Huawei Ascend P2 review

65/100

WhistleOut
01 August 2013

Telstra banking on a Huawei smartphone in its range is a big deal in Australia. Having Australia's biggest telco behind Huawei for the first time gives legitimacy to the Chinese brand in a way that it has struggled to manifest itself. But is the P2 the right phone at the right time?

Design

The P2 is a remarkably easy to phone to lose amongst a collection of smartphones in the WhistleOut labs. Sure, we should clean up more often, but this wouldn't save the P2 from looking like so many of its peers. It's large touchscreen, gives way to glossy plastic trim and a soft-touch black plastic back plate, creating a very familiar look black-coloured slate.

Staying true to form, Huawei position the power button on the right-hand side (like Samsung) include a camera button below it (like Nokia) and have a 3.5mm headphone socket on top (like everyone else). Not that there is anything wrong with sticking with norms, but don't expect any innovation in Huawei's design this time.

The battery cover is non-removable, which is a surprise given that it looks like it is designed to be separated from the rest of the phone, with a thick seam between the back-cover and the plastic sides.A nano-SIM fits into the side of the phone, but there is no slot for a micro-SD card.

For all of its samey sameness, the P2 does have a lovely 4.7-inch LCD touchscreen. With IPS screen technology and a 720p resolution, the screen on this phone is bright and bold, with superb off-axis viewing angles. It does show some colour-banding when displaying gradients, which is a shame, but not completely detracting from its excellence otherwise.

Huawei include a generous 32GB of internal storage in the P2, which is a good thing as there is no MicroSD card slot to expand this memory yourself.

User Experience

If you're familiar with Samsung, Sony or HTC Androids, the look and feel of Huawei's phone user interface may seem fresh and unfamiliar. This is really just a coat of paint though, with the same core Android experience just a surface below.

Huawei call this its 'Emotion UI', and it features a few cool ideas, though is far less comprehensive than HTC's Sense UI or Samsung's TouchWiz. Front and centre, when you first turn the phone on, is the Emotion UI widget, which takes up most of a screen and features spaces for a favourite contact; the weather, date and time; a music player and an image gallery.

Despite having a unique appearance, the Emotion widget isn't any more (or less) useful than a number of free downloads through Google's Play Store.

More interesting is the ability to apply a theme to the phone. Most of the time a phone theme is comprised of a different wallpaper and ringtones, but with the Emotion UI a new theme changes much more. Icons, fonts, the way certain core system elements are displayed -- these themes like a full-on makeover for the phone.

There are even more unique options in the system menu, including the ability to change the size of fonts across the system, Dolby Audio settings and a toggle to switch 'gloves mode' on -- whatever that means.

Camera

If our description of this phone is less than glowing so far, it is about to take a turn for the better. The Ascend P2 features a 13-megapixel resolution back-side illumination (BSI) camera module that is actually pretty good.

It doesn't have the vast list of gimmicks and features built-in to Samsung and HTC camera phones this year, but it does take a reasonably good photo and it does so reasonably quickly.

It does have a couple of neat extras in its bag of tricks, like a panorama photo mode and a couple of goofy distortion filters, if that's your kind of thing.

Connectivity

Central to the selling proposition behind the P2 is Huawei's inclusion of Category 4 LTE hardware. What does this mean? Basically, it is 4G, but faster -- capable of speeds up to a theoretical maximum of 150Mbps under optimum conditions. These include the standard network obstacles like network congestion and coverage, but also that the network have 20MHz if contiguous spectrum in your area.

Telstra has some 20MHz coverage, in Perth and Adelaide for example, and some areas with 15MHz contiguous spectrum, like Sydney and Melbourne. This means that you might see blazing fast speeds if you're in the right areas, but more than likely the experience will be pretty much the same as any other 4G phone.

In our tests in Sydney, we saw downloads speeds up to only 12Mbps, which may sound slow compared to 150Mbps, but it is still fast enough to get things down.

Performance

Huawei may design its phone to look like the competition, but it pulls away from the crowd in its components, choosing to go with its own in-house chipset rather than something made by Qualcomm or Nvidia.

This is the second time this year we've had a chance to see the Huawei K3V2 quad-core chipset in action, and we are just as underwhelmed this time as we were before. The P2 generally feels sluggish, and though everything works OK, it feels like you are dragging a troublesome puppy around by a leash when swiping through home screens and launching apps. It follows your lead, but is slowly just behind your commands.

Battery life is better, though fairly average, with 5-hours of continuous video playback and 4.5 hours of web browsing under pressure tests. This equates to a day of regular work-a-day use.

Overall

Huawei has been pacing the perimeter of the Australian mobile landscape for the past few years, waiting for us to pay attention. It's sort of a shame that its first telco-backed handset is so painfully average. Not bad, but not surprising either. All-round performance is fine, but not stellar, battery life is fine and all other components are functioning.

It's screen is the stand-out feature, but there is such strong competition in this space that it will be difficult to stand out based on this feature alone. If you're living in one of Telstra's Cat 4 LTE supported cities, you might experience the faster 4G speeds, though whether or not you'd make use of them is up to you.


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