Budget phone. The very sound of those two words, together, makes me slightly ill. In fact, it makes me almost immediately seethe with a sort of "nerd-rage." I hate the way budget phones are peddled onto the tech-illiterate by commission-motivated hucksters at "Big Four" carrier phone stores. I hate seeing people get locked into 2-year contracts because they got a "great deal" on a smartphone. "It was free!" they'll say, and that the nice sales representative (his name was Jimmy) kept them from buying "something they didn't need," because they walked in with a firm spending limit and they weren't going to budge! I hate to then see that "free" phone utterly destroyed and broken just 6 months later, so that they end up making a $100 insurance deductible claim to get the same crappy phone again. But most of all, I hate the way that all of these budget phones completely, totally, suck. It's like watching the same B horror movie, over and over again. Really, buying a budget smartphone on a 2-year agreement is like buying a car (the expensive monthly plan) in order to get a free $100 Chile's gift certificate (the phone) - just plain dumb.
Enter the Huawei Honor. It's a budget phone. In fact, it's a mere $299.99 unlocked (it will be available on Cricket Wireless under a different name soon). That's half the price of your average high-end Android smartphone. You can use it on almost any regional carrier in the US (it's SIM unlocked, using standard GSM 3G bands with 14.4Mbps HSPA), as well as nationals like AT&T and T-Mobile. But the end point here is that you're free to use it pretty much wherever.
Now, if you're looking to buy your first smartphone with all the top-notch 4G speeds and data bundles on a major national carrier and are willing to pay $80-100 a month for your plan, this isn't the phone for you. In fact, you should never buy a budget smartphone on a major carrier if you plan on paying that much monthly, because you're getting ripped off. But that's a rant for another day.
The Huawei Honor is the perfect phone for two kinds of people: the person on a low-rate regional carrier (eg, MetroPCS, Bell South, US Wireless, etc) who wants a decent smartphone without having to buy an expensive data plan or get locked into a contract, or the person that needs a second smartphone for business or international travel (or any other reason). I'm sure there's other ways to justify it, but those are the big ones. Why?
The Honor is different from your average unlocked budget phone. Mostly because it doesn't suck. In fact, it's actually pretty good - even before taking price into account. That's something to get at least a little excited about.
Specifications: Huawei Honor
- 1.4GHz Qualcomm MSM8255T Snapdragon single-core processor with Adreno 205 GPU
- 4" LCD display (480x854 - 245DPI)
- 512MB RAM / approximately 2.8GB usable internal storage (0.8GB for apps, 2GB internal SD)
- 8MP rear camera with 720p video / 2MP front camera
- 1900mAh battery
- Android 2.3.6 Gingerbread with Huawei overlay (upgradeable Android 4.0 in the near future)
- Thickness: 11mm
- Weight: 140g
- This phone is pretty fast for a $300 piece of kit - it powers through Netflix easily, plays many high-end games, and generally runs very smoothly.
- The display is good, very good, actually - at 245DPI everything is nice and smooth, and it should look great with Ice Cream Sandwich.
- Speaking of which, an Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) update is in the works for this phone, and Huawei is notoriously quick with updates.
- Battery life seems pretty good, but I don't have a cell connection, so I can't really judge it accurately. Watching Netflix and playing games for a couple hours straight barely got it to 75% remaining, though.
- It's actually very stylish and, for being made entirely of plastic, feels pretty dense and solid - it does creak some, though.
- Huawei's UI overlay can be partially turned off, but I actually like it (aesthetically speaking), it beats anything Samsung or Motorola have come up with.
The Not So Good
- Holy storage crisis, Batman - only 2.8GB of space! Still, you can expand that with a microSD card, which many people probably will.
- Plastic leads to inevitable creaking on the back cover and the entire frame of the phone. Then again, you get what you pay for.
- The microUSB port faces backwards from what is standard in the US, so it may not really work with 3rd-party docking peripherals (it might get flipped for the US version).
- The display's one big drawback is that it suffers from color distortion in sunlight - pretty badly, too.
- There's a bit of Huawei "bloat" in the form of apps, though none of it is truly useless.
