Huawei P Smart review: Overshadowed by its budget-brand stablemate

Pros

  • Dual rear cameras
  • High-quality metal chassis
  • 18:9 aspect ratio screen
  • FM radio

Cons

  • No fast charging
  • Fewer features and more expensive than its Honor 9 Lite stablemate

The Huawei P Smart is a budget 5.65-inch Android handset that’s exclusive to Vodafone in the UK. It bears a strong physical and functional resemblance to the Honor 9 Lite, which we recently judged to have set a new benchmark for £200 smartphones. The Huawei P Smart costs £229 (inc. VAT) on pay-as-you-go compared to the Honor 9 Lite’s £199.99 (SIM-free). So, in theory, buyers should expect the Huawei P Smart to be slightly more capable than its budget-brand stablemate. But is it?

I was sent review samples by both Vodafone and Huawei. As you’d expect, the two are nearly identical, although it’s worth noting that the Vodafone version has slightly more free internal storage out of the box — 23.36GB as opposed to 22.75GB (of 32GB installed). There are a couple of apps missing on the Vodafone handset, including Huawei Health, which is a general activity tracker, and a file manager that includes the Huawei Safe encrypted storage area. I’m focusing on the Vodafone handset for the rest of this review.

huawei-p-smartfront-back.jpg

The 5.65-inch Huawei P Smart has a 1,080-by-2,160 (18:9) display and is powered by the octa-core Kirin 659 chipset with 3GB of RAM. It has 32GB of internal storage, which can be augmented via a MicroSD card, although you’ll have to swap out the latter to use a second SIM. The rear camera is a dual 13MP/2MP unit.

Images: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

One of the two differentiators between the Huawei P Smart and the Honor 9 Lite is the chassis material. The P Smart’s black metal chassis is solid but fairly nondescript. The back has two silver antenna lines top and bottom, which extend into the handset’s rounded edges and don’t quite make it to the front. The finish is matte, and a far cry from the blue of the Honor 9 Lite and its reflective (fingerprint-grabbing) mirror-like glass back.

The rounded corners help the Huawei P Smart sit comfortably in the hand. It’s quite a narrow and slim handset, measuring 150.1mm by 72.05mm and just 7.45mm thick. Still, the 18:9 aspect ratio screen makes it relatively tall, and those with more petite hands may struggle with one-handed use.

huawei-p-smartfingerprint.jpg

The rear-mounted fingerprint sensor can be configured for a range of additional uses.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

With that in mind it’s good to see the fingerprint sensor on the back of the chassis, where it’s easy to hit with a forefinger. The sensor can be used for login and also for various functions including stopping alarms, answering calls, taking photos and videos, pulling down the notification panel and browsing photos — an identical set to those on the Honor 9 Lite.

The 5.65-inch screen has a resolution of 1,080 by 2,160 pixels, matching that of the Honor 9 Lite. Without the two phones sitting side by side it’s not possible to compare screen quality, brightness and readability precisely, but as far as I can recall there’s no great difference between the two handsets. The P Smart’s screen is fine for mainstream use cases such as web browsing, email, video viewing, gaming, ebook reading, and so on.

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There is a blue-light-reducing Eye Comfort mode, which can be configured to kick in on a schedule and includes a slider for altering the colour temperature from cooler to warmer tones.

The Huawei P Smart can accommodate two SIMs, or you can put a MicroSD card in the second SIM slot to augment the 32GB of internal storage.

The chipset is Huawei’s octa-core Kirin 659 with 3GB of RAM, running Android 8.0 (Oreo) overlain by EMUI 8.0. Huawei’s UI overlay adds some neat touches: I like the ability to sweep down on the home screen to get a quick search box for apps, contacts and messages, for example, and as you delve around in Settings you’ll find lots of odds and ends that are well integrated with Android’s native settings. There are also more themes on offer than you can shake a stick at.

huawei-p-smartthemes.jpg

There’s no shortage of themes on the P Smart.

Images: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

Vodafone hasn’t installed too much of its own software here. As noted earlier, a couple of Huawei apps have been removed, but Huawei Health is easily installed and there are plenty of file managers to experiment with.

For me, it’s a plus point that the games and other bloatware found on the Honor 9 Lite are absent, and also that — as on the Honor 9 Lite — there’s an FM radio present. Sound output via headphones is good, while the speaker delivers reasonable, if somewhat bass-light, audio.

The camera arrangement is the main difference between the Huawei P Smart and the Honor 9 Lite. The latter has dual 13MP/2MP cameras front and rear, while the P Smart only has dual cameras at the back. The front-facing 8MP camera takes a good enough selfie, and it’s really a matter of personal taste how much capability you want from a handset’s front camera.

Having mentioned the Honor 9 Lite so often, here are the main points of comparison with the Huawei P Smart:


Huawei P Smart Honor 9 Lite
UK price (inc. VAT) £229 (exclusive from Vodafone) £199.99
Chassis design Matte finish, black Glass back, blue
Dimensions 150.1mm x 72.05mm x 7.45mm 151mm x 71.9mm x 7.6mm
Weight 143g 149g
Screen 5.65 inches, 18:9, 1080 x 2160 pixels 5.65 inches, 18:9, 1080 x 2160 pixels
SIMs 2, or one SIM and one MicroSD card 2, or one SIM and one MicroSD card
RAM / internal storage 3GB / 32GB 3GB / 32GB
Chipset Huawei Kirin 659 octa-core Huawei Kirin 659 octa-core
Cameras 13MP+2MP dual camera (rear), 8MP (front) 13MP+2MP dual camera (rear), 13MP+2MP dual camera (front)
Battery capacity / fast charging 3000mAh / no 3000mAh / no

The 3,000mAh battery is charged via a traditional Micro-USB connection. Most users should make it through a day between charges, but there’s no fast-charging support.

Conclusions

Reviewing the Honor 9 Lite, I said it set the new high bar for the £200 price point. That makes it a tough handset to beat, and the Huawei P Smart doesn’t quite manage it: Huawei’s budget brand definitely takes the plaudits in this particular head-to-head.

True, there’s little to split these handsets, but the balance is definitely in favour of the less expensive Honor phone, which has dual cameras front and rear. And if you want a more eye-catching chassis design, Honor wins there too.

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