What is the Huawei Y7 Prime?

After an enormous push into the premium smartphone market with the impressive Huawei P20 series, the Chinese manufacturer is back in budget territory with the £170/$221 Huawei Y7 Prime (also known as the Huawei Nova 2 Lite in other markets).

You might wonder why Hugawei is treading on the turf of its own Honor sub-brand, which has churned out a whole bunch of handsets at under the £200/$260 mark over the past year or so. To be quite honest, I am still wondering about that too.

huawei y7

The Huawei Y7 Prime is very similar to the Honor 7A. Very similar indeed. It has a slightly bigger display, 50% more RAM, a second camera sensor and a shinier design. But that’s about it – this is very much spot-the-difference stuff.

Given the lukewarm reception to the Honor 7A, a phone that retails at a considerably lower price, there’s some question over what the Huawei Y7 Prime could possibly offer to ensure a different reception.

Design

Picking the Huawei Y7 Prime out of its box and handling it for the first time brings about a serious case of deja vu. We’ve seen many of these design beats before in the Honor family, which is essentially Huawei’s online-focused budget brand.

On the front, the plain all-black bezel and logo positioning is familiar, as is the general shape of the device. Of course, you could say the same for any number of Android handsets these days, given the homogenised nature of modern smartphone design.

Flipping the phone over, there are more familiar elements. The lozenge-shaped camera housing, too, is reminiscent of previous Honor phones, while the highly reflective blue rear cover of our test unit puts us in mind of the Honor 9 Lite we were sent.

huawei y7 Front-hold-2

This handset isn’t made of glass, however. Indeed, the whole phone is formed of various types and shades of plastic, which probably explains the reason it weighs a relatively light 155g. It’s quite a skinny thing, too, at 7.8mm.

The sides of the phone are also formed of a shiny plastic, although seemingly with a slightly different colouration effect than the rear. It gives the impression of an old car with a resprayed panel that doesn’t quite match the rest of the bodywork.

Returning to the rear of the device, you’ll find a fingerprint sensor, which is sensibly placed three quarters of the way up the phone. I found this to be a dependable biometric security option, if not quite an instantaneous one.

It’s certainly a more secure option than Huawei’s Face Unlock system – which, while fairly swift, simply doesn’t track the same level of facial data as Apple’s Face ID. There’s a reason it’s an optional setting here.

Huawei Y7 Back-1

All of the phone’s essential openings are along the bottom edge, including a 3.5mm headphone jack, a micro-USB connection port (no USB-C here) and a single weedy speaker.

Screen

Huawei has made a concerted push to introduce ‘FullView’ displays across its twin smartphone brands, and the Y7 Prime is no exception.

The front of the device is dominated by a long, stretched-out 18:9 display. Most video content doesn’t make full use of this extra screen space, with 16:9 remaining the preferred aspect ratio. Games and web content, however, most certainly benefits.

At 5.99 inches – let’s be kind and call it a 6-incher – this is a larger-than-average screen even among fellow FullViewers. It’s disappointing, then, to learn that the resolution is a mere 1440 x 720. That’s 720p with extra pixels to account for the increased length.

Our reviewer complained about this shortfall in the Honor 7A, and that display was slightly smaller (and thus more pixel-dense) at 5.7 inches. It would be remiss of me to let Huawei off the hook with the Y7 Prime, especially given that it’s both more expensive and bears the full-fat branding.

huawei y7

As we pointed out in our Honor 7A review, there’s really no excuse for such a low-res display, even in the sub-£200/$260 bracket. Motorola took its Moto G-series Full HD back in 2016 with the Moto G4.

That said, it should be noted that the similarly priced Moto G6 Play takes a step back to 720p status. The Huawei Y7 Prime would appear to be a direct competitor to that device, given the general similarity of the specs.

Resolution gripes aside, the Y7 Prime’s display is pleasant enough to look at. It’s bright enough in most situations, and its colours are reasonably accurate. Huawei lets you fine-tune the warmth of the display in the Settings menu, too, which is always welcome.

