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The prepaid AT&T Fusion GoPhone (otherwise known as the Huawei U8652) has some attractive features that are immediately apparent. First, it runs the stock version of Android 2.3 Gingerbread. It also has a fluid design with rounded corners, a soft-touch finish, and silvery accents. Finally, its $124.99 price tag is very affordable for a prepaid smartphone, which can easily rocket up to the $300 range or higher as you layer on the features.
However, there are some character flaws you should be aware of before pursuing the phone any further. The 600MHz processor has some noticeable hang time, the 3.2-megapixel camera lacks a flash, and the screen legibility isn't as crisp or clear as I'd like. There's also no pinch to zoom, which means you'll manually zoom in like days of yore. Trade-offs are par for the course when it comes to affordable off-contract phones, so if you can live with these weaker points, read on.
Huawei did well making the Fusion a generally good-looking handset. The phone isn't ultratrim, but it has curves in all the right places -- corners and rounded back, especially -- to make it a nice fit in the hand. A soft-touch blue finish keeps it feeling comfortable, and silvery accents around the perimeter add some interest. The soft-touch coating also adds a bit of protection from drops, though roughed-up corners and a cracked screen are always the risk you take when you fumble your phone.
With my measuring tape, the Fusion stands 4.6 inches tall, 2.5 inches wide and 0.4 inch deep. That makes for a fairly compact smartphone that's also quite portable -- you really wouldn't want it any smaller or else you'd have trouble reading the screen.
Speaking of the screen, the Fusion has a 3.5-inch HVGA display (with a 480x320-pixel HVGA pixel resolution). The size puts it on the lower threshold of acceptable for reading Web sites and typing into the virtual keyboard. Or it would, anyway, if some other factor didn't detract from the experience. I suspect it's the actual screen material that Huawei used to keep costs down, and which makes the screen both harder to read and also less accurate during typing. In addition, there's no pinch-to-zoom support, which feels like a clunky throwback when you consider this is a convenience most current phones have.
The end result is that typing on the keyboard was slow going and full of mistakes, and that onscreen text (like from Yahoo.com and other sites) looked jagged and fuzzy around the edges when you focused on them. I also noticed that at times, the highly reflective screen threw back a lot of glare, especially when lit from above with artificial office lights.
Below the screen, the four touch-sensitive navigation buttons shine like a beacon of navigation predictability. On the left spine you'll find a volume rocker, and on the bottom you'll see a Micro-USB charging jack. On the top there's the power button and the 3.5 millimeter headset jack. The camera lens is on the back. Behind the back cover you'll find the microSD card slot, which is prefilled with a 2GB card.
I should also note that an absent proximity sensor means the screen won't dim when you hold the phone up to your face, like when you're on a call.
Android 2.3 Gingerbread anchors the AT&T Fusion, and with it comes access to Google's services, from Gmail to Google Maps and Navigation with turn-by-turn voice instruction. There's Wi-Fi support, Bluetooth, GPS, and support for mobile hot spots and tethering. Google also integrates your contact list with social-networking accounts like Facebook and Twitter.
If that weren't enough, there are Facebook and Twitter apps onboard, along with the heap of AT&T-branded apps and other preloads that are piled on your phone before you even take it out of the box. There's AT&T's navigation app and social app, plus U-Verse TV and Mobile Care. You'll also find an FM radio, two note pads, Documents To Go, and Yellow Pages mobile. The Uno game demo, Layar, and Vlingo, a voice prompt app, also make a home on the Fusion GoPhone.
As a bonus, there are some keyboards you can choose from, including Swype and the Vlingo keyboard, on top of the Android mainstay.
If you're not too picky about your smartphone camera, you might find it a handy addition when you just need a swift shot. The Fusion's 3.2-megapixel lens lacks flash and auto-focus, so it'll do its best shooting outdoors in natural light. You can forget the close-ups. While I took some acceptable photos in a lush Milwaukee back yard, indoor photos there and in San Francisco were subpar, and even the suburban nature scenes came out duller and flatter than in real life.
Unless you're very patient, don't expect too much on the focus front. The same goes for video, too, of course, so prepare to be judicious. You can get a better idea of the range of camera quality in this photo gallery.
I tested the quad-band (GSM 800/900/1800/1900 MHz) AT&T Fusion in the San Francisco Bay Area. Call quality sounded rickety on the phone. I was able to make appointments and have conversations without the other party asking me to repeat myself, but jabs of digital distortion and metallic pings reached my ears. Louder settings, like the wind rustling through trees, muted some of the more distracting effects. Volume was a little low, especially with outdoor calls.
On her end, my chief phone tester found audio decent, with no extraneous buzzing. She said I sounded natural and fairly clear.
AT&T Fusion call quality sample Listen now:
Speakerphone volume dropped immediately on my end, and was tinny and a little echoey. To the landline I called, I sounded distant and grainy, with hollowness and white noise. Audio also clipped in and out, especially at the ends of my sentences.
The Fusion's 600MHz processor felt slow, with noticeable lag between events. It takes apps a second longer to load, which contrasts sharply with some Android smartphones equipped with a 1GHz processor. As far as data speeds go, the Fusion is solidly a 3G phone. The Speedtest.net app recorded diagnostic download speeds that peaked at 1Mbps and upload speeds as high as 0.33Mbps.
In real-world testing, the Fusion was able to access the New York Times' mobile-optimized site in about 17 seconds, and reached its full site in 42 seconds. CNET's mobile site came in at 28 seconds, with the desktop site loading after 1 minute and 23 seconds. The phone also hung on e-mailing a group of photos, until I hopped on a Wi-Fi connection an hour later.
Anecdotally, the battery wasn't very long-lived on the Fusion -- drain was noticeable even when inactive. CNET will continue to test the talk time.
If you're seeking an entry-level prepaid Android handset for a low price, the AT&T Fusion GoPhone costs a reasonable $125 and has the good graces to look nice. Unfortunately, the tardy performance, dull camera, and missing basics like a pinch-and-zoom screen chip away at all the positive points. The Samsung Galaxy Appeal, another prepaid AT&T GoPhone in a similar price range, has a smaller screen, and an only OK keyboard.
Considering that the arguably best prepaid Android phone with AT&T, the Pantech Crossover, costs $100 more, the Fusion may wind up suiting your needs. Since you aren't tied to AT&T with a prepaid plan, I'd also recommend shopping around for other prepaid smartphones in the price range, perhaps even the Boost Mobile's Samsung Galaxy Prevail, which is by now a little older.