Huawei Ascend P1 review
The Huawei Ascend G300 is one of our favourite phones of the last year, at least in its price range of just £100. If you don't already know, Huawei is one of those firms you've probably never heard of but is huge and a key player behind the scenes. Like Cisco is for networking, or Qualcomm for chipsets, Huawei is a big name in telecoms equipment. The calls that you make from your mobile now almost certainly go to their destination via the firms hardware.
So the company understands mobile technology. But it has only just started producing phone hardware for direct sale to the likes of us. You might already have a 3G dongle made by the firm too - although, again, these are mostly unbranded. So, how does this handset compare to other premium phones on the market? Is it worth the money, or is it just a generic phone?
Huawei claims the P1 is the world's thinnest phones. Held next to the Motorola Razr, it certainly holds up well. The Huawei is more uniform than the Razr, although it still has a slight kink at the bottom on the back. It's a thin phone, but somehow it manages to look less impressive than the Razr. This feeling is increased by the shiny rear surface, which feels less "grippy" and high-tech than the Kevlar back on the Razr.
But aside from the material used, the P1 is a pretty little phone. We think we might like it in different colours, because in black it has a slightly generic look to it, but finished in yellow or white, we think it would turn heads.
We aren't fond of the printed-on capacitive control icons at the bottom of the device. Although we like the fact that they don't fade out - which makes it hard to find the key you want, when looking at the device - the white paint is a little low rent for us. But we still like this phone from the front - it's clean and stylish.
Around the handset, on the left, you'll find a pair of volume controls. On the right, a microSD slot and power button are the only two things breaking the lines of the phone. On the top you'll find a headphone socket, USB port and the SIM card slot. There are some dire warnings printed on the phone - removable, we hasten to add - about using a micro-SIM in this phone. A disastrous accident with our first review sample proves that you need to use a fill-size card. If you've got a micro-SIM, your service provider will switch you to a full-sized version.
The back of the phone houses the 8-megapixel camera, which has auto-focus and can record 1080p video. The rest of the surface is black, and a little slippery. We wish there was a texture here to help add a bit of friction between our hand and the phone.
Huawei seems to have laid off the excessive tweaks. This is good, because in the past the firm has tried too hard with its interfaces, and ended up with clutter. Here, what you're getting is a Nexus-style cleanliness in the UI. Really, there is little that has been added to get in the way of the Android experience.
That said, there is a custom launcher, which has 2D and 3D modes, a specific Huawei keyboard, which works reasonably well and a few apps here and there that add some functionality to the bare Android OS.
You get a weather/clock widget too, because let's face it, no human is complete without regular time and weather updates.
Stunning screen and great performance
The 960 x 540 pixel Super-AMOLED screen is certainly something to shout about from the rooftops. Huawei has taken the big, bright and colourful approach that might not be ideal for watching reference-quality video on, but that is eye-catching and quite helpful for normal phone-type use.
It's bright too, bright enough to be seen outside, but as sun is no longer a risk in the UK, it's unlikely it will ever be too washed out by our solar system's brightest object.
The touch sensitivity is also up to par, which is good indeed. In fact, thanks to the fast processor, using this phone is a real pleasure. When we first booted it up, things took a while to bed in. But a minute or so later, we were flicking around the home screens at great speed, with no discernible lag.
The P1 is "only" a dual-core, 1.5GHz processor, but it seems to us like it's every bit as responsive as any quad-core phone we've seen.
If you're a Wi-Fi geek, then you might care that there is no built-in 5GHz support here. Mostly, this won't be an issue, but in some busy areas 5GHz - which has a shorter range, but can operate very quickly - can be a real necessity. Both Wi-Fi and HSPA seemed very, very fast to us. And once we've installed Google's Chrome, web browsing was a lightning-fast delight.
There's some weirdness with the audio on the P1. Don't worry, for the most part, it sounds absolutely brilliant. In fact, through the Google Play Music, we think it's one of the best sounding phones we've heard. The weirdness comes from there being a second included music player, called Music+. This is the one which is Dolby Mobile enabled.
