Huawei has had its place in the smartphone world for some time now, but that place has been at the lower end of the market with device’s such as the Blaze offering a good quality, cut-price option for consumers.
Now, the Chinese firm is making a break for the upper echelons of the market, launching the Ascend P1 as a high-end device with some impressive features. Will this prove enough to see Huawei’s handsets being talked about in the same terms as those of Samsung and Apple?
- Dual-core, 1.5GHz Cortex A9 processor
- 4.3-inch super AMOLED display
- 4GB internal storage
- 8 megapixel camera
- 1080p video recording at 30fps
- 7.7mm thick
- 110g weight
- Android Ice Cream Sandwich
- 2000mAh battery
Design and Build
With an angular frame that just falls short of having sharp edges, the Ascend P1 is an unusual looking handset covered mostly in a shiny plastic coating that can be a little hard to grip. While the manufacturer claims that the device is only 7.7mm thick the camera lens protrudes from the frame along with the lower lip, meaning that the measurement is not uniform.
However, this is picking at details somewhat and the P1 certainly feels like a slim handset, an effect added to by the fact that it weighs only 110g and is one of the lightest high-end devices that we’ve ever tested.
On the downside, the 4.3-inch display is surrounded by quite a significant amount of bulk, especially at the top and bottom of the frame. This makes the overall size of the handset quite big compared to its screen size and the device is noticeably larger than Motorola’s RAZR i despite having a display of the same size.
We also found that a gap under the raised bevel that runs around the edge of the display is a magnet for dirt and it picked up several chunks of grime while we were using it which proved very difficult to get out.
Although the Ascend P1’s display has quite a low ppi of 256 it performs well, being surprisingly crisp. While not as bright and luminescent as a Retina display or that on the Samsung Galaxy S III, the super AMOLED screen does its job and manages to show colours with quite a high degree of saturation and there is enough contrast to make details like icons stand out from the background.
Touch controls are very responsive, making the handset itself feel lively and quick. Huawei seems to have reduced the thickness of the layer of Gorilla Glass that sits on top of the display and this gives the impression that the user interface is sitting right on top of the screen rather than being behind a thick piece of glass.
Under the Hood
Inside is a dual-core, 1.5GHz Cortex A9 processor with 1GB of RAM which is not as fast as the quad-cores that have become commonplace this year but is still impressive nonetheless. With a processor of this speed there is never going to be any problem performing simple tasks and navigating around the user interface but we did notice that online performance isn’t particularly fast and some webpages were quite slow to load.
Playing simple, fast-paced games is no problem at all and there is very little lag in any of the handset’s functions. For everyday use the chip built into the P1 is more than adequate and we think it will prove to be capable of taking on more than it currently has to, should a Jelly Bean upgrade emerge in the future.
Running the AnTuTu benchmark app we found that the P1 performed reasonably well, achieving a final result of 3.5 stars and outpacing both the Samsung Galaxy S II and LG Optimus 2X. However, the device proved to perform worse than several of the big name handsets that Huwaei could be lining it up against including the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and Galaxy S III.
The only significant drawback that we found with the P1’s innards is that it only comes with 4GB of internal storage, considerably smaller than other high-end devices which are often available in 8GB, 16GB and even 32GB versions. However, there is room for a microSD card which can support up to 32GB cards.
Fitting the P1 with a 1670mAh battery means that it will not have the longest life of any handset around but it did last a day even with quite heavy use. Inevitably it is the handset’s screen which accounts for most of the battery usage and the phone did last a good while on standby, although Huawei doesn’t appear to have made public any of its own stats on battery life as of yet.
Operating System and User Interface
As mentioned earlier it is possible that a Jelly Bean update could be introduced at some point in the Ascend P1’s future but for now it runs Android Ice Cream Sandwich, the same launch platform that was seen on the Galaxy S III and HTC One X.
Huawei has made a very unusual and very interesting move with the user interface on its latest device, allowing users to switch between several themes developed by the manufacturer and the stock, unaltered Android software itself.
