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Getting to grips with the world’s thinnest

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Last week saw the launch of the world’s thinnest smartphone, the Huawei Ascend P6. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK tries it out.

We can time the end of the quest for ever-smaller smartphones almost precisely. It came on 3 May 2012, when Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S3. It reversed the tinier-and-tinier trend by revealing what was, for the time, a mammoth display, at 4.8‚”. That was the single specification that put in perspective the extent to which Apple would miss the mark a few months later with the iPhone 5 ‚’s 4‚” screen.

The current crop of leading edge smartphones all hover around the 4.7‚”-5‚” mark, acknowledging the consumer need for a big enough screen on which to appreciate high definition video and ultra-sharp imagery.

The next quest, it appears, is one for ever-thinner smartphones. Samsung impressed with the Galaxy S4 when it increased screen size to 5‚”, yet shaved its thickness from 8.6mm to 7.9mm. Despite being much larger than the iPhone 5, it slips into a purse or trouser pockets as easily.

Can phones get even thinner? It’s not easy, given that battery technology has barely progressed in recent years, and still demands that the phone accommodate a bulky component. But it can be done, and has just been done again.

The trend-setter in slimming down phones is not one of the glamour brands, but rather the Chinese networking company best known for its 3G dongles, Huawei. In 2012, its Ascend P1 set the benchmark at 7.7mm – still not matched by Samsung. And this week, in London, it revealed the P6. The name is the clue: it has brought that form factor down to the 6mm level or, to be precise, 6.18mm.

It’s a scary phone. Slip it into a pocket, and you may well forget where you left it. But of course, Huawei would prefer it to be scary to the competition.

It takes only moments to, err, get to grips with the device. Physically, it looks and feels like an iPhone, with a metallic finish, but the Android 4.2.2 operating system known as Jelly Bean means there is no confusion once its switched on.

Huawei have customised Jelly Bean with its own interface, called Emotion UI, and loaded the device with a 100 themes for personal customisation. Another 1000 themes will be available on the company web site.

This isn’t mere cosmetics: it is an awakening to the importance of personalization. Add the option of a pink body, and you can see where this is going: It is reminiscent of the first ‚”lifestyle‚” phones produced by Samsung a decade ago, when it made its initial foray into the cellphone-as-accessory market.

The dimensions of the device make it easier on the hand than the 5‚” competition from Samsung and Sony. Former Apple iPhone users making the switch to Android, and who might enjoy the feel of the HTC One due to its similarity, will have a viable choice in the P6. It is comfortable to use with one-hand, although accurate typing may have to be sacrificed.

The rear-facing camera does not sound cutting edge at 8MP, but F2.0 aperture and 4cm macro view allow for better close-ups than any other phone offers right now. 1080P full HD video recording and playback round it out. If the rear camera skimps on the pixels, the front camera makes up for it with 5MP, unusually high for the front.

Camera functionality is superb, with IMAGESmart software offering special effects like contrast and colour enhancement, auto scene recognition, and object tracing focus that take the user beyond Instagram. Ignore the marketing line that says it turns ‚”even the most novice photographer into a professional‚” we all know that doesn’t happen. But add a function described as ‚”instant facial beauty support‚”, and the ‚”selfie‚” is reinvented.

Talking of selfies, my personal favourite in the brief time spent with a prototype of the phone is a negative option that takes what look like zombie photos of yourself.

That option is not for the faint-hearted, but offers a clue to what the rest of the phone will offer: something for almost anyone. That, too, is going to be scary for any competitors who have not been looking over their shoulders to see who is catching up.

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