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I recently raved about the Nokia Lumia 520. It was the first $150 prepaid phone that I’ve tried that didn’t suck. Of course now that you can buy the 520 for $150, many entry-level Android phones are going to have to drop in price to stay competitive.

So now we have a pair of $78 Android phone: the Huawei Ascend Y210 for TELUS which is available exclusively at Walmart and the Huawei Ascend Y201 on Virgin Mobile. We’ll be looking at the Y210 today.

Before I start we need to have a reality check. The Y210 is a $78 phone. That pretty much makes it the cheapest Android phone you can buy. With a fancy phone, a review is usually about its fancy features and what you get. With the Y210 it’s more about what compromises have to be made to hit the $78 price point and whether they’re acceptable.

It’s also worth exploring whether the Y210 and it’s ultra-low price point are a worthwhile alternative to a feature phone.

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Huawei Ascend Y210, Apple iPhone 5 (just to compare size)

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Huawei Ascend Y210, Y201

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Y201 and Y210

Screen:

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The plastic covered screen measures 3.5” with a resolution of 480x320. While the resolution isn’t very high it’s only 3.5” in size so it has a pixel density of PPI 162 which isn’t THAT bad. Still 480x320 isn’t very high so while it’s not that coarse, it does feel a bit cramped at times.

Now you’re obviously not going to get a TFT screen for $78. Still, the Y210’s STN display doesn’t look all that bad. Viewing angles are better than I was expecting. Colour is also pretty nice. There isn’t too much ghosting.

The plastic screen shows a lot of reflections and gets oily very easily.

I haven’t had a chance to use it under direct sunlight yet.

You won’t confuse it with the HTC One’s display but it’s actually not a bad display.

Camera:

There’s a 2 megapixel camera on the back which can record video at 640x480. There’s a long 2 second lag from when you press the shutter button to when it takes the picture.

Now, megapixels are a poor indicator of image quality. So does the Y210 sport a revolutionary new 2 megapixel sensor where each pixel looks perfectly? Unfortunately no. Even with lots of light pictures are slightly foggy looking and aren’t very clean. It reminds me of a camera phone from 6 years ago.

Video isn’t very good either. The sensor isn’t very sensitive so it has to use slow shutter speeds which results in video that is often choppy and blurry. The microphone doesn’t sound all that great either.

Body:

The plastic on the back is hard and unpainted - It reminds me of the dash on my car. Still, overall the Y210 doesn’t feel cheap. It doesn’t creak or shift much when you squeeze it.

One refreshing thing about the Huawei is that its small size makes it very easy to use with just one hand.

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MicroUSB

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volume buttons

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power button, 3.5mm and headphone jack

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2 megapixel camera, speaker

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You peel off the cover from the bottom

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1750mAh battery, microSD, regular sized SIM card slot.

Software:

While the latest phones are rocking Android 4.1 and 4.2, the Y210 soldiers on with Android 2.3 (For phones it goes Android 2.3 -> 4.0 -> 4.1 -> 4.2). In the case of the Y210 it’s probably better that it ships with an older version of Android since a newer one would probably require more resources.

If you’re wondering what differences there are between 2.3 and 4.x phones, with regards to the Y210 the most important one is that you can’t kill programs from the task switcher. While I don’t normally have to worry about killing programs, this ability actually becomes more important with the Y210 due to it’s limited resources.

There are many other differences like the ability to disable programs, an improved UI, more lock screen options, etc but most probably won’t run well on the Y210’s anyways.

It uses a custom launcher. The most significant difference is that there are toggles for WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, mobile data and an orientation lock. Here’s a tip; if you have trouble running a program try disabling GPS. That will free up some memory.

The keyboard works alright but it has trouble keeping if if you go really fast on it.

There’s also a FM radio and QuickOffice.

Performance:

SunSpider:

SunSpider is a benchmark that runs in the browser and tests javascript performance. Since I don’t review a lot of entry-level phones, I didn’t have any direct competitors (like the LG Optimus L3 and HTC Desire C) to compare with the Y210. Instead, I grabbed some older Android handsets I had sitting around to see how the Y210 compares with them. One thing to consider is that the Y210 has a 480x320 display whereas the other phone’ are 800x480. I do have an old Samsung Galaxy (the original non ‘S’ one) which has a 480x320 display but it has a much older processor and version of Android which would have an effect on benchmark results.

Lower scores are better.

Huawei Y210: 3800
Samsung Galaxy S: 5780.7
Google Nexus One: 5796.7

While all phones have 1Ghz processors and are running Android 2.3, the Y210’s higher scores mean its processor is more efficient in this instance.

Peacekeeper:

Peacekeeper is another benchmark that runs inside a browser. It test HTML5 performance.

