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Huawei Ascend P1 Review (video)

The thin phone craze has reached its zenith, as we’ve come to expect newer phones to shed weight and girth in favour of pocket-friendly (and battery-unfriendly) form factors. Huawei, a relative newcomer to the Canadian market, has launched the Ascend P1 on WIND as a stylish and functional mid-range device. For $399 it has all the right specs to appeal to budget-conscious buyers, but does its slice of stock Android have enough firepower to convince people it’s a better deal than the Galaxy Nexus?

Specs:

- Android 4.0.3 with custom Huawei skin
- 4.3-inch 960×540 Super AMOLED display
- 1.5Ghz TI OMAP 4460 SoC with PowerVR SGX540 GPU
- 1GB RAM, 4GB internal storage (512MB microSD card included in box)
- 8MP camera w/ flash, 1.3MP front-facing camera
- 1670mAh battery
- UMTS 850/900/1700/1900/2100; GSM 850/900/1800/1900
- 110g
- 129 mm x 64 mm x 7.69m

Device & Display

The Ascend P1 is attractive – the black front is curved at the bottom and has limited bezel, with three capacitive buttons below the 4.3-inch qHD screen and a notification light just above it. We’re happy to see Huawei eschew the unnecessary Search button in favour of a three-button layout, but we’d have preferred no capacitive buttons at all. The white plastic casing is glossy and scratch-prone, picking up fingerprints and scuffs too easily. The black-white contrast is elegant, however, and the chrome buttons and camera lens, while plastic, provide the phone with a bit of needed classiness.

The device is slim — 7.69mm at its thinnest point — but there is a sizeable chin at the bottom, and the 8MP camera sticks out of the back like a symmetrical wart. We’re quite happy with the design overall, and its relative small nature makes the Ascend P1 very comfortable to hold in the hand. The 1670mAh battery is non-removable, and you’ll find a full-sized SIM card slot next to the microUSB charging port on top, while a microSD slot shares the right side with the power button.

Huawei’s Ascend P1 doesn’t try anything new when it comes to displays, either, but for the most part the choice works. The 4.3-inch Super AMOLED screen is lush, vivid and bright, with excellent viewing angles, deep blacks and an assured crispness that tries its best to make you forget its PenTile origins. Only when looking closely at the individual pixels can you tell there are slight aberrations on letters and a discomfiting moire pattern on certain graphics and images. It’s not distracting, and can be compared to the HTC One S in acuity. In all, the Ascend offers a very good display for a couple hundred dollars less than the One S, which is a nice compliment. The same can’t be said for the scratch-prone plastic body, but you’re unlikely to be disappointed in the design of the P1.

Performance & Software

The Ascend P1 comes with a fairly stock version of Android 4.0.3 — that is, if you use the included 2D Launcher. Huawei also throws in its own garish, sluggish 3D Home launcher that, while it may look good at first, bogs down the device with transition flourishes and unnecessary effects.

If you stick to the 2D Launcher, which is Google’s stock Trebuchet as far as we can tell, you’ll be quite happy with the zippy performance of the Ascend P1. The internal hardware — Texas Instruments’ OMAP 4460 SoC at 1.5Ghz and 1GB RAM — is still pretty fast for a modern smartphone. It’s the same hardware, clocked 300Mhz higher, as the Galaxy Nexus, but the aging PowerVR SGX540 GPU doesn’t have to push as many pixels. This makes it a really able gaming device and, if browsing is your thing, Chrome renders most pages with aplomb.

We found touch performance to be spot-on, and the compact handset felt just right when held in landscape; for that reason, we’d have no problem recommending the Ascend P1 to Android gamers, a growing community indeed. We managed to stream a good amount of 720p and 1080p video and the lower-bitrate stuff played fine but the GPU struggled to decode some of the more difficult stuff.

Camera

The Ascend P1 has a decent 8MP camera that won’t turn many heads with its soft photos and overexposed outdoor shots, but for the most part it is a consummate performer in most respects. Huawei has adapted Google’s stock hardware-accelerated real-time morphing abilities, expanding it to include not only face-related processing, but the ability to morph entire scenes a la Paper Camera. While these features won’t be widely used, they’re useful for playful photo sharing.

