Huawei Ascend G300 £100
30th Dec 2012 | 15:10
Is this more than just a budget phone at a budget price?
Update: Vodafone UK has now released an official Android Ice Cream Sandwich update for the UK-spec Huawei Ascend G300, bringing Google's Android 4.0 software to the phone. Our review's been updated to take this into account.
The Huawei Ascend G300 heralds a new chapter in the Huawei book, one that will soon be continued with the quad-core Huawei Ascend D Quad.
Aiming to challenge established budget devices such as the BlackBerry Curve 8520, Samsung Galaxy Y and even coming in at similar monthly prices as the HTC One V, Huawei seems to have a job on its hands.
Huawei is no stranger to producing a budget device, with the unlocked Huawei Blaze retailing at £99 (around $160). The Ascend G300 does initially come locked to Vodafone, but also fights its way in at under £100 (around $160).
Despite some necessary compromises, first impressions are promising. There's a 1GHz processor, large 4-inch 480 x 800 screen, and a flash for its 5MP camera.
Unfortunately though, there is no front facing camera so video calling is out. For now, you get a custom Android Gingerbread (2.3.6) interface, with Vodafone now updating the phone to Android 4.0.3 in the UK.
You'd struggle to tell by looking at it but the Huawei Ascend G300 is a budget device. Like most phones these days, the front is almost completely glass, and the metallic chassis shows itself at the top and bottom.
With an almost HTC One X look about it, you'll find three capactive soft keys just below the screen. Huawei's opted to discard the search button, keeping only the Menu, Home and Back buttons. With the update to Android 4.0, the Home button also doubles as the multitasking key, with a long-press pulling up the list of recently used apps.
At the opposite end of the bezel, there is a small LED light. It's well hidden, but flashes whenever you get a message, and lights up when charging. The colour does change, and can be customised in different applications.
On the top edge you find the 3.5mm headphone jack moulded smartly into the body, as well as the screen lock button. While we might not always be fans of its placement at the top, as the Huawei Ascend G300 isn't massive, it's easy to hit one handed.
The left hand side of the Ascend G300 houses the volume rocker. There's a nice dip in the centre which helps you control it, and it feels surprisingly sturdy. An uncovered MicroUSB port is located on the bottom, leaving the right side empty.
The smart design also extends to the back. Made up of the battery cover, between stylish white plastic that curves round the side, the back also houses the camera and flash, as well as the loud speaker, another microphone and the obligatory logos.
Behind the battery cover we can see the SIM card slot, 1500 mAh battery and a microSD card slot. You'll be pleased to notice that this can be swapped without removing the battery.
Weighing in at 138g with battery, the Huawei Ascend G300 isn't too heavy in the pocket and while not pointing to the lightness of uber slim high end devices, it hints towards a sturdy construction. We don't expect you'll drop it much though, as it sits quite nicely in the hand.
The 4-inch screen is responsive, and bright enough to use outdoors. Unfortunately though, we have to say that the capacitive buttons aren't overly sensitive, we found that we occasionally had to press the buttons more than once to get a response.
Overall, the Huawei Ascend G300's styling makes it look like it's worth more than you paid for it, which can never be a bad thing. And the arrival of an Android 4.0 update gives it a new, modern feel as well.
The recently updated Huawei Ascend G300 now arrives with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich as its operating system.
And although Huawei has added a few little customisations of its own, it's pretty much vanilla Android here, which is great news for those not keen on the manufacturer skins that feature on most Android models these days.
What's nice to see here is Huawei offering the default Android 4.0 dock area and icon set, which does away with the slightly cartoony icons found in the phone's previous Android 2.3 code. It looks much more stylish.
Plus Google's new folder support, with its pretty little stacked icons, looks great as well. It's certainly a much prettier look all round than the original 2.3 version of the phone.
Huawei has still made a few changes of its own, though. The Huawei Ascend G300's lock screen comes with a circular unlock tool, as we saw in the impressive Huawei Ascend P1.
