24
Dec
P1010092_1280x960
Last Updated: December 26th, 2011

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.

P1010042_1280x960Now, 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

The Good

  • 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.

P1010019_1280x960

P1010033_1280x960 P1010040_1280x960

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.

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P1010036_1280x960 P1010017_1280x960 

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)

  • Huawei Honor: 2156 frames
  • HTC ThunderBolt: 2650 frames
  • Moto DROID X2: 2223 frames
  • Samsung Galaxy S: 3039 frames

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?

Software

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.

P1010075_1280x960 P1010092_1280x960

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.

P1010087_1280x960

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.

Camera

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.

IMG_20111224_105137 IMG_20111224_105402

Conclusion

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.

David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • Chris

    This should be compared with the Motorola Triumph and Exhibit II 4g as far as apples to apples comparisons.

    • David Ruddock

      It's better than either of those. Significantly. Especially in regard to the display and software performance.

      EII4G has a much smaller display, Samsung's horrible TW3.5 overlay, and a much smaller battery.

      Triumph runs an ancient version of Android (2.2), has an even smaller battery, and is CDMA - so Virgin Mobile or Sprint (or Boost) only, limiting its usefulness significantly. It's got a beefier processor and more storage, but Huawei's software support makes Motorola look like a joke, even on a device with vanilla Android.

      Neither device is going to get Ice Cream Sandwich. The Honor also generally spanks both of them on GLBenchmark.

    • C. Miller

      The triumph is an excellent phone...you can get 2.3.7 with cm7,
      And even overclock it up to 1.9 with the umph kernel...and I love the HDMI out.

    • Doughnut Master

      Virgin Mobile doesn't give two shitz about their customers.
      The Triumph is a broken product.

  • Greg Epps

    I don't think there's any standardization to the orientation of microUSB ports, neither within the US, or even within mobiles from the same manufacturer. The HTC Merge and the LG Axis are "upside down" when compared to the HTC Desire and Moto Droid (OG).

    • David Ruddock

      Interesting. That doesn't mean there isn't standardization, though. I just find it odd that they would flip it when many people have car or desk peripherals that would be made useless by such a decision.

      • http://mgamerzproductions.com Mgamerz

        Aren't those phone specific? I know my Atrix lapdock's cradle (its got the same shape as the real cradle) only will fit my atrix... Same with the car dock.

    • Dan

      Droid X and Droid 2 are reversed from one another as well as being at opposite ends of the phone.

  • http://pharaohtechblog.blogspot.com Conan Kudo (ニール・ゴンパ)

    I believe the Huawei Honor U8860 actually has UMTS band IV support, so it should actually work on T-Mobile's HSPA+ network, too!

    • David Ruddock

      You seem to be right. Odd that I've not seen mention of it being pentaband before.

      • http://pharaohtechblog.blogspot.com Conan Kudo (ニール・ゴンパ)

        It's not pentaband. It supports UMTS 900/AWS/2100 and GSM 850/900/1800/1900. It's quadband GSM and triband HSPA+.

    • Mkupka

      I have one and I can only get 2G on T-Mobile and AT&T in the US

  • richard

    Beware. I bought a Triumph based on what were pretty good reviews at the time. The actual unit was utter trash.

  • here

    This phone's availabe (now or soon, anyway) on Cricket as the Mercury for $250. Its biggest competitor is probably the ZTE Warp/Blade which Boost sells for $200.

    In any case it's great that affordable phones are getting more and more capable.

    I have a Huawei U8650 which retails for 80 euros or 100 dollars in many markets. It's a bit slow and the camera sucks, but it can do 90% of what a full-fledged smartphone does, for a fraction of the price.

    And the build quality is great. Like HTC great. Soft back, aluminum-like material on the sides, and pretty much an HTC feeling to it. No wonder Huawei is growing so fast - they offer a lot of value and they don't throw a bunch of bloatware/skinning in their phones.

  • aliak

    Motorola or Samsung is better to take

  • Bharath

    Micromax Superfone A85 (NVIDIA TEGRA 2 - 3.8" - 8GB - 5MP/720p) - $290 (15,290 INR) - http://www.gsmarena.com/micromax_a85-4146.php

    If this phone is sold worldwide & if it gets cyanogenmod support, it'll top the sales!

