An inexpensive off-contract Android phone is hard to find, and for $99 after a $50 mail-in rebate, MetroPCS' Huawei Premia 4G has a particularly attractive price tag for a 4G Android 4.0 phone.
There are some very decent features for the price point, including a 5-megapixel camera with flash, a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, and a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor.
Yet, something has to give, and in this case it's the phone's battery life, and to a lesser extent, its voice quality. MetroPCS' 4G LTE network, while steady in my tests, also produces speeds you'd expect from a 3G handset, not a 4G device.
Design and build
If you've seen a black candy bar phone with rounded corners, you've seen the Premia 4G. It has a nice metallic-looking rim around the face, and a dark gray back cover that gets it grip from a fine layer of plastic goose bumps. I like that Huawei's placed the cover release on the phone's bottom corner; it makes popping it off obvious and manageable while still preserving your fingernails. It snaps reassuringly back into place.
The Premia measures 5 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide by 0.48 inch deep and weighs just under 5 ounces. It's fairly hefty, but doesn't seem overly brickish. I could slip it into a back pocket and carry it around with me indoors, but mostly I carried the Premia in my bag. The phone feels fine in the hand, and I had no complaints with it at the ear.
A 4-inch display is your window into Android, surrounded by a bezel that's fairly thick by today's standard. Its screen has a 800x480-pixel resolution, which isn't a sharp as some premium smartphones, but I think that with automatic brightness and support for 16 million colors, it does just fine indoors. If you're outside, you'll notice a substantial glare.Above the screen you'll find the 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera and below the screen are the three capacitive navigation buttons, including the Back, Home, and Menu buttons.
Turn the Premia toward its left spine to locate the Micro-USB charging port. Flip it the other way to raise or lower the volume. The top of the phone houses the power button and 3.5 millimeter headset jack, and on the back are the 5-megapixel camera lens and LED flash. If you've got a microSD card up to 32GB in storage size, you can insert that right under the back cover.
OS and apps
Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich may not be the most up-to-date Android version, but it covers all the basics of a modern Android operating system. Existing handsets are still getting Jelly Bean updates at this time, so I won't hold the lack of Android 4.1 against Huawei.
As an Android phone, the Premia 4G has all the Google services you could want on a smartphone, including Google Maps with Navigation, Gmail, access to all your contacts and to your Google Calendar, and then some. The Swype keyboard is one of a few different input options.
MetroPCS and Huawei have also loaded the phone up with a full roster of apps, one of which is incredibly intrusive by default. The offender in question is Metro's MyExtras app, which pings you all sorts of "news" items in the morning, afternoon, and evening. This was turned on by default in the Premia 4G. You can either adjust the pinging frequency in the settings, or, luckily, uninstall the app altogether in your apps manager settings.
Other MetroPCS app are much less obtrusive. You'll find a mobile hot-spot helper, a backup manager, the MetroWeb browser, and various other hubs for content and online connections.
In addition, Yahoo Answers, a DLNA connector app, Pocket Express, Rhapsody music, and Joyn messenger are other preloaded programs. You'll also find visual voice mail, a weather app, a note taker, and a sound recorder in addition to system apps like the clock, the calendar, and the music player.
Cameras and video
When taking photos outdoors in daylight, I was actually pleased with the quality of the Premia's 5-megapixel camera. Although images never rendered quite as sharp after processing as they did through the viewfinder, colors were pretty accurate and I took some nice shots I wouldn't mind uploading to my social networks or sharing via e-mail.
The Premia comes with autofocus, a bonus for a phone of this class, but you can also manually apply focus points. The camera doesn't seem equipped to handle extreme close-ups in automatic mode, either. Images blurred if I held the lens too near, and didn't resolve on screen. However, if I pulled back a little bit and refocused, the image generally grew sharper.
Adjusting camera settings is pretty straightforward on the Premia 4G: you can rotate the lens around and turn flash on and off with on-screen controls. A pop-out settings menu lets you toggle shooting modes, like HDR, burst, and panorama, plus there's a range of filters to choose from, including sepia tone and negative. White balance presets are also around, and in the settings, you can adjust ISO, photo quality, and face detection, among other items.
