We first noted Huawei's step into Android handsets with their display at Mobile World Congress earlier in 2009. Now we see Hauwei on the market with T-Mobile in the guise of the T-Mobile Pulse. As is often the case with T-Mobile, they have taken a device and made it their own, giving them hardware exclusivity (at the least) over the Pulse. But will it get your heart racing?
You can't help thinking of some older Windows Mobile devices when you first spy the Pulse. The large 3.5-inch real estate offered by the HVGA screen makes it larger than average at 160 x 62.5mm. With opinion divided between small and efficient screens, or large with plenty of space to roam, this is certainly a factor here.
The hardware specs are fairly typical and there is certainly nothing missing here. You get HSDPA for a fast data experience, backed-up by Wi-Fi to make it free and save you data dollars. You get the GPS so you'll never get lost, with Google Maps preloaded, which works very well as an Android application, combined with the onboard compass making Google Maps Street View orient to the ground you are standing on (although we didn't get to test this).
Adding to the navigation offering, T-Mobile are bundling in 1-month free access to TeleNav GPS, but only 1 month, but at least you'll get to try it before you consider switching to one of the other offerings available through the Android Marketplace.
The construction of the Pulse feels solid enough, although with plastic on all sides, it doesn’t have the luscious feeling in the hand that you get from the HTC Hero: the back is noticeably plastic, and the small flap that covers the Micro-USB and 2.5mm headphone jack is irksome; if you contemplate using headphones with the device in your pocket, we wouldn't be surprised if the plastic flap soon broke off.
The decision to include a 2.5mm jack for the headphones is also unusual. T-Mobile told us it was because of the demands on size to reach that 13.5mm thick design. You do, however, get an adapter in the box that will allow you to use your own headphones, replacing the hard plastic headphones supplied.
Across the bottom of that touchscreen are the usual range of control. Besides the green and red call accept and hang-up buttons, you'll get the trackball for navigation, menu key and home/back buttons. The clickable trackball feels smooth enough, just as it is on the HTC Hero or on a BlackBerry handset.
Diving into the Android 1.5 OS itself, Huawei and T-Mobile have added a custom homescreen called "Canvas". As the name suggests, this forms a Canvas that you can drag around to different customisable screens. There are six screens by default to get you started, and rather than all be crammed full, four contained a sprinkling of shortcuts or widgets, with the last two blank. In truth you can continue to add screens to make the Canvas as big as you wish, with one exec we met running with 40 different screens.
How this affects the performance, and whether he can actually find anything (or make use of the unmitigated amount of detritus that must be occupying said pages) is a separate issue. But isn't that the point of Android? You can pretty much do what you like with it and that's certainly true here.
Navigation between the pages in our hands-on seemed pretty slick, with pages dragging around easily with little sign of lag. Unfortunately this isn't really a measure of real-world performance, as with no content to occupy any live apps, you don't really know how it will work in practice: something we'll look at in a full review soon.
Being a full touch device, the on-screen keyboard is all-important – a make or break point. We only had limited time with it, but bashing a few quick lines from the landscape QWERTY keyboard seemed easy enough, with predictive suggestions appearing above the keyboard. Pressing a key triggered a pop-up identifying the key you'd pressed, a la iPhone and HTC Hero, and press and hold bought up a range of alternative characters, which was pretty easy to use.
We did spot a few small icons sitting around, for example in the Web'n'walk browser (that you'll find in place by default) which does give a reasonably fast HTML browsing experience. That said, the tiny "Go" button to start navigation caused no problems actually, erm, going, so it may not be an issue.
There didn't appear to be any sign of multitouch with zooming handled by tapping on a section or by on-screen controls to dive into pages, which we are guessing will become a little boring if you are doing a lot of browsing.
Overall it is too early to tell what the performance of the T-Mobile Pulse will be like out in the wild. The screen space available will certainly appeal to some, as will the reasonable £179.99 pay as you go price. T-Mobile are hoping that the Pulse will appeal to those looking to gift the handset, so it may well be appearing on the Christmas lists of many students who want a connected device without lengthy or expensive contracts, remembering of course that you'll have to buy unlimited browsing as an extra, if you plan on abusing the 3G airways.
At first glance the T-Mobile doesn't wow like the HTC Hero does from the interface or design. It isn't pushing social networking features in quite the same way, but it does offer you a great deal if flexibility through the Canvas homepage, even if it does seem a little linear compared to the HTC Sense UI.
Overall we like what the T-Mobile Pulse represents. It's another step into the mainstream for Android and it provides another offering in T-Mobile's Android portfolio and that can only be a good thing.