Huawei Ascend W1
9th Apr 2013 | 11:57
Who's ready for a cheap Windows Phone 8 thrill?
Aimed at the bottom end of the market, the Ascend W1 doesn't sport the premium polycarbonate unibody of the Nokia Lumia 920 or the sultry design of the HTC 8X, as it looks instead to rub shoulders with the Lumia 520 and various Android handsets such as the Ascend G330, Orange San Diego and ZTE Blade 3.
With its rivals in mind you won't be surprised when we tell you the Ascend W1 will set you back £119.99 on PAYG, or £13.50 per month on contract.
O2 currently has an exclusive deal to range the handset, although we're told Huawei is in talks with other carriers about selling the W1.
You can pick the Ascend W1 up in a fetching shade of Electric Blue or Electric Pink. It also comes in black (as our review model did) and white, but it's not clear if the dark hue will be making its way to shop floors.
The first thing you'll notice is instead of the glass fitting snugly into the body of the phone, on the Ascend W1 there's a noticeable ridge running all the way around the handset, giving the impression that it's just been slapped on top - reminiscent of the HTC One V.
There's a noticeable lip below the screen where the coloured plastic rear protrudes slightly, and it's not a look we're particularly keen on - although it does give you a flash of blue or pink from front on if you've chosen one of those colour options.
The Ascend W1 does feel a bit bezel-heavy especially below the display, with the three navigation keys housed in a sea of black coupled with the chassis peeking out below.
This adds extra length to the W1, but it's not too much hassle in terms of the size as the W1 measures a manageable 124.5 x 63.7mm.
At 120g the Ascend W1 is a good weight for a 4-inch smartphone, and while the handset measures 10.1mm in depth, the slightly curved polycarbonate back rests nicely in the hand and provides some grip.
The all-plastic construction is hardly a surprise considering the price, but the Ascend W1 does at least feel sturdy and capable of taking a few knocks.
There's an easy to reach power/lock key on the top of the handset, sitting alongside a headphone jack, while on the left there's an equally well positioned volume rocker switch.
On the right you'll find a dedicated camera key towards the base of the W1 - a requirement for any handset running the Windows Phone platform.
The microUSB slot on the bottom of the device is aligned to the right side instead of the traditional middle and while this makes absolutely no difference when it comes to using the Ascend W1, it did get us wondering why Huawei had positioned it to one side. Answers on a postcard, please.
Nip round the back and you can expect a dose of deja vu, as the design of the 5MP camera lens and single LED flash is almost identical to that of the HTC One X.
Towards the bottom of the Ascend W1 there's the Windows Phone logo sitting above an elongated speaker grill, which we found kicked out a decent volume - although audio quality wasn't the greatest.
A bonus here is the fact you can peel off the rear cover of the W1 to gain access to the 1,950mAh removable battery as well as the microSIM and microSD ports.
Slightly frustratingly, you need to remove the battery to access both of these slots, so you won't be able to quickly swap SD cards as you please.
As we've already mentioned the Huawei Ascend W1 is the first handset out of the Chinese firm to run Microsoft's new Windows Phone 8 operating system.
Huawei has equipped the Ascend W1 with a 1.2GHz dual-core processor and 512MB of RAM to run the Windows Phone show, which isn't too shabby for a handset costing a touch over £100.
The 4-inch display may only boast a 480 x 800 resolution, but Windows Phone 8 still looks pretty good with the blocky live tiles and formulaic design far better suited to lower quality screens than Android or iOS.
General navigation is pretty slick with the dual-core processor inside the W1 making light work of WP8, allowing us to glide through our live tiles and the app list.
We were able to jump in and out of most apps quickly and the user experience is further enhanced by the simple, intuitive design of Windows Phone.
When things become a little more demanding the Ascend W1 does struggle at times, with graphically intensive apps seeing load times increase by several seconds.
If you jump in and out of apps at a high frequency, the W1 can become a little confused as it tries to keep pace, meaning you'll need to wait a few seconds for it to catch up - although this didn't happen particularly often.
You're greeted with the lock screen first. A simple slide up allows you access to your homescreen, but there's more than that to see here.
Along the base of the screen you'll notice a range of notification icons, giving you a quick overview of the number of new messages/missed calls you have.
You can also link the homescreen background up to Facebook, allowing it to display various images from your gallery, which is a nice touch - plus it can also show your next calendar appointment or text from your latest email.
The live tiles on the homescreen provide a basic, yet informative overview of the key areas on the handset, including messages, calls, emails and calendar appointments, and they can be moved around, resized and removed with ease by holding down on them.
