Huawei Ascend P1

Huawei is certainly a bit of an anomaly to me. They're huge in some markets but struggle in others (like the States), because the hardware they've released here has always been less-than-stellar. Then they go and release a phone like the Ascend P1 and turn my whole notion of them on its head.

To parrot what was said about the Epic 4G Touch, the Huawei Ascend P1 could simply simply be described as thin, fast, and light. (As a matter of fact, the P1 S is supposed to be the thinnest smartphone around.) With a pentaband radio inside, you'll be chatting and surfing the 'net the whole world over.

I can't give all the good stuff away so early, though! Is Huawei's latest entry into the high-end smartphone market enough to propel them into the markets they're after? Let's take a look after the break.

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  • Thin, fast, and light. The 1.5GHz dual-core proc handles processes like a champ, the phone doesn't take up much space in your pocket, and the screen is just brilliant. Plus, it ships with Ice Cream Sandwich! (Finally!)


  • A qHD screen? But why? That's easily the most lacking feature about something so clearly designed to be high-end. Paltry on-board storage forces you to buy a microSD card. Non-removable batteries are still a no-no.

The Bottom Line

Huawei might just have their golden ticket in the Ascend P1. This phone hits all the big areas people are looking for in a device they'll hold onto for two years, and in such a sleek package, you'll love whipping this out in front of friends and phone nerds alike.

Inside this review

More info

Huawei Ascend P1 video walkthrough

Huawei Ascend P1 Hardware

It's so nice to see companies experiment with design and push the envelope with what they can put into such a small package. Huawei has pulled off an impressive feat, providing such a fully-featured phone in such a small, compact package. From the first moment you hold this in your hand, you'll be struck at how lightweight it is and how good it feels in your hand.

Despite the thinness, the Ascend P1 never feels like it'll be easily bent or broken. (A comfort, to be sure.) I don't know if it's reinforced with a bit of metal on the inside, but there's a sturdiness to it that lets you know you needn't coddle it to keep it safe. (Perhaps the Gorilla Glass helps with that, too.)

The front of the the Ascend P1 is dominated by a gorgeous, 4.3-inch Super AMOLED qHD display at 960x540. I know, it's not the 720p screens we've come to expect on our highest-end devices, but at 262 DPI, this screen won't leave you wanting much more. It's absolutely stunning to look at, and aside from some daylight readability issues, is everything you'd expect from a Super AMOLED display.

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Up top is a reasonably-sized earpiece with a notification light inside. It has only been amber-colored for me, so at best, it's one of those three-tone lights. Due right from the earpiece is the 1.3MP front-facing camera. Down south are your three capacitive buttons. They're not soft keys (like they should be), but at least there's only three of them. Curious enough is the fact that Huawei decided to keep the menu key in their configuration, leaving off the search button and the recent applications button.

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Because Huawei made the Ascend P1 so thin (and subsequently made the battery non-removable), all the ports you're used to finding underneath the battery cover are strewn about the various bezels. For example, on the top bezel you'll find a SIM card slot, microUSB charging port, and​ 3.5mm headphone jack. The card ports have a hinged door on them, so you can lift up the door from one side but not completely remove the cover.

On our impossibly thin right bezel, there's the power button and microSD card slot. The power button has a good action height, so it sticks out a good distance from the phone while also requiring you to use a satisfying amount of pressure to actually press the button. Don't misunderstand me, it's not too high at all. Rather, it seems Huawei just decided to not make the button nearly flush with the phone, which in my opinion is the right way to do it.

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On the far opposite side of things, there's a silver volume rocker, all by its lonesome. Like most volume rockers, this one is cut from a single piece of plastic, but instead of keeping the entire piece the same thickness, there's a slight valley in the middle, so you can tell up from down. It's a little more than twice the size of the power button, so there's plenty of room for fingers of all shapes and sizes to click the half they want.

The bottom bezel is also particularly clean, with a single pinhole microphone to its name. As I've mentioned before, the battery is non-removable, so there's no slits or anything to help you pry off the backplate. (So don't go looking for one!)

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Going backside, there's a glorious, single white piece of plastic with a speaker down low, an 8MP shooter up top, and a dual flash. The speaker is certainly good, but not amazing. It's loud, it has reasonably good bass and lots of treble, but if you don't want to have your phone pressed to your head, it'll cover you in a pinch.

Underneath the impenetrable fortress of plastic is a 1670mAh battery. That's not gigantic nor is it tiny, it's a good middle-of-the-road amount. Fortunately, Huawei is using some sort of newfangled battery efficiency process that claims up to 30% longer charges. I can't speak to the accuracy of the percent they're hyping, but I can say with some certainty that this battery lasted much longer than I anticipated. Whatever Huawei is doing with batteries, they're doing it right.

