Mention phones from China and brands such as Xiaomi, Oppo and ZTE come to mind.
Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei is actually part of this group of companies churning out low-priced Android devices for the mass market. But Huawei has been trying to reach beyond that segment. It seems to have succeeded with its new Huawei P8.
If you have kept tabs on its many devices, you may not think that the numbers mean anything. Huawei launched the Ascend Mate 7 and Ascend P7 last year, and both are different phones that share the number 7 in their names.
The P8 is actually the successor to the P7, and Huawei has decided to drop the Ascend branding as well as any association with even the vaguest hint of "budget" or "entry level".
The P8 comes in a metal casing, much like its larger Mate 7 cousin. The build has a premium look and feel to it. Its closest parallel would be the iPhone 6, and there is no mistaking the similarities, especially since the P8 comes in gold.
The rear camera module and various ports are flush with the sides. Only the power button and volume rocker on the right side project beyond the edge for easier handling.
While this does not set the smartphone design bar any higher, it does put the P8 ahead of phones that are principally plastic.
The battery here is non-removable. This has become the norm in flagship devices from Samsung, HTC and Sony.
It is the software that sets the P8 apart. This becomes more obvious the longer you use the phone.
There is no app drawer, so all the installed apps appear on your main menu, though you can group several apps into one folder.
Drop-down notifications are time-stamped chronologically, and the user interface actually separates each one, and not just by type.
So if you have received 10 e-mail messages via Gmail, each appears as one entry with a time stamp.
This is a small but significant change to a notification system that simply states that there are 10 new messages in your inbox. I have found this quite useful, but I can appreciate that not everyone will need a detailed breakdown.
Most Chinese brands are known to add extra features to Android. This one includes notifications for when there are apps running in the background, when your phone connects to a Wi-Fi network and data consumption.
This is assisted by a manager that identifies eight apps to continue running even when the screen is turned off so that the others can be closed when the screen goes dark.
Chinese mobile tech companies are also huge on themes, and users can tweak settings, from the transition of the home screen to the type of photos displayed as a screen-saver with the phone on standby.
One thing that took getting used to was unlocking the phone.
Usually, I do this by swiping my thumb from the base of the screen to the middle. In the P8, this move launches wallpaper customisation options instead.
The camera has several software tweaks, but some are more gimmicky than useful.
A new light painting mode allows you to snap a shot of a scene and move a lighted object across the frame. The exposure setting remains intact, but the moving light is shown as a trail that cuts across the screen.
Picture-wise, photos taken are decent, though I find that the compensation for white balance is rather off, and some indoor images may take on a blue tinge.
One hurdle for Huawei is that the P8 uses Huawei's own Hisilicon Kirin processor.
There is nothing wrong with this practice, and Samsung practically wrote the book on using its own chipset for its phones.
But while there are no issues with performance, my experience is that some app and game developers optimise the software for popular chips, so there is no guarantee that apps with intensive graphical requirements will perform as well on the P8.
For $699, the Huawei P8 offers a great build and useful software that puts it on a par with high-end phones from LG, Samsung and Sony. And the lack of 4K video-recording and wireless charging ability here means that many users will not end up paying for high-end features they will rarely use.
Battery life is the only downer - the P8 could not last me a whole day without the help of a power bank to recharge it.
This dual-SIM 4G phone offers features common to high-end devices at an affordable price.
PROCESSOR: 2GHz Hisilicon Kirin 930, 64bit octa-core
DISPLAY: 5.2-inch Full High Definition (1,080p) with Gorilla Glass 3, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, 424 pixels per inch
OPERATING SYSTEM: Android 5.0 Lollipop with Emotion UI 3.1
CAMERA: (Rear) 13MP, optical image stabilisation, 1,080p video, F2.0 aperture, dual-colour temperature flash, (Front)8MP
MEMORY: 16GB, 3GBRAM
DESIGN: 1 2 3 4 5
FEATURES: 1 2 3 4 5
PERFORMANCE: 1 2 3 4 5
BATTERY LIFE: 1 2 3 4 5
OVERALL: 1 2 3 4 5
This article was first published on July 22, 2015.
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