Huawei Ideos X3
Huawei is slowly building a name for itself. If you haven't yet heard it, you will in the next year or so. For a start, the firm has the world's slimmest smartphone in its CES-announced Ascend P1 S. And it seems committed to making the move from backroom hardware - Huawei equipment runs mobile networks the world over - to the customer-facing side.
The Ideos X3 is a budget handset, which you can pick up online for around £130. It's got Android 2.3.4 installed as well as a 3.2-inch screen. It's small, light and clearly aimed at people who care more about having a phone, than having the latest and greatest phone.
To look at, the X3 is much like other Android handsets, while managing to pull off something a little different. For example, there's a home button - a physical one rather than the capacitive type - and three touch-sensitive controls for "back", "menu" and "search" functions.
There's not a massive amount different here from any other budget smartphone. There's a headphone jack at the top - a great location for this - along with a power button and, on the right of the handset, a volume rocker switch. On the bottom, there's a USB socket for charging and data transfer.
To access the battery, you slide the back of the handset down, and the rear plastic case detaches. Inside, there's a microSD slot, to take cards up to 32GB and, as you would expect, a full-sized SIM socket. The battery is a 1200mAh pack, which will provide quite modest standby times.
Overall, it's not a bad-looking phone, it's not super-sexy, nor is it a minger. You're looking at middle of the road here.
Huawei has approached the Android customisations with similar gusto to Samsung. Indeed, it's app drawer looks very similar to the one in the Korean firm's TouchWiz. It's nice enough here, and certainly isn't a visual disaster.
Huawei has built-in a 3D effect when you flip from one home screen to the next. This is entirely unnecessary, but it does make the phone look quite different. It works fine too, and there's no extra stutter or lag introduced by its presence.
In the status dropdown, there are controls for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, data and auto-rotate. These toggles are really handy, and we're always pleased to see them. They look nice too, Huawei has done a good job of keeping everything subtle and in keeping with the Android OS.
You get some custom apps too. For example, there's a data monitor system, called Smart Traffic, that asks you what your monthly allowance is, and then warns you when you get near to it. It also - and we like this a lot - puts a reminder in your status and notifications dropdown. Very cool.
Huawei also includes something called "Streams" which is a social media timeline that can include updates from your friends via Twitter and Facebook. This is much like any similar app on any platform. It can be interesting to casual users, but more-devoted fans of social networks will find it adds little to the existing apps for those services.
Visually, the screen on the Ideos X3 is quite nice. It's not the most detailed we've seen, but it certainly is good enough for most purposes. There's more than enough brightness, and the auto-adjustment of the backlight seems very capable. Adjust it manually to maximum, and you'll have enough light to see the screen even in bright light.
The resolution is 320x480, and that gives you 180ppi on the 3.2-inch screen. Not the best technically, but it looks absolutely fine. There are no problems similar to those on the HTC Explorer either, where moving text gets very blurry.
The problems come, not from the panel though, but from the capacitive screen. In our testing, we found that it was often confused by swiping. Single taps were fine - although we had the devils own job typing on the Huawei supplied virtual keyboard - but swipes often went wrong.
We noticed this most when trying to scroll down the app tray, or in the Android menu system. We'd be trying to scroll, but the inevitable finger lift and reapplication would cause the system to think we were tapping. It seems clear that other phones must deal with this differently, as it's the first time we've really seen this problem this severe.
The built-in 3.2-megapixel snapper is nothing to write home about. It works though, and it's fuss-free. There's no autofocus and the camera app itself is a little basic, but it works and there's a digital zoom - although you'd be mad to use it, there's just no point. The X3 can shoot video too, although you won't be blown away by the results.
This is certainly not a phone for the power user. It has a 600MHz Qualcomm CPU and just 256MB of RAM. This is very much an entry-level phone, and one for people who have never heard of Angry Birds or Tiny Tower.
Interestingly though, in day-to-day use, the lack of ooomph isn't a massive problem. Web browsing, for example, is snappy enough. And the screen makes it easy enough to read pages. Scrolling around also presents no problem, honestly, we've seen more problems from higher-powered devices.
Despite it's modest capacity, the 1200mAh battery did fine for us. We used the phone all day, and with modest use, occasional web checking, push email and phone calls, it lasted easily. You'll see more drain if you're out-and-about and we tested it mostly on Wi-Fi, which is less of a power hog than using 3G constantly.
But as this phone is aimed at the Smartphone refusniks who has been forced in to the 21st century against their will, it will probably be more than enough to see them through. Hopefully though, this plucky little smartphone will soon get them addicted to all manner of modern mobile apps, and they'll be looking for the next step up.
We like the X3. It's not the fastest phone, but its small size, decent screen and more than acceptable call quality is enough for the casual user. More advanced owners might find the touchscreen tedious, but you could certainly live with it.
If you make huge numbers of calls, or end up using the Internet a lot, you might also find the low-capacity battery doesn't last very long. But overall we wouldn't really expect too much more from a cheap, entry-level phone.