The devil is a very busy man lately. He’s been on a tour of China, visiting upstart mobile phone manufacturers with a deal. You give me your soul, and I’ll show you how to make and sell an Android phone for an absurdly low price and still make a profit. There’s almost always a compromise somewhere: a terrible camera, shonky screen, creaky construction.
Thing is though, Satan’s being mugged off. With the arrival of the Huawei Ascend G300 on Vodafone, I’m really struggling to see where the catch is.
While Vodafone’s not new to selling cheap smartphones with a heavy subsidy (Remember the Electricpig phone?), this is the first one bearing Huawei’s brand – Huawei fancies itself as the next HTC. It’s also the first one that’s actually good.
If Huawei does want to be the next HTC, the next white label brand to make a name for itself, it won’t be with design just yet. The Huawei Ascend G300 is pleasant, with a strong frame, curves reminiscent of the HTC Desire S, and a pleasant black on cream motif. It’s not sexy, but it is perfunctory. And it is big.
That 10.5mm thin shell has space enough for a 4-inch screen, the same size as the Samsung Nexus S, and half an inch bigger than the iPhone screen. At 800×480, it’s far from the sharpest display on the block, and it can’t match the low priced Nokia Lumia 710 for colour quality. But it’s sharp enough – sharper than most new Windows Phones, for instance, so you can watch videos or comfortably read a long article.
Are there flaws? Sure. The capacitive keys below the display aren’t the most responsive in the world. You have to give them a bit of a mush sometimes. And some users have found a curious problem with the volume levels in the phone – one we’ve not been able to replicate.
But being able to type and surf the web on a huge screen without any slowdown or struggle? That puts it ahead of the competition already.
Huawei’s sexy Android platform…
There’s no denying that any phone launching now on the now out of date Android 2.3 is doing so with one hand tied behind its back. But Huawei’s done its best to cushion the blow, with a well thought out, slightly tweaked version of Android Gingerbread.
It’s not exactly thrillingly labelled, but the Huawei Android Platform (HAP) keeps most of the default Android features – contact management, browser – and throws in welcome extra features, like connection toggles in the pull down notification tray.
Huawei’s not dear about these either – it’s scrapped quite a few apps included with its Blaze phone released last Autumn (Its social networking SNS widget, for one), and a representative tells me it’ll happily bin more if Google makes them redundant.
There’s one jarring exception to all this: the terrible default Touchpal Input keyboard, with unnecessarily small buttons. As I’ve said before, it’s useful for Chinese users, of which Huawei has many, but it seems odd that at no point did either Huawei or Vodafone think UK users might prefer something else, as most Brits don’t text in Chinese.
Google’s own keyboard springs to mind – and as you can see from the gallery, I installed it immediately – but SwiftKey is another excellent option – just be aware that you can replace it, and you should expect better.
But what’s most remarkable about the Huawei Ascend G300 is what’s going on under the hood. The five megapixel camera, which shoots only standard def video, produces results that are par for the course, but it’s powered by a single core 1GHz chip that destroys the competition at the budget end of the market.
Here’s the thing: this turns in better benchmark scores than the Nexus S, a phone that cost £450 on launch in late 2010, and was the first phone to be updated to Android 4.0. On Quadrant Standard, it repeatedly scored over 2,000, a healthy number not far shy of the first dual-core phones that emerged last year.
That translates to day to day use too. You can play Grand Theft Auto 3 on this bad boy (Yup, it’s supported). Even if Flash is dead, some video services still use it (BBC iPlayer on Android, for instance), and it runs smoothly too.
And still, you get better battery life too: a full day of use with syncing on from a 1500mAh capacity battery.
Android now and future
There’s one more thing which makes this particularly interesting: Android 4.0. I don’t normally like talking about updates in the future – companies all too frequently over-promise and under-deliver (Cough Motorola cough).
But Huawei’s promise of an Ice Cream Sandwich update later on in the summer sounds very plausible. The company has shown it can update phones quickly, and a representative also told me that the update will be made available as a download from its website.
The advantages are two-fold: it won’t be staggered like Samsung’s botched update for the Galaxy S2, and there’s no reason to keep it looking like Gingerbread either, which means we can expect most of the (wonderful) vanilla ICS experience, since only those interested will seek out the update.
Given its impressive benchmark skills, a phone like this running Android 4.0 for £100 would represent astounding value – even more so than it does already – and make the £220 HTC One V look vastly overpriced.
One of the inevitable side effects of working for a gadget news site is that, roughly once every 18 months, my friends actually want to talk to me. One cornered me last week with the standard request: “What phone should I get?” They didn’t want to spend much.
I suggested the Nokia Lumia 710, which has now reached an absurdly low £130.
“Does it have Draw Something?”, they asked.
No, I sighed. Get the Huawei Ascend G300 instead. And that’s what they did. The Huawei Ascend G300 might not be the top phone on anyone’s list, but in this price range, you won’t find anything more polished, with apps to boot.