From 80s-era goliaths and 90s-era Nokia wedges through to today's monolithic slabs, phones are continuously changing their size and shape. Even today, some smart phones are neatly palm-sized, while others -- like the Samsung Galaxy Mega -- sport screens so large that to use them you must stretch your thumbs further than nature ever intended.
Huawei's take on this is evidently 'the skinnier the better', as it's given the Ascend P6 a superbly narrow 6.18mm frame. That makes it the thinnest phone on the market today. Into that body, Huawei has packed a quad-core processor, a 720p display and Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean.
It's available from July for £330 SIM-free.
Should I buy the Huawei Ascend P6?
If you want to win a specs battle against your Samsung Galaxy S4-packing friends, then no. With a 720p resolution display, 8-megapixel camera and mediocre performance from a quad-core chip, the P6 is much more akin to last year's smart phones.
If specs are less important than an eye on design then the P6 has more to offer. At 6.18mm thick, it's the skinniest phone on the market. The metal design looks good too, so long as you can ignore the iPhone 4 stylings and stupid port placement.
It's not perfect though. I found it overheated easily and there were a couple of slight build quality and software issues that caused me some concern. They could be down to errors specific to my early review model, so I'll come back to these when Huawei puts the P6 on sale.
If a super-skinny body is paramount, the P6 is a fair option to consider. The Google Nexus 4, however, boasts similar specs and delivers a much more spritely performance. Its stock Android software is much more user friendly too and you can pick it up for less money.
Design and build quality
Okay, let's get it out of the way early -- the P6 looks basically like an iPhone 4 that's had an altercation with a rolling pin. The edge of the phone is a strip of brushed aluminium that may as well have been lifted straight from Apple's phone. It's broken, too, at the top corners by the same little black lines seen on the iPhone.
The front and back panels both protrude away from the metal edging -- again, exactly like the iPhone. The front is an all glass affair while the back is made from black brushed metal. Huawei may have spent a lot of time in research and design, but it doesn't seem to have left the Apple store much during the process.
The bottom half of the phone has a rounded, black bottom, mercifully setting it apart from the iPhone. In fact, the bottom looks like a different phone altogether -- almost as though Huawei has glued two halves of different phones together. That's not helped by the Huawei logo on the bottom. Most of the time when I pick the phone up, I pick it up upside down, as I'm so used to the branding appearing at the top.
iPhone stylings aside, the P6 is a great piece of kit, thanks to its supreme slimness. It measures a ridiculous 6.8mm thick, making it the thinnest phone you can currently wrap your hands around. It looks almost like a 2D sliver of black when it's sitting on your desk. Hold it between your fingers and I expect that, like me, you'll be quite taken aback by how ridiculously narrow it really is.
Sony's Xperia Z is super skinny too, but it looks positively portly when compare with the P6. If a size zero phone to slide, unnoticed, into the pocket of your skinny jeans appeals then the P6 should be high up your list of candidates.
That slimness doesn't seem to have come at the expense of structural rigidity either. The solid metal back and side bar help make it feel very stable -- there's no flex in the frame at all when you give it a bit of a bend.
It's not perfect, though. The metal back panel displays a small amount of movement when you press it in certain places. It also doesn't sit exactly flush with its surround, resulting in quite a harsh edge. Neither are exactly deal-breakers, but it does suggest that a a closer eye on quality control is needed.
The handset I reviewed was an early sample, so it's possible that the phone simply has a couple of manufacturing issues. I'll take another look at a different model closer to its launch and update this review if I'm satisfied it's been improved.
A larger problem though is the amount of heat the phone generates when in use. The slim design means the processor and other components are pushed right up against the metal back. It heats up extremely quickly when you play demanding games, and at some points actually became uncomfortably hot. I thought it was just me, until the phone gave me an actual warning that it was overheating -- something I've never seen before.
While it might not be an issue in everyday use, it's definitely a concern to keep in mind -- overheating repeatedly to such levels isn't going to do the phone any good at all. While nothing seriously bad happened in my testing, I worry that it could become a real issue over longer periods of time.
Huawei doesn't seem to have thought about its port placement at all. Stuck on the top of the phone is a micro-USB port. Not a problem, you think? Try popping your phone into any of your existing charging or speaker docks -- your phone will be upside down. You'd better make sure you have auto-rotate enabled.
On the left edge at the bottom is what looks like a little metal button. Pry your fingernails under it though and out pops a SIM ejector tool. Aside from functioning as a tool, it's also plugging up the 3.5mm headphone jack. There are two glaring problems with this. First off, the ejector tool is so tiny and easy to remove that I guarantee you'll have lost it within your first week of owning it -- I almost lost it on several occasions.
Secondly, putting the headphone jack on the side of the phone is just an awful idea. It might not seem like much of an issue, but imagine trying to slide your phone in your pocket when your headphone cable is poking out the side. If you have headphones with a straight jack, rather than one that lies at 90-degrees, you'll definitely find it annoying. It also means your headphone cable jack is at much greater risk of being damaged each time you try and cram it into your jeans.
The P6 comes with 8GB of storage, of which a little over half is available for you to use. That's not a massive amount, so you'll want to make use of the microSD card slot tucked into the side.