Huawei Y210: 195
Samsung Galaxy S: 160
Google Nexus One: 151

At its heart, the Y210 has a Qualcomm MSM7225A processor clocked at 1Ghz. It’s a Cortex A-5 processor.

Most of the time, the processor actually provides adequate performance. The problem is that the Y210 only comes with 256MB RAM and 512MB storage.

When you turn the Y210 on, it only has 80MB of free RAM left. That’s not so bad right? It’s not so bad until you consider turning on location based services uses up around 10MB, opening up the settings to check how much free RAM you have eats up another 10MB. If you stick Facebook Messenger on that actually eats up 20MB of RAM.

If you browse a large webpage and press the home key you’ll actually get to see the launcher re-launch itself. While the Y210 still functions with so little RAM it does so - barely. It can definitely use more.

Many people who get the Y210 will probably give the built-in navigation a try. Before you can use voice-guided navigation first you have to install text to voice. When I tried to install it, Google Play closed (probably due to lack of RAM). After a second try it went on.

When I was actually using navigation it would also close. Ditto for when I’m surfing a large webpage.

In order to run Vellamo, I basically had to remove Facebook Messenger and disable my Gmail.

Another problem is that out of the 512MB of built-in storage only 160MB is left over for programs and storage. While Huawei does supply a 4GB MicroSD with the Y210, some programs can’t be installed onto the MicroSD, so the built-in storage can also fill up quickly. In fact, I don’t even advise updating the built-in programs because many of them (like Google Play, Maps, etc) can’t be moved to SD.

If you get the Y210, the best thing to do would be to install as few extra programs as possible. Also, make sure all your programs are installed to the SD card.

settings -> Applications -> Manage Applications -> choose the program -> Move to SD.

Many lighter apps like Facebook Messenger will run fine as long as you have enough space for them.

If you’re wondering how it does with games, it’s best to stick with only the most basic games. I managed to install Angry Birds, but it doesn’t run very well. Sometimes it will close - probably due to lack of RAM.

When viewing larger webpages the Y210 tends to bog down - sometimes it feels unresponsive. Again, I suspect this is due to lack of RAM.

The key to the Y210 is to not install too many extra programs on it. If you want to try lots of different apps you should probably look for something with more RAM and storage.

As a Media Player:

Huawei includes a 4GB microSD card with the Y210, while most of it’s competitors omit this but give you more built-in storage. I’ll be honest, while the 4GB card is nice, more built-in storage is more useful given how little space there is for programs.

I downloaded BS player and found that while it was able to playback 480p DiVX files just fine, 720p mkv’s were very choppy and not really watchable.

The headphone out is pretty adequate. It sounds fine and should be loud enough for most people.

The built-in speaker doesn’t sound that great. While it’s not that loud it’s louder than I was expecting.

As a Phone:

RF performance is average. The earpiece and speaker phone are both loud enough.

Sound quality is also adequate.

Despite the meager specs the Y210 sports a surprisingly large 1750mAh battery. As such, battery life is very good. It’s one case where a using a Smartphone doesn’t mean sacrificing battery life.

Conclusion:


In the end, the Huawei Ascend Y210 doesn’t really contain any surprises but then again, I wasn’t expecting any. Of course if you can swing it, I’d advise you get something with more RAM, storage and a higher resolution screen. When it comes to buying stuff and you’re debating price vs functionality there’s usually a curve. Usually there’s a sweet spot in the middle where you get most of the functionality you want for a reasonable price. I’ll be honest, the Y210 sits low on the curve; while you don’t pay much you don’t get a lot either.

That said, at $80 the Y210 is obviously aimed at an entry level buyer. Someone who’s curious about smartphones but doesn’t want to spend $700 or sign a contract. Someone who’s not a power user and most importantly, someone who’s mostly going to stick with the built-in apps and not going to install many apps.

The Y210 will do an adequate job - barely. Otherwise I suggest you keep saving and wait for a more powerful phone to go on sale. While researching competitors I noticed that the Samsung Galaxy Discovery on Bell is on sale for $99.99 at Futureshop. It actually has a slightly slower processor but it comes with 512MB RAM and 4GB of built-in storage which should make it much more usable.

Is it better than most other Android Phones? No? Is it better than a feature (dumb) phone? Probably.

If Huawei decides to quickly come out with a successor for 10 dollars more I recommend they include 384MB of RAM (512MB would be even better), ditch the included microSD and include 2GB (4GB would be better) of built-in storage. If they’d do that I’d probably be pretty excited about it because then it would be much more capable.

Now the Y210 is only $78 bucks. Since it’s only 78 bucks there’s really no point listing the camera as a con. For $78, the only thing I expect from the camera is that it’s present. So in that sense, I don’t have that many pros or cons for the Y210.

Pros:

  • Cheap
  • Reasonably well built
  • large battery
  • adequate as a phone


Cons:

  • Needs more RAM
  • Needs more built-in storage