This enables you to open the phone and head straight to the camera, SMS messaging service or dialler by default. Or you can edit these, sticking in shortcuts to any app you prefer.
The update to Android 4.0 sees Huawei boost the number of home screens to a maximum of seven, with the pinch-zoom overview option enabling you to add or delete home screens to suit your layout preferences.
Huawei also provides its own home screen music player widget, plus, if you prefer, you can choose to use one of Huawei's own themes, which bring back a little bit of that Android 2.3 vibe to the look and feel of the OS. Best not to use them.
What you also find on here after updating to Android 4.0 is quite a bit of gunk from Vodafone, which has pre-loaded a whopping great "Discover" widget to one of the home screens.
This is a packed combination of shop and phone status window, which sends you out to Vodafone-branded music and shopping portals rather than Google's own Android app and media stores.
Which is a bit silly, since the entire concept of Android is buying into Google's own delivery network, so being sent off to the Vodafone Music Shop through a web browser link is a little jarring.
Although, for some, the option to buy stuff this way and have it added directly to your phone bill might be of use. Like, if someone else pays your phone bill, for example.
The upgrade to Android 4.0 also brings in Google's lovely new Notifications pane, complete with individually dismissible tabs, a Settings shortcut and a little collection of on/off toggles from Huawei along the top to quickly control Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, data and rotation settings.
Huawei has added some custom widgets, usually being called "My...." such as My Calendar, and My FM for the radio, on top of some stock Android offerings.
There aren't any custom social networking widgets, like on other UIs, nor is there any SMS widget, but there is a My Email, available in two styles.
Like most user interfaces though, there is a custom weather/clock widget, which while not being particularly attractive, does the job rather efficiently.
The move to Android 4.0 sees Huawei drop the customisations it made to Android's app drawer and management system in the G300's original 2.3 code, with the big list of apps now presented in Android 4.0's standard style.
This means a left-to-right scrolling list of all apps with widgets included too, from which you long-press on one to chuck it into a home screen slot.
It's a simple, pretty system that's much improved by Google's Ice Cream Sandwich design decisions and Huawei's wise choice to leave much of it unchanged.
Contacts and Calling
Here's another area where the recent update to Android 4.0 completely changes the Huawei Ascend G300's features for the better.
The rather old fashioned Android 2.3 dialler has been binned, replaced by Google's newer version, which breaks down the calling section into three main headings.
A top bar enables you to switch between the dialler, your recent calling history and your starred favourite contacts, with your full list of contacts accessed through a little button on the dialler itself.
It also supports the really useful smart dialling feature - just start typing someone's name and it will bring up their number.
A few people who've updated their Huawei Ascend G300s to this Android 4.0 software have complained of glitches within these calling parts of the software, with the phone said to sometimes refuse to display caller ID data. We weren't able to replicate this problem, though.
The contacts section has again been changed substantially in this Android 4.0 update, now coming in Google's vastly more stylish default Holo layout and colour scheme.
Once you've imported data from Facebook, Twitter and any existing SIM and Google accounts you've linked, it's then possible to filter results accordingly, choosing only to display old SIM contacts or just your Facebook friends.
There's a simple Share Contacts section too, which pulls up the big list of everyone, then enables you to select multiple names and send the details out through any of Android's standard sharing tools, whether that's to another phone via Bluetooth, through email, or attached to an SMS message.
One of Android's useful features is the Favourites section, which keeps your preferred contacts in one area, as well as those frequently contacted.
Huawei also uses this information to create a Favourites widget, meaning you can access them directly from a home screen - or you can make a 1 x 1 icon that hotlinks to an individual contact or enables you to instantly dial or message someone you bother frequently.
And for those who have a well sorted list of contacts in their Gmail accounts, there is the Groups folder.
Here you can set custom ringtones and send group messages to collections of people you've added to each separate group.
