This is a model from the middle-price shelf, which has something that others do not – a selfie camera that slides out. This is something that (until now) was present only in few models from the highest price segment. Does the pop-up camera, big display and a reasonable price enough to convince us to P Smart Z?
After a notch, which beauty was always controversial, and equally controversial holes we have moved to another trend in smartphones – cameras, which slide from inside of the housing. Some manufacturers choose the slider housing (like Honor Magic 2 or Xiaomi Mi Mix 3), other chose a module with a camera that slides, like a telescope, from the upper edge of the phone. This unusual solutions started to appear in smartphones, which are placed in the upper price shelf of the market (like OnePlus 7 Pro or Oppo Reno). What is more surprising is that the first smartphone from Huawei, which uses the pop-up camera, is P Smart Z, a middle-shelf model, priced on 250-279 euro. Will it surprise us with anything else? And maybe the selfie camera will be its only distinguishable feature?
- Packaging and accessories. Housing and display
- System and applications
- Sound. Photos and video. Pop-out camera for selfies
- Communication. Voice calls. Efficiency (benchmarks)
- Battery. Summary. Advantages and disadvantages
Packaging and accessories
In the modest, white box the manufacturer placed, next to the smartphone, a charger (5V-2A), USB-USB-C cable, simple earphones with a remote (that is a microphone and a button for receiving calls), paper manual and a needle for opening the tray of SIM/microSD cards. All accessories are in white. In some regions the set can have a silicone cover – this one did not.
Housing and display
P Smart Z is a heavy weight in the smartphone middle-class. It is big and heavy (around 9mm thickness, almost 200g of weight), with a thick body, though the manufacturer took care of its handiness – for example by the curved surface of the back panel and the profiled frame. The housing is dominated by plastic – both the frame and the backs are made out of it (this is basically an acrylic glass, which is simply a form of a plastic material). The whole is solid and well-thought when it comes to ergonomics. The fingerprint scanner is placed where our index finger can rest intuitively, and buttons on the side are easily noticeable and have an appropriate pressure point.
The display of the smartphone is big – it has an almost tablet diagonal of 6.59 inches and it takes 91% of the front panel (according to the manufacturer’s data). Prolonged proportions (19,5:9) makes it more handy than a tablet, and the Full HD+ resolution (2340x1080 pixels) provides a pixel density on the level of 391 ppi. In addition the resolution of the display can be decreased – 1560x720 pixels. The display has a great sharpness and satisfactory readability angles. I had no reasons to complain about the brightness of the screen either. Both the minimum and the maximum one are on appropriate levels. It is worth adding that the smartphone supports the Widewine L1 standard, thanks to this we can stream videos from services like Netflix in a high quality.
And what we can complain about? Mostly about faded colours, which results in images not as saturated as they should have been. The colours mode and their temperature can be modified in settings – in the Vivid mode colder colours dominate, while the normal mode provides warmer colours, but a flat image. In comparison with other middle-shelf models with LCD we can see that P Smart Z does not look the best among them.
The display has curved edges and is surrounded by small bezels. The upper, left and right have around 2 mm, while the lower one – 5 mm. In the area of the upper frame we can notice the cavity of the speaker, while on the lower one we do not have any additional elements.
According to the manufacturer the large display of the Huawei P Smart Z model is supposed to ensure versatility of the device and provide the biggest workspace for all utilities: writing notes, reading books, watching movies, browsing the Internet or playing games. Problems can only occur when you are using glasses with polarizing filters – in the horizontal orientation the image is dimmed strongly. I will add that the display has a protective foil applied from the start.
The backs of the device are made out of plastic, they are shiny and colourful (for the review we received the blue version, there are black and green as well). Here we have a flat surface with two toned shades of blue – this is a design, which reminds me of the Google Pixel style. There are no crazy reflexes. The colourful panel is not too susceptible to fingerprints, although keeping it clean will require some discipline. The plastic is susceptible to scratches, unfortunately we will not find a cover in the set. It is worth remembering that the panel is attractive and less susceptible to breaking – which is the biggest danger when it comes to glass panels.
