If you're a mobile operator that doesn't have a £100 Android handset for your pay-as-you-go customers, then you're very silly indeed. The leaders in this area are T-Mobile and Orange, who have very capable phones in this price range. Orange has the San Francisco II and T-Mobile the Vivacity. Both of these phones are terrific, but with the Orange deal winning, becuase of the services that firm offers on top, such as Orange Wednesdays and HD Voice.
Now Vodafone has burst on to the cheap phone scene with the Huawei Ascend G300. If you haven't heard of Huawei before, then don't worry, this is a company that has specialised in telecoms equipment for some time. If you don't own one of its phones, then you probably use its equipment every time you make a cellular phone call.
But no punter cares about back-end systems, they want to know how a phone performs, and if it's worth spending their hard-earned money on. So does the Ascend G300 offer enough to make it worthwhile, or is it just money down the drain?
If someone handed you the G300 and asked you how much it cost, you would never value it at just £100. It has the build quality and styling of a much more expensive phone. In some ways, it reminds us of an HTC of old, but that's no bad thing, and the phone doesn't look outdated in the slightest.
The front has three capacitive controls at the bottom for menu, home and back controls. These are backlit too, so seeing them in the dark should present no problems - which sounds like a non-event, but it's more frustrating than you think.
On the top of the handset, there's a headphone jack and a power button, while a volume rocker is located on the left of the phone. The charging socket is Micro-USB, and is on the bottom of the phone. The battery, SIM card and microSD slot are all located under a thin, removable, back cover.
Huawei has kept its customisations pretty low key in most places. There's a whiff of a customised colour scheme here and there and the launcher is a modified design too - although it's very pleasant and not something we'd be desperate to remove. A widget is provided in the drop-down menu to change Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, data and auto-rotate settings. This is very useful, and something we always love to see. We would love a brightness control here too, as we tend to tweak the display settings quite a bit.
There are a total of five home screens - more than enough - and once you reach the last one, the phone will take you back to the first. We liked this, and it's weird how many phones don't do it!
The lock screen has been customised too, there is essentially a four-way unlock system with four icons arranged in a circle. Dragging right just unlocks the phone, while down takes you to the camera, left to your messages and up to the call log. It's a good system, and one of the better unlock screens we've seen.
It's worth shouting this from the rooftops: the screen on the G300 is out of this world, especially for a budget handset. The 4-inch screen has a resolution of 480x800, that's 233ppi, if you're counting, which might not be spectacular - the iPhone 4S is 330ppi - but certainly gives the phone plenty of detail.
Colour, too, is incredible, something we think is a testament to the quality of LCD screens over AMOLED panels. While OLED is all the rage, and much brighter and more colourful, we don't think it is especially accurate or true to life.
Brightness suffers a little, and outside we found it a bit hard to see the screen at times. Even at maximum it was a little bit too dim for our liking. This is an area where TFT displays can be slightly weaker than AMOLED, but neither performs perfectly in bright conditions. It's not a deal-breaker here either, but be prepared to shade the phone from time to time.
From a touch perspective, the G300 is good, but not great. We found that the screen was a lot less sensitive than some of the more expensive phones we've used. Touch seemed to have a lag, before the phone too action on what we'd asked it to do.
We have to say, despite its budget credentials, and aside from the slight hesitation of the screen, the G300 never feels like a budget phone. It doesn't look like one, and it feels more like a premium handset than any cheap phone we've ever used.
We streamed videos over our home network from our Plex server, to the Plex Android app. It worked beautifully, every bit as good as our high end Samsung Galaxy Nexus. We also tested Skifta, which plays content without rescaling - Plex for Android reduces quality automatically, to make streaming smoother over 3G and wireless networks. We noted here, that the phone can't handle 720p video, but is more than happy with standard definition.
This is all down to the fairly modest 1GHz, single core Qualcomm processor. But don't worry, most apps and tasks run smoothly and without any glitches.