Call quality is pretty good. We heard our contacts nice and clear, and they heard us clearly too. One niggle is that there is a bit of an echo, so you do find that you hear yourself a bit more than we'd like.
Connectivity was reliable, with no dropped calls.
Decide you'd rather not talk to the person calling and Android 4.0 enables you to automatically ping back a text message in response, plus you can edit the stock replies as you wish - or take the nuclear option of directing all of someone's calls straight to voicemail via the anti-social option on their Contacts page.
Huawei has chosen to offer two different styles of keyboard; by default there's TouchPal, as well as the stock Android keyboard. TouchPal remains the default option after upgrading the Huawei Ascend G300 to Android 4.0.
TouchPal offers an enhanced keyboard; long pressing a key to bring up a range of alternate symbols, swiping down on the key to choose the standard alternate symbol or swiping up for capitalisation. It also comes with a numeric keypad and a range of pre-saved emoticons.
Even though the screen is larger than most budget offerings, the keyboard still feels a little cramped. We found that we hit the shift button, and occasionally the capacitive buttons below, a little more often than we would have liked, so you have to be rather accurate.
There are alternate layouts available though: you can choose a standard QWERTY, the more standard 1-9 layout of old, and a QWERTY layout where letters are grouped in pairs. These are accessed by swiping sideways. You can even specify which layout you'd prefer depending on the phone's orientation, which is a handy, if complex for some, trick.
The autocorrect function worked relatively well, but wasn't nearly as accurate as other keyboards we have used, particularly on HTC phones. We also found, annoyingly, that while typing the keyboard sometimes swiped to other layouts.
One glitch we found with the update to Android 4.0 is a frankly awful internal dictionary. Pretty much every word we typed wasn't recognised, with the Ascend G300 failing to add these new words to its memory even if you specifically ask it to.
Words such as "has" and "not" are underlined in red, as if the phone's had its entire brain wiped and now has a worse vocabulary than a dog.
The SMS system has also been completely overhauled by Google in the transition from Android 2.3 to the new 4.0 update that's available for the G300. Gone is the cartoony speech bubble style, replaced by a simple threaded system presented in a pretty bland manner.
Pressing the little paperclip brings up the attachment screen, which offers up a vast array of options, enabling you pull photos from your phone or record audio or videos live. However, if you select a video clip you've already recorded, the phone won't attempt to resize it for you. You'll just be told it's too big for the SMS service.
Email is handled in one of two ways, depending on your account. All your Gmail is, somewhat unsurprisingly, handled in the stock Gmail app. It's a clean app, supporting multiple accounts, and provides just about everything that you'd get with your desktop version.
As for other accounts, there is the Email app. This is really just the POP3/IMAP or Exchange Android option, which sets up your email accounts easily, with preset configurations making it as simple as inputting your username and password.
Again, the app has been completely redesigned by Google as part of the update to Android 4.0. So if you've updated your Huawei Ascend G300 to the latest software you'll get the newer, simpler, and rather swish email app.
This supports all the standard features such as a combined inbox for multiple accounts, as well as setting checking frequency and setting mail size limits to ensure that you don't go over any data limits, or use too much credit.
One of the basics of the Android browser, and of any internet experience, is the presence of Flash. On many budget devices though, Flash is incompatible due to the slower processor.
Happily, due to the 1GHz processor running in the background, the Huawei Ascend G300 meets Adobe's Flash requirements.
And this Flash functionality remains after updating to Android 4.0, although it's a little slow and impacts on page display and scrolling speeds, so you'll probably save any hardcore video viewing sessions for when you're next on your proper computer.
What you see on the Huawei Ascend G300 nowadays is the all-new Android web browser, which arrives as part of the update to Android 4.0.
There's a vast amount of new things to play with, such as a visual and actually useful tabbing system, accessed through a button to the right of the URL bar.
