REVIEW: Huawei Ascend P1 Android smartphone
Type: Android Smartphone
Price as reviewed: Around £370, SIM-free
It’s taken a fair few months to hit stores after first being revealed back at the start of the year at the CES 2012 tech tradeshow, but the super-slim Huawei Ascend P1 is finally here. Have the months since we first set eyes on this promising handset been kind to it? Read on to find out!
The Huawei Ascend P1 is one of the thinnest smartphones we’ve ever seen, measuring just 7.6mm thick. That’s considerably smaller than the 9mm iPhone 4S and 8.6mm Samsung Galaxy S3, and just a tad thicker than the 7.1mm Motorola Razr. Like the Razr, the Ascend P1 has a slight lip, placed at the lower end of the handset, which is thicker than the rest and houses the speakers and other circuitry too thick for placement in the handset any other way. It’s comfortable in the hand, but some may feel it a little too slim and flimsy being so thin.
That feeling’s not helped on much by the construction of the phone. Glossy plastic casing with a textured look (but not a physically-raised finish) lack the premium feel found with the glass-backed iPhone or kevlar chassis of the Razr. The edges house a power button, a volume rocker, a 3.5mm headphone jack, a microSD slot and a micro-USB port, with the volume rocker feeling a little loose in our review sample. With no physical buttons on the front of the phone, Google’s Android operating system is navigated using three capacitive touch buttons near the bottom of the phone, with each icon printed on rather than being illuminated.
Things get better when looking at the touch-sensitive 4.3 inch screen however. Stretching almost edge-to-edge across the device, the Super AMOLED display shines at a qHD (960 x 540) resolution, with vibrant colours and strong brightness levels keeping visuals and text crisp. It’s a little glossy, but not so much as to make it impossible to use in sunlight. It’s up there with the best screens we’ve used on a mobile device, though we’d have happily seen a few more pixels pushed in.
Under the hood is a dual-core processor clocked at 1.5Ghz, backed by 1GB of RAM. Sure, it’s not a headlining quad-core processor that the big guns are rolling out, but in all honesty we’ve found so far that they don’t make much of a difference in the current batch of applications available. The Ascend P1 was perfectly zippy, flying through home screens and intensive 3D gaming apps without a problem.
Less positive however is the measly 4GB of internal storage provided by Huawei. You’re going to have to fork out for a decent-sized microSD card if you plan on storing many photos, videos, apps or MP3s on the handset, and you should factor this additional price in when considering the other-wise affordable smartphone.
Interface and apps
The Ascend P1 lands with Google’s Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system onboard. Back at CES this was one of the few handsets to offer the then-latest OS. It’s a little more widespread now than back in January, and once the Nexus 7 launches it’ll be superseded by Android Jelly Bean. Still, as it stands it’s the most up-to-date Google OS available, and Huawei should be commended for its inclusion.
Huawei haven’t done much to customise the standard Google offering, which is a good thing in our books; it’s a fine operating system just how it. Aside from a weather/time widget on the main home screen and a Huawei keyboard, it’s all stock stuff, which is a pleasant move away from Huawei’s sometimes cluttered offerings. Considering Ice Cream Sandwich’s comprehensive multi-tasking functionality, the phone’s dual-core chip and 1GB of RAM held up marvellously well under a heavy load too.
The one place where they’ve obviously added their own special touch is on the lock screen. A central locking icon is surrounded by a circle containing four quick-launch application shortcuts. Dragging the lock icon over your shortcut of choice fires up the corresponding app, meaning you won’t have to (for example) unlock the handset then dive through app folders to quickly snap a photo. It’s not revolutionary (HTC offer similar functionality with their Sense UI) but it’s welcome nonetheless.
In terms of apps, Huawei sensibly avoid bloating out the phone too much. You get access to the usual array of first-party Google apps (Maps, Gmail, YouTube etc), as well as access to thousands more through the Google Play Store. Notable pre-loaded apps include 3D jet-ski racer Riptide GP (which runs like a dream), a DLNA app called simply “DLNA” and Music+. More on those last two in a little bit.
Calling and Messaging
Like much of the Ascend P1 interface, the dialler and contacts book used here is standard Google stuff; clean, uncluttered and perfectly functional. If you’re looking for deep social networking integration with linked Twitter and Facebook accounts you’ll be better served by a HTC Android phone, but again we’re pleased that Huawei have gone for a uniformly clean, simple approach to UI across the board.
Call quality was clear and loud throughout our time with the Ascend P1. Using it on the Three network in an area where we get notoriously patchy signal levels, it constantly maintained two bars worth of signal, and more often than not a full reception. We never experienced any dropped calls or interference.
Likewise, SMS messaging is a simple, stripped back affair that will be familiar to anyone who’s used the stock Android OS before. Huawei veer slightly from the norm by employing their own custom keyboard, but it’s inoffensive and comfortable to use, so much so that you’re unlikely to notice the difference at first glance.
As mentioned earlier, the Ascend P1 has a top notch screen, making it great for gaming and watching videos on, be they streamed from YouTube or side loaded from your own libraries. Sure, you’ll need to bump up the built-in storage with your own memory cards, but it’ll be worth the effort. If you’d rather just stream your own files to the device, the DLNA app does a fine job of accessing your home network; we had it quickly scanning our servers and grabbing content after a quick set-up period, and browsing for the files we were searching for was a piece of cake too. However, some more obscure codecs and video files wouldn’t play nicely with the Ascend P1, so make sure you’ve got a convertor application handy too.
In terms of audio quality, the Ascend P1 sounds great, while the loud speakers are only adequate (not surprising considering the svelte frame of the device) plug in a set of headphones and you’re served a detailed, punchy sound. However, things go a little bit awry when firing up the Music+ app. This employs Dolby Mobile processing. The convoluted system it uses to tweak EQ settings makes it difficult to gauge any real difference in quality when the technology is switched on, while the Music+ interface overall just isn’t as well thought out as that of the stock Google Music app. We’d stay stick with Google’s offering here for the best experience, or hunt down a third-party app.
Still Camera and Video
Huawei have generously popped an 8MP snapper on the back of the Ascend P1, which also has an LED flash for low-light shooting. For the most part, the results are good. In strong lighting, the Ascend P1 is able to highlight lots of detail in a subject, and while the colours captured aren’t particularly punchy, they’re not awfully muted either. There can be a little lag when hitting the shutter button though, but it was too inconsistent for us to pin down a cause. Regardless, it didn’t happen regularly enough to be too much of a bother.
Plenty of image-tweaking manual options are onboard, which is great. Alongside the regular array of Instagram-style filters, you also get manual sliders for things like Exposure, Saturation and Contrast, which can really help to spruce up a dead scene on the fly.
There’s also 1080p video recording onboard. While the stabilisation options don’t match what you’d get with a dedicated handy cam, it’s more than capable of cleanly capturing a moment in motion, without overly ruinous juddering occurring.
Despite a slightly lacklustre slim-line build, the Ascend P1 proves itself to be a more-than-capable Android handset. We’re fans of its clean approach to Android and its zippy processor that’s more than a match for quad-core rivals. It’s disappointing to find a mere 4GB of storage onboard though, which means you’ll have to cough up for an additional microSD card, undermining the mid-range pricing a little. Light both physically and in terms of its streamlined interface and app offering, this is one that comes recommended for fans of Google’s stock Android offering.