The Ascend P1 takes photos fairly quickly, though unfortunately it doesn’t have the instant shutter that debuted on the Galaxy Nexus. This is surprising considering the two devices share not only a code base but a hardware base. The f/2.4 lens and 8MP sensor work quite well together, and in the right conditions you’ll get a good shot or two. The device is quite sensitive to shakiness, so a steady hand should solve any bluriness in lower light.

The device can take 1080p video, which is also comparatively soft when compared to newer devices, with a lower bitrate than the Galaxy S III and One X. The sensor also has trouble adjusting to lighting changes, causing a 1-2 second period of over- or under-exposure.

Battery Life

The 1670mAh battery inside the Ascend P1 is non-removable, so it’s a good thing the device isn’t too power hungry. We were able to achieve nearly 18 hours of continuous use from the Ascend on WIND’s network, something that can’t be said of most Android phones today. While we’re aware the relatively small battery was necessary to keep girth to a minimum, we wish Huawei hadn’t gone the “beauty contest” route and instead opted to put a 2000+mAh battery inside the device. We’d much rather have a full day-and-a-half uptime than a wispy smartphone.

Network Speed & Miscellanous

The Ascend P1 is a pentaband device capable of 21.1Mbps download speeds and 5.76Mbps upload speeds. With the network still in its relative infancy, we were not expecting to hit speeds anywhere near that on the Huawei and we were absolutely right. Download speeds in downtown Toronto averaged 500kbps to 2.2Mbps; upload speeds stayed between 90kbps and 880kbps. In other words, not very fast. The WIND network, while improving throughout the country, is a still a good deal slower than even Rogers/TELUS/Bell’s 3G network.

The device does come with a microSD card slot, but a meagre 512MB card is bundled. Along with an underserving 4GB of internal storage, you’re likely going to want to invest in a 8-32GB microSD card.

We noticed that the P1 sounds great over WIND’s network, and the back speaker is fairly loud and clip-free for a tiny mono crevice.

Conclusions

The Huawei Ascend P1 does everything mostly right, and its weaknesses are built into the price. A decent performer with a mostly-stock version of Ice Cream Sandwich, the $399 handset is one of the fastest, thinnest, and most attractive mid-range devices on the market.

While WIND still sells the Galaxy Nexus for $499, there’s a chance they will lower it to the $299 mark set by Mobilicity in the coming weeks. If they do so, the Ascend P1 becomes much harder to recommend despite its all-round goodness. Still, the Ascend P1 sits nicely below the Galaxy Nexus and Galaxy S III in WIND’s back-to-school roster and is a great device for someone looking to simplify, downsize or merely save a few bucks.

  • Sean

    Pretty good medium range device. Glad to see more carriers carrying phones that are around $400 off contract instead of either cheap or expensive phones

    • Tim

      is this bb10?

  • photomike

    I love this device. I would rather the thin body and price point on this device then paying $499 for the galaxy nexus. I really hope Huawei will bring more of their mid and high end devices to Canada specifically to wind.

  • Jimmy

    Mobilicity Galaxy Nexus or Koodo S 2 X

  • Oiluji

    Switching to Wind over a year ago was the best decision I’ve made when it comes to cellphone providers.

    Being released from Rogers’ handcuffs and chains of constant limitations, coupled with slap-in-the face, disrespectful bills, and saying “Hello!” to unlimited everything with a constant monthly bill was effin’ amazing!

    Until my last day, Rogers won’t see a cent from me. Same goes for the other 1.5 – Bellus.

  • Gsizzle84

    Rather have the GNex. Its on sale for $299 +tax at Mobilicity.

    • JC Denton

      Sure, if you want to take 3 hours driving/calling around to find one that has it in stock and will sell it to you without treating you like a criminal first.

  • Why?

