The first 4G Android phone is finally here
4G mobile broadband has finally arrived in the UK with the launch of EE, a mobile network from T-Mobile and Orange. The Huawei Ascend P1 is not only one of the first Android 4G phones available from EE, it's also the cheapest. There's no upfront cost, but it's only available on a two year contract at £41 a month with a download allowance of 1GB a month.
That's a lot of money - almost £1,000 over two years - but in return you get impressively fast mobile broadband speeds. At various locations throughout northern and central London we managed average download speeds of 10.7Mbit/s and average upload speeds of 7Mbit/s. The fastest speeds we saw were 20Mbit/s download and 11Mbit/s upload. This is around 10 times faster than an average 3G connection and just as fast, or faster, than many residential landline ADSL broadband connections. We even managed to get a connection on a hair-raising fairground ride, managing 2.4Mbit/s download and 0.5Mbit/s upload.
4G LTE EE mobile broadband speeds on the Huawei Ascend P1 LTE (left) vs 3G HSDPA+ Vodafone speeds on the Sony Xperia T (right)
In actual use complex webpages and large email attachments downloaded almost instantly, while streaming video from services such as Youtube played at high quality with little delay. At these speeds the 1GB download allowance is a bit paltry, but it should be sufficient for most needs.
A bigger downside is availability - EE's 4G LTE network is currently only available in 11 large cities, including London, Belfast and Edinburgh (check coverage in your area using EE's website). It's worth remembering that speeds can vary dramatically even if you're in a covered area. In parts of Camden, for example, our phone had to drop back to the slower 3G network.
Another disadvantage is battery life. When browsing the internet exclusively on 4G along with using GPS and making calls, the battery lasted just under eight and a half hours. This is just enough for a working day, but keeping a micro USB charging cable handy is a good idea. Most 3G phones will last roughly twice as long.
Looks and features
Aside from its superfast 4G internet connection, the Huawei Ascend P1 is a competent if unremarkable Android phone. It's a reasonably slim, inoffensive-looking phone with a bulge at the bottom, reminiscent of the Samsung Galaxy SII. The ribbed backplate helps make it feel sturdy and also makes it less likely to slip out of your hand. The backplate comes off easily giving access to the SIM card and micro SD memory card slots. You'll almost certainly need a microSD card for storing apps and files as the phone only has a small 2GB of storage built in.
The 4.3in screen might be a little unwieldy to use for smaller hands, but it does look bright and vivid. It has a high resolution of 960x540 pixels, but the use of the cheap Pentile screen technology means text can sometimes look fuzzy especially when compared to phones with better quality screens.
Audio quality when making phone calls wasn't bad, but we've heard better. Calls were sometimes quiet and muffled or a little scratchy. The eight-megapixel rear-facing camera is also disappointing. As expected it struggled in low-light, producing dark, smeared shots. Details in bright daylight shots were noisy and lacked detail, but they're good enough for casual purposes such as posting on Facebook.
App performance is quick thanks to the 1.5GHz dual-core processor. Scrolling through complex web pages and zooming in and out of images and maps sometimes felt a little sluggish though. Oddly, the Google Maps app sometimes struggled to lock onto our location using GPS when other phones had no such trouble.
Softly does it
The Ascend P1 LTE comes with the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system. Huawei thankfully hasn't altered the standard interface too much with most of its modifications limited to the lock screen. As with some other Android phones, you can go straight to the phone, text messaging or camera apps straight from the lock screen. Swipe across the date and time to reveal music playback controls, a handy feature most other Android phones won't get until they receive the Android 4.2 upgrade (if at all). Huawei has yet to confirm whether the Ascend P1 LTE itself will get the Android 4.2 Jelly Bean upgrade or not.
The camera app also receives a few additions in the form of filters and distortion effects for modifying your photos. There's the usual sepia and black and white filters, while the distortion effects are fun for warping your friend's faces. Hardly essential stuff, but fun nonetheless.
Is it worth buying?
The Huawei Ascend P1 LTE isn't a bad phone, but aside from its fast 4G internet connection it feels like an unremarkable clone of the Samsung Galaxy SII. Whether it's worth buying depends entirely on how much you value 4G. It's very fast, but the download limit won't suit everyone, it will sap battery life too and the contract is expensive.
Most people will be better off waiting for the prices of 4G phones and price plans to drop and for the technology to mature. The eagerly impatient may want to consider the LTE version of the Samsung Galaxy S3 which is also available from EE at an upfront cost of £30 on a two year contract at £46 a month. At a total cost of £1,134 this is £150 more expensive than the Ascend but does come with a more generous 3GB a month download limit.
Read more reviews
Very fast but pricey mobile broadband on an otherwise average phone.
4G LTE is very fast
Meagre download limit for the price; Battery life can suffer; Otherwise average phone.
£Free on two year £41 a month contract
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