The Huawei P8 lite: A decent unlocked option with a software problem

The "unlocked" market is starting to bloom a bit this year, and one of the newest entries is this, the Huawei P8 lite. As the name implies it's sort of a little brother to the P8 — you can read our full review of that one here — with the specs and style scaled back a bit to hit its asking price — just $249, without having to sign any sort of contract with a carrier. And what's more is that Huawei is bringing the P8 lite to a number of outlets in the U.S., as well as selling it directly.

And buying the phone really is just the start. It's all part of a pretty big move for Huawei as the Chinese company starts to make inroads in North America, and they're calling it "Unlocked 2.0." No more forking over a few hundred bucks for an imported phone and hoping things work out. (Or not caring too much if they don't, since the price was right.)

Let's take a look.

Huawei P8 lite hardware

We don't usually start with boxes. In fact most of us here loathe the unboxing video. But we begin with Huawei's cardboard cocoon for a reason — the company is capable of paying attention to detail. While the act of pulling a phone from a box shouldn't be celebrated as some sort of endeavor of entertainment, Huawei at least makes it interesting here. If you've ever bought a phone from a carrier store from one of the major manufacturers, you likely didn't slip it out sideways. Huawei (like others on the fringes) is doing things different here, housing the phone on its edge, flanked by internal boxes containing the cables and legalese.

Huawei P8 lite

The phone, of course, is what's important here. Pick it up and you'll find it's surprisingly light — just 4.64 ounces, a smidge lighter than the Samsung Galaxy S6. And you'll immediately surmise that the P8 lite's lack of heft has something to do with the fact that it feels so plastic. And, in fact, it is plastic. Whereas the P8 proper sports a metal body, the P8 lite, as you'd expect from a phone of its price dials it back. It's got the same blocky form and design cues — buttons and ports and what not share the styling of the P8 proper, but it does lose the beveled chrome edging and trades the matte meta back for brushed plastic. It's not horrible to hold, once you pick it up. And that last bit's the tricky part, as there's not a lot to grip onto, and once you do it's a bit slippery. But eventually the phone will settle into place, and at that point it's comfortable enough, with the power button in an easy-to-hit spot.

The $249 P8 lite is an obvious and expected step down from its big brother.

As for the particulars, the P8 lite is a little smaller and thicker than its larger, older brother, at 7.62 mm (versus a mere 6.4 for the P8 proper.) The phone's sporting a 5-inch IPS display at 720p. Again, that fits the $249 price, and in actuality the lower resolution isn't the worst thing in the world. (The screen's covered by Gorilla Glass 3 and a screen protector that's on their pretty good and doesn't really mess with the look or feel of the phone at all, but you can take it off if you want.) The whole thing's powered by the 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor (unsurprisingly eschewing its own HiSilicon chip that we've seen in the P8 proper), comes with 2 gigabytes of RAM and maxes out at 16GB of on-board storage. You'll be able to augment that with a microSD card (Huawei says it'll handle only up to 32 gigabytes of extra storage, but we've popped in a card with twice that capacity and it works just fine), though that means giving up one of dual-SIM slots.

More: Read our complete Huawei P8 review

For cameras, you're looking at a 13-megapixel sensor out back, and 5MP in the front. Photography has been one of the areas Huawei's focused on of late, and they've included the excellent "Ultra Snapshot" feature that lets you double-press the volume-down button to quickly launch the camera and take a picture in less than two seconds. (And, in fact, it still reports on the screen just how fast it fired off the shutter, which is cool.) More on the camera in a minute.

All in all, the P8 lite's got a decent look and feel to it. Not great, but really good for the price.

Huawei P8 lite software

Huawei P8 lite software

Never mind Huawei's quirky unconventional user interface — launching with Android 4.4.4 is inexcusable in mid-2015.

The software on the P8 lite is where we once again find ourselves shaking our heads. And that starts with the fact that we're nearly halfway through 2015 and the P8 lite is launching with Android 4.4.4 KitKat, some seven months after Android 5.x Lollipop became available. And that's especially worrisome given how long it's taken Huawei to get Lollipop onto a top member of its sister line, the Ascend Mate 2, which is just now seeing Lollipop in beta. That's entirely unacceptable. Meanwhile, the P8 proper is sporting Lollipop out of the box — and more important is that so are Huawei's direct competitors in this burgeoning unlocked space, including the $299 ASUS ZenFone 2 and the $249 Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3.