    Why would anyone bother with this phone when Mobilicity is selling the Galaxy Nexus for $100 cheaper?
    I would’t touch a Huawei phone with a 10 foot pole.

  • Ivan

    If wind were available where I am, I’d go for this. Huawei phones are alright. Besides, maybe if a few more companies agained some traction we might see some better price points.

  • Android Fanboy

    Great phone, but why would you purchase this when Mobilicity is charging 100$ less for the galaxy nexus. If the pricing for this was 300$ outright, it would be a different ball game.

  • Darren

    Is this more desirable than the Galaxy Nexus? “No Huawei!”

  • Junaid Abdus Samad

    I purchase this phone on wind tab just 2 days ago. The phone is really good but i am returning this phone as it is having signal problem that is very very low or no signal. When i place the same SIM in my old phone at same place it works with 100% signal.

  • Janika

    Junaid Abdus Samad; It’s weird that you are experiencing “reception issues. I also have a Huawei Astro, which is the cheaper model from wind and has only Droid 2.3, but since May, I only had one signal issue, and that was when we had a huge storm in London, On. I think these phones deserve more credit. The company has been around for long enough. Good value handsets that are highly popular at other parts of the Globe. I came from Fido and unlimited calling / text was a blessing. I got real sick of the number games and restrictions and the $8/mnth call display :( Wind may not be perfect (yet) in Canada, but with close to half a million customers, They are here to stay.

  • Richard

    Mr. Bader didn’t mention the rather poor keyboard layout(mentioned in other reviews) and not so great spellchecker on the P1.

    I would wait until the Huawei Ascend D-quad is introduced in Canada later this year. Also, the price point on the P1 at Wind is about $100 to much. Wind Mobile should follow the Mobilicity model by lowering its price on the Galaxy S3 and the Huawei P1.

  • Android FTW

    Looks like a great phone. Love the pure ics feature. Now, if wind can improve their network speed and connection, this will really become a great phone.

  • Eric

    My wife and I switched over to wind on august 31st, 2012. We both decided to get this phone after I had read through reviews on the available phones. I have to say that we both really liked the features (display, OS, camera..) that were offered. Unfortunately within the first weekend of getting the phones mine rebooted for no apparent reason (while I was changing wallpapers) and she had issues with being able to see the screen after placing a call (light sensor issue?). We called wind about her issue and they said they would replace it but I was not willing to take the risk in keeping this phone because I want to have it for 3 years to honour the windtab agreement. We both decided to switch to the motorola razr which turned out to be cheaper because of a promotion – WOOT!. I have read that build quality is suspect and after my experience i definately agree. It is unfortunate because we both really liked our phones.

    Hope this helps..

  • Stevie

    Darn! Should have waited half a year.

    Had bought a Huawei U8860 (called Honor/Mercury in the States)in Feb. Love it very much! Rock solid. Fast. Changeable long-lasting battery.

    To those brainwashed folks, stick to your overpriced Samsung or iPhone. I don’t like carrying the same generic phone as gazillion others anyway.

  • Yuss’r

    A 512MB MicroSD card? Is that a joke? May as well just saved the plastic and not included anything. I thought 2GB was the lowest you could offer nowadays.

  • Nukes little buddy

    My brother moved to Quebec for a year to work. As you may know, Wind does not have service in Quebec.

    I paid Wind $30 to suspend his line for 6 months, from June 23 to December 23. And I was told I could call back later, pay another $30 and extend the suspension again.

    Well I called in to double check that tonight, and it turns out Wind has changed their policy. Now, you cannot suspend a line unless the phone is lost/stolen or you are travelling and the suspension is limited to 7 days.

    The only choice Wind has left us, is to pay for service not in use, or to cancel.

    With no tab, it’s obviously cheaper to cancel for the remainder of the period.

    I just changed his Koodoo plan from Canada-Wide Super 6GB to Canada Wide Double Promo 57. When he comes back to Toronto he’ll decide whether to run back to Wind, my guess is this news will piss him off and he won’t… RIP out 2nd HMP $40 (the first was mine, but I gave it up voluntarily to leave for Bell)

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