Huawei makes a lot of phones for the budget buyer, but with its latest device, the D1 Quad it’s aiming a little higher, producing a mid-range smartphone with its own quad-core chip, $500 price tag, and a little slice of Google’s Ice Cream Sandwich.
Once known for making budget handsets only, Huawei is really beginning to get its hands dirty with regards to developing more than just the cheaper end of smartphones.
We saw a few of the devices last year, and the Ascend D1 Quad, also known as the U9510, is the company’s latest attempt to convince customers that high end can be had for under a grand, with a smartphone that brings similar specs to the what was considered premium last year, but without the same near-thousand-dollar price tag. In fact, the price tag is well under the $1000 mark, fetching a $499 recommended retail price.
Inside, customers will find a quad-core processor built by Huawei clocked at 1.5GHz, sitting alongside 1GB RAM, 8GB storage, and still featuring a microSD slot for expanding the available room inside the handset considerably.
The screen doesn’t fit the same size as other premium handsets from 2012, managing instead 2011’s “big” size of choice, 4.5 inches. That said, the display here is a 720p IPS model (1280×720), and thanks to the resolution and size, manages a pixel per inch value of close to 326ppi, the same as Apple’s iPhone 5 “Retina” display. What this means is that the images should be very clear, and webpage text should be easy to read even without zooming in.
Connections are all fairly standard on this handset, with WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, DLNA, GPS, Bluetooth 3.0 with A2DP, microUSB, and a 3G connection capable of pulling 21Mbps max down and sending 5.76Mbps up.
Also standard is the camera, which is an 8 megapixel rear model capable of capturing 1080p Full HD video, while the front camera is only a 1.3 megapixel with 720p video.
The 1800mAh battery isn’t removable in this handset, as it’s contained in the one piece handset, but the backing case can be taken off, exposing the miniSIM card slot – a regular SIM to most people – as well as the microSD slot on the right.
Like most handsets, there’s less of an emphasis on physical buttons in this handset, with only two here: a power button up top and a volume rocker on the top right side. Soft buttons can still be found at the very bottom, however, with back, home, and menu all supported.
Port selection is also understandably small, with only two: the microUSB found on the left side and the 3.5mm headset jack up top.
Huawei has made quite a name for itself over the past few years, producing many a budget phone, but in 2012, the company has been giving the mid-range a good thwack, producing devices designed to take on flagship handsets from the big boys and offer a real bang for your buck.
In the Ascend D1 Quad, the aim is to show that a quad-core handset needn’t cost an arm and a leg, effectively giving devices like the HTC One X, Samsung Galaxy S3, and Google Nexus 4 a run for their money.
Huawei may not have the same sort of design team as Apple or Samsung, but it’s still giving it the best it can, and for the most part, it feels like an evolution of previous Huawei Ascend models.
A little thicker than the last one that came through GadgetGuy’s labs, the Ascend D1 Quad features a rubberised back that offers some resistance to fingertips, while still making it reasonably grippy.
There’s also a 720p display on offer here, sitting at the 4.5 inch screen size, lower than the 4.7, 4.8, and 5.5 inch displays we’ve seen in premium smartphones in 2012, but still big enough for most people.
From what we’ve seen of it, the screen on the D1 Quad is easily Huawei’s best screen yet, managing near perfect viewing angles from every perspective, bright colours, and a level of clarity that puts it on par with devices far beyond its price tag.
While the screen still has some reflectivity issues – what phone doesn’t? – it can be compensated by turning the screen brightness up.
For the most part, Huawei has gone with a pretty standard version of Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich,” keeping it much the way that Google has designed it and is showing it in other devices, such as the Galaxy Nexus and Motorola RAZR M, smartphones with Google’s stock editions of Android 4.0.
Huawei has made a couple of changes here with the inclusion of a homescreen replacement, and one that has a 3D interface. Here on the D1 Quad, you can choose whether you want the regular Google-designed 2D screen, or one more befitting of a future where everything is three-dimensional. We mostly stuck with the 2D one, but you can decide, going so far as to change the theme and make it look prettier.
Outside of the homescreen, most of your menu is as Google left it: scrolling left to right through the apps and widgets, the same dialpad, and even the regular settings screen.
It’s a reasonably stock experience, except with Huawei’s own processing technology found on-board, surprising given that we usually see either a Snapdragon or Tegra chip in anything not manufactured by Samsung, which has its own Exynos processor for smartphones.
That said, Huawei’s quad-core chip is actually very responsive, resulting in higher speeds than Nvidia’s Tegra 3 chip found in the HTC One X, even though this phone comes in at a price below that of HTC’s handset.
We had no problems in performance doing our regular thing, and the battery life is better than average for a quad core phone, managing a day and a half with multiple email accounts and regular updates to it, phone calls, short text messages, web surfing, the odd game, and social networking.
If you do less of this, or even had less mail running, we could easily see two days of battery life from this handset, which outperforms the batteries on other quad-core smartphones.
Some of this battery life comes at the expense of not having a replaceable battery, a first in a Huawei device, and one that might irritate some, but seems to be becoming a standard amongst brands.
Neither a good or bad thing – it’s just a thing – this handset takes the same type of SIM your phone has been using for years. We call it a regular SIM, but it’s a miniSIM, and neither the microSIM used in the Samsung Galaxy S3 and Apple iPhone 4/4S, nor the nanoSIM used in the Apple iPhone 5 are compatible in this phone without a converter, which isn’t included.
The inclusion of the regular SIM card slot doesn’t surprise us, mind you, as generally inexpensive and budget-y phones tend to have it, as it makes jumping from the older generation of handsets just hat much easier, since you don’t need to get your current SIM cut down to size.
Still, worth noting, since iPhone 4 users thinking of switching – maybe a customer with a Nokia N9 – can’t make the jump as quickly and will need to arm themselves with a SIM converter.
Those thinking of making the jump to the Huawei D1 might want to know a few things, as there are some issues that let it down just a bit.
For one, the camera quality doesn’t seem to be very impressive at all. We’re not quite sure what’s holding this one back, but images often seem soft, and some of them even had obvious artefacting, as if the sensor didn’t quite know what to do with the colours and scenes being thrown at it.
Connection speeds weren’t impressive either, and we struggled to find a download speed higher than 6-8Mbps. While the spec list does include a 21Mbps capable modem, we certainly didn’t manage to find any speeds throughout our work week that pushed even the high end of this spectrum.
We’re also not huge fans of the on-screen keyboard Huawei has thrown into the D1 Quad, with this white and blue type that’s nowhere near as easy on the eyes as the official Google one, and doesn’t seem quite as easy to type with.
Mind you, this issue can be easily fixed with a different downloadable keyboard, or even switching back to Google’s own stock keyboard that is, of course, included.
Huawei’s first attempt at a quad-core phone is a pretty successful one, creating a phone that has more positive points than negative ones, and provides competition for Google’s own Nexus 4.
While the camera isn’t fantastic and the keyboard isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing thing, almost every other part of this handset is worth checking out, and managing more than a day of battery life in a quad-core smartphone is a fantastic effort.
If you don’t need insanely impressiv download speeds and aren’t planning on spending more than $500, we’d certainly check out the Huawei Ascend D1 Quad. Recommended.