When 4G LTE first made its way to phones, it was a feature found only on the most high-end devices, packed with top-end technology and with a sky-high price to match. Things have changed in the last 12 months though. A lot.
The Huawei Ascend Y550 is a budget Android phone that packs 4G LTE and while that might seem great, it's important to know that there is a big trade off for it. Its 4.5-inch screen has a low 854x480-pixel resolution, an unimpressive 1.2GHz processor and a 5-megapixel camera. It's not exactly what you'd call exciting.
Still, you can pick it up SIM-free in the UK for only £100 on Amazon. That converts to around $159 based on a direct price conversion. Huawei is yet to announce wider availability or prices for the phone.
Design and display
Huawei has evidently not lavished any money on a fancy design here. Its plain grey, plastic body is thoroughly uninspiring. With such a cheap price, you really can't expect luxurious metal or glass.
The grey plastic curves around the back, which at least feels fairly comfortable to hold. It seems sturdy and shouldn't show up too many bumps and scuffs -- although it's something of a finger grease magnet. With a 4.5-inch screen, it's easier to hold than the 5-inch giants you see nowadays. I could just about stretch my thumb over to use it one-handed, although you'll want to use two to type anything more than a quick sentence.
The back panel is removable, giving access to the microSD card and SIM-card slots. You'll definitely want to buy a microSD card with the phone as it only comes with a paltry 4GB of built-in storage. Once you've downloaded your essential social networking apps, you won't have much room left for anything else. Make sure to keep your music, photos and videos saved on the external card to maximise the internal space for apps.
The 4.5-inch display has an 854x480-pixel resolution, which is at the bottom end of what I'd expect to see on any smartphone's screen, even one this cheap. The low resolution does mean that text and icons have a definite fuzziness to them, which is disappointing to see.
If you only use your phone for calls, texts and the odd bit of Facebooking, you may not find its lack of pixels too annoying. If you plan on reading articles on Web pages, watching a lot of video or browsing recent photo uploads on Flickr, then it's well worth going for a phone with a higher resolution display. The screen does at least have decent colours and viewing angles aren't bad, but it's not particularly bright, which makes it very reflective and difficult to use under vivid lights.
Android software, processor and battery performance
You'll find Android 4.4. KitKat on the Y550, which is the most recent version of KitKat available -- impressive on a budget phone, which often use older versions of Android. Huawei has pasted its Emotion UI skin over the top of Android, making a bunch of visual changes. Most notably, it removes the app tray, forcing you to keep all your apps and widgets scattered across the multiple homescreens.
I'm not personally keen on this change as it makes it difficult to keep your homescreens neat and organised. If you're more used to the-- which also doesn't have an app tray -- you might feel a little more at home. It's not helped by the fairly large amount of pre-installed apps. You'll see icons for a system update, voice dialler, remote camera, log tool, phone manager, app installer and backup.
It immediately makes the interface look cluttered, before you've even downloaded your first app. Backup and system update tools can be found in the settings menu anyway so I don't know why these need to take up space on your homescreen, particularly as you can't get rid of them. Most bizarre is an app icon called Screen Lock, which, as the name suggests, just turns off the screen. Why you'd need a dedicated app for that, rather than just the button on the side of the phone is a mystery only Huawei can answer.
Emotion UI does let you apply a range of themes to customise the look and feel of the interface and there's a simplified homescreen too that shows the essential functions as large tiles, making it easier for smartphone newbies to get to grips with -- although finding the simplified homescreen in the first place proved a little challenging.