This means that buying a P1 will provide a user with the standard version of Android seen on the handsets which have been launched under Google’s Nexus project, many of which have been very well received by consumers due to the lack of manufacturer’s customisation that exist within them.
Hardcore Android fans could find this stock-Android option very interesting while Huawei’s own skinning of the UI presents a touch of colour that isn’t unattractive. As a platform Android is known for ease of customisation and the way in which Huawei has giving users of the P1 the choice to remove its own alterations and go back to basics is a very generous move that raises questions about why other manufacturers have already done this before.
While Huawei’s re-skinning of the ICS interface is mostly cosmetic without any massive changes to the workings of the OS, the firm has seen fit to include several of its own apps with the P1 which prove to offer an interesting range of features.
There is an unusual inclusion to the phone’s onscreen keypad where a swipe to the right will bring up a virtual version of an old-fashioned, ten button keypad of the type that was for many years seen on old Nokia handsets. Quite why anyone would relish the prospect of tapping the number ‘2’ three times simply to type a letter ‘C’ is beyond us but fortunately Huawei’s other additions are very good indeed.
The Security Guard app provides a management centre for securing data on the phone and blocking unwanted interruptions. A passcode-protected folder offers a phonebook style interface in which all of your passwords can be safely stored and a ‘blacklist’ function allows you to automatically block calls and messages from certain contacts.
A file manager is also included, something which can easily be downloaded to any Android device but is rarely included upon purchase. The accessibility of Android’s file system is incredible compared to that of iOS or Windows Phone and while delving into it is something which many users may find daunting the inclusion of this app follows what seems to be a policy of giving users real choice over how they use the P1.
Lastly, there is a full version of Polaris Office, the powerful and versatile document viewing and editing package that is one of the best options for performing these tasks on a phone.
Camera and Video
Like many other high-end devices, the Ascend P1 features an 8 megapixel camera with a variety of options. Image quality itself may not quite be up to iPhone standards but final photographs are very good, with an excellent level of contrast and colour saturation.
A particular feature which we liked is the touch-focus control which reads the selected area very accurately and can focus on objects as close as only a couple of inches away. Beyond this, Huawei’s camera app provides a good interface and doesn’t clog the screen up with menus, with many of them tucked away in a panel which slides out from the side of the display.
Video can be captured in 1080p at 30fps, with footage being quite smooth and having real depth to it. The only downside we spotted when filming is that the autofocus can be a little slow, resulting in some occasional blurring in the footage.
Connectivity and Multimedia
Huawei has chosen not to include NFC technology with the Ascend P1, something which many manufacturers have done with their high-end handsets despite the jury still being out on whether or not the public will widely adopt the use of it. Also excluded is HDMI output although it is good to see that MHL is included for hooking the device up to a television.
In terms of multimedia, the P1 can play a variety of video formats including MP4 and AVI meaning that anyone with a large digital video library will have no trouble playing files back on this handset. Two music players are included, the standard Google Play Music app and Huawei’s own Music+ which includes the option to use Dolby sound effects on a track.
While we found audio performance to be far from the best available, the Dolby effect adds a noticeable boost to low-end frequencies and make a significant difference to sound quality as a whole.
Performance and Verdict
Huawei’s high-end offering is a good handset which performs well as an all-rounder. We wouldn’t go so far as to say the device looks great but it is certainly slim and light, making it easy to use and carry around and its primary features (processor, OS and camera) work well as a package.
What is most interesting is the way in which Huawei gives the user a great deal of choice about how to use the handset. We don’t know if this is a deliberate policy of the company or something that has simply emerged during the design and manufacturing process but the way in which Huawei’s own user interface can effectively be switched off to allow access to the stock Android software is outstanding.
Another smaller but still significant indicator of this is the inclusion of a file manager which points towards the manufacturer being willing to give user access to the most basic elements of the operating system. Huawei could well end up making some of the most open and accessible Android devices around and the Ascend P1 is a good first step down this road.