The Ascend P1 is also packing a TI OMAP 4460 dual-core processor, clocked at 1.5GHz, and let me tell you, it shows. This phone absolutely flies, especially if you're using the 2D home. (I'll get to that, I promise.) There's also 1GB of RAM, 4GB of ROM, and more radios than you can shake a stick at. I personally think there should be more onboard storage, but if that's the tradeoff to keep the phone super thin, well, Huawei did what they had to.

Huawei Ascend P1 Software

Right off the bat, there's reason to celebrate. The Huawei Ascend P1 launches with Ice Cream Sandwich (as it darn well should!), and although it's 4.0.3, it's still the latest and greatest operating system, so kudos to Huawei for that.

Huawei also packed in two separate launchers right into the Ascend P1, a 2D home (that is essentially stock Android), and their own, homegrown, 3D launcher. (Could this be a glimpse of the Emotion UI Huawei is set to unveil? Stay tuned.) We'll be taking a look at each launcher, so strap yourselves in and lets get started.

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Above, the standard 2D launcher on the Huawei Ascend P1.

​The 2D launcher on the Ascend P1 is pretty basic. If you've ever used (or seen) Ice Cream Sandwich before, you'll be familiar with how this works. Your dock is at the bottom (underneath a separating line), you've got five screens, and all the icons are beautiful, stock Android icons. Screen transitions are standard (nothing fancy here), and while you can place some Huawei widgets, they don't look too dramatically out of place.

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​Above, the 3D launcher on the Huawei Ascend P1.

​The 3D launcher on the Ascend P1 definitely shows Huawei's take on things, to say the least. You've still got five screens, but this time the icons are more colorful, cartoony, and almost reminiscent of TouchWiz. The widgets are bigger, more colorful, and have faux shadows to really drive the 3D point home.

The transitions are also different (giving you an option between spinning and panning), but if you move too quickly, expect to see some stuttering, despite the powerful internals. The 3D home also gives you a choice between boxy and breeze icons, just in case you need some more variety, and you can't get rid of the screen numbers, which is a pain.

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A fair bit of Huawei's native influence were still felt on my review unit, and while I can only assume these apps won't ship on other units, I thought it'd be fun to show off some screenshots.

I also want to call your attention to Huawei's impressive weather widget. It pulls from AccuWeather for weather information, but when you tap the widget, it shows you a beautiful, fullscreen weather animation with all the related information. It's probably the coolest weather widget I've seen thus far.

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Huawei Ascend P1 Battery life

I already talked up the battery in the hardware portion of this Huawei Ascend P1 review, so there's not much else to say. I really think Huawei has done something impressive with battery efficiency, as mine lasted plenty of time. (Try a week on idle!)

I never got to test the phone on a high-speed network, so I can't speak to how HSPA+ would affect the longevity of the battery, but based on my experience, I'd say that results will still be great, especially when compared to other phones running on high-speed networks.

Huawei Ascend P1 Camera

The Huawei Ascend P1 packs an 8MP camera on the rear, capable of handling full 1080p video and a 1.3MP shooter on the front, capable of recording 720p 1080p video. (Curiously enough, the software on the phone says the front camera maxes out at 720p, but if you check the upload quality, there's definitely a 1080p option there.)

The camera on the back takes some pretty decent pictures, but I'd say its biggest strength is how quickly it focuses and actually takes pictures. I feel like this is a trend that'll just continue through the ages, thanks to the near-zero shutter lag Galaxy Nexus, but I'm still happy to see more phones using faster sensors.

(Everyone knows that in the time it takes a camera to focus, the perfect lolcat picture might have already passed by, so if we're going to take pictures, let's take them quickly.)

The front-facing camera takes some okay pictures, too. Maybe it was the lighting conditions, but I certainly look completely washed out in the sun, so be aware if it's too bright, you'll be picking up lots of white. The software also has some very cool face detection, putting squares around faces it finds and making sure they're in focus. Huawei also bundled some "fun" effects, like extra fat chins and whatnot, but if you've ever seen someone spend too much time with Photo Booth on a Mac, you've seen it all.

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Below is a gallery of images taken using the rear-facing camera on the Huawei Ascend P1. You can download a zipped file of all of the images at full size here.

Huawei Ascend P1 Wrap-up

Wow, just wow. Huawei certainly came to play this time around, and they have definitely thrown down the gauntlet with the Ascend P1. Top-notch components pepper nearly every facet of this device, and boy, does it show. The Ascend P1 is an absolute joy to use, not only because it's built well, but because it chews through everything thrown at it and just keeps going.

What's yet to be seen is if the Ascend P1 (and it's sibling phone, the Ascend P1 S) are the injection Huawei sorely needs to become a contender in the high-end phone market around the world. If I had to guess now, I'd say yes, but only time will tell.

I can say this with a degree of certainty, though: if Huawei continues making phones this great, it's only a matter of time before their adoption rates rise. They're after your dollars (and pocket space), and the Ascend P1 shows they're not going anywhere.