We all know that Huawei is no stranger to making great phones (take the fan favorite Nexus 6P, for example). Even at the low end of the price spectrum, the hardware is laudable. The P-series kicked off on a new foot last year with the P9 and P9 Plus, which brought great hardware and the impressive Leica cameras to the high-end smartphone business.

For 2017, we have the P10 and P10 Plus that bring sleek hardware, even better cameras, and a nicer software experience. Huawei has delivered something that provides almost anything you could ask for in a phone: good battery life, great camera, nice screen, and even an improved software experience.

For the purposes of disclosure, I only received the smaller P10. It shares almost everything specs-wise with its larger brother except for a few things, which I shall note below.

Specs

Display 5.1" IPS LCD 1920 x 1080 (P10); 5.5" IPS LCD 2560 x 1440 (P10 Plus)
Software Android 7.0 Nougat; EMUI 5.1
CPU HiSilicon Kirin 960; 4 x 2.4GHz Cortex-A73, 4 x 1.8GHz Cortex-A53
GPU Mali-G70 MP8
RAM 4GB (P10); 4GB/6GB (P10 Plus)
Storage 32GB/64GB, expandable via microSD (P10); 64GB/128GB, expandable via microSD (P10 Plus)
Cameras 12MP RGB + 20MP monochrome, f/2.2 rear, 8MP front (P10); 12MP + 20MP, f/1.8 rear, 8MP front (P10 Plus)
Battery 3,200mAh (P10); 3,750mAh (P10 Plus)
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band; LTE bands 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/9/12/17/18/19/20/26/28/29/38/39/40/41; dual-SIM
Ports USB Type-C, 3.5mm headphone jack
Measurements 145.3 x 69.3 x 7 mm; 145 g
Colors White, silver, black, gold, rose gold, blue, green

The Good

Hardware The P10 is built really well and feels nice in the hand. The premium quality is readily apparent.
Camera The Leica camera setup performs excellently in many different conditions. Most photos come out looking great.
Fingerprint sensor Once again, Huawei amazes with the speed and accuracy of its fingerprint sensors.
Ergonomics The smaller P10 is a fantastic size and is a joy to hold and use. It works well for most hand sizes.
Choices There are a lot of color options for the P10 series. I really liked the look of the blue and green choices.

The Not So Good

Screen While the resolution, colors, and viewing angles are great, the lack of oleophobic coating and less-than-desirable brightness are not so good.
Software EMUI 5 is no longer the eyesore of its predecessors, and 5.1 smooths things out a bit. Still, there is a ton of bloatware and other functionality choices that make little sense.
Camera (again) While I like the camera, I am sad to see that only the P10 Plus gets the f/1.8 setup.
Version This should have shipped with Android 7.1 at this point.

Hardware

Huawei has nailed the hardware aspect of its devices for a few years now, with the P10 being no exception — overall, this is one of the phone's strengths. You can expect a slim, quality device that fits nicely in the hand, though it tends to show signs of use fairly quickly and easily.

The display is okay, though it desperately needs an oleophobic coating and a boost to brightness. But let's dive right into the hardware, shall we? There's plenty here to talk about.

Design & build materials

At first glance, the smaller P10 resembles an iPhone, especially to the casual observer. However, any sort of further examination reveals the differences. The antennae lines curve and are especially subtle on this black model, but the Leica camera setup and Huawei logo (where the fingerprint sensor should be) really help distinguish it.

The front is pretty standard, with the fingerprint sensor sitting below the display panel and the usual front-facing camera, earpiece, and sensors up above it. The right side of frame is home to the very tactile and responsive volume rocker and power button — which has a nice texture to it to help tell it apart from the volume rocker it rests under. Oh, and it has a cool red edge around it (on my unit). The top and left portions of the phone don't have much, except for the dual-SIM/microSD card tray on the latter. Along the bottom is where you'll find the USB-C port, 3.5mm headphone jack, and single speaker.

 

The whole phone is aluminium that is coated in a soft finish. The matte black model I received gets a bit smudgy/fingerprinty and is difficult to wipe off with just a shirt; that, of course, can spoil the premium look. Unsurprisingly, the glass that covers the upper portion of the P10's back is fairly susceptible to oils, too.

I have no other complaints about the overall design and build materials of the phone, but I feel it is necessary to mention how nice it feels to hold and use. The 5.1" screen coupled with fairly narrow left/right bezels helps the P10 to feel like a good-sized phone, in my opinion. It is a bit slippery, so bear that in mind, but its diminutive size helps in overall grip.

As regular readers of the site may know, we tend to really like Huawei's fingerprint sensors. They are usually some of the fastest and most accurate ones around, and the P10 holds up to that. Even sitting in a metal phone stand, which has a lip that curves up in front, I can still unlock the phone with my thumb. It's pretty damn crazy.

