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Huawei SnapTo review: LTE speeds with no frills, and no contract

Low-frills $180 Huawei SnapTo falls behind budget LTE rivals.

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Nate Ralph
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Nate Ralph

Associate Editor

Associate Editor Nate Ralph is an aspiring wordsmith, covering mobile software and hardware for CNET Reviews. His hobbies include dismantling gadgets, waxing poetic about obscure ASCII games, and wandering through airports.

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6 min read

The Huawei SnapTo is a budget LTE smartphone with very few redeeming features. It's cheap, it has Android and LTE and you don't ever need a contract. Regrettably, that's about it.

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6.0

Huawei SnapTo

The Good

The unlocked Huawei SnapTo has a 5-inch, 720p HD display, a budget price and has LTE connectivity. It's got great battery life for a budget phone, and is simple to use.

The Bad

The device looks rather plain, with performance that lags behind similarly priced devices. And its marquee feature -- the 5-megapixel camera -- takes mediocre photos.

The Bottom Line

Despite its strong battery life, Huawei's entry-level Android-powered SnapTo fails to live up to rival phones that cost the same or less.

The uninspired handset's 5-megapixel camera disappoints, and specs, while purposely entry-level, are also lower than those of other phones you can find in the same price range. Still, it will keep you connected. The SnapTo costs $180 unlocked, which converts to about £118, or AU$225.

Design and build

Josh Miller/CNET

The SnapTo doesn't break the mold for budget smartphones. It's a plain plastic slab, with a 5-inch 720p display and not much in the way of adornments. There's a 2-megapixel camera on the front. The phone's volume controls and lock button sits on the right side of the device, while the headphone jack sits up top. The back of the phone, adorned with a smooth, faux-leather texture, hosts the 5-megapixel camera and is accompanied by an LED flash.

Its 5-inch display is decent: off-axis viewing angles aren't especially wide, but colors don't shift when you tilt the screen about and are reproduced accurately. You can also change the display's color temperature, shifting from cool blues to warm yellows. I left it at the default settings, but this feature isn't all that common on entry-level smartphones.

That 720p resolution pales in comparison to higher-end devices, of course. But it suits the device well; the dimensions work out to a pixel density of about 294 pixels per inch (PPI), which makes for text that is nice and crisp. That pixel density also feels downright luxurious when compared to the Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime's 5-inch screen, with its 960-by-540-pixel resolution.

I'll admit I'm not especially smitten with the SnapTo's design, though there's nothing expressly wrong with it. It simply feels a bit safe, and boring -- the black-on-black phone is also available with a white backing, but if it came with a white face, or a broader arrangement of colors, I'd be a bit more intrigued. I suppose that's what cases are for.

The $150 Motorola Moto E I checked out in March was similarly plain but offered colorful, interchangeable bands so I could at least spruce things up a tad. And then there's the aforementioned Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime, which offers a nice, glossy off-white face accented in silver.

Software and features

Josh Miller/CNET

The SnapTo comes equipped with Huawei's Emotion UI, a customized version of Android 4.4 KitKat. That means you'll miss out on most of the new functionality built into Android 5.0 Lollipop , including a refreshed look and revamped notifications. You can still do things like archive incoming emails, and use Google Now, so things aren't too dire.

Huawei's OS touches are largely cosmetic: some apps have been re-skinned, and there are few generic widgets littering the homescreen. There are quite a few Huawei apps pre-installed, including a phone manager that will "optimize" your phone's performance by shutting down background apps. You'll see Huawei-branded support apps and generic productivity tools as well, like a flashlight, a calculator, and an FM radio app. These preloads aren't especially onerous, but the fact that I can't uninstall them or remove them from the homescreen annoys me immensely.

There's also no app drawer, which means every app is dumped onto the phone's homescreens, iPhone-style. I've always found this incredibly annoying, but if you're coming from an iOS device or aren't really a stickler keeping things tidy, then maybe you won't mind. You can of course arrange everything into folders, and create new home screens to drag apps to -- I've taken to dumping the bloat into a folder titled "Do Not Want" and leaving it at that.

Camera

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Ultra Snapshot lets you know how long each shot takes. Screenshot by Nate Ralph/CNET

The "SnapTo" name comes from the 5-megapixel camera's Ultra Snapshot mode. Press the volume-down button twice when the phone is locked, and it'll snap a shot of whatever you're looking at. It works well enough, taking an average of about 1.5 to 2 seconds to fire up the camera and take a shot. Ultra Snapshot mode uses the camera's automatic settings, so you can speed things up by being in ideal conditions: a static object in a well-lit environment will do a bit better than a moving subject in a shady room.

