Huawei Ascend G6
2nd Jul 2014 | 16:15
The Ascend G6 focuses on low price, 4G and the selfie
Huawei made a lot of noise last year launching its then-flagship Huawei Ascend P6, boasting that at 6.2mm thick it was the thinnest phone available at the time.
A year later, the Chinese company is back with a scaled-down version called the Ascend G6, which it hopes will appeal to budget conscious customers.
First up: Connectivity. Specifically, I'm talking about 4G. Huawei has built the Ascend G6 with 4G compatibility, something which is just beginning to arrive on handsets under £250.
Motorola added 4G for the Moto G 4G handset that comes in at £150 and the EE Kestrel (coincidentally manufactured by Huawei itself) offers 4G, albeit locked to EE, at only £100. Likewise, the 4G-capable Sony Xperia M2 will set you back around £230 SIM-free. The Ascend G6 though, boasts CAT 4 version of the technology, which is the fastest connection available so far.
Secondly, Huawei is looking to tap into the selfie crowd by equipping the Ascend G6 with a front-facing 5MP camera. Which is the same spec as the Moto G's main rear-facing camera. So, if you're fond of snapping yourself and need the fastest data connection possible – this should be the phone for you, right?
The good news is that the Ascend G6 is, design-wise, about as inoffensive as a smartphone can get. Like its big brother, the Ascend P6, there's more than a whiff of Apple's iPhone 4S about it – thanks largely to the faux-metal strip running along the outside of the chassis.
The 4.5-inch, 960 x 540 LCD display is bordered by a fairly sizable bezel that is most noticeable at the bottom where a plastic lip protrudes beneath the Android soft-touch navigation keys. The lip is where you'll find the small fingernail slot that lets you prise away the removable plastic back plate.
Beneath this there's space for the microSIM and microSD card, as well as the non-removable 2000mAh battery. When the phone is in one piece it tips the scales at only 115g and measures 130 x 65 x 7.5mm.
In real-world terms, this means it's a good size for one-handed operation and neither too heavy nor too light thanks to the plastic casing.
On the right hand side are the physical volume rocker keys and the on/off power switch. Unlike most other handsets, the microUSB port can be found on the top of the device, while the 3.5mm headphone jack is located at the bottom on the left hand side of the chassis.
I did find this beneficial when using headphones as the natural movement is to put the phone head-first into your pocket which, in this case, means less tangled headphone wires.
A small speaker grill is built into the bottom left of the rear of the phone while the camera lens and flash are above it, tucked into the top left.
Unfortunately, these particular placements can cause a bit of a problem when holding the phone in landscape mode as I found on occasion my fingers would cover the speaker when watching a video or slightly obscure the lens when taking a picture.
A more sensible design would be that of the HTC One M8 with front-facing speakers and a camera lens placed more centrally.
Huawei has done a better job of placement on the front of the phone with the camera lens again tucked up in the left hand corner, which makes it easy to quickly snap a one handed selfie. A small green light also appears on the right of the Huawei logo to let you know if you have an email, text message or notification that needs addressing.
Powering the Ascend G6 is a reasonable ARM 1.2GHz quad-core processor backed with 1GB of RAM. While the operating system is Google's Android 4.3 Jelly Bean (no KitKat here), Huawei has overlaid it with the same Emotion UI that featured on last year's Ascend P6 and again on the newly released Ascend P7.
The result is a rather more cutesy tone with some extra homegrown features thrown in that I'll address in more detail later.
The aforementioned microSD card is an absolute necessity as Huawei has only loaded the Ascend G6 with 4GB of native storage space. Space that will, as expected, fill up fast when you start loading on media and downloading apps.
In terms of first impressions, the Huawei Ascend G6 doesn't cut a bad figure. But I would say that the rather mature outward design of the handset jars slightly with the childish Emotion UI. Considering the price and the bracket in which the Ascend G6 falls though, it's difficult to find fault with the way the phone looks and the level of hardware that Huawei has built into it.
But how does it hold up once it's out of the box and working in the real world? It's a mixed bag, read on and I'll tell you why.
Key Features and Performance
This certainly is the case when it works. I found that mobile browsing speed and load times were excellent when I was out and about and needed to check a site or load up Google Maps.
However, on a few occasions during the time I spent with the Huawei Ascend G6, it lost signal altogether. This was in areas where I knew there couldn't possibly be a lack of signal and yet making calls and using my data connection became unavailable. In most cases, it righted itself after a minute or so but on one occasion lasted around 10 minutes and didn't correct itself even after I rebooted the handset.