Display

One of the main differences between the P10 and P10 Plus is the display resolution. The former comes with a 1080p screen while the larger of the two boasts QHD. Both, however, are IPS LCD panels and subject to the strengths and weaknesses therein. To my bemusement, I found that the brightness, especially outdoors, leaves much to be desired.

The colors and viewing angles, on the other hand, are quite good. If you prefer the saturation on AMOLED panels, then you will not be happy with the P10's display. The colors tend toward a cooler, softer tone that feels a bit easier on the eyes. It's all a matter of preference, but it's worth noting.

But there is one larger issue that I have with the P10. Like the Honor 6X, the P10 does not ship with an oleophobic coating on the glass. While one could make an argument for a lower-end, budget phone not having one, I fail to see why a top-tier device lacks it. Supposedly, the P10 (and Plus) come with a pre-installed screen protector, but my unit does not have one — thanks, David.

I hate a smudgy screen that I need to compulsively wipe off several times throughout the day. For people like me, it can sour one's experience with a device. I'll try to let this go for now, but why do you do this to me, Huawei?

Battery life

Battery life is something that Huawei usually gets right. In this little phone, you get a whopping 3,200mAh battery which makes you wonder why phones like the HTC U Ultra, with a 5.7" screen and a larger body, only has a 3,000mAh. Think about that for a second.

The P10 lasts all day and more for me, which is just fantastic. Even on days where I pushed the phone to its limit, like when running the gauntlet of benchmarks and tests, I still reached day's end with 15%-20%. On a more normal day, I end up plugging in my phone at night with about 40% left. I went hiking up in the mountains on one occasion, where there was no signal, and the P10 still had about 30% when all was said and done. That much roaming and signal searching kills most phones, in my experience.

I doubt that anyone using the P10 will find the battery life wanting. As I've said before, I cannot speak to the P10 Plus and its 3,750mAh cell. However, I imagine that it boasts similar performance.

Audio

The P10 supports a variety of sound formats (including FLAC), as well as 24-bit/192KHz audio, which is hi-res for those of you who do not know, through the 3.5mm jack. Whether that excites you or not is obviously a personal decision, but I have no complaints about the audio performance through wired headphones.

Bluetooth, meanwhile, is still Bluetooth. It works fine for most, and I tolerate it for the gym out of pure convenience, but it still might irritate some people.

The actual loudspeaker is nothing to write home about, either — gone are the days of Boomsound. It's plenty loud enough for notifications, or even letting a YouTube video play in the background, but don't expect stellar sound quality if you're trying to play music through it. This is, frankly, nothing new with smartphones.

Call quality & connectivity

A few years ago, when I got my Nexus 6, I was floored by the call quality. Ever since then, even through the myriad of phones I've had or used, I have not had quite that same "Wow!" moment when I am on a call for the first time. In light of this, the P10 has some of the best call quality I have ever heard. Both the person on the other line and I come through clearly, even in one- or two-bar situations. The microphones on the P10 really do a great job at cancelling out noise, even wind.

I used the P10 exclusively on a T-Mobile MVNO during my time with it. My connectivity and LTE speeds were excellent, except up in the mountains where good ol' Tmo is garbage. Obviously, your experience will vary depending on your carrier and coverage, so be sure to check out the list of LTE bands up above to see if you can use this phone on your network.

Camera

The biggest thing you will see in the P10's marketing is the focus on the camera and photo quality, therefore you'd expect it to be good. This year continues the partnership between Huawei and Leica, which lends itself to excellent camera performance and quality. The smaller P10 carries the same camera setup as the Mate 9, with two f/2.2 Summarit lenses. One is home to the 12MP RGB sensor (with OIS) and the other has the 20MP monochrome (without OIS). The theory is that the former captures the color and the latter gets all the details, after which the images are then combined in post-processing to create the final product.

With this setup, you can expect some crazy dynamic range in your photos, or even true greyscale photos (versus applying a filter ex post facto). There is phase detection and laser autofocus, too. Similar to Ryan's experience with the Mate 9, I did notice more noise in lower-lit shots (where a lot of detail is lost) and a warmer white balance than I'd usually like. However, this is not to say that the P10's camera is bad. Quite the opposite, actually. In a well-lit environment, the details are incredibly crisp and quite stunning at some points. Color reproduction is also very accurate, which I love to see.

The zoom functionality is a bit of a strange one on the P10. It comes equipped with a 2x optical zoom, but the lenses don't actually move. Even though that sounds a bit like digital zoom, the camera setup itself is actually cropping together a 12MP image that doesn't bring with it the... misfortunes of digital zoom. However, like Ryan said with the Mate 9, you need a really steady hand to get a tolerable zoomed-in picture.