Vodafone added value
Orange sets the bar high here for pay as you go. It offers access to Orange Wednesdays, its brilliant Wi-Fi Signal Boost system, to give you clear calls when you're in a low-signal area, but have access to a Wi-Fi network. It also gives HD Voice on its £100 phone. Vodafone doesn't have any of these technologies or offers, so what you're getting is a much less appealing package, although we'd argue, with a nicer handset.
There are some Vodafone apps included, and a selection of more to download via the Google Play store, or through Vodafone's App Select, essentially a recommendation engine for apps Vodafone thinks you might enjoy. None of them is exclusive though, and it all comes across as a waste of time.
There's a Texas Hold'em app too, but that's just a rubbish Gameloft trial that requires you to cough up some cash to get the full version. We understand that Vodafone probably gets paid for including these trials, but that doesn't make us hate them any less. We wouldn't buy this poker game on principal, just get one from the Google Play store.
There's also a Vodafone Music app, that promises tracks from 40p. You can subscribe to a set number of tracks per month, with several options availalbe. Not a bad idea, if you spend money on music every month. You can also get MP3 versions of your downloads on a PC too, which we really like. Packs include 10 tracks per month for £5 or 25 for £10. This can all be billed through your mobile account, which is also quite handy - but could be dangerous.
For its part Huawei has a built-in FM radio, sound recorder and bundles Documents To Go, which allows you to read and edit MS Office documents. All are handy, all work pretty well.
Bring your own storage
The one thing you don't get for your £100 is anywhere to put music or video content. The G300 has just 2.5GB of capacity, which you'll probably want to keep clear for apps and the on-board camera. None of this matters though, because you can add your own microSD card, and increase the storage by as much as 32GB. These days, microSD cards are so cheap, there's really no reason not to splash out and get a nice high-capacity card to hold all your content.
Don't throw your camera away
The first time you look at a photo from the G300, you'll be impressed. There's a bundle of vibrant colour and all seems good. But spend more than a second or two looking, and the house of cards starts to wobble and then falls down. This is because there is absolutely no fine detail to be found in the camera's images.
What you actually get, is a picture that looks like it's been processed with a stylised filter. Where detail should be, there's actually a mush.
Viewed at about 50 per cent, images look fine, so for social sites like Facebook and Twitter, there's no massive drama with this slightly weird built-in camera. For anything else, you'd be far better off investing in a point-and-shoot compact. We do think that the image problems are because the phone is trying to artificially sharpen images too much; it could perhaps be solved with a firmware update.
We actually loved the G300 for making phone calls. Even outdoors, next to a busy road, the phone had enough earpiece volume to allow us to hear what was going on. The person we called had no complaints either, and it was clear that both of us could clearly hear what was going on.
There was no earpiece rattle or vibration either, which is something we've had on some very expensive phones, so hands off to Huawei here, it's made a phone that can out-call more expensive handsets.
Talking about battery life has become one of our least favourite things to mention in a review. If you turn this phone on, and leave it, you'll get days and days out of it before the battery is flat. Use it more, or at all, and you'll see that it rushes towards empty in less than a day.
But we can't tell you how long you'll get out of it, because we have no way to know what you'll use it for. The average capacity battery should, however, last the average user a day with normal levels of emailing, Facebooking and twittering.
We love the G300. It might be a little lacking in power, but as a phone it ticks all the basic boxes. We can say, without doubt, that this is by far the best budget handset running Android that we've used. It has the feel and look of a far more expensive phone, and we really enjoyed using it.
The screen is brilliant, and outshines those found on the Orange San Francisco II or the T-Mobile Vivacity. It's bright, colourful and detailed, and we really found it enjoyable to look at. We'd prefer the touchscreen were a little more sensitive, but it's not dreadful most of the time.
The speed is good, overall, and we found the call quality to be excellent. If you're a person who uses a phone for phoning, you'll be very happy with the Ascend G300. We could live without the Vodafone customisations, and stupid game trials, but aside from that, this is a wonderful phone that would happily draw us to the Vodafone network, were we in the market for such a device.