When Huawei announced the Ascend P6 back in June, it didn’t exactly jump off the page at us. Sure, the Ascend P6 looks pretty good; in fact, the industrial design is really top notch. A slim (and we do mean slim) handset with a metal band wrapped around it, broken in places only by a couple of buttons, and one could be forgiven for thinking the Ascend P6 is inspired by Apple’s iPhone 4 or iPhone 5 design. It certainly looks like one from a distance.
Specification wise, the Ascend P6 seems a little underwhelming. A 1.5 GHz quad-core processor is the standard these days, and 2GB of RAM is on the laundry list as well. A 2000 mAh battery is a little on the light side, but purely looking at milliamp hours doesn’t always tell the story; efficient hardware can do a lot with this. Equally, poor hardware can destroy it.
So which category does the Huawei Ascend P6 fall into? Good, efficient, well designed? Or would you consider it a somewhat inferior handset which copies design elements of other popular handsets, without delivering a knockout blow?
Read on. Find out.
Looking at the physical aspects of the Huawei Ascend P6, it’s impressive. It certainly cuts a fine shape, it’s light and pleasant to hold, and it’s razor thing — an attribute I quite like in my smartphone. This is one reason why I enjoyed using the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and HTC One — both are thin and powerful, and the Ascend P6 fits neatly into this category as well.
Things to note that don’t fit nicely into the categories below are these:
The Ascend P6 should be a powerful contender — a quad-core 1.5 GHz processor is not to be sneezed at, and a quick look at a few benchmarking tools suggests its certainly quite powerful.
While Quadrant Standard is hardly the defining standard of benchmarking anymore, it’s something I’ve personally been using since back in the days of the HTC Magic, and I quite like it.
The Ascend P6 performs well. In graphical terms, it puts out 61 frames per second (FPS) on the 3D game emulation and planets simulation. On the double helix (known to be more intense) this drops to 51 FPS, but that’s not to be laughed at either.
The full results are shown below:
You can from these results that in terms of raw grunt, the HTC One runs rings around the Ascend P6. However, for a phone that retails at 1.5 times the price of the P6, this shouldn’t surprise you. HTC have also been in the smartphone game for a lot longer. One test that the results show the P6 pulls ahead in, even if only slightly, is 3D graphics, and this is echoed by my experience: the P6 is a great 3D performer, and shows much smoother graphics than the HTC One in my subjective testing.
Your mileage may vary, of course.
How it feels
The Ascend P6 is a light, slim handset. It’s all of 6.18mm thin, which makes it a full 3mm thinner than the HTC One, which is already a pretty slim contender. It’s also lighter — 120grams vs 143 for the HTC One.
You might wonder why we’ve picked the HTC One as a comparison point — simply, it’s this: they’re similar in size and weight and form factor.
Size and weight to one side, the Ascend P6 feels quite square in the hand, and the metal band around the edges does have the tendency to bite into the hand a little. Placing the P6 in a case does mitigate this feel a bit, but it also increases the width and thickness of the handset a little. Not significantly, but you shouldn’t really have to use a case to make your handset comfortable to use.
My other concern, knowing what the Ausdroid boys are like with their handsets, is that the Ascend P6 isn’t particularly tacky. No, we’re not measuring how cheap and nasty it feels, rather how easy it is to grip. Just like the HTC One, the Ascend P6 is very slippery without a case or something to make it a bit more tacky and easy to hold on to, and I’d be very worried about how it’d go if dropped from a distance — the glass front probably wouldn’t survive, and the nice metal casing would very easily scratch.
The Ascend P6 won’t win awards for audio quality, in that it’s got one speaker, and it’s flush with the rear of the casing. This means that when you place it flat on a desk or any other flat surface, the sound is going to muffle, and badly.
However, flip the phone over, and the audio quality isn’t too bad. I don’t recommend anyone listening to music out loud on a mobile phone using the speaker functionality — it’s an assault on discerning eardrums — but hey, it’s a good measure of how loud the handset can be.
The Ascend P6 doesn’t disappoint in terms of volume — it’s not the quietest phone I’ve heard, but it certainly wasn’t the loudest either. The muffling of the sound definitely was a factor against the P6, and this leaves me wondering whether a quiet ringtone (i.e. something that isn’t an audio assault) would be easily heard over more than a modicum of background noise.
Put a pair of headphones in, and the audio quality is exactly what it should be — perfectly acceptable and enjoyable. To me, audio quality with headphones in is a hygiene item; a phone can either do it, or it can’t, and the P6 certainly can. It’s not really something to write home about, but it works, and that’s all you need.
In my limited testing, the Ascend P6 seems to perform adequately as a camera. It’s not a standout performer, but it does take reasonable photos in a variety of lighting conditions. Indoors under artificial light, the camera can over saturate a little, and it doesn’t seem to have the widest aperture — in order to capture enough light to make a photo worth taking, the shutter speed is quite slow, meaning that unless everything in your shot is frozen in time, you’re going to see a bit of blur.
During the day however (and especially outdoors) the Ascend P6 takes a perfectly acceptable photo. We’ve taken a few sample photos which you can see alongside this review.
Primarily the thing to comment on with the Ascend P6 is Emotion UI, which is Huawei’s skin on top of Android. Just like Motorola’s Blur, HTC’s Sense, Samsung’s Nature UI (or TouchWiz, or whatever it’s called this week) Emotion UI is a skin atop Android, and in this case, it sits on top of Android 4.2.2.
Using Emotion UI reminded me quite a lot of LG’s interpretation of Android 4.1.2 — lots of lighter colours, remaking much of the standard Android experience, including redesigned toggles, colours and perhaps most noticeably, the removal of the app drawer for a flatter experience.
