If someone offered to sell you a computer for AU$99, would you be suspicious? Optus is selling the new Huawei X1 for the same price, locked to its network, and although this is undeniably a bargain, there are several factors that new smartphone shoppers will need to consider.
Our hats are off to Huawei for delivering a sturdy, well-designed handset on a budget. Last year's el-cheapo Android from Huawei, , was also a great phone for its price, but it suffered from dodgy plastic body syndrome. The X1 doesn't; with a soft-touch rubber-like battery cover, and an attractive mix of plastic trims, the X1 looks the part of a more expensive model.
The same cannot be said for the 2.8-inch QVGA display, which is both central to the user experience of the X1 and to the cost saving in the AU$99 price tag. This screen is amongst the lowest-quality displays we've seen cross our desks this year, and it's seriously to the detriment of the device as a whole. Text and images look blocky, and the viewing angle is appalling, meaning that the colours in the image are distorted when viewed at any angle other than straight on.
This small screen also impacts on the way we use the phone. Simple things, like home screen navigation, are fine with a screen this size, but text entry using the standard Android keyboard is a nightmare when our thumbs are large enough to cover a third of the screen with a single press.
The X1 has a 3.5mm headphone socket on top and a micro-USB cable port on the bottom of the handset, with a 3-megapixel camera on the underside. There isn't much memory on-board, only about 150MB, but this is expandable with a microSD card which can be inserted into the appropriate slot under the battery.
For just under AU$100, we can't say that we expected much in the way of customised user experiences from Huawei — for this money, we'd be happy with the stock Google Android experience. But the X1 benefits from the work that Huawei has put into its more expensive models, and so the UI is quite rich and easy to use.
Huawei's custom UI has borrowed elements from a number of different Launcher apps (apps that control the home screens and menus) that we've used over the last few years. The apps drawer, for example, looks a lot like the layout in Samsung's Galaxy series and the 3D rotating home screens remind us of the excellent ADW Launcher found on the Android Market.