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Huawei Ascend D1 Quad XL (unlocked) review: This quad-core phone whimpers instead of roaring

Once touted by Huawei as the world's fastest phone, the Ascend D1 Quad XL fails to impress despite its quad-core CPU, 8-megapixel camera, and 2,600mAh battery.

Lynn La Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones
Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.
Lynn La
5 min read

Back in February, when Huawei announced at Mobile World Congress that it would release the world's fastest phone in the form of the Ascend D1 Quad (and its bigger-batteried counterpart, the XL), our interest was piqued. At that time, a quad-core phone was a rarity, and if the Quad XL had come out when it was supposed to in April, it might have lived up to that promise.


Huawei Ascend D1 Quad XL (unlocked)

The Good

The <b>Huawei Ascend D1 Quad XL</b>'s camera is packed with editing features, and its user interface has several customization options.

The Bad

The Ascend D1 Quad XL's screen is dim, its photo quality is poor, and it has a hefty build.

The Bottom Line

While its processor may sound impressive, the Huawei Ascend D1 Quad XL is a mediocre phone in a sea of excellent quad-core alternatives.

Unfortunately, it was delayed until recently, and after a long string of quad-core phones from other companies, there are now a number of these devices to choose from. What's worse is that the Quad XL trails behind its rivals in several areas of performance. I could have forgiven those faults in April, but now it's just too late. Simply put, I can't recommend this $624 phone over its competition.

Though I appreciate some of the Quad XL's design elements, like its red accents and soft-touch back plate, its aesthetic is nothing new.

On the left is a Micro-USB port, up top are a 3.5mm headphone jack and power/sleep button, and on the right is a volume rocker. It measures 5.11 inches tall and 2.56 inches wide. Unfortunately, at 0.45 inch thick and 5.11 ounces heavy, the device is hefty. It feels dense and sturdy in the hand, and you definitely feel the weight if you pin it between your face and shoulder during a conversation. It won't fit entirely into small front jeans pockets, and when it's in, expect a bulky fit.

Huawei Ascend D1 Quad XL
The Quad XL's thick profile will make for a snug fit in pockets. Josh Miller/CNET

The back plate is textured with a small diamond pattern and its matte coating fends off oily fingerprints. In the middle is an 8-megapixel camera with LED flash; on the bottom left is a small slit for the audio speaker. Using a small indent on the bottom left corner, you can pry the plate off to expose the 2,600mAh battery, microSD card slot, and SIM card slot.

On the front is a 4.5-inch HD IPS plus display, with a 1,280x720-pixel resolution and 330 ppi. Icons and text look crisp, and the touch screen is responsive. However, I could see some noticeable streaks in color gradients and, in general, the display is dim. Even when turned up to maximum brightness, it didn't make whites and other colors look vivid.

Above the display to the right is a 1.3-megapixel camera and below are three hot keys that light up when in use, for back, home, and menu.

A closer look at the Huawei Ascend D1 Quad XL (pictures)

See all photos

Software features and OS
The handset runs on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and includes Google apps like Chrome, Gmail, Plus, Latitude, Local, Maps with Navigation, Messenger, Talk, Search, and YouTube, and portals to the Play Books, Movies and TV, and Music online stores.

Also preloaded are basic apps such as a native browser and e-mail client, a calculator, a calendar, a clock with alarm functions, an FM radio, movie-editing software, a music player, a news and weather app, a memo pad, a sound recorder, and a weather clock.

Huawei Ascend D1 Quad XL (unlocked)
The Quad XL's user interface when in 3D Home mode. Josh Miller/CNET

Extra goodies thrown in are a flashlight, an app for managing your security, voice dialing, and DLNA connection capabilities. The phone also has 8GB of internal storage, Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound, and Bluetooth 3.0.

Other features include a few customization options. There are two modes for the user interface, called 2D and 3D home. While the 2D option looks like what you'd expect from most skins (the home-screen pages swipe flatly and the icons are simple), the 3D interface gives your UI the appearance of depth. The icons are boxy and look like they could pop, and pages transition in either a panning or spinning mode. When you're in 3D mode, you can also choose between two icon themes, "boxy" and "breeze."

Camera and video
The phone's 8-megapixel camera comes with numerous options like flash, a 4X digital zoom, geotagging, touch and auto focus, eight shooting modes (including HDR, burst, panoramic, and low light), face detection, red-eye reduction, and nine Instagram-esque filters. Also included are seven facial distortions, 11 scene types, five white-balance levels, five ISOs (ranging from 100 to 800), four image adjustment modules (for exposure, saturation, contrast, and brightness), a timer, three picture qualities, five image sizes (from 640x368 to 3,264x1,840 pixels), wide-screen, and compositional lines.