Bring this up and you can access your bookmarks through the same tab, with your history and local copies of any pages you've saved for offline reading.
Android options include the ability to select text easily. Long pressing on an area of text brings up two sliders, marking the beginning and end of highlighted text.
These can be adjusted to you select as much, or as little text as needed, then tapping again to copy the words to the clipboard.
Android 4.0 adds a menu button that enables you to copy, share, perform a web search for the highlighted text or search for other instances of the selected words on the page.
Elsewhere in the settings, there are varying toggles, such as the useful ability to turn off image loading and disable plug ins, ideal for those on restrictive data plans.
Settings also highlights the security features on offer, such as password management and location features, plus Android 4.0 features a great slide-in Quick Controls option, that does away with the URL bar in favour of a floating tab that pops up over the top of the page when you run a finger in from the left or right of the display, maximising screen size.
The internet browsing on the Huawei Ascend G300 isn't what you'd call a dream, but then it was never going to be.
Pages do load rather quickly, both over Wi-Fi and 3G, but moving around the page can feel a little hesitant at times, especially on Flash-heavy sites.
The Android 4.0 update doesn't make things move any quicker either, with the phone taking quite a few seconds to switch tabs when you're viewing a few chunky pages.
We also found the browser became unresponsive a few times when running under Android 4.0, especially when messing about too much zooming in on text and opening multiple tabs.
Still, at least you can now install Google's Chrome browser on the Ascend G300, with the Android 4.0 exclusive browser an option to those who've upgraded from the Huawei Ascend G300's old 2.3 software.
Huawei has generously given the Huawei Ascend G300 a 5MP auto focus offering, but unfortunately there's no front facing camera for those all important video calls and pouty profile pics.
We can't work out if we like the auto focus. When it focuses, it does so quickly enough, but not every time, and always in the middle of the screen. Frustratingly you can't even focus on something in the centre, then move as the camera automatically refocuses.
For the price point, we never expected a great deal of options to play with. What you do get is the ability to adjust exposure, picture size and quality, the "scene" (presets based upon what you're shooting) and some colour effects.
We can't see a major need for the colour effects, as they're more of a novel feature. There's the usual sepia, monochrome (black and white) and negative as well as solarise and aqua options that add a orangey/bluey tint respectively and posterise, which makes things look a bit grainier and increases contrast.
Other features include geo-tagging, white balance adjustment, a self timer, the option to select phone or SD card as the location to save your shots, flash and up to 4.0x digital zoom.
The update to Android 4.0 doesn't bring in any new features apart from a new panorama stitching tool, but it does update the app's layout a little.
It's still grey and bland though, just with all the buttons in a pull-out drawer to the left, as part of Huawei's minor UI tweaks.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, the Huawei Ascend G300's Camcorder app is just as basic as the Camera, using the same default grey.
As for options, Huawei has added in white balance control, a flash on/off button, GPS tagging and the ability to choose the recording quality.
The colour filters from the still camera are missing when shooting movies, so that tab is greyed out here.
Image resolution remains at the same slightly low levels even after updating to Android 4.0, with the Huawei Ascend G300 enabling you to shoot at either 640 x 480 or the positively prehistoric 176 x 144 for rendering those magical moments useless and laughably vague.
As you can see, the video isn't exactly the best quality. Colours can appear a bit washed out, and there is definitely some noise.
Outside it does a fairly good job, if a tad slow, of moving between light and darks, with colours appearing far more natural.
In all, it's ideal for filming your dad dancing at a wedding and then putting the video straight onto YouTube or Facebook, but you wouldn't want to use it to capture the more special moments.
Huawei's tweaked the standard Android music player options a little, adding in a chunky, slightly flashier home screen widget to the Ascend G300.
You also see lock screen play/pause and skip toggles appear when playing music while the phone's in standby mode, plus a little notification is added to the Notifications pane - although the latter just opens the music player when tapped.