- The rear camera is pretty terrible (see pictures).
Design And Build Quality
The Huawei Honor is actually what one might call pretty - the pearl white back cover with silver buttons and bezel framing are quite stylish and modern looking, not at all what one expects from a budget phone. The face of the device looks, frankly, a lot like a Galaxy S II (as do some aspects of the UI). The button action is exactly where it should be on a smartphone - the volume rocker is very easy to find and is raised more than the power button, so you're always sure you're actually hitting it. The power button at the top left has a more gentle and deliberate action, so as to avoid accidental pocket-presses.
One odd design quirk I noticed would seem to stem from the fact that the Honor is intended to be a primarily Asia market device. The microUSB port is "flipped" such that you must plug in your mUSB connector with the side that normally faces up facing down instead. It's a small complaint, but if you use a 3rd-party car charger or other docking system, you'll be staring at the back of the phone. This may be changed for the US Cricket Wireless version, but I've not confirmed this with Huawei.
In terms of build quality, there's no question the Honor isn't a $600+ device. But you'd definitely be inclined to think it was close to $600 than, say, $200. I'm not saying it's badly built, but it's obvious by the amount of plastic, the creaking from the back cover and plastic frame, and the thickness of the thing that you're not holding a Galaxy Nexus. But compared to the sea of cheap Android phones available on the market, it feels a lot better than some of its competitors. It has considerable heft and definitely doesn't feel cheap, so much as it feels like the first Galaxy S phones - plasticky.
Hardware And Performance
The Honor really flies for such a cheap phone, and that's largely thanks to its MSM8255T Snapdragon processor, which clocks in at a smooth 1.4GHz. While only a single core, the high clock speed reduces overall OS sluggishness with its raw power to a truly admirable extent. Toss on ADW launcher, and it's pretty much a Nexus-like experience in terms of smoothness (for Gingerbread), perhaps even faster - just plain buttery. And that smoothness remains even when you throw on the giant 4x2 Huawei clock and weather widget, power control, search widget, and a slew of icons. Even the Android Market and Gmail feel snappier on the Honor than I'm otherwise used to on my DROID BIONIC.
In terms of gaming, you've got an Adreno 205 GPU at your disposal, which basically gives you full range of all but the most graphically intensive Android titles. This is the same GPU found in phones like the HTC ThunderBolt (Desire HD), so that's probably a good reference point for 3D and gaming performance. Video apps like Netflix work great and stream without a hitch.
Benchmarks were also fairly impressive, yielding a respectable Quadrant score average of around 2300. Here's some OpenGL benchmark data for graphics performance comparisons:
OpenGL 2.1 Egypt Standard (higher is better)
I tried a browser-oriented benchmark as well, Qualcomm Vellamo, and scored a 983. This was significantly faster than the Galaxy S II, HTC Sensation, ThunderBolt, EVO 3D, and a slew of other phones. This obviously says more for Huawei's apparently excellent implementation of browser acceleration and optimization more than the phone's actual hardware, though.
I didn't have a SIM card, so calling went untested.
In terms of storage, as I said in the specifications, you have about 0.8GB dedicated for secure app storage, and another 2GB of internal SD storage for app data, photos, and music. Of course, this space can be expanded up to 32GB with the simple addition of a microSD card. 0.8GB isn't a ton for apps, but honestly, I think it's enough for the average person, especially now that Apps2SD is so widely used.
On a slightly random note, the Honor's external speaker is loud. I watched a full episode of South Park on Netflix in a large room with significant ambient noise and it was still plenty loud. I probably could have turned it down to 80% and heard just fine. In fact, a person standing 10 feet away could hear the dialogue perfectly. Why don't all smartphones have such awesome external speakers, again?
As you may have noticed, the Huawei Honor comes equipped with Huawei's own custom launcher and UI skin. It's actually pretty good. It reminds me a bit of Samsung's TouchWiz, but without the Crayola-on-crack color scheme. It's also very customizable, allowing you to move the dockbar icons or put on new ones, change the launcher theme to stock Android (while maintaining the app drawer, icons, etc.), as well as download additional 3rd party themes from the Market specifically for Huawei's aHome launcher.
