Huawei Ascend G510
We think it's fair to say that Huawei's low and mid-range phones scratch an itch, but we'd be lying if we said they were going to set the world alight. They are all solid, decent performers, but none of them is the next Samsung Galaxy S or iPhone.
The Ascend G510 is intended to be another budget phone, coming in at a little bit over £100, to give budget, pay-as-you-go customers access to some of the premium tech from last year, without costing a small fortune. It is very much for those who want a smartphone, but who simply don't have the money, or the will, to spend hundreds on one.
So, does it work? Will people come to this phone, rather than to a carrier-branded phone, or other cheap handset?
The G510 screams Huawei from every inch of its plastic surface. If you put three Huawei phones in a line, it's really hard to tell which one is which. That's not entirely a bad thing, from the front, pretty much every iPhone has looked the same too, and it's impossible to tell a 4 from a 4s if you don't look for the model number.
But what is bad, is that it's not a beautiful design, and some of the things that Huawei could have done, to make it more interesting, it hasn't. Why, for example, is this phone not yellow? Or green? Or even purple?
Things go from conventional, to even more conventional with the layout. The headphone socket is at the top, and the power button and volume rocker is on the left. USB power and data is also on the left, toward the bottom of the phone, and that leaves the right and bottom of the device free of interruption.
The Android keys for menus, home and back are located beneath the screen in their own capacitive strip. Interestingly, in some profile modes ours didn't illuminate, forcing us to guess where the buttons were. A switch made them come back, all lights blazing.Not having lights on these controls, even if the problem is temporary, really reminds you why they are necessary.
Pop the back off, and you'll see the full-sized SIM socket, and a microSD slot. The micoSD is necessary if you're planning on using the phone for music, because the internal 4GB is woeful. There's NFC built-in too, which means you can do, erm, NFC stuff. We're still waiting for anything to come out of this technology beyond being able to send photos or. theoretically, pay for things. We have a sneaking suspicion that Apple is right to ignore it, at least for now.
Huawei is modest about the modifications it makes to handsets. You get a different launcher from the standard Android version, and there are some nice widgets too that make things look quite cheerful. We have to say, that with a few small exceptions, we think Huawei has done a really good job of making it's user interface look smart, and stylish. We like it, especially the way it uses icons from Google to cheer up your contacts.
One thing we did notice that's very odd indeed, is that there's no app tray. Apps are installed, as normal, but they simply go on a home screen. There's no shortcut anywhere we can see to get to the "master" list of apps. This is fine, although deleting the shortcut to an app makes it much harder to access - you'd need to go via the apps menu - and generating a shortcut seems near-impossible as far as we can tell.
On this phone, there are themes, which you can use to change the look of the UI. They're all pretty good, none is outstanding, but they're not the horrow show you might have expected from a budget Android handset a few years ago. You can chose transition effects too, which provide some beauty when you're scrolling through home screens.
Huawei also provides its back-up app. We really like this simple program, as it's more flexible than anything we've seen bundled on Android previously. And honestly, the inability of stock Android to keep things like text messages is really quite shocking. Huawei's app allows you to back up everything, and it's pre-loaded. If you're coming from another Huawei phone, you'll more than likely be able to restore your last phone's back-up, although we didn't have another phone's backup to test this.
The virtual keyboard supplied is good enough too. We quite like the stock Android affair now, but Huawei has done a good job with its typer, it seems reasonably accurate, and the long-press keys are something the modern Android keyboards tend to miss. We do like Samsung's new style of putting a row of numbers on the top, but for a phone like this, with limited screen resolution and real estate, that's too much on screen at once.
Huawei provides a DLNA app too, which you can use to connect to media servers around your home, as well as stream video from your handset to other devices. We tried to make this app work with Plex, and it just wouldn't stream any video. This is most likely down to codec support, which is frustrating, as DLNA is only any good when there's something to stream.
Also included is a home screen shortcut to EA games. Here you'll find trial versions of Peggle, Tetris and a the full - freemium - version of The Simpsons: Tapped Out. We think it would have been cool if Huawei had sprung for a couple of free games here.