Performance

The Huawei Y7 Prime runs on Qualcomm’s low-end Snapdragon 430 CPU, which is getting a little long in the tooth now. Again, this is a component that can be found in the Honor 7A (and, indeed, its predecessor: the Honor 6A), as well as the Moto G6 Play.

It isn’t a particularly swift runner by any stretch of the imagination, but the general performance of the Huawei Y7 Prime does benefit from the provision of 3GB of RAM. This seems to be the sweet spot for running the Android OS.

This isn’t to say that performance is silky-smooth on the Y7 Prime. Flicking over to the Google feed to the left of the homescreen reveals plenty of jitters, while the fingerprint unlocking process takes a beat longer than you might be accustomed to if you use a slightly more capable phone day to day. The camera, too, takes a fraction longer to launch than you instinctively feel it should.

That said, web browsing is a reasonably fluid experience, and flicking between open apps isn’t a problem for the Y7 Prime – one of the key benefactors of that extra bit of memory headroom.

huawei y7 Front-hold-2

Still, the Geekbench 4 benchmarks don’t lie. An average multi-core score of 2868 isn’t great, and matches the aforementioned Honor 7A. The Honor 9 Lite, which packs a lower-mid-range Kirin 659 CPU, comfortably outscores it on 3644.

Surprisingly, though, the Huawei Y7 Prime trumps the Moto G6 Play on 2340, despite the nigh-on identical specs.

Gaming performance is generally decent, with 3D staples such as Guns of Boom, PUBG and Tekken running reasonably well. Fast-paced 2D autorunner Alto’s Odyssey, meanwhile, moves along at a fair old lick.

Thankfully, there’s ample room for storing such games and other media with 32GB of internal storage, as well as a microSD slot for optional expansion.

Software

If there’s one thing uniting all Huawei and Honor smartphones, it’s the use of the company’s own custom EMUI interface. Here it sits atop Android 8.0, which was the latest version until Android Pie came along.

However, it’s EMUI that really defines how you use and interact with the Huawei Y7 Prime. And that’s a bit of a problem.

There’s nothing overtly offensive about EMUI. Functionally, at least, it’s fine. It doesn’t seem to weigh the Android OS down too much, and everything is laid out in an intuitive fashion that doesn’t diverge too much from the experience as Google intended it.

Huawei has even made welcome enhancements, such as the aforementioned screen calibration system. Removing the app drawer by default makes for a cleaner experience, although the ability to reinstate it if you prefer is also welcome.

But the fact remains, EMUI is just plain ugly. Its tacky icons, dated-looking notifications menu and largely naff themes (which you can download more of through a dedicated app) somehow manage the feat of being simultaneously bland and garish.

huawei y7 Front-Google

It might sound like a rather shallow and inconsequential criticism, but when everything you do on your phone is funnelled through the homescreen experience, it matters. Dozens of slightly clunky touches, all encountered many times a day, tend to take their toll.

You’ll get used to this with time, of course, but returning to a closer-to-stock Android experience or iOS after a protracted period with EMUI always feels like taking a breath of fresh air after a long day in a stuffy room.

Similarly underwhelming and unnecessary is Huawei’s app provision. The home-brewed calendar, video, music, notepad, gallery and tool apps are all far from best-in-class – and, in many cases, Google itself provides a far superior version that could just as easily have been preinstalled. Indeed, many of them have been, which just makes the whole exercise feel all the more pointless.

There are no preinstalled Gameloft games here, though, which is progress of a sort.

Camera

Huawei has attempted to advance its camera efforts in recent times, which has paid off at the top-end with the fine (if complex) photo skills of the Huawei P20 Pro.

huawei y7 Back-hold

The company has attempted to apply these camera smarts further down the range, too. In the Huawei Y7 Prime’s case this means a dual-camera setup. The main camera is a 13-megapixel unit, which is backed up by a 2-megapixel assistant.

This latter camera doesn’t provide the zoom effect that other manufacturers have gone with. Rather, it provides depth information to the main camera for the Wide Aperture mode.

Just like Apple’s Portrait mode, this allows you to create the kind of exaggerated depth-of-field backgrounds previously associated with high-end DSLR cameras. The idea is to make the subject pop, and it’s certainly possible to get some more than passable results here.

