Huawei P10 Plus review: The P10's impressive big-screen brother

huawei-p10-plus-header.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    8.7 Outstanding

Pros

  • Solidly built
  • Plenty of RAM and MicroSD-expandable storage
  • Excellent dual rear camera system
  • Clever gesture controls
  • Great battery life

Cons

  • Screen is a fingerprint magnet
  • Moderate sound quality
  • No IP rating for water/dust resistance
  • No wireless charging support

Huawei has a solid reputation as a smartphone maker, and while the company used to lack the profile to make it a truly leading player, that time has passed. These days Huawei's name is well known, and the launch of the P10 and the larger P10 Plus at this year's Mobile World Congress grabbed the headlines. The P10 Plus is a large, expensive handset that, along with the phablet-sized 5.9-inch Mate 9, heads up Huawei's 2017 range.

The Huawei P10 Plus is very similar to its smaller P10 stablemate in terms of design and specifications, the main difference being the size and resolution of the display.

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The 5.5-inch Huawei P10 Plus (left), next to the 5.1-inch P10. Note the front-mounted fingerprint sensor/gesture pad.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The 5.5-inch P10 Plus measures 74.2mm wide by 153.5 deep by 6.98mm and weighs 165g, while the 5.1-inch P10's vital statistics are 69.3mm by 145.3mm by 6.98mm and 145g. By way of a similar-screen comparison, the 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus measures 77.9mm by 158.2mm by 7.3mm and weighs 188g.

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Among the available colours is 'greenery'.

Image: Huawei

There are many colour options -- arctic white, dazzling blue, dazzling gold, graphite black, moonlight silver, rose gold and greenery. Somewhat jazzy naming of handset colours is now well established, but what is 'greenery'? It turns out to be Pantone's colour of the year for 2017, and its inclusion here is the result of collaboration.

Some of the P10 Plus colour variants have a smooth back while others, like my gold review sample, are very slightly stippled apart from a small strip along the top that houses camera lenses and flash. Presumably this more tactile finish is meant to assist with grip. I found it a little underwhelming, and would have preferred a smooth finish.

Build quality is superb. My white-fronted, gold-backed P10 Plus and the white-fronted, silver-backed P10 I was sent for comparison are both unbendable aluminium wedges with curved edges and a glossy fascia.

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The size of the P10 Plus meant I found it impossible to hold the phone in one hand and reach right across the screen, although I could reach across the P10. The handset's size also has implications for fingerprint login.

The fingerprint sensor is on the front of the P10 Plus, embedded in the space below the screen. This is a point of difference from last year's P9, whose fingerprint reader was on the back. I prefer that location, especially on such a large phone: smooth as the unlocking process was, it was a two-handed operation for me, which wasn't the case with a rear-mounted sensor.

However, the front location of the fingerprint sensor opens up new possibilities in the shape of gesture controls. Touch-and-hold to go to the home screen, tap to go to the previous screen, and slide left to see the multitasking view. If you don't get on with this, you can opt to configure the standard on-screen navigation buttons instead.

For such an expensive handset (€699 for 4GB/64GB, or €799 for 6GB/128GB), purchasers have the right to expect top-notch specifications across the board. So it's disappointing that -- unlike the iPhone 7/7 Plus (IP67), Samsung Galaxy S8/8+(IP68) and LG G6 (IP68) -- the P10 Plus has no waterproofing credentials.

Nor does it have much to shout about in terms of audio. The single speaker on the bottom edge of the handset delivers reasonable sound quality, but it's nothing special and maximum volume isn't particularly loud.

The P10 Plus's 5.5-inch screen has a resolution of 1,440 by 2,560 pixels (540ppi), which is a step up from the P10's 5.1 inch, 1,920-by- 1,080, 432ppi display. Both screens are protected by Gorilla Glass 5 adding a level of ruggedness to the handset. There's no problem with image quality: the IPS-NEO LCD may not be as vibrant as an AMOLED, but it's still excellent. I watched a fair amount of video, and used Huawei's reduced-blue-light Eye Comfort mode to make late-night ebook-reading easier on the eye. The ability to fiddle with the colour temperature allows a degree of personalisation, and it is even possible to schedule Eye Comfort to turn on and off at specific times.

The main issue with the screen is its receptiveness to finger-smears because Huawei has chosen not to apply an oleophobic layer. The screen protector that's fitted out of the box keeps the screen smear-free, but if you remove it the problems begin.

Internally the specifications are impressive. The octa-core HiSilicon Kirin 960 SoC is top of the range -- as it should be in a flagship handset. My review unit had a generous 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage (the cheaper variant has 4GB and 64GB). It's great to see such a lot of storage in a mainstream handset. Call me old-fashioned, but I like to carry my entire music collection on a phone, and that's possible with room to spare here.

If you should need more storage there's a MicroSD card slot, but as is often the case you'll sacrifice the second SIM slot if you use it. I'm not a fan of this 'either/or' approach to a dual SIM setup.

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The P10 Plus is just 6.98mm thick, compared to 7.3mm for Apple's 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus.

Image: Huawei

With 802.11ac wi-fi, NFC, GPS (and Glonass, Galileo, BDS) and Bluetooth 4.2 on-board, the main wireless bases are covered. There's also infrared which I always like to see in a handset: when in couch-potato mode, it makes fiddling with the TV very convenient. Incidentally, the smaller P10 lacks this feature.

The P10 plus runs Android 7 (Nougat) with Huawei's EMUI interface on top. Overlays are often what make or break a handset's popularity, and Huawei has not always fared well in this respect. But EMUI adds lots of useful stuff, including those control gestures I mentioned earlier. There are a fair few preinstalled apps to contend with, but with so much on-board memory this is less of an issue than it might be. Right out of the box I had 109GB free.

Huawei has teamed up with Leica on the camera side of things. The front-facing is an 8-megapixel unit that does duty for selfies and video calls. The main point of interest though, is on the back of the chassis where there are two camera lenses, one for a 20-megapixel mono sensor and the other for a 12-megapixel colour sensor.

I managed to capture some quite impressive photos with this dual camera system during a relatively short test period. I was especially happy with mono images and with those taken in low light, which benefit from the f/1.8 aperture. Note that this is a point of difference with the smaller P10, which has an f/2.2 lens. The ability to save RAW images will please some users, as will access to a full range of manual controls.

The P10 Plus's 3,750mAh battery is charged via a USB-C connector. Thus far I have not run short of power on any single day of use, despite streaming media, doing mobile email, using GPS to get me around on foot and listening to music as part of a standard day's activity. Carry the provided Huawei charger and, thanks to 'SuperCharge', an hour is long enough to almost fully charge the battery. Wireless charging is not supported though.

Conclusions

The high price of the Huawei P10 Plus means that it should have had the book thrown at it in terms of specifications and features. With that in mind, there are some issues that are difficult to forgive: the screen is a fingerprint magnet; the single speaker could deliver better-quality audio and more volume; and arguably it should be water resistant and support wireless charging. I would have preferred the fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone, although its positioning on the front does allow for gesture controls.

Still, there's a lot to like here, from solid build to generally high-end specifications and great battery life. Having spent time with both the P10 and P10 Plus, on balance I prefer the larger of the two handsets. If you the pricing too steep but like Huawei's approach, you might want to take a look at the more affordable Honor 8 Pro.

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