Those familiar with the iPhone / iOS Springboard approach, where all your apps are spread across a number of screens in one category (i.e. there’s no home screens and app drawer, just home screens) will probably find Emotion UI a bit closer to their previous experiences. However, it’s not quite that simple.
Emotion UI does have everything on homescreens (there’s not an app drawer per se), but it offers app folders, widgets and the ability to change the order however you like. Not having an app drawer means all your apps are on homescreens somehow, whether they’re in folders or by themselves, and this is a bit iOS-esque; some apps you just don’t access unless things go horribly wrong, and so there’s really no need to have them taking up space on a homescreen somewhere; an app drawer is perfect for this.
However, this is just one thing that I didn’t like. Overall, while some have criticised Emotion UI in the past, I didn’t find it too unpleasant to use. Frankly, it looks well designed (visually, at least), it doesn’t lag too badly, and unlike some skins which are horribly inconsistent and bordering on hideous (cough Samsung’s Nature UI) Emotion UI actually looks like it’s had a designer behind it.
There are some aspects I don’t especially like, and the default keyboard is one of these. This shouldn’t be a surprise to longer readers of Ausdroid; by and large, manufacturers feel a need to modify keyboards and add their own touch, and in my view, they should never, ever waste their time.
I don’t recall using a single manufacturer’s modified keyboard for more than a day, because frankly, they’re all garbage. Android’s stock keyboard has reached a point where it’s damned good — it offers gesture typing, good auto-correct features, and it’s fast and responsive — and manufacturer customised keyboards are often anything but. They lag, they look awful, don’t usually offer gesture typing, and often introduce all manner of typographical errors.
My recommendation for users of the Ascend P6 is no different to that I offer to buyers of an HTC or Samsung handset. Use the Android stock keyboard, or install Swiftkey. Don’t stick with the manufacturer’s default option, because it’ll rapidly make you hate it. Fortunately, Huawei include the stock Android keyboard with the Ascend P6, and enabling it is a cinch.
Redesigned neat features
Other redesigned elements of the software include the lockscreen (which offers a readily accessible slider to access either the unlock function, or the camera), as well as the usual suspects like replacement of Android’s standard calendar, clock, contacts and browser with customised equivalents. The good thing here is Emotion UI doesn’t completely destroy them, or replace them with bloaty crap that doesn’t really work. Rather, Emotion UI’s ‘standard’ apps just work, and actually look good, plus they fit in with the design language of the rest of the operating system.
In other words, compared to some far less favourable Android skins, Emotion UI on the Ascend P6 really isn’t too shabby. It doesn’t have obvious lags, it doesn’t seem to stutter in my experience, and it just works.
There are personalisation and theme options which seem to mirror those found on the LG Optimus G, and I liked them there, too.
Others have panned the Ascend P6′s software experience, and frankly I can’t see why.
Android has matured as a platform where there are some aspects of the experience that are just trite to talk about.
However, Huawei’s Ascend P6 offers some unique features that you probably should know about.
Huawei’s Permission Manager is one such feature, which gives users fine-grained control over which apps can send notifications to the notification panel, access various network types (e.g. some apps can be restricted to WiFi only, or 2G/3G only), plus a number of privacy controls, allowing you to restrict access to Contacts, Messages, Call Log, Location Access, Phone Number, Calendar, and lastly, security measures allowing you to prevent secretive access to calls, camera or messaging between apps.
This kind of control over what your apps can and can’t do isn’t likely to be necessary (or even used) by the majority of users. Let’s face it, it’s a bit of a power-user feature. However, it is nice to have, and does give you that level of control that might be useful if you use some data intensive apps that are a bit careless about which network access method they use.
Huawei’s Power Manager is also worthy of note, allowing you to set a number of power features automatically to alter the battery life of your handset. Available modes include Normal, Smart and Endurance. The latter disables a number of features, keeping your smartphone working more like a feature phone, turning off features you don’t really need if keeping your phone alive is important.
Huawei Ascend P6
Where to buy
ConclusionThe Huawei Ascend P6 is a phone of contrasts.
It boasts beautiful industrial design and it feels great in the hand, albeit the edges can bite into your fingers after prolonged holding. The software looks great and operates smoothly, and a few odd quirks aside, it’s a good experience.
However, on the flipside, the 2000 mAh battery is surprisingly small, though depending on usage, it can last a good day or two. The lack of 4G LTE is disappointing, but perhaps understandable in the context of limited space, limited battery capacity, and perhaps a desire not to have the Ascend P6 turn into a hot coal in your hand (limited space + lots of heat = very hot).
The camera works well in daylight, and indoor performance isn’t too poor either. It’s not remarkable, but it’s perfectly serviceable.
The question in my mind as to where this phone fits in the market has become rather easy to answer. This phone does not, and simply cannot, compete with heavyweights. The HTC One runs rings around this phone in everything except some graphical tests, and the same would doubtlessly be true for other top-tier handsets, like the LG Optimus G2, Samsung Galaxy S 4, and probably the Moto X.
I don’t think Huawei is trying to market the Ascend P6 as a top-tier handset, otherwise they’d have designed things a little differently. No, I think the Ascend P6 is clearly aimed at the middle field — the price is reasonable (around $499 depending on where you look), the specs are great for the price, and for those who like to at least look the part, the Ascend P6 looks fantastic. In fact, sans-case or anything else, it actually looks more premium than some of the so-called premium handsets.
This would be a great handset for someone new to smartphones who doesn’t want to spend almost a grand on such a phone. At half that price, it’s easy to use, easy to enjoy and customise, and has the feature set and power to do what 80 – 90% of smartphone users will want to do.