Huawei P Smart (2019) review: The P does not stand for ‘photography’

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Android Q coming to Huawei P Smart

Huawei has revealed that it will be bringing the Android Q update to the P Smart, in addition to “popular current devices”, despite the ongoing trade ban in the US. There’s no word yet on when this update might drop, but you can see the full list of Huawei phones that are set to receive the Android Q upgrade in our dedicated Huawei ban article. Considering the P Smart can currently be picked up for a mere £180 these days, this offers an even tastier proposition.

Our original Huawei P Smart review continues below

Huawei P Smart (2019) review

Huawei had a fine 2018, despite its setbacks of being all but cut off in America. In response, it pushed out two of the best flagship smartphones of the year in the P20 Pro and the Mate 20 Pro.
 
But the world’s second-largest smartphone manufacturer isn’t just focused on those with big bank balances and a willingness to look beyond Samsung and Apple: 2019 is starting with a budget handset, the Huawei P Smart.
 
Not that you’d think it’s a budget device to look at it. As the name suggests, it’s a smart-looking device with slim bezels and a display that pushes across the entire front of the device, barring a small circular notchlette at the top.

So where are the corners cut, and have they been made in the right places? Let’s find out.

Huawei P Smart (2019) review: What you need to know

The Huawei P range comprises of four phones: the P20 Pro, the P20, the P20 Lite and finally the 2019 P Smart. The P Smart is at the bottom of this list, but it still packs a fair old punch.

It uses the company’s own Kirin 710 processor, a 12nm chip last seen powering other Huawei and subbrand Honor handsets including the Mate 20 Lite, the Honor 8X and Honor 10 Lite. It includes a number of features that once would have appeared only in flagships including; a dual-camera array, face unlocking, fingerprint scanning and AI in the camera app to identify what you’re shooting.

Huawei P Smart (2019) review: Price and competition

The 2019 Huawei P Smart comes in SIM-free at £195, which puts it at the lower end of the market, but against some pretty strong competition. While going budget used to guarantee a patchy experience, you can now get some very strong performers for £190 to £270.

The Moto G6 (£220) is a brilliant phone with an unbeatable camera in this price bracket, and its siblings the G6 Plus (£269) and G6 Play (£169) are no slouches, either.
 
Then there are the Huawei and Honor phones that use the same chipset as the new P Smart. The Mate 20 Lite started life at £379 (but has dropped considerably), the Honor 10 Lite at £200 and the Honor 8X at £230. In other words, if it performs as well, you’re in for a real treat.

Best Huawei P Smart contract and SIM-free deals:

Huawei P Smart (2019) review: Design

As I mentioned in my introduction, the new P Smart looks like it can go toe to toe with any four-figured flagship handset. With no physical buttons, and a screen that dominates the front of the phone with minimal bezels, it’s not a million miles away from last year’s £999 iPhone X. In fact, in one key respect it improves upon it, by reducing the size of the notch to one little round notchlette to accommodate the front-facing camera.
 
Of course, that does a huge disservice to the iPhone X and its follow-up the Xs: the reason for the larger notch there is because of its Face ID technology, which is significantly more sophisticated than what’s on offer here. Indeed, while Apple’s solution is sufficiently reliable to get rid of Touch ID, Huawei keeps a fingerprint scanner here to augment face unlocking, with a round sensor on the back of the device. To the left of this is a dual-camera array and the single LED flash.
 
Actually holding the P Smart in your hand reveals that this isn’t a flagship: it feels light and a bit more flimsy, and the plastic back is clearly cheaper than the sandwiches of aluminium and glass favoured by the big players. Still, as cutbacks go, it’s a sensible one. It certainly feels less fragile and given it looks nice enough, there really is no harm done in making a saving here.

 
A further cost-cutting tactic is with the refusal to adopt USB-C charging, with the slower micro-USB being chosen instead. As somebody with more micro-USB cables than I care to admit lying around the place, I actually consider this a plus, but most won’t, I guess.
 
The SIM-card slot has space for a microSD card, bumping the 32GB of onboard storage by up to 512GB should you wish.

Huawei P Smart (2019) review: Screen

Unsurprisingly, that big 6.2in screen isn’t OLED, but you do get a 2,340 x 1,080 resolution IPS screen for your money, and it’s not a bad one at all for the price.
 
Using our colorimeter we found the display covered 94.5% of the sRGB colour gamut and offered a quite respectable contrast ratio of 997:1. Brightness reached a peak of 415cd/m2, which while not searingly bright is decent enough for most conditions. That puts it ahead of the Moto G6 (86.3%, 931:1, 408cd/m2) and the Mate 20 Lite (88.9% sRGB,1279:1, 397.4cd/m2).
 
In fact, the only real fly in the ointment is that it’s somewhat awkwardly a darker screen than last year’s P Smart, which reached the bright peaks of 600cd/m2, with a contrast ratio of 1,500:1. Still, given the improvements you’re about to see in the next section, it’s hard to be too sad about that slight decline.

