Hereís the Huawei Ascend P1 (U9200). Hua-what you say? Look at the logo. No, WordIRC, itís not an NBC phone. Cue the NBC chime ďHu-wa-weiĒ.
If youíve never heard of Huawei theyíre actually a huge player on the network infrastructure side. However, on the handset side theyíre mostly known for making cheap entry level phones. Given Huaweiís size and ambition itís only natural that they're ready to move up the ladder starting with the $400 Huawei Ascend P1.
Huawei is splitting their offerings into 4 different lines. Diamond, Platinum, Gold (letís hope they donít sponsor the Olympics) and Youth. The P1 represents their platinum line so itís aimed at the upper end of the market but not the very top. Iím thinking phones like the HTC One S, Motorola RAZR and Sony Xperia S.
Certainly itís got some nice meaty hardware:
- 4.3Ē 960x540 Super AMOLED display
- dual core 1.5Ghz processor
- 1GB RAM
- 4GB of built-in storage
- MicroSDHC card slot
- 8MP rear facing camera + 1.3MP front facing camera
- quad band HSPA with 21mbps HSPA+ support
- 1670mAh battery
- Android 4.0 (Ice cream sandwich)
The specs arenít the only surprising thing about the P1. In my hand the P1 is a solid device. At its thinnest point itís around 8mm thick while the humps at the bottom and around the camera add another 2mm. The curves on the sides makes it easy to hold.
Motorola RAZR, Hauwei Ascend P1
I showed the P1 to a lot of forum members (a bunch of genuine phone nerds) and everyone was very impressed with both the speed, hardware and build-quality.
Design-wise it can be difficult for companies to make their phones different. Iím not sure if itís just a coincidence or not, but when I look at the P1 I see elements of the Motorola Milestone and Sony Ericsson Xperia x10 Mini and Galaxy S II.
Huawei Ascend P1, Motorola Milestone
Sony Xperia x10 mini, Huawei Ascend P1
Sony Xperia x10 mini, Huawei Ascend P1
Still, thereís only so many things you can do to a thin rectangular slab, plus itís not a copy of any one phone so it looks original enough and not at all like a knock off.
While the P1 has Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) it has Gingerbread style menu buttons like the Galaxy S III. So it has a menu, home and back button. To switch tasks you press and hold the home button.
Power button, MicroSD slot
SIM card slot, microUSB, headphone jack.
Speaker, 8MP camera, dual LED flash.
The screen looks great. Itís a qHD Super AMOLED screen like what you get on the One S. Itís vivid, bright and even though itís pixel are arranged in a penTILE matrix it doesnít look too fuzzy to me. Itís got extremly deep blacks, and excellent viewing angles. While it's the same size and resolution as the RAZR's Super AMOLED it doesn't turn green like the RAZR does when you view it off-angle.
While Super AMOLEDís have a reputation of being over saturated, I didnít find it too overdone on P1. That said the P1 isn't exactly a dull display either. Outdoors in direct sunlight it could be a little better. The sun overpowers the P1ís display though you can usually still read it.
One thing that usually separates beens from has-beens is the camera. Iím over generalizing here, but given equivalent specs, lesser manufacturers usually have worse cameras. Most higher end phones have 8MP cameras but theyíre not all the same.
The camera software is different from the stock ICS camera app. It lacks the ICSís cameras speed and panorama mode but it adds a bunch of special effects and filters.
The P1 actually takes really good pictures. Pictures are sharp, well exposed, detailed and not overly noisy. The sensor has good dynamic range plus focus speeds are decent.
There is some aggressive noise reduction if you take pictures in low light with no flash but I wasnít bothered by it.
Some complaints about the P1 camera are that its shot-to-shot speeds could be faster and that I wish it was able to shoot videos and still photos at the same time. Thereís also no way to turn off the camera sounds and more annoyingly, if your phone isnít muted it will still alert you even when youíre shooting video. So Iíve had quite a few videos ruined because of new message alerts.
Video quality is also excellent. It has good image stabilization and a great microphone. It doesnít pick up much handling noise either.
Frankly, Iím blown away with how good the P1ís camera is and wonder how much money Huawei spent developing it.
While most Android 4.0 phones support MTP and PTP connections to a PC the P1 also supports mass storage mode. Itís a minor thing but when Iím copying large files to and from the P1 I prefer mass storage mode. With mass storage mode you can format your microSDHC to boot up a PC plus it allows you to connect it to a greater variety of devices.
