“We put Huawei’s latest, the Ascend P7 through its paces”
It's interesting to see how our perception of Chinese brands has changed. Gone are the days when they were being dismissed as copycats and makers of devices with sub-standard components. These brands are challenging the industry's incumbents, and also rank amongst the top brands in the world with their shipments. Huawei, the world's fourth-largest smartphone maker is also focussing on the rapidly-growing Indian market and its Ascend P7 seems like a perfect device for this task. It has everything you could ask from a flagship. But in a market, where there are power-packed smartphones at every price point, can it make a mark? Let's find out.
|In a hurry? Take a look at the Huawei Ascend P7 review in pictures|
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. While the Ascend P7 looks heavily inspired from the Apple’s previous smartphone, the iPhone 5s, it has also borrowed some design language from Sony’s Xperia Z series.
The all-black smartphone has been constructed from both metal and glass. The front of the Huawei Ascend P7 is quite minimal with the display panel taking the centrestage. As always, the sensors, an earpiece and a front-facing camera can be found above the display, while below the display you’ll only find Huawei branding. There are no buttons for navigation, since they are available as part of the interface.
The sides of the Ascend P7 have chamfered metal edges. Both the volume rocker and the power button are available on the right spine, with the metallic power button sporting a circular shape, reminiscent of Sony’s OmniBalance design ethos. However, these keys are placed too close together and don’t offer good feedback, with the result being that it's easy to erroneously hit the volume buttons instead of the power key to wake up the phone or put it to sleep. These buttons are followed by two ejectable trays, one of which holds the micro-SIM cards, while the other houses a microSD card.
The left edge is completely devoid of any elements. The headphone socket can be found up top, whereas the micro-USB port is available on the bottom. You’ll also find primary and noise-cancelling microphones on the top and bottom sides.
On the back, the Huawei Ascend P7 looks like a shiny black slab thanks to the glassy rear panel. The brand publicises this as a seven-layer build that increases transparency and adds to its looks. The unibody device maintains the minimalism on the back as well, which is home to the primary camera sensor along with an LED flash, the company’s logo and a speaker grille. If you notice closely, then you’ll also see a subtle pattern on the back, though we aren’t sure if it really adds something to the looks department. The glassy back registers fingerprints and smudges very easily. Moreover, the phone becomes slippery when it’s used for long durations.
In many ways, the Ascend P7 continues the design language of its predecessor, the Ascend P6, although in a bigger frame. In fact, the Ascend P6 held the title of the slimmest smartphone in the world last year with its slender body of 6.4mm. This year, the contest has become hotter with devices like the Oppo R5 (first impressions) and Gionee Elife S5.1 (first impressions) being just 4.75mm and 5.15mm thick respectively. That said, the Ascend P7 still manages to be quite thin with a waistline of 6.5mm. It also feels incredibly light with a 114g weight, making it one of the lightest 5-inch smartphones. This helps in the handling, since it snugly fits in a single hand and there are no problem in reaching any corner of the screen.
Overall, we will give full marks to Huawei for the handling aspect of the Ascend P7. However, we would have expected slightly more effort in the design department, since it’s very slippery and the hardware buttons don’t offer good feedback.
Instead of a 4.7-inch display available on its predecessor, the Huawei Ascend P7 sports a 5-inch display. This size has become a standard these days and the IPS display bears a screen resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels. With a pixel density of 445ppi, the display is a delight to look at with natural colours and sharp text. The viewing angles are great, and the display is legible outdoors as well, even though it’s slightly reflective.
A layer of third-gen Corning Gorilla Glass ensures that the screen isn’t susceptible to scratches. While we found the colour reproduction of the display to our liking, in case it doesn’t suit your taste, then the phone gives you an option to change the colour temperature. The display also comes with a glove mode, and allow you to use the Ascend P7 even while wearing gloves.
Most manufacturers take advantage of Android’s openness to customise the interface and add some features on their offerings, allowing them to stand out from the competition. Huawei is no different and it layers the Android OS with its custom skin called Emotion UI. On the Ascend P7, you get Android 4.4 KitKat layered with Emotion UI v2.3.