Thankfully, there were no such problems with the camera – which is Huawei's other big selling point. The rear-facing 8MP camera is competent, and images came out crisp and well detailed.
But Huawei's real focus point is the front–facing 5MP camera which includes a 'beauty level' slider, letting you make yourself more attractive.
Now, I'll admit that in real life I'm not much of a selfie taker. But the Ascend G6 doesn't half make it easy to capture those kind of shots.
The beauty level lets you pick on a scale from 1 to 10 the amount of input you want the phone to have. Leave it at 1 and you get yourself warts and all, but whack it up to ten and the handset will blur skin imperfections and add some colour in an attempt to make you even better looking.
Worryingly though, all it appears to do is give you comically larger eyes and slightly pinker skin as you can see from my sample pictures. It did, however, give me slightly thicker and darker hair so I suppose I should be grateful for that.
Once you've selected your beauty level – or turned it off via the camera settings – and hit the shutter, you'll get a quick two-second countdown before the phone snaps you. During this time a small box appears in the top left hand corner letting you frame yourself perfectly.
Casual data blackouts aside the Ascend P6 handles itself quite well during day-to-day usage. The Emotion user interface makes a few subtle changes to the Android experience (for example, there's no app drawer – app shortcuts will load straight to the homepages) but anyone with a bit of smartphone familiarity will quickly adjust.
Each homescreen can be loaded with apps and widgets while a long press on the Home soft-key will bring up Google Now.
The slide-down notification bar gives you access to quick-fire settings while apps themselves can be laid out as you please or dropped into folders together for convenience.
As I mentioned before, the cutesy themes of the UI as a whole are a little off-putting – but each part, from the look of the lock screen to the sound of notifications, can be customised to your liking.
Huawei has loaded a fairly useful widget to the main homescreen that gives you weather, two slots for your most-used contacts and shortcuts to the music player and a selected gallery.
Despite adding its own UI, Huawei hasn't felt the need to stuff the Ascend G6 with loads of its own bloatware. Pre-installed apps are kept to a minimum of a few tools and the usual Google big-hitters like Gmail, Chrome and Play.
However one Huawei app, Phone Manager, is a useful bit of kit. It lets you scan your phone to determine the performance level and then optimise it through closing unnecessary apps or cleaning up temporary files to free memory. A second Huawei app, Bitcasa, lets you sign up for additional cloud storage space.
Watching media on the phone isn't a problem in terms of performance. Although the screen only boasts a 960 x 540 resolution with a 245ppi density, the colour reproduction is good and there's no problem with detail.
It can't match the eye-popping display of the Samsung Galaxy S5, but then this is a mid-level handset and therefore can be cut some slack. The one cause of concern is that the Motorola Moto G is cheaper than the Ascend G6 and still offers a 1,280 x 720 display.
Moving through the phone itself is swift and fairly easy, with the 1GB of RAM coping fine. I ran TechRadar's preferred GeekBench 3 benchmarking app through the phone and it returned a score of 344 for the single core and 1158 for the multi core. For comparison, that puts it faster than the similarly specced Sony Xperia M2.
Battery life and the essentials
Battery life on the Huawei Ascend G6 wasn't a problem at all. The fact that you can't remove the 2000mAh battery means you won't be able to slip a spare in if the phone dies, but overall I got plenty of time from a single charge.
The mid-range specs and relatively low resolution on the screen means the juice isn't drained too quickly. I was easily able to get a full day's use from the device, making calls and taking regular pictures with all the push notifications turned on.
Subjecting the Huawei Ascend G6 to a 90-minute video with full brightness and all settings on drained the battery from 100% to 78%.
Should you run into trouble though, there is a power saving option that you can select to eke out a bit more usage.
You can choose from smart, endurance or normal modes that each adjust the CPU performance and network usage for the best possible balance between battery life and performance.
It's a small option, but one that can prove extremely useful if you're suddenly caught short without a charger.
During my time with the Ascend G6, I was actually able to get past the look of the UI fairly quickly but I did have problems with Huawei's keyboard.
The 4.5-inch screen size isn't much of a problem when it comes to space, but often I found typing difficult because the Ascend G6 wasn't good at picking up which key I had tapped. Often instead of registering the space bar, the keyboard would think I had tapped the full stop, which sits right next to it.