Speaking of storage, thereís 4GB built in but as I mentioned you can expand it with microSDHC cards. Last time I checked 32GB were only $30.
The built-in speaker is pretty loud but it has a big flaw; the sound attenuates more than other phones when itís in my pocket. The speaker grill is too flush with the body of the phone and needs to be recessed a tiny bit. Luckily, a case fixes this problem.
Speaking of cases, Huawei has some TPU cases available for the P1. Here are the blue, yellow and redones. While they donít fit poorly but I wish they were just a tiny bit harder to put on so that theyíd fit a little more snuggly - sort of like the Nokia TPU case that comes with the Lumia 800.
If you decide to get a P1 and are coming from a phone with a microSIM be careful because it actually takes regular sized SIM cards. You have to insert the card into a slot thatís hard to get at so make sure you have a good regular SIM to micro SIM adapter.
At a glance, the Huawei software looks like vanilla Android (like a Nexus phone). Actually there are some customizations but theyíre relatively minor.
Huawei packages their own special home screen but itís turned off by default. The main difference is that it has different animations when you move between home screens. I prefer the stock android launcher
The pull down has been customized with switches to toggle WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, data and the screen orientation. Locking the screen orientation is something I do all the time so Iím glad that Huawei put this feature in.
I was annoyed that the P1 warns me everytime I leave home and switch from WiFi to HSPA.
Thereís a power saving mode which is set to power-saving by default. According to Huawei this reduces the frequency that the P1 updates in the background. My observation is that it also slows down the processor. The P1 has a 1.5Ghz processor but it appears to max out at 1.2Ghz in power-saving mode. To be honest, while there is a difference in performance I donít notice it. I just left the P1 in power saving mode.
Out of the box the keyboard is setup with all the different keyboard languages enabled by default.
The Huawei keyboard has very nice key spacing along with a useful key height feature but it has one huge problem; the bottom row of the keyboard is too cramped. I found myself constantly pressing the comma key instead of the space bar. They should ditch the comma, period, and language keys.
The autocorrect is also very confusing. Iíve tried playing around with all the keyboard settings but it seems the Huawei keyboard doesnít automatically correct typos. I typed in ďdo notĒ but typed it in as ďdonotĒ on purpose. Instead of auto correcting it the P1 just underlines the word. Only when tap the word can I change it to ďdo notĒ. While this is a good way to correct words after the fact, itís really annoying if youíre typing quickly and want the P1 to take care of your mistakes automatically.
Still, you can choose to use the default Android keyboard instead. The default Android keyboard has come a long way and for the most part, works well it also has a fatal flaw. The keys are too short, specially the spacebar. I found myself repeatedly pressing the menu button accidentally. It was really annoying.
Moving back to the Huawei keyboard it also supports Chinese input so you can enter characters using strokes.
I donít really like any of the input methods included with the P1. If you get the P1 Iíd advise you to try a third party keyboard like Swiftkey.
Iím disappointed that the gallery application doesnít have Picasa integration.
Thereís a DLNA program. You can use it to send files stored on the P1 to DLNA compliant devices like most newer TVís, PS3ís, XBox 360ís etc. You can also view files on DLNA servers though out of the box, the P1 doesnít have extensive codec support so itís more for sending files.
When viewing movies thereís support for Dolby Digital. Iím not sure what use this is when viewing movies on the handset but Iím guessing itís useful if youíre watching videos while connected to a TV via a MHL HDMI adapter.
Thereís a ďSecurity GuardĒ program which allows you to store passwords, encrypt specific files plus black or white list contacts and phone numbers.
Other extra programs include: AppInstaller, Flashlight, Music+, Notes, Sound Recorder and a File Manager.
To compare the P1ís performance (OMAP4460) I included the Motorola RAZR (OMAP4430), HTC One S (Qualcomm S4 Snapdragon 8960), and HTC One X (quad core Tegra 3). While the RAZR And One S are P1 competitors the One X is priced higher. I included the One X just so we can compare the difference between the P1ís OMAP and the One Xís Tegra 3 processor.
