The Huawei P10 is an iPhone in Android form. It looks like an iPhone, behaves like an iPhone, and in many ways it rivals an iPhone.
It’s far from a mere clone - the P10 has its own charms and foibles. But the similarities are there, from the zooming dual cameras to the look and feel of the thing. Even the so-so battery life mirrors Apple’s flagship.
Huawei isn’t the first to go down this route, and won’t be the last, but the P10 may be the best attempt yet to co-opt Apple’s magic formula for the Android masses.
Huawei P10 design: If it looks like an iPhone…
That unavoidable comparison was evident from the moment I picked up the P10 - because it really looks like an iPhone.
It has the same slim body with metal back, the same subtle curves, and in truth looks far more like an Apple phone than it does a Samsung Galaxy, HTC or LG handset.
Of course there are differences: the volume and power buttons are all on the right-hand-side, and the fingerprint sensor is a lozenge shape rather than circular. But that’s it about it from the front.
Turn it over and it actually trumps Apple: the two rear cameras sit flush against the body, instead of sticking out like the do on the iPhone 7 Plus. This may not be a big deal for some, but as someone who routinely gets annoyed if things aren’t just right, it won me over straight away.
Those camera lenses are set right near the top, on a sleek black band which proudly displays the Leica badge; it’s about as close as the P10 gets to flamboyance, and works really nicely.
All of the above is true of the Graphite Black model I tested, but if you’re lucky enough to pick the P10 up in one of Huawei’s special colours or finishes, those iPhone comparisons are less apt. Two of the eight colours (Greenery and Dazzling Blue) were designed in conjunction with colour specialists Pantone, and are by far the most striking of the range. Greenery won't be to everyone's taste, but I rather like it. It'll certainly make your phone stand out among the sea of black, silver and gold handsets you'll come across on your commute.
Dazzling Blue is more subtle, but it does have Huawei’s lovely new 'Hyper Diamond-Cut Finish' on the back. Despite being super-shiny, this magically repels fingerprints. Alright, it's not magic - it's science. But either way it works; fingerprints will be confined to the front of the phone on this model.
Whatever colour the P10 is, though, it's a smart and smartly built device. The Graphite Black model may lack distinguishing features, but it nestles nicely into the palm and feels really solid. There’s no flexing at all on either the buttons or the body, and the only real black mark against it is that it’s not waterproof. You do, however, get a headphone socket on the bottom, right next to the USB-C port. You won’t get either of those on an iPhone.
Huawei P10 camera: Twice the pleasure
If you’re not familiar with the P series you might think the P10’s camera is another example of Huawei apeing Apple: like the iPhone 7 Plus, it has a twin-sensor set-up which can zoom up to 2x with seemingly no loss of image quality.
But actually, Mr Apple Fanboy, it’s the other way round - because Huawei first hit upon this formula with the P9 around this time last year, only for Apple to do what it does and shout far more loudly about how it had revolutionised smartphone cameras some months later.
Anyway, aside from the obvious two-lens-zoom thing, these cameras are actually pretty different in how they work. You get one 20MP monochrome sensor and one 12MP colour one. It’s the same set-up we saw on last year’s bigger Mate 9, and it produces similarly impressive results.
While you can use the monochrome camera to take absolutely lovely black-and-white pics, that's not its primary party trick. Instead, it helps make photos look sharper and simulates nice blurry backgrounds. And, as with the iPhone, it lets you zoom.
The P10 actually handles zoom better than the iPhone. On the Apple phone, you just get a choice of 1x or 2x optical zoom, but on the P10 you can zoom at every point between 1x and 2x, either with a pinch the screen, or by moving an on-screen slider. It's really easy to do and gives you total control over focal length.
It's not optical zoom as on the iPhone, but nor is it your bog-standard digital zoom that ends up making every image look like a bag of mushy peas. You can only use it with 12MP images, presumably because the 20MP monochrome sensor is handling some of the zooming duties, filling in detail or whatever. But the result is that whether you zoom to 1.2x or 1.8x or whatever, your 12MP images will have what appears to be identical quality. It's a really neat feature, if not new even for Huawei.
I’ve tried it out with hundreds of shots now and when you pixel peep the images there is actually a slight quality difference between those taken at 1x and those at 2x: namely a little less definition. But then again, you’re getting twice the focal length, and the difference in quality is so small that in practical terms it doesn’t matter.
Trust me, you can zoom up to 2x with the P10 to your heart’s content. It’s a different matter once you go up past 2x, though, so I’d avoid doing so.
The snaps themselves are of really high quality. The 20MP black-and-white shots are gorgeous, with loads of detail and excellent contrast, but the 12MP colour shots are better still - really punchy and with even more detail to be found.
Low-light photography is also improved by the P10's two cameras. It focuses very quickly, helped no doubt by the laser- and phase detection autofocus that’s present here. Optical image stabilisation is also on hand to help keep shots relatively sharp despite slow shutter speeds, and the dual-tone flash does a good job of capturing a scene without making it look entirely unreal.
It’s not the absolute best on this front though, as images do suffer from noise in low-light situations. That’s not a shock, because the P10's cameras have only f2.2 lenses; the bigger P10 Plus gets f1.8 glass, among other enhancements. As a result, the camera ends up using higher ISO settings in order to keep shots sharp, and once you get up to ISO 1600 and 3200 then the loss of detail is obvious. Still, it’s far from the worst either and for most situations it’ll do fine.
The P10 also uses the two cameras to give you nice blurry backgrounds. While the lenses may only be f2.2, by combining them the P10 can make them behave like far faster glass. There’s even a special wide-angle mode to take advantage of this; turn it on and you’ll be able to drag a slider around to artfully isolate your subject. This works really well and doesn’t look at all fake.
The same tech comes into play in the new Portrait mode. This uses various software tricks to beautify the face of your subject (or yourself if you're taking a selfie). Essentially it blurs the background behind your subject, smooths out their features a little and bathes the whole scene in flattering lighting.
Does it work? Well kinda. The blurred background definitely makes portraits look better, and the smoothing effect will get rid of your the worst of your lines and wrinkles, but go too far with it and your model will end up looking like they’ve been through Chinese photo-editing app Meitu. See below for proof of that. And no, my nose isn't that big in real life. We’re filing this one under ‘gimmick’.
It’s also worth mentioning the P10’s macro capabilities - because it lets you get really close to the action. The laser-focusing ensures it snaps on swiftly even when you’re right on top of your subject, and again you can see plenty of detail in your shots. The HDR mode also produces good results too, although it’s a shame you have to head into a menu to toggle it on and off. Nor can you use it while in another mode, such as monochrome or panorama.
The camera app is comprehensive but not terrifying. You can swipe one way to select various modes such as monochrome and HDR and panorama, or the other to access the camera's settings. Swipe up, meanwhile, and you'll go into Pro mode, where you can control ISO, aperture and the like manually. It's all pretty intuitive and if you just want to leave it in auto there's nothing stopping you.
Round the front there’s an 8MP, f/1.9 camera - also featuring Leica glass - that produces great selfies. The portrait mode works here too, so you can present the best (ie not the real) version of yourself on Instagram, and it also features an ‘adaptive selfie’ mode; this detects whether you’re in a group or Billy-no-mates and adjusts the camera settings accordingly.
On the video front, you get 4K quality at 30fps, or full HD at up to 60fps. Footage is crisp but although the optical image stabilisation helped keep it fairly stable, it’s not quite up to Google Pixel levels of smoothness.
Still, as you’d expect given Leica’s involvement, this is a great camera overall. It’ll definitely be up there with the best 2017 phones come the end of the year.