Huawei’s Ascend W1 smartphone is its first ever foray into the wonderful world of Windows. Sporting the lovely and user-friendly Windows Phone 8 OS, it’s a nifty way to stay social and also portable enough to suit regular travellers, but smartphone fans might find the lack of apps a bit of an issue.
All things bright and colourful
Windows phones seem to enjoy a lot more vibrancy than Android mobiles, and the Huawei Ascend W1 is no different to the colourful Nokia Lumia 920 and Windows Phone 8X by HTC in that respect. While our review model was sadly the plain black version, you can also opt for a bright blue finish, or even a sizzling pink. We’d recommend you do so as the black model is rather bland.
Still, even the black Ascend W1 is well constructed, with a firm body offset by a pleasantly soft-touch rear plate. Not only does that soft backing feel pleasing against your fingertips, it gives the phone extra grip so it won’t go spinning out of your hand. Even if you did drop the Ascend W1, we think it would survive with minimal damage. We also found the skinny 130g body was comfortable to clutch and operate one-handed, thanks to its slender build and compact four-inch screen.
If you’re not familiar with Windows Phone 8, its main selling point is its colourful and friendly interface. The main screen is a grid of tiles, each one acting as a shortcut to one of your apps – e.g., your email, maps or contacts list. The tiles stream live information where appropriate, just like Android’s widgets. Your mail tile tells you if any unread emails are sat waiting, for instance, while your photos tile displays a rotating slideshow of your snaps. Windows Phone 8 may not be a massive leap over version 7, but it adds some cool little features including the Family Room, where you can share photos, docs and calendars with a group of friends or relatives, and a special ‘Kid’s Corner’ which allows your sprogs to play with games while locking them out of your valuable data.
The one drawback with Windows Phone 8 is the lack of apps compared to Android and iOS. Take games, for instance. You’ll find plenty of silly little time wasters such as Angry Birds on the Windows Store, but there’s a distinct lack of quality titles. Many first-party apps on iOS and Android are replaced with third-party efforts that are more buggy or ugly, although we’re at least seeing the likes of Skype and Netflix appearing now. We keep saying this, but give it more time and eventually this shouldn’t be a problem. For now, it still remains a notable drawback.
One of the biggest advocates of Windows Phone 8, Nokia, tries to offset this dearth of decent apps by installing plenty of its own on each Lumia smartphone – you get sat nav, maps, a music streaming service and plenty of other extra little tools. Sadly Huawei hasn’t followed suit, so you’re limited to the apps you shake out of the online store. Still, Windows Phone 8 is still a great social beast. The ‘People’ app brings all of your contacts together from your phone book, email directory and social media. You can check what anyone is up to at any given time, from your last interaction with them to their latest Tweets, and get in touch with them in all kinds of ways.
Media and performance
The Huawei Ascend W1’s four inch screen seems rather dinky at first, with a relatively thick bezel surrounding it. Browsing the web can be a little tricky if you like visiting busy websites, but thankfully the display has a reasonably sharp 480 x 800 resolution so you can zoom right out and still read text and enjoy images if your eyes are up to it. It isn’t one of the brightest screens around but does a decent job of countering daylight and other glare. Colours are bold and pleasing to the eye, but do fade rather quickly when you tilt the screen. Blacks also come off more as a dark gray.
We tested out some HD video, and the results were suitably impressive. The visuals were crisp and smooth, and the compact four inch display is just about big enough to enjoy a full-length film without having to squint. You’re covered if you want to enjoy movies on a long-haul flight too. Even when constantly streaming video, we got a solid nine hours of use before the battery died. That’s fantastic for a modern mobile, and while a lot of that performance can be attributed to the compact and slightly dim display, it’s still a massive plus for anyone who’s regularly out and about.
Web browsing is on the whole a pain-free experience, with smooth navigation the norm, although some busy websites do take a while to fully load. Again, if your eyesight is a little rusty and you think you’ll be using the web a lot, we’d recommend a larger screen. Still, despite the dinky display, we found the virtual keyboard easy to use when texting or emailing. It’s logically laid out and responsive to your taps.
The 5MP camera is simple and comfortable to use, thanks to its physical shutter button. This is positioned as standard, along the lower right edge of the phone, so it’s easy to find with your index finger when holding the Ascend W1 sideways. Hold the button down when the phone’s hibernating and the camera app starts right up, and photos take in under half a second so you can quickly capture any impromptu hilarious moments.
The options you get are minimal: you can turn the flash off and on, change from auto mode to a specific scene type and flick through different resolutions, and that’s pretty much it. The camera is expandable, however, using the Windows Phone 8 lenses. You only get one to start, the ‘Bing Vision’ lens, which can be used to scan and translate or copy text (providing you have decent light and the words aren’t too small), but more should be available from the online store.
Our snaps came out well, with colours really shining and a surprising amount of detail visible when viewing back on a larger screen. You can also shoot bright, clear video clips, with decent sound quality (although the mic picks up wind a little too easily). A bog-standard front-facing camera can be used to Skype chat online. Rounding off the camera features is the basic set of editing tools, which allow you to crop and auto-adjust your snaps before you share them with the world via Twitter, Facebook and so on.
At £199, Huawei’s Ascend W1 is a respectable entry into the world of budget-friendly Windows Phone 8 devices. It’s stylish and solidly built with fantastic battery life and a compact-but-crisp four-inch screen, but Huawei hasn’t gone the extra mile like Nokia to try and entice you in with extra apps and services. The lack of apps could be a deal-breaker for smartphone fans, although newbies are unlikely to be bothered.