Huawei Ascend P6

Look out… there’s a new guy in town

Huawei? What? This Chinese firm is the biggest telecommunications equipment company in the world, with a revenue of over £23 billion last year. The Ascend P6 is the company’s top-dog smartphone and an attempt to bring the brand to Europe.

As you might imagine, it’s serious.

The Ascend P6 is a premium phone with a premium design to match: the «world’s slimmest smartphone», no less. There’s more than a nod to the iPhone, but all told it looks and feels like a top-end handset.

Almost entirely metal, there’s a brushed aluminium back panel and a curved bottom edge. It is something of a slippery customer — though the Google Nexus 4 probably still trumps it there — but is otherwise as easy to use as any other big-screened device.

All the buttons are found on one side of the device, with the SIM tray, SD card slot, volume rocker and screen/power on/off.

The headphone jack is on the bottom left and filled with a pin. Pull out this pin and it doubles as the SIM card remover. It all seems clever — until you wonder where to put the pin when you’re listening to music… It shows putting together a mobile to take on the best isn’t easy.

While the Huawei P6 has solid a specification, the interface looks a little old-fashioned — and more pertinently we found multitasking between apps or using processor-hungry apps did cause some slowdown.

The Huawei Emotion UI has four screens (some phones offer five) to fill with apps and widgets, as is the norm for Android. (The P6 sports Android 4.2 Jelly Bean OS at the time of writing.)

The icons sit in predictable rows and columns, while Huawei has left the navigation as the Android default — so it’s simple to use (if perhaps uninspiring to enthusiasts). There’s no app tray, however, so any new apps are simply lobbed on to one of your home pages.

Two things you won’t lack are software or features. The P6 pulls together many of its stock apps into two ready-made folders: Mgmt and Tools. And we admit that this pleased our geekiest side: there’s a flashlight, sound recorder and DLNA app among other things, many of which are genuinely useful compared with the average bloatware. The ‘Me Widget’, which Huawei loads on the home screen, can pull in your choice of contacts, music, photos and other information — but we soon got rid of this, not least as we didn’t want to use the P6’s own music app.

Fine, if slightly average, screen

Despite the 4.7in screen, the Huawei P6 only has a 1280 x 720 resolution, which in no more than a few months has become below par in a world of full HD phones.

Does it show? Arguably it’s not resolution that’s the problem here, but rather some issues with noise, some general instability to the picture and motion-handling problems that let the side down.

The usual brightness adjustment is here but Huawei has also added a colour- temperature adjustment. A simple slider gives a fair amount of flexibility or there’s a default setting. Default is about right to our eyes (if slightly on the cool side).

Loading up some BBC iPlayer content, colours are (just about) balanced. There’s decent detail as well as sharp edges, and skin tones and faces are presented naturally. We try some of our video files and it’s more of the same.

Our beefs come with the appearance of digital noise in background blocks of colour, and some blurring with fast motion. More worrying is some infrequent picture flicker on the BBC iPlayer app. Side-by-side with the HTC One it would hold its own but for these flaws.

The addition of Dolby Digital Plus sound is an interesting one — as is the slightly odd placement of the headphone jack — but ultimately it all boils down to simple sound quality, and we don’t think the P6 is up to scratch, sounding a little muffled and lacking in detail.

So-so sound

The Dolby tech promises a typically broader, more encompassing sound — and it certainly delivers. What’s more, it gives a decent and necessary volume boost. We find the P6 on the quiet side with a variety of headphones, whacking the volume up close to max to get to the level we want. And no, there’s no issue with our hearing, thanks for asking.

The Huawei’s pre-installed music app isn’t much cop, but this being an Android phone you can of course stick to Google’s Play Music. And with that comes all the extra cloud and streaming features it offers, or you can use the likes of Napster, Rdio or Spotify.

However, even with a decent pair of headphones — the £35 SoundMagic E10 will do nicely for starters — the sonic performance is lacklustre.

Vocals sound a little muffled. In fact, the whole of Disclosure’s Latch sounds like a blanket (albeit a thin one) has been placed over the top. We don’t get the clarity or bass depth we’d like, either.

