Slimline design, good specs, decent camera
Keyboard is poor, no microSD slot, average battery life
Huawei has built up a solid reputation when it comes to budget phones, but it is still to break through with a higher-spec device. Could the Ascend P2 could be the phone that launches the brand into the pockets of people who want to spend a little more?
Following on from last year's Ascend P1, the P2 is slicker, faster and more attractive... at least, it is from the front.
Face on, the P2 is beautiful in its simplicity. The solid, black, shiny, all-glass front panel covers a 4.7-inch display with a wonderfully thin bezel and no physical buttons interrupting the clean design.
Turned on its side, the phone remains elegant, with a slight slope at either end of its 8.4mm profile, and it lacks the jutting camera lens present on the Ascend P1.
A micro SIM port is covered by an easy-to-open plastic flap, however getting the SIM in and out is more challenging and unless you have long nails, you'll need to use something to fiddle with the card. A little tool is included with the phone, but once you lose that an unfolded paperclip will do just fine.
Flip it over though, and Huawei's affordable roots show through. The stylish glass gives way to an expanse of cheap-feeling plastic which offers very little grip. When you're in company, leave the phone face-up and you'll be fine.
The plastic back does mean the phone is light though, and the whole device weighs in at a dainty 122g, so it slips easily into pockets without dragging your trousers down.
The P2 offers considerable customisation of the Jelly Bean OS, with multiple themes available, from Christmassy scenes to ones that make your folders and desktop look like an East German office. There are also about 10 options for how you want your various desktops to transition. It's a little touch, but one that is much-appreciated in a world of homogenous Android operating systems.
Huawei's changes aren't all positive, however, and the lack of an app drawer is a real downside. All your apps must live on one of the nine homescreens. That's right, like iOS. The ability to drag similar apps into folders helps somewhat, but for a device with so much customisation, it's surprising that ultra-minimalism isn't possible.
Upon starting up the P2 for the first time, you'll want to download an alternative keyboard from the Google Play store as soon as possible. The Huawei keyboard is small and inaccurate, and it's better to leave it behind immediately rather than spend any time trying to figure it out. Trust us, we're saving you a lot of frustration.
Underneath the 1280 x 720 screen lie a 1.5GHz quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage (12GB usable). Alas, the lack of a microSD slot means that once 16GB has been used up, you have the fun task of deleting files and apps to make room.
While the P2 is Huawei's current top-end handset, in the grand scheme of things it's resolutely upper-mid level. However, one place where it stands tall above the likes of the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S 4 is in speed. That's right, the P2 lays claim to being the world's fastest smartphone; provided you're talking about mobile data speeds.
Thanks to the Cat 4 LTE innards, the Ascend P2 can provide a theoretical speed of up to 150Mbps. Sure, you're not going to see speeds like that any time soon, but it's better to have an Aston Martin limited to 100mph than no Aston Martin at all, right?
In reality, this phone is going to be in competition with smartphones like the Nokia Lumia 820 and Sony Xperia SP, and that's no bad place to be.
The 13-megapixel camera is a solid performer, as is the 1.3-megapixel lens on the front, and Huawei has included a dedicated shutter key at the bottom right side of the phone, which gives instant access to the camera as well as a comfortable way to take photos.
If you just want to point and shoot, the auto focus works quickly and the camera just takes one second to take a pic and return to shooting mode.
More options are present if you want them and can be reached via an arrow at the top of the screen. This menu includes the likes of low light, HDR (not wonderful) and panorama (also not wonderful). If you like to mess about with pictures of family or friends (or, if we're more honest, you let your kids play with the phone), different effects can be added to your pics, including “big nose”, “big face” and “insect”.
Back in the parent menu, filters such as negative, sepia, mono and the likes are present and correct.
The performance of the camera is pretty much representative of the phone as a whole; a solid performer but nothing astonishing.
The pictures you snap are given more oomph when viewing them back on the bright, crisp 1280 x 720 display. Unlike many other smartphones, the P2's screen doesn't have that 'sunken' feel, so images feel closer to the surface. However, while the screen is bright and crisp, that brightness is entirely at the discretion of the phone itself which jumps into automatic brightness mode whenever it feels like it. It's not a big enough problem to turn us off the phone altogether, but it's darn annoying when using the phone in bright sunlight and everything on-screen suddenly dims.
The Huawei Ascend P2's back panel cannot be removed, so neither can the 2420mAh battery. If you're going to be hammering the phone all day, make sure you can juice-up midway through or it won't make it past tea-time. With moderate use, however, a full day of use is possible, and that'll extend to a couple of days if you're super careful. The patented Mobile Choice media test (streaming HD video with the screen at full brightness) gave us five-and-a-half hours before the phone shut down – about average for a phone like this.
The Huawei Ascend P2 is a competent handset that sits neatly in the upper mid-range of the smartphone hierarchy. While there are a few glints of creativity, for the most part it is an unassuming device for people who want an Android phone that isn't too flashy and will do what they want without gimmicks.
At just £299 SIM-free, it's a definite contender.