Slide from right to left and you'll enter the vertical app list with all the programs appearing in alphabetical order - making it an easy and fuss-free way to browse your applications.
Hold down on an app and you can pin it to the start menu as a tile, or uninstall it if you no longer require it on your phone.
One of our pet hates when it comes to Windows Phone is the way it displays (or more accurately the way it doesn't display) key information such as battery life, Wi-Fi connection and mobile signal by default.
Microsoft tells us it hides this information to allow you to make use of the whole screen, but we honestly wouldn't miss five pixels at the top of the display, plus it's frustrating when you can't view these details at all in some applications.
Take Facebook for example. If it suddenly stops working, you want to see if you still have signal or a steady Wi-Fi connection, but you have to leave the app to find this out - and that's a real pain.
The touch buttons below the screen - back, home and search - weren't always the most responsive, sometimes requiring two or three attempts before they registered our pokes.
Contacts and calling
There's nothing to get too carried away with over in the contacts app - or "People" as Microsoft likes to call it - with a simple list of all your buddies and the ability to pull through details from the likes of Facebook, Hotmail, Google and so on.
The Ascend W1 does a relatively decent job of matching various people's accounts up with their respective social media profiles, although we did need to join some manually - mainly those friends who have ridiculous aliases on Facebook. (We're looking at you, Goose, Tandoori Max and Jason Derulo.)
You can easily jump to a specific letter in your address book by clicking a lettered tile, which then displays the whole alphabet on screen for you to select from.
While everything looks relatively sedate on the surface, the People app is more powerful than it first appears.
Jump into a contact's profile, swipe sideways and you'll be able to view their latest social media updates, various online photo galleries and your messaging history with them.
Back to the main list and a sideways slide here reveals more options including general social updates, recently used/viewed contacts and access to the Windows Phone groups and rooms features.
Adding a new contact is simple: just hit the "plus" button at the bottom of the screen and follow the on-screen wizard to get your new-found friend added.
The phone app is your one-stop shop when it comes to actually phoning someone on the Huawei Ascend W1, with a simple yet functional design allowing you to get on the blower as quickly as possible.
By default you're taken to your call history, with a basic list of your last calls - a quick tap on the circular phone icon next to a person will see the Ascend W1 dial that person.
If you hit the person's name you're instead taken to their contact details, which is a bit annoying if you're trying to call someone back and manage to miss the small phone icon.
A simple tap on the number in the contact card will also see the W1 dial away, so while it's not a huge issue, the phone image is so small in the main app that it can be a pain at times.
Of course you can use the old fashioned keypad it you want to tap out a number with your digits, plus there's a link to your address book at the bottom of the screen.
We found the Ascend W1 held signal well, although it didn't always pick up the expected 3G connection.
Call quality was acceptable, but it's not going to blow you away - although for £120 you won't be complaining.
We experienced no dropped calls or audio issues during our review period and our contacts could generally hear us clearly.
A minor bugbear with Windows Phone 8 is answering calls, which sees you having to slide up on the screen and then tap answer to pick up a call - which is a frustrating additional step when you compare it to the single swipe required on Android and iOS.
We've come to expect our smartphones to offer a plethora of messaging options these days and the Huawei Ascend W1 is no exception.
Basics such as text messaging and emails are handled with dedicated applications on the W1, with the messaging app employing the same basic layout as other areas of the handset.
There are no profile pictures pulled through, but the simple speech bubble layout makes it easy to follow conversations, with bubbles picking up the colour theme selected in the settings menu - green in our case.
An added bonus here is the "online" mode which you can access by sliding sideways from the message list.
Set yourself to appear online and you'll be able to instant message your friends on the likes of Facebook and MSN Messenger (which is currently being engulfed by Skype) without having to fire up separate apps.
It's a nice little feature which is easy to use and if you're someone who finds themselves always chatting away on Facebook's IM you'll love this.
As you add email accounts to the Ascend W1 you'll notice they appear as separate apps in the app list. You can chose to link all these accounts into one unified account if you don't want several apps cluttering your phone, or several tiles getting in the way on your homescreen.
Email accounts can be easily linked by opening up one app and selecting "link inboxes" from the menu at the bottom of the display on the Ascend W1, which will take you to a new screen allowing you to select the particular addresses you want to group together.
Adding a new email account is easy enough with setup wizards already in place for the likes of Google, Hotmail, Outlook and Yahoo making the process even quicker.
Emails display nicely on the 4-inch display of the Huawei Ascend W1, with HTML messages appearing fully zoomed out to start with and you can easily zoom in and pan around for a closer look.
