18
Sep
wm_IMG_3243

Have you ever thought to yourself, "Gee, I wish I could get a real smartphone for $150 with no contractual commitment"? Well, you can. One with a 4" display, front and rear cameras, a microSD card slot, and a 1GHz processor. For half the price of the original Motorola Pebl (that thing cost $300 back in the day).

Oh, how far we've come.

wm_IMG_3224

But do you want a $150 smartphone? I mean, that all depends. Do you conduct most of your "business" via the web? Push email can be a real lifesaver. Real-time Google Maps navigation will always get you to the right empty lot as quickly as possible, and Google Calendar reminders will make organizing your protection money collection schedule a breeze.

I jest, of course - cheap smartphones have their place in the world. In fact, outside of the United States, particularly in developing nations, they're the primary point of access to the web for hundreds of millions of people. But what about a cheap Android for 'muricans?

On the list of budget smartphones, the Huawei Mercury Ice comes in somewhere around or possibly at the bottom. It's cheap. But is it any good? That all depends on what you expect. Do you expect a good smartphone? Then no, it's not a good smartphone. Do you expect a smartphone that will be able to perform all the basic tasks any Android smartphone can at a price that cannot be beat? Then yes, it is. It's quite good if that's the case.

There are caveats, though. Phones like the HTC One V, which is just $50 more, are better. And then there's the fact that if you live in the USA and have $150 to spend on a smartphone and $50 a month for a plan, you have better options if you shop around or slightly up your budget. But first, let's talk about the Mercury Ice.

Huawei Mercury Ice Specifications

  • Price: $150 (buy here at RadioShack)
  • Processor: 1.4GHz MSM8655T Snapdragon
  • GPU: Adreno 205
  • Network Compatibility: Cricket 3G only (CDMA) [branded as RadioShack Wireless]
  • Operating System: Android 2.3.6
  • Display: 4" LCD 480x854 (245DPI)
  • Memory: 512MB RAM / 3GB-ish internal (I don't even know - there's external SD, internal SD, and phone storage)
  • Cameras: 2MP front, 8MP rear
  • Battery: 1900mAh, removable
  • NFC / Bluetooth: No / Yes, v2.1
  • Ports / Expandable Storage: microUSB / microSD
  • Thickness: 11mm (0.43")
  • Weight: 140g (4.9oz)

The Good

  • It's really really, really ridiculously cheap.
  • It hasn't caught fire, exploded, or otherwise experienced some kind of fatal defect. And when you're talking about a $150 smartphone, that's important information to have.
  • Toss a custom launcher on it and it's actually decently quick. Certainly usable.
  • You get Google apps on a $150 cell phone. That's a lot of value for your money right there.

The Not So Good

  • It's a $150 phone. It's incredibly creaky, cheap-feeling, and generally not pleasant to hold. It's also heavy (140g).
  • Call quality is pretty abysmal, you're almost have to going to buy a headset with a microphone or Bluetooth earpiece for this thing.
  • The touchscreen sensor is just awful. You have to put a lot of pressure on this thing to get a response, it almost feels resistive at times.
  • This phone is the same as the Huawei Mercury / Honor (aside from the color), a device that has been out since November 2011. Even then, it was a budget phone. Now it's a... superbudgetphone?
  • You're on Cricket Wireless, with no way to switch carriers. There's a SIM slot, but it's disabled (I tried to use it).

Hardware

From a build quality perspective, don't come with any expectations in regard to the Mercury Ice. It feels cheap, it looks cheap, and that's because it is. It's not like mine is falling apart, but this, to me, is the kind of phone I'd use in a pinch for a month or two, never as a primary device. Design-wise... It could look worse? The rear cover actually isn't bad at all, I've seen uglier phones that cost a lot more, so that's good. I can't speak to Huawei's quality control or defect rate, but that's always something to be wary of at this price point.

wm_IMG_3228

wm_IMG_3229 wm_IMG_3232 wm_IMG_3237

Battery life is nothing to write home about. The Mercury Ice might get you through a day, but if you're living on your phone, probably not. Making it to 5PM after a few months of cycling through the battery over and over would probably become a challenge. Then again, you can buy spares.

