You may remember the name Huawei not just from national newspaper headlines, but also from cheap smartphones like the sub-par, sub-$200 Ideos X1. Now the company is out to impress with beefier hardware, thinner handsets designs and nifty interfaces that show that Huawei is finally growing up.
What Is It?
The Huawei Ascend P1 sports a dual-core 1.5Ghz Cortex A9 processor with 1GB of RAM, an eight-megapixel rear-facing camera with 1080p video capture, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, all wrapped into a 7.69mm-thick chassis with a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED screen. The display runs a native resolution of 540x960 pixels and runs them at 256 pixels per inch (PPI).
The one we tested reportedly had only 659MB of RAM (according to GeekBench), ran Android Ice Cream Sandwich version 4.0.3 and was dressed in white.
We'll start off from the guts of the handset and work our way out, because these are impressive numbers.
The Ascend P1 designed to compete against phones like the Samsung Galaxy S II and the HTC One S, and for a phone that costs less than both of its rivals, it boasts higher specifications out of the box.
The Huawei Ascend P1 carries a dual-core 1.5Ghz Cortex A9 processor, beating the Samsung Galaxy S II's dual-core 1.2Ghz Exynos 4210 processor and matching the One S' dual-core 1.5GHZ Snapdragon S4. On other fronts, the Ascend P1 goes toe-to-toe with its competitors with its 8-megapixel camera and 1GB of RAM.
We benchmarked the HTC One S and the Samsung Galaxy S II against the Ascend P1 in Geekbench 2 and surprisingly, the Huawei trounced them both with a score of 1111, compared to the 987 of the One S and the 867 of the Galaxy S II. To put that even further into context with how impressive this thing is, the iPhone 4S running iOS 5.1.1 scored an embarrassing 629 thanks to its 800Mhz clock-speed.
But of course, it's not all about the benchmark numbers, it's how the handset puts rubber to the proverbial road.
Most of the time, the Ascend P1 is lightning fast to use. I only found noticeable dragging when scrolling around the home screen with Huawei's "3D Mode" enabled. That's not to say it displays 3D, rather it's just a fancy way of saying better window transitions. Turning back to 2D mode actually gives you the closest thing to stock Ice Cream Sandwich you could want for on an Android handset that doesn't have the word "Nexus" in the name.
The screen produces vivid whites and it's great to look at, but for some reason icons on the home screen look a bit fuzzy sometimes.
There isn't much to complain about with the Ascend P1. The only issues I have are the fact that the handset can feel quite cheap in your hands when you go hands-on with something like an iPhone or an HTC One S, and that's down to the all-plastic construction losing out to the aesthetic niceness of glass and brushed aluminium.
The 8-megapixel camera leaves a bit to be desired. Photos in full sunlight can come out a bit too dark, indoor shots are a tad too oversaturated and the shutter lag is something I'd expect out of a phone that was made a year ago, not one that was released in January.
Huawei Ascend P1:
HTC One S:
The only real software issue I found was a random restart every now and then when I went to change the Dolby audio settings in video playback.
The worst thing about the Ascend P1, though, is the lack of carrier support.
Out of the box it supports all of Australia's 3G networks, including Telstra's Next G network, but still for some reason it was skipped over by carriers and relegated to the shelves of Dick Smith stores around the country.
Huawei's still looking to make its money back on this handset, so it's on shelves for $499. Compare that to the $538 price tag of the Galaxy S II and it suddenly starts looking a bit iffy for the underdog Huawei.
You can easily wander into any of the telco retailers in your local shopping centre or high street and walk out with a subsidised handset and a 24-month contract to boot. With the P1 though, you're going to be spending all your pennies up front and you'll still need to go get a service plan after that. That's definitely going to turn a lot of people off.
The Bottom Line
We've looked at the good and we've looked at the bad, but one thing we need to keep in mind throughout this review is the company that made it.
Huawei is a manufacturer that most Australians are probably acquainted with, not through its slew of products like Samsung, LG or Sony but instead they're probably familiar with it from the headlines when the company was banned from tendering for the National Broadband Network contracts on the grounds of national security.
We never found out why Huawei was banned because NBN Co is concerned that the information would damage Australia's relationship with China. That's heavy.
So the Ascend P1 comes at a time when Huawei needs to put on a good show to impress Australia's gadget loving public. Huawei is looking to move beyond selling cheap, low-spec smartphones like the Ideos and now wants to bring gadgets out that can compete in the crowded middle-section of the marketplace. Sadly, the Ascend P1 seems like it's just the opening act.
It's comparable to handsets like the Galaxy SII and the HTC One S but it lacks a certain polish you'd expect from these more established manufacturers, and the fact that it doesn't come subsidised from carriers is going to be a dealbreaker for some before they even pick the thing up to play with it.
It's great for what it is, so long as you like paying upfront for your devices, but this isn't the Huawei I'd buy. The Huawei I'd probably buy is the one that's likely coming early-next year.
In the next six months, Huawei will complete the facilities it needs to bring smartphone board production in-house. As a result, the company will have more choice as to what it puts into its phones. All this means that at next year's CES, we're likely to see Huawei show off a monster phone with better specs, a great display and with support for the all-important 4G/LTE networks that Australia will have in place by then.
Huawei will still want to impress with its hardware, too, so it will likely be all wrapped in the same stylish, light, thin package with a very reasonable price, and by that point, it might even get some carrier support.
So the Ascend P1 is good if you need a thin, light $499 Android smartphone right now, but if you can wait a while, you'll likely be rewarded.