Ultra Snapshot is a neat trick, but I would've preferred a dedicated camera shutter button. It also defaults to the camera's automatic mode -- I would've liked to set the mode to HDR mode or some other function, to make it a bit more useful. And trying to frame a shot and double-press the volume button, with the display off, while the phone is in landscape mode, is kind of hard to do on the fly. I suppose I could practice, but I missed so many shots it became far easier to just unlock the phone.

A quick-release shutter isn't going to be very useful if the camera isn't up to snuff, and the SnapTo's 5-megapixel shooter falls flat. Both the rear camera and the 2-megapixel camera up front churn out images that are full of noise, their details muddled. Video recording suffers from the same issues, and the SnapTo is also limited to 720p recording, further limiting its utility.

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Nate Ralph/CNET

The reds look rather garish and dull in this brightly lit scene, and while the subject is clearly visible, all of the details are muddled by image noise.

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Nate Ralph/CNET

The camera does a better job of capturing the disparate colors here, and while the overall quality is low, you can still make out some of the details in the chalk lines.

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Nate Ralph/CNET

The lighting was strong but Ultra Snapshot mode still opted to crank the ISO all the way up to ISO 800, causing image noise to sap all of the detail from the shot. I didn't have much luck with active subjects, but this specimen doesn't move much.

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Nate Ralph/CNET

Here's our standard studio shot, taken with the LED flash. Tweaking the white balance should fix that blue cast, but the camera focused on the bottle in the center, leaving the rest of the scene a bit blurry.

Performance and battery life

I tested the SnapTo on T-Mobile's LTE network here in San Francisco. Call quality was generally fine: I received few complaints during my test calls, and could hear the people I spoke with just fine. At times I was told I sounded a little distant, and there was the occasional crackle, but the connection remained consistent as I moved about the city, and I didn't run into any issues with dropped calls or the like. Keep in mind that this is an unlocked phone; your experience will differ, based on the carrier you choose, and factors like your coverage area.

Podcast

Performance tests

Average 4G LTE download speed 26.7
Average 4G LTE upload speed 20.25
Temple Run 2 app download (46.2MB) 42 seconds
CNET mobile site load 2 seconds
CNET desktop site load 6 seconds
Restart time 26 seconds
Camera boot time 1.5 seconds

Data speeds on T-Mobile's network will vary by time of day and location, but I saw an average of about 26Mbps down and 20Mbps up over the course of my testing. When I stood in a very particular corner of the CNET offices, at the right time of day, I was pulling down closer to 50Mbps, but I can't fathom hanging out in a corner all morning just to get mobile Web pages to load a bit quicker.

Performance tests

Test Run 1Run 2Run 3 Average
Quadrant 9,2279,2319,1749,210
3DMark Ice Storm 2,7312,7332,7342,732
GeekBench 3 1,1471,1721,1651,161

The phone is powered by a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor and 1GB of RAM. That's not an especially impressive loadout, but it fits the phone's budget price tag and is common in most rival phones in this category. I had no issues sliding through menus or getting about the phone's interface, though. You aren't going to get much in the way of gaming performance, though this much is likely expected. Hardware-intensive Android games suffer from lackluster frame rates, though more casual fare, and many of my favorite Android games, do well here.

The SnapTo has 4GB of storage, a paltry amount. You can pop off the back cover and add a microSD card for a bit more room -- the phone supports up to 32GB cards. The 2,200 mAh battery isn't removable, but battery life is very good compared with budget competitors: in our battery drain test the device lasted for an average of about 11 hours and 45 minutes. My testing involved quite a bit of gaming and snapping photos, and I easily made it through a full work day without worrying about tracking down a charger.

Conclusion

The Huawei SnapTo is a fairly basic, no-frills Android phone that brings you LTE and good battery life. For the same price, you'll get more out of the Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime , which looks nicer and packs a better camera (although a worse display). The Motorola Moto E has a smaller, lower-resolution display, but it's also a bit cheaper at $150, and runs Android 5.0 Lollipop.

The latest version of the Moto G offers LTE connectivity, and while it's only available in the UK, it'll set you back £159, which is around $240 or AU$310. The slightly older Moto G we checked out in September lacks LTE, but costs $180 in the US, £150 in the UK, and AU$269 in Australia.

The Huawei SnapTo isn't a terrible phone, but it's hard to recommend it when other handsets do the trick, with more finesse and flair.

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6.0

Huawei SnapTo

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 6Performance 6Camera 5Battery 7