Huawei P Smart (2019) review: Performance

Powering the 2019 P Smart is the Kirin 710 processor, which was last seen pushing the Mate 20 Lite, the Honor 10 Lite and Honor 8X. This is backed up by 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. Performance feels suitably snappy in day to day use, and as you might expect, the experience feels largely similar to all three. This is no mean feat considering the Mate 20 Lite launched, somewhat optimistically, for nearly double the price late last year.

 
But as you can see from the graph above, the 2019 P Smart not only equals the performance of more expensive Huawei/Honor handsets, it manages to knock out some Qualcomm-powered ones too. In both single and multi-core benchmarks, the 2019 P Smart knocks out both the Moto G6 and G6 Plus, as well as the Nokia 5.1. These handsets go for £220, £266 and £179 respectively, so that’s no mean feat for a phone that costs £195.

 
It’s a similar story when it comes to graphical performance. While none of the devices above are going to be playing the latest games in all their high-fidelity glory, the P Smart offers the best performance of the lot, registering an average of 21fps in the leveling 1080p Manhattan output. That’s more than double what last year’s P Smart, the Moto G6 or the Nokia 5.1 were capable of.

 
Unfortunately, things fall down a bit on battery life. While the new P Smart is a marked improvement on last year’s model, which couldn’t clear the eight-hour mark, a longevity of 12 hrs 16mins is hardly setting the world alight. Still, it’s in good company in this price bracket, with only the plus-sized Moto G6 offering more juice in our tests.

 
The 2019 P Smart comes with Android 9 Pie out of the box, although as ever with Huawei phones, it’s coated in a sheen of the company’s own Emotion UI software overlay. This isn’t half as objectionable as it used to be, but it’s one area where both Nokia and Motorola have the edge, as both offer almost pristine Android experiences, only a little short of the pure experience found on Google’s own Pixel phones.

Huawei P Smart (2019) review: Camera

As is now the fashion, the 2019 Huawei P Smart comes with not one, but two cameras on the back. Unlike top-end smartphones which provide optical zoom, or wide-angle options, the second camera is purely here to add depth to shots, and provide that blurry background bokeh effect that’s all the rage on Instagram. The main snapper is a 13-megapixel affair, while the supporting depth-mapping camera is two megapixels. Both have an aperture of f/1.8, and there’s no optical image stabilisation.
 
Unfortunately, this is where the goodness established elsewhere completely deserts the P Smart. First off, let’s be clear that this is where the difference lies with the Mate 20 Lite. The quality of camera shots between the two is simply night and day. Whether or not you’d pay nearly double for a better camera is up to you, of course.

 
But even when picking on something its own size, the P Smart’s camera is a bit of a letdown. First off, the AI identification isn’t much more than just a party trick. Point it at a cat, and it’ll recognise it well enough, but as with the more expensive P20 and Mate 20 Pros, the adjustments it makes are almost pantomime in their saturation and colour picks. You’re best off turning it off from the get-go.
 
When switched off, things aren’t much better though. In low light, images are incredibly soft and smudgy when compared to the Moto G6.

 
 Outside, things are even starker. When zoomed right in, the Moto G6’s camera is leagues ahead. Pay close attention to the brickwork, and the P Smart just turns things into a blurry mess.

 
Things improve when HDR is switched on, but not enough to save it. This is merely an okay to sub-par camera for the price, unfortunately. That’s a real pity when Huawei is leading the way with image quality in its flagship handsets. We’re not expecting miracles for £195 but this can and should be better.
 
The front-facing camera is an 8-megapixel one, and it too can recognise scenes and adjust colours accordingly. The pictures below show the results with and without the AI assistant, which identified the setting as a warm room (not seen: my feet wrapped in a heated blanket. It is January, after all.)

Here we go again, only this time with blurring added.

 
The beauty modes, while far from the worst offenders, do make faces look a little creepily alien when turned all the way up, mind.

 
They’re certainly detailed enough for video calls and your average Instagram selfie, but don’t go expecting snaps to rival most rear cameras.

 
Finally, we’re back to disappointment with the video capture. The 2019 P Smart can capture 1080p footage at 60fps, but there’s no stabilisation here either. As a result, the footage is unusable. Not just because it jumps all over the place, but the focus hunts distractingly before locking on. The footage is a bit dark, too, and the exposure visibly steps up and down when you shift the camera from dark to bright scenes and vice versa. In short, you probably won’t be capturing any Oscar-winning masterpieces on this video camera.

Huawei P Smart (2019) review: Verdict

Oh, Huawei. It was going so well!
 
For £195, the 2019 P Smart outperforms the Moto G6 in every metric, except for the camera. It’s faster, with a better screen and has more stamina to boot.
 
But that camera will be a stumbling block for some people, and with a likely Moto G6 successor only a matter of months away, you may decide that it’s an unexpected deal breaker.
 
For people who barely snap anything, the P Smart is the new budget champion. For everyone else, you may still be better off hunting for Moto G6 deals or waiting for the inevitable G7.

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