Huawei Ideos

Huawei is probably a brand you don’t know much about; they’ve been behind a huge number of dongles and data cards in the UK, often branded by the networks, and more recently Mi-Fi devices. They have also supplied some handsets, for example the T-Mobile Pulse. With the Ideos they aren’t pushing the Huawei brand, but it is worth knowing that it comes from a company with a great deal of experience in hardware manufacture.

In fact the handset is free from external branding, only displaying the Ideos name around the back (which is derived from Industrial Design Evolution Operating System) and the words “with Google”. Not an insignificant point, as handsets “with Google” aren’t the most common Android devices these days.

Huawei has worked closely with Google to develop the Ideos and boasting that it is the only “affordable” Android 2.2 handset with this status, free from skins or other tinkering, offering a naked Android experience. Theoretically, that means it will benefit from updates as soon as they are rolled out by Google, with no need to wait for manufacturer or network compliance tests and all the rest.

The Ideos is an affordable handset - a polite way of saying that it is cheap. But offering Android 2.2 unfettered, it doesn’t have the operating system of a cheap handset: it packs in much of the functionality that you’d get from a high-end smartphone, and in many cases, it trumps flagship devices by offering the latest version of the software.

But hold on to your excitement for a while, as the budget status means that you have limited hardware on offer, and most significantly, limited power. Sitting at the core of the Ideos is a 528MHz processor and 256MB RAM. This puts it well down the scale in terms of raw processing power, but essentially it misses the cut-off point for Adobe Flash 10.1, so you won’t be able to watch all those glorious web videos in the browser - one of the headline features of Android 2.2. 

You do get the other neat features of Android 2.2 however, as well as those that rolled out earlier. This includes things like support for multiple Gmail accounts, and if you are a Google Apps user, you’ll be glad to see things like your contacts, calendar and emails all sync up with no problems at all.

We see so many customised Android devices these days, that getting back to the naked Android build is refreshing. Many affordable devices are afflicted with out-dated operating systems that don’t work well with a touchscreen and don’t offer a great deal of customisation or app support. The Ideos gets a gold star when it comes to these things thanks to Android.

In the hand the Ideos isn’t an ugly phone, but the design does look a little generic from the front. The 2.8-inch capacitive touchscreen display has a low resolution of 320 x 240 pixels, but that isn’t a critical failing on a device pitched at this price point. You can still use the phone without being hampered by the resolution of the screen.

The touch response it provides is very good. Of course you will notice that it gets a little cramped on-screen due to the size. The portrait QWERTY keyboard is usable, but we found miss-keying was all too common. The result from landscape typing is better, but you don’t get a lot of space to see what you are writing. You’ll also notice that when you get an email, you don’t see much of the text when you open it up, because the screen is filled with header information. A point you’ll have to accept.

Across the bottom of the screen are the usual four control keys: back, menu, home and search. They don’t get much space and we’d rather they were bigger to make daily use easier. The four-way controller and calling buttons beneath this, by contrast, have rather more space than they need: you could argue that these buttons are superfluous, although the calling keys do make it quick and easy to make and receive calls or return to the home page. 

We like the bold colours that the Ideos comes in, the back plate, although plastic, feels solid and the two cut-out speaker holes gives it a touch of class often missing from cheaper handsets. The external speaker is both loud and impressive in its performance, something teenagers - perhaps the target market for this phone - will undoubtedly put to the test.

Residing on the back of the handset is the 3-megapixel camera. The camera performance overall is poor, suffering from all the nasties that phone cameras do: images are dull, definition is poor and the lack of a proper focusing system means you’ll never get anything sharp out of it. Video suffers the same fate, captured at a low 352 x 288 pixel resolution and a surprising 8fps.

You don’t get scammed on connectivity though. You get HDSPA and Wi-Fi for your data, as well as GPS and Bluetooth. You’ll be able to take advantage of Android 2.2’s Wi-Fi hotspot feature to use your phone’s data package to get your other Wi-Fi-enabled devices online. The other feature you’ll be able to access is free navigation using Google Maps. It may be a little primitive compared to the likes of TomTom, but in a pinch it’s a handy addition and we like the walking directions it offers.

Of course you get the normal Android music player which is reasonable and the sound quality is good, if and when you replace the bundled headphones with something better quality. There is also an FM radio.

In terms of performance we found that the Ideos was mostly smooth running. There is a little delay when opening and switching between apps. You can multitask, but you’ll get a better overall experience if you remember to close some of the apps you aren’t using. Talking apps, the limited hardware specs of this device means that some options won’t be available to you - so you don’t get the full offering from the Android Market.

If you haven’t seen Android 2.2 without a skin, you get a high degree of customisation offered, with native widgets covering things like music control, and additional widgets arriving as you download apps from the Market. You can swipe side-to-side on the homepage, dropping shortcuts to people, applications, browser bookmarks as you wish. Skinned versions of Android might offer a wider range of choices and a dab of polish here and there, but naked Android is a solid offering none the less.

The Android browser is nice and fast and does a good job of rendering pages, although you’ll immediately see the difference from larger, higher-resolution, devices. That said, for a small device, the Android browser works well, although you don’t get multitouch support. Dragging the page around works well enough and double-tap zoom does its best to reflow the text for reading on the screen. You can also play YouTube-hosted videos (such as those we use on Pocket-lint) from the browser: they quickly open up in the YouTube app.

The Ideos also functions perfectly as a mobile phone, with calls coming across loud and clear. We found the battery under light use would see us through a weekend, but with more intensive use we were charging every night.

Verdict

The limited specs of the screen and processor mean that the Ideos doesn’t offer the best experience that Android has to offer, but we like it all the same. As an affordable handset, you get a lot for your money. You aren’t dependent on the supplier to update software as you are tapped into the wider world of Google Android.

Android in this form works well, and we’ve found that the Ideos is a capable little phone. Sure, it doesn’t match the graphical performance or the camera and video you’ll find elsewhere, but we’re happy with the design and the build of the Ideos, and the core services connected into Google will keep you in touch with the world.

In short, it is a compelling entry-level device that offers a lot of power in a compact bundle. The problem might be getting one. It is expected to retail between £99 and £129, but Clove has it listed for £199, which does seem a little pricey. We’re awaiting more details on availability and if we find anything out, we’ll update this review.



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