Huawei Ascend P1 LTE

We really liked the Huawei P1 that appeared earlier this year. A solid, likeable and barebones Android handset from the Chinese company that most people still haven't really heard of - and many can't pronounce.

The P1 LTE offers 4G network access on EE, and it's exclusive to that network. There's not a lot of information about which 4G frequencies it supports, but it's fair to guess it's not going to be a phone that you can switch to Vodafone or O2 when those networks launch their 4G services next year.

So what does the P1 LTE offer, and is it worth considering? We've had some time with one to find out and the results are - it has to be said - something of a mixed bag.

Design

Anyone expecting this phone to be a higher-speed version of the original P1 is in for a shock. This phone looks entirely different in every major way. Gone are the slender - world's slimmest for a while - looks and instead we have a more conventional handset that recalls a Nexus phone, more than it does any other kind of device.

We asked Huawei about the styling, surprised that the phone has almost the same name, but looks totally different. The answer was that P1 is really just the term the company gives to its "performance" handset, and the devices will look different with each iteration. It's an iPhone or Nexus style decision, to give the firm a product that people can remember.

Visually, we think it's a bit disappointing. Put it next to the firm's G330 - a £100 budget phone - and the two look virtually identical from the front. The P1 is bigger and more rounded in appearance, but it has lost the high-end look of the non-LTE P1, and that's a great shame. It seems to us that the company will struggle to sell these, in the face of the other LTE handsets on the market.

So, to specifics. On the back of the device is a textured battery cover, we like this a lot, as it gives you some decent control over the device when it's in your hand. It's very unlikely to slip on to the floor and break. There's a camera, as you'd expect, here too, but the lens is surrounded by a red metal ring. It's actually cool-looking, and we quite like the way the rear looks. There are also some logos, that proclaim the device is capable of Dolby Digital Plus and is 4G LTE enabled.

On the left is a power button, and a volume rocker. The top hold the headphone socket, while the right is the USB socket for charging, and if you're anti-cloud, getting data on and off the device.

Pop off the back cover, and you'll see a microSD slot, the removable battery and the biggest SIM card in the known universe - well, since credit card SIMs went the way of Brontosaurus. It seems mad that any 4G phone would opt for a full-sized SIM over a micro or nano these days, but Huawei has done.

We also noticed that our sample, while almost certainly not that old, had some war damage on it. A chip here, and a scratch there suggests it might not be that hardy - our Motorola Razr survived all manner of shenanigans without visible damage. It's not a big deal, but it might be a sign that the materials used aren't that sturdy.

A largely vanilla experience

There isn't much in extra software included with the Huawei, but some of what is there is very handy: for example, the firm provides a backup app. For those who don't know Android well, it's worth pointing out that backups have always been the weakest area for the platform. Google handles a lot of stuff, like email and contacts, but apps and SMS messages have never been handled well. It's sad really. But the Huawei All Backup app does all of this, it's simple too, and if anything goes wrong, it will save your life. The only problem is, it doesn't seem that you can move this data to another manufacturer's handset. Shame.

There's a DLNA app too. It's as rubbish as all DLNA apps, and it will either work, or not work on your home network, with the devices you use. It's entirely impossible to predict if you'll get any value from it, as it's not possible to know if you'll be one of the lucky ones who can use it. If you want DLNA playback, get Skifta, it's much better. And for a media streaming option, get the paid Plex app, it's stunning.

 

You also get Security Guard, which aims to stop on-phone malware, a game called Riptide GP, which is fine, and shows the phone is capable of doing 3D gaming with some skill. It's basic though, and not much fun. You also get an FM radio, which we're always pleased to see, and there's a weather/clock widget too, which is essential since HTC started that craze with the first version of its Sense overlay.

There's not much in terms of other customisations. Huawei adds some quick-setting buttons to the drop-down notification tray, but aside from that and the custom keyboard - and clock widget - what you're looking at here is basic Android Ice Cream Sandwich. It's kind of nice, but with such a small number of tweaks, could Huawei not have gone for Jelly Bean, and made this a device to go after the Nexus 4?

