Mid-range phones aren’t known for being thin or having great mobile speeds, and budget phones even less so, but a new phone from Huawei appears to buck that trend, especially with a $320 price.
A new value packed phone for people keen to get the most out of their mobile provider, Huawei’s Ascend G6 aims to deliver the mobile web at blazing speeds, but not expect you to shell too much out of your wallet.
Inside this phone, you won’t find one of Huawei’s own home-built chips, with the company switching to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 chip, a similar chip to the one HTC used in its One Mini last year, though Huawei is relying on a quad-core variant clocked at 1.2GHz, different to the dual-core 1.4GHz version HTC used.
Memory on this handset clocks in at 1GB RAM, while built in storage sits at 8GB, with a microSD slot available to expand this considerably. Graphics are handled by the Adreno 305 chip, and Android 4.3 “Jelly Bean” runs on this handset, with Huawei’s Emotion UI overlay for Android provided here.
Connection options are handled through 802.11b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 with A2DP, Near-Field Communication, GPS, and Category 4 4G LTE, making download speeds as high as 150Mbps possible (telco permitting). A wired port is also provided in the form of a microUSB port, the way you charge and transfer data to the handset.
Cameras are also here, with an 8 megapixel shooter on the back with an LED flash accompanying it, while the front facing camera comes in at 5 megapixels.
Covering this technology is a plastic casing measuring 7.9mm thick, weighing 115 grams, and supporting a 4.5 inch In-Plane Switching (IPS) screen running the qHD resolution of 960×540, which itself shows a pixel clarity of 245 pixels per inch.
Ports and buttons are limited on this handset, with a 3.5mm headset jack on the bottom left, the microUSB port at the top, and three soft buttons sitting under the display, supporting back, home, and menu options. Physical buttons can also be found on the right edge, with a volume rocker sitting just above the power button.
The rear cover of Ascend G6 is removeable, showing the microSD and microSIM slots beneath, as well as the battery, which is built into the body and cannot be removed.
The battery is rated at 2000mAh.
Huawei has found some successes with previous phones, usually in the mid-range area, but the company doesn’t always connect great design with great technology.
Take the Ascend P2, for instance, which had a ho-hum design but some excellent speeds for the $504 price. And then there was the Ascend P6, packing in a design that slimmed the body down to 6.2mm, but missed out on the 4G connectivity.
But the benefit of releasing all of these models is that Huawei can merge them to create new products, and that is more or less what the company has done with the Ascend G6, a slightly-more-than-budget smartphone that borrows from the style set out in the P6 — as well as the cameras used in that model — and matches it with some high-speed mobile connectivity seen in the P2.
Take it out of the box and you’ll find a phone that looks very similar to the Ascend P6.
We’re not really surprised, and the naming convention gives it away — from P6 to G6 — but there are some differences. Most notably, there’s a plastic casing, skipping out on the aluminium used in the P6 and going with something a little less exy.
Despite this change, the simple bar phone look is retained, with a smooth and circular end that won’t help it stand up by itself on a table or desk, but still manages to look sleek and modern in today’s world.
The shift to plastic has also changed the sturdy design from the P6, but it’s still strangely comfortable, and is easily one of the lightest mobile handsets we’ve felt all year, with a balance across its 115 grams that just works.
We’re still not huge fans of the 3.5mm headset jack at the bottom of the left edge, though.
It’s an odd location, because while the bottom works for pulling the phone out right side up, the side seems like an odd place to have your headphone connector come out at, and depending on the pair of headphones you’re using, this could look totally fine, or absolutely stupid.
Moving onto the handset, you need to switch it on, and the button placement has been nailed, with an obvious location on the right edge that’s easy to grip.
When switched on, the phone will spring to life and show Huawei’s Emoton UI, the company’s very own interface to Android that brings with it a look merging that of iOS and Android. We’ll get to more about this later, but just as it was when Huawei introduced it on the Ascend Mate phablet, the feel of this interface is less about stock Android, and more about the constantly sliding menu system that Apple uses in its devices.
That said, it rarely gets in the way, letting you make phone calls, text friends, email, surf the web, be social, and more or less use the phone the way you want to.
Using the phone to surf the web and watch videos, you’ll find the Ascend G6 to be excellent in this regard, as its 4G modem just does a tremendous job.
Testing it on Telstra’s Category 3 4G network (because only Vodafone supports speeds of up to 150Mbps on Category 4 at the time this review was published), we found speeds as high as 80Mbps, which isn’t too shabby for the cost of entry.
We’ll also give credit where credit is due, and Huawei totally deserves it for the battery in the Ascend G6.
Given the size of the cell, it is very impressive that our testing revealed a day and a half of life was possible, reaching near to the end of two working days.