The P6 packs a 4.7-inch screen with a 720p resolution. That's no match for the Full HD big boys like the Sony Xperia Z, HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S4, but it's still a decent resolution that puts it more or less in line with phones like the Nexus 4.
Icons and text don't have quite the same pin-sharp clarity you'd find on the Full HD phones, but you do have to get pretty close to the screen to tell the difference. If you regularly find yourself reading a lot of ebooks, the extra clarity afforded by a 1080p display might be a worthy investment, but 720p is more than good enough for most tasks.
Web pages are displayed well and high-resolution images look crisp and clear. Resolution aside, the display is very bright too, managing to counter most reflections from CNET's office lights and searing your retinas right out when you look at it in the dark.
Colours are rich and bold, making Netflix shows and YouTube clips look great. If you're not keen on the colour balance, you're able to change the screen temperature in the settings. I found the default setting to be the most accurate though.
Android software and Huawei interface
The P6 comes running the latest version of Android, known as 4.2.2 Jelly Bean. You wouldn't recognise it by looking though, as Huawei has plonked its Emotion user interface over the top.
I've seen Emotion UI before on other Huawei phones and I'm not sold on its merits. The main issue is that Huawei has removed the dedicated app list, instead forcing you to keep all your apps scattered across up to nine homescreens.
It makes it very difficult to keep things organised, as there's no way to arrange apps arranged in alphabetical order or by most-used. Instead, it's up to you to individually drag and drop every app into some kind of list. You'll need to be very strict in how you keep things arranged if you want to stand any chance of finding your favourite apps across all the screens.
You can keep up to five apps permanently docked along the bottom though, giving quick access to your most essential tools.
It's also potentially more demanding on the processor. Having one or two homescreens with a few choice apps and widgets is fine, but once you load up all nine screens with live widgets taking up background processes, you can expect the phone to feel a little more sluggish.
The Emotion UI does allow for a lot of customisation though in the form of themes. The selectable themes change everything from the background to the app icons and lock screen. A small handful are available as standard, but loads more are available for free online.
The themes do give the interface a drastically different look, from light and colourful to old-fashioned steampunk style. It's a really nice touch that's definitely going to appeal to those of you who like to put your own stamp on your technology.
Processor and performance
The P6 is packing a quad-core processor clocked at 1.5GHz. That's slightly slower than the 1.9GHz brute of the Galaxy S4, but it's not worlds apart, so I was hoping for a good performance. On my benchmark tests, the P6 gave varying results.
While its top score on the Geekbench test was a satisfyingly high 1,667, another run gave a result of only 858. The same pattern occurred on the CF-Bench tool. The top-end score isn't bad, but it's nothing on the 3,087 of the S4. At the bottom end of the range, it's thoroughly miserable for a quad-core phone.
I also found general use of the phone to be a a mixed bag. For the most part, it was reasonably responsive and smooth. At times, though, it seemed to struggle more. There were some jerky motions when swiping between apps or pulling down the notification bar, and delays when opening apps. It was certainly not the sort of experience I would expect from a quad-core chip. It's clear that the Emotion interface is bogging things down a lot.
As with the construction issues, it's possible that some of the performance problems might be a case of slightly glitchy software on this early sample. An update might be able to bring the processor to a more usable level, so I'll take another look when it's on sale. Even so, it's disappointing to see.
The processor had enough juice to make light work of Riptide GP, but it struggled quite a lot with N.O.V.A 3. It gave very low frame rates, resulting in stuttery gameplay that wasn't at all enjoyable.
In the back of the slim body, the P6 packs in an 8-megapixel camera with an LED flash. I took it for a spin and found it to be about adequate. On my first test shot, the phone was able to capture strong colours, particular in the red figurine on the right and strawberries.
Quality isn't brilliant though -- there's quite a bit of image noise in the shadowy parts of the photo. The exposure was also way too bright on the lime. It's far from the best attempt I've seen from a camera phone, but it'll do fine for snaps of your mates when you're out and about.
The camera really struggled in low light, however. I took a shot of the same scene with the lights dimmed and was far from impressed. Image noise had degraded the image a huge amount, with the Colman's Mustard logo being barely visible. If you're shooting snaps in a dimly lit pub, you'll really want to turn the flash on.
Huawei has squeezed a 2,000mAh battery into the P6, which isn't at all bad, considering the ridiculously narrow body of the phone, although isn't among the biggest I've seen in a phone.
In my tests, it seemed about average by most smart phone standards. When in standby mode it held its charge quite well, but as always, you'll quickly see it drain away when you start firing up demanding apps.
Keep the screen brightness down and avoid gaming or streaming videos over 3G and you shouldn't struggle to get a day's use out of it. As a general rule for any smart phone though, you should expect to charge your phone every night.
With its 720p screen, 8-megapixel camera and fairly unimpressive performance, the Ascend P6 isn't going to excite those of you hankering after elite gadgets to fill your pockets. If design is more important than pure specs though, the P6's ridiculously slim body will definitely appeal.
The overheating issue is a concern, however, as are the slight niggles with construction and software. If Huawei can sort these out properly before it goes on sale, the P6 is be a good choice for anyone looking for a phone that won't bulge out their jeans.