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EE Kestrel review: A super-cheap 4G-ready phone for the basics

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The Good 4G-ready for your super-fast data needs, EE's Kestrel comes with an extremely reasonable price tag. It has enough power for the everyday essentials, has a reasonable, albeit a little low-resolution display, expandable storage and did I mention the low price?

The Bad It's running on the now outdated Android Jelly Bean, which has been loaded up with various bits of non-removable bloatware that could confuse, not to mention irritate, new Android converts.

The Bottom Line If ultra-fast data speeds are of the utmost importance to you, but you don't really care about having the biggest, brightest screen or fastest processor, the EE Kestrel is worth checking out. It won't impress anyone with its specs and the bundled software is annoying, but it's the cheapest way to get on 4G.

7.5 Overall
  • Design 5
  • Features 7
  • Performance 6

Review Sections

Think having access to super-fast 4G data means spending hundreds on the latest, greatest super-phones? Think again. The Kestrel is a 4.5-inch, 4G-ready Android phone that's exclusive to EE and can be yours for only £99 on pay as you go.

That's extremely cheap, so naturally you'll be making some sacrifices on the phone's specifications. It has only a 960x540-pixel resolution display, a 5-megapixel camera and runs the older Android Jelly Bean software. Still, that's enough to tackle your essential social networking, and tweeting will be faster than ever with 4G.

The Kestrel is available now, exclusively on EE. You can get it for free on contracts starting at £14 per month, which will net you 500 minutes, unlimited texts and 500MB of data. Get it on one of EE's pay as you go contracts for £99.

Design and display

If you're looking for an ultra-stylish phone to flaunt in the poshest of cocktail bars, look away -- the Kestrel isn't one of the most beautiful phones around. Its plain grey colour and lightweight, plasticky body certainly aren't luxurious. Considering the price however, I'm willing to forgive this. It has a functional look at least -- the rounded bottom helps -- and its slim size makes it fairly easy to use in one hand.

While far from the solid build of metal phones like the HTC One M8 or the iPhone 5S , the Kestrel at least feels like it could take a knock or two in your pocket and the matte back does a decent job of avoiding scratches.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Around the sides of the phone you'll find the volume and power buttons, with the micro-USB port on top. The headphone jack has been stuck on the bottom left hand side, which I'm not at all keen on. It makes it awkward to cram into your jeans when you have headphones sticking out.

The phone comes with 8GB of built in storage, but there's a microSD card slot under the back panel, so you can pop in a card to store all your music and videos on. You're not able to store apps on an external card though, so you should keep an eye on the space if you download big apps like Nova 3 or Asphalt 8.

The 4.5-inch screen is clearly one of the main areas of cost-cutting, due to the fact that it has a relatively low 960x540-pixel resolution. That's less even than the Moto G 's 720p display and it shows -- icons, text and images don't have the same clarity that higher resolution panels offer. Still, it's far from blurry and if you're upgrading from an older budget smartphone -- or even an ancient feature phone -- you won't notice anything wrong. It's more than adequate for calls, texting and Facebook.

Android software and bundled bloatware

The Kestrel uses the now rather old Android Jelly Bean. That's disappointing, even on a budget phone, particularly as the Moto G comes with the latest Android software. The interface has been heavily skinned however, so you may not immediately notice you're on older software.

It uses the same Emotion UI software that you'll find on Huawei phones. It's visually very different from most Android interfaces, largely due to the fact that there's no dedicated apps tray. Instead, you keep all your apps and widgets scattered across the multiple homescreens. I'm personally not keen on this as it can get very cluttered and you need to keep a close eye on where you're putting everything if you don't want it to become a confusing mess.

On the upside, there's a simplified homescreen version, which displays the essential tools as large, easy to see tiles and there are a host of themes available for you to customise the interface to your heart's content.

You will also find a whole bunch of pre-installed apps. EE has popped in a couple of its own -- an app that lets you track your usage and one that tells you where to see upcoming films as well as rent films to watch -- prices for top films are around £4. There's also an app on board called "Free Games," which cannot be uninstalled and, worryingly, states that you need to change your phone's settings to allow apps to be installed from unknown sources -- something that I don't recommend unless you really know what you're doing. Stick to apps from the Google Play store.


Music streaming service Deezer is installed as standard too and also can't be uninstalled. It's a paid for service, like Spotify, so it's pointless having it cluttering up your homescreen unless you're planning on signing up for it. A host of Amazon apps including Kindle, Amazon Music and Amazon's own app store are installed too (as well as Amazon widgets) but these can be uninstalled.

With Amazon's own app store installed and the "Free Games" store too, it's confusing to know exactly where you should go to find new apps and games, particularly if you're new to the Android world. If you're buying the phone on behalf of a technophobic acquaintance, I recommend clearing out anything that can be uninstalled and hiding in a folder marked "Ignore" anything that can't be.

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