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Huawei P Smart 2021: Hands-on review

Why, I hear you ask? Well, Huawei has been big in the smartphone market for a while but only has made a substantial footprint around Asia. Here in the UK, most of the love is shown towards Samsung and Apple.

Huawei released its first P Smart handset in 2019 as a mid-range phone that was only available exclusively from Vodafone at the time. At the end of 2020, Huawei released an updated model, the P Smart 2021, which comes with a significantly improved display, plus increased memory, better quality cameras and an upgrade to its operating system compared to its predecessor. The spec features some tech components you’d expect to find in a phone with a much higher price tag, but there are some limitations to be aware of.

First impressions

At first glance, you’ll notice quite a large screen with no home or back buttons. The screen is 6.67 inches with an edge-to edge 18:9 resolution display. It’s quite a large screen but it’s also long and thin. This makes it easy to hold, and fits snugly in your palm so you can comfortably text using just one hand.

The display is remarkably clear and looks great when playing games, watching videos or even just generally using the phone, including in daylight—a big plus. The colours are vibrant and images are sharp so if you have an attention to detail you will love this phone.

The Smart P 2021 comes with a drastically improved rear camera, up from 13MP to a powerful quad-camera with 48MP sensor and 8MP front camera. Its capabilities are not far off from those of higher-priced Samsung Galaxy S and newer iPhone models. When put to the test, the depth and vivid colour that the camera managed to capture impressed me.

With the Bokeh effect, you can hone in on the main focal point of the scene and blur out the background. We tested this using an apple on the desk and just as Huawei says, it really does take a striking, rich image of the object and blur out the rest. It gave a more professional feel than I’m used to with my Samsung Galaxy A22.

Huawei P Smart selfieGetting my selfie face on

It’s always a bit awkward testing a selfie camera, but no complaints there either. On the front of the phone there is an 8MP camera which is very clear and crisp so there’s no ignoring those wrinkles that you’re in denial about. But fear not, it’s nothing a good filter can’t fix and there are a range of shooting modes that smooth out lines while still looking relatively natural.

Huawei is pitching this phone at Millennials and Generation Z and it’s easy to see why. The enhanced camera features would work well for uploading high quality pictures to blogs or social media sites. It also comes in bright, bold colours like Crush Green and Blush Gold in addition to Midnight Black.

What’s under the hood

The Huawei P Smart runs on EMUI 10.1, based on Android 10, so if you’re used to the operating system you’ll find it very easy to operate. EMUI is Huawei’s own operating system, and the current version available is 11, which isn’t available for the P Smart 2021. EMUI’s operating system is similar to Android, but has some limitations: you can’t access Google Play Services and have to get your apps from the Huawei store, known as AppGallery. Even if you’re new to Android or Android-based operating systems, it’s very straightforward and you’ll pick it up quickly. There are some cool features exclusive to EMUI like the Smart split-screen feature, very handy if you want to play games and text at the same time, or App Twin, which is a workaround for signing in and out of apps to switch accounts. App Twin basically duplicates your apps so you can use different account with each of them, without having to sign out and in again.

When using the phone for general use, it’s quite nippy. You can open apps and switch seamlessly. This is the Kirin 710A Processor in action. If you think things are starting to lag, it’s easy to close some of the background apps to free up some of the 4GB RAM.

Larger apps do take a bit longer to open. I downloaded the CSR racing game to test it and had to wait a good few minutes for it to open for the first time. In between levels there is a bit of a lag as well. I have to be fair though, this game takes up quite a bit of storage space and after more frequent use, it does speed up.

That being said, once the game was open the graphics looked phenomenal on the screen. Lower level games that don’t take up as much memory, like Candy Crush, work quickly with little to no hiccups.

Huawei P Smart graphicsThe graphics on CSR looked great on the P Smart

There is no home button so if you’re a bit of a technophobe it can take a few minutes to figure out how to navigate between apps. Once you’ve figured it out though, (swipe down from the top and it will appear) the phone does so quite efficiently.

There’s a bit of a debate about watching Netflix on your phone. Some people swear by it and like the convenience, whereas others say it’s a waste of good TV to watch on such a small screen. Whichever side of the debate you’re on, you’ll enjoy watching videos on this phone. The images are distinct and rich in colour.

Good battery life and storage

The 5000 mAh battery is quite powerful so with standard use (texting, using Google maps and watching a few videos on YouTube) it lasts for around a day and a half before you have to recharge it. When you do put it on charge, Huawei says its fast charging 22.5W capability allows you to charge under an hour—an improvement from the previous model, but still not ideal, and you’ll need to buy the SuperCharge cable separately to charge at 22.5W.

Most of the new phone releases include a fingerprint scanner. This phone is no exception. For me, it being positioned at the back of the phone was convenient as you don’t have to change your hand positioning much to use it when you are already holding the phone. You can use it for unlocking the phone, taking pictures and turning the alarm off.

Internally there is 128GB of storage in total. Some of this is taken up by built-in apps (some useful, some not so useful) so this leaves you quite a bit of free storage to use for your apps, pictures and videos. This is plenty but there is room to expand it up to 512 GB using a Micro SD card.

The Huawei P Smart is not as stylishly designed as some of its competitors. There’s a lot going on inside the phone which I didn’t feel is reflected in the exterior. This could explain how you get such a decent phone for such a small price, the big bucks were spent on making the components of the device so savings could be made on the casing.

Don’t get me wrong it’s not bad, it does the job it sets out to do, but it’s very simple. The sleek colourful casing is made of plastic and looks like it could scuff quite easily, so I would recommend buying a protective case to keep it looking newer for longer. Some P Smart 2021 phones come with a standard protective case inside the box, so it’s worth asking your provider if it’s included.

Final verdict

This is a very good phone for the price you’re paying. If gaming is your thing you will likely be frustrated but if you’re using the phone to carry out standard tasks like uploading to social media and watching videos this phone definitely deserves your attention. It packs some powerful tech under the hood.

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