clash Royale), and each day it was consistent in telling me how much juice I needed before I needed to charge it up.
Before reaching 0%, fulling depleting the battery, the P8 manages 4-5 hours screen-on time. This is from unplugging the device at 7:30am each morning and charging it at around 11PM each night – I would go to bed with 30% charge left after the usage I mentioned a paragraph up.
Huawei have given a new meaning to the word ‘Budget’. I’m going to be honest here, I was one of those people have vilified the budget name and each time I heard the word I was instantly put off by the device no matter what it was.
After using the P8 Lite 2017, I have opened my eyes to a budget smartphone again. This device can do, and in some cases, perform better than your average mid-range phone and leave it in the dust. It has the perfect build quality, a fantastic camera and performs admirably for what it is.
This phone is £200. In 2017, we have a phone that is £200 that could be your daily driver for 24 months. As this device came with Nougat out of the box, you can expect future Android updates to make its way to this device, too.
Unfortunately, due to the memory management issue I mentioned in the performance section of the review, I can’t recommend this phone entirely. You can’t expect to use a device that is unforgiving in its memory management, as it dampens the overall experience. No amount of beautiful build quality can fix terrible performance thanks to its unforgiving memory management. This could easily fixed by a software tweak for the memory management system not to be too eager to close applications, causing freezes – and I hope Huawei fix this.