Using aHome is a bit more sluggish than you might like, though. It's not slow, and it doesn't "chug" or skip frames, but the frame rate does seemed to be capped at around 30FPS. Switching to a 3rd-party launcher like ADW puts your Honor into smooth-overdrive, while allowing you to still use all the Huawei widgets, as well as the lockscreen. Oh, about the lockscreen, it's pretty great. There's 4 actions on it, so you can go to the camera, phone, SMS messaging, or the unlock button.
Huawei also has a number of built-in apps, including Huawei-connected services like CloudDrive and SecurityGuard. Huawei allows you to back up your phone call logs, text messages, and settings (including homescreen layout) to the cloud, while also giving you 5GB of free cloud storage. Not bad. In addition, you can back up any of your apps to an SD card (and obviously restore them). There's a GPS phone-locator service with a web portal, too, so you can track your phone in the event it's stolen, and lock out the would-be thief. There are some other interesting security features, like the ability to password protect call logs and text messages from any contact or phone number (sketchy, anyone?), as well as blacklist and whitelist functions. Finally, you've got data consumption monitor and battery saver apps as well.
Huawei does a pretty good job of providing the features of many popular 3rd-party utility and security apps right out of the box, and I kind of like it, to be honest.
Display And Battery Life
The Honor's display is quite good, generally speaking. At 4", but with a 480x854 resolution, it's around 245DPI - just south of what you'll get on a qHD display that's 4.3" in size. Text looks pretty great on the Honor as a result. Icon edges are smooth, and you don't get the feeling that everything's just a little too big that some newer smartphones with QVGA resolutions tend to cause. Viewing angles are at least decent. Brightness levels, though, are mediocre, and the phone does have a tint that leans towards the yellow side of the gamma spectrum. In direct, bright sunlight, the screen suffers from unusually bad color distortion. However, colors on the whole look very good for an LCD, particularly given the Honor's price.
The touchscreen, though, is a bit finicky. It requires more pressure to recognize an action than I'm accustomed to, so if you accidentally reduce the pressure you're applying in the middle of a swipe motion, you might unintentionally launch something. I imagine one could get used to it, but I never quite got it down during my review period.
Battery life is one thing I really couldn't test very well. Without the cell radio on and transmitting data or idling (I'm on Verizon, so no [usable] SIM to swap in), it's difficult to tell just how much juice the Honor has to give. That said, a medium-brightness Netflix and gaming session lasting around two hours straight only took the Honor down to 75% from around 95%, so I'm guessing that 1900mAh battery is probably not going to disappoint. Without a 4G radio, massive display, or dual-core processor to suck down the amps, it seems like the Honor would be a safe bet for a full day's use on a single charge. But again, I don't have the concrete testing data to back that claim up.
The Honor's camera is its one big flaw. It sucks. Really, really bad. Colors are washed out, proper exposure seems impossible to attain, and it's pretty slow, to boot. The one upside seems to be that it has decent image stabilization, so at least those 8 megapixels are going to use. It's suitable for Facebook and Twitter photos, snapping shots of documents, and recording precious YouTube-worthy moments in 720p HD, but it's no point and shoot replacement. Taking photos in darker settings ruins the stabilization, as well.
At $300, the Huawei Honor is probably the best budget smartphone on the market (where it's actually available, of course). But for most Americans, if you're not on a regional wireless provider with really low rates, or looking for a second smartphone you won't have on a monthly plan regularly, it probably shouldn't cross your radar. However, for those in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere (where rate plans are calculated oftentimes based on the MSRP of the device), this is probably a very attractive piece of hardware for the budget-minded.
Huawei has built a (mostly) great budget phone, because you'll actually feel like you're getting $300 worth of hardware out of it. In fact, you'll feel like you're getting significantly more. The problem with most cheap smartphones is that they're a nightmare to use, often break, are terribly slow, and are equipped with horribly low-resolution displays that would have been the standard on a BlackBerry 3 years ago. This is different. This is better. This is what a budget phone should be.