Apparently, flagship phones are like pots of Pringles: Once you pop, you just can’t stop.
It’s why almost every big brand handset now comes with a bigger brother, one that gives screen size and battery life a bump, and maybe finds room for a few extra features too. Case in point: the P10 Plus.
Huawei got a lot of things right with the P10, which was much more than the mere iPhone clone it appeared to be at first look. It had plenty of power and a genuinely clever camera with plenty of features.
Still, battery life wasn’t perfect and a 1080p screen is hardly cutting edge for what should be an all-singing, all-dancing flagship.
The P10 Plus puts both of those things right, which essentially makes it the best phone Huawei has ever made.
HUAWEI P10 PLUS DESIGN & BUILD: TASTES LIKE APPLE
Let’s get this out of the way early: yes, the P10 Plus looks an awful lot like an iPhone. So much so a Starbucks barista asked if I was using Apple Pay for this morning’s iced tea (I don’t do hot drinks, OK?).
From the front, the fingerprint sensor is lozenge-shaped, rather than circular, and the volume and power buttons are all on the right side. Otherwise, they’re almost identical. They both have rounded corners that sit comfortably in the palm, neither shows any sign of flex or bend, and both do a reasonable job at hiding fingerprints.
Flip it over and you’ll spot Huawei’s own design at work, though - one that actually beats Apple by lying the rear cameras completely flush to the phone body, instead of sticking out like they do on the iPhone.
In my Graphite Black review sample, the cameras sit on a glass band at the top of the phone, complete with proudly displayed Leica logo. It’s actually more prominent than Huawei’s own, which is almost camouflaged against the metal body.
You’ll have to pick up one of the bolder hues if you don’t want people confusing you for an iOS fan. Greenery and Dazzling Blue were both designed with help from colour specialists Pantone, and are as attention-grabbing as they are divisive. You’ll either love ‘em or hate ‘em, but there’s no question you’ll stand out from the crowd of black, silver and pink (sorry, Rose Gold) handsets out there right now.
HUAWEI P10 PLUS CAMERA HARDWARE: SEEING DOUBLE
The P10’s twin-camera setup was its biggest strength, and happily that’s still true here. Pairing a 12MP colour sensor with a 20MP monochrome one, it adds a camera bag’s worth of tricks to something you can carry around with you 24/7.
First up, the ability to zoom without taking an image quality hit. Apple will let you zoom to 2x, but with the P10 you can zoom to any point between 1x and 2x, either by pinching the screen or moving an on-screen slider.
It’s not true optical zoom, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the digital zoom most smartphone cameras are saddled with - even if it only works with 12MP images, because the 20MP monochrome sensor is on zoom duty.
There’s a very slight dip in quality, but it’s only noticeable when you’re peeking at pixels. For Facebook uploads, you won’t notice at all.
The next trick? Dreamy depth of field. The P10 Plus has f/1.8 Leica glass, an improvement over the P10’s f/2.2, and by combining them they can act like even faster lenses. Turn on the wide-angle mode and you’ll be able to set the aperture to create some properly blurry backgrounds. It works well in most situations, and only looked a little fake in a few of my test shots.
There’s a minor difference here between the P10 and the P10 Plus. It wasn’t as pronounced as I was expecting, but the Plus does still take the win once you zoom in beyond 100%.
It also works when you’re in Portrait mode, but keep in mind this also forces on the ultra-aggressive Beauty mode which smooths out your features and lightens your skin. Remember to disable it (or lower the level of beautification) unless you want to look like a Japanese Manga idol. The blur effects really do make portraits look like they were taken with a proper camera, not a phone.
Finally, you can use the monochrome camera by itself to take atmospheric, high-contrast black and white pics. This isn’t a cheeky filter: you’re getting proper mono shots, which can make all the difference when snapping in low light. What would be unusable in colour often turns out great in grayscale.
Up front, the 8MP, f/1.9 camera also has Leica glass. Portrait mode works here too, but it’s done entirely through software.
On the video side, you can shoot 4K clips at 30fps, or full HD video at up to 60fps. Optical image stabilisation is on hand to keep your footage as shake-free as possible, Drop down to 30fps full HD recording and electronic wizardry keeps your clips even steadier, although Google’s Pixel still edges it out for overall smoothness.
Once you’ve pressed the shutter button, the snaps captured by the P10 Plus really are exceptional. Black and white shots have exceptional contrast and are bursting with detail, while 12MP colour snaps are punchy and vibrant, while managing to stay (mostly) true to life.
Laser- and phase detection autofocus help you lock on to subjects incredibly quickly, and optical image stabilisation meant that every shot I took in daylight was perfectly sharp. You’ve still got to have a steady hand to get the same results at night, but it copes well here too.
With its bigger f/1.8 glass, the P10 Plus copes better in low light than its smaller brother. ISO settings aren’t pushed as high to keep shots looking sharp, meaning you keep more detail in each snap, without adding unwanted noise. Image processing on the Apple iPhone 7 Plus give it a slight edge in terms of overall quality here, though. Still, the twin-LED flash helps to illuminate scenes without making them look too fake or forced.
With no auto-HDR mode, you’ve got to go into a menu and toggle it on and off. It won’t work with other modes, either, but the shots you can take with it enabled are otherwise quite impressive. Some of my test shots looked a little ethereal, but it really helps balance out scenes with different levels of light. The Google Pixel’s auto-HDR managed to keep similar scenes looking realistic, giving it the win.
Huawei’s camera app helps you jump between the numerous modes and settings quickly, with one swipe bringing up shooting modes and another to enter Pro mode. This lets you control ISO speeds, white balance and exposure compensation completely manually.
You’d need to put it side-by-side with an iPhone, Google Pixel or Galaxy S7 to spot the minor shortcomings in daylight photos, but the P10 Plus has so many other camera features that it’ll easily be up there with the best phones of 2017 once we get to awards season.