The new $99 phone: Huawei’s Y100 reviewed

Last year was the first time we had seen smartphones drop to a point where pretty much anyone could afford them, as Huawei and ZTE both joined in and provided Australian telcos with cheap handsets. So what does $99 get you in 2012?


At a hair under a hundred, Huawei’s Y100 certainly doesn’t cost much, but aims to pack in a fair chunk of technology with a size that makes it well suited to children and those after a small-screen experience.

First there’s that little display, with a 2.8 inch capacitive screen supporting a 240×320 display. It’s a tiny screen, especially in comparison to the 4 to 5 inch displays we’re seeing on smartphones today, but those after a small screen experience shouldn’t be bothered.

In fact, it may even be a good choice for anyone trying to avoid the massive screens of today’s smartphones.

Next are the specs under the hood, with a 800MHz processor and dedicated Adreno graphics chip providing some grunt, even if it can’t match the dual- or quad-core chips of the high-end smartphone.

There’s little memory in the Y100, with 256MB RAM, 512MB ROM, and just under 20MB of space for you to do anything with inside the handset, though a 2GB microSD card is included in the box.

Last year’s version of Google’s Android is present here, with 2.3 or “Gingerbread” the OS of choice. While that is by no means up-to-date, we’d be pretty hard pressed to argue that a $99 handset needs or would get the best use out of Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich.”

Over in the connectivity department, it’s all pretty standard fare, with WiFi 802.11 b/g/n and support for WiFi hotspot functionality, Bluetooth 2.1 with A2DP, GPS, and a reasonably slow 3G downlink with a maximum of 7.2Mbps.

There’s a lone three megapixel camera with VGA capture, but no front facing camera.

A small notification LED sits on the top front of the handset, blinking different colours for when you have new messages or if the battery is charging.

On the front of the handset, you’ll find one main black squircle button acting as a home button, and three soft buttons serving up back, menu, and search. A volume rocket sits on the right side, while the power rests up top, just next to the only two ports on the handset: microUSB for charging and 3.5mm headset for listening.

The back is black plastic, though it's a lot less slippery than last year's budget handset from Huawei.


Last year’s $99 phone offered a surprisingly usable burst of performance without needing to spend much, so we’re hoping this year’s can do the same sort of thing.

For the most part, the Y100 feels like an upgrade to the IDEOS X1, Huawei’s el-cheapo handset from 2011.

The case still feels like cheap plastic, but at least this time, the black back almost has a matte rubberised feel to it, making it a lot easier to grip.

If you have small hands, the Y100’s small stature makes it very easy to hold, and the power button on the top offers an easy way to switch the phone on and check any messages or just use it as a lock. A weight of only 100 grams makes it very light and barely noticeable in the pocket, and even shares part of that product name.

The 2.8 inch capacitive touchscreen certainly won’t win any awards here, especially with a 280×320 resolution that doesn’t offer much screen real estate.

Typing a message? There's virtually no room on screen with the massive keyboard Huawei has used.

We’re thankful, though, that it’s very responsive, offering some very quick swiping action with gestures like pinch to zoom and pushing apart your fingers offering very quick responses.

That’s good, because reading anything on the screen will require you to zoom in with a gesture, as most text displayed at its standard resolution is rendered in a way that just looks pixelated.