Some people will like this cut-back look, while others might miss some of the more fun features from Sense or Touchwiz. This is a personal matter, and not for us to tell you how to feel.

Phone and text messaging

As a phone, we quite liked the P1 LTE. It's still like having a headstone pressed up against your face in cold weather, and there's no sense you're on a phone, you might as well be talking into a completely smooth lump of plastic, but that's the modern way.

The earpiece is clear to hear though, and call volume is loud enough for normal environments, but forget about using it in busier places. We liked the call quality, which seemed solid even in our home area, which doesn't have exceptional signal coverage - we get 4G, but only just.

Text messaging, the single most important feature in the lives of many, is fine too. It's the stock Android app, but it works well with either the basic Android 4 keyboard or the slightly improved version Huawei includes. We've got a soft spot for the Android keyboard, so we usually stick with that. You can use your voice too, with Google, but it does need a network connection, and it's a bit slow at times. It does work though, surprisingly well in quiet conditions.

Music and Video

The performance of the P1 LTE is impressive in media playback. At least in theory. We had a lot of trouble getting streaming video to play via DLNA and Skifta - which suggests a codec problem on the phone. Plex is unaffected, because the server re-encodes the video.

Local video is okay, if you're playing MP4s, and audio here is managed by Dolby - and it does sound good. Plonk an MKV on the device, and it works well too. We played a short clip from Amazing Spider-man at 1080p and it looked great. We couldn't hear anything though, because the audio was DTS. You'll need to convert, or use a Dolby Digital soundtrack to hear anything - unsurprising, we guess, on a Dolby certified device.

Music was good, with a nice range and clear sound. It's not using any special playback trickery either, it's just quite normal sound that has everything we'd hope to hear. And this was tested on a reasonably expensive set of headphones, but not unaffordable ones - in the £200 range.

So if you're a music or movie lover, this phone could work well for you. Just remember to bring a large SD card to the party, as the built-in storage won't keep you happy at a pitiful 4GB

Camera

The camera tries hard, and it's only a hop, skip and jump away from being quite good. As it stands, it's not bad. There's good detail and colour in the images, and less of that nasty slushiness you sometimes see on some cheap cameraphones.

The one issue we did note is that it's easy to get muck on the lens, and as a result of that, and fairly low-end optics, there is often a washed-out effect on images. You'll see this most on bright days, or when a light source is at the edge if your image frame. It's a bit ugly, but may not be a huge problem most of the time.

The camera app options are decent. You have some daft face-modification effects that are next to useless. Then there are the now-standard Instagram-style image-butchery options, that take your perfectly good photos and make them look like they came from the early 19th century.

It's all easy to use, but lacks any of the excitement of the apps that come with other phones, and build upon the base Android functionality. It's worth pointing out that Windows Phone 8 has some tremendous image add-ins, which Android could really do with.

Battery

At 2000mAh, the battery is decent enough. Use it tiny amounts, and it will stay on for four days. Use it more, and you'll get through the work day with few problems. That's on Wi-Fi, of course. Anything involving 4G will munch through your power like Pac-man through tiny little munchy things.

Verdict

The Ascend P1 LTE is a solid phone. Really, we should love it, as it's a barebones Android experience for the most part, has speedy 4G and seems to manage well with its battery. And indeed, it's reliable and practical, but it's also a bit dull.

Of course, not every phone can be a flagship model, but we'd have loved it if Huawei has made this phone as glorious to look at as the regular, 3G P1. After all, phones sell well when people talk about them - ask Apple and Samsung - and the Ascend P1 LTE is unlikely to cause a fuss based on its slightly average looks.

But a good phone is a good phone, and this is a good phone. If you're more about function than form, then go for this handset, because it won't let you down.

Our P1 LTE was provided by EE, on its 4G network. You can buy this phone direct via its website, should it tickle your fancy.



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