There are certain things that sound absolutely amazing on paper, but once you try them out in real life, they’re either a disaster or a disappointment. Technology is one such example – plenty of things may have sounded great in theory, but once they hit the market they took a turn for the worse (hello PlayBook). The Huawei Ascend P7 is one such device – it probably sounded like a surefire win when it was being designed, but the final product is so excruciatingly distressing that you’ll end up wondering why such a product exists in the first place.
Build quality & design
I’m not saying that the Ascend P7 is a bad product at all. Certainly the design is eye-catching, with a ridiculously slim profile and thin bezels. But then I’ve seen this all before – in the likes of the Sony Xperia Z2 which just happened to be in our office this week. The similarities are ridiculous – from the camera placement to the design and style of the volume buttons and even the power button, the Ascend P7 looks like a close cousin of the Xperia Z2. No word yet if anyone at Sony will be doing anything about this, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for too long.
Overall the build quality of the Ascend P7 is quite good, though its glass body makes it a tad nerve-racking to hold in your hand at times. You’ve got slots for microSD and microSIM over on the right side, which sport proper trays rather than terrible rubber flaps that we’ve seen in previous models.
The Ascend P7 could have actually been a decent phone. But its downfall has got to be the ridiculous UI which Huawei have slapped on. Honestly, if it were up to me I would simply wipe the phone and get a stock Android ROM on this phone asap. UI aside, the Ascend P7 is a bit hit and miss when it comes to app performance – certain apps and games ran without a hitch, and the phone had no trouble with me loading up Chrome with an endless amount of tabs open. More graphically intense games did occasionally stutter for a few seconds, so while the Ascend P7 is capable of running most apps that you pile on it, you’ll notice that the slowdowns begin to occur more frequently.
UI and Apps
The phone’s average performance isn’t down to hardware – it’s crippled by a UI that is at times simply infuriating. Huawei have added their “Emotion UI” which takes over this phone, and frankly the only emotion it succeeded in getting out of me was utter rage. One thing which certain Android handsets are adopting is to do away with the app drawer, so that all your app icons are on several homescreens, similar to the iPhone. I absolutely loathe this, and really wish that Huawei had kept the app drawer intact. This heavily skinned interface is also taxing on the phone itself, so swiping through different screens will eventually lead to a few hiccups. There are also changes to the notification bar, which now takes additional swipes to get working.
Huawei also thought that it would be useful if there was a feature that advised users which apps they could close down in order to save on battery life and boost performance. Great idea, but terrible execution. The app manager constantly advises you to close down apps in the hope that you’ll think that it’s doing you some good, when it really isn’t. I closed down Gmail once only to find that it had completely stopped syncing all my emails which was a complete pain. The lag across the phone tends to snowball to such a point that you eventually need to reboot the phone to get it working properly again – something you never want to do with any phone (well unless you’re still using a Blackberry).
Screen and Camera
The screen on the Ascend P7 is a 1080p IPS LCD display which frankly is one of the better features of the phone. Colors and text look sharp, and viewing angles are generally quite good. The ultra-thin bezels on the front of the phone gives a wider feel to the screen, and overall it’s a great viewing experience.
For the snap-happy users, the Ascend P7 comes with a rear 13MP camera and a front-facing 8MP camera. Yes, you heard that right – an 8MP front-facing camera. That bests even our current office favorite, the HTC One M8, which has a 5MP camera in the front. Huawei wanted a great camera in the front to embrace the growing ‘selfie’ trend, and this camera delivers just that. Photos are much clearer and less grainy than those taken with other cameras, and there are a number of unique filters and effects which you can apply to your photos. One of them is an extended panorama mode, which mean you can finally get more people into a group photo by taking three photos from different angles and having the phone do all the work. There’s also a rather amusing “Face Beauty” mode, which will deftly get rid of any blemishes, wrinkles, and what not on your face. Setting this mode to anything greater than three led to some hilarious results, so either turn this off or keep it at a very low setting.
Sound & Call Quality
Speaker placement is something I’ve come to judge fiercely on smartphones, since I’ve been spoilt by the front-facing speakers of the HTC One. The Ascend P7 has a speaker placed on the lower right of the back of the phone, which is almost always blocked by the palm of your hand, resulting in muffled audio. The speaker is fairly loud, however its placement means that most of the audio will be projected away from you, so it’s best to don a pair of headphones. Call quality was generally quite good and clear, although bear in mind the speaker placement if you’re using the phone’s speakerphone feature.
Battery life on the Ascend P7 was about seven hours with frequent emails, social media, a bit of multimedia streaming, and the occasional photograph or two. That’s strictly average coming from the phone’s 2,500mAh battery, so you’ll have to really ration your usage on the phone or you’ll end up running out of juice too quickly.
It’s hard to easily recommend the Ascend P7 – on one hand you’ve got a phone with a great screen and impressive imaging capabilities, but then you realize that it’s shrouded in a terrible UI which refuses to let you enjoy the experience. The Ascend P7 may be masquerading as a cheaper alternative to the HTC One M8 or Samsung Galaxy S5, and while it is cheaper it’s not necessarily better at all. If you can put up with the mediocre performance and buggy UI in favor of an amazing selfie that would make Ellen DeGeneres proud, then this is the phone for you.