Video quality was also nice. Although the phone won't capture the highest-quality HD video, it does record 720p HD. Again, colors were on-point, and autofocus helped the picture readjust when I moved the focal point, for instance, panning a scene. Video played back smoothly and without interruption.
As always, video recording options are fewer than the camera choices, but you can still set the white balance options and flash, and drop your resolution if you prefer a smaller video file size.
The Premia's front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera is acceptable as well, though photos were much noisier and out of focus, and colors seemed duller. Images weren't as sharp, either, which means that the picture that you transmit through voice chats will come out blockier-looking on your friend's screen.
We may use them more as computers, but a phone's major function is still to make calls. I tested the Premia's call quality in San Francisco using MetroPCS's network (CDMA 800/1700/1900/2100; LTE 1700/1900/2100.)
Call quality was subpar, but not bad enough to render the phone unusable. Volume sounded fine when I was on the highest setting, indoors in a quiet office, but outside amid in San Francisco's whipping wind and constant car honks, my conversation never stood a chance. On top of the quiet audio, voices were never extremely sharp or clear. There was never any crackling or background noise, which is good, but there was constant vocal distortion and my testing partner's tonality sounded weak and a little alien, even over several test calls.
As soft as audio was on my side, my calling partner said I blared in his ear and came across distorted as well, mostly in the fuzziness department. Generally, though, he said I sounded mostly natural and pretty good.
Huawei Premia 4G call quality sample Listen now:
Speakerphone was a disaster on my end, with my caller sounding tinny and fuzzy when I held the phone at my customary hip level. I had to strain just to hear him, an uncomfortable experience that made me switch back to the standard earpiece as soon as I could.
On the other side of the line, my tester said I sounded about the same over speakerphone, though also tinny, and more gargly.
If you've got Wi-Fi handy, you'll have a great time using the Premia 4G, which surfs MetroPCS' notoriously slow LTE network. LTE wasn't terrible, all speeds considered, but it did perform like a basic 3G service, not like any other network's LTE.
Speeds in both real-world tests and in the diagnostic tests measured from the Ookla Speedtest.net app showed consistent surfing in the 3 and 4Mbps range for both uploads and downloads. In San Francisco, 4G LTE typically delivers speeds in the double digits, with 30 and 40 high for the download range and the teens and 20s much more typical.
Huawei packed a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8960 into the Premia, which has some pretty good processing muscle. Casual games like Riptide GP played fine, though without the clarity and trigger responsiveness of handsets with the fastest processors around. Still, I didn't notice a lot of lag and both apps and the lock screen booted relatively quickly.
|Huawei Premia 4G (MetroPCS)|
|Download CNET mobile app (3.8MB)||18 seconds|
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|Boot time to lock screen||25 seconds|
|Camera boot time||1.7 seconds|
|Camera, shot-to-shot time||1.5 seconds, no auto-focus|
The Premia 4G has 2GB storage and room for 32GB more through its microSD card slot. It also possesses 1GB RAM.
Battery life is my biggest problem with performance, and it's a real one. Although it has an adequate 1,650mAh battery, Huawei rates the Premia's battery life at 4 hours talk time and 6.7 days standby time. Although it lasted 8.03 hours during our battery drain test for video playback, I also noticed the battery drained quickly, even if the phone wasn't in constant use.
Buy it or skip it?Ordinarily, I'll put up with a lot for a rock-bottom price (even after rebate), and for coin-counters, having the power of Android at one's fingertips for a Benjamin up front is a really good find. However, since MetroPCS is selling a bundle of phones at the $100 price point at the time of this review, you'll have options.
Although I like the camera, the processor, and details like a nice large helping of RAM, the phone's short battery life is a major stumbling block for me and keeps me from recommending the phone fully. If you're seeking a handset in this price range, take a good hard look at the LG Motion 4G, which has some similar specs as well.