On the apps front, there are the usual Android 2.1 offerings, like an HTML browser, Google Maps, Gmail, Navigation, Places, YouTube, an audio recorder, and the Latitude social location app. A file manager handily lists the phone's multimedia files.
The aforementioned interface clutter is apparent with the nine apps that come preloaded on the phone. MetroPCS has added a heaping spoonful of its own branded apps and shortcuts: the MetroWeb browser, Metro411, MetroNavigator, MetroPCS Easy Wi-Fi, @Apps Metro App store, Metro e-mail, and a shortcut to extras.
You'll also find a pile of third-party apps like Boingo Wi-Fi, Document To Go, a free games shortcut, Loopt, Mobile Banking, Mobile IM, Pocket Express, Uno, and Virtual Card. As with most preinstalled apps, none can be deleted from the Settings menu. Additional free and premium apps, like instant messengers, are available through the Android Market.
For e-mail, the Ascend supports Gmail, POP3, IMAP, and Exchange accounts. A combined inbox color-codes messages from all your accounts, and you can also view each account separately. There isn't a search function, which would have been helpful for finding messages.
The Ascend uses the stock Android music player, which sorts tunes by artist, album, song name, and playlists. Shuffle and party shuffle mix up the order, and the player displays album art when available. It's still a simple player by some smartphone standards, but it offers a nice experience, especially for those who are new to the Android platform.
A 3.2-megapixel camera and camcorder captures your memories in stills and video. We've seen the stock camera module on many an Android phone, with the onscreen controls for easily toggling between camera and video mode and for viewing a previous picture. Although an onscreen button is present, we prefer to use the hardware shutter instead. Zoom controls and camera settings are accessible by touch, though you can also find camera settings through the hardware menu key.
There's no flash, which made indoor shots a bit dull and blurry. Natural light improves the image detail, though the resolution is still not high enough to replace a dedicated camera. Video quality was fine for a cameraphone, though expect some choppiness during playback. Android makes it easy to share shots and video through multimedia messaging, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, e-mail, and other social networking services. The phone has 512MB of internal memory, and there's a 16GB card slot; Huawei ships the Ascend with a 2GB card to get you started.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 850/1900) Huawei Ascend in San Francisco on MetroPCS' network. Call quality was mediocre. Volume was no problem, but our callers' voices sounded robotic around the edges, and words buzzed. There were frequent background interruptions: minor blips, white noise, and some bouts of distracting and disruptive feedback. Our callers said we sounded muffled, but also very loud, bordering on too loud.
Speakerphone on the MetroPCS Ascend was pretty good. We experienced the characteristic echo and vocal tinniness, sure, but volume was loud on both ends, and other imperfections were mostly masked by that telltale echo.
Huawei Ascend call quality sample
Although the Ascend is a 3G-capable phone, most of the MetroPCS network is 2.5G. CNET's mobile-optimized Web site loaded in just over 30 seconds. The full, graphically rich CNET site loaded completely after 2 minutes. The Ascend's 600MHz processor makes the phone a tad sluggish at times, but to be fair, it's acceptable given the phone's price.
The Ascend has a rated talk time of 3.5 hours and a standby time of 12.4 days. As with many Android phones and other smartphones, screen brightness and demands on system resources drain the battery over the course of a full day or two of frequent use. Surprisingly, our tested talk time went for 5.5 hours. According to FCC radiation tests, the Ascend has a digital SAR of 1.19 watts/kilogram.
For its price and promise, we were pleased with the Ascend when it first debuted on Cricket and MetroPCS. There are some flaws, to be sure, and this is not a high-end, ultrapowerful Android phone. The modest hardware specs and processor might disappoint compared with today's premium smartphones, but the phone's physical design is nice and the features, taken as a whole, are still on the higher end of Metro's spectrum.