Huawei Ascend P2 review
The Ascend P2 was announced amid much fanfare at this year's Mobile World Congress, but it took until the summer for it to become available. Since then, Huawei has announced the similar and similarly-priced Ascend P6, which has the same 4.7in, 1,280x720-pixel display as the P2, but is 2mm thinner and runs Android 4.2 rather than the P2's Android 4.1, as well as the latest version of Huawei's Emotion interface.
The upcoming phone may also have an 8 rather than 12-megapixel camera, but we're still not quite sure why you'd choose the P2 rather than wait for the slimmer and prettier P6; we can't quite work out Huawei's strategy.
Nonetheless, the P2 is still a big-screen quad-core smartphone for around £340, so is worth a serious look. First impressions are good. The phone is a good-looking three-tone unibody design, with a black screen, silver sides and, on our review model, a glossy white rear (the P2 is also available in black). The unibody means you can’t replace the phone's battery, and there's no microSD slot, so you'll have to make do with the built-in 16GB of storage.
The P2's rear may be all plastic, but it’s good-quality stuff and the phone as a whole feels well made. We were impressed with the screen, too. It may not be Full HD, but Android still looks great on 1,280x720 pixels; you just have to zoom in slightly to read text on Desktop mode web pages. It also has vibrant colours and bright whites; a Samsung Galaxy S3's whites looked almost grey by comparison.
The display also coped well with bright sunlight, but there was a bug with the software which made it reset the brightness from full to halfway every couple of minutes, which was maddening when we were trying to use the phone to navigate on a sunny day.
Huawei has done its usual heavy customisation of Android. The Emotion UI brings new icons, which are rounded and friendly, but controversially gets rid of the app tray. Instead of having homescreens full of widgets and your selection of app shortcuts, with the rest of your apps living in the app tray, the P2 has all your apps and widgets living together on the homescreens.
While some may like the fact that all your apps are in one place, others find it creates unnecessary clutter as you can't hide away less-frequently-used apps. It also leaves much less room for widgets. If you're already an Android fan you may find the changes too much to take, but those coming from other platforms may relish the UI's simplicity.
Huawei describes the P2 as "The World's Fastest 4G LTE Smartphone" but the company is referring to the speed of its 4G data chip rather than the processor. This is a good thing, as we found the P2's performance to be variable. It's beautifully smooth flicking through screens of apps, for example, but the default keyboard isn't particularly responsive.
Chrome is much better, with far smoother web browsing and a much faster Sunspider score of 1,634ms, showing there's nothing fundamentally wrong with the P2's hardware. We just feel that Huawei could do with optimising some aspects of its Android build to show the P2 in its best light.
The phone did acquit itself better in the 3DMark Ice Storm benchmark, with a score of 3,131; an above-average score, but we still saw some occasional jerkiness in 3D games such as Riptide GP.
The P2 has a 13-megapixel backside-illuminated camera sensor, which is meant to be the best sensor type for low-light photography. We were impressed with the amount of detail the camera could capture in outdoor shots; we could zoom in from a rooftop to the road below and pick out street signs and shopping bags, and well-judged exposure meant there was plenty of detail in shadowy areas and no bleaching out of the sky on a sunny day. However, we weren't completely convinced by the camera's colour accuracy, as some grey lamps in our test photos ended up with a slight green tinge.
The backside-illuminated sensor coped well with moderate indoor light levels, producing detailed photos with little noise. It couldn’t touch our low-light champion, the HTC One, under very low light conditions, as details became smudged and noise crept in. We also found the P2 had a tendency to hunt for focus when recording video in low light.
Huawei's Ascend P2 is a well-designed smartphone with a great screen and impressive camera, but its occasional performance stutters mean we're not convinced Huawei's software is as optimised as it could be. It will also have some serious competition in the form of Huawei's slimline Ascend P6, which should arrive in the UK this summer, so we'd be inclined to wait for the new handset before buying. In the meantime, we think the powerful Sony Xperia SP is a more complete phone for a similar price.
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