Snapping photos in quick succession is a breeze — it's easily one of the fastest on a phone that I've ever seen. HDR slows things down a tad, but the Auto mode is good enough on quality for most any situation. This means that HDR isn't that necessary in most use cases.

Moving on, we come around to the front-facing camera. At 8MP f/1.9, it captures damn good selfies in the right light. The beautification features that are all the rage these days are, of course, included — and they still make me look like a tomato. An interesting thing that I don't see too often is that the front shooter will recognize how many people are in the photo and defocus the background accordingly.

The P10 can record videos at up to 4K, but the stabilization, despite OIS, isn't that good. Recording in low light, especially on overcast days or in darker indoor environments, makes the videos come out fairly subpar and grainy. I don't usually record video with my phone, but if you are one such person, I recommend sticking to 1080p60. You'll like the quality better.

Okay, so I have to say this: Huawei really needs to clean up the camera UI. It hasn't changed from EMUI 5 and is still a hectic, often cluttered, mess. There is a bar up top with the flash settings, Wide Aperture mode, Portrait mode (for beautification), color settings, filters, and the switch for front- or rear-facing cameras. Down at the bottom, you have the gallery shortcut, shutter button, and photograph/video option. There's a also a little tab above the shutter that activates Pro Mode (i.e. manual). With a swipe to the right, you get all of the photo modes: Auto, HDR, Monochrome, etc. It lists twelve pre-installed selections, with another icon to add more directly from Huawei (only one at the time of this writing was "Good Food"). Swiping left from the main UI brings up the settings with your pretty typical flair. Oh, you can add Leica watermarks to your photos if you so wish.

 

In short, the P10's camera is superb. I wish that I had either had the chance to play with the P10 Plus and its f/1.8 setup or that Huawei had given the same camera treatment to both models. Regardless, you can expect some fantastic pictures that will suffice for most any situation that you'll find yourself in.

Software

Huawei, and almost every Chinese manufacturer, have had pretty serious trouble with software in the past. Luckily, EMUI 5 (which debuted on the Mate 9) was a huge turning point. There were still issues and odd design decisions, but as a whole, it marked a massive step in the right direction.

Now we're at EMUI 5.1. This version bump brings with it some performance enhancements and improvements, as well as a few changes to touch response and RAM management. Overall, 5.1 is continuing with the positive direction, though there still remain some things to work on. There are some nice features, like an automatic blue light filter (not novel or exclusive, but nice to have), and some other weird ones, but let's not dally.

EMUI 5.1

Underneath Huawei's "skin" lies Android 7.0 Nougat, on the February security patch as of this writing. Continuing where v5 began, 5.1 improves upon notifications, UX, and underlying performance. The app drawer on the stock launcher is still there, though it does not default to this style. Changing to a custom one is still a bit convoluted, and Huawei's warning about the "dangers" of third-party apps (including launchers) remains.

Things are still pretty unoffensive here. The notification shade is semi-transparent with the Tron/Holo-like color scheme for the Nougat quick toggles. Fully expanding the Quick Settings presents you with quite a list, though it is customizable. Notifications are rounded and looking like the Gingerbread days, but they remain actionable.

Huawei continues to shove the nav buttons too close together for my taste, which is especially annoying on a phone this small. They can be rearranged, of course... or you can go the Meizu route and use the fingerprint sensor as a one-stop-shop for navigating home, back, or to recent apps. Basically, the way this works is that you tap the sensor to go back, hold it to go home, and swipe horizontally across it for recent apps. Google Now/Assistant is accessed by swiping up from the bottom edge of the screen. I have never liked this method of doing things, but the option is there if you like weird stuff.

One of the major sticking points in EMUI 5 for both Ryan and me was the lockscreen. As pretty as the background was to look at, you could not expand notifications and they would just disappear if you relocked your phone. The former issue has been fixed; you can now act on notifications for quick replies, deleting/archiving Gmail, etc. However, any items still disappear when the phone relocks. It's slightly irritating and has led to me missing a few things. On a final note about the lockscreen, I highly recommend that you do not try to dismiss notifications from there. I am not sure what the threshold is, but I've swiped from one edge of the screen to the other and they just bounce back. A small thing, I know.

  

The bloatware situation problem persists, though the apps behave better than they did in my experience on EMUI 5. Huawei Health, however, will spam notifications about steps. I already have my Gear S3 bugging me to get up (yes, I know that I can turn that off), so I don't need my phone doing it, too. After about the second time, I told the OS to block notifications from that particular app. The usuals are still here: Booking.com, News Republic, TripAdvisor, Lyft, etc. I just installed Action Launcher, hid them, and went on with my life. I suggest you do the same.