That means if you use your phone a little less than our several push accounts do, and don’t surf the web as much or are as heavy on social networking, music services, phone calls, and the like, you’ll see two days of usage on the Ascend G6 without a problem.
It probably helps that the battery is built into phone, but also assisting is some built-in software that highlights which apps are using a lot of power, telling you how much they’re using in milliamps (mAh), which gives you a firm idea of what apps you should be cutting off when you need to.
That’s one of the surprising features of the Ascend G6, which is also joined by an even easier interface than the Emotion UI Huawei normally floats.
That’s right, a second interface is also present called “Simple” which is, as the name suggests, simple and very easy to use.
Given how Android likes to show off multiple home screens, Huawei’s Simple interface is one of the best ways to get used to Android, since it lets you see and add shortcuts to phone functionality across its multiple homescreens.
You can’t change somethings, and the order of some icons might bug you, but as far as an easy way to get your head around Android goes, Huawei’s Simple interface has it nailed, and not on the one screen like other versions work.
We’re also delighted to see Huawei has stuck with Google’s keyboard, which is so much better than the on-screen keyboard the company used in other handsets from before 2013.
Sometimes it’s better to keep things stock, and with the Google keyboard supporting gesture typing in this version of Android, it’s so much easier to use than some of the Huawei keyboards we’ve tried in the past.
The camera is also a decent effort, though not the best out there.
The rear camera’s 8 megapixel rear sensor manages decent images provided you don’t get too close, which is when you’ll notice softened details, even if it can get pretty close.
Daylight seems to be this camera’s best friend, because while it works in night, there’s very little detail to the blacks, or anything else. Sharpness isn’t something catered for here, so while the camera is fine, you’re not paying for a great camera, but rather a usable one.
It’s the same story with the 5 megapixel front-facing camera, which is decent, and will be suitable for Instagram and Facebook, but not much more.
The best part of the front-facing camera appears to be the software changes Huawei has made, which when you press the shutter button tells you the right place to look by throwing a preview of your selfie in the top left corner to get you looking at the right spot (the front-facing camera lens).
System performance, though, is a little under what you might expect.
It’s a mid-range handset, after all, and worth keeping that fact in mind, but it’s not the best performer out there. We found some lag between opening up multiple apps, and slowdowns were definitely present when we tried to refresh social networking applications.
It’s probably not the chip, mind you, but rather the limited supply of memory, with only 1GB under that special sweet spot that 2GB seems to nail.
The G6’s performance isn’t horrible, mind you, but it could easily be better.
Huawei’s screen could also be better, because while the In-Plane Switching has decent viewing angles, the screen’s resolution is low enough that viewing websites allows you to see some of the pixels in text and images.
Once again, you have to cater for the budget, but 960×540 isn’t a resolution that we’re huge fans of, especially as 720p’s 1280×720 is now the mid-range point for resolutions.
There are also some niggles about the software that need to be acknowledges, such as the colour of the skin — it’s not white, but it’s not far off — and how notifications in the drop down menu can be hard to read depending on what they are.
Pandora, for example shows up in white on this near white backdrop, making the words of what band and song you’re listening to next to impossible to read.
Other notifications — most of them, actually — have black text and are therefore quite easy to see, but not every notification system is compatible with Huawei’s skin.
The Emotion UI can also get a little frustrating to work with, resulting in an emotion you might not normally want to connect with the usability of your phone. It’s not that it’s hard — it’s not, and Huawei’s interface is basically the closest an Android owner can get to how Apple’s iOS works without installing one of the skins that practically copies what Apple does.
Rather, it’s not easy to reallocate shortcuts, as the interface — which blends the simple iPhone menu concept with Android’s widgetised homescreens — spreads out your icons across the seven screens you have access to. Some of these are already in folders, and thus if you want to move them, you’re not just making a copy like you would on a regular Android phone, but are moving the one and only shortcut to a new location.
Basically, it’s easy enough to work out, but it can get a touch irritating if you’ve installed a lot of apps.
Oh, and the camera can’t be silenced, making a loud click every time you fire a shot. We suspect it’s Huawei playing safe, and some of the tips in our Android camera replacement guides could help out here, but it’s something to be aware of before plonking down the cash.
Every year, there’s a phone that takes out the best value for middle ground, and this year, it appears Huawei is grabbing that crown for the Ascend G6, at least for the moment, with a slightly-above-budget handset that nets impressive 4G download speeds with great battery life.
Interestingly, much of what makes up the Ascend G6 was actually found in the P6, with a similar design, and almost identical (we think they may even be identical) cameras. But Huawei has managed to improve things a bit, with a faster chip and better mobile speeds, both of which help the G6.
Is it the phone for you? Well, that depends on what your hands think when they hold it, but if you’re low on cash but want a good bang for your buck, that can totally be found in the Ascend G6.