The music player itself is presented in the simple blue-on-black Android 4.0 design style, with a scrolling tab list along the top auto-sorting your tunes and enabling you to page through them by artist name, song title, album, genre or even the super-useful folder view that's very handy if you're in the habit of copying over an old folder of carefully categorised favourites.
Usefully, the Ascend G300 automatically creates playlists based on recently added and most played tracks, with the phone also suggesting you add tracks to a Favourites playlist if you long-press on any particular song.
Another nice feature is that rather than going back through the menu system, just tapping the album artwork brings up a list of all the tracks, for easy navigation.
Long pressing a track allows you to share via Bluetooth, or via email, and holding the Huawei Ascend G300 in landscape allows you flip through the cover art.
Huawei has also added an FM radio should you decide your own music offerings aren't enough. Connecting the headset and selecting auto tune brings up different station.
It is possible to manually choose the station you want by using the little "scroll wheel", although this can be a little inaccurate under the thumb.
The external speaker isn't very powerful, but it will do to show off any video clips to your friends. We do recommend that you use the headset or your own set of headphones, as the sound quality goes up tenfold.
Given that Huawei has provided a 4-inch screen, you might choose to watch some movies on it. Unfortunately we can't say that video support is great, only supporting MP4, H.263 and H.264.
While we can't say that the screen is pin sharp, colours are reproduced fairly well. Huawei doesn't appear to have built this for the heavy media user, but it does everything well enough that you won't worry if you leave your iPod at home.
As with all Android phones, the YouTube app comes as standard, and videos are played clearly and load fast enough. You can also download films from the Play Store. On top of that, Flash capability means that BBC iPlayer is also available.
Getting media onto the Ascend G300 is as easy as buying overpriced greengage jam at a farmer's market. Plug the Huawei Ascend G300 into your PC via the bundled MicroUSB cable, select 'Turn on USB storage', and then drag and drop as you would with any other external device.
As for viewing that content, you can go via the pre-installed File Manager, or via the standard Android Gallery App. Google will also link to all your photos that you have uploaded with your Gmail account via Picasa or Google+.
Battery life and connectivity
Modern smart phones tend only to last about a day or so under normal use. Huawei has chosen to power the Ascend G300 with a 1500mAh offering, and we are pleased to report that it lasts the usual 24 hour window without getting to a critical level too quickly.
Having the power toggles in the notifications bar, as well as the Android power widget, really helps you squeeze out every drop of power.
The Android 4.0 update has seen Huawei drop some of its own power-saving features, though, so you'll see those disappear if upgrading your Huawei Ascend G300 from Android 2.3 to the new software.
You'll also be pleased to find that Huawei has made the Ascend G300 very connectable, with Bluetooth (a2DP), 7.2MBps HSDPA, and Wi-Fi connection to b/g/n standards.
Wi-Fi signal was generally very good, often showing two, and sometimes three bars where we expected only one. We can also thankfully add that we didn't find any dropped signal.
The Android operating system, whether you're using the Huawei Ascend G300's older 2.3 software or have updated to Android 4.0, also means that you can tether devices to it, in order to share your mobile internet to your other internet enabled devices, both wirelessly and as a wired modem.
If your mobile network enables you to use tethering, a linked HSDPA connection can be a great way to hook up a laptop when out and about, with the Huawei Ascend G300 saving us from boredom in such a manner very well on a few occasions.
Maps and apps
The Huawei Ascend G300 comes with a full set of Google apps, from Maps to Gmail and the Play Store. The update to Android 4.0 brings in the like of Google Plus and its Messenger helper, plus Play Movies for managing any films downloaded through Google's web store, Play Books and more.
Everybody has at some point played with Google Maps, whether the desktop or mobile version. Google's Android version apes the desktop version pretty well, and this is well shown off on the 1GHz processor.
Two fingered map rotation isn't provided, but sliding two fingers up and down the screen does tilt the map so you can take a different view.