The display is good for a budget phone - if you're looking at it straight on. The viewing angles are absolutely horrible. I've used the Huawei Honor, and it had the same issue. Everything immediately starts washing out and getting distorted the moment you start tilting the phone. The 480x854 resolution is normal in this price bracket, though the 4" panel is a plus compared to the smaller screens on most ultra-budget phones. The touchscreen itself, though, is really bad. You have to actually press on it to a degree to get it to recognize anything, in a way that almost feels resistive (though not quite).

wm_IMG_3239

wm_IMG_3249 wm_IMG_3253 wm_IMG_3255

Call quality, like I said above, is really bad. Good luck hearing anyone outside.

Storage is as follows: around 700MB of app space, 2GB of "internal SD storage," and a 4GB external SD card RadioShack includes with the phone. But only 1GB of that card is usable, because the other 3GB are strictly for Cricket's Muve Music service.  It wasn't enabled on my phone.

Network performance, well, we're talking about a Sprint MVNO (mobile virtual network operator). It's Sprint, but with less coverage, basically. In my area, a suburb north of LA, Cricket is actually pretty good. But nationally? Take a look at this graph from Root Metrics:

chart-avg-download-upload-3

Try before you buy, I guess.

Here are some shots from the camera. For a budget phone, the level of detail is very respectable, even if colors are pretty washed out. I was surprised by the sharpness, and considering the often complete garbage 3-5MP sensors we see on budget phones, this is refreshing.

wm_IMG_20120918_142517

IMG_20120918_132809 wm_IMG_20120918_142614

Software

Performance is OK. With the stock launcher, you're hobbled at 30FPS and everything sort of slides along in that Gingerbread phone kind of way - not terribly slow, but not even close to buttery smooth. Toss on a custom launcher, and the experience improves significantly.

145

68device

Huawei's UI overlay is very, very minimal. There's some Cricket crapware. You can ignore it. You do get quick power toggles in the notification bar, so that's nice. Otherwise, pretty much a stock Android experience. A really old stock Android experience. There just isn't much else to say in this section, and I'm not going to waste anyone's time by explaining the exciting features of Android Gingerbread.

Conclusion

Here's the thing about the Mercury Ice. It does everything an Android phone running Gingerbread can do, and that's a lot. For $150, you're getting a piece of technology that, 5 years ago, would have practically been magic to someone. They'd have paid $500 or more for a phone like this. That's how fast we're moving. That is incredible.

But this isn't a phone anyone who doesn't need to live with a cheap regional wireless provider should buy. I don't mean to trivialize RadioShack's target market, but this phone is pointed at a decidedly narrow audience. At $50 a month for the 1GB plan with unlimited talk and text on Cricket, I'd tell someone to save up for a Galaxy Nexus and head over to T-Mobile's prepaid SIM plan.

People will buy it anyway, because it's a cheap phone, and because the people who buy cheap phones like this really don't know any better. The fact that this is the point cheap phones have come to, though, is sort of amazing. You get a smartphone that really can do almost everything the big boys can - if not nearly as well, at times - at less than a quarter the price.

The lesson today? Really cheap phones (even old ones that are just cheaper than they were before) are getting a lot better. But you're still better off not buying one in the first place.

wm_IMG_3250

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.

  • GazaIan

    I was almost going to say this thing is worth it ($150 for a smartphone that can still run most of today's games and apps? Bring it on!) but with a not so responsive touchscreen, all value just went down the drain.

    • Eddie Amarille

      the touchscreen really isnt as bad as posted, but it does take a little getting used to. i have owned my mercury (original version, not the ice) for about a year, and with proper tweaking it runs almost as smooth as my buddies razr. not as pretty, but smooth as hell. and with the "unnofficial" ICS leak, personally i say this phone is well worth what i paid for it

  • Cuvis

    Is it just me, or does that look a lot like a Galaxy S2? They better not make a black version, or Apple will sue them next...

    • Eddie Amarille

      the original cricket mercury is black, the mercury ice is version 2

  • RocketScience11

    1. Get an epic 4g (OG) or a Nexus S off ebay. (They're cheaper than this).
    2. Flash it to preferred carrier or use it on sprint.
    3. Root and slap CM9/10 on it if you get the epic.
    4. ????
    5. Profit.