Allow yourself to get over that fact, and you'll be greeted with Huawei's custom EMUI (that used to stand for "Emotion UI"). And not even the latest version of EMUI — the P8 proper is running EMUI 3.1 — but version 3.0. If you've never experienced any latter version of EMUI, you're in store for a user interface that rounds off all the app icons, forgoes the app drawer in favor of putting everything on the home screens, and splits the pull-down shade between notifications and a slew of settings shortcuts — a dozen at first, and eight more available if you pull down again. The settings menus are split between "General" and "All," even though you'll find them all under the latter section.

Our own Alex Dobie summed things up perfectly in his P8 proper review:

Instead of Material Design, Huawei's own interface combines bits of Android with some fairly heavy iOS influences. It's not a totally shameless rip-off of the iPhone's software, but there are marked similarities.

You can't do anything about the settings menu, but a third-party launcher can take care of the home screens. Mostly.

And that's not to say that it's an entirely negative experience. It's got features you'll find in phones that cost three times as much. (And that includes annoying "cleaners" that you're better off ignoring.) And figure most folks won't know one launcher from another, or an app drawer from a home screen. And at least Huawei provides a more consistent design, even if it butchers app icons that aren't specifically designed EMUI by lopping off the corners.

But, again, you're not going to be buying the P8 lite for the software. You'll be buying it for the price.

Huawei P8 lite camera

Huawei P8 lite camera

Another bright spot for Huawei continues to be its camera software. It's pretty sparse, and the glyphs take a tad of learning, but all in all it's a good camera app. The top level has your focus ring, overflow menu (for more options, including HDR, panorama, audio note, best photo, all focus, watermark and settings. You also have a button to flip over to the front-facing camera. There's a gallery button at the bottom, as well as a droplet-shaped button for live filters. You can swipe to switch between "Beauty" mode (which adds a slider to smooth out skin), photo or video mode.

One cool feature of the front-facing camera is the picture-in-picture box that gets you to look up at the lens itself. Nice touch. And once you've taken a picture you have options in the gallery to rotate, add a filter, adjust the levels, or crop. Pretty standard stuff there.

As for the quality of the pictures, we've been more than unimpressed. But we're also a little worried about our review unit, as it almost appears that one of the plastic lenses in the camera housing isn't lying flat, which could explain some of the extreme haziness. So we're not exactly sure how representative our samples are. Here they are anyway.

Huawei P8 lite bottom line

Huawei P8 lite

Like other phones in this "unlocked" space, you'll start at the price and work your way backward. So $249. Is that a bad price given the P8 lite hardware? Nope. Pretty decent, actually. It's the software that's hard to swallow, though. As we explained above, you get more conventional user interfaces and more up-to-date versions of Android for the same price, or just a bit more. That's a pretty big failure on Huawei's part, unless it's betting on the fact that most folks won't care — or even notice, for that matter. We, however, can't let that slide. Huawei has to get an updated OS on the P8 lite, and do it quickly.

The P8 lite isn't a bad phone at its $249 price, but that aging software is a non-starter for us.

Ignoring that one sore spot, however, and you've got a decent, properly priced Android smartphone. Add to that the after-sale considerations that Huawei's rolling out — a two-year warranty and localized repair (you won't be sending the phone overseas or anything) with free shipping. And there will be options for financing, wherein the $249 cost of the phone can be split into 3-, 6- or 12-month payments. Plus Huawei will have a U.S.-based call center to provide support. Or you can use live chat online, or a preinstalled app on the phone.

Huawei's doing a lot of things right with the P8 light as it sets its sights on becoming the No. 3 smartphone manufacturer, and it's got a good entry into the North American unlocked space, which is only going to get bigger. But Huawei also has to get its software in order.

