Huawei Ascend P1
2nd Aug 2012 | 15:45
Budget phone maker attempts to blag an upgrade to business class
The Ascend P1 is the first of Huawei's high-power Android models to hit the UK, offering a large 4.3" display, coupled with a dual-core processor running at 1.5GHz, with front and rear cameras, DLNA support and full 1080p video capture abilities.
The most exciting thing about the P1 is its OS, which gives us an oddly rare chance to use a version of Android 4.0 on a phone that's unskinned and free from troublesome meddling by the manufacturers.
There are several Huawei interface skin options within the P1, but you'd be mad not to use the untouched Android 4.0 option. In fact, that's one of the key reasons to buy the thing.
Prices are a little up in the air at the moment, but it would appear the Ascend P1 is likely to go on sale for around £340 unlocked, with Vodafone offering it on contracts from £26 a month.
These aren't really the sort of super-budget prices we've come to expect from Huawei, maker of the Ascend G 300, the current sub-£100 smartphone of choice.
Can the P1 justify a price tag that's asking for three times' as much money as its capable cousin?
Huawei's opted to use the standard three Android buttons of Menu, Home and Back, with no place here for the multitasking button found on the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.
The touch-sensitive buttons are backlit, illuminating themselves whenever you prod the screen. You can have a little haptic feedback on them too, if your brain needs telling when you press a thing.
It's more rounded than the angular models we've seen of late from Sony or the equally slim and light Motorola RAZR, with no sharp edges to be found anywhere on the P1's body.
At only 7.7mm thick it's one of the slimmest phones around today, plus the 110g weight means you barely notice it in your pocket regardless of how "on trend" and skinny-fitting your trousers may be.
To help achieve this level of thickness Huawei has sealed the chassis, so you're not able to remove the battery.
On the plus side, there is a magical little flap that lets users stick in their own SD card, so you're able to whack in as much additional memory as you like.
Round the back sits the camera sensor and LED flash, which have been given their own little mound.
The full size SIM slot is also hidden behind a stopper on the top edge of the P1, where you find the micro-USB adaptor and the 3.5mm headphone jack.
The power button's at the top of the right-hand side, which seems to be the logical place to stick it these days.
The Super AMOLED display, all 4.3-inches of it, is impressive. It's bright, very usable outdoors if you stick the brightness up to maximum, plus it's nice and responsive to touch.
It also seems reasonably tough and durable, as it's not yet scratched or scarred in the slightest after a week of use.
The back of the phone's glossy and smooth, with a lower, fatter ridge at the bottom that helps you balance the Ascend P1 in one hand.
It's a slippery little thing with none of the matte black rubberising we usually see, but it's nicely balanced, so we never felt like it was going to end up in pieces on the laminate.
It fits the hand well. Despite the large screen size Huawei's done a good job of keeping the P1 slim, so you don't feel like you're trying to wrap your hand around a dictionary when holding it.
The Ascend P1 is built around Android 4.0.3 with the great news that Huawei has given us the option of using an untouched version of Google's OS if we so wish.
This means you get five home screens to edit and fill with your icons and live widgets, a floating dock of four constant icons for easy access, plus the pull-down notifications menu as your little communications hub.
App shortcuts can be grouped together in folders simply by long-pressing on one and dropping it on another, which automatically generates a folder.
Widgets are installed in the new Android 4.0 way, which is by pressing the central icon on the floating dock, then scrolling through the visual previews and dragging any you like the look of to the home screen.
Huawei has also pre-loaded several skins of its own, with some alternate Home launchers available if, for some odd reason, you don't want to use the untouched Android 4.0 option.
These look pretty awful, especially the "3D" option, which is not 3D at all, and simply offers weird isometric widgets that fake a bit of depth.
We're so very glad that unskinned Android is an option here. It's big selling point, in fact.
One change Huawei's made to Android 4.0's usual features is in ignoring the multitasking button.
Huawei's copied HTC's approach here, in asking users to long-press on the 'Home' key in order to pull up the nice little list of previously used apps and menu screens.
This means some users will probably never know it exists.
Huawei's done quite a job on customising the lock screen, which comes supplied with four icon slots sitting around the edges of a circle.
A setting within the phone's security menu lets you edit three of these four icons, adding in shortcuts to any app you'd like to be able to quickly access from the lock screen.
You also have the option of changing the lock screen itself, with Huawei adding in a 3D version, plus, of course, Google's standard face unlock feature is in here, using the Ascend P1's front-facing camera to recognise your face and open it up within a second or so of having your likeness analysed.
Or you can use the usual PIN/password options to keep your sexy texts safe and secure.
The other key Android accessibility feature is the Notifications pane, which you slide down from the top of the screen to access your hotlist of recent updates.
Android 4.0 introduced the ability to slide out individual messages and leave only the important ones up there, creating your own mini to-do list of unread messages to action later.
