The Huawei Ascend G300 was something of a revelation. For a mere £100 on pay as you go it offered the kind of spec and features that you'd expect to find on a handset costing twice as much.
It's starting to show its age now though -- its 1GHz single core processor is a tad sluggish by today's standards. So Huawei is back with an updated version, the Ascend G330. It's got a faster dual-core processor, yet the price remains low -- you can get it for free on a £10 per month contract from TalkTalk as long as you sign up for 24 months. SIM-free, you can find it for under £200, but it's not yet widely available.
Despite a few niggles, the G330 is still a very good option for those who want a powerful Android phone, but don't have a huge amount to spend on their mobile.
Its main advantages over the budget competition are its relatively speedy dual-core processor and large and reasonably high resolution screen. Both of these features make it a great handset for web browsing, playing games or watching movies.
You will need to be prepared to put up with a few slight software bugs rearing their head now and again, however, at least until Huawei fixes them with an update. You may well find you need to top the phone up with juice every evening due to it's below-par battery life.
At the moment it doesn't approach the great value of the G300, but hopefully when it's more widely available its price will plummet.
The G300 wasn't exactly drop-dead gorgeous, but it didn't look too bad for a budget phone. Unfortunately Huawei has taken a step back on the design front with the G330. It looks about as exciting as a rainy day in Burnley.
The problem is that Huawei has dumped the two-tone colour scheme in favour of an all-black design. This only serves to highlight the plasticky chassis, making the phone look that bit cheaper than its predecessor.
Nevertheless, the curved edges make it reasonably comfy to hold and the slightly rubberised battery cover adds an extra element of grippiness. On the whole the handset feels quite solid, but the battery cover doesn't fit quite as snugly against the back of the phone as it should, so there's a slight amount of give when you tap on it with a finger.
The physical buttons for the lock switch and volume controls are raised just enough from the chassis to make them easy to press and the three touch buttons beneath the screen are quite responsive too. The standard 3.5mm headphone jack is sensibly placed at the top of the phone, while the micro-USB port is found at the bottom. The latter doesn't support MHL, so unlike some middling and high-end devices you can't send HDMI video out through it.
The full-sized SIM card and microSD slots are found under the battery cover, although the latter is slightly awkwardly placed. It sits just above the battery slot and you actually have to remove the battery to get at it. Still, it accepts cards of up to 32GB in size, allowing you to supplement the handset's meagre 4GB of internal storage space. That's a welcome feature that not all phones have (I'm looking at you, Nexus 4 and iPhone 5).
The older G300 originally ran on Android 2.3 Gingerbread, but later users on Vodafone got an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich. We had hoped Huawei might have loaded 4.1 Jelly Bean on to this phone, but unfortunately you only get Ice Cream Sandwich.
This is a shame. Jelly Bean is so much smoother and faster to use than ICS, thanks to the changes Google has made under the surface to speed up the user interface and make it more responsive.
Nevertheless, at least it's much better than Gingerbread, as it brings some useful features such as the ability to clear alerts by swiping them away in the notifications tab, better error correction on the keyboard and improved cut and paste.
Huawei has also added its own tweaks over the top. There's a new lock screen with a four-way unlock circle, where swiping up takes you to the calls log, swiping right opens the SMS app, swiping down starts the camera and swiping right unlocks the phone normally. You can also scroll left or right at the top panel to call up the phone's music playback controls.
There are up to seven homescreens to fill with shortcuts and widgets, and in the Notifications tab you'll find quick switches for stuff like turning Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on and off.
Huawei has also added some of its own apps, including a DLNA client that lets you stream music, videos and photos from other phones, PCs or Nas drives connected to the same Wi-Fi network. There's a neat File Manager and the All Backup app for backing up the phone's data, such as contacts, SMS messages and call logs, to a single file.
Naturally, as this is an Android device you get full access to Google's Play online store, where you can download thousands of apps for the phone. As the handset has a dual-core processor and decent graphics capabilities, even pretty taxing games are handled reasonably well.
The older G300 used a single-core 1GHz processor, but Huawei has updated this to a 1GHz dual-core chip on this model, although RAM stays the same at 512MB. This is still a pretty major upgrade and the G330 is in a class of one at the moment in terms of budget phones with dual-core processors.
It's performance is still not amazing though, as it does feel a little laggy to use. You'll experience a fair few random stutters and pauses where it seemingly doesn't want to react to touch input. Also, when you exit some apps there's a notable pause as it redraws shortcuts and widgets that you've got sitting on your homescreen.
That said, it's still a good deal faster than most handsets you'll find under the £200 mark. Certainly its benchmark scores were far from terrible. In Geekbench 2 it returned a score of 654, while in CF Bench it reached 5,458. On Browser Mark V2.0 it posted a result of 1,150, and it took 2,038.7ms to complete the SunSpider test.
These results are significantly faster than the Sony Xperia J, for example, which is a pricier phone. In the Egyptian Standard test in GL Benchmark it managed to hit 35 frames per second, showing that it's a pretty good choice for budget 3D gaming.
Where the G330 falls down is its battery life. The phone uses a 1,500mAh removable battery, which seems to be a little underpowered for the drain the dual-core processor places on it. It struggles to get through a full day unless you make use of the special battery-saving mode that turns off a lot of the phone's features, such as background data and Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
Like its predecessor, the G330 has a 4-inch screen and the resolution remains the same at 480x800 pixels. For a budget mobile, it has to be said that the display is still top-notch. It's sharp enough to comfortable read most text on websites without having to zoom in, and it also boasts good brightness levels and bold colours.
You can see some more blurring when you're scrolling through menus and websites that isn't there on higher-end mobiles, and its black levels aren't as deep either, but these are pretty minor quibbles, especially compared to the poor quality displays you usually see on phones in this price bracket.
The G330 has both front- and rear-facing cameras, so you can use it for video calling in apps such as Skype. The main camera uses a 5.0-megapixel sensor. You can get pretty decent pictures from it most of the time, but it's not the easiest snapper to use.
The camera app, for example, hung on me a couple of times and the only way to fix the crash was to reboot the phone. There's a lot of shutter lag when you're snapping photos and the autofocus is also slow to hunt down the correct focus. It doesn't always get pictures sharply in focus either.
The camera app does have a few extra features, such as an easy to use sweep panorama mode, and some filters that can be previewed live. The quality of the filters isn't actually very good, however, so most of them are best left unused.
Naturally you can also shoot video with the phone's camera. Videos are limited to a maximum resolution of 864x480 pixels. The quality is pretty mediocre too, as it tends to drop a lot of detail as you pan around a scene.
It's slightly annoying that its battery life isn't better and that its software is a little buggy at present, but the Ascend G330 is still a very good budget phone. For the price you'll struggle to find another mobile with as fast a processor or as good a screen. If you can afford £239 -- and if you can get hold of one -- the Nexus 4 has a much better processor, more acceptable battery life and an absolute corker of a screen.