Even though the version number remains the same as the Huawei’s recent Honor 6, where we appreciated the custom UI, the feeling isn’t the same on the Ascend P7. Most of the interface and options are similar to the Honor 6, and since we have already discussed those in detail when we reviewed it, so we'll avoid doing so here.
The lock screen comes with a simple slide-to-unlock feature, but the interesting thing is the ability to access some apps like calculator, calendar, etc. by swiping from the bottom, much like iOS’ Control Center. However, it’s only available on the lock screen and not anywhere else.
There's no dedicated app launcher, with all the apps neatly stacked into different folders or separately in rows on the homescreens. You can also add widgets on any of the screens. However, we find that odd that the virtual navigation keys on the interface are overlapped by the icons on the homescreen. Not only it’s a design mistake, but it also makes it difficult to use the buttons for any action.
The notification shade is a combination of quick toggles and notifications at one place. The quick toggles bar can be expanded as well. To give you more control over notifications, the Ascend P7 offers you an option to select the apps that should be allowed to send you push notifications. By default, if every new app sends you a notifications, you are asked if it should be allowed to send you notifications or not, which is bit bothersome. But if you go to 'Notification manager', available in settings, then you can change this option to let all apps notify you or take that privilege away from all of them at one go. You can also individually select apps which shouldn’t send you any notifications, and this case you can check the log, which will show you notifications sent by the blocked apps.
You can choose to customise the look of the device by changing to any theme available in the Themes app. There are quite a few options available which you can download from the app. The lock screen or homescreen wallpapers can be changed from this app itself. One good feature is that the device can randomly change wallpapers from a preselected album after a preset time. The transitions when you move from one screen to the other on the homescreen can also be customised.
In terms of preloaded content, the Huawei Ascend P7 comes with very few apps such as Polaris Office, Magic Tag, etc. along with Google’s suite of services.
The phone gives more control in the form of different options available under settings. Through 'Networked apps', you can select which apps can access the internet via Wi-Fi or cellular networks. With 'Startup manager', you can disable the apps which shouldn’t start on their own when the device is restarted. 'Protected apps and Background power-intensive apps' allow you to disable power-hogging apps to conserve the battery. It’s good to have such granular controls, but sometimes they become a bit too much (and too confusing) since the Huawei Ascend P7 keeps sending you notifications when a particular app is drawing a lot of power. And, if you close the particular app, then you might miss out on notifications sent by it. With 'Phone Manager', the device offers one-click options to boost the performance or clean the storage.
There’s also a simple home UI, that looks similar to metro interface of Windows Phone OS. Unlike the Xiaomi Redmi 1s (Review) and Redmi Note’s (Review) Lite Mode, you don’t need to restart the Ascend P7 to switch to this mode. The interface is also customisable as you can add more contacts and applications, along with the ability to access all the installed apps by hitting the 'Downloads' section.
Overall, there are some really useful features on the Emotion UI, but we felt that it could be little more intuitive and optimised better to use the hardware resources.
For imaging purposes, Huawei has supplied the Ascend P7 with a 13-megapixel BSI camera at the back, which features a f/2.0 aperture. The Sony sensor is supplemented by an LED flash to shoot in low light. The shooter can shoot images in widescreen or 4:3 aspect ratio, and can record videos on 1080p resolution. While the rear camera seems in line with most flagships these days, it’s the front camera which Huawei believes act as a differentiator for its offering. Riding on the selfie wave, the Ascend P7 comes with an 8-megapixel fixed-focus BSI camera on the front, which can also record full HD videos.
The custom camera app on the device features a simple interface, with all the capture, recording and preview options available on the right, when it’s held horizontally. On the left, you get the ability to switch the cameras, toggle the LED flash, adjust various options such as ISO, White balance, and change modes. There are a number of modes such as Smart, which automatically recognises the surroundings to enhance the image, Filters to enhancing the image, Audio note to add up to 10 seconds of audio with the image, Audio control to capture the image with any voice command that’s above a certain decibel level, among many others.