Contacts and calling
The Ascend P1's contacts section is the same standard Android 4.0 option as found in the likes of the Galaxy Nexus, which divides your entire social world into three broad sections, accessed through tabs atop the screen.
The central tab accesses your big list of all the people you know, with the left-hand tab breaking them down into groups where you can group people you know through work, family members or friends, while the third tab lets you quickly access those contacts who have been starred and are considered a favourite.
The favourites page is one of Google's big visual changes for Android 4.0, with the associated mugshots of your bessie mates getting blown up into a huge grid.
Some photos end up looking a bit messy and low-res when automatically scaled like this, but if you can be bothered to take the time sourcing good images of your pals it can eventually be made to look quite flash.
Plus, if you scroll all the way down, there's a 'Frequently Contacted' list populated with the details of people you bother the most.
Each person's contact page comes with the anti-social option to send all their calls direct to voicemail, plus Android lets you select a specific ringtone for each person, add email addresses, instant messaging details, nicknames, plus support for internet calling through video chat apps.
The dialler's your clean and simple Android 4.0 option. It supports quick dialling for pulling out contact entries once you start typing their names, or there's a shortcut to the contacts section below.
Voice quality on calls was good; nice and loud with a pretty natural feel to voices.
One nice little touch in Android these days is its collection of calling and messaging shortcut icons for the 'Home' screen.
Add one of these icons to a screen and the OS asks you to pick an entry from your contacts section, granting you one-touch access to phone or text a favourite person.
Huawei's also added in its own security software, the utilitarian Huawei Security Guard.
This lets you block calls, create a blacklist and whitelist of callers, pulling in data from your existing call log to make living out your control fantasies a little easier.
The app also lets you add password encryption to any file on your phone's memory or SD card.
The text messaging system is the standard Android 4.0 option, giving you pretty threaded messages jazzed up with mini contact photos of the person you're bothering, plus image, audio and video attachment options, or the chance to hold up the phone and capture a pic or video live and have that automatically resized and attached to the message.
Sadly, Huawei's put its own keyboard on here as the default option, which, although responsive and lag free, has some odd issues correcting your typing.
The phone seems to be supplied without a dictionary, with even the most basic of words appearing underlined and unknown, with the prediction system also lacking as a result.
You can also swipe the screen to switch Huawei's keyboard to a numeric keypad option, just in case you haven't upgraded your phone for a decade and would like to stick to the old T9 system.
Sticking with the stock Android keyboard is your best bet, as it manages to look better and has many more advanced text-editing systems.
Pressing a word that the spellchecker doesn't recognise highlights the whole thing and pops up dialog box, from which you're able to select an alternative, delete it or add it to the dictionary.
Punctuation is also easier than ever, with a long-press of the full-stop key bringing up a window with all the important comas, brackets and exclamation marks, encouraging the youth of today to experiment a little with traditional old grammar.
A similar system is used to predict your words, too, with the keyboard placing a "..." beneath some words, which can be long-pressed to again list alternatives.
If you really want to pretend it's the future and don't embarrass easily, Google's speech recognition tool is there to let you dictate messages.
As ever, it's a little hit and miss, but it can do a good job with simple sentences. Although you might spend longer editing the results than you would've on typing it properly the first time, so it's usually best not to bother.
Another welcome untouched Android 4.0 feature is the email app, which Google has transformed into a very slick and responsive tool.
It's easy to initialise, requiring just your email address and password to kick off the automatic setup process, with the app then letting users select their polling frequency, whether or not to download attachments and populate a customisable list of quick responses to send back quick, boring replies to people you can't be bothered dealing with.
The advantage of using Android 4.0 at its core really shines through when using the web, with the Ascend P1 featuring the same excellent, highly evolved webkit browser Google added into its Ice Cream Sandwich version of the mobile OS.
The key feature is the updated tabbing system, which is activated through a button beside the URL bar. This is a much better, simpler way of handling web sessions than in Android builds of old.
You can also activate the nerdy little hovering tab system, which lets you ditch all of the on-screen stuff in favour of a floating menu button pulled in by sweeping a finger in from the side of the display.
This curved little menu handles the open tabs, generating mini previews to slide through, plus you can get to settings, bookmarks, and everything else without fuss.
The dual-core processor does a fine job of building and scrolling even the most complex web pages, with double-taps automatically zooming in the view and re-flowing the text to make it even clearer and sharper on the P1's excellent display.
The browser supports offline reading, with pages you opt to save appearing under a 'Saved Pages' tab inside the history and bookmarks section.
There's also the option to browse in incognito mode and open incognito tabs, where none of your internet activities are recorded.
Text is handled well, too.
Long-pressing on a chunk of words pops up the two start and end tabs, which can be shuffled about until you've highlighted the bit of text you'd like to plagiarise, with a tap of the text copying it to the clipboard.
