The Huawei (pronounced ‘wah-way’) G8 is a mid-range contender from a manufacturer that you’re sure to be hearing more of in the future. Coming off the back of the Mate 7 – a phone we loved – we had high hopes for the G8.
It’s difficult to say whether or not those expectations have been met this time around. The G8 is certainly a capable phone for its price, but when you consider that it’s directly competing with the similarly-priced Motorola Moto X Play, it needs to be better than just ‘good value for money’; it needs to be a great phone in its own right, despite the cost.
Physical construction is the one area where Huawei trounces the X Play. The G8 is a beautiful device, made from mostly metal. This gives it an attractive appearance, premium feel, and reassuring weight that the rubber-backed Moto lacks.
With a screen that measures 5.5 inches diagonally, you might expect the G8 to be a huge phone. It’s admittedly pretty big, but it’s not gigantic given the modern market. At 152mm tall, it’s 6.2mm shorter than the iPhone 6s Plus, and a tiny bit taller than the Moto X Play. It’s the same width as the play (75mm), and appreciably thinner on the profile (7.5mm vs a curve of 8.9-10.9mm).
That thinness on the profile is important. It makes larger phones fit much more comfortably in pockets, which can be a big deal if you’re a fan of slim-fit pants.
The right-mounted lock and volume controls are intelligently-placed, making them easy to reach despite the size of the phone. This isn’t something that’s always done well, and it makes a big difference when it’s done right.
Finally, around the back is a fingerprint scanner. This is great placement; it means that you don’t have to move your finger more than 1cm or so to use it. It’s far easier than the home-button location use by both Samsung and Apple. However, it does take some getting used to thanks to a few gesture tie-ins we’ll mention later.
This is where the G8 starts to lose a few points. The Huawei Emotion user interface (UI) lacks an app tray, meaning every app has to show up on a home screen somewhere, or be stuffed in to a home screen folder. It’s pretty much what you’d expect to see on an iPhone, if iOS supported home screen widgets. This is a pointless limitation for an Android phone and one we hope to see its removal in future.
Based on previous Huawei phones, we were confident the G8 would be buttery-smooth, but too often we found apps that took upwards of five seconds to open, keyboards that popped up at the wrong time and wouldn’t minimise, or keyboards that wouldn’t pop-up at all when a text field was selected.
The problems were far from predictable, often the phone was completely issue-free. This is in stark contrast to the easy, predictable smoothness of the Moto X Play.
The screen is perfectly fine. 1080p across 5.5 inches affords you a cool 401 pixels per inch (ppi) – the same pixel density found on the iPhone 6s Plus and Moto X Play, and significantly-larger than the 326ppi of the iPhone 6s.
Colours are vibrant, contrast is great and brightness is appreciable, if not amazing. There’s a little difficulty when viewing the G8 in direct sunlight on a bright day, but that’s to be expected in this price bracket.
The fingerprint scanner is a nice inclusion. It’s not just for security, like on other smartphones. Thanks to its easy location, there are a few gesture commands that you can implement with the tip of your forefinger. Sliding from the top of the scanner to the bottom brings down the notification tray. A double tap will then clear it, or you can slide your finger back up to close the tray. You can answer calls via the scanner as well, although we never really found ourselves using that particular input.
An easy, free fix to lag issues
We’ve established that we weren’t fans of the Emotion UI experience thanks in part to no small amount of lag. As it turns out, there’s a free and simple solution: the Google Now Launcher.
Download the launcher from the app store, install it, and hit the Home button. You will be prompted to select which launcher you’d like to use. Tick the “Don’t ask me again” box and hit the Google Now Launcher option.
This will side-step the Emotion UI and let you use Google’s own home screen setup. We actually found this fixed every lag and bug problem we had with the G8, but still let us continue using those funky finger scanner controls. It even adds an app tray. Best of both worlds.
With this fix the G8 suddenly became a contender again. If it wasn’t free and easy to do we’d probably not bother mentioning it, but just about anyone can pull this off with minimum fuss.
The G8 camera is a bit of a strange one. Sometimes it’s good bordering on great, other times it produces oddly dark, flat images with drab colours and off focus. The above photo was taken inside a car on an overcast day. In this instance, it’s pretty much what you’d expect to see from any decent camera.
In contrast, the photo below was taken outside on a very sunny day, yet it’s as dark or darker than the first image.
Photos taken in mid-to-low light often come out quite noisy. That’s to be expected both within this price range, and even from a few flagship devices.
Yet, this next image was taken in one of the most difficult lighting situations known for a smartphone camera: a media launch event. Somehow it came out perfectly where many other phones would have failed.
The G8 camera should get you by, but it will likely frustrate you at times thanks to the odd photo with poor focus or bad lighting. Despite its flaws, it’s pretty good for a camera in this price range, but unreliability can be an unrepentant thorn in your side when you least expect it.
If we were to judge the G8 solely as it comes out of the box, it would be difficult to recommend over the Moto X Play. However, once you install the Google Now Launcher the two phones become far more similar.
It’s a tough call. We’d still pick the Moto X, thanks to a slightly smoother experience and its vanilla Android operating system, which has the advantage of getting Android updates far sooner after they’re released. We also prefer the reliability of the Moto X Play’s camera, which we found to be, on average, better, even if the G8 did take the odd amazing shot in difficult conditions.
Not everyone will feel the same. Never underestimate the influence that style has over your experience. A phone that feels as premium as the Huawei G8 makes you feel special every time you pull it out of your pocket. People notice it, want to hold it, ask you what it is and where you got it. Noone’s going react that way to the comparatively-drab Moto X Play.
Basically, it’s up to you: a marginal improvement in performance and a better camera, or a significant advantage in look and class? Whichever you pick, you'll get a great phone compared to what you pay.