Video options include a continuous flash, geotagging, a stabilizer, the same white balances and facial distortions, a 4X digital zoom, and six video sizes (from 176x144 to full HD 1,920x1088p).

The front-facing camera has the same zooming, facially distorting, white-balancing, face-detecting, and geotagging options, as well as the same picture quality levels, wide-screen option, and compositional lines. However, there are only three shooting modes and two picture sizes (from 640x368 to 1,280x720).

Its video options are the same as the rear-facing camera's, except there's no continuous flash or stabilizer, and there are only four video sizes (from 176x144 to HD 1,280x720p).

Photo quality was mediocre at best. Bright colors, as in a photo of yellow and purple flowers, came off looking overly saturated and blown-out. And during several attempts to take photos of still objects in ample lighting, the camera had trouble focusing, making edges blurry and ill-defined. Dimmer lighting showed the same poor focus, poor definition in dark hues, and noticeable digital noise.

Huawei Ascend D1 Quad XL (indoor)
In this indoor photo, the camera's lack of focus is very apparent. Lynn La/CNET

Huawei Ascend D1 Quad XL (outdoor)
Even outdoors, focus is mediocre and colors are overly saturated. Lynn La/CNET

Huawei Ascend D1 Quad XL (SSI)
In this standard studio shot, objects' edges are blurry. Josh Miller/CNET

Video recording quality was much more impressive -- moving objects were sharp, focus was fast, and colors were true to life. Also, there was little to no lag between camera movement and feedback. Audio quality was especially excellent with headphones plugged in; recorded sounds were rich, had depth, and sounded incredibly realistic.

I tested the handset in CNET's San Francisco offices and call quality was good. Though I'd prefer maximum volume to be slightly louder, and I did notice a low and subtle buzzing sound during times of silence, my friends' voices sounded clear and clean. My calls didn't drop, audio didn't clip and out, and there was no extraneous noise during conversation. Likewise, I was told from my friends that they could hear me clearly. The speakerphone audio was also adequate. Though voices did come off slightly tinny, the effect wasn't too harsh or irritating.

Listen now: Huawei Ascend D1 Quad XL call quality sample <="" p="">

Because the Huawei Ascend D1 Quad XL is unlocked, I tested it using AT&T's 4G network. On average, the device loaded CNET's mobile site in 31 seconds and our desktop site in 21 seconds. The New York Times mobile site took about 8 seconds, while its desktop version took 20. ESPN's mobile site took 10 seconds, and its full site loaded in 19 seconds. Ookla's Speedtest app could not show me an average up or down speed as it consistently ran into network connection problems. Lastly, the phone took about a minute and 15 seconds to download the 23.32MB game Temple Run.

Performance Huawei Ascend D1 Quad XL
App download (Temple Run) 22MB in 1 minute, 15 seconds
CNET mobile site load 31 seconds
CNET desktop site load 21 seconds
Power-off and restart time 34 seconds
Camera boot time 2.19 seconds

Powered by a 1.2GHz quad-core processor, the device isn't slow by any means, especially compared with dual-core phones. But it isn't as fast as other quad-core handsets we've handled, like the LG Nexus 4 or the LG Optimus G. While simple tasks could be executed swiftly, such as swiping through the app drawer and transitioning back to home screen, the overall experience seemed to chug more slowly along. Especially in 3G Home mode, getting around didn't seem as zippy. Opening the camera (which took an average of 2.19 seconds) took a few moments longer than usual, and rebooting the phone took 34 seconds. It also took a while to open up and quit graphics-intensive games like Riptide GP, and I didn't see as high a frame rate during gameplay. It also took a few moments to restart the camera's shutter button.

In addition, my overall experience with the phone was riddled with software hiccups. As previously mentioned, the Ookla app couldn't connect to the network at all, there were times when the native browser would simply quit, the calendar widget would often display the wrong month despite my changing the settings, and the weather widget wouldn't match its animations to the corresponding time of day.

The handset's 2,600mAh battery lasted our battery drain tests for video playback for 9.52 hours. Anecdotally, however, it was disappointing. The reserves would drain quickly even on standby, and a 30-minute conversation would drain the battery about 10 percent. It would also need a few charging sessions to make it through the workday.

While I give Huawei points for audacity in claiming that the Ascend D1 Quad XL is the fastest smartphone in the world, the device unfortunately fails to live up to the talk. Not only is its performance subpar, but it faces one huge quad-core competitor: the LG Nexus 4. Just like the Quad XL, the Nexus 4 comes unlocked, but at a significantly more affordable price. The Nexus also has a more recent version of the Android OS and offers smoother performance. Frankly, if you're looking for a quad-core unlocked phone, there's no reason to get the Quad XL when the Nexus 4 is available.


Huawei Ascend D1 Quad XL (unlocked)

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Performance 6