Furthermore, a little menu lets you search Google for the copy selected, or share it using Android's standard sharing system.
Flash content is also displayed without fuss.
Embedded videos and the BBC's iPlayer app both work well here, so if you spend your time playing rubbish internet games and re-watching Question Time, this'll get those jobs done.
Our Ascend P1 arrived with two music players pre-loaded, Huawei's own Music+ app and the notorious Google Play Music app which still doesn't work as advertised within the UK.
Although, despite having its online sharing and cloud syncing options missing in action here, Google's Play Music app is still worth keeping as your default music player.
It's built around Google's newly beloved tab system, with tabs along the top for your recent tunes, artists, albums, songs, playlists and genres.
Playlist support is totally intuitive. The 'New Playlist' option creates a brand new little collection of songs, then long-pressing on a track lets you stick it into your new party mix.
Android also generates a 'Last Added' playlist, for easy access to whatever you've just stuck on the phone.
That's the alternate Music+ app, which adds in a scrollable list of album art and folder support, plus Huawei's Dolby Digital feature, which can be toggled on or off here.
The onboard speaker's very loud, easily filling a room with your awful music without even taking the output up to max volume. Activating the DD tool makes it a bit louder. It's a nice player.
In fact, it's all very nice with a pair of functional home screen widgets and lock screen controls, but we can't help but longingly stare westward at America, where Google sells music through its Play Store.
There's none of that fun for us here, even in Android 4.0, so the Ascend P1 therefore doesn't come with any way of buying music direct through the phone pre-installed.
Video playback support is good. As well as the commonplace MP4 files, the P1 handled a basket of AVI files without hassle or glitch/sync issues, making it a good choice for those of you with a massive collection of movie and TV shows to watch on the go.
The 4.3" display is bright, clear and great for watching media, with videos and your own photos and clips looking superb on Huawei's wide screen.
There's even a file manager on here for navigating to your SD card and finding media you've stashed away, which is handy.
Google's Videos app – which manages movies bought through its Play Store - isn't on here, which is a little odd, but then it's on the Play Store for download if you feel the need to rent a 2002 romcom for £3.49.
Camera and video
The Ascend P1 comes with a camera sensor rated at 8-megapixel power, with the phone producing some fine, sharp and detail-packed images.
And the video player captures 1080p footage as well, so you might want to stick a larger SD card in your basket when buying the thing.
Huawei's made plenty of customisations to the standard, rather bland Android 4.0 camera app, and very nice it all is too.
A slide-out menu lets you add in piles of image effect filters, engage the oh-so-hilarious facial distortion tools, or get a little more technical with amendments to the white balance, ISO, exposure, saturation, contrast and brightness.
As well as the useless negative and posterize filter effects you do get some decent retro options, which come in a few varieties and do indeed add some pleasing depth to the images.
Detail is great on the 1836x3264 images, with little in the way of compression noise or artefacts.
HDR is a bit of a pain to use as you need to hold the phone very, very still to avoid the images emerging blurry, so it's best saved for landscapes and exceptionally interesting clouds.
Rather than capturing a sequence of shots and letting us suggest the best one as part of the previewing process, the P1 just dumps all the burst captures to its memory, leaving you to manually delete them all later, which takes some of the fun out of the burst-capturing scene.
The 1080p video footage is excellent, but at around 200MB for a minute of video, you'd expect it to be. Moving water is captured with ease, details like hair and grass, which many other supposedly high-end mobile sensors gloss over even at 1080p resolution, look great when captured with the P1, plus the frame rate's solid and reliable.
If we had to pick a hole in the video output it'd be a moan about the autofocus, which struggled on occasion to focus quickly. But for the most part it's a great camera to use across the board.
Battery life and connectivity
The Ascend P1 comes with your usual smartphone connectivity options, with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth onboard, full 3G compatibility and Wi-Fi Direct for easy setup, along with an FM radio for stealing music through the air waves.
One thing it's missing in comparison with other high-end Android models is NFC support, but we doubt that's a huge deal for most buyers right now.
As there's no HDMI output on the Ascend P1, media sharing is handled via the company's own DLNA app, which also adds a simple DLNA option within the Android sharing menu, making it super easy to ping files to friends hanging out on the same wireless network.
The easiest way to get your stuff off the P1 is through Android's excellent sharing menu, which lets you ping everything, anywhere.
Images, web pages, videos and the rest of your mobile data can be sent out via any email accounts you have on the phone, through your Twitter feed, dumped on Facebook or Google+, with Google's mobile OS making sharing stuff a breeze.
If you're worried about the P1 hoovering up too much mobile data, Android 4.0 comes with a useful Data Usage app, complete with a nice little graph to illustrate your data consumption and an automated warning for when you get close to your limit.
