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

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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.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

6.0 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 6
  • Performance 6
  • Camera 5
  • Battery 7

Review Sections

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.

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

snapto-ultrasnapshot.jpg
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.

snapto-4.jpg
Nate Ralph/CNET

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