Huawei Ascend P6 Android phone

We review the Huawei Ascend P6, at its launch the world's thinnest smartphone.

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Huawei Ascend P6
  • Huawei Ascend P6
  • Huawei Ascend P6
  • Huawei Ascend P6

Pros

  • Ultra-thin, light construction
  • 8-megapixel BSI rear camera, 5-megapixel front camera
  • Can be used through normal gloves

Cons

  • No 4G connectivity
  • Questionable performance for the spec and price
  • Odd headset port positioning

Bottom Line

The Huawei Ascend P6's physical design is certainly impressive, but its lack of 4G connectivity, overheating issues, poor port placement and below average battery life make for a less than pleasing user experience.

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Huawei’s Ascend P6, launched in New Zealand at the start of September on 2degrees, is presently the world’s thinnest smartphone at just 6.2mm. Sorry, Sorry. “6.18mm”. With solid metal construction and a fixed backplate without any ostensible give, Huawei’s rather precise claim proved rather precisely correct when tested with my lab calipers. I’ll grant it that 0.2mm.

The edges are squared-off and finished in bare metal save for the bottom, which is pleasantly curved and clad in black. The top two corners are rounded and the rear is black metal, with a subtle brushed finish. Altogether the P6 looks similar to a black iPhone that’s miraculously survived an encounter with a steamroller, thinner and more spread-out with its 4.7-inch display.

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The P6's 316ppi is almost equivalent to Apple’s ‘Retina’ iPhone display at 326ppi.

I found the display clear and bright, though its glossy surface retained fingerprints and smears more than I’d have liked. Unlike many newer phones in the 4.5-inch-and-above category, the Ascend P6 avoids a 1920 x 1080-pixel ‘full HD’ display in favour of an ‘HD’ 1280 x 720. Before you go and call that ‘low resolution’, that’s still an impressive 316 pixels-per-inch. It’s almost equivalent to Apple’s ‘Retina’ iPhone display at 326ppi, and holding it side-by-side with an iPhone 5, I found the two screens equivalently sharp to the naked eye.

A local Huawei representative explained that avoiding a 1080p display was a deliberate choice: it aims to balance the drops in battery life and performance that a higher-resolution display would cause, against the benefits of high resolution. With the display quality of the P6, particularly given its mid-range price, I think the designers made the right call.

There are a couple of strange design decisions, however – one of which was placing the Ascend P6’s micro-USB port on the top edge. Traditional placement is on the bottom edge, or occasionally near the bottom on one side of the phone. While odd, the top-edge placement proved a top decision in all of my real-world testing. I keep my phone plugged in at my desk during the day, and on my bedside at night (it serves as my alarm clock). In both cases, it’s far easier to have the cable coming in from the top, from behind the table or desk, and out of the way of your hands when you’re using the phone.

Also odd is the positioning of the 3.5mm headphone socket, at the very bottom of the left-hand edge. That makes it unwieldy in the hand, or when placed in a pocket, with headphones plugged in. The included earbuds have a right-angled connector which mitigates the latter issue, though it still doesn’t feel quite right in the hand.

Powering up the phone, you’ll find Android 4.2.2 ‘Jelly Bean’ wrapped in Huawei’s proprietary ‘Emotion UI’.

Powering up the phone, you’ll find Android 4.2.2 ‘Jelly Bean’ wrapped in Huawei’s proprietary ‘Emotion UI’. In the early days of Android I was vehemently opposed to ‘vendor skins’ atop the operating sytem, but good work on the part of Samsung (TouchWiz) and HTC (Sense) has left me more open to the concept.

Huawei’s execution of its ‘Emotion UI’ is good – it’s fluid, responsive and doesn’t overly alter the established look and feel of Android. The most notable change is the hybridisation of the home screen and apps menu.

Instead of a series of widget-filled home screens and a separate menu that lists all apps, the latter menu is removed and app icons all appear on the homescreen, and can be shifted around to make room for widgets. It nicely combines the customisable widget-based home screens of Android with the upfront app icons and folders of iOS, and it’s one of the neatest customisations of Android I’ve seen to date.

Another addition is the ‘Huawei Input Method’, the default on-screen keyboard. It’s completely optional, and can be swapped for the native Android keyboard with a couple of finger-taps. That’s fortunate for some, as my counterpart at Good Gear Guide was not at all impressed.

I found myself on the fence. Huawei’s keyboard has an awfully primitive auto-correct system compared to the Android keyboard, which makes typing in Her Majesty’s English a right pain unless you have the manual dexterity of an elite ninja and/or fifteen-year-old gamer. It also doesn’t support ‘swype’ style text input, where you can move from letter-to-letter without lifting your finger.

