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Huawei Ascend II (U.S. Cellular) review:

Huawei Ascend II (U.S. Cellular)

On to multimedia: the Ascend II comes with a 5-megapixel camera/camcorder with no flash. The camera software is tied to the accelerometer as you'd expect, so controls adjust when you hold the phone in portrait and landscape modes. It's the typical Android camera app--with no Huawei adornments--so you can change photos size and quality, and choose among five color effects and five white-balance settings. There's also up to 2.8x digital zoom, and you have the option to geotag. Some useful settings are missing, though, like a self-timer and shutter sounds.

It's a blurry view over the flowerbed outside of CNET's San Francisco offices, but at least the colors look right.

Photo quality was mediocre in my indoor and outdoor tests, and that was in part due to the lack of autofocus. It isn't always easy to tell depth of field when shooting with the Ascend II, so some close-up shots that would be perfectly in focus taken with other smartphone cameras came out unfocused here. To its credit, the Ascend II does a pretty good job of keeping colors true to life.

Video controls were more pared-down than those for the still camera, but you still have options for color effects, white balance, and video quality. There's the typical setting for multimedia messages. Performance matched that of the still shots. Indoor colors were a little duller than in real life, and the image, while not jerky or choppy, wasn't crisp either. Audio sounded muffled and a tad shrill. The video camera is still adept at capturing the moment, but I wouldn't rely on it for longer shoots.

System memory is hardly huge on the Ascend II (256 MB RAM/512 MB ROM), but it does come with a 2GB external storage card preinstalled, for a total capacity of 32GB in outside memory.

I tested the Huawei Ascend II (CDMA 800, 1700/2100, 1900) on U.S. Cellular's roaming network here in San Francisco. Call quality was decent, but our callers got the better end of the bargain. Voices sounded clear, volume was high but not too high, and there wasn't any discernible background noise. While the volume was fine and voices were clear to my ears, they did sound fuzzy and uneven, like my callers were jumping up and down and hence cutting in and out. Nothing was bad enough to disrupt the conversation, but these little problems were constant in my test calls.

Huawei Ascend II call quality sample Listen now:

Speakerphone sounded equally clear to my caller as the standard audio, but much more distant. To my ears, the Ascend II gave a typical speakerphone performance with sharp, tinny, echo-prone audio. Volume was strong and there weren't any blips or other interruptions, but I sure was glad to switch back to the standard speaker.

The Ascend II has no pretensions about its features, and that extends to the 3G speeds and the internal performance. 3G indicators appeared to hold steady throughout my testing period, but I did lose the data network connection for a spell. During that time, I wasn't able to sync Gmail or search the Web. I wasn't ever able to get past the error message on Ookla's app, strangely.

Never fear, I still conducted real-world loading tests of my two favorite Web sites for that purpose. CNET's mobile site loaded in 32 seconds, while the full site finished loading in about 67 seconds. This is pretty slow compared with 4G speeds, but within the range for 3G, though still toward the slower end of the spectrum. The mobile-optimized site loaded in just under 10 seconds, with the full site finishing up after about 37 seconds. For companies like this that really optimize for mobile, the Ascend II's humbler speeds won't launch too much of a waiting game.

Given that there were so many dual-core phones on the market at the time that the Ascend II initially stepped forward, it's a little disappointing to see the same 600MHz processor as in the original Ascend. The sub-1GHz power shows in the notably slower navigation, application load times, camera shutter speed, and so on. It won't make you pull out your hair, but you will have to wait a beat or two while things finish up behind the scenes.

If only the Ascend II's battery life were more impressive. Like its predecessor, this device has a rated talk time of 3.7 hours and a standby time of 12.5 days on its 1,400mAh battery. The phone has a digital SAR of 1.34 watts per kilogram.

For most consumers, an extremely low price tag excuses a multitude of sins. Sold for just a penny on contract, the Huawei Ascend II needs every pardon it can get. The phone isn't bad, per se, but its performance falls below today's rapidly climbing smartphone standards. That makes it acceptable for a starter smartphone, and the Android 2.3 Gingerbread operating system is fine. Unfortunately, it's hard to get behind the 600MHz processor, the stumbling camera, and limited battery life. At least the phone is attractive and fairly easy to use. All told, it's a reasonable option in the U.S. Cellular lineup, particularly at the 1-cent price.

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