Huawei Activa 4G (MetroPCS) review: Huawei Activa 4G (MetroPCS)

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MSRP: $149.00

The Good The Huawei Activa 4G has LTE support, a decent camera with a dedicated camera shutter button, and sells for a good price for a prepaid handset.

The Bad The Activa 4G's design is bulky, and there's no Android 4.0 upgrade in sight.

The Bottom Line There are plenty of trade-offs for those considering the Huawei Activa 4G, but if LTE is your priority, it'll get you there without busting the bank.

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6.7 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7

Review Sections

MetroPCS is slowly growing its LTE network, and the Huawei Activa 4G is the latest smartphone to advance its 4G agenda. In fact, the handset is also a first for Huawei; it represents the Chinese phone-maker's first LTE phone in the U.S. It may be shaped like a brick (and feels like it weighs as much), but there is a case for Metro customers to buy this phone, LTE aside. The 5-megapixel camera takes some decent outdoor shots, and the handset has a front-facing camera for video chats. In addition, the $149 price tag (after a $50 mail-in rebate) is half of what you'd expect to pay this carrier for its top prepaid Android phone, and is fair for what you get.

Unfortunately, the Activa 4G has plenty of warts, including poor battery life, disappointing video capture, and a smaller screen. It'll also remain at Android 2.3 Gingerbread for perpetuity. Still, the Activa 4G is a good Android option for those looking for an affordable prepaid LTE smartphone.

Visually, the Huawei Activa 4G is a throwback to the days when a smartphone's brains were proportional to its bulk. I can't keep my eyes off its thick, heavy slab of a body. At a hefty 4.9 ounces and 0.4 inch thick for a handset that's only 4.8 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide, it's a beast whose weight I immediately notice when I drop it into my purse, and whose size fits uncomfortably into my front jeans pocket (but hey, pockets come in all shapes and sizes.) On the positive side, this is no glass slipper of a cell phone that will crack at the shortest drop. No, I'd expect a fair amount of durability from the Activa.

Huawei Activa 4G
The Huawei Activa 4G runs Android 2.3 on its thick, heavy frame. Josh Miller/CNET

Apart from its bricklike resemblance, the accents on the black-and-gray Activa do offer some visual appeal. There's the shiny metallic gray rim that hugs the Activa's rounded corners and that makes up the spine buttons. Gray makes another appearance in the phone's striped back cover. I like the brushed metal around the camera housing.

The Activa's screen is a modest 3.5-inch LCD number with an HVGA resolution of 320x480 pixels. That's the right size screen for the resolution -- any larger and it would look grainy. However, the downside is some pretty cramped typing on the virtual keyboard. Swype certainly helps keep aggravating mispresses to a minimum, but there were still problems with typing accuracy, even for my relatively small fingers, compared with typing on larger screens. The screen is bright and colorful on the full brightness setting, but drop it to half the wattage and it's significantly duller, especially when you try to take it outdoors into some sunlight.

Android 2.3 Gingerbread is the OS of choice on the Activa, and it's as close to stock Android as most manufacturers get. There are the five customizable home screens and some simple navigation buttons. Huawei has barely made its mark on the phone's OS, so if you generally steer clear of manufacturers' custom interfaces, you'll love this. One thing that you will notice, though, is that Huawei has carved out a separate camcorder icon that you can use to launch the video recorder if you don't want to go through the camera app first.

It's pretty much business as usual for the Activa's external buttons and controls, with one exception that makes me very happy -- a dedicated camera shutter button on the right spine. You can launch the camera app with this, as well as shoot a photo. On the left spine there's the volume rocker, and up top you'll find the Micro-USB charging port, the 3.5-millimeter headset jack, and the power button. The back houses the 5-megapixel camera and flash, and on the front there's a 0.3-megapixel VGA lens.

Pop off the huge back cover to find the microSD card slot. It can take up to 32GB of extra memory, but comes preinstalled with a 4GB card branded for and preinstalled with a copy of DreamWorks' "Kung Fu Panda 2."

Android and LTE help bring the Huawei Activa 4G a fair amount of features. As a smartphone, it comes equipped with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and VPN support. However, there's no support for Android's mobile hot-spot feature, which is common among prepaid carriers like MetroPCS.

Huawei Activa 4G
This is no skinny minnie. Josh Miller

Human connection is what cell phones are about, and the Activa 4G comes with Android's customary multiple accounts for e-mail and integrated social networks. MetroPCS has included a separate IM and social networking app in addition to what's built in. Like other Android phones, the Activa can send and receive text and multimedia messages.

You'll have access to Google's online services with this phone, like Google Maps with turn-by-turn voice navigation, Places, the Google Play store, and YouTube. MetroPCS has its own branded apps, like an online app store, Metro's e-mail, Metro 411, the carrier's Wi-Fi sniffer, and an app to help manage your account.

There are also a number of third-party apps preloaded onto the device as well. Some I personally find compelling; others I'd consider bloatware; it just depends on what you'd like and use. You'll find Yahoo Answers and Yahoo Movies, Rhapsody music, Pocket Express, a sound recorder, and Sportacular (another Yahoo property). And then there are the essentials, like the clock, calculator, and calendar, plus a shortcut to see your downloads.

Google's music player experience is great with the addition of Google Play Music, which also gives you access to some free songs. I listened to music through a pair of high-end headphones. The music played back very loudly and clearly in an ultimately satisfying experience. Your ultimate experience will vary based on the quality of your headset and of the music files.

Huawei Activa 4G
Although taken indoors, plenty of natural light flooded this shot. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Let's face it, the camera is probably one of the reasons you'd buy a phone or skip it over. I was pleasantly surprised with some shots of the 5-megapixel camera and its flash on the Activa 4G, but others were mixed or poor.

Huawei Activa 4G
The Activa couldn't stabilize in this picture of a CNET copy editor. Perhaps her bright monitor tripped it up. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

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