The phone also has profiles, which took us back to the feature phones of the 90s. It's actually quite a good idea, because it allows you to set ringtones along with loads of other things. You can, for example, have a profile with GPS on, but data off. It's flexible enough to be useful, and easy enough to set up to actually get used. To select, there's a "profile" button in the notification area, which takes you to a weird looking graphical selector. Honestly, we think it would be easier to just have profile selection on a long-hold of the power button, like Nokia used to.
Photos shot on the G510 are not a disaster by any stretch. In decent light, there's good colour and a reasonable amount of detail. There's still a little of that smooshy look that you get with cheaper cameraphones, but it's much reduced and photos are quite good enough for most uses.
The problems come in slightly reduced light, even during the day, indoors, we found the camera struggled in the light. While the photos look okay, it is all too easy to move the camera and blur them. You won't get this issue in good light, but there's an awful lot of bad light in this world.
The flash is okay, and while it does blow highlights somewhat, and give things an unnatural colour, it's good enough to help shots that might otherwise get blurred. These LED lights on phones are fine for using as torches, but as a photographic tool, they're less than ideal.
Video is a disappointment. You can record at VGA (640x480) or half that, at 320x240. If you post videos like that on YouTube, you will get comments that read "1900 called, it wants it's 480p video back". Those comments, while annoying, do make something of a valid point. We wonder why a phone with specs like this would not be able to support at least 720p recording. It's a puzzler.
Don't expect the latest, pixel-per-inch-busting mega screen here, this is a modest TFT LCD, but we do like it. The resolution is 480 x 854, which equates to about 218ppi. It's quite bright, although we did find it getting lost in bright sunlight. There's more than enough detail here for most tasks - web browsing and emails could, we suppose, be a bit sharper and easier to read at small sizes, but overall it's a decent screen.
The big advantage of going for a TFT over an AMOLED is that the colour reproduction is much more natural, and the screen can easily be seen outdoors, and reduced to sensible levels inside. Most OLED screens seem to be too bright indoors, but too dim outside. Plus, the colour reproduction on some OLED screens is abysmal.
Eagle-eyed readers might have noticed that plastered across the back of this phone is a DTS logo. This, clearly, is DTS's idea of spoiling the Dolby Mobile party. For the most part, it's much the same - a big name attached to some processing that seems only to boost the low-end. We tried listening to music with it on, and off. On, there seems to be a lot more bass present, but it doesn't really seem to harm the rest of the musical range too much.
Switch if off, and things settle down a bit, and become a bit more flat. If you have good headphones, listen in this mode, because you'll be getting a much more faithful reproduction of the recorded sound. There's nothing really wrong with the DTS mode, but it doesn't really ring true for us, as home cinema geeks, to have the high-end DTS name associated with what is, in effect, quite a silly EQ trick.
Call quality is good, which we sort of expect from Huawei, as it's so involved in building the backend systems for mobile communications. There's minimal break-up in average to poor signal areas - like the one we live in - and the earpiece is clear enough. The speakers are loud enough to use for calls in a small, quiet room, but anything bigger and the sound does get a bit lost. Overall though, not a bad phone, if using it as a phone is what you do.
At 1700mAh, the battery in the 510 is actually pretty reasonable. Without a quad-core processor, or massive resolution screen, there's not too much here to tax the power cells. You should get all day out of it, under light to mid use. We got a fair bit more with light use, which is to be expected.
It might sound as if we don't like the G510. In fact, we think it's a capable enough phone, and that's reflected in its score. The problem for us is really just that we've seen it all in this price range. Each year, or even more frequently, there's a new low-cost handset from Huawei that fills a need, but it's nothing to get really excited about.
If you want something with a bit more excitement, then spend more on the brilliant Nexus 4, or try to grab a Nokia Lumia 620 if you can live with Windows Phone. Both of those handsets are outstanding, and while both are more expensive, they're also much more thrilling. But the problem is, the Nexus is £100 more and the 620, while nearly as cheap as this phone, runs a much less popular operating system.
A little more passion in the design, perhaps a better camera and we might feel more excited. But as it stands, this is the sort of phone you own if you don't really care about phones. It's a phone for the rest of them.