Trying to buy an affordable LTE handset is a tricky thing these days. EE’s lineup typically consists of flagship handsets as well as high-end phones, with only the Huawei Ascend P1 LTE and Nokia Lumia 820 serving as a cheaper way to take advantage of those lightning fast data speeds.
The Ascend P1 LTE is also starting to look a little dated in lieu of this year’s crop of hardware, so it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to see Huawei introducing the Ascend P2 to keep things fresh in the mid-range section. The spec list seems up to snuff, and there’s support for Category 4 LTE speeds up to 150Mbit/s too. Is it any good, though? Let’s find out.
Huawei Ascend P2 review: Design
While the Ascend P1 LTE opted for a curved chassis reminiscent of the Galaxy Nexus, the P2 instead chooses to go with the classic black slab. It’s not completely boring, though: the sides all taper for a more comfortable grip than, say, the Xperia Z.
The hard plastic back doesn’t instil much confidence at first, but it feels surprisingly good. Huawei has opted to go with a matte finish as opposed to the slippery and glossy plastic that Samsung prefers to use. It offers better grip as a result, and you’ll never find the back laced in fingerprints either.
Still, there’s a trade off: the back is non-removable. As a result, the battery is sealed in, and there’s no space for a microSD card slot.
Otherwise, it’s a pretty standard Android layout. The power button can be found on the right side of the device along with the microSIM card slot, with the volume rocker firmly planted on the left.
There’s only a single microphone hole on the bottom of the handset, with the headphone jack, microUSB port, and secondary microphone all located on the top. An LED notification sits to the left of the speaker grill on the display, and the capacitive Android navigation keys - Home, Back, and Menu - adorn the bottom.
Huawei Ascend P2 review: Screen
Instead of using a PenTile Super AMOLED panel like on the P1, Huawei has instead decided to go with a larger, IPS display on the P2. And it looks great - colours are accurate and vibrant without being oversaturated, white balance is good, and contrast is solid.
The 4.7-inch IPS panel also has great viewing angles. It's extremely bright too, so much so that we didn’t have any issues using the phone outside in the bright summer sun.
The pixel density isn’t a problem here either, with the 4.7-inch 1280x720 display working out to 312 pixels per inch. We’ve seen 2013 flagships like the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 break through the 400 PPI barrier, but in practical terms there really isn’t a big difference in sharpness.
Huawei has added a nice little bonus too. Dive into the display settings, and you’ll find custom controls for colour temperature, as well as a “smart backlight” that automatically adjusts the image depending on ambient conditions.
The first feature is great for those who want to tweak the display to make it a little warmer or a little cooler. The second, however, proved to be troublesome, more often than not compromising the accurate colours of the display. We ended up turning it off altogether.
Huawei Ascend P2 review: Operating system
The Ascend P2 comes with Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean out of the box, as well as Huawei’s own EmotionUI that alters the user interface.
All in all, what Huawei has done isn’t bad at all. The changes the company have made are fairly light, with very minimal tweaks to menu settings or app management. Even the big overhauls to core apps like Messaging or the dialler are fairly pleasant and unobtrusive.
Huawei seems to have made everything very light and airy. Gone are the dark, drab colours that stock Android and other vendors stray towards to save power on AMOLED panels. Instead, Huawei has coated everything a shade of white, and everything definitely feels more wholesome.
Not only that, but Huawei has included multiple themes on the device, giving you different icon sets as well as wallpapers and lock screens. Some of them are surprisingly slick too, and you certainly won’t be at a loss for choice, with 18 themes on the device, and more downloadable.
Still, things aren’t perfect. Huawei brought its own launcher along for the ride, choosing to keep all of your apps on the main homescreens instead of letting you dive into the app drawer.
It’s not hard to see why Huawei does it this way - it’s the same thing that Apple does on the iPhone. Sure, it’s simpler, and the learning curve for anyone jumping from iOS won’t be as tough, but it still feels like a shameless lift.
It’s usable and smooth so long as you don’t install a custom launcher but not our favourite.
Huawei Ascend P2 review: Camera
In a strange twist, Huawei has seen fit to equip it’s mid-range LTE handset with a 13-megapixel camera.
Images from the camera aren’t particular sharp and are often filled with noise, even in brightly lit conditions. Stranger still, colours weren’t true to life at all, and the camera had a bad tendency to overexpose images.
There are plenty of manual controls to help you get the most out of the camera, but out of the box the P2 is underwhelming. We would have liked to see an 8-megapixel sensor with a lot more love and care turned towards it, as is expected in the Ascend P6, but as it stands, the P2 camera falls just short of the mark.
Huawei Ascend P2 review: Storage and connections
Unlike the paltry 4GB offered on the Ascend P1, the P2 instead comes with 16GB of internal memory, with 11.83GB of usable space. That should be plenty for casual users, but it’s still a shame not to see a microSD card slot included for some cheap, additional space.
As for radios, the Ascend P2 includes Category 4 LTE support for potential download speeds up to 150Mbit/s and upload speeds up to 50Mbit/s. In reality, you won’t see anywhere near that anytime soon - EE has only just bumped its speeds to 80Mbit/s in certain parts of the country, after all. Still, it’s good to see some future proofing on a mid-range device, and even the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 can’t boast the same achievement.
Other connections include Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, and NFC. Some word of warnings, however, we quickly found the Wi-Fi performance left a lot to be desired cutting out every now and then. After contacting Huawei, we were told our unit was final pre-production. With a final release sample on its way, we’ll update the review accordingly.
Huawei Ascend P2 review: Performance and Battery
In terms of overall performance, the Ascend P2 isn’t a slouch, but it isn’t exactly speedy either. Running AnTuTu and SunSpider 1.0 gave us scores of 15604 and 1488ms respectively; putting Huawei’s K3V2 quad-core processor slightly ahead of Nvidia’s Tegra 3 devices and a stone’s throw away from the quad-core Exynos chip in the Samsung Galaxy S3.
Real world performance didn’t turn out to be as good as Samsung’s 2012 flagship, though, mainly because of the lack of RAM. While the Ascend P2 is equipped with 1GB, the phone often butts up against the memory limit, causing apps to restart or refresh entirely.
That’s not the end of the story either. We saw lots of little yet strange bugs that generally resulted in a questionable user experience, the touchscreen, chief among them.
Very occasionally, scrolls registered as single or double taps, and large swipes across the display resulted in tiny page scrolls. We never really nailed down exactly why the Ascend P2 was responding this way, but it happened more often than not when the handset was being used at an angle.
With 3G and Wi-Fi enabled whenever possible, the screen brightness set to 50%, a single Gmail account and Twitter client syncing in the background, as well as light browsing and messaging, the Ascend P2 lasted a full day.
While in isolation, this is relatively average, if you’re a heavy user, intend on jacking up the screen brightness and hammer away at the LTE radio, the Ascend P2 might well die before your head hits the pillow.
Huawei Ascend P2 review: Conclusion
The Huawei Ascend P2 is a strange device. It reminds us of Android handsets from 2011; still rough around the edges with smattering of little bugs that you’d only ever really notice as time wore on.
That’s a shame considering Huawei is positioning the Ascend P2 as a more affordable LTE handset. If the company had spend a bit more time optimizating and tweaking the software, then it would have had a great mid-range handset on its hands.
As it stands, the issues we experienced are unavoidable. While we can recommend it for its LTE capability above anything in the price bracket, you would be better served picking up the Samsung Galaxy S3 or iPhone 4 for a similar price if you’re happy with HSDPA