Huawei Honor U8860 review

My sister who works at a leading Telco, got me an opportunity to directly contact the Huawei lead person for Sri lanka (Thanks Sis!). I mailed the contact, who goes by the name James and he was very positive on my mail about providing some devices for me to test and blog.

I subsequently met him and he provided me with the Huawei Honor which was the latest device they were about to start selling into the Sri Lankan market through the leading Telcos.

However he outlined that Huawei was very interested in the local market, and had over 80% market share in the 3G dongle market and Telco equipment space, and had also made good ground on the lower end of the smart phone market. The MediaPad had also done well and hence the decision to introduce the Honor, a high-end huawei smartphone to the Sri Lankan market.

I was provided a Honor for use for a period of 10 days, while not sufficiently long enough to really call a long term user review, i have converted it to my regular phone to see how it faired to ensure I did my best to see how it works out.

I was only provided the phone (the same one used by them for internal testing and demonstrations) and hence it came without any packing (no box or accessories). The phone was also provided with a lower 1200mAH batter, and not with the more stamina 1900mAH battery that the retail version will ship with.

Initial Impressions

The device seems very well built, and though a tad more hefty in weight than my Sony Arc, it was a very pleasing size and handled well. Meaning it really felt not too large and was quite well balanced. The device comes with Android 4.0.3 (ICS) as standard, and was very nippy and smooth, and the screen very glassy and vibrant. So let me now move on to my detail review based on the usage till date. Strangely the device sold locally still sells with Gingerbread, and the huawei official site it yet to make available the ICS ROM download. So i feel the phone i got is a running a pre-build that is about to roll out to customers.

Official page – http://www.huaweidevice.com/worldwide/productFeatures.do?pinfoId=3219&directoryId=6001&treeId=3745&tab=0

Display and Touch experience

The screen is a nice size at 4″ with a 854×480 high resolution screen which is in-line with the 2011 flagship pones. I am sure it would be liked by many as the craze for larger screens are making smart phones look more and more like small tabs than phones. However this is also attributed to the usage patterns where voice calls are not the primary use, but browsing, texting, gaming, video and running complex apps being vital. The screen has the same gloss effect as an IPhone, and just in case the pictures don’t tell the story the phone has more than a remarkable resemblance to the IPhone as well ūüôā

The swipes were super smooth and the processor more than adequate to make ICS smooth. However one area that i felt the phone display lacked was its touch sensitivity. In some cases you had to tap twice to get an app started etc, and this comment i also noted in some reviews by popular sites. I am not sure if this is the Huawei implementation on the software side or a display issue.

The phone display performed reasonably well in direct sunlight but like all high gloss screens the reflections made it not readable. Applying a matt finish screen protector should improve this on this area.

The glass on the display is NOT Gorilla Glass, nor does Huawei mention if this is scratch proof. But justi like my experience with the MediaPad from Huawei the glass seems to be very durable and not easily scratched. The phone i received was a demo phone, and did not have a screen protector and did not have any scratches, and though i used it for nearly two weeks it survived the phone with keys in the pocket scenario several times, which means for everyday use test it passed with flying colors.

Interface

Huawei has not customized the ICS version much but has done several small tweaks.  One is the different themes, which have a major difference on how the screen looks like.  One theme in particular stops blending the icons with the background.  Overall the themes are pleasing.

You also notice that the ICS version has the new Kernel, something that you won’t find with the ICS versions, from Sony, Samsung for their devices which initially shipped with Gingerbread. ¬†Supposedly the changes are high and the stuck with the 2.6 Kernel which to many means the ICS upgrade is not totally “new”.

Huawei has also shipped some apps that are required such as a File Manager, DLNA software, Office (reader only, the editing capable Yoko office has not been included here unlike in the MediaPad), a FlashLight application and so on.  Further some free widgets have been bundled in for weather and time.

Size and Handling

The phone is a tad heavy compared to the Sony Arc I use, but this can be attributed to the very robust build. Further the weight is not felt, and to me i felt it made the phone more hand friendly and usable.

Processing and Storage

I have now worked out that performance of a mobile device is greatly impacted by the internal storage, memory and also if you have a SD card attached. Hence i have now combined processing and storage as a single group when providing my comments.

Though a single processor unit, it performed quick snappily running Android ICS, an OS reputed to be resource hungry. The only place it started to lag a bit was when large number of apps were loaded, which is expected since it has only 512MB RAM, common among all 2011 flagships, with only the Galaxy SII coming with 1GB among the brood in 2011. Overall thought it ran very well, and impressed me.

The few tests i ran show that it had ample processing power, and the GPU (the Adreno 205) is sufficiently powerful and matches the configuration of the Xperia Arc S with identical hardware.  See the Benchmarks sections for more details.

One reason i feel the phone behaves fast is that Huawei has coupled a very fast internal storage device. The speeds shown by the test indicate this is over 2-3 times faster than what ran on most devices i tested, and even better than several expensive devices from Samsung. This decision is a good one as lots of people have commented that the Android performance has been hampered by the slow storage.

One area Huawei has touted in the web site is the “Fast Boot of 5 secs”, but I found the boot time to be nothing special and when I timed I got boot times closer to 25secs with fast boot enabled. However the quoted 5secs was for the Gingerbread version, which may have been tweaked, and the ICS release may still not fully tweaked on this areas.

