Fantastic sharp screen;
Capable feature-packed cameras;
Super thin and attractive
Dodgy headphone port;
Ropey virtual keyboard;
Huawei has certainly been prolific with its premium smartphones, and while the Ascend P2 has only just hit the UK, we’re already onto the Ascend P6. The new World’s Thinnest Smartphone (a super-slim 6.18mm) still manages to find room for a quad-core processor and supremely crisp HD screen, but quite a few quibbles annoyingly detract from an otherwise solid package.
Huawei’s premium smartphones have generally been quite slimline – the Ascend P2 was only 8.4mm thick in the middle – but the Ascend P6 is officially the skinniest handset around at just 6.18mm. It’s not so thin that you’ll gawp in disbelief, but it’s comfortable to clutch and you’ll barely feel it in your pocket, especially given the featherweight 120g build.
Huawei appears to have taken inspiration from Apple’s iPhone 5 for the white Ascend P6. The glossy front panel is very similar (barring the Huawei logo at the bottom of course) and the Ascend P6 uses a similar stretched design, with a very narrow bezel separating the screen from the edges. The edges are metallic silver, while the white matt backing is clean and simple and proves surprisingly scuff-resistant. We really like the overall appearance, which manages to look both smart and desirable.
Most of the ports and buttons have been shoved onto the right edge, although it doesn’t feel particularly cluttered. The power and volume buttons are easy to access and you get the MicroSD and SIM card slots beneath, both hidden in tiny drawers that can only be opened with a pin. Thankfully the other side of the headphone jack cover sports such a pin, for emergency access.
Unfortunately the headphone jack is our one complaint with the Ascend P6’s design, and it’s quite a big problem if you use your mobile for music. For a start there’s that metallic cover, which you have to prise out before you can slip your earphone in. We’re sure it’s easy enough to remove if you’ve got fingernails, but having bitten ours down, we really struggled to get it off – and when we did, the thing inevitably went scuttling off across the pavement.
And then there’s the positioning, on the bottom left edge. Every other smartphone features a port on the top or bottom edge, so your headphones can be slotted in even when the phone’s in your pocket. Having that port on the side meant our earphones were next to impossible to plug in this way, which hampered our ability to listen to music while walking into work.
World of apps
Huawei has pre-installed a variety of apps on the Ascend P6, which fills up a decent chunk of the 5GB storage. You get the usual selection of Google apps, plus a lot of management apps (App Installer, Permission Manager, Backup, Help Center and so on). We’re willing to bet the majority of users will never use most of them, which makes it all the more annoying that you can’t uninstall them. You also get some simple tools such as a Notes app and Flashlight, with Polaris Office 4.0 thrown in to keep you productive.
As a quick warning, we were annoyed to see that 'automatically update my apps at any time' was selected as default in the app settings, as this can eat up your data allowance ridiculously quick if you're unaware. Be sure to disable this option straight away, or at the very least change it so your apps only update via Wi-Fi.
While other Android smartphones tuck the apps away in a menu, allowing you to post shortcuts to your favourites on your desktops, the Ascend P6 takes Apple’s approach. This means that every single app is thrown onto the desktops, and the only method of organising them is stuffing them into folders. It’s a system that’s felt out-of-date for at least two years on Apple’s iPhone, and it feels rather clunky and unnecessary here too – plus you’ll quickly run out of desktop space if you like using widgets. At least you can still pick your favourite four apps and drag them to the shortcut bar at the bottom of the screen, which displays on every desktop.
I get so Emotion-al
The Ascend P6 runs the latest version of Android, Jelly Bean 4.2, but Huawei has thrown its own Emotion interface over the top to give the phone a distinctive look. Aside from the bizarre app management, the differences are mostly aesthetic. Everything from the notifications bar to the desktops have been polished up and we like the fresh design, which is suitably neat and colourful.
Huawei realises that not everyone will want the same look, of course, so it’s spent a lot of time creating different themes. Our review sample came with five to choose from, including a sombre charcoal effort and a bright pink number, but you can download hundreds of new ones if none of those suit. Android themes are nothing new of course, but it’s nice to see Huawei making the effort.
We like the new notifications menu, with its customisable settings bar. This gives you quick access to toggle power-draining features such as Wi-Fi and GPS, as well as the full settings menu. You’re also notified of any waiting messages and so on, although by default Gmail users won’t receive email notifications when something lands in their inbox. Very strange.
Also strange is how the Ascend P6 doesn’t support 4G LTE, which is due to roll out across the UK networks this year. This means the phone will essentially be out of date in a few months, unless you’re unwilling to stump up a bit extra for faster data. Our review handset also didn’t have built-in NFC support for sharing files and making mobile payments.
We really like the Ascend P6’s brilliant 4.7-inch screen, which has to be the phone’s best feature. A supremely crisp 1280 x 720 pixel resolution means that text and images appear in sharp focus - even zooming right out of a website, we could still read the tiny text, and tap the links. Play a high definition video and you can’t help but gawp at the HD visuals.