This can even be set to monitor Wi-Fi use, if you're also on a limited home bundle.
Google's Talk chat app is part of the P1's Android suite, plus there's a voice dialler that supposedly lets you ring your contacts without fuss, although the voice recognition here seems particularly poor.
The instruction "call home" resulted in the voice dialler thinking we wanted to "Open date and time settings" for example. Won't be using that again.
We found the Ascend P1 to be a good performer in terms of stay-working-ability.
The phone and its integrated 1,800mAh battery made it through a day of moderate use very well, a day that consisted of leaving the email app to sync every 30 minutes, the usual Twitter chores, plenty of photography and some general fiddling, plus even the odd call and text message.
It's up there with the best in terms of battery life.
Maps and apps
The Google apps are represented here as you'd expect, with the usual Gmail, Calendar, Google+, YouTube and Play Store apps to get you going, plus the Google Maps tools and its associated navigation and location spin-offs.
GPS lock was obtained very quickly indeed. So quickly, that the Ascend P1 had us pinpointed on a map while we were still fiddling with the menus to set up a route to navigate.
Once locked onto your position, Android's a fantastic satnav companion, offering turn-by-turn directions, the option to zip ahead to the next bend and check it out on Google's Street View tool so you can plan ahead, plus it's all fast and smooth on the P1's impressive hardware.
As for other toys to play with, Google's Movie Studio tool is a useful way of compiling videos on the phone.
It's simple to use, with the main input method being the big plus sign used to import video clips into the lower editing timeline.
Once your videos are in, pressing one lets you trim it, or there's a new plus sign to add on another – and music can be imported to soundtrack it all, too.
If you've ever struggled to edit a video on a desktop, you'll be amazed how easy Google's made the process on a phone, although chopping a minute of 1080p footage in half takes a good few minutes for the P1 to process, so it's not something you'll want to make a habit of if you regularly capture in full HD mode.
There's also a very handy image editing tool as part of the Ascend P1's software.
This lets snappers amend their shots, add many more filters and generally fiddle with the photo output.
Results are mixed, but the Lomo style filters do a good job of boosting the colours and contrast.
Huawei's included a full version of Polaris Office on the P1, which is handy.
While most phones ship with trial or read-only proiductivity tools, Huawei's gone the extra mile here and given us a full version of the suite, which comes with all your rich text-editing features and document creation.
Hands on gallery
The Ascend P1 offers a surprisingly powerful and smooth Android experience, made all the better by including the option to bin Huawei's user interface modifications and opt for a virtually untouched "Ice Cream Sandwich" experience.
Combine that with a great camera and generally glitch-free experience and you've got a smartphone that's among the finest out there today.
Hooray for Huawei in offering us the option to choose between its various interface options or use the standard Android 4.0 layout and design.
Given how bland and generic Huawei's interface skins are, being able to go for "vanilla" Android is a godsend here. Where Huwaei has tinkered with Android 4.0 it's mostly for the better.
The camera app's a much more polished and useful thing than it is on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and other Android 4.0 devices, plus the customisable lock screen's clever and there are some useful additional apps pre-loaded on the P1, like Huawei's own DLNA app and content-encrypting security tool.
The Ascend P1 is incredibly smooth in use. Android's home screens feel super solid and slick here, with menus and apps popping up and doing their business without any glitches or slowdown whatsoever.
The build quality seems a little suspect. The plastic back cracks and creaks, plus the lightweight feel of the phone doesn't help reassure you of its durability.
Huawei's attempt at updating the stock Android keyboard is a bit of a weird option.
It's fast and lag-free, but the spellchecker quite simply doesn't work. Typing "Gello" doesn't autocorrect to "Hello" and it seems to be supplied with virtually no pre-learned words in its dictionary.
There's only 4GB of internal storage space on the P1, which won't last long when recording video clips at 1080p resolution.
There is an SD card slot on here so it's not really an issue, just make sure you're budgeting an extra £8 or so for a decent SD card.
The Ascend P1 is a very impressive attempt at making a high-end Android phone to compete with the likes of Samsung and HTC.
It's very, very smooth and fast in operation and great fun to simply poke and use, with more than enough power to handle apps and web use with ease.
The camera takes great still shots and produces extremely impressive 1080p footage, plus being able to quick-launch the camera from the lock screen makes quick work of grabbing impulse shots of dogs doing funny things.
The Ascend P1 doesn't quite manage to replicate the same classy feel as HTC's One series or the Xperia S, but it gets very, very close and is a great option for anyone looking to combine serious power and size while also avoiding manufacturer skins and getting a "pure" Android 4.0 experience.
The £340 or thereabouts price tag means it's approaching the sort of prestige prices charged by the Samsungs and HTCs of this world, though, and to really compete we'd like it to feel a little more solid.
If you can live with its lightweight feel, the P1's a seriously enjoyable and powerful phone.