The road trip. It is the last bastion of romanticism in today’s era of clinical travel. It is the best kind of adventure, where getting lost is finding yourself and sleeping under the stars in your car beats any hotel room, hands down.

I was on such a road trip recently, driving around the hamlets of Italy and documenting the countryside views of Italy with the Huawei P10 Plus. The successor to the Huawei P9 Plus, the Huawei P10 Plus was unveiled earlier this year at the 2017 Mobile World Congress. It’s constructed from aluminium, making it surprisingly light and sturdy, before being either sandblasted, diamond cut or coated in glossy ceramic, depending on the colour you choose. The options available are Greenery, Dazzling Blue, Graphite Black and Dazzling Gold.

More importantly, the Huawei P10 Plus purportedly puts a photo studio in your pocket. So I decided to put it to the test on this drive.

Choosing your tech companions for a road trip can be tricky. Power points are at a premium and weight can become an issue. The Huawei P10 Plus performs admirably on both fronts. It has one of the bigger batteries in the market right now at 3,750mAh and lasted the entire drive and then some despite me playing music through Bluetooth to the car speakers and running Google Maps non-stop. I started with 100 per cent. At the end, the battery life showed 30-ish per cent. It’s the perfect smartphone for long drives where the sights are too precious to not take photos of.

A pit stop at the charming Borgo San Luigi hotel, which had beautiful manicured gardens and amazing espresso

Plus, opening the camera app is fuss-free and can be done in one hand, perfect for when you’re driving alone. While I don’t recommend it, you can keep one hand on the wheel and the other hand to flick the app open from the bottom left of the screen. Then easily take a photo while driving. That’s how great the Auto mode is.

If you want more control over your pictures, the Huawei P10 Plus also comes with a robust Manual mode. Now, this is the part where I warn you that Manual mode should only be activated when the car is stationary.

Trying to capture the Golden Hour

The spaciousness of the Italian countryside was a welcome breath of fresh air from cramped Singapore

Unlocking Manual mode is simple. Once you’ve launched the camera, flick from the bottom of the app and control will be handed to you. From white balance values to the size of the aperture, you take charge of how you want your photo to turn out. It’s especially useful in less than ideal lighting conditions although Italy was such a beautiful country that all I needed to do was to point, focus and shoot. The road of Italy, on the other hand, are a different story.

Barring its highways, the roads of Italy are as narrow as Trump’s future. It’s as though the transport planners’ KPI was to elicit the most amount of swearing by drivers in the shortest period of time. Being brought up on the wide roads of Singapore, I was not used to the limited amount of space I had, made worse by the fact that I was driving on the wrong side of the road.

The Italians, however, sliced through the roads in a nonchalant hurry, inches away from gravitational doom on the right or a devastating car crash on the left. It’s a testament to their driving skills.

Yet, even though they always seemed to be in a hurry, I admired the Italians’ civic-mindedness. In each of the hamlets I passed through, cars would slow down and allow people to cross even at non-designated traffic lights. It’s certainly a world away from the attitudes of Singapore drivers, who will be foaming at the mouth and smashing their car horns if someone deigned to walk in front of them on roads.

This is a road for two cars, I kid you not. Look how narrow it is.

One of the most memorable pit stops during the drive was the town of San Gimignano. Located in the province of Siena, Tuscany, the town has a long history stretching back to the 12th century and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The most illuminating feature of the town was the myriad of towers that were built between the 13th and 14th century.

Considering that engineering methods were not as advanced back then, to see such tall towers, some as high as 55 metres, built entirely by hand was an amazing spectacle and a testimony to the ingenuity of humans.

What remains true in the past and in the present is that when humans work together, great things can happen. Huawei too chose to tap on the imaging expertise of Leica, first with the P9 & P9 Plus and now again with the P10 & P10 Plus, for the dual camera. There are 20-megapixel monochrome and 12-megapixel colour sensors for the back camera, which is one of the most versatile smartphone cameras in the market.

The front Leica camera is no slouch either, with an eight-megapixel sensor that’s perfect for your selfies.

I took the Huawei P10 Plus and managed to climb up the 250 steps to the top of the tallest tower to take in the views. With ample time to play around with the Huawei P10 Plus camera settings, I shot a couple of photos in warm sunlight and in the shadows.

The view from the tallest tower in San Gimignano. On one side you can see the entire town laid out in front of you.

On the other side of the tower are vineyards and farms that dot the entire countryside.

Back down on the ground, I walked around the hamlet to savour in the sights and sounds. San Gimignano is a popular tourist destination for numerous reasons. The first is the old frescoes on the walls that were painted between then 10th and 14th century. Even though it’s been a few centuries, the paintings are still on the walls. While they are a bit worse for the wear, scrubbed by the ravages of time, the environment, and the changing seasons, the details are still as clear as ever.

According to my tour guide, the frescoes depict what life was like in San Gimignano back in the day before the town was badly affected the Black Death that descended onto Europe in 1348 and killed half of the townsfolk.

Just a small fraction of the frescoes on the walls of San Gimignano. While they have been minimally restored to protect them from the environment, the colours have not been changed and reflect the actual colours used by the painters.

The one thing you must try while in San Gimignano is the gelato from Gelateria Dondoli, which has been dubbed as “The World’s Best Gelato”. There are an incredible number of flavours and you can try as many as you like until you find one that hits the spot, which probably explains why there was a long queue stretching out of the shop and spilling onto the walkways when I was there.

I decided to go for vanilla. In my 31 years of my life eating ice cream, I find that the best way to judge a gelato is by how it executes the simplest flavours i.e. vanilla or chocolate. While the vanilla didn’t disappoint and was certainly one of better gelatos I’ve tried, it didn’t blow my mind. But perhaps that’s the problem when you set someone’s expectations too far up the scale.

What blew my mind, however, were the wines. After San Gimignano, I drove to one of the vineyards – the Castello Di Fonterutoli estate – to pay a visit. Unlike other vineyards, the Fonterutoli Canteen adopts a modern approach to winemaking. In here, no one steps on grapes or tilling soil. Instead, after harvest, the grapes are put into large metal containers to be fermented and processed. This ensures consistency in taste.

The geography of the estate is such that the underground caverns that they dug under the ground is the perfect location to store the wine barrels.

The underground cavern that was dug out to store the wine barrels were naturally cold without the aid of air-conditioning. What I would give to have Singapore at this temperature.

The Huawei P10 Plus camera performed admirably in low-light conditions, as you can see above, and withstood the extreme temperature changes that we experienced above ground and under the ground.

After the vineyard visit, I had to drive back to my hotel to return the car. It was with a heavy heart that I handed over the keys. But while the drive was over, I still had the memories stored in the Huawei P10 Plus and now immortalised on the Internet. And that truly is what makes the smartphone camera such an important asset in our everyday lives. It’s not just a tool; it’s an emotional connection.

HUAWEI P10 PLUS SPECS
Display: 5.5 inch, 2560 x 1440 (2K), 16M colours, 540 PPI
CPU: HUAWEI Kirin 960 CPU, Octa-core 4 x 2.4 GHz A73 2.4 GHz + 4 x 1.8 GHz A53
OS: Android 7.0
Main Camera: Leica SUMMILUX-H lens – 20 MP Monochrome + 12 MP RGB, F1.8, OIS (Optical Image Stabilisation), Dual-tone Flash, PDAF + CAF + Laser + Depth Auto Focus, 2x Hybrid Zoom, 4K Video Recording
Front Camera: 8 MP AF, F1.9

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