If you're familiar with any of the Huawei handsets available in Australia already, you'll be in for a surprise when you first see the P1. The P1 is slim, lightweight and features an incredibly good-looking screen; all of which are departures from the sub-AU$200 phones we've seen in the past.
But then, the Ascend P1 differs in price, too. At AU$499 RRP, the P1 is considerably more expensive than previous Huawei handsets, and only slightly cheaper than handsets from other manufacturers that offer similar specifications. Many Huawei phones have passed on the "too cheap to criticise" card before now, but the same cannot be said for the P1. It needs to stand on its own merits.
Our review unit had a ceramic white-coloured cover, though all stock in Australia will be black.
Physically, it does so. Its 4.3-inch AMOLED display is bold and colourful, erring towards an over-saturated glow, which we think many smartphone users will appreciate. Yellows and reds are especially strong, but not so much that it damages the image in any way. Its qHD resolution doesn't offer as many pixels as the HD screens of the Samsung Galaxy S3 or the HTC One X, but it is more than adequate for everyday use.
Though the P1 runs on Google's Ice Cream Sandwich OS, Huawei has followed Samsung's lead and foregone on-screen navigation buttons, opting for three touch keys below the screen, including a Back button — something that Google doesn't offer with its virtual controls. The handset generally does feel a bit cheap, even though we love how the plastic build keeps the handset lightweight. Samsung uses a similar approach, but ends up with a product that feels like it earns its price tag. This is a subjective appraisal though, and your opinion on this may vary.
Huawei seals the phone's 1670mAh battery within the handset, so you cannot access the battery without cracking open the phone's plastic chassis. It has slots on the outside for a full-sized SIM (not the increasingly popular micro SIM) and a microSD card for expanding the handset's paltry 2GB of internal storage (it is advertised as 4GB, but only 2.3GB is user accessible).
User experience and performance
Recently, we've been hearing good things about the upcoming Huawei Emotion UI for its top-of-the-line handsets — with 3D controls and widgets, similar to HTC's Sense UI. Our P1 review unit doesn't have Emotion, though it does feature some of the same ideas. There is a 2D and 3D home-screen option, which can be easily toggled by using the Menu key on any home-screen window. 3D mode creates a faux third-dimension effect, where widgets on the home screen appear to rotate around a central axis and have depth to the sides of them, as they turn in and out of view. It's a neat effect, and it works efficiently on the hardware inside the P1.
3D mode in the Huawei UI.
Most other UI elements work just as well, with the handset's dual-core 1.5GHz processor, PowerVR SGX540 graphics processor and 1GB of RAM providing adequate power to create a seamless user experience. Apps launch quickly, and 3D games run smoothly. In benchmarks, the P1 holds its own against the comparably priced Sony Xperia S, but predictably falls short of the more powerful, and more expensive, Samsung Galaxy S3 and HTC One X.
Our battery tests were a confusing mix, though, throwing up both weak and excellent comparison figures. When playing a looping 720p video file, the P1 lasted a remarkable 7.5 hours, making it one of the most enduring smartphones in this test. However, its continuous web-browsing test offered far less, with only 3 hours of browsing on a Wi-Fi network before it needed a recharge — placing it amongst the weakest contenders in this testing bracket. Anecdotally, the P1 fared well in everyday use, making it through a standard business day's worth of use, but if battery life is important to you, it might be worth your while to choose either the Samsung Galaxy S3 or Note, both of which have batteries well over 2000mAh in capacity.
Battery life (time)
- Wi-Fi browsing
- 720p looping video
- 7h 30m
- Ascend P1
- 7h 0m
- Sasmung Galaxy S3
- 4h 0m
- HTC One X
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Perhaps the greatest surprise in this smartphone is the quality of the camera. On paper, it sounds good: an 8-megapixel backside-illuminated image sensor, auto-focus, LED flash and the full suite of Ice Cream Sandwich image tools. But it's the final result that put a smile on our faces. Images are consistently sharp, showing good detail and colour. They do tend toward being over-exposured, and close inspection on a PC shows up more noise in the image than you'll get from some of the major competitors, but, overall, this is a nice smartphone camera.
Considering that the P1 is available as an outright purchase in Australia, it is important to note that the handset is a pentaband 3G model, supporting the 3G bands of all the major Australian networks, including Telstra's and Vodfafone's 850MHz network, and the 2100MHz network that forms the backbone of the Optus network.
There's also Wi-Fi, compatible with 802.11 b/g/n LAN networks, with support for Wi-Fi Direct file sharing. There is Bluetooth 3.0 on-board, too, and the micro-USB port is MHL compatible, so you can connect a micro-HDMI cable to the handset with the appropriate adapter, though this is not included in the sales kit.
One of the biggest differences you'll notice between Huawei's top-shelf phone and the those from Samsung, HTC, Sony, etc, is its lack of pre-installed content and services. The other major brands have spent a lot more money than Huawei on building out their businesses, and the results show in the apps installed on new models. Samsung has Music Hub and Quickflix, Sony has its video- and music-streaming services, plus PlayStation games and integration. A new Huawei phone is bare bones by comparison.
But then, maybe this isn't such a bad thing. After all, these services listed above all cost extra money to activate and make use of. If you want streaming music on the P1, you can download Spotify, and the Google Play store has plenty of movies that you can rent and stream.
The P1 is seriously lacking storage, though; something that we noticed as soon as we loaded it with our sample media files. With only 2GB of accessible memory, nearly all smartphone users will need to fork out extra for a microSD card. This is an expense that we recommend you add in before comparing the P1 to other phones on price.
The Ascend P1 is light years better than any Huawei handset we've ever seen, but it's only just on par with the phones we've reviewed already this year from Samsung, HTC, LG and Sony. Its AU$499 is also a bit of a surprise; not that we think this is expensive for the quality of product on offer, but it isn't the considerably cheaper price tag we've come to expect from Huawei. If you have AU$500 to spend on a new, outright phone, you have a choice of quite a few excellent handsets, including the Nokia 800, the Galaxy Nexus or even an older iPhone 3GS.
Huawei's phone definitely holds its own against the competition. Its processor is fast, its screen is good and it has a decent 8-megapixel camera. You will need to factor in the extra expense of buying your own memory, and, once you add that to the RRP, one of the competitors' models may seem like an even better deal.