Huawei Ascend P1 was the first element in this strategy that was announced at CES before the quad-core monsters we handled at MWC, and just as the company promised it is on our dissection table in the beginning of the summer. Huawei isn’t a well known brand when it comes to the U.S. smartphone market. The Chinese manufacturer is looking to change that, however, and plans to push forward with more advertising in the U.S. and a slew of new smartphones.
It won’t be much of a dissection since the unibody design of the phone sports a sealed battery compartment, but the Ascend P1 delivers on every other mid-range front. It has a fast dual-core processor, 8MP cam capable of 1080p video and large qHD AMOLED display.
Until Huawei launches its top-tier Diamond series of smartphones (including the ultra-powerful D Quad), the Ascend P1 — which is expected to arrive in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia by the end of the month at an unknown price — will be the company’s best offering. Naturally, we were eager to take this Platinum series (second tier) device for a spin. Is the P1 truly a sign of Huawei turning a new leaf? Does it hold its own against similarly specced competition? Follow us past the break to find out.
The Ascend P1 is just 7.7 millimeters thick, making it one of the thinnest smartphones on the market, and it weighs a mere 110 grams. The handset doesn’t look bad, although I would have preferred rounded corners. And even though the amount of plastic the P1 employs may resemble a Samsung device, the phone feels great in your hand and not at all flimsy.
On the bottom resides three capacitive buttons; menu, home and back. For some reason, Huawei thought it was a good idea to keep the menu button rather than a recent applications button, as is the case with other Ice Cream Sandwich phones. To view recent apps, you must instead hold the home button.
Huawei has not only managed to make one of the most compact Androids out there with a 4.3” screen, but it is also very stylish, in a two-tone black and white body. The white overlaps the black on the sides, while the black flows over the white at the top and bottom, fusing the handset in an Yin-Yang harmony in our version, but there are also a pink and a completely black variants.
It’s good that the tapered edges make it comfortable to hold, since the back is quite slippery. The comparatively narrow and elongated profile make one-handed operation as easy as it gets on a 4.3-incher. Moreover, each and every port and button are within an easy reach around the sides.
The push-in regular SIM card slot with a protective lid and the microUSB port are unobtrusively situated at the top until you need them, joined by the audio jack. The power/lock key is right under your thumb on the right and is easy to feel with good tactile feedback, as is the volume rocker on the left. Thankfully we also have a microSD slot on the right for storage expansion.
Huawei’s smartphone features a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED display with qHD resolution and a pixel density of 256 pixels-per-inch. The screen is bright and sharp, although its PenTile matrix clearly stands out when compared to other handsets. The low resolution will also disappoint some potential buyers considering most high-end phones now feature 720p HD displays.
While the Ascend P1 doesn’t contain the quad-core processor found in the Ascend D Quad, nor does it have a speedy Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 chipset. The smartphone is equipped with 1GB of RAM and a fully capable dual-core TI OMAP 4460 CPU clocked at 1.5GHz, the same processor found in the Galaxy Nexus.
The phone is extremely well designed, durable, and feels excellent (for the most part) while in use. As you can see the design is similar to what we’ve seen from Samsung in the past, right up to the camera around back like the Galaxy S II. They’ve opted for the same lightweight plastic material and the constructions feels quite familiar. As you see above the button layout is what we’ve come to expect from Huawei and others. Along the right we have the power/wake button and a micro-SD slot for expanded storage. The other side rounds it out with the volume up/down button in a nice aluminum design.
Oddly up top is not only the SIM slot (as the back is not removable) but they’ve also tossed the micro-USB for charging on top as well, something I’m not a fan of. Then you have the 3.5mm headphone jack as expected. The rest of the hardware is completed with an 8 megapixel rear camera and dual LED flash, and a 1.3 front camera for those self portraits although I feel their front camera is better than most.
Super AMOLED is no longer the forbidden fruit that only grows in Samsung’s gardens – the Koreans are earning a bit extra pawning its non-HD versions off to Motorola and HTC, and now Huawei joins in the fun. The 4.3” 540×960 pixels screen exhibits the typical AMOLED virtues like an incredible contrast ratio and viewing angles, with nice satured colors. It is on quite bright for an AMOLED screen, but still not enough for good visibility under direct sunlight.