This issue cropped up both when writing emails or crafting text messages and quickly became an annoyance. Exasperated sighs and much re-writing became the norm, especially when I was in unsteady environments like a moving train carriage.
Because I spend so much time typing on my phone, I found this to be a real problem. Predictive texting was pretty much spot-on which helped to alleviate some of the problem, as did switching to the standard Android keyboard. But ultimately typing on the Ascend G6 just isn't good enough.
There's full Google certification, which means you can download any apps from the Google Play store, although Facebook and Twitter already come pre-installed.
As Chrome is pre-installed, you don't need to bother with the standard Android browser (although both are similar).
Bluetooth and NFC are both supported which means you can pair up wireless headphones, activity trackers or other accessories with a quick tap if they support NFC and standard Bluetooth pairing if not.
In short, while performance isn't a problem with the Ascend G6 – its specs and design are well up to scratch – usability falls a little short. Typing and calling, two of the basic principles of any smartphone were both difficult on this handset. Which is a shame because I felt Huawei largely got most of the other things right
While the front-facing selfie camera might get most of the attention, the rear-facing 8MP snapper isn't bad either and Huawei has given you the standard Android settings to play with, plus a few others.
The beauty scale slider is still here, so you can theoretically make your friends as attractive as you are. There's also HDR shooting and the choice of a few different filters like sepia or negative.
The Huawei Ascend G6 will shoot at up to 3,264 x 2,448 pixels with the rear-facing camera and also boasts autofocus and LED flash for dark environments.
You can geo-tag each picture as well as employ face detection of panorama mode for those sweeping vistas. It'll also shoot video as high as 720p HD.
Huawei is now a lot more visible as a mobile phone manufacturer than it was a year ago and, arguably, its ascension really started with last year's Ascend P6.
If the Chinese firm wants to challenge companies like Samsung on an international level then it will need to hit customers at various different levels of cost and performance demands.
That then, is the reason why we have the stripped-down Ascend G6 that offers a solid benchmark of specs and then a couple of extra features like CAT 4 4G and a decent selfie camera to turn our heads when looking for our next mobile.
Unfortunately, it's a real mixed bag as the Ascend G6 has some great qualities like design and performance let down by usability niggles. Even falling back on mid-level credentials is dealt a blow by the presence of the excellent Motorola Moto G in the same price bracket.
A clean, unspectacular design helps, rather than hinders in this case. Huawei has clearly taken a lead from Apple and the Ascend G6 benefits as a result. The minimalist chassis is a little Xperia-like and as well as looking good, is also easy to use and comfortable in the hand. It's available in black, white, gold, pink and blue as well, just to add a little choice to the mix.
Likewise, the specifications hold up under pressure and battery life is pretty good for a phone of this price. There isn't the usual boatload of pre-installed apps and the few that Huawei does package up are actually quite useful.
Lastly, it's hard to ignore the current selfie craze and if you're looking for a phone up to the task then this is it. Although I'm not sure there are many of us out there that would buy a mobile phone for the sole reason of taking selfies.
Where design and performance excelled, usability suffered. On more than one occasion I was confronted with a complete signal loss that meant no calling or browsing of any kind. This seemed to go away after a couple of days, but it's still a cause for concern.
Secondly, typing on the Huawei Ascend G6 wasn't a pleasant experience. I don't have particularly large fingers and have spent a lot of time typing on 4.5-inch and 4.7-inch screens, yet this caused me some serious problems. Constant retyping of words because the Ascend G6 hadn't registered the correct key began to get very tiring after a while.
I also feel that the custom UI is a love-it-or-hate-it affair. Some will enjoy the simplicity and friendly look of it, while others will long for the native Android experience.
Huawei is attacking a crowded marketplace already represented very well by the Motorola Moto G and while the Ascend G6 has got a lot to recommend it, I feel it falls at the last hurdle. Whilst specifications and design are both well represented considering the price, the usability isn't as good here as it is elsewhere.
There are definitely good features to take advantage of and as 4G becomes the standard, the Huawei Ascend G6 is a well-priced entry point. The difficulty is that either side of it are better handsets. If you don't want to spend as much, buy the Motorola Moto G 4G variant instead and, if you can afford a little more, pick up the Google Nexus 5, which offers better value for money.
But this particular handset shouldn't dissuade you from keeping an eye on Huawei in the months to come. The company's flagship models are impressive smartphones and my expectation is that Huawei will raise its game in the future to bring us some truly competitive handsets.
First reviewed: July 2014