Our first look at Huawei's flagship phone for 2015

Android outlier Huawei has put out some surprisingly solid devices in the past 12 months. The Chinese manufacturer's 2014 flagship, the Ascend P7 was a decent phone marred by stuttery performance and dated software. But the Mate 7 and Honor 6 Plus, which followed later in the year, proved that this lesser-known brand could, in some areas, compete with the big boys. Now Huawei's back with a new flagship phone for 2015, and it appears the gap is closing further.

Head past the break for our initial hands-on impressions of the new Huawei P8.

Huawei P8

As it did with the Mate 7, Huawei has kept the physical design of the P8 relatively simple. It's yet another a metal-bodied rectangle with a screen on the front. And while it doesn't immediately stand out from the vast crowd of Android-powered slabs, it does feel remarkably solid and well-made, much like Huawei's last "phablet" style device. So you're looking at a relatively slim metal smartphone with chamfered edges that give it a slightly industrial feel — it's noticeably different to the soft, curved iPhone, and arguably a little easier to hold too. Overall, it's a classy if understated piece of hardware.

Just like the Mate 7, there's nothing to complain about on the hardware front — this is a solid, well-built metal phone.

The back panel is mostly featureless except for Huawei's branding down below, and the camera facade up top. Behind this glass panel you'll find the phone's 13-megapixel main camera — a Sony sensor, backed up by an f/2.0 lens, optical image stabilization and an LED flash. In addition to upping the resolution, Huawei has worked on its camera software, introducing a new super-bright mode for capturing crisp low-light shots, along with a Photosphere-like 360-degree panorama mode. The company's camera app still borrows quite heavily from iOS, but we were pretty impressed with its speed and quality, even on pre-release firmware.

Huawei P8 camera

The P8 fields a promising 13-megapixel OIS camera with a range of new software tricks.

Around the front there's an 8-megapixel selfie camera, with an f/2.4 lens. And you can expect all the selfie capabilities of previous Huawei phones, including the cringeworthy "groufie" feature, to make a return.

You'll be viewing all that on the phone's 5.2-inch 1080p LCD display — a good-looking screen by any standards, though it obviously doesn't match the insane pixel density that Samsung and LG are pursuing with their latest devices.

Huawei P8

On the inside, it's a custom-made Huawei CPU running the show again. The P8 runs a Kirin 930 chip, produced by the Huawei-owned HiSilicon, which runs eight cores 64-bit (all power-efficient Cortex-A53s, but with four clocked at 2.0GHz — Huawei calls these "A53e" cores). Given the unique nature of this chip, we'll have to spend some time testing it more thoroughly before coming to any conclusions on performance, but the device we used seemed at least as fast as the Mate 7. In addition to the company's latest CPU, the P8 is loaded with 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage and microSD expandability. As before, there's a unique dual-slot setup in some versions of the device. The first slot is for your primary SIM, while the second can house either a microSD card or a second SIM. Not all P8s will be dual-SIM capable though — most sold in Europe will be single-SIM.

Huawei's software remains an acquired taste.

And it wouldn't be a fully 64-bit phone without Android 5.0 Lollipop at its heart. The P8 has the most recent major version of Android under the hood, but it's also heavily skinned thanks to Huawei's EMUI 3.1 software, which makes its debut on the phone. There hasn't been any drastic departure from what we've seen in EMUI 3.0 on the Mate 7, and the experience will be familiar if you've used that device — think rounded icons (for better or worse), a stylized notification shade and an iOS-like quick settings panel. There's also a wealth of themes to choose from if you don't like the default appearance, and doing so will change many of the icons and app colors as well.

Huawei's software is at best an acquired taste, and arguably the biggest barrier to wider acceptance by Western consumers. The look and feel, particularly in the home screen launcher, is closer to Xiaomi's MIUI or Apple's iOS than the typical Android UI, and that's something you'll either get used to, or something that'll drive you to put a custom launcher on the thing.

Huawei P8

Other notables include a 2,600mAh battery — no match for the Mate 7's enormous 3,900mAh cell — instead you'll need to look to the gigantic P8 Max for multi-day battery life. But Huawei reckons you'll get around a day and a half out of it with normal use. (We'll put that to the test in our full review.)

The contrast between Ascend P7 and P8 shows just how far Huawei has come in the past year. This isn't quite a Galaxy S6 or iPhone 6-class device, but damned if it isn't pretty close — at least on the hardware side. The build quality and internals you'd want from a high-end phone are all there, including a chassis furnished in premium materials, a promising camera and a good-looking 1080p display. If Huawei can bring its software design up to the same level, it could be in with a shot of upsetting the established smartphone hierarchy.

The Huawei P8 will be launching in Europe and Asia initially, while the U.S. will get a more affordable version of the phone a little later in the year. For more coverage, including our full review, stay tuned to Android Central.

We'll have much more on the Huawei P8 soon, so stay tuned!