Is it Pentile? Why, yes of course, but if you didn’t know what the alternative PenTile matrix arrangement is you would never get worked up about it like you are now. See what we did there? You can see some “screen door” pixel structure and jaggies if you are deliberately staring at solid colors or enlarged text, but that’s about it. And once you experience the deep contrast of AMOLED watching video on a phone with it, it’s hard to go back anyway.
The smartphone features an 8-megapixel rear camera with a dual-LED flash that is capable of capturing 1080p video. The camera application supports HDR, Panorama, Low light, Smile Shot and Group camera modes, and comes preloaded with numerous “hipster” filters that allow users to customize their photos.
Images taken with the P1 are at best marginally above average for an Android smartphone. The camera cannot compete with HTC’s One X or Samsung’s Galaxy S III, although I found it to capture higher quality photos than the Galaxy Nexus and DROID RAZR MAXX. When compared with Apple’s iPhone 4S, which arguably contains one of the best smartphone cameras, the P1′s images, while sharp, seemed over-saturated and were unable to capture colors accurately.
As you can see from the example above, images taken with Hauwei’s smartphone have somewhat of a blue tint. The camera cannot compete with high-end devices, although as a mid-range model it could lead the pack.
The 1080p video capture looks again a bit bland in terms of color representation, but it takes in a decent level of detail and is recorded with smooth 30fps, plus you get a somewhat nervous continuous autofocus.
Huawei may be planning to release a special custom Android skin dubbed “Emotion,” but there’s currently no trace of it on the Ascend P1. That doesn’t mean the Chinese manufacturer hasn’t placed its own stamp of love on the thing. While the default skin of choice happens to be nearly all stock (with the exception of the camera UI, themes and notification bar), you’re also offered the opportunity to hit the menu button from the home screen and quickly switch over to a custom skin called “3D Home.”
If you’re familiar with the user interface found on the Honor and other older Huawei devices, you’ll notice that the 3D Home experience closely resembles it. So much, in fact, that we felt as though we were transporting from Ice Cream Sandwich to Gingerbread in the space of mere seconds. First, let’s tackle the name: the 3D moniker appears to refer mainly to the types of transitions and widgets that can be enabled within this particular skin. The animations aren’t unique or new to the Android world, as we’ve seen enough cube-style UIs over the years to keep us from doing a double take at what Huawei has put together here.
The Chinese manufacturer added a few enhancements to Android’s stock experience, such as a beautiful weather widget and quick shortcuts to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, Data Toggle and Auto-Rotation in the phone’s notification bar. All in all, the added features are welcomed.
Performance and battery life
The Huawei Ascend P1 is equipped with a TI OMAP 4460 dual-core CPU clocked at 1.5GHz. It’s a heavy hitter, to be sure, and it’s already being used in other key devices, such as the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Indeed, given the steady performance of the original ICS smartphone, that’s a heritage we can get behind. Power users won’t be disappointed in the Ascend P1, as it hardly skipped a beat during the extent of our testing. We rarely experienced lag when transitioning between Android skins (more on that later), websites loaded quickly without tiling and multitasking went off without a hitch.
Gaming was also a smooth experience with the PowerVR SGX540 GPU included in the OMAP 4460 chipset. We suffered from very little lag time when playing graphics-heavy titles such as Riptide, and the graphics were fairly well-detailed — the only major exception to this was the fact that the water wasn’t realistic enough. The jetski never appeared to float properly in the water, and when bobbing up and down it seemed as though it was surrounded by a strange grey mass instead of the aquatic goodness we’ve come to expect with the upper echelons of today’s graphic capabilities. It may be enough to take a few hardcore gamers out of their element, to be sure, but most casual players will hardly notice at all.
In our standard video rundown test, the phone lasted a full six hours and 40 minutes before needing a new charge. That’s right around average, and exactly what we’d expect from a 1,670mAh battery. It also eked out a respectable total of six hours and 20 minutes when we used the P1 as a mobile hotspot (with one device connected and tethering at all times).
The Huawei Ascend P1 is an interesting smartphone. By no means is it a high-end device, and I don’t think Huawei intends it to be, but for the right price the handset could be a winner.
The P1′s quick and responsive hardware, along with a near stock Android experience and above average camera performance, sets the device above some of its competition. While it is hard to recommend to power users, especially with newer and more powerful devices always on the horizon, the handset could be appealing to more frugal and less tech-savvy consumers.
If marketed well, priced competitively and aimed at the right audience, Huawei could finally make a splash in the U.S. smartphone market with the Ascend P1.