EE was the first UK network to bring us delicious, speedy 4G mobile data. Unfortunately though, it demanded a premium for access to its next-generation network tech, and EE's 4G remained the preserve of UK-dwelling oil barons and child millionaires.
The operator that brought us 4G is looking to change its image, however, with its first operator-branded smartphone, aimed squarely at those shopping on a budget. The EE Kestrel will cost just £100 on pay-as-you-go when it launches at the end of April, or £14 per month with no up-front cost. But does it soar like a mighty eagle? Or should it be shot out of the sky like a clay pigeon?
The Kestrel (EE has told me all of its own-brand phones will feature ornithological names) is compatible with EE's 4G network, nabbing you significantly faster data speeds on your smartphone. The Kestrel is an LTE 'category 4' or 'CAT4' device, which means it can achieve theoretical speeds of up to 150Mbps -- though EE says that average speeds are between 12-15Mbps.
That's still very fast, and should let you load Web pages or download MP3s in mere moments. Something to bear in mind however is that EE's data allowances aren't particularly generous -- if you buy the Kestrel with the cheapest £14 per month deal mentioned above, you'll get a
poultry paltry 500MB of data for the month.
Unless you're very careful there's every chance you'll blast through that before your time is up, so you'll need to be very cautious about what you stream and download, or pay more for extra data.
Design and display
The Kestrel is built by Huawei, and is almost identical to the Huawei Ascend G6 that made its debut earlier this year. It won't be winning any prizes for style, but during my brief hands-on I was struck by how light it felt, and I didn't notice any signs of shabby build quality.
The back features a whopping great EE logo, while the bottom of the Kestrel is gently curved, and plays host to three touch-sensitive keys. Above this you're treated to a 4.5-inch display.
That panel is relatively small in comparison to massive mobiles like the Samsung Galaxy S5 or HTC One M8, but should fit comfortably into your hand, and will be large enough to do justice to your photos or a spot of BBC iPlayer. It has a 540x960 pixel resolution, which isn't as sharp as some more expensive mobiles, but is a long way from blurry. I thought it looked like a perfectly serviceable display.
Around the back there's a 5-megapixel camera, while a 1-megapixel camera sits on the front. Other phones offer higher-resolution sensors, but cost-cutting is the name of the game here, and I suspect both snappers will prove adequate for quick, simple snaps of friends, or the odd selfie.
The Kestrel is powered by Android 4.3 Jelly Bean at launch, though EE told me it was looking at ways to update this phone to 4.4 KitKat -- the latest version -- in the future. Jelly Bean may not be the latest version of Android, but it's still very sophisticated, with access to a wealth of excellent apps through the Google Play store. EE has added several of Amazon's apps too, and you'll get Huawei's visually-tweaked Android skin, which you can see in the press shots in this article.
The Kestrel plays host to a 1.2GHz quad-core processor. In my hands-on time I didn't notice any lag swooping through menus -- everything was very slick indeed. There's 8GB of on-board storage, and there's the option to expand this using a microSD card, if you need more room.
The Kestrel doesn't pack the most luxurious hardware, but with such a low price, it's hard to find fault with the phone itself. The sticking point is likely to be EE's tariffs themselves, which still don't offer a huge amount of data. The chance to get involved in 4G without breaking the bank is an exciting prospect however, so stay tuned for the full review, and let me know your thoughts in the comments below.