Introducing the Huawei P8
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Huawei has been selling phones in the U.S. since 2011—we’ve reviewed 30 of them—but you still might not have heard of the company. Its global launch of its flagship P8 phone today is part of a slow process of turning that around. Earlier this week, we got to handle a P8 and talk to Huawei U.S. president Zhiqiang Xu about what the P8 (which isn’t coming to our shores) means for Huawei’s presence here.
First, of course, the phone. The Huawei P8 is a long, golden slab that borrows design cues from a lot of the high-end devices out there right now. It has a metal body, rounded corners, and chamfered edges on the metal bezel, and it has a 5.2-inch, 1080p screen. It’s 2.83 inches wide and 5.7 inches high, making it slightly taller and wider than the Samsung Galaxy S6. There’s a 13-megapixel Sony camera on the back and an 8-megapixel front-facing camera. All in all, it’s pretty standard-measure for a mid- to high-end Android phone.
The P8 won’t come to the U.S. formally, although it’s banded to work well on T-Mobile and AT&T (including T-Mobile’s new Band 12, but not AT&T’s Band 29.)
So what’s special about the P8? Huawei wants to talk about low-light camera performance thanks to very aggressive optical image stabilization, and some “light painting” camera modes, but everyone has camera modes. I have something more important: the modem and antenna.
This One’s a Phone First
Huawei’s big business is in networking equipment. Because it makes routers and base stations as well as handsets, the company knows antennas in a way few others do. The P8’s “Signal+” antenna supposedly handles cell-to-cell handoffs better than other phones, reducing dropped calls and improving data speeds, especially when the phone is in motion. It picks up a signal very quickly when you turn on the phone, too. Huawei claims that it has 50 percent fewer dropped calls and three-times faster initial network connection time than mysterious competing phones.
Better signal capture also means the phone’s radio doesn’t have to work as hard, so it improves battery life. For people who struggle with coverage, the antenna could be this phone’s killer feature.
“Our background is as a network infrastructure company, so the experience of connectivity for phone calls and data connections is optimized,” Huawei spokesman Drew Crowell.
The antenna is backed up by a proprietary chipset, Huawei’s Hisilicon Kirin 930. This is a 2GHz, 64-bit processor which competes with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 you see in a lot of other top-end smartphones. While initial reports say it isn’t quite as fast from an application processor perspective, I’m very interested to see its modem performance.
“The key is the modem; there aren’t many companies that can do the modem, and I think that’s a higher barrier,” Xu said.
The phone has two LTE SIM card slots; one of them doubles as a MicroSD memory card slot. It runs the latest version of Huawei’s “Emotion UI” software, which eliminates the traditional Android app drawer in favor of putting all of your app icons on an expanding set of home screens, like the iPhone does.
The P8 has looks, taste, style, and performance. But I don’t think Huawei has had a problem with that in its high-end phones for a while now. We’ve written quite positively about Huawei’s Ascend Mate2 and Ascend Mate7 phones, and I was impressed by the glass-slab design and dual cameras on the Honor 6 Plus released at Mobile World Congress last month. What Huawei is missing in the U.S. is a brand.