Many Android phones won't let you zoom out completely on emails, which can be a tad frustrating, so it's good to see this functionality built into the client on Windows Phone.
As well as Facebook being baked into the Windows Phone 8 operating system - which allows you to chat online with friends via the messaging app - there's also a dedicated app for the popular social network, which can be complimented by the likes of Twitter, Skype and Whatsapp from the Windows Phone store.
When it comes to text input every Windows Phone 8 handset is the same, as manufacturers are not allowed to tinker with the default keyboard option.
To be fair to Microsoft it hasn't done a bad job, with a decent dictionary built into the system, but next word prediction leaves a lot to be desired and the lack of punctuation keys on the main layout can frustrate as well as slow you down.
The 4-inch display on the Ascend W1 means things are a little cramped and those of you with larger digits may find yourselves hitting the wrong keys.
Luckily the screen on the W1 is pretty responsive, so as long as you can accurately hit the required letter you should be able to get a decent typing speed.
The Hauwei Ascend W1 comes with the usual internet connections - 3G and Wi-Fi - allowing you to easily hop online with the help of Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser.
If Internet Explorer isn't your cup of tea, well, tough. It's the only choice of browser you get with Windows Phone, with no third party options knocking around in the Windows Phone store.
There's nothing overly complicated when it comes to the browser on the Ascend W1, with the URL bar located at the base of the screen, but there are no back or next tab keys, just three dots which opens up the wider menu.
From this menu you can open multiple tabs, access and set favourites and jump into the deeper settings of the browser.
It's not easy to tell how many tabs you have open, as you need to select the tabs option from the menu to get a thumbnail overview, which slows down the browsing experience - something we don't need to worry about on Android, iOS or BlackBerry 10.
As you may expect from a handset which is setting you back £120 internet performance is variable, with the lightning speeds of high-end handsets absent from this part of the market.
We found the Ascend W1 was on par with the Nokia Lumia 620, loading mobile sites is a relatively quick 3-4 seconds.
Desktop sites are the handset's downfall though, with content heavy pages such as the world famous TechRadar.com taking over 20 seconds to fully load, although you could start moving around the site after about seven.
Browsing over 3G sees several extra seconds bolted onto the load times, depending on your signal strength, so you may want to leave those image rich sites for a Wi-Fi connection.
Content renders well enough to view, but there is a noticeable lack of sharpness and colour, with pages looking a little washed out.
Annoyingly there's no text reflow on the Ascend W1 which means you'll be scrolling sideways as well as down to ready large swaths of content.
You can conduct a web search from the URL bar at the bottom of the screen, but there doesn't appear to be a way to change the search provider off Microsoft's Bing - something which can be done on the likes of the Lumia 820.
Camera and video
There's not too much to shout about on the camera front on the Huawei Ascend W1.
There's a 5MP rear with single-LED flash - which for a budget handset isn't bad - plus a front facing VGA snapper, handy for video calls.
First the good news - as per the Windows Phone mantra the Ascend W1 comes with the customary dedicated shutter key on its right side, providing you with a quick and easy way to launch the camera app (even from the lock screen) and snap a photo.
Once you land in the app though you'll find it to be pretty sparsely populated, and any budding phone-based photographer will be better off with a high-end Nokia if Windows Phone 8 and picture taking is your bag, baby.
You can toggle the flash, switch between front and rear cams and adjust ISO, white balance and the resolution - but that's pretty much it.
There are four scene modes - macro, portrait, sport and backlight - but we tended to level the setting on "auto" as the W1 was generally pretty good at working out what we were shooting.
Lenses, a new feature in Windows Phone 8, aims to give you more options but the Ascend W1 only comes with "Bing Vision" pre-installed, which works in a similar way to Google Goggles on Android - take a snap and the W1 will search the web for similar pictures or products.
You can download more lenses from the Windows Phone store such as Photosynth, which allows you to shoot panoramas, and translator, which can turn text into the language of your choice. We don't know why these free options aren't installed by default though.
Tap to focus is available, but doing so immediately takes a photo which is a bit annoying, and there's no way to turn off the auto shutter. You're best off using the two-stage shutter key and hoping the Ascend W1 focuses on the right thing.
Image quality is acceptable, but you're not going to blow anyone away with amazing clarity or colour reproduction, and moving targets prove difficult for the lowly snapper.
It's much the same when it comes to capturing video using the Huawei Ascend W1, with limited options and middle-of-the-road quality available.
You access the video recorder through the camera app, and there's an icon at the bottom of the screen to switch between camera and video modes.
The same scene and white balance controls are present here, plus you get the choice of shooting in either VGA or 720p via the rear 5MP camera.
