Review by Sunetra Chakravati,
12/12/2011 4:02:02 PM
Good screen, wealth of connectivity, latest version of Android
Finicky touch-sensitive buttons, can lag at times, camera?s not great
There has been much deliberation in the Mobile Choice office – and the mobile industry as a whole – over how to correctly pronounce Huawei, the obscure Chinese manufacturer that’s a technology giant in the East - but a completely unknown brand in the West. Some people lazily pronounce it almost exactly like the tropical island of Hawaii – wrong. Others utter a noise that sounds very much like “who are we?” – spot on. The fact its name is almost impossible to pronounce shows how much work it has to do to make an impact in the now overcrowded Android market, one currently led by a company not dissimilar to Huawei – HTC. Yet despite this being the company’s debut on these shores, you’ve probably owned a Huawei handset before, just wrapped in an Orange or Vodafone skin.Blaze of glory
So, here we have the company’s first device, the cheap-as-microchips Blaze. Understandably, Huawei is learning to walk before it starts running, so it's debuting in the West with a low-end device. Before we rattle off the specs we need to get the most important thing out the way – this phone costs under a £100, so if you’re after an upgrade from your Samsung Galaxy S II or iPhone 4, move along.But when placed in your hand it’s not obvious this phone costs less than the price of a Saturday night out (albeit a late one, with taxi and takeaway). It’s a dinky little device, measuring up at 110x56.5x11.2mm and weighing just 105g. It feels extremely comfortable in both the hand and pocket, thanks to its curved edges, rubbery backside and smooth glass frontage. And the 3.2-inch capacitive touch-screen comes in at a perfectly reasonable 320x480 pixels – a resolution more commonly found in mid-range handsets than entry-level smarties. It’s no iPhone 4 Retina display, but at 180 pixels-per-inch it’s more than satisfactory for the price range it’s in.The roof of the chassis houses the on/off button alongside a 3.5mm headphone jack, with the right wing giving home to a discreet and rubbery volume rocker and the bottom giving entry to all your Micro USB requirements. Below the screen are the four Android buttons, which are unusually laid out. Back, Settings and Search form a single row, all of which are touch-sensitive and clumsy to use – the pressure pads are much smaller than the keys suggest, and often require several presses before you get the results you want. It also has one hard silver button taking you Home, which sits on a metal-coloured strip that edges upwards around the side of the body, almost like it’s trying to create the impression of the iPhone 4’s metal trim – although it’s obviously made out of plastic.Flick the phone on and you’re greeted with a pleasantly bright, although not particularly colour-rich display. Running on the latest version of Android 2.4.3 Gingerbread, you have five homepages in which to customise with all your favourite shortcuts and widgets. It’s clear from the layout Huawei has been playing around with HTC’s Sense interface, as swiping between each homepage is done using a 3D carrousel – exactly like with Sense 3.0. That’s not the only thing that makes you think of HTC – the gigantic clock and weather widget on the central home screen also makes you think of High Tech Computer.Huawei has also conjured up its own social networking system that’s not entirely unlike HTC’s Friend Stream – called simply “Streams”, it integrates your Facebook and Twitter accounts so you get all your updates in one nice, well, stream. The updates are on tiles that are laid out in 3D for you to scroll through – it’s pretty nifty-looking and a little reminiscent of Sony Ericsson’s Timescape.And if you’re new to the world of smartphones, once you’ve entered in your Google account details you’ll be able to get your emails direct to your phone, and access to the Android marketplace, which has over 400,000 apps for you to download and digest.As we mentioned earlier, this is not a trumpet that’s packing the sort of specs that could power The Matrix. Its 600MHz processor is certainly sturdy enough for keeping you on top of social networking, music and simple gaming needs, but don’t be trying to play N.O.V.A. 2 on this. Angry Birds ran perfectly well though – a game much more suited to a device in this bracket. And while it might not cope too well with the more power-demanding games, the simple fare does look nice on this tidy screen. As do videos – we watched a couple of MP4s and a selection of YouTube clips and, while 3.2-inches might be far from ideal to watch The Lord of the Rings trilogy on, it’s certainly fine for a 20-minute episode of The Simpsons. The 2GB microSD card isn’t exactly going to mean you can throw your iPod in the bin, you can upgrade it to a more admirable 16GB if you splash out on a new card (you might want to buy some new headphones while you’re at it, the ones included are, as expected, beyond awful).Connectivity is another area the Blaze excels in the bang-for-buck stakes, coming armed with HSPDA, Wi-Fi and an impressively fast A-GPS with turn-by-turn sat nav. We connected to both our office and home Wi-Fi routers with zero fuss, and call quality is entirely reasonable. The Blaze gets huge thumbs up for its ability to keep you plugged into the world at large for meagre financial outlay.Civilian paparazzi might want to keep hold of their digi-cams though. The 3.2-megapixel snapper on board lacks both flash and auto-focus, so photos are often noisy and dark. We weren’t expecting Nokia N8 quality, and something had to give.
While we were 'delighted' to return back to our £500 phone when finished with the Blaze, we did feel that, if we only had £100 for a handset – we’d snap Huawei’s debut phone up in a flash. It felt slightly sluggish when running multiple apps, and it’s not going to magnetise the opposite sex towards you, but for what it costs – its 'capabilities-per-quids' score is one of the highest out there.