Huawei Ascend P1 (unlocked) review: Huawei Ascend P1 (unlocked)

My review unit oddly didn't come with Google's standard set of apps, such as Google Play (formerly known as the Android Market,) Google Maps and turn-by-turn navigation, Gmail, Google Place, and YouTube, to name my favorites. Huawei assured me that an update to the final software version would instate these regulars.

Huawei of course adds its own suite of homegrown, licensed, and partner apps. My review unit (a global version that hasn't been optimized for the U.S.) contains Hispace, Huawei's online store front, backup app, and a couple of Chinese-language apps. You'll also find Polaris Office for productivity, Security Guard for, ahem, security, and the full version of the Riptide GP jet ski racing game.

Taken with the Huawei Ascend P1
Colors were oversaturated in this shot. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

The Ascend P1's 8-megapixel camera is an unfortunate example of why having more megapixels isn't always better . Thanks to Android ICS, there are plenty of settings, which include HDR and burst mode, panorama, and low-light mode. There are also lighting and special effects, and adjustments you can make for white balance, saturation, and so on. I couldn't find a way to shut off shutter sound.

Taken with the Huawei Ascend P1
The Ascend P1 couldn't produce sharp edges or vibrant real-life color here. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

I shot photo and video in automatic mode in a variety of lighting situations (including a friend's wedding.) Camera quality itself was variable. Some photos were clear and sharp, while others showed flat colors and blockiness, or overexposed or oversaturated color. Most of the time, colors weren't natural and the camera couldn't be counted on to focus, despite an autofocus mode and despite a trio of attempts to get the photo just so. My photo test walks you through the collection, after some shots of the phone itself.

Taken on the Huawei Ascend P1
The camera module cooperated enough to capture this soda dispenser at Lucha Libre, a San Diego restaurant. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

On the other hand, the 1080p HD video I took (especially of a koi pond) turned out well. You can view for yourself in the video sample below.

Play

Performance
I tested the unlocked pentaband (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; WCDMA 850/900/1900/2100/AWS) Huawei Ascend P1 in San Francisco and San Diego using AT&T's network. The Ascend P1 isn't optimized for the network, but that understanding didn't help the phone sound any better. Not that the audio quality was bad, per se. Volume sounded good to my ears, and voices on the other end of the line sounded natural. However, even as the audio retained its warmth around the edges, the core voice I heard sounded digitized, sometimes breaking up. I'd call it robotic at times, and never fully clear. Sometimes the speaker's voice broke up.

For his part, my main test caller said I sounded distorted and hollow, a combination that made conversation distracting. He heard a hint of echo, but pronounced my overall intelligibility as acceptable, along with the volume. He also heard my voice break up at times.

Huawei Ascend P1 call quality sample Listen now:

I tested speakerphone in my usual spot, and held the phone at waist level. Volume sounded fine at the medium-high setting, and voices still sounded warm, if slightly muffled. My caller agreed that the Ascend P1's speakerphone was "normal for speakerphone," which means echo was present and I sounded distant. There were the same complaints about sounding hollow, but we were able to carry on a conversation.

The Ascend P1 runs on a 1.5GHz Cortex-A9 dual-core processor from Texas Instruments, the OMAP 4460, to be specific. Internal speed wasn't an issue during my testing period, with apps like the camera loading fairly quickly. Data speeds, however, were another story, mostly because of an ongoing data-provisioning SIM card issue that Hauwei, AT&T, and I are sorting out. I'll update this section when I do get to test network data. Speeds cap at HSPA+ 21 as the phone's fastest theoretical Mbps download rate. What I expect for U.S. users is a slightly faster-than-typical real-world rate of about 20 to 30 seconds to load a graphics-heavy Web site like CNET.com.

In the meantime, Wi-Fi fulfilled my data requirements while I was testing out the Ascend P1. For instance, I was still able to test video playback (and not data specifically) by streaming YouTube videos from YouTube's mobile site on the P1. Video playback didn't hang or skip over Wi-Fi, which indicates that the processor can more or less handle the load. There was some blockiness and blurriness, which could have several contributing factors, including the quality of the original video, the screen, and yes, possibly the chipset (since a more powerful processor is better equipped to fill in graphically intense details for smoother graphical rendering.)

Conclusion
The Huawei Ascend P1 that so impressed us at CES isn't quite as shiny or new a few months down the road, when other Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich phones are also trotting out top-of-the-line features. Its design is arresting, but the just-adequate camera and so-so call quality wouldn't inspire me to pay the ballpark $600 unlocked price. Still, it's a handset I'd love to see take root in a carrier portfolio, at the very least for some eye candy and to assess how well the data and voice elements work when tuned to a specific carrier's bands. Moreover, the P1 is a good example of the caliber of phone that Huawei should strive to sell in the U.S., where the brand is still little-known.

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    Huawei Ascend P1 (unlocked)

    Part Number: CNETASCENDP1ULK
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    Quick Specifications See All

    • Technology WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM
    • Combined with With digital camera / digital player
    • Service Provider Unlocked
    • Weight 3.88 oz
    • Diagonal Size 4.3 in
    • Sensor Resolution 8 pixels