Over the past year or so, Chinese manufacturer Huawei has been raising its profile in the mobile space; a company once known for its budget handsets is now producing premium Android smartphones like the new Ascend P6, but it’s important to remember your beginnings and that’s what the company is hoping to do with the affordable new Huawei Ascend Y300.

Huawei Ascend Y300 review: Design & screen

Going in, you can’t expect the same premium design cues that the company’s more powerful handsets offer up and as such, the aesthetic of this device is probably the weakest element of the Y300 experience.

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The black, all-plastic body is bulky and uninspired, with a hefty 11.2mm thick waistline and flat faces all round. The removable back is its biggest strength with a textured pattern that provides a nice level of grip, as well as highlighting the camera, LED flash and loudspeaker in the top half with a few sculpted lines. Underneath lies room for a removable battery, traditional miniSIM slot and microSD card slot too.

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Hardware controls are easy to access although the power/lock key on the phone’s top feels a little out of place on the far left, rather than the right-hand side. There’s also a prominent volume rocker along the right edge and three capacitive keys under the display despite the Ascend Y300 arriving with Jelly Bean 4.1.

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The display in play is a 4-inch WVGA IPS LCD that looks surprisingly bright, vibrant and clear, especially for the class of device it services. Viewing angles are great too, with perhaps its biggest weakness being sunlight legibility, mainly as a result of the fingerprint-prone glass on the phone’s front.

Huawei Ascend Y300 review: Operating system & performance

Although it might not at first appear so, Huawei’s Emotion UI overlay is surprisingly heavy, something that becomes most apparent when you realise that there’s no apps drawer. Huawei took a gamble with this feature by deciding to stop app shortcuts doubling up on homescreens and instead placing the apps themselves on there instead. This means no apps drawer which is simpler, but also means there’s no way to hide apps that the user doesn’t want on display – not a huge issue, but something that takes a little getting used to.

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General usability is middling, defined primarily by how long the Y300 has been asleep. When waking the phone after long periods, the interface and apps can show visible lag, however, once the phone’s been woken once, use again within around 30 minutes ensures that the UI is wonderfully smooth.

The 1GHz dual-core processor and 512MB of RAM are powerful enough to not only provide a smooth experience once they get going, but accommodate some pretty fancy visual transitions, which adds a level of polish beyond what you’d expect for a device at this price point.

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Apps aren’t lighting fast, but you won’t feel like you’re waiting around too long either, and again, it’s hard to argue with the spec sheet at the price point the Y300 is available for.

Huawei Ascend Y300 review: Camera - Stills and video

The Ascend Y300 offers both a front and a rear-facing camera, another nice inclusion considering the price you’ll pay to get this handset. The main snapper uses a 5-megapixel sensor, which in bright natural light works surprisingly well. Colour and detail is fairly well preserved, but high contrast environments, even with plenty of natural light are less impressive, highlighting the sensor’s narrow dynamic range, which stifles any detail or balance in such settings.

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Macro shots lack fine detail and accurate colour, often looking washed out, but we’re still impressed by the results for such an affordable phone nonetheless. Low light also lacks any fine detail, but the LED flash should go some way to improving shots in dark situations, just don’t expect to capture any fast moving subjects in such a setting.

Shooting video yields pretty poor results, with a severe lack of detail, an over-excitable autofocus and weak audio recording, it’s saving grace may be that colour balance is good, but with a maximum VGA recording resolution, you might want to switch to something with a little more oomph for your video needs.

Huawei Ascend Y300 review: Multimedia & storage

Naturally, as the Ascend Y300 sports a WVGA resolution display, movies, videos and pictures won’t look their best, but they’re perfectly serviceable. The Android Jelly Bean architecture ensures that users have access to the latest versions of stock Android video apps like YouTube and Play Movies whilst the local videos and pictures can be accessed from the Gallery app. Bear in mind that the conservative hardware and low amounts of RAM mean that Full HD video support doesn’t appear to work.

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Music is accessible through a simple Huawei-made music player, or if you prefer, the Play Music app, which grants access to the Google’s Play Store music library as well as locally stored tunes.

If you’re planning on consuming a lot of media of the Y300, stick to streaming or buy a memory card. The 4GB of internal storage actually only allows for less than 2GBs of user-accessible space out-the-box and once you’ve added in a few of your favourite apps, that already claustrophobic amount of space is going to get even smaller mighty quickly. Thankfully microSD cards up to 32GB can be slotted into the back to add a little more breathing room, a move we highly recommend doing.

Huawei Ascend Y300 review: Connections & battery

The entry-level status immediately lead us to believe that the Ascend Y300 was going to be a no-frills connected device and for the most part it fits the mold: WiFi, Bluetooth 2.1, 3G, hotspot functionality and GPS. For the price, we would never anticipate 4G LTE or NFC, but there is one extra feature that is nice to see.

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For such a low-end handset we were impressed to see the inclusion of a DLNA app allowing users the ability to steam content to a myriad of devices connected to the same WiFi network. The app lets users browse content they’d like to share by media type and even see what other connected devices are available on the network.

We’d anticipate that conventional use will see most people through a full day between charges, but if the Y300 has to work particularly hard, with 3D games like Fruit Ninja in mind, the 1730mAh cell might need a little help.

Huawei Ascend Y300 review: Conclusion

The Huawei Ascend Y300 pretty much does what it says on the tin so to speak, well, almost. The entry-level image is reinforced by the phone’s underwhelming design, a so-so camera and low internal storage, but then there are a few gems that take you by surprise.

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The extra connectivity, premium feeling Emotion UI, good screen and dual-core processor elevate the Y300 to more of a low-level mid-ranger but without the price hike that’s found on similar devices. There’s really nothing in the world of Android that’s comparable for the sub £120 price tag the Ascend Y300 comes with SIM-free.

The LG Optimus L3 2 or Sony Xperia E are suitable alternatives tied to more established brands in the UK, while Nokia’s Lumia 520 will offer a slicker user experience for around same price, so long as you’re happy to jump to Windows Phone.