You may not have heard of Huawei, but with its range of new handset like the Ascend D1, the Chinese company isn't messing about and is clearly hoping to establish itself as a major player in smart phones.
The D1 is a powerful Android-powered mobile that runs the latest version, Ice Cream Sandwich, complete with a surface layer of stylish gloss and glamour.
Design and features
The D1 is a slick-looking piece of kit. The 4.5-inch 1,280x720-pixel screen is big and bright, with a minimal bezel around the edge. It's basically a slightly cheaper version of the Huawei Ascend D Quad, with the latter's quad-core processor swapped for a dual-core chip.
From behind, you'd be forgiven for mistaking the D1 for the Samsung Galaxy S2. It has a very similar textured back and an identical swollen bump at the bottom. Remove the logos, turn the rectangular camera lens sideways and the two phones could be twins.
The camera is an 8-megapixel job with LED flash and 1080p resolution video recording. It's packed with features including face detection, white balance and ISO adjustment, HDR option, scene modes and much more.
The phone has three touch-sensitive areas beneath the screen, which take you back a step, open the home screen, or bring up a menu that gives you different options, depending on which app you're in. When you're on the home screen, this button lets you change settings like the wallpaper image or the style of transitions between screens.
Ice Cream Sandwich
The D1 is powered by Ice Cream Sandwich, the very latest version of Google's Android software. It's based around several home screens that you can fill with shortcuts to your favourite apps and games, as well as handy widgets that display the latest information.
There's a vast wealth of apps available to download in a matter of moments from Android Market. Almost too many, in fact, as there's no regulation of what gets listed, unlike with Apple's tightly controlled App Store. You can find yourself wading through a lot of dross -- or worse, apps that simply don't work.
Huawei helps out with an app called Hispace. It's not a social network for Hi-De-Hi fans -- it helps you manage your apps and find more, with options including featured downloads, a top 20 of popular apps you might want to try out, and a list of all the ones you've downloaded.
When you've installed lots of apps, you can keep them tidy by grouping them into folders. A Tools folder is already set up for you, containing apps like the calculator, FM radio and app installer.
You can also fill the home screen with widgets. These are clever icons that display the latest information at a glance, so you don't have to open the app to find out what you need to know, as you have to on the iPhone. There are widgets for almost anything, from the latest headlines to your calendar or the latest social network status updates from your friends.
The home screen comes with a weather widget that shows just how clever widgets are. It features an animated backdrop of the weather where you are, such as falling rain or clouds scudding in front of an animated blazing sun.
Huawei user interface
Huawei has added some serious surface glitz and glamour on top of the basic Android experience. When you move between apps or screens, the transitions happen with an assortment of glitzy animations. As you look at the grid of icons for all your apps, when you swipe sideways to go to the next page, the grid appears to spin in three dimensions, as if each page is the side of a cube rotating in front of you.
On the main home screen, flick your finger sideways and the multiple home screens whizz past in another 3D effect, complete with glossy reflections beneath each one.
You can 'pan' or 'spin', which means choosing whether you're looking at the screens as the outside faces of a cube floating in front of you, or whether you're in the middle of this virtual cube as it spins around you. A thoroughly pointless detail, but fun nonetheless.
Even when you're rearranging the order of apps by dragging and dropping icons around with your fingertip, moving an app causes the other icons to shuffle over to make room, leaning sideways to get out of the way.
This wealth of eye candy is the sort of attention to detail that brings you to love your phone as opposed to simply using it. Whether you adore the D1 probably depends on your tolerance for such surface fripperies.
I found the impressive 3D effects became distracting as I used the phone more -- the home screens zip by too quickly, leaving you unable to do anything but enjoy the ride. But I absolutely love the blink-and-you'll-miss-it detail at the bottom of the calendar widget -- it flaps slightly, like the dangling pages of an actual calendar.
Inside is a powerful dual-core 1.5GHz processor, which gives the D1 loads of zip, even with all these sophisticated animated whistles and bells.
If you think that quad-core phones are processing overkill, then the Huawei Ascend D1 could be for you. It's a dual-core version of the power-packed Ascend D Quad, running the latest vesion of Android and absolutely dripping with nifty gloss. The styling is identikit, but with so many features packed in, there's plenty to like.