Review of the Huawei Ascend P1


Huawei (pronounced Wah-way) are generally known for low-end phones, but the Ascend P1 bucks that trend and aims much higher. Donít get me wrong however, the P1 is not a contender for the true high-end market, dominated by the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S3, the HTC One X, or the iPhone 5. However, itís no bottom feeder either. I guess the best way to describe its position in the market is say that it's upper-middle class. Itís a surprisingly good phone with just a few annoyances that may or may not put you off buying one.

Last Updated: 28-Oct-2012

Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.

At present the Ascend P1 (model U9200) is sold in Canada through Wind Mobile for $400 (straight-up price). The one I tested was unlocked and was operated on my Rogers account. This is because the phone supports not only AWS (needed for Wind), but also 850 MHz and 1900 MHz used by Rogers, Bell, and Telus. I borrowed it from Howard Chui, so itís the exact same one that he reviewed for HowardForums.

Also see Howard Chui's review of the Huawei Ascend P1 at HowardForums.

RF Performance

Click on this link for a full description of RF Performance, and how to interpret it.

The RF sensitivity on the Huawei Ascend P1 is slightly above average, but not by enough to separate it from the rest of the rabble. It can sustain a slightly higher data speed for slightly longer than a typical Samsung phone in fringe conditions for example, but the difference is too slight to be of any consequence. Most smartphones these days seem to fall into this average range when it comes to picking up a signal, with only Motorola seeming to do markedly better.

Audio

Click on this link for a full description of Audio Performance, an how to interpret it.

When it comes to incoming audio, the Ascend P1 is exceptionally good. The overall tonal balance is nice, with just enough low-end to sound almost rich. The earpiece produces lots of volume, so you can hear it well in noisy environments. The sweet spot is fairly large, and therefore quite easy to find as you move the phone around on your ear. The phone itself isnít the most comfortable Iíve ever used, but for long conversations itís much better than many of the phones Iíve recently tested, including my own Samsung Galaxy S II LTE (AKA the Skyrocket for US readers). Outgoing audio is fairly good and the phone includes a secondary microphone on the back to help cancel background noise.

Loudspeaker: In-call performance of the speaker (which seems to be the Achilles Heel for many phones) isnít half bad. It seems to suffer from far less sympathetic vibration than many other phones, including my S2 LTE.

For multimedia playback however, the speaker doesnít seem to produce the sort of sound youíd expect given the speakerphone performance. While none of the tiny speakers in phones sound exceptional, and of course they all totally lack anything resembling bass, the Ascend just seems to sound a little bit shallower than the rest. Volume is detectably lower than on my S2 LTE, and the overall quality is a little tinnier.

Headset Audio: The huge disappointment here is the exceptionally low external headset volume. This means that the volume youíll get through earbuds/headphones will be low compared to most other smartphones (or dedicated MP3 players). This low-volume problem isnít an issue when the device is hooked up to an amplifier however, because you can usually just crank up the volume control on the amp to compensate.

However, one my applications for a phone is to track my bike rides. I have an amplified speaker that goes on my handlebars that not only safely protects the phone in a hard shell compartment, it also allows me to hear the spoken updates from SportsTracker Pro as I ride. However, this expensive amplifier has a fixed gain and is designed for the standard output of most audio devices. In the case of the Ascend P1 however, it just isnít loud enough (by a long shot).

I thought I might be able to ďfixĒ the problem by using the Volume+ app (which I have a purchased copy of). Sadly this does not work, because if you turn up the volume too much the internal amplifiers just clip and distort. The end result is audio thatís still markedly fainter than what comes out of just about every other smartphone on the market.

To make matters worse, I observed random volume level changes that occurred when I used multiple audio apps at the same time (in my case, Google Navigation giving directions, Slacker Radio playing music, and Zello to talk with the wife). The jumps in volume are quite noticeable and forced me to adjust the volume on the car stereo. And by this Iím not referring to different volumes from different apps. I mean that the volume of the music suddenly got much louder, and then later got suddenly much quieter.

I initially couldnít believe this was a widespread problem and I thought it was just the unit I was testing. However, I did a search on Google and I found discussions threads that talked about this same issue, and so it seems that a lot of people have complained about it.

Display

The display on the Ascend P1 is a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED featuring a resolution of 540 x 960 (rather than the more standard 480 x 800 on previous-generation phones like my S2 LTE, or 720 x 1280 on most high-end phones). Like most AMOLED displays, it features deep blacks and well-saturated colors, though in the case of the Ascend P1 they might be a bit over-saturated (more on that in a second). This is otherwise a crisp-looking display whose only real drawback is that it doesnít get particularly bright. However, this is a common issue with AMOLED vs modern LCD displays such as those found on the HTC One X. At full brightness it is almost as bright as my S2 LTE however.

The over saturation is most obvious when viewing photographs. I took one of a face, and on the screen of the P1 the lips looked too red, as though the person was wearing lipstick. When I copied that same unmodified picture over to my S2 LTE the lips looked natural. For other uses however, over saturation isnít really a bad thing and the colors really pop on this display.

If this screen has a gotcha however, itís a lack of touch accuracy and sensitivity. Perhaps Iím just spoiled, but the screen on my S2 LTE always provides accurate touch predictability and I rarely find myself having to touch it twice to get something to happen. With the Ascend however, I found myself constantly actuating the WRONG spot on the screen, or I had to touch twice (which might have just been before I was missing the target). This was particularly evident when there were closely-spaced options to select, such as stacked hyperlinks in the browser or when pressing keys on the keyboard.

