Los Angeles, Calif. (FOX 11) - I know, I know, I've said it before! Now is an exciting time to be in tech with all the entry and mid-range handsets coming to market which really give you great value for your dollar! What makes Huawei's handsets any different? First off, they're a more recent entry into the American market with an online retail presence so we're only beginning to see what's possible. Secondly and speaking to "what's possible" Huawei comes from a part of the world where making quality, affordable, unlocked handsets is the rule rather than the exception and that's something the American market should be giddy about. It could lead to even more competition in this space and that's never a bad thing!
The Huawei P8 Lite is a beautifully crafted mid-range Android handset running Kit Kat 4.4.4, equipped with dual SIM slots, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, and a 64-bit processor. The front of the P8 Lite is really a looker with its Gorilla Glass 3, 5" edge-to-edge IPS display that sports a resolution of 1280x720 at 294 ppi. You'll find some Huawei branding on the bottom of the phone with the earpiece up top, a 5 megapixel front facing camera to the right and to the left of the earpiece, a proximity and light sensor.
The P8 Lite is wrapped in metal bezels to give the phone a premium feel. The right side bezel is where you'll find those dual SIM slots, the power button and the volume rocker. On the bottom, you'll find two speaker grates and the microUSB port. Up top you get your standard headphone jack and a microphone for noise cancellation. Around the back of the device, Huawei has included a faux brushed aluminum look to keep up that premium appearance. A nice surprise in a phone at this price point is the rear 13 megapixel backside illuminated camera that comes from Sony. It takes some pretty good quality photos with controls to adjust white balance for lighting conditions, ISO and exposure control. We'll get into the camera in more detail in a bit.%page_break%
Huawei has added their own tweaks to Android's Kit Kat UI. That's the first issue I have with this phone is that it comes out the box with Kit Kat which is 23 months old at this point. Other variants of this device are running Android Lollipop so why not the U.S. version? Another thing that grinds my gears is the lack of an app drawer. I find that omitted often on entry and mid-range Android phones and tablets and can't understand why manufacturers do this. It really messes with my OCD and makes things on the home screen a mess, even with folder organization.
That said, those two complaints are about the only issues I have with the software on the P8 Lite. I found using the phone to be a pleasant experience that didn't feel slow or laggy, for the most part. The icons are large and vibrant which is either going to be fine for users or a turn off. I generally like an information dense screen so I prefer smaller icons but once they all go into folders, those on-screen icon sizes tend to matter a lot less.
With regard to getting around the menus and the user interface, I like what Huawei has done. The dialer screen groups your phone dialer/call log, contacts and text messages in one place, accessible by tabs at the top of the screen. The Notifications pull down looks very different from what you're generally seeing on an Android device with regard to how it shows information. You still swipe left or right to delete/dismiss a notification and there's a handy trash can icon in the bottom left corner to clear all messages but the information isn't quite as dense as I've seen in other implementations. By swiping left on an empty area of the Notification, you'll be taken to the settings shortcut portion of the dropdown shade. I like the way it is organized, with a dropdown arrow that expands the menu of available shortcuts even further. There are 19 shortcuts that can be arranged on the screen however you want but you can't add or delete any of those shortcuts from the screen. The brightness slider is also on this portion of the dropdown shade.
Huawei has included some features in the software, seen on other devices, which make things operate in a very smart manner. Specifically a set of menu options under the heading of "Smart assistance." The most useful of these functions which is turned off by default is Motion Control which has three different motion control options. The first one, Flip, allows you to place the phone screen down if you want to mute incoming calls, alerts and timers. Pick up does the same thing as flip except that it doesn't mute but decreases the volume when you pick the phone up. Last in that menu is the option to shake the phone to rearrange the icons on your Home screen when in edit mode. Naturally, that last option is one that won't see much action for me as I prefer to have my icons arranged in a very specific order instead of throwing caution to the wind and allowing a simple shake to dictate the arrangement but, you may want to live dangerously.
Other modes that will help you use the phone efficiently are a One-hand mode which makes the overall image on the screen smaller so you don't have to move your thumb all the way across to get to anything on screen and Touch-disable mode which blocks accidental presses when in a pocket or bag.
That Sony Camera
The rear camera is 13 megapixel, backside illuminated hardware, supplied by Sony. Just like many phones at this price point, the camera takes pretty good photos in great lighting but suffers where there's a lack of light. Indoors, you'll have the flash to work with but for the best photos, you're always going to come out better with bright, natural light.
One thing to note is that they've included options in the settings menu to quick launch the camera from the lock screen and I've found that it's quite speedy, taking less than three seconds to launch to a shoot read state. Of the two options, one allows you to launch the camera from a locked screen by pressing the volume down button twice. The other option allows you to do the same with the volume down button, the difference being that the camera app launches and shoots a picture in one action. The latter option is even faster than the former, often launching and taking a photo in 1 second. In low light conditions, many of the photos I took while testing the phone came out blurry using that second option.
Overall, for what most people are going to use the phone's camera for, its definitely serviceable and should ably provide you with all of the food pictures, selfies and cute kid candids you can capture. Just avoid taking them at sundown or inside dimly lit rooms and you're good to go!
The phone is beautiful, aesthetically speaking. I really like the look and though the phone is comprised mostly of plastic, the build quality just feels "right." Not that heavy, hefty reassuring in-hand feel but a satisfying, no worry feel nonetheless. It feels light without feeling cheap. The camera produces solid images, the display, though its only 720p still looks pretty good, and it will only cost you $249 off contract.
All that said though, is it enough to get people to turn their gaze away from other solid performers in this price point/range? Motorola recently announced their follow up to last year's Moto G to rave reviews so there's some pretty stiff competition in the mid-range market. Can Huawei's P8 Lite stand up to the competition and win your dollar? It's definitely worth a look.
Currently it is available here in the States as an unlocked device that operates on GSM networks like AT&T or T-Mobile with no support for CDMA networks. That means Sprint and Verizon customers will have to look elsewhere.
Disclosure: Huawei provided me with a demo unit of the P8 Lite for the purpose of this review.