On the back panel we can find the main, dual camera. Huawei placed it in the upper left corner and made it maximally flat – it almost do not stand above the housing. The model is accompanied by a LED flash, we can see information about the support from an AI. On the back panel we can find a fingerprint scanner – it works appropriately and it can quickly identify the user in the system. It can be used for gestures as well – we can, for example drop down the notifications panel or take a photo. The manufacturer decided not to use the other biometrical setting, which is facial recognition – probably in order to not strain the camera mechanism. In the lower part of the back panel there is the manufacturer’s logo and printed certificates and markings – but the latter are almost invisible and they do not ruin the aesthetics of the device.
The bezel that runs around the smartphone is made out of plastic and has a curved shape, which ensures a firmer grip of the phone. Its colour correlates with the colour of the housing. The left edge is completely flat, on the right there are physical buttons – the prolonged bar for volume control and the button for power/lock screen. Its location is well-planned – directly under our thumb. On the lower edge we can find the minijack socket, microphone’s hole, USB-C socket and the external speaker. The most interesting element can be found on the upper edge – next to the hole of the additional microphone and the tray for SIM/microSD cards (two nanoSIM cards or one SIM and a memory drive) there is the main celebrity – the pop-up camera for selfies. It is hidden – completely invisible. The module itself is around 10 mm wide, 8 mm and 4 mm thick. I wrote about more in the later part of the text.
System and applications
The smartphone has Android 9 Pie with EMUI 9 add-on. This is probably one of the last smartphones from Huawei that has access to full Google Play services. And we do not know for how long updates will be available for it. P Smart Z has a security update from June the 5th 2019, so for now there are no problems.
The manufacturer, as usual, filled the software with too many apps, which double standard services from the Google package (Gallery and Google Photos, e-mail and Gmail, AppGallery and Google Play). There are apps from external manufacturers (Facebook, Booking.com, Amazon and Ebay), which fortunately can be uninstalled.
When it comes to functions and capabilities, we described EMUI many times, so there is no reason to describe all particular elements one more time. Let us take a look at the personalization interface in the smallest details, we can adjust system buttons, turn on one-hand usage, use gestures and moves, plan turning the device on and off… The user can select the style of icons and fonts, change the resolution, adjust image colours and turn on the blue light filter.
The speaker can be found on the lower edge. It does not impress with the quality of sound, but for a casual watching videos and series on Netflix it will be more than enough. It is best to listen to music through Bluetooth speakers. It is due to the fact that the sound produced by it is rather loud, but at the same time flat, and lacking lower tones. It is rather irritating in the upper scale of loudness, in addition it is easy to muffle it while holding the device horizontally. For playing music we can use the Google app or the player preinstalled by Huawei, I am pleased with the presence of an FM radio, which, as usual, requires plugging in earphones. Huawei preinstalled a set of tools for improving the sound, that is Huawei Histen.
Earphones added by the manufacturer have poor quality. They do not muffle noises from the surrounding and give a poor sound, which is flat, sharp and lacks lower tones. But there is a minijack, so there is no problem with plugging in our favourite ones.
Photos and video
The main camera of the smartphone is placed in the upper, left corner of the back panel and it almost does not stand above the housing. There are two cameras – the main, 16-megapixel with an f/1.8 aperture and the additional, 2-megapixel for measuring depth. The camera received a support from AI, which is supposed to recognize over 500 scenes and adjust photo’s parameters according to them. But we will not achieve a full photo resolution this way – in the auto mode without AI it has 16 megapixels, in photos with AI used the quality is reduced to 8 megapixels.
The camera app is well known from other Huawei models. It provides a lot of modes, like portrait, night mode or aperture, slightly deeper we can find panorama, HDR (that runs manually), colour filters or the pro mode. The maximum resolution of photos is 4608x3456 pixels. There are options like Ultra snapshot (we can quickly take the photo with the locked screen), voice control or smile detection. There is the HiVision app for scanning barcodes and QR codes, recognizing texts, searching for products and identifying cuisines, buildings and other objects.