  • thewild

    I bought my ZTE Blade for 60€ and that was 1 year ago, so why is this Huaway such an impressive deal ?
    OK, I have no fornt facing camera and only a 600MHZ processor, but as I said that was 1 year ago and for half the price ! And that was contract-free, of course !
    I'm not really impressed...

    • prettypozy

      If you buy this phone at radio shack (in store) they will give you $20 off, but you have to sign up for their Cricket service. I bought it online and the phone is unlocked. it is both CDMA and SIM card capable. So now you can use it for whatever service you choose. Pretty sure that is why you have to have it turned on in the store. Phone is Factory unlocked.

  • alex

    Btw. It should have included an 8 gig card with 2 gigs useable and 6 for the music, which you get unlimited music downloads but they are locked onto the SD card and cannot be transferred to a computer and you cannot buy a different micro SD. The only one that will work is the one that came with your phone.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Odd, mine came with a 4GB card.

  • PINJ

    Thats Some Serious Power Under The Hood For Just 150 Dollars. Damn Homie :D

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=667020551 Jose Torres

    Why not just buy a leftover Motorola Artix 4G? Looks EXACTLY like this phone but in black, performance and usability is twice as good, and you can probably buy it at the same price...

  • Cricket Girl

    When is it Coming out for cricket?

  • Bruno Pedro

    that's one ridiculous large bezel

  • matt

    Lol anyone who gives this phone a bad review is a clown. It is fast and a much better phone than both the Samsung epic4g and iphone3gs, both of which I owned for two years. And at 60 a month including unlimited music downloads it is unbeatable. Whoever reviewed this phone obviously doesn't own one and is probably some kind of iPhone obsessed hipster

  • JeyBot

    You are so full of it! I've been using this great piece of hardware since January, it has not failed me, not once!
    Sent via Huawei Mercury

  • Albert

    This is such a bad review, this person does not know what he is talking about. I know exactly what I bought and why I bought it. This is one of the best phones for the price. I have had it for a while now and it has not given me a single problem stated in this review. You need to seriously learn how to test a cellphone correctly.

  • dustybushkin

    Never had a problem in over a yr it ran better then my girls s2, and her new upgrade it runs on sprint network so i don't know what dicks graph is suppose to represent but when on wifi its very quick. camera hd quality video 8mp camera I have the original black one. Has the gorrilla glass like the galaxy's when i bought mine it just came out so i paid little more. The talk time is rediculous, and game time my girls s2 would need 2 3 charges a day.

  • Isai

    I just purchased my Huawei Mercury Ice and each time some one gets a quick look at it thinks its a iphone 5, For the $130. I paid since I got $20 off at the time, You simply cannot beat it, At all!!
    I was not planning on getting a smart phone ever since I let my Blackberry break from having it over 2 years, But my Son convinced me to, And I've been thankful ever since, IT's WORTH IT.....

  • Matthew Gross

    B.S. review...I have had this phone for a year it is fairly fast and reliable...Never had a glitch with it...

  • miss precious

    I have the mercury ice like the one showed and this dude is wack. the touchscreen is amazing. I got mine for 100 and its bomb. beat phone I ever had. the camera has great quality. the touch screen responds automatically. it gives no problems at all. this is a good phone and its worth the money so don't listen to that fool who gave the review. he sucks :/ just saying :) good phone good price it comes with a 8 gb micro SD card amazing!

  • Ghjj

    Do they have this phone at all radio shakes ?? I. Needed to buy one ASAP

  • Kam

    I have this phone currently and it is great on speed, price, storage, and weight. The phone really is not heavy, it takes great pictures, you do not have to put a lot of pressure on the screen, and the volume when in a call is just fine. I love this phone!

  • Matt Gross

    Obviously the person really never took the time to use this phone. It does everything any top of the line android can do and rarely has any glitches unlike my friends galaxy s3.

  • sally

    What an arrogant reviewer. These guys that constantly try to push the most expensive cell phones out there are the real fools and so are the people that listen to them. They write reviews to appeal to a mass audience that they hope will be suckered into buying an expensive phone with a performance that is no better than its cheaper cousins. Most of his opinion is superficial nonsense. It just "looks cheap". It's an appeal to people who think that having an expensive cell phone makes them cool. In my opinion, it means they're gullible.

  • Hodaggal

    Sure the phone is great, until all of a sudden it loses service and no one at the support center can help me or fix it, This phone is nothing to brag about !!