Dolby Mobile, it has to be said, has yet to really captivate us. For the most part it seems like of a bit of an excuse to use the Dolby name and logo while providing pretty minimal benefit. We also don't like the software implementation here either. For a start, changing the Dolby EQ settings doesn't happen instantly, you have to accept the change, first - which then kicks you out of the EQ menu. It's stupid, and it makes listening to the settings one after the other - to find the one you like - nearly impossible.
Compare this to the standard EQ settings in the Google Music app, and you'll see which is better. The Google settings are applied when you select them, and you can work your way through all of them until you find your favourite. Much simpler. There are also user-defined EQ options, so you can adjust the sound manually.
Sound from the built-in speakers is good too, and there's plenty of volume. So while headphones will always be the first choice, there are also "out-loud" listening options.
The interface on Music+ is also less pleasant than Google Play Music. The former seems less well thought out. For example, artists don't show album art. It's a small point, but it makes it so much easier to find the artist you're looking for when you can see an image.
So our advice is simple, avoid Music+, unless you're desperate for Dolby Mobile. Which you shouldn't be, because it hasn't earned our love - nor will it earn yours.
DLNA and video playback
There is a DLNA app included on the P1. Called simply "DLNA" it allows you to access the usual shares on your home network. We found there was no problem getting to list all of our various servers, and browsing was no problem either.
With video playback, we did encounter some file types that wouldn't play. This is because of the formats the device can play, rather than because of a shortcoming with the app. MP3 playback via the network was smooth as silk though, and the interface is decent enough. With all that said though, Plex is still a better bet, as it auto-converts video to playable formats, has a much nicer, simpler UI and is generally a more user-friendly system. Even if you don't use Plex's app, it's worth looking at their PC server software, which runs on the machine where your media lives, and serves it out to any devices that want to play it. It's DLNA compliant too, so it works with a host of apps.
Video looks great on the P1 too. That bright and colourful screen lends itself to vivid images. They might not win any awards for being true to life, but they are impressive. And on a phone screen, that's what you want.
Both the app and the camera itself are a bit of a surprise here. The app is decent enough, and there are quite a few manual adjustments you can make. The menus are a little fiddly though, but once you're in them, it's easy enough to find what you're looking for.
There are some Instagram-style filters for permanently ruining your photos in a way only people who hate photography would chose to apply. You can also distort things with some fun effects. We can live without these options, but as the camera is well specified, we'll ignore the horror of Lomo effects.
Results from the camera are good too. In strong light, we were surprised by how good they looked. Detail goes quickly once the light does, but photos are still usable and will do for the traditional cameraphone applications. We did notice some lag at times. It wasn't consistent though, so while pressing the shutter button would usually take a photo straight away, we found that wasn't always the case.
There's a digital zoom too. It's awful, please don't use it.
Call quality, dialer and text messaging
Calls placed from the P1 are clear and loud. We're in a reasonable signal area, with three bars, and call quality was clear enough. There was a little break-up on calls - even those to fixed, rather than mobile phones - but nothing out of the ordinary for our area.
The dialer - the thing through which you make calls, and access the phonebook and your favourites - is very standard. We love this, there's really no need to go to town customising this part of the user interface, and Huawei has left it to look like the stock Google system. It gets the thumbs up from us.
The SMS system is similar, there's the standard layout, with the custom Huawei keyboard. It's fine to use, and it's simple and elegant. Everything here makes this the ideal phone for people who use their phones as, erm, phones.
Despite a slightly average-looking front, the P1 rescues itself with the thin design, and generally being nice to hold. We'd prefer a little more grip on the back of the handset, but this is a small point. The screen isn't so big as to make using the phone one-handed a problem, and we really like that.
The device itself is quick, thanks to that fast processor, and the inclusion of Ice Cream Sandwich is good news, because it's a great OS. There may well be an upgrade to Jellybean in the future, but even if there isn't, this remains a strong phone.
Audio and video both won us over, and this makes for a great multimedia phone. Call quality is good too, and everything is well laid out, even with some slight UI tweaks by Huawei. Indeed, this is one of the closest phones we've used to a Nexus device for purity of Android.
NOTE: The phone used in this review is a slightly different spec to the version that has just launched in the UK. The model available from operators has an 1800mAh battery and an improved rear cover with a more "premium" feel.