In the low-to-mid-budget smartphone world, features usually need to be sacrificed. But for those who are looking to get the best bang for their buck, nice features, and a low price point forms an unlikely partnership through the line of Huawei Ascend smartphones. Never heard of them before? Huawei is pretty big in Asia.
Huawei Ascend can compete with some of its higher-priced, more attention-grabbing peers on many levels. Huawei proves that there is good design at every price level. The amount you want to spend—well, that’s up to you. And speaking of body design, it’s the first thing everyone notices, so let’s start with it.
It’s standard for most Huawei Ascend displays to measure in at five inches or more. The screen is usually elevated slightly to ensure the best viewing angle. Although some models are plastic, many feature aluminum, ceramic, and glass construction and beveled edges. The P8 Lite is more slender than most phones released in 2015 even when you include a case. This is thinness also translates into a lighter weight, although several Ascends are a bit heavier.
The build is still solid, with phones like the Mate 2 giving you Gorilla Glass 3 (more resilient and scratch-resistant than regular glass) peace of mind. Here’s the thing about the recent designs for the P7 and G7: they do bear a strong resemblance to iOS 7. This could be good or bad; part of the reason iOS was and is popular is due to its design. But it’s not exactly original. Still, if you are a person who finds it silly to buy clothes just for the name, you can own a phone that is a lot cheaper that looks awfully similar to a certain highly-popular, more expensive device.
The P8 lacks the completely uncanny resemblance to the iPhone, but it also won’t be competing in any beauty pageants with the likes of Samsung S6 or S6 Edge. However, what it lacks in looks is made up for in affordability. The newly released P9 design is quite similar to the P8 (and still similar to the iPhone) but borders more on beautiful with its diamond-cut edges that reflect light. It is also available in an array of colors.
These days it’s pretty much a given that a Huawei Ascend will include both front and rear cameras capable of high-quality video and panoramic views. The G7’s rear-facing camera comes with 13 megapixels, and it does pretty well with color and resolution, especially in indoor settings. A similar setup exists on the Mate 7, also equipped with a 5MP (stepped up to 8MP on the P8) front camera ideal for video calls. The cameras tend to have a wider lens capable of encompassing larger areas.
The Ascend cameras come with touch focus, high-definition resolution, and geo-tagging. Phones like the G7 do their best to help you look good in your selfies by providing a guide in the corner to help you face the camera itself, rather than the screen, and also provide filtering. The camera may not be quite up to par with, say, the Samsung S6, but it’s above and beyond for the phone’s price. You can squeeze even more pixel detail out of the cameras by experimenting with different modes or trying out other camera apps, like Snapseed.
The P9’s camera is the best of all, especially when it comes to black and white. The P9 only recently became available in the U.S. This camera has not just one, but two cameras are hitching a ride on its back. The Leica camera is such a stand-out feature on the P9 that you could say it’s the camera carrying the phone on its back.
Ascends can pack some decent processing power. The P8 houses a 2GHz octa-core Kirin 930 CPU and offers 3GB of RAM. You will find a little less in its predecessors, but the P9 does it even better with a 955 CPU, 3GB of RAM, and Marshmallow. The Mate 7 can also contain 3GB of RAM in select markets.
Even if you demand a lot of your smartphone, the P8 and P9 should be up to the task. Slightly older models such as the Ascend Mate 2 compare to devices like the Moto G in its processing power. Performance specs for a phone like the G7 make you have to look twice at the price tag attached to it to believe it. That’s not to say it’s perfect; you may notice some lag when using the interface.
The battery on the Mate 2 is 3,900mAh, and can even be used to charge other devices. Battery life on the P9 is stingier; perhaps due to having to fit it within such a narrow frame, but it’s only 3,000mAh. Still, this is slightly better than the 2680mAh that was on the P8.
4. Intuitive (Maybe?) User Interface
This feature being listed as one of the best will no doubt be considered debatable by some. However, given that UI analyses tend to be a bit more subjective than objective at times, I decided to include it. Even if Huawei didn’t succeed in the eyes of everyone, the company has tried to make its EMUI (Emotion User Interface) simple for its users. Settings have long featured a One Hand mode, which will switch the keyboard and dialer to the side of your preference to make it easier for one-hand use. Although it can vary from version to version, EMUI 3.0 kept color schemes and icons on the minimalistic and modest side, but they are different (foreign, even) than stock Android.
