The EE Kestrel is the best budget 4G handset on the market right now. It blends good design, an HD screen and quad-core processor to deliver an impressive smartphone for the price. Only an older version of Android lets it down.
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,6/25/2014 1:54:20 PM
Look and feel
Ease of use
4G for under £100 | Good design and well made |
HD screen |
Average battery life |
Older version of Android |
Limited internal storage |
Own-brand products have always been met with a certain reaction from consumers - cheap and cheerful but you’d be better off raising your budget slightly and looking elsewhere. But with the Kestrel, EE looks set to change all that by offering a smartphone with the look and feel of something more premium - and one with 4G, too.
To our eagle-eyed readers the Kestrel may well look familiar, because beneath the EE branding you’ll find Huawei’s Ascend G6, a mid-range smartphone launched as a more affordable version of the Chinese company’s flagship P6. Our review unit has a gunmetal grey finish that is glossy around the phone’s outer edges, but with a softer matt finish on the removeable back.
It’s a great look and one which feels more premium than the handset’s £99 price tag suggests - and it feels much nicer than the equally cheap but no where near as cheerful Alcatel Pop S3, which also offers 4G for under £100 (page 48).
At 145g and 7.85mm, the EE Kestrel is beautifully thin and light, while a high build quality ensures the handset feels like it would shrug off a drop or two, and would happily share a pocket with keys and loose change.
Measuring 4.5 inches, the Kestrel’s display has a resolution of 540 x 960 and a pixel density of 245 per inch. This means the phone misses out of HD, but where other budget offerings like the Alcatel suffer from poor quality as well as a low resolution, the EE’s screen is excellent. Bright and evenly lit, with strong but natural colours and even decent outdoor performance, the Kestrel does a lot of things right.
A quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor with 1GB of RAM runs Android 4.3 Jelly Bean with no real complaints. I noticed the handset would heat up a fair amount when downloading large files, especially on the left edge, but otherwise the Kestrel speeds along nicely with no lag or crashing.
That same left edges gets warm when playing intensive games like Real Racing 3, but it’s certainly nothing to worry about. Aside from that, the Kestrel handles such games with ease. RR3 felt as smooth and responsive as it does on any other smartphone. Good job, EE.
Storage is just 8GB as standard, which will soon fill up when you get busy downloading games from Google Play, but peel off the rear cover and you’ll find access to a microSD card slot to give storage a significant boost.
Unfortunately the Kestrel’s battery cannot be removed, but the winning formula of the large footprint of a 4.5-inch screen, a non-HD resolution and mid-range processor means battery life is better than most. Two full days will always be a push with any smartphone, but the Kestrel (just about) staggered to the end of a second day of light use with push notifications from Facebook, Twitter and email. Nightly charging is the way to go.
An absolute cracker, the Kestrel not only proves that own-brand phones aren’t to be sniffed at, but it also sets the benchmark for all budget 4G phones to follow. Where the Alcatel (cut from £99 to £79 as we went to press) offers 4G for even less, the Kestrel offers affordable superfast internet, but doesn’t compromise elsewhere.