The quality of photos is decent and is not far from what competitions offer in the similar price shelf. Good colours in photos and the quick work of the autofocus deserve a commendation. However, the camera is not so great when it comes to details and photos’ dynamics. Sometimes it focuses too much. In the daytime photos we cannot complain about the quality of photos – but in these conditions even models from the budget shelf work nice. When lighting conditions deteriorate, we need to spend more time to achieve a good photo – and it is best if the photographed object will not move. Photos viewed on a PC reveal that some parts are blurred (watercolour effect) and out of focus.
And here is a selection of photos taken in different weather conditions and with different lighting:
When it comes to night time photos it is best to drop the auto mode and take photos in the night mode. It takes 3-4 seconds to take a shot, but results are much better. Though I will underline that a similar thing happens as when running the AI mode – in the night mode photos resolution is reduced to 8 megapixels.
The main camera can record in the maximum resolution of Full HD 60 frames per second, using the H.265 or H.264 format, it supports slow-motion – we can record in 16x slow motion with 480 frames per second.
Pop-up front camera
The pop-up front camera for selfies is without a doubt a novelty in the offer of the Chinese manufacturer, but the privilege of being the first and providing prototype solutions is usually connected with some risk. So let us see how the pop-up camera works in practice and if this is a better solution then the traditional camera, placed in the upper frame, notch or in a hole.
The selfies camera has 16 megapixels and a fixed focus. It is placed in the housing and when the user would like to use it – the module slides out of the upper edge of the smartphone with a quiet, mechanical noise. Sliding it out (or hiding it) takes 1.5 seconds. It is worth mentioning that the manufacturer added a protection from a fall – if the phone with the module out will fall from the user’s hands, the camera will hide automatically, which is supposed to help in limiting potential damages. And this security works, though I do not think that the module can slide back into to housing when falling from a lower height.
We need to add that due to such a construction of the smartphone and the front camera the manufacturer decided not to use the additional biometric settings – which is facial recognition. It is probably due to the fact that the manufacturer decided to save the mechanism – after all, during the day we more often need to use the camera to unlock the phone rather than taking selfies. We must add that the pop-up module is more susceptible to damage than a camera fixed in the housing. The manufacturer declares that the mechanism will last for 100 000 cycles and is supposed to withstand a pressure of up to 12 kg.
And what is the quality of photos? Photography effects can be shared without any complexes in social media, photos have nice colours and the support from AI, though we need to hit the particular point with the focus. There are different AI’s at work, thanks to which the camera adjusts optimal photos parameters on itself. There is portrait mode with beautifying, lighting and bokeh modes. Beautifying works mostly on brightening and softening up the face, and the bokeh effect (created by the software) does not work that well with softening edges – and the worst is with hair. Basically photos are decent, but not above average in its price shelf.
Wireless communication options cover a dual-channel Wi-Fi module in the 802.11 a/b/g/n standard, navigation with the support for GPS, GLONASS and BEIDOU systems and Bluetooth 4.2 LE. They work decently – I had no problems with any of these modules. There is NFC for wireless payments as well. From physical sockets P Smart Z has a USB-C socket (USB 2.0 OTG) and a 3.5 mm minijack.
The reviewed Huawei P Smart Z supports 2G/3G/4G networks, two SIM cards in the standby mode, Wi-Fi calling and VoLTE. LTE is supported on both SIM cards, in settings we can select transferring calls between cards and default cards for transmitting data and calls.
The quality of calls is decent – the speaker ensures a loud and a clear sound, interlocutors did not complain about a weak sound or a lack of clearness during calls. It turned out that noises reduction works great – people that I have talked with did not hear the sound of a passing tram or the street noise, which accompanied me a lot during calls.
