Huawei P Smart full review
Huawei traditionally goes for mid-to-high-end smartphones and leaves the more budget versions to its sub-brand Honor. With the P Smart, though, it’s now well into budget territory.
It has an 18:9 screen, a decent processor and dual rear cameras, plus the latest version of Android along with Huawei’s new EMUI 8.0 software.
Huawei P Smart: Price
You can get the P Smart from Vodafone in the UK at the moment (it isn’t available in the US). Until the end of February was exclusive to Vodafone, but is now available on other networks, as well as SIM-free for £229.
Vodafone's lowest priced contract for the P Smart is £17 per month with a £9 upfront cost.
That gives you a paltry 250MB of data, 250 minutes and unlimited texts. For 1GB and unlimited minutes you’ll be paying £23 per month, again with the £9 upfront cost of the handset.
If you prefer, you can also get the phone on Vodafone's Pay as you go 1 tariff. Buy the handset for £229, then the £1 per day tariff gives you unlimited texts and calls plus 500MB a day of data. If you don't use the phone one day (or only use it on Wi-Fi), you don't pay anything.
The phone isn’t locked to Vodafone, but is only available in black. Huawei produces a blue version of it, which could be available from March from other retailers.
If you opt for Vodafone's £17 per month contract, it would cost you a total of £417 over 24 months. Or, if you want 1GB of data, that brings the total to £561.
For comparison, you could get a 64GB Huawei P10 for around £350, then get a SIM-only deal for £10 per month, which would total £530 over two years. Another alternative is Honor’s very similar 9 Lite costs which is available SIM-free for just £199 from John Lewis (and in a fetching blue, too).
Neither Honor or Huawei phones are sold in the US (aside from the Mate 10 Pro), so a decent alternative would be Motorola's G5s Plus which costs US$279 from Motorola.
Huawei P Smart: Features and design
In 2017, 18:9 screens were the new fashion but now it’s clear that you can have one even if your budget won’t stretch to even a mid-range phone such as the Honor 7X.
Check the specs and you’ll note that the P Smart is pretty much just a slightly smaller, lower-spec version of the 7X.
Starting with the screen, it’s 5.65 inches across, with a 2160x1080 resolution. That gives it a decent pixel density of 428ppi, which means everything looks nice and sharp. Colours, contrast and brightness are all decent, too.
In the usual Huawei tradition, there’s a factory-applied screen protector to keep the display scratch-free, but there’s no case in the box. Instead you get some basic headphones along with a USB mains charger.
There’s a standard headphone socket on the bottom edge along with a mono speaker and a microUSB port.
The tall screen leaves no room for a fingerprint sensor, so that’s on the back. With many phones taking this approach, it’s becoming the norm and it’s easy to adapt: your finger falls naturally on the sensor when you pick up the phone.
Unlike the extremely similar Honor 9 Lite, the Huawei P Smart is a single-SIM phone rather than dual-SIM but it still has the slot for a microSD card to bolster the 32GB of on-board storage.
RAM is the same at 3GB and the processor is also identical: the Kirin 659. That chip is also used in the Honor 7X, so performance is – as you might expect – largely the same.
This means it’s no speed demon: expect to wait 4-5 seconds for the camera app to load and for there to be a delay when switching between apps. Once an app is running, however, performance is generally fine and you won’t notice any lag or sluggishness.
It’s the same for games: the P Smart will happily run games such as Pokémon GO smoothly with no jerkiness. You’ll never see high frame rates from benchmarks such as GFXBench’s Manhattan test, but that doesn’t mean it can’t run most games at an acceptable speed.
In terms of connectivity, you get GPS, Bluetooth 4.2, 802.11n Wi-Fi (just 2.4GHz single-band) and NFC. Unsurprisingly at this price, there’s no water resistance.
The dual-camera setup is much like Honor’s: you get a 13Mp main shooter with a secondary 2Mp camera whose only function is to supply depth information: it’s not for taking photos.
It does mean that you can take portrait photos with blurred backgrounds, as well as a ‘wide aperture’ effect which does the same thing when you take landscape pictures.
Around the front there’s a single 8Mp camera: you don’t get the secondary front camera as you do on the Honor 9 Lite. So you can’t take depth-effect selfies on the P Smart. There is a Portait mode when using the front camera, but using it makes no noticeable difference!
Video capabilities are somewhat limited compared to more expensive phones. The maximum resolution is 1080p at 30fps and there’s no stabilisation to speak of.
It can track objects, but that’s about the only extra video feature you’ll find. Oddly, there’s a Pro Video mode that allows you to focus manually, choose the white balance and change exposure settings. We can’t imagine many owners using any of these options, though it’s always nice to have more control.
There’s no slo-mo, but you can select light painting (great for fireworks) and time-lapse. HDR is, sadly, also a dedicated mode and won’t be enabled automatically for photos.
In any case, the cameras aren’t wonderful. Selfies are perfectly acceptable, as are some shots from the rear camera in good light.
This photo shows it’s capable of good-looking images with great colours and reasonable sharpness.
However, zoom in on some photos and you’ll be disappointed at the lack of sharpness. This photo looks fine when zoomed out, but the tree and building are actually quite blurry.
At night, the camera does a decent job of keeping noise at bay: the sky is inky black. However, the lack of detail in the building means there is plenty of noise reduction going on.
Annoyingly, the depth effect doesn’t work on every shot you attempt. Out of five attempts, the P Smart only successfully blurred the background on one: the others had no bokeh at all.
Below is a crop of the image above, taken at dusk:
The video below is a good example of why you shouldn’t assume that just because a phone can record in ‘full HD’ its video isn’t necessarily sharp and detailed. Plus, footage is only usable if you keep the phone nice and still. Begin walking, and it becomes too shaky.
It’s good to see Android 8.0 Oreo, and we also happen to like Huawei’s EMUI 8 overlay. It won’t be to everyone’s tastes as it defaults to an iOS-style home screen. Hunt around in the settings though and you’ll find the option to enable the app drawer so you don’t have to keep all your apps across several home screens.
EMUI adds quite a few useful features, too. You can enable gestures such as double touch to turn the screen on or off and double-press volume down to launch the camera app. Then you can wave (or just hold up your palm) to automatically take a photo.
It also optimises memory use in various ways to keep Android running as smoothly as possible and offers lots of battery-saving options.
The Google Assistant is just a swipe away from the first home screen and you get a fantastic photo on the lock screen which changes each time you wake the phone.
The wider screen lends itself to split screen and you can use this to run two compatible apps side by side in landscape mode.
App twin is a feature we’ve seen on Huawei and Honor phones, and the P Smart gets it, albeit only for Facebook. It means you can sign into two different accounts on the phone at the same time.
The 3000mAh battery is fairly standard for a large-screen phone such as this. Huawei doesn’t quote any usage figures, but we found the P Smart would last a full day with normal use.
You’ll certainly be charging it every night, but unless you’re using GPS heavily or playing a lot of intensive games, you shouldn’t need to carry a power bank around with you for any top-ups.
Huawei P Smart: Specs
- Android 8.0 Oreo with EMUI 8.0
- 5.65in Full HD+ 2160x1080 18:9 touchscreen, 428ppi
- Kirin 659 octa-core processor (4x2.4GHz, 4x1.7GHz)
- 3GB RAM
- 32GB storage
- microSD card slot (up to 256GB)
- Rear camera: 13Mp + 2Mp, video up to 1080p
- Front camera: 8Mp
- Fingerprint sensor
- 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 4.2 4G LTE
- Headphone jack
- Single nano-SIM
- Micro-USB (USB 2.0)
- 3000mAh non-removable battery