You can start and stop a recording by tapping the screen or pressing the shutter key, but you won't be able to snap a picture while shooting, nor will you be able to toggle the flash on or off - that has to be set before hitting record.
The video produced by the Ascend W1 is once again acceptable, but you won't be shooting a wedding video any time soon on this handset, with it suiting the occasional Facebook upload far better.
This may be a budget handset, but with a dual-core processor, 4-inch display and microSD card support the Huawei Ascend W1 does have the ability to function as a half decent multimedia player.
Of course the screen resolution won't blow you away when watching films, nor will the audio output delight the ear canal of audiophiles, but for £120 you do get a certain degree of bang for your buck.
The 4GB of internal memory could prove a stumbling block, but the microSD port hidden round the back of the Ascend W1 quickly puts initial fears to bed.
Annoyingly though you do have to remove the battery to access the microSD slot - putting a stop to quickly swapping various cards.
You can easily hook the Ascend W1 up to a computer with a USB cable and drag and drop content onto the handsets, if you don't fancy pre-loading an SD card.
Your music is managed alongside your videos in the Music + Videos app - giving you access to your library of tracks as well as the Windows Phone store where you can download tunes.
The no-frills theme which runs through the Ascend W1 is continued here with a simple set up allowing you to access your tunes via artist, song title or album, plus there's the ability to create playlists on the fly.
Playback is more than acceptable and with a decent set of headphones you can get a pleasing audio experience out of the W1 - although the likes of the HTC 8X with its dual amps and Beats Audio tech kick out a richer round.
In terms of format support the Ascend W1 will happily play MP3, WAV, WMA and eAAC+ tracks.
As we've mentioned, you can add to your music collection via the Windows Phone store where there's a huge range of tracks available for purchase.
Singles tend to be priced around the 79p-99p mark, while albums can range from around £4.99 to £9.99 - which is pretty much on par with the likes of iTunes and 7Digital.
Microsoft also offers its own music streaming and download service - similar to that of Spotify - called Xbox Music, giving you access to millions of songs, all of which can be accessed from the Music + Videos app on the Ascend W1.
For a budget handset the Huawei Ascend W1 offers up a decently sized 4-inch display, although the 480 x 800 resolution means you won't be getting anywhere near HD quality here.
There's no video store here, so if you want to watch movies or TV shows on the Ascend W1 you'll need to stick them onto a microSD card or copy them to the internal storage of the phone.
We found that video playback was OK, although images weren't the most well defined and the screen lacked colour - appearing a little dark and washed out.
The Ascend W1 supports the main video formats including MP4, WMV and H.264 and .263 - so you should be able to play your clips without too much issue.
Thanks to its lightweight design and rubberised rear the Ascend W1 is easy to hold, even for extended periods of time - meaning it's not overly taxing on your wrists if you do decide to catch a movie on it.
All your lovely pictures - whether they were taken on the 5MP camera in the Ascend W1, or stored on your micro SD card - can be found in the photos app.
It also pulls in photos from your social networks including Facebook, which makes it easier to navigate through the thousands of shots you've posted online.
Images can be backed up to SkyDrive, ensuring you won't lose your favourite snaps if the worst should happen to your Huawei.
There are some rudimentary editing tools which allow you to crop, rotate and "fix" your snaps - the latter applying an auto filter which attempts to brighten up the darker areas and boost colours.
Battery life and connectivity
The Huawei Ascend W1 packs a decently sized 1,950mAh battery under its thin plastic rear and you can remove it from the handset by peeling off the back cover.
This will be music to some people's ears as you're able hard reset the handset by removing its life source, as well as swap out a dead battery for a fully charged one - although you probably won't need to worry about that with the Ascend W1.
We were seriously impressed with the battery life on this handset, and we managed to get not one but two full days out of the W1 between charges - putting this handset almost in a league of its own when compared to many smartphones these days, which struggle to see out a full day.
Of course an intensive gaming session or full length movie will see a chunk of the battery drained, but even with relatively heavy usage we never feared for the life of the Ascend W1.
While we've experienced pretty poor battery life results on a lot of the Windows Phone 8 handsets we've put through their paces, the Ascend W1 seems to have cracked the potential problem other manufacturers have encounters - HTC, Samsung and Nokia, it may be time for you to have a chat with the folks over in China.
A bonus with the Huawei Ascend W1 is the fact you can peel off the whole rear cover of to gain access to the battery as well as the microSIM and microSD ports - the latter of which is handy seeing as there's just 4GB of internal storage.
Connections can be managed in the settings menu, although the lack of quick setting toggles or the ability to pin things such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on/off tiles to the homescreen makes them a little bit of a chore to access.