Memory and efficiency
From 64 GB of internal memory after running the phone for the first time the user is left with around 53 GB – the rest is taken by the system and preinstalled apps. There is the possibility to place a microSD card of a maximum capacity of 512GB at the expense of one SIM card.
When it comes to the specification Huawei P Smart Z is a typical middle-guy. It is run by the CPU created for the middle-shelf – Kirin 710F, which has an NPU module for computing AI. In addition, it has a Mali-G51MP4 GPU and 4GB of RAM – enough to ensure a smooth work in most usages. The whole works fast, smooth and without delays. In some rare occasions there are some small lags, when displaying the keyboard or when there is a lot of apps working in the background. The smartphone can handle simpler 2D and 3D games – the efficiency should be enough for them. But in more demanding titles we must remember that minimal settings will be activated, and the gameplay will not always be perfect. But, after all, Huawei P Smart Z is not advertised as a smartphone for gamers.
The battery in the smartphone has 4000 mAh and it ensures great lifespans. During the test with a continuous video streaming, P Smart Z achieved over 15 hours – this is a great result. But in battery benchmarks it worked worse, not achieving extraordinary results. Benchmarks are their own thing, but how the phone works in an everyday usage is much more important. And in this case, when being used more intensively, at the end of the day it was left with around 30% of energy. With a more typical usage the phone achieved two full days without a charger. In addition, in order to prolong the lifespan, we can use the power saving mode in the settings.
Charging times are less satisfactory. In order to fully fill the battery with the charger and the cable from the set, we need around 2 hours. It is difficult to call it quick charging – after 30 minutes from the start we have around 30%. The smartphone itself supports quick charging, but an appropriate charger is not added to the set.
- lifespan with the display on (YouTube, 1 SIM card, active Wi-Fi, 50% screen brightness, minimal sound level) – 15 hours and 36 minutes,
- PC Mark battery test results – 11 hours and 8 minutes,
- Geekbench results (full discharge) – 5020 points, discharge after 8 hours and 19 minutes,
- an hour of video streaming (Chrome, 1 SIM card, active Wi-Fi module, 50% screen brightness) - 9% of battery lost,
- an hour of streaming video from the phone’s memory (airplane mode, 50% screen brightness) - 6%,
- half an hour of using online navigation - 8%,
- half an hour of playing Real Racing 3 - 9%,
- 10 hours in the standby mode - 6-7%.
The competition in the middle-price segment is enormous. P Smart Z will compete not only with Xiaomi and Samsung models, but with models from their own backyard, like P Smart 2019 or Huawei P30 Lite. From models equipped with a pop-up camera module it can compete with better made and better equipped Xiaomi Mi 9T, which costs around 100 euro more. Another smartphone with such housing is OnePlus 7 Pro - but here we are dealing with the highest shelf.
Huawei P Smart Z is, without a doubt, a great choice for those who are mostly interested in the biggest display without notches or holes - P Smart Z definitely delivers this (when we will take the diagonal into consideration this is the so-called phablet, and not a smartphone). And for those who care about good lifespans. But I do not think that this is a phone for selfie enthusiasts – the camera is not ready for work from the start, popping up from the housing, with a fixed focus, without a LED flash and an additional camera for measuring the depth or without a wide-angle – it will not be the first choice for this group of people. And the feature of the camera sliding out from the housing will definitely not convince them.
Advantages and disadvantages
- big, almost bezel-less display without notches and holes
- bells and whistle lovers will appreciate the periscope selfie camera
- toned down colours of the back panel and the looks resembling the Google Pixel series
- quick and accurate fingerprint scanner
- capacious battery and great lifespans
- FM radio
- solid housing
- the device is big and heavy
- colours of the display
- average quality of photos from the front and the main camera
- decreased resolution of photos in the night mode and while using AI
- average quality of video recordings, lack of 4K
- weak earphones in the set
- lack of facial recognition
- lack of notifications LED or other methods of showing notifications, like AOD
- hybrid tray for SIM/microSD cards
- lack of protection from dust