Also like Apple’s dual-camera solution, Wide Aperture mode lets you alter the bokeh effect after the picture has been taken. It’s pretty cool to play around with, but it also serves to highlight the system’s limitations. Get more aggressive with the effect, and the edge of your subject starts to fade from view in a rather disconcerting manner.

Another ability of the Wide Aperture system is to select a new area of focus of a taken picture simply by tapping. It has its limits, of course – a background element is never going to be pin-sharp. But at its best, the feature can seem faintly magical. Practically speaking, though, its primary use might just be to overcome the Y7 Prime camera’s occasionally spotty autofocus.

Indeed, depth-of-field tricks aside, the Huawei Y7 Prime camera is mediocre. In general, well-lit conditions it’s possible to snag some adequate results. But the camera is just as likely to overexpose images, and it really struggles with extremes of dynamic range.

There is an HDR mode, but it needs to be selected manually, and it serves to slow the capturing process down to an extent that’s impractical – particularly if there’s any degree of movement or urgency to the shot. Which of course, there often is.

Anything in less than ideal lighting, meanwhile, tends to be a murky mess. But that’s more or less par for the course in anything but the very best smartphone cameras.

Around  the front you get an 8-megapixel selfie camera, complete with the kind of icky beauty mode effects that make you look inhuman. Deactivate that and it’s a pretty regular budget selfie cam – that is, not very good in anything less than ideal lighting.

Another example of a fairly normal snapshot, overexposed and poorly focused by the Y7

There’s plenty of noise in lesser lighting conditions

The Y7 Prime tends to overexpose regular snaps

Crank up the Wide Aperture effect to full, and it starts eating into your subject

The same shot with the focus changed to the table in the mid-ground

In its default setting, Wide Aperture mode can capture some nice shots

Battery life

The Huawei Y7 Prime packs a 3000mAh battery, which isn’t unusual for a phone of this size. If anything, some may have preferred a slightly larger power pack given that larger than normal 6-inch display.

For example, the 6-inch Honor 7X comes packing a 3340mAh battery. The Y7 doesn’t pack in as many pixels, however, and nor does it have as punchy a processor.

As a result, battery performance isn’t too bad. Not surprisingly, it’s in line with the similar Honor 7A, which means that you’ll comfortably get through a full day of moderate-to-heavy usage.

Just don’t go in too hard on the media. Like Huawei’s previous budget handsets, video consumption seems to hit the Y7 Prime hard.

huawei y7 Front-hold-2

The phone lost 13% of its juice after watching a 50-minute downloaded TV show with the screen brightness set to full. That places it in between the Honor 7A (12%) and the Honor 9 Lite (13%), but it comfortably beats the similarly priced Alcatel 3V (16%).

In 15 minutes of Guns of Boom gameplay, with the screen brightness set to half, the Huawei Y7 Prime lost 7% of its charge. That’s in line with, if a little worse than, both the Honor 7A (5%) and the Honor 9 Lite (6%).

When it’s time to recharge, likely at the end of every day, you’ll have to make do with a old-fashioned micro-USB and a complete lack of any fast-charging standard.

Why buy the Huawei Y7 Prime?

The Huawei Y7 Prime is a competent, solidly made budget smartphone that’s clearly been specced to take on the Moto G6 Play.

Unfortunately, it isn’t as appealing as Motorola’s entry-level champ. While its specs are a match, it lacks the appealing design and the sharp stock Android experience.

Perhaps more concerning for Huawei is that it faces competition from within. The manufacturer’s budget Honor brand has turned out several similar handsets within the past year.

Of those, the Honor 7A is both strikingly similar and slightly cheaper, while the Honor 9 Lite is superior to the Y7 Prime yet can currently be found for a similar price.

Verdict

The Huawei Y7 Prime is a competent budget phone from the Chinese brand, but it finds itself outshone from both outside and within. The Moto G6 Play does similar things with more poise, but even if you particularly like Huawei’s style you can get the same for less or more for the same under the Honor sub-brand.

(trustedreviews.com, http://bit.ly/2x6ovCh)