You can also select from a variety of Layers, so you can populate the map how you wish, and even view custom built maps. Google's 3D mapping is also there where available. Connecting to the GPS signal was extremely quick, even indoors.
In conjunction with Google Maps is the sat nav application that Google calls Navigation. We don't expect the same level of functionality as dedicated satellite navigation devices, but Google's version does offer exellent turn by turn directions, both written and spoken.
The Huawei Ascend G300 also brings other bundled apps. For starters is the previously mentioned TouchPal keyboard, as well as a weather clock to go with the widget, a File Manager and Documents To Go.
It's refreshing to see a bundled File Manager, as not many phones come with these pre-installed. Documents To Go is only a basic reader for MS Office files, with document creation features available to pay for.
Internal memory comes in at around 750MB, with just over 2GB in an "Internal SD Card". This is a bit frustrating as if you don't initially set up the Huawei Ascend G300 to default install on SD, you will find that you might have to move a lot of apps over manually.
Hands on gallery
Let's be clear, the Huawei Ascend G300 was never going to be hot enough to set the world alight, but coming in at £100 (around $160) on PAYG, it's not going to burn a hole in your pocket.
Fitting a 1GHz processor, 5MP camera with flash and 4-inch capacitive screen into a phone at that price point is no mean feat, and hats off to Huawei for giving it a go and succeeding.
Just looking at the Huawei Ascend G300 you can see why we might like it. The chassis is smart, and has a certain HTC One X look about it, which for a phone at under 25% of the price is no bad thing. While not being the slimmest and lightest handset around, the weight suggests a sturdy build.
The capacitive screen is also very responsive, something that a lot of budget phones don't seem to manage.
We know it's also not anything major but we like to see Flash compatibility onboard as it's not something that's prevalent on budget Android devices because of lower-powered processors. The Huawei Ascend G300's 1GHz processor means that Flash - and all its upsides - are available, and it helps the OS to run smoothly.
It's also great to see the phone updated to Android 4.0. It seems a little unstable and we suffered a couple of app crashes during the re-review, but it's a vastly prettier and more capable operating system that totally refreshes the Huawei Ascend G300.
That said, performance wasn't exactly at the blistering speeds that maybe high end phones have led us to believe should be everywhere. There was the occasional lag, especially when trying to operate the capacitive buttons below the screen.
The upgrade to Android 4.0 taxes the Huawei Ascend G300's processor and limited RAM quite heavily. Multiple tabs make the browser crunch and you'll often have to wait a few seconds for the home screen icons to repopulate and appear when exiting an app.
And the Huawei keyboard is difficult to use. We found that we were inadvertently swiping sideways and selecting different layouts. We also found that we weren't always hitting the correct keys and the autocorrect wasn't as good as others. We eventually ended up switching to the standard Android keyboard.
When you initially pull the Huawei Ascend G300 out of its box, or out of your pocket, the smart design brings a smile to your face, but it's not one that will last forever.
Yes, it works well and it stable for the most part, but it'll start to feel a little slow once you've installed a few apps and used the phone for a while, as the effect of constant mini delays and niggles with the Android 4.0 update gradually wear you down.
The budget market is a difficult one to crack, with other offerings such as the Blackberry Curve 8520, and a few Samsung offerings like the Samsung Galaxy Y around, all competing against last year's higher end models.
Elsewhere we have to mention HTC One V, baby brother to the HTC One X and HTC One S. While being more than double the price (£230, around $370) on PAYG, the HTC One V does come in at very similar monthly tariff.
Huawei has put in enough tech to make the stylish Ascend G300 very appealing at such a low price point, and with the update to Ice Cream Sandwich now available it even manages to keep up with future devices.
But it's probably time Huawei boosted the memory and processor a little, since the demands of Android 4.0 and today's ever-larger games and apps means it can struggle to offer a smooth experience, especially when asked to multitask.