Viewing angles are wide enough to comfortably watch video at an angle, and there’s not much colour loss when you tilt the screen. Colour reproduction in general is fantastic, with bright reds, greens and yellows really standing out. We also love how bright the screen is when you crank it up in the settings menu, proving powerful enough to counter even the harshest sunlight.
It’s common now for smartphones over £300 to pack quad-core processors, and the Ascend P6 is no exception. Quad-core processors can handle a spell of multi-tasking without breaking a sweat, so you can have a number of things running in the background and it won’t bring the phone crashing to a halt. Sadly there’s no way to run apps side-by-side, something we’ve seen on LG handsets such as the Optimus G Pro, as well as Samsung’s Galaxy Note II and beyond. It’s a shame, as we love the freedom of checking websites, contact info and so on while bashing out emails or text messages.
Although the Ascend P6 boasts quad-core power, we did see the occasional little glitch during everyday use. Google Chrome was particularly glitchy when we first started using it, often crashing or displaying pages in a bizarre way, although these issues thankfully died down with repeated use. We’ve experienced a handful of other crashes too, with the likes of YouTube freezing up, although nothing so serious that we needed to reboot the phone.
Luckily we had no issues playing the latest games, downloaded direct from the Google Play store. Racing, running and shooting titles all played with smooth frame rates and there’s enough power on offer to keep the Ascend P6 from being out-of-date any time soon.
Unfortunately we do have another minor gripe, and this time it’s about the accelerometer, which is far too sensitive at times. This doesn’t make much difference when playing games as you soon adjust to that , but it is annoying when simply flicking through the Ascend P6’s menus or browsing the web. We found that just a tiny tilt either left or right makes the screen flick to horizontal mode, which soon reaches vein-popping levels of irritation. We actually turned off auto-rotate to prevent it from happening, turning it back on whenever we wanted to flip the screen.
We always use our review phones as our own mobiles for a few days to get an idea of how good the battery life is, and the Ascend P6 held up reasonably well compared to similarly sized smartphones. If you’re regularly on the web, you’ll still get a full day of normal use without resorting to turning down screen brightness. Limit yourself to texting and emailing and the Ascend P6 could even stretch to over a day from a single charge.
Of course, as soon as you start hammering it with games and media, the Ascend P6 soon runs its battery down. You can play games for around four hours on a single charge, and streaming video does it in just as quick. That’s around average for an HD phone with a screen this size.
There’s a Power Manager app to help you stretch out the phone’s lifespan if required. This can shut down non-essential background tasks, prevent sneaky apps from automatically starting up, and even tell you how much battery life to expect from browsing the web, playing your media or actually using your mobile to call someone. Power Manager is one of the better battery apps we’ve seen on a smartphone, although we’re surprised that the different power plans don’t tweak basic settings such as screen brightness.
Not my type
Huawei’s other big adjustment is its virtual keyboard, which is equal parts friendly and frustrating. The layout is fine, with well-spaced keys as well as easy access to punctuation (each letter key has an alternative symbol, accessed by holding the key down for a second instead of just tapping it), and you even get a cool little smiley button for adding emoticons.
However, the keyboard is less helpful when it comes to correcting mistakes. We tried turning on auto-correct and next word prediction in the settings menu, but this seemed to do absolutely nothing – the only way to correct mistakes is tap on them manually and select what you were attempting to say from the drop-down menu. In the end, we prefer the standard Android board.
Huawei’s eight megapixel camera is another highlight thankfully. We took to the town and snapped everything we saw, and when we copied the resulting photos to our computer, we were impressed with what we saw.
The Ascend P6’s lens copes with all kinds of weather, taking perfectly lit shots in harsh sunlight as well as more murky conditions, thanks to the brilliant ‘Smart’ mode. The level of detail it captures is incredible – zoom into a photo and you can read tiny details on signs, or pick out the license plates of distant cars. Colours aren’t as vibrant as they are in Sony Xperia SP shots, but they’re more realistically captured. You get a built-in flash for evening shots, to help counter the inevitable graininess.
As well as the ‘Smart’ mode, the Ascend P6 can take panorama shots, HDR shots and film Full HD video, which looks good when viewed back on a television. You can edit your pics before posting online to social media accounts, which is a typically quick and simple process.
The Ascend P6 also boasts a ridiculously powerful front-facing camera, which can capture five megapixel images. That’s as powerful as some smartphones’ main cameras. It’s ideal for online video chats, but Huawei has also added a ‘Beauty’ mode which is supposed to glam you up in portrait shots. Personally we didn’t notice any difference when turning Beauty mode to max (but then how do you improve on perfection?), but the two second countdown does at least mean you can tap the shutter button and prepare yourself before the shot takes.
The Huawei Ascend P6 is a tale of two smartphones. The positive side is the excellent display, fantastic dual cameras and funky themes. Unfortunately, the lack of 4G support, irritations such as the ropey keyboard and over-sensitive accelerometer, and that dodgy headphone port, all make it difficult to recommend over rivals such as Sony’s Xperia SP.