Review: Cheap and not so cheerful

Sim Ahmed reviews the Huawei Ascent Y201 smartphone

The Huawei Ascend Y201 is a business phone for the financially constrained. At $279 RRP, it's a nifty little phone with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), near field communication (NFC), and a micro-SD slot - but despite this there's very little to be excited about.

Design

The Ascend looks very similar to those chunky HTC Windows Mobile phones that were deployed in the enterprise space between 2008 and 2010.

It's thick, has rounded edges, and is rubberised for that ‘professional on a budget’ look.

The Ascend is by no means an unattractive phone, and wouldn't look out of place in the pocket of an executive, but just don't expect people to give you a double take carrying one of these around.

The upside to all this is how comfortable the phone is to hold in your hand, it doesn't have the sharp harsh lines of many modern flagship phones (like the iPhone 4S for example) which just don't seem to fit in your hand.

The volume rockers on the side of the Ascend are tucked very closely into the shell, almost too close because you need to dig in with your fingernails to get a response.

Apart from this, the build quality is acceptable, and even the removable back lid seems like it could withstand a bit of pressure from a year or two of use.

Display

The Ascend's 3.5-inch LCD display is uninspiring, but for the price point hard to complain about.

A resolution of 320 by 480 pixels means you won't be able to play HD quality YouTube videos, but photos of the family should be fine.

The colour contrast is low, which makes images look flat. This is a problem with older VGA display technology.

The 3.2 megapixel camera on the back works well in daylight, but indoors or in any low light situation you'll be fighting against a lot of noise to get picture clarity. There's no front facing camera, so video calls and teleconferencing are probably not an option on this phone.

Software

Only now are devices from the front-running manufacturers being weened off Gingerbread and onto ICS (which isn't even the latest version of Android), so I was initially surprised to see ICS as the shipped OS on the Ascend.

The biggest advantage of ICS over its predecessor on smartphones, Gingerbread, is a refined user experience and more stable multi-tasking. The force close popup box isn't completely removed, but better memory management does make its appearance rarer.

Unfortunately this major update is mostly wasted on the Ascend, with its 800Mhz processor. Intensive apps like the photo gallery and video gallery can run frustratingly slowly. At times I almost wished for the force close box to appear to put me out of my misery, but even this seemed to be running slower than usual.

Similarly the browsing experience was sub-par compared to what I've been used to with other Android phones and my iPhone. The touch screen would often mis-register my taps and swipes, opening links that I didn't want and making scrolling through long articles a pain.

It didn't take long for me to relegate the Ascend to being a strictly tweeting and texting phone.

NFC

Huawei has installed near field communication technology into the Ascend Y201 to make it compatible with platforms like Snapper and 2degrees' Pay2Go NFC platform.

Currently Pay2Go is available in Wellington and Auckland for use on some public transport services and in around 600 stores.

If you regularly take the bus or ferry in Wellington, or taxis in Auckland - the Ascend will remove the need for one more card in your wallet. Beyond that, the offerings for NFC in New Zealand are pretty sparse.

Battery

Adding to the list of the Ascend's problems is the battery life. A full charge would usually last a full work day if I kept off 3G, but using cellular data drains the battery in five to six hours.

The Ascend battery is replaceable, and the batteries are quite cheap on foreign websites - so it would not be outrageously expensive to keep a spare in your work bag.

Would I buy the Ascend Y201 as my work phone? No. It doesn't have the processing prowess I need of my phone, which I treat as an extension of my work computing environment.

But if I needed a cheap replacement phone, or something to take overseas the Ascend would definitely be a top choice.

2 Stars

SPECS

Dimensions: 61 x 116 x 11.7 mm

OS: Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwhich)

Processor: 800 Mhz Qualcomm, 256 MB RAM

Display: 3.5 inches, 320 x 480 pixels

Camera: 3.2 megapixels

Price: RRP $279

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