Getting files to and from the phone is pretty easy - plug the Ascend W1 into a PC via the USB slot on the bottom of the handset and once done you can use it like a USB flash drive and just drag and drops files on and off the handset.
The folder system is simple, with clearly labelled Picture, Music and Video folders making it easy for you to see what goes where.
Maps and apps
The standard Windows Phone 8 mapping solution comes preinstalled on the Huawei Ascend W1, allowing you to locate yourself in the world and get directions home.
Locating our position sometimes took a couple of seconds, while at other times we had to wait around 10 seconds before our correct location was displayed on screen.
The maps are functional but no where near as comprehensive as Google's offering on Android which has additional features such as StreetView and public transport information.
You can download maps for use offline - which could come in useful if you go abroad or fancy a hike in the mountains out of the reach of mobile signal.
Panning and zooming around maps was generally fluid over Wi-Fi, although via 3G things could get a bit sluggish.
What is not included out of the box is a turn-by-turn navigation system, which means those wanting to use the Ascend W1 as a sat nav will need to jump into the Windows Phone store.
We downloaded Nokia's free Here Maps and Here Drive Beta to give ourselves a dual mapping and navigation combo and ignored the pre-installed maps.
Here Drive Beta worked well when we took it for a spin across the country, managing to track our location and speed accurately and handily informing us when we went over the speed limit (which was hardly ever, honest).
The battery also managed to hold up pretty well during the two-hour drive and we didn't need to dash for the charger when we reached our destination.
In terms of pre-installed apps the Huawei Ascend W1 is pretty light. There are none of the manufacturer-made offerings which adorn Nokia's Lumia range, but that's not necessarily a bad thing as it gives you a blank slate to work with.
The Windows Phone store is on board and is your one-stop-shop for apps, games and music downloads.
In terms of selection it's some way short of Apple's App Store and Google's Play Store, but it is growing every day, and favourites such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Spotify and Ebay are all present and ready for download.
Looking at what comes already on the Ascend W1 you get all the standard stuff including calculator, calendar, maps and web browser.
A bonus of purchasing a Windows Phone 8 device is the inclusion of Microsoft's mobile version of its Office suite and OneNote, giving you access to Word, Excel and PowerPoint on your smartphone - all of which can be synced with your SkyDrive to make sure you have the latest documents in your hand.
Complex Excel spreadsheets can be a little tricky to tackle on such a small screen, but it's a handy feature if you need to make a quick edit or brush up on some notes before a meeting.
Games are downloaded from the Windows Phone store and your collection can be accessed via the Games app - which syncs up nicely with your Xbox profile allowing you to keep track of your achievements and the progress of your mates.
Some of the games are also linked to Xbox Live with their own set of achievements, while others are standalone offerings.
Hands on gallery
There's a wide range of reasonably priced Android devices on the market now and Windows Phone 8 has a job on its hands to break the Google dominance in the budget arena, but the Huawei Ascend W1 at least gives it a fighting chance.
The handset packs a decent array of features, and while it's by no means perfect, you could do a lot worse than the Ascend W1.
It's the battery life on the Ascend W1 which really stole the show for us. We could easily get two days out of it between charges, and in today's world of power-hungry smartphones that's almost unheard of.
The unfussy and easy-to-use Windows Phone platform makes the Ascend W1 an intuitive proposition for anyone looking to take their first steps into smartphones, and the £120 price tag is certainly an attractive one.
A removable battery and microSD slot are welcome additions and while the design isn't exactly blockbuster, the Ascend W1 at least feels relatively sturdy.
We did find the Ascend W1 slowing down from time to time, especially if we tried to jump between content-heavy apps too quickly, and the internet browsing experience isn't the best we've had on a budget device - take a look at the Orange San Diego.
The 5MP camera round the back isn't bad for a low-end device, but picture quality left quite a lot to be desired, so don't expect to get fantastic snaps.
We've come to expect free turn-by-turn navigation on our smartphones these days, with even the most budget Android handsets doubling up as sat navs, so it was disappointing to find the option wasn't pre-installed on the Ascend W1 - although a free version (courtesy of Nokia) can be downloaded.
When you consider the Huawei Ascend W1 will set you back just £120 it's difficult to fault, as you're getting a pretty good deal.
The Ascend W1 comes with a strong set of features allowing you to fully use the handset as a mobile phone, internet portal, handheld gaming device and multimedia station.
It may not excel at any of these things, but that's OK. You're not going to buy the Huawei Ascend W1 for power, you're going to buy it for practicality and value for money - and those are the criteria it absolutely wins out on.