  • bill

    "Huawei is notoriously quick with updates."

    What about rapid updates would inspire notoriety? Is that sarcasm or just misuse of "notorious"?

    • Some other asshole

      Notorious does not always have a connotation of negativity in regard to reputation. It merely is more often used in that context.

      • bill

        I found one source whose definition wasn't unfavorable, and this one was labeled "rare". So while, by definition, you seem to be right that notorious can be used without negativity, it most definitely carries negative connotation.

        • David Ruddock

          You're not reading the definition correctly. It *can* and usually does have a negative connotation but does not *always* have one. It does not mean that where the connotation is not negative that the alternative definition of "rare" applies (not that I've ever heard it used that way).

          For example, a film can help a director gain notoriety (the quality of being notorious). That use does not have any kind of negative connotation, and is used in the same way (garnering a reputation) as I have used it.

          I'm not sure why you're so set on convincing me that a word whose definition is obviously flexible must always mean what it "usually" means.

        • bill

          (Replying to David although I can't go another level deep.)

          I was just pointing out that multiple dictionaries gave definitions including negativity, and the one that didn't was marked as the "rare" usage. Not that the word meant "rare".

          In my second comment, I was not trying to convince you that the word can not be used that way, I was just explaining why I was initially confused---it's very rare to hear the word used in a way that isn't negative, and therefore it caused me to assume you meant it unfavorably, strongly enough even to overpower the obviously positive contextual clues, in my mind.

  • nyc_dave

    OK, I find it odd that the author says he's on Verizon and has no SIM to try, yet the note after the article says he studies law in Malibu and uses a Nexus One.
    Verizon never released a Nexus One, only T-Mobile and AT&T did in the U.S.

    • David Ruddock

      My profile is out of date. I no longer have a Nexus One.

  • Hal Motley

    Wow this phone doesn't look too bad and at just under £200 isn't bad for a slightly budget smartphone, I may consider this!

    One note, you did mispell BlackBerry which has a sneaky medial cased 'B' in the middle which seperates the words.

    • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

      Thanks, took care of that B.

  • Edd

    It sounds like Samsung could learn a few lessons here, at least in software, overlays and support...

  • Pete

    The Ice Cream Sandwich update has already been officially released by Huawei on their support page.

    Supports both Chinese and English (via a language pack).

  • dave

    That's one brilliant phone for it's price.

  • Whyzor

    I have the Motorola Triumph, which is based on the Huawei Ascend/Ideos design. Its reviews were also ok when it was released, but a lot of people get bad units. It has really crappy software, including GPS fixes, low cell signal, the touchscreen is unreliable (ignores touches sometimes). The hardware is ok when it works, but flaky, and gives the feeling of disconnectedness.
    It runs pretty well with CM7, but that's because most of it is open source software. The parts that are still proprietary such as the drivers & kernel are crap. Maybe the Gingerbread release will be better from Huawei, but I'd be very skeptical.

  • Volvo

    And guys do you know that Huawei just launched the world's slimmest smartphone?

    Huawei Unveils World’s Slimmest Smartphone

    Las Vegas, U.S.A., January 9, 2012: Huawei, a leading global information and communications technology (ICT) solutions provider, unveiled the world’s slimmest smartphone today at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The Huawei Ascend P1 S is 6.68mm thin and features a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED 960 x 540 touchscreen with Corning® Gorilla® Glass. The Ascend P1 S is also the fastest and most compact smartphone in its class with a dual-core 1.5GHz TI OMAP 4460 Cortext-A9 processor and Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system.

    Good job Huawei!

  • Kerryc94

    You must have been commenting on a brand new phone. My brother in law has one and is on his third replacement phone and its not yet out of warranty. His wife's has just collapsed as well, you get what you pay for.

  • Jessi_sue

    So i would be the type of consumer, that was looking for the perfect low budget smart phone. I use one of those low-rate regional carriers, and when I purchased this phone from an online store, I had no idea it would be an import. My service provider of course gave me the run around telling me they could program it, when they in fact couldn't. To make a long story short.....It is programed for London, and I wanted to know if anyone knows how I can get it programed for the USA?

    Anyone have any ideas???

  • Ann Lazebna

    Unlock Huawei by IMEI http://www.imei-server.com/

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