If that still seems boring, you can spice it up with several online themes. Some users have been disappointed in the app tray’s disappearance; others found they didn’t mind their app icons being smattered across various home screens. The Recent Apps menu is also quite different on Huawei Ascends. Rather than displaying apps like a splayed stack of cards, you have to sort through multiple tabs on various screens, which doesn’t seem the most efficient. And there’s still bloatware, but Huawei at least pared it down in the P9.
5. Interface Customization
Love it or hate it, EMUI has always made some strides to allow for customization. And although some users have considered it to be pretty useless, the intent behind the Me Widget is to combine several common individual widgets (like contacts, clock, music, and weather) into one collage. The widget is pretty customizable in that you can add, remove, or just move its components. When it comes to themes, if you want to complete the transformation of your Ascend into a pseudo-iPhone, the Dream theme allows you to move even closer in that direction.
There’s also been Easy Mode, which lets you cut right to the chase by putting basic functions at the forefront of your screen. On the G7 you can go to Settings, > Home Screen Style > Simple > Apply. The P9 features gesture control and allows the reconfiguration of buttons and sensors. Even on older models, like Huawei Ascend Mate, you can create and change profiles, customize your notification panel, change the Home screen font size, and more.
6. Lower Price Point
With most of the phones we’ve discussed, you would seriously be hard-pressed to find a device with better specs for a lower price. For instance, DHgate is currently (at least, at the time of this writing) selling the Mate 7 unlocked for $102.74. $200-300 is the going rate for the Mate 2. The P8 Lite is available on Huawei’s product page for $199.99. If you want a P8 or a Mate 8, you are looking at $290-$350 or $350-$500, respectively.
When it comes to phones like the P9, margins get a little tighter for your budget—coming in at least at the $450-$550 range. In every other section thus far it looked like the P9 was clearly the best of the Ascend options. And that might be true, but when it comes to pricing, you will have to pay more for it. It’s still cheaper than its main competitor—the S7—but it only dominates regarding specs with its camera.
If the screen size of five inches or greater that was mentioned earlier is any indication, these are phones with a large display. The Mate 2 is 6.1 inches. Resolution can be more of a mixed bag. The G7 has a 1280 x 720-pixel screen spanning its 5.5 inches. That makes for a low pixel density, but even with this weakness, Huawei makes up for it pretty well in the quality of its LCD screen.
The P9 does better with HD—1920 x 1080 on a smaller 5.2-inch screen. This is certainly an improvement and is adequate, but it doesn’t compete with the likes of LG and Samsung’s display specs. However, when we say it’s adequate we mean that—full high-definition is enough—anything more can be pretentious, or even worse, a battery killer. Full HD is enough for sharpness, and the color on these phones is very good (and adjustable towards warm or cool).
Not all phones, especially low-budget, have fingerprint sensors these days, but the Mate 7 does. And it had a thing or two to show manufacturers like HTC and Samsung about how fingerprint scanning should be done.
The phone only requires easy placement (resting rather than movement) on the scanner, where it scans your fingerprint in 360 degrees (instead of only the middle section). Additionally, you can lock certain apps or galleries and render them accessible only by PIN.
On the P9, the fingerprint sensor can be transformed into a menu button. These fingerprint scanners are quick, too, taking the same amount of time or less to enter a PIN code. Encryption is available. Ironically, there have been Huawei security concerns from the U.S. government in the past, given the tense relationship between the U.S. and where Huawei is based—China. Fingers have been pointed both ways, however.
Huawei Ascends, depending of course on the model, have been known to come with such connectivity features as Wi-Fi + and dual antennae. And take the P8 LTE—for instance—testing and specs have shown the phone to be one of the quickest to switch to the fastest network, have the fewest dropped calls, and the fastest download speed compared to similar make/models. The same goes for the phone’s upload and LTE speeds. Huawei has gotten onboard with 4G in its newer Ascend models.
Huawei Ascends are little known here in the U.S., and the company doesn’t seem to go out of its way to try to make a name here. However, it might be reasonable to assume that the money it is saving on advertising is being put towards a grander purpose—specs. Low prices are one of Huawei’s main competitive advantages, but it has ventured into higher-end territory with phones like its P9 recently.
Unfortunately, the company does seem to expect a little more in return for its P9 efforts. However, this is understandable, and when you look at the phones it is aiming to compete with, the Ascends are still cheaper.
What’s your favorite Huawei Ascend feature? Let us know in comments.