Huawei Premia 4G review: Low price can't cure pitiful battery life

Adjusting camera settings is pretty straightforward on the Premia 4G: you can rotate the lens around and turn flash on and off with on-screen controls. A pop-out settings menu lets you toggle shooting modes, like HDR, burst, and panorama, plus there's a range of filters to choose from, including sepia tone and negative. White balance presets are also around, and in the settings, you can adjust ISO, photo quality, and face detection, among other items.

Huawei Premia 4G camera test
Natural rays helped bump up the image quality in this nice, natural -- but also soft -- shot. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Video quality was also nice. Although the phone won't capture the highest-quality HD video, it does record 720p HD. Again, colors were on-point, and autofocus helped the picture readjust when I moved the focal point, for instance, panning a scene. Video played back smoothly and without interruption.

Huawei Premia 4G camera test
I photograph these cute desk accessories often to look for color reproduction and detail in the fur, specifically around the blue one's eyes. The Premia has good color fidelity, but didn't reveal individual furry strands. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

As always, video recording options are fewer than the camera choices, but you can still set the white balance options and flash, and drop your resolution if you prefer a smaller video file size.

Huawai Premia 4G
The Huawai Premia 4G unevenly exposed this standard studio shot, taken indoors with flash. Josh Miller/CNET

The Premia's front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera is acceptable as well, though photos were much noisier and out of focus, and colors seemed duller. Images weren't as sharp, either, which means that the picture that you transmit through voice chats will come out blockier-looking on your friend's screen.

Call quality

We may use them more as computers, but a phone's major function is still to make calls. I tested the Premia's call quality in San Francisco using MetroPCS's network (CDMA 800/1700/1900/2100; LTE 1700/1900/2100.)

Call quality was subpar, but not bad enough to render the phone unusable. Volume sounded fine when I was on the highest setting, indoors in a quiet office, but outside amid in San Francisco's whipping wind and constant car honks, my conversation never stood a chance. On top of the quiet audio, voices were never extremely sharp or clear. There was never any crackling or background noise, which is good, but there was constant vocal distortion and my testing partner's tonality sounded weak and a little alien, even over several test calls.

As soft as audio was on my side, my calling partner said I blared in his ear and came across distorted as well, mostly in the fuzziness department. Generally, though, he said I sounded mostly natural and pretty good.

Huawei Premia 4G call quality sample Listen now:

Speakerphone was a disaster on my end, with my caller sounding tinny and fuzzy when I held the phone at my customary hip level. I had to strain just to hear him, an uncomfortable experience that made me switch back to the standard earpiece as soon as I could.

On the other side of the line, my tester said I sounded about the same over speakerphone, though also tinny, and more gargly.

Performance
If you've got Wi-Fi handy, you'll have a great time using the Premia 4G, which surfs MetroPCS' notoriously slow LTE network. LTE wasn't terrible, all speeds considered, but it did perform like a basic 3G service, not like any other network's LTE.

Speeds in both real-world tests and in the diagnostic tests measured from the Ookla Speedtest.net app showed consistent surfing in the 3 and 4Mbps range for both uploads and downloads. In San Francisco, 4G LTE typically delivers speeds in the double digits, with 30 and 40 high for the download range and the teens and 20s much more typical.

Huawei Premia 4G performance testing
Speedtest.net speeds were steady, but slow (left); Quadrant's outdated comparison results showed the Premia's decent processing muscle. Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Huawei packed a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8960 into the Premia, which has some pretty good processing muscle. Casual games like Riptide GP played fine, though without the clarity and trigger responsiveness of handsets with the fastest processors around. Still, I didn't notice a lot of lag and both apps and the lock screen booted relatively quickly.

Huawei Premia 4G (MetroPCS)
Download CNET mobile app (3.8MB) 18 seconds
Load up CNET mobile app 7.5 seconds
CNET mobile site load 25 seconds
CNET desktop site load 30 seconds
Boot time to lock screen 25 seconds
Camera boot time 1.7 seconds
Camera, shot-to-shot time 1.5 seconds, no auto-focus

The Premia 4G has 2GB storage and room for 32GB more through its microSD card slot. It also possesses 1GB RAM.

Battery life is my biggest problem with performance, and it's a real one. Although it has an adequate 1,650mAh battery, Huawei rates the Premia's battery life at 4 hours talk time and 6.7 days standby time. Although it lasted 8.03 hours during our battery drain test for video playback, I also noticed the battery drained quickly, even if the phone wasn't in constant use.

Buy it or skip it?

Ordinarily, I'll put up with a lot for a rock-bottom price (even after rebate), and for coin-counters, having the power of Android at one's fingertips for a Benjamin up front is a really good find. However, since MetroPCS is selling a bundle of phones at the $100 price point at the time of this review, you'll have options.

Although I like the camera, the processor, and details like a nice large helping of RAM, the phone's short battery life is a major stumbling block for me and keeps me from recommending the phone fully. If you're seeking a handset in this price range, take a good hard look at the LG Motion 4G, which has some similar specs as well.

What you'll pay

Pricing is currently unavailable.

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Where to Buy

Huawei Premia 4G (MetroPCS)

Part Number: HWM931 Released: Mar. 21, 2013

MSRP: $149.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Mar. 21, 2013
  • Service Provider Metro PCS
  • Weight 4.94 oz
  • Diagonal Size 4 in
About The Author

Jessica Dolcourt reviews smartphones and cell phones, covers handset news, and pens the monthly column Smartphones Unlocked. A senior editor, she started at CNET in 2006 and spent four years reviewing mobile and desktop software before taking on devices.