SunSpider (lower is better):
Motorola RAZR: 1945.7
HTC One X (HSPA): 1705.4
Huawei Ascend P1: 1521.6
HTC One S: 1519.5
The P1 actually and RAZR have similar processors but the P1ís is actually clocked about 25% higher (1.5Ghz vs 1.2Ghz). Interestingly, the scores reflect this even though my RAZR is still running Android 2.3
Vellamo (higher is better):
HTC One S: 2455.52
HTC One X (HSPA): 1644.17
Huawei Ascend P1: 1608.39
Motorola RAZR: 1006.54
Vellamo is a suite of browser benchmarks. Here there are probably a couple of reasons why why the P1 scores so much higher than the RAZR here. Itís clocked 25% faster, itís GPU is also clocked higher plus weíre comparing Gingerbread and Ice Cream Sandwich.
While the HTC One Xís display has a higher res than the other phones itís interesting to look at the differences in performance since most games run at a phoneís native resolution.
GL Benchmark 2.1.5 (on screen, higher is better):
HTC One S: 6528
HTC One X (HSPA): 5434
Huawei Ascend P1: 4763
Motorola RAZR: 3436
GL Benchmark is a gaming benchmark that utilizes OpenGL. Here the P1ís processor lags behind the Tegra 3 and S4 Snapdragon though itís around 35% faster than the RAZR. I chalk up the greater than 25% difference due to the P1ís higher clocked PowerVR SGX540 GPU (384 vs 304Mhz).
All phones manage over 30fps in GL Benchmark so none do particularly bad.
Basemark (FPS, higher is better):
HTC One S: 46.17
HTC One X (HSPA): 18.31
Huawei Ascend P1: 16.58
Motorola RAZR: 12.11
Basemark is another 3D gaming benchmark. Iíve found Basemark loves the S4 Snapdragons and hates everything else. Again we see a greater than 35% difference between the RAZR and P1 which I figure is due to the faster processor and GPU.
While the S4 Snapdragon does really well the P1ís Basemark score is only about 10% lower than the Tegra 3 powered One X. The P1ís processor seems like a good compromise for its screen resolution and price.
While the P1 doesnít set any of the benchmarks on fire, in practice it doesnít feel like a slow phone. Itís actually faster than most phones which are priced lower.
I tried a variety of programs and games on the P1 and all run just fine as does the operating system.
To test the battery life I turn on airplane mode, charge the battery, maxed out the brightness and played a video until the phone shut off.
Battery test (mins, higher is better):
Motorola RAZR: 303
HTC One S: 190
Huawei Ascend P1: 279
AnTuTu tester (higher is better):
Motorola RAZR: NA
HTC One S: 610
Huawei Ascend P1: 408
I wouldnít say that battery life is bad but my seat of my pants feeling is that itís slightly above average so you might make it through the day if you set brightness to auto.
As a Phone:
While the P1 is available from Wind itís worth pointing out that it supports 21Mbps HSPA+ on 5 bands (penta-band). So as long as it's unlocked it will work on AWS carriers like Wind, Mobilicity, T-Mobile as well as Rogers, TELUS, Bell and AT&T.
I actually tested it on Rogers so I didnít get a chance to see if the P1 supports HD Voice on Wind.
RF performance and sound quality are both very good. Itís a pretty clean sounding phone. Maximum earpiece volume is sufficient.
Iíll be honest, I wasnít expecting much from the P1. I figured it would end up being like a cheap copy of an iPhone or a Galaxy. So to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the P1 would be an understatement. Iím blown away by how good the P1 is. Think Iím exaggerating? I took my main micro SIM card out of Galaxy S III, stuck it in the P1 and Iím perfectly happy. Thatís how good it is. Yes, my S III costs 50% more but theyíre very different phones and each has their strengths and weaknesses.
My S III has a faster processor but the P1 doesnít really feel any slower. The S IIIís camera is faster and more capable but the P1ís still takes pretty good pictures. The S III does have a bigger higher resolution display but I like how the P1ís smaller screen makes it easier to hold and use with one hand.
The HTC One S has similar specs to the P1 but it costs $100 more, has a metal body a faster processor and more capable camera but no expandable storage. The One S is a really nice phone but itís not worth $100 more.
The Motorola RAZR is the same price. It has a fancy kevlar body but Iím not a fan of Motorolaís Android customizations plus theyíre quite slow when it comes to updating their phones.
In the end, if you want a really cool phone you donít have to spend iPhone/Galaxy S III money. Just save your money and get a Huawei Ascend P1.
- build quality
- built in keyboards
- only 4GB of built in storage