Huawei Ascend P1 (unlocked) review: Huawei Ascend P1 (unlocked)

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The Good The snappily designed Huawei Ascend P1 has Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, an 8-megapixel camera, and full HD video support.

The Bad The Ascend P1's camera and call quality fail to live up to their promise.

The Bottom Line Huawei's Ascend P1 takes a step in the premium direction with great specs and a striking design, but it ultimately falls short of its potential.

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7.3 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7

The Huawei Ascend P1 turned a few heads when it first debuted at CES. We CNET editors nodded in approval at the high-contrast black-and-white design; the sharp angles and stylized curves; andthe Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich software, which was seen less than expected at the January electronics show. Huawei also imbued its P-for-Platinum-level smartphone with enviable specs that include a speedy dual-core processor, an 8-megapixel camera, and support for HSPA+ speeds.

While the Ascend P1 certainly has the check boxes marked, not everything lived up to expectations, like the camera. For between $500 and $800 and zero optimization for a U.S. carrier, the Ascend P1 is an unrealistic choice for most U.S. consumers; however, I love seeing Huawei take design risks -- and succeed in that respect.

Sharp edges. Stark black-on-white contrast. A deep, unexpected curve. Looking at the Ascend P1 reminds me of a celebrity's very designer, very minimalist tuxedo. There's the glossy black front that stretches across the phone's face and plunges over the top and bottom in a plastic waterfall. The Ascend P1's spines and back are equally shiny white plastic with interesting contours that are designed to keep it to a seriously slim 0.3-inch waistline while still giving the camera module space.

The P1's 5-inch height and 2.6-inch width make it a larger phone, which accommodates a 4.3-inch screen. At 3.9 ounces, it's on the lighter side for such a big phone. While I'm used to a bit more heft, the Ascend P1 didn't feel too wispy. The corners and edges make it protrude more when slipped into a pocket, but it was fine rattling around in my purse.

Huawei Ascend P1
The Huawei Ascend P1 runs Android Ice Cream Sandwich. Josh Miller/CNET

Huawei made a good decision using a Super AMOLED display, protected by Gorilla Glass. The 540x960-pixel resolution makes Web sites easy to read, though in a side-by-side screen comparison, it doesn't look quite as sharp or as high-contrast as other phones' screens, like the iPhone 4's Retina Display, for instance. The Ascend P1 coasts along on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), one of the first of its type when we saw the handset back in January. Huawei mostly keeps ICS standard, but does add a few extras, including a circular lock-screen motif that you can pull and drag to unlock to the home screen, the call log, the messaging inbox, or the camera.

Above the display is a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera for self-portraits and video chats. Below it are three touch-sensitive navigation buttons for the menu, home screen, and back. All its ports live along the phone's exterior. The SIM card slot, Micro-USB charging port, and 3.5-millimeter headset jack are all up top, while the right spine hosts the power button and a microSD card slot that can take up to 32GB in external storage. Hauwei kept the left spine simple with just the volume rocker. Flip it on its face and you'll see the P1's raised camera module with an 8-megpaixel lens and dual-LED flash.

A unibody device, it has no removable back cover, and no removable battery, which keeps the phone slim. The glossy back is a little slippery, but the edges make it grippable.

As an Android 4.0 phone, the Ascend P1 comes with the latest ICS extras, including a brand-new look and features like a camera panorama and detailed data usage. Since there's no NFC on board, you won't be able to use Android Beam.

Huawei Ascend P1
The P1's unibody design means that ports like this microSD card slot are all external. Josh Miller/CNET

As far as connections go, the Ascend P1 has GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0, and hot-spot support. There's also sharing through the DLNA protocol. There are also productivity apps, like a calculator, a calendar, a clock, notes, and a file manager, plus FM radio and a flashlight. For more advanced options, you'll find a music player and Movie Studio.

My review unit oddly didn't come with Google's standard set of apps, such as Google Play (formerly known as the Android Market,) Google Maps and turn-by-turn navigation, Gmail, Google Place, and YouTube, to name my favorites. Huawei assured me that an update to the final software version would instate these regulars.

Huawei of course adds its own suite of homegrown, licensed, and partner apps. My review unit (a global version that hasn't been optimized for the U.S.) contains Hispace, Huawei's online store front, backup app, and a couple of Chinese-language apps. You'll also find Polaris Office for productivity, Security Guard for, ahem, security, and the full version of the Riptide GP jet ski racing game.

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