Review: Huawei P8 lite

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Gizmag reviews the Huawei P8 lite, a solid value for $250 unlocked and full retail(Credit: Will Shanklin/Gizmag)

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Chinese smartphone-maker Huawei doesn't have a significant presence in the US market, but it's trying to build its brand stateside with budget phones sold unlocked and off-contract. Is its US$250 P8 lite smartphone worth a look?

The Huawei P8 lite is one of the more stylish-looking all-plastic phones we've used. It doesn't feel premium, mind you, and certainly won't be mentioned in the same breath as high-end museum pieces like the Galaxy S6, HTC One or iPhone 6. But the P8 lite does look about as sharp as a cheap plastic handset can look.

If you're shopping on a budget, but want a phone that looks a bit higher-end than it is, it's not a bad place to start.

The P8 lite also has two SIM card slots, a feature that's popular in Asia but basically nonexistent in US phones. While most Americans are content with one SIM, this could open a few cool possibilities – like using one carrier in your home town and another, with better rural coverage, for road trips. No need to swap SIMs in and out, just leave them both in the phone and switch carriers when you need to (by pressing a button in the phone's settings).

In other areas, it's clear that this is a mid-ranged handset. Its 5-inch, 720p display is common in this price range, and (while far from most of today's high-end phones) looks sharp enough for most people. Its colors aren't particularly rich, though, and its white balance has a very slight brownish tinge to it. None of this is egregious or unreasonable for this price range, but it does reveal the P8 lite's mid-ranged status.

Ditto for software and performance. There's a noticeable bit of lag and choppiness while navigating the phone's Android 4.4 KitKat OS (no Lollipop here) – more so than budget rivals like the Moto G (which also runs newer software).

Huawei's custom software skin borrows heavily from iOS, using strikingly similar icons and hiding Android's app drawer from the launcher (in other words, all your apps stay permanently on the home screen). There isn't much in the way of appeal or originality with this UI (we would have much preferred a stock Android experience), but it also isn't likely to be a deal-breaker for you.

Despite its 13 MP resolution, the P8 lite's camera also produces mid-ranged results – a noticeable step backwards if you've used recent high-end phones like the GS6, LG G4 or any recent iPhone. Its shots look decent in well-lit conditions, but start to pick up plenty of noise as soon as you move away from strong natural lighting. The camera does launch fairly quickly, as we can go from sleeping phone to snapped pic in around four seconds (for comparison's sake, the iPhone 6 takes around 3.5 seconds, and the GS6 less than two).

Battery life doesn't give you anything to worry about. In our test (streaming video over Wi-Fi with brightness set at 75 percent), the P8 lite dropped around 14 percent per hour, the same result the iPhone 6 gave us.

The P8 lite isn't the kind of phone that's going to make a huge splash in the US market, but it does give US customers another solid mid-ranged option in the sub-$300 price range (and, remember, that's all you'll ever pay for the phone ... no contracts or installment plans attached).

Is it your best option in that price range? Eh, probably not.

Though the 2nd-gen Moto G doesn't have LTE radios for US customers (that variant isn't yet sold directly in the states), Motorola's $180 budget phone is otherwise a better value. For the same $250, you can get a much better phone in the OnePlus One. And if you don't mind hitting sources like eBay or craigslist for a used phone, you can find older flagships, in good condition, for around the same price or a bit more. Find an oldie like the Galaxy S5, HTC One M7/M8 or LG G3 in that range and you get another much better phone than the P8 lite.

... you can also find gently-used versions of those phones that work on CDMA carriers (like Verizon and Sprint), while the P8 lite is GSM only – meaning AT&T, T-Mobile and various regional and prepaid networks in the US.

The Huawei P8 lite is available now in the US from the product page below, as well as retailers like Amazon, Best Buy, B&H and Fry's.

Product page: Huawei

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