Phil Nickinson
  • FYI - all Huawei phones are $50 off on - including the P8lite.
  • Sounds like a beefed up EE Kestrel which was again ok in the hand but sucked software wise, barring the odd useful feature. Also glad they chose a decent chip as the HiSilicon is pretty weak IMO. Get it together wah-way. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I don't see what it's so bad about shipping with Kitkat; Lolipop brought a lot of bugs and a garish color scheme to Android, but not much useful. Posted via Android Central App
  • kitkat bought a lot of bugs too when it was released. like 4.4.4 lollipop 5.1.1 fixed all those bugs
  • Bull sorry and the phone ships with 4.4 Posted via the Android Central App
  • EU version ships with Em!ui 3.1 that means with lollipop , I don't know why there is no lollipop in USA
  • Mexican version is also with Emui 3.1 and lollipop
  • This is personal preference, but I personally dislike the UI on Chinese phones bar the OnePlus One (which runs Cyanogen OS, which is basically stock Android with CM's take). I find the DPI to be too big (especially on phablets) and I don't really feel the idea of an iOS-style launcher where all apps and widgets are laid on the home screen. Just somewhat messy for me. I have been using a Redmi Note LTE for some time and in terms of experience, it's fast and smooth. Everything about the phone is good, but the UI isn't my favorite, TBH.
  • I just got a P8 Lite shipped (Polish distribution) and it comes with Lollipop out of the box. Maybe You had an older production part...
  • If that IS the case then huawei needs to update their own website. It shows android 4.4
  • Going to be hard to sign up for another 2 years with a $700+ flagship next year when I can get a phone like this, for $300 or less, that will probably do everything I need like make calls, text and play music just fine and has a screen resolution that doesn't kill the battery. Much as I love my G3 the battery life is atrocious because of the screen unless you let it sit on wifi and don't use it. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I was able to test out this phone for Huawei and it's actually pretty good. I'm used to flagship phones, and of course it's not one, but for the most part it's fantastic. I thought I'd have a problem with the 720p screen but it's really nice and sharp. The Snapdragon 615 is an octocore chip and it's really fast. I'm sorry to hear that the camera on AC's unit is broken, but on mine it was great, especially for close up pictures.
  • You can get an alcatel idol 3 for same price with a bigger 1080p screen and sd card support for upto 64gb (or maybe higher). It also lets you use it upside down and has front speakers.
    Then there is Asus Zenfone 2 which has dual sim and micro sd slot, faster processor than both alcatel and huawei and you can get one for $199 or $299.
    Also Oneplus One is on sale for $249 and $300.
    Why would you buy the huawei for $250 if you can yet something else with better features and 1080p screen for same price or less.
    Only thing I think huawei has going for it is smaller size and camera.
    But my Oneplus One's camera does take gorgeous pictures (sometimes). Posted via Android Central App on 1+1
  • Agreed, given competitors I wouldn't even consider this, I have the Zenfone 2
  • I ended up buying one for my sister. 5.5 inches was to big and with the promotion I decided to get it. Posted via Android Central App on 1+1
  • Yeah I kept thinking Zenphone when reading this.... Posted from my Nexus 5 via Android Central App
  • plus idol 3 has nfc (i.e. you can use google wallet tap to pay with it) This phone does not.
  • What's wrong with a mid-range phone having KitKat in June 2015? It's the same software as our awesome, powerful, exclusive flagship device! Signed, Verizon Wireless and Motorola
  • Use code CELEBRATE2015 for $50 discount and some other goodies. No need to wait for them to send you the confirmation email.
  • I'm thinkin' that the home market may prefer (or at least be used to) this UI style.
  • I bought one for $199 shipped with the extras. Comes with a snap case, Bluetooth speaker, & Net10 sim and $50 airtime. I'll sell the Net10 sim & airtime and test out the phone. If I don't like it, I'm sure I can get most of my $200 back by selling on amazon or ebay and keep the BT speaker.
    I'[m a fan of a 5" phone and I don't think 1080p on a screen that size is important. 720p on a 5" is great and it saves battery. I've got a Nexus 5 as well and it is super buggy since 5.x came out. I might roll it back to 4.4.4 anyhow.
  • Just 16GB of internal storage is a massive fail, in 2015 the starting storage should be 32GB and offer options for 64GB and 128GB. MicroSD cards suck by the way.
  • Yeah we need a bump on memory internal size but given the price position of this phone maybe huawei want to make it as cheap as possible Posted via Android Central App
  • Just bought the P8 lite for the wife. She likes my Ascend Mate 2 but is too big for her hands.
    She will retire our Nexus 4 which has been a bit buggy under Lollipop.
    This is a good value for $200 Using Nova launcher it will be a typical android phone.
  • Anyone know how to set Google Now Launcher as the Default Home on the Huawei P8 Lite? Keeps telling me to Clear Defaults under the Huawei Home, but it is greyed out. Not sure what the deal is.
  • I like because of the software - I like the IOS like feel and look - and besides lollipop will be here soon so relax.
  • I don't know what who is on but got my P8 light last week and it has lolipop 16gb is awesome for a R3k phone. If u want 32gb go by a 7 to 10k phone. This phone is the highest spec phone on the market for its price end of story. Well played jappees
  • ANyway to add a menu button to the software on screen buttons?