Talking about the image quality, some of the images clicked by the Huawei Ascend P7 really impressed us, while others turned out to be damp squibs. The sharpness of the images wasn’t on a similar scale as the other 13MP-equipped smartphones, and the HDR mode also seemed to capture brightness instead of details. Close-up shots and images in low-light were quite good in terms of details and colour reproduction. The front camera is also impressive and would appease selfie maniacs. A useful feature for the front camera is the ability to take a Selfie panorama for capturing a group of people in one image. Here’s a look at the images captured with the Huawei Ascend P7 (to view the original pictures, you can click on the respective image).
|A closer look at the camera quality of the Huawei Ascend P7|
The device also offers a ton of image editing features such as filters, framing, changing contrast, exposure, etc. along with the ability to enhance the face (if its captured in the shot). Another cool feature of the handset is ultra-snapshot, which shoots an image in 1.2-1.3 seconds. Taking an images swiftly is very easy, as all you have to do is to press the volume down button twice, even when the device is on standby. On the downside, the images captured in this manner are just satisfactory since the phone can't focus on the subject properly.
Unlike other smartphone vendors, Huawei is relying on its in-house expertise for powering most of its devices. The Ascend P7 utilises HiSilicon Kirin 910T, an SoC that offer four Cortex-A7 cores ticking at 1.8GHz. The chip is complemented by a Mali-450 GPU. While the processing combination isn’t low as such, it feels a tad underpowered when we consider the Ascend P7 as a flagship offering. The processor combination is helped by 2GB of RAM, ensuring smooth multitasking.
While using the device for day-to-day tasks, we didn’t notice any problems. However, it didn’t feel as smooth as other devices, and sometimes there was a lag while swiping across different screens on the homescreen. Playing power-hungry games such as Riptide GP2 also led to the same experience where we often came across stutters and the graphics didn’t look as smooth as they should be. Even though the Chinese brand has used a thermal gel cooling system to prevent overheating, in our usage, it became hot within 10 to 15 minutes of gameplay, and sadly, the performance dips further afterwards.
In terms of storage, the device comes loaded with 16GB of built-in memory. Users will be able to access a little over 11GB space for their own purposes, after accounting for the space occupied by the OS and its resources. If that doesn’t satisfy your needs, then you can make use of a microSD card to add additional storage of up to 64GB. The Ascend P7 also supports USB OTG, allowing you to access your flash drives directlly.
For connectivity purposes, the device features the standard set of options. These include 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC and GPS. What’s incredibly useful is the fact that Huawei is bundling a pair of NFC tags in the retail packaging of the Ascend P7. With the use of apps like Magic Tag (preinstalled on the device), you can initiate specified actions with those tags.
While the Ascend P7 just sport a single speaker at the rear, the sound output is really loud. In fact, we would rate it just a notch lower than the BoomSound speakers found on HTC’s mid-range and top-end devices. Not only is the output loud, but the quality is good too, without any distortions.
Tasked with keeping the smartphone running is a 2,500mAh fixed Li-Po battery. While it’s not necessarily of low capacity, it does seem less when compared to the batteries powering today’s flagships. Our usage of the Huawei Ascend P7 also reflects the same thing as the device barely managed to last an entire day if used heavily. Even with frugal usage, it simply managed to get us through the day. The device lasted slightly more than six hours in our standard battery drain test, where we play an HD video on loop with both volume and brightness level set at 50 percent.
Thankfully, there’s an option to extend the battery life in case you're running low on juice and there’s no option of charging it anytime soon. With the 'Ultra Battery mode', the phone can last longer since all the connectivity options are cut off and you can only make use of the phone for calling and messaging.
The Huawei Ascend P7 is a great piece of hardware and has a good spec sheet. However, when we bring its pricing into the picture – which is Rs 26,999 by the way, then it becomes slightly difficult to recommend this device, considering the cut-throat competition. Add to it the fact that the brand’s custom skin isn’t well-optimised.
At a time when higher-clocked quad-core chipsets or octa-core processors are becoming a norm and manufacturers are moving towards 64-bit processing, the quad-core SoC in the Ascend P7 seems to be inadequate to satisfy today’s user needs. In fact, its own sibling, the Honor 6 (review) is priced cheaper and boasts of better internals with an octa-core processor and 3GB of RAM. The problem might be because of the fact that technology moves at a breakneck pace, and this particular device reached the Indian subcontinent almost six months after its unveiling in May this year.
If its pricing was under Rs 20,000, then it would have made a lot of sense to take a second look at this smartphone considering its slimness and great handling, good display, decent rear camera and superb front shooter.
Photos by Raj Rout
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