On the positive side, the Huawei system allows you to swipe downward from any key to input its secondary character – i.e. letter or punctuation. When you’re entering web addresses, passwords or other mixed alphanumeric text, it’s superb. Huawei also provide a traditional numeric keypad with T9 predictive text entry, which is handy if you have larger fingers or a lack of fine manual control. I also found it handy for texting whilst walking – with the bigger, more predictable buttons, it’s far easier to text without looking.

A feature that proves useful in New Zealand is ‘Gloves mode’, which can be switched on from the Settings screen. When enabled, the touchscreen can be used through normal gloves – not only the specialist, smartphone-friendly type. I tested the feature in a variety of weather conditions using wool, synthetic and leather gloves, and found it works terrifically. The only other phone I’ve tested this on is Samsung’s Galaxy S4, which comes at a $400 higher price point than Huawei’s Ascend P6. There are a few other smartphones with glove support, but it’s exceedingly rare. If you live in a cold area, frequently wear cycling or motorcycle gloves, or otherwise keep your hands covered up, this is a phone-selling feature.

The rear-facing 8MP camera with backside-illuminated (BSI) sensor captures sharp, detailed photographs and works well in low-light conditions. The front-facing camera is higher than average, at 5MP, which proves great for selfies. However, the front camera doesn’t have the same low-light performance, and offers a strange ‘beauty level’ slider which controls a skin smoothing/lightening filter. I found it a tad overzealous (read: utterly ridiculous). If you’re particularly vain or have low self-esteem, you might feel otherwise. However, you’d do a better job of touching yourself up in Photoshop like the magazines do.

Despite boasting a 1.5GHz quad-core CPU and an ample 2GB of RAM, the P6’s performance wasn’t quite what I’d expect from a phone in its price range.

Despite boasting a 1.5GHz quad-core CPU and an ample 2GB of RAM, the P6’s performance wasn’t quite what I’d expect from a phone in its price range. Menu navigation, web browsing and switching between apps proved pleasantly quick, but I experienced a lot of lag in more demanding games – even the 2D kind, such as Robot Unicorn Attack 2.

Tested with AnTuTu benchmark, the P6 came in around 75-80% the performance of the Samsung Galaxy SIII, 75% the performance of the Google Nexus 4, and 50% the performance of the Android industry-leading Samsung Galaxy S4.

I couldn’t make the phone lag noticeably using any of my normal Android productivity applications, so it’s hard to nix the phone on that alone. Avid smartphone gamers, however, should be very wary of the P6.

CPU-intensive applications did cause the P6 to become notably warm in the upper right-hand corner, on the metal backplate. However, it never became worryingly or uncomfortably warm. This seems to differ from Good Gear Guide’s experience, but Huawei has suggested that firmware differences between the New Zealand and Australian models may play a role here. I can’t help but wonder whether the difference in climate also contributes, as ambient temperature certainly can affect the running temperature of devices such as smartphones, tablets and PCs.

Run time from the 2000mAh battery was fairly standard for a quad-core smartphone, giving us a full workday’s usage per charge.

The Huawei P6 is a 3G (UMTS/GSM) phone only, with HSPA+ support up to 21Mbit/s down. No dual-carrier support, and no 4G. The New Zealand telco market is not yet at the stage where this presents a huge disadvantage – at the time of writing, Vodafone is the only carrier than can give you a 4G connection at all. However, in the next year, expect the P6’s data capability to become outdated amidst an increasing pool of 4G-capable handsets.

All things considered, I really liked the Huawei Ascend P6. It’s a beautifully slim and lightweight phone – the slimmest you can buy, in fact. It’s got a good screen and an interface that blends what I like about Android (widgets, customisable home screens) with iOS (apps all shown upfront on the home screen itself). Support for gloved use of the touchscreen will be a big plus for some users, and the positioning of the USB port at the top of the phone is pure genius.

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If you want a suit-pocket phone, or something thin enough to slip into your belt-bag when you’re out cycling without sacrificing on screen size (eco-road-warriors take note), here’s a phone for you.

If, on the other hand, you want a pure Android experience untainted by vendor-specific customisations, or a smartphone that will smoothly run the latest and most demanding mobile games and apps, look elsewhere.

If you’re buying your phone specifically to tether your tablet and laptop to, the P6 is good option thanks to its slimness and weight, but its lack of 4G is off-putting in that area.

The Huawei Ascend P6 retails for NZ$599.

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