The problem isnít a deal-breaker, but it was aggravating enough to make the Ascend feel a little cheap. After enough use however, I managed to compensate for some of the inaccuracy by touching higher than I expected, but I was always conscious that I was making this adjustment.

Processor and Chipset

The Ascend P1 sports a dual-core 1.5 GHz Texas Instruments OMAP 4460 processor with a PowerVR SGX540 GPU. Neither of these chips is exactly top-end, but theyíre no slouch either. I found the overall performance of the P1 to be satisfyingly quick with no detectable lag and fairly smooth graphics performance. However, it only runs Ice Cream Sandwich and would probably feel even smoother if it had Jelly Bean. In terms of synthetic benchmarks, the P1 is once again hardly at the top of the heap, but it does well enough that it doesnít look bad when compared to many of the competition on the market, especially for the price.

I ran GL Bench 2.51 and I performed on-screen comparisons between the Ascend P1 and my S2 LTE. My phone managed to achieve a score of 1451 vs 1262 on the Ascend P1. However, if we allow for the difference in screen resolution however, my S2 LTE would only score 1075 if it had a 960 x 540 screen instead of an 800 x 480 screen (assuming results are linear). These numbers are hardly comparable to the newest high-end phones, but they are still pretty impressive for a phone with this market position.

Memory

This is one area where the Ascend P1 fails to impress, because the phone only comes with 4 GB of built-in flash storage. It does have a MicroSD slot (accessible from a covered slot on the side of the phone), so you can pop in up to 32 GB more. However, I couldnít find a way to move apps to the SD card (the button was missing in app control screen), and so it seems you are limited to the internal memory for apps. Depending upon how much internal memory the apps you install chew up, I had no difficult installing as many apps as I wanted without getting anywhere near running out of memory. Just the same, itís virtually a crime for a modern Android phone to come with so little onboard storage.

Fortunately the phone does come with 1 GB of RAM. Until the Galaxy S3 came along this was considered the defacto gold standard for the amount of RAM in an Android device. Given that so few models sport 2 GB, it isnít fair to mark down the P1 for having only 1 GB. There are plenty of high-end models (like the HTC One X and the Samsung Galaxy S3 outside of North America) that come with only 1 GB of RAM.

USB Connectivity

Unfortunately the Ascend P1 does not provide an option for USB Mass Storage, though it does provide a camera mode that allows you to download photographs directly over USB Mass Storage. I donít often use USB Mass Storage on my phones, but for transferring stuff really fast and conveniently, it canít be beat.

GPS

As usual, I tested the GPS by tracking my bike rides. This is a rather demanding application (for me at least), because I generally expect stellar accuracy. So far every single phone Iíve tested during 2012 has come up a little short in this regard compared to my S2 LTE. In fact, the only phone to come close has been my old Samsung Galaxy S Captivate. Surprisingly the Galaxy S3 didnít perform well in this test, even though youíd have thought it would.

The P1 doesnít seem to perform any better than the other phones Iíve tested throughout the last year. However, that leads me to believe that my S2 LTE (or perhaps all S2 LTEs) has pretty good GPS accuracy that just isnít the norm for other phones. That being the case, the P1 is right up there with the likes of the Galaxy S3 and the HTC One X. But like them, it just isnít as good as it can be.

Battery

The Ascend P1 comes with a non-removable battery with a capacity of 1650 mAh. When it comes to battery life, my experiences have been rather mixed. When the screen is OFF the battery drain is quite low and it looks like the phone could easily run for the better part of 2 to 3 days (even longer if you donít have background processes constantly updating themselves online). However, when the screen comes ON the battery drain is quite steep and much worse than my S2 LTE. I really donít have an explanation for this, other than to surmise that the AMOLED screen on the Ascend P1 is a much bigger power consumer than the one on the S2 LTE.

The charge rate is refreshing quick however. I was able to charge the phone from 50% to 90% in just half an hour. After the charge reaches 90%, the phone trickle-charges the battery the remainder of the way to 100%.

Data Speeds

The Ascend P1 supports HSPA+, which means theoretical speeds of up to 21 Mbps down and 5.76 Mbps up. However, in practice youíll probably never see speeds this high, but thatís more a function of the network youíre on than it is the phone. Iím used to seeing LTE speeds, and so running speed tests on the P1 brought me back down to earth a little. Still, in day-to-day use the phone seemed to have little trouble providing reasonably snappy performance on HSPA.

Camera

The Ascend P1 includes an 8 megapixel rear camera, but sadly this is one aspect of the device that doesnít quite meet the expectations generated by the rest of the phone. Image quality is descent in bright light, but it looks a little fuzzy in low light. The lens on my test phone wasnít consistent either, providing fairly good focus in the middle and blurrier focus on the edges. Color balance is also not particularly great, but it is something you can fix with Photoshop if you are so inclined.

Overall the pictures are fine if you donít pixel-peek, and so for taking shots to go directly on Facebook or Twitter (where the images are shrunk anyway, which hides a multitude of sins) the camera is more than adequate.

Conclusions

The Huawei Ascend P1 is a really good midrange Android phone. $400 may sound like a lot of money, but the typical high-end phone goes for $600 to $700 with no contract or tab. When you look at how little you actually give up compared to a true high-end model, the P1 is an excellent value. Even if you arenít on Wind, buying one and getting it unlocked to work on other networks might be worth your consideration.

However, I should note that if it were me considering the purchase of this phone, the extremely low headset output issue would be a deal-breaker. I use my phone heavily for audio-based apps and the low output had proven to be a pain for me during my testing of phone. If you are considering the purchase of this model, I would recommend you think seriously about the potential impact this issue would have on your enjoyment of this otherwise stellar phone.

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