Huawei's host of special features is still here, like knuckle detection for screenshots (still doesn't work and creates more problems than it's worth) and App Twin to have multiple accounts signed into apps like WhatsApp and Facebook, but we also have a few new additions. One of them is Voice Wakeup, which brings Moto X-like customizability to waking up your device hands-free. The default is, and this is pretty cringe-worthy, "Okay, Emy" (probably short for EMUI). You can later change what you want the wakeup command to be if you have trouble saying "Okay, Emy" with a straight face.

 

There are even more customization options, like automatically answering calls when you raise the phone to your ear, swiping across the screen with your knuckle to activate split-screen, and so on.

Besides just the version number, what does EMUI 5.1 bring that's worth a whole point release? The two major things are referred to as Ultra Memory and Ultra Response. The former is a new algorithm that manages how RAM is recycled and used, therefore improving performance without killing every background app. It learns application habits in order to keep your most-used apps in memory longer and improve loading times. Ultra Response, meanwhile, focuses on the touchscreen and vastly improving touch latency with a new driver. Supposedly, it also supports finger tracking.

  

And so that finishes off my thoughts on EMUI 5.1 on the P10. Overall, Huawei is making large strides in the right direction, but they need to fix a few things. Even so, I look forward to any future improvements.

Performance

With the same SoC and RAM amount as the Mate 9, I figured that the P10 would perform similarly — I was not wrong. With the Kirin 960, you can expect buttery smooth animations and almost zero lag. The 4GB of RAM is just right, I think, what with the Ultra Memory and all. As usual, here are some benchmarks for those of you who care. And if you're looking for a more in-depth look at how well the Kirin 960 compares to other SoCs, check out this awesome post.

The P10 is very fast. It doesn't bog down and Ultra Memory does a decent job at not killing apps off too quickly. Gaming performance was also at an acceptable level. EMUI does feel slightly slower on the uptake than "stock" Android, but it's barely noticeable. Since I've been using the P10 about two weeks, I obviously can't say how well this phone will hold up long-term, but its performance out of the gate is quite good.

Value

I am sure that many of you are left asking the question of whether the P10 is worth it at a starting price of €649. To be frank, the lack of an oleophobic coating makes me want to say no. I understand that this seems like a ridiculous reason until you remember that this phone is supposed to be a premium device. A potential customer should not have to choose between a pre-installed screen protector, a third-party solution, or a naked screen that gets filthy right out of the box. I am not entirely sure what Huawei was thinking here.

Regardless, €649 is a lower price than a Pixel or iPhone for near equal power, camera performance, and such. What I deem as a showstopper may be simply an inconvenience to someone else who's more interested in the price-to-performance (and features) ratio.

The best way to determine whether or not you're interested in a P10 is to look at its competition and what those devices offer. You obviously have the smaller Pixel, Galaxy S7, and iPhone 7 that come to mind right off the bat. All have similarly-sized screens/bodies, great cameras, and varying levels of good performance. Software is a major consideration for a lot of us, so do you think the lower starting cost of the P10-series is worth having to use EMUI (versus stock, TouchWiz, or iOS)?

And with the LG G6 and Galaxy S8 announced and available for pre-orders, I have to ask if the P10 is a bit diminished in light of those two devices. Like most of these questions and ponderings, you have to answer them for yourself. At least we've seen what the major phone manufacturers are doing with the first part of 2017, so a decision is slightly easier to make.

Conclusion

Here we are, at the end of all things. Tolkien fandom aside, Huawei did a fantastic job with the P10. The phone sports mostly great hardware, a superb camera, and even a better software experience. Sure, I'd love to see EMUI lighten off of the "skinned" bits in the future, but it's actually usable now.

As we close the book on the P10, I am left asking what the phone could do to improve. There's the obvious inclusion of an oleophobic coating that I've beaten to death by this point and I would have liked to see the display get brighter, especially outdoors. Software is the sticking point for Huawei, despite the improvements made over the last couple of versions. This is not me saying that the company should just slap "stock" Android on its phones with some enhancements (like Motorola or OnePlus), but there is definitely room for growth. In a similar vein, the camera UI needs to be cleaned up. The main viewfinder should have a few basic options, while I think that more advanced features would be better suited to some place out of the way where the user can access them if he or she so desires. Despite all of this, the foundations for a great phone are here.

For my fellow U.S. residents, you will not be able to get this phone through any easy outlet. Though, it is compatible with some U.S. LTE bands so you could choose to import it. However, at the base MSRP plus the fees, I don't that think it's worth it. Stick with the Pixel, LG G6, or this Galaxy S8 I keep hearing so much about.

There seems to be a commitment to improving the software experience over those from years past, but what concerns me is Huawei's track record (read: abysmal) with Android updates. Not even all of the variants of the P10's predecessor, the P9, have received Nougat yet. Although, my unit received a security patch right out of the box, but it is still on Android 7.0.

In the end, I think 2017 is looking to be quite the promising year for Huawei. Let's hope that I'm proven right.