We arguably prefer results with DD Plus turned on but either way it’s no match for the best-in-class iPhone 5.

Like many manufacturers at the minute, Huawei is bullish about the P6’s camera quality. There’s an 8MP rear camera and a 5MP front-facing lens, too. And it’s not entirely misplaced confidence: pictures are prone to being a touch over-saturated but otherwise the level of detail and overall sharpness is decent. The camera app is fast and responsive, too.

Elsewhere, a 2000mAh battery is fairly par for the course, and sure enough normal use sees the P6 last a pretty typical 24 hours or so, including making phone calls (yes, smartphones do that too, and the P6’s quality is clear and effective) rather than using data. On that note it’s 3G only — there’s no sign of 4G compatibility yet.

Design

There’s no denying it looks a little like an iPhone. The aluminium edge around the phone most notably. Either way it feels well built. One gripe? The rounded plastic edge at the bottom

A decent effort, but not quite there

Huawei is clearly capable of designing and building a premium smartphone. But while the hardware side is sorted, the P6 shows the software still needs some work. Much of our day-to-day use of the P6 proved simple and effective though, and all the necessary features and some handy stock apps mean it’s not found wanting on paper.

But there are glitches. The phone is prone to lag when the processor is pushed, scrolling text and fast motion can blur, and there are some issues with certain apps, notably iPlayer. Similarly, sound quality isn’t up to scratch: passable and unlikely to annoy, but simply not as good as most of the best with decent-quality files.

It’s a fair effort, then — and it is a touch more affordable than some of the premium mobiles on the market — but not quite the finished article. Though something tells us the P6 won’t be Huawei’s last phone.

Huawei? Who are they?

Pronounced «WAH-way», the company employs 40,000 people and has its HQ is in the capital of Chinese industry, Shenzhen.

The 25-year-old firm has grown rapidly in recent years to be the world’s largest telecommunications company, recording a CNY 14.9 billion (£1.57 billion) profit in 2012.

In 2010 Huawei shipped 30 million phones, of which 3.3m were smartphones, and 2013 looks like the year the company makes a serious play for the UK, Europe and US markets.

The Competition

HTC One

★★★★★

Apple iPhone 5

★★★★★

If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the rest, and at the moment the HTC One and Apple iPhone 5 sit atop the pile. While we wouldn’t argue with P6’s the design, there’s no denying the rest of the spec is a step below.

A faster processor might avoid some of that sluggishness, a full HD screen would be a bonus, and it won’t be long before 4G is a necessary ticked box, too.

Screen size

Huawei Ascend P6 4.7in

HTC One 4.7in

Apple iPhone 5 4in

Resolution

Huawei Ascend P6 1280 x 720 (312ppi)

HTC One 1920 x 1080(469ppi)

Apple iPhone 5 1136 x 640 (326ppi)

Processor

Huawei Ascend P6 1.5GHz quad-core

HTC One 1.7GHz quad-core

Apple iPhone 5 Apple A6

Storage

Huawei Ascend P6 8GB

HTC One 32GB, 64GB

Apple iPhone 5 16GB, 32GB, 64GB

Battery

Huawei Ascend P6 2000mAh

HTC One 2300mAh

Apple iPhone 5 1440mAh

Operating system

Huawei Ascend P6 Android 4.2

HTC One Android 4.2

Apple iPhone 5 iOS 6

Weight

Huawei Ascend P6 120g

HTC One 143g

Apple iPhone 5 112g

4G Ready

Huawei Ascend P6 No

HTC One Yes

Apple iPhone 5 Yes

Rating ★★★

FOR: Smart design, easy to use; decent spec; sharp screen with good colours

AGAINST: Prone to lag; instability with some apps and when watching video; average sound VERDICT: Nicely designed and simple to use, the P6 is let down by its AV performance

Huawei is clearly capable of designing and building a premium smartphone. But while the hardware side is sorted, the Ascend P6 shows the software still needs some work

USE IT WITH

JBL Flip

Switch on Bluetooth to use this brilliant little portable speaker, which delivers far better sound than you’d expect for £100

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