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Huawei Pal review: Way too basic to even bother

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Do you want a phone that does absolutely nothing except make a call and send a text message? If so, then you might be considering the Huawei Pal for MetroPCS. You also might be thinking about the Pal if you're going to a costume party dressed as 2001. OK, that last one was a bit harsh, but there's no denying that the Pal is from another age. Its squat candy bar body is clad in plastic, the screen is tiny, it has only a numeric keypad, and you could count its features on two hands. Heck, it doesn't even have a camera.

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4.9

Huawei Pal

The Good

The <b>Huawei Pal</b> is incredibly easy to use.

The Bad

The Huawei Pal has very few features and call quality was unreliable.

The Bottom Line

With its limited features and poor call quality, the Huawei Pal isn't worth your time, even as a basic phone.

Now, believe me, there's nothing wrong with a basic handset. As hard as it may be to believe, even in 2013, not everyone wants a smartphone that can do a million things. Sometimes, it is just about communication. The Huawei Pal, however, takes that simplicity too far. And for a phone that's all about communication, call quality is middling. That's why I'd opt for the Samsung Freeform M instead. It's also free, but you get a full keyboard for texting and more features like a camera (though we haven't reviewed the Freeform M, the Freeform 5 on U.S. Cellular is similar).

Palling around with Huawei's bare bones phone (pictures)

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Design
My guess is that it's been a long time since you've seen a phone like the Pal. At 4.37 inches long by 1.85 inches wide by 0.57 inch deep, it's so small that I can almost close my hand completely around it. It's also so light (2.65 ounces) that I barely knew I had it in my hand. Both of those things are fine, it actually feels nice not to lug around a brick for a change, but the Pal's plastic skin hardly inspires a feeling of confidence.

The Pal has a small, serviceable display and user-friendly navigation controls. Josh Miller/CNET

The 1.8-inch TFT screen is full color. Of course, it's not amazingly bright and vibrant, but that's not really the point here anyway. You can change a few options like the wallpaper, the brightness level, and the backlight time duration. The list-based menus are deadly simple to use.

Below the display is deliciously-retro navigation array. There's a raised circular toggle with a central OK button, a dedicated speakerphone control, a Clear key, and the Talk and End/power buttons. There are two soft keys, as well, one of which you can use as a shortcut to a feature of your choice. Below them is the alphanumeric keypad. The individual buttons are raised and a comfortable size, though the keypad as a whole feels rather cramped. And horror of all horrors, you'll have to use T9 to text. Trust me, once you stop using it, it is hard to go back. The only other features on the Pal's exterior are a 3.5mm headset jack on its top end and a Micro-USB charger port on the right spine. It does not have a dedicated volume rocker.

There's just a speaker on the back of the Pal. Josh Miller/CNET

Features
The Pal's phone book holds 1,000 contacts, which should give you plenty of space. Under each contact, you can store four phone numbers, an e-mail address, and a URL. You can pair contacts with a photo, as well, but without a camera, a memory card slot, or USB syncing, you'll have to have your pals (pun intended) send photos to you. So, yes, it's more trouble than it's worth. Alternatively, you can pair contacts with a (polyphonic!) ringtone and organize them into groups.

As for other features, you're looking at a miniscule list. There's messaging, a memo pad, an audio recorder, a stopwatch, a calculator, world and alarm clocks, and a calendar. The Pal also comes with designated folders for photos, ringtones, and other files that aren't already on the phone. If you do manage to download anything, you'll have 25MB of storage.

There's not even a volume rocker. Josh Miller/CNET

Lastly there's an ancient-feeling WAP browser that runs on a slow 3G network. Certainly, you can use it to browse, but you'll see only the most stripped down of mobile Web pages. Unless you've only used a WAP browser for the past decade, it's pretty tedious. The browser also connects to the carrier's MetroWeb portal where you can check your customer account. The Pal runs BREW 3.15, though it has no games to speak of.

Performance
I tested the dualband (CDMA 800/1900) in San Francisco. Unfortunately, the Pal's premier feature (making calls) doesn't quite pull through. It does connect and the MetroPCS signal only fluctuated when I was underground or deep inside a building, but the audio was patchy and callers sounded rather robotic. The volume level could be louder, as well. And while I'm on the subject, the only way to change the volume when you're on a call is to use the navigation toggle.

Speakerphone calls are louder thanks to the single speaker on the Pal's rear side, but they're scratchier than normal calls. Though that's not a huge surprise on a basic phone, I still wouldn't use it unless I was all alone in a quiet room and sitting right next to the phone. At the end of the day, my call quality issues probably won't bother anyone who just keeps the phone in the glove compartment for emergencies. Anyone else, though, should look elsewhere.

The Pal has a rated battery life of 5.5 hours talk time and 14 days of standby time. During our battery test for continuous talk time, it lasted just 4.85 hours. According to FCC radiation tests, the Pal has a digital SAR of 1.33 watts per kilogram.

Conclusion
As I said, there's nothing wrong with a simple cell phone. The Huawei Pal, on the other hand, borders on primitive. Between its small screen, empty feature list, and numeric keypad for texting, there's not enough here for even the most casual user. And when you throw in the disappointing call quality, you have a device than can't adequately perform its primary (and, frankly, its only) feature. That's why I suggest opting for the Samsung Freeform M if you're just looking for a free phone on MetroPCS. You'll get a much more user-friendly device that will do a lot more.

Huawei_Pal_35826995-9022.jpg
4.9

Huawei Pal

Score Breakdown

Design 4Features 4Performance 6