Voice Quality

The voice quality from the phone was very good, with the ear piece very clear. However the built-in loud speaker was a tad short in power to my liking, and considering the device is super slim Huawei could have stuff a larger loud speaker to this unit. I also tried hooking my headphones, and the audio was decent, but definitely no match for something like an IPhone which has one of the best amps on the mobile area. Compared to my Sony Arc the unit was on par, with the Sony doing a bit better on the bass side, possible part of the XLOUD feature in the Arc.

I also used connected this into my vehicle’s¬†Bluetooth, and one feature i found that worked exceptionally well was how quick the phone connected with the vehicle’s audio bluetooth, and the speed the call details were got synchronized.

Multimedia

The camera is a 8MP unit, a feature i am sure Huawei did to match their current flagship with the competitors.

The camera software that comes with the phone has very minimal customization from the ICS camera app from Google, with no customization except support for HDR (Panaroma being a feature that is support by the standard ICS camera software).

One thing immediately apparent was that the focusing seems a tad slow, and in-accurate under low light conditions but does well in good light.  I decided i will try a popular camera app from Google Play store. One camera app that really had got me interested and which i used on my Arc (which had a decent native app as well) was Camera Zoom FX. The change when using Camera Zoom was quite astonishing. The focussing was much faster, and accurate, and the overall image quality better, which i believe is due to better post processing and also a far superior focusing algorithm. I found that with this camera app i could pictures that even had got more accurate focus than my Xperia Arc.

So the camera while not an awesome unit, fairs quite decently when used with a third party camera app, but with the native app needs a bit more working. Huawei hope you put some effort on this, or bundle a good third party app as standard.

However the low light, night photos were an area that the camera proved to falter because the LED is very very weak. Pictures taken close up are lit but anything more you are asking too much since the camera sensor and lens don’t seem to have of anything special to fill in for the weak single LED flash. ¬†One way you can test the performance of the flash is to use it with the flashlight application and you will notice how faint it is, reminds me of my old Sony X10i in power.

Video performance is decent in good light even with moving objects, but under low light the moving objects are blurrish but still the overall video thought grainy is pretty decent. Notable is that the sensor seems to be pick details well even if it cannot cope with low light that great. The flash can be used in torch mode when recording video.

Battery

I was given a battery 30-40% less than the one that will ship with the production unit, but surprisingly the unit with normal use can last close to two days easily. However if you do browse a lot the drain will be greater but with the larger batter than what you normally see it should definitely last more than a day.

Connectivity options

The phone surprisingly has only an micro-USB connector which is used to connect the phone to a PC and also charge the phone. However for most this should be find, but for some an HDMI connector may have been desired for a phone of this caliber.

Benchmarks

Vellamo popular to test the browser rendering and scrolling performance showed the phone perform VERY good and out performs many dual-core devices from leading vendors!

3D performance is decent and in line with a Tegra 2, and out does most other Adreno 205 units indicating the drivers are more optimized. Possibly the ICS graphic libraries are also better optimized which is the reason for the higher frame rate in Nenamark tests.

AnTutu is a good test to see the CPU scores and the storage scores. Here you can see the processing unit is definitely in the single core area, but at the highest end of the single core, which is expected as 1.4Ghz single cores are among the fastest in the single core market. The other key feature is the storage test which are far greater than average which is due to the fast internal storage device.

Software

The well featured and easy to use Huawei sync tool HiSuite had not got bundled though the ADB drivers were included when you hook the device into PC via USB. I also could not find it directly in the huawei site and after a few different google search results, XDA developer forum once again to the rescue. Surprise surprise, huawei actually has dedicated site to download for the software, why they don’t link it directly into the device support / downloads page remains a mystery.

http://www.huaweidevice.com/resource/mini/201105239635/hi_suite_en/index.html

Pricing – Sri Lanka

I am writing the pricing point purely from a Sri Lankan perspective here. Locally the phone was just released by 1-2 Telco’s and while its priced well compared to the Telco pricing for similar devices, the important part is how does it compete against phone retailers.

The local pricing of 48-52K rupees 360-400$ for an unlocked phone with some goodies such as free data, free connection, and free voice minutes makes the phone around $300-330 in price if you account for the annual benefit, and is near identical to the Telco pricing for the Sony Arc S with 8GB and a HDMI cable! In addition the price is higher than a new Xperia Arc S, Galaxy S Plus, Galaxy W  from phone retailers. Here you can see the comparison of equivalent phones available in the market from phone retailers for nearly the same price bracket.

http://www.phonearena.com/phones/compare/Sony-Ericsson-Xperia-arc-S,Huawei-Honor,Samsung-Galaxy-S-Plus/phones/6149,6153,5372

My sincere belief is that the price is way to high which may kill the sales of this device, and this would be sad since the device is more than capable of rubbing shoulders with the more popular brands such as Samsung, Sony, LG, HTC, etc in the Android market space. With some even more cool devices with the dual and quad core devices due from huawei under their Ascent brand line this year, i think good pricing is important as the hardware is ready for the big time, just the local perception has to be resolved and if Samsung can do it, Huawei definitely can.

Changes I would like that Huawei could do for the phone

1. Get the normal option for selecting the 3G mode like most other vendors, if not we have to resort to Anycut to ensure it stays in pure HSPA mode in Sri Lanka
2. Bundle HiSuite with the phone with the ICS ROM or provide a CD
3. Replace the LED flash with a better unit
4. Work on the touch issue that occurs sometimes

if you have any comments on this phone or any other huawei device go post your opinions on the http://www.facebook.com/HuaweiSriLanka facebook site, it will help make your Huawei device better. I got to know about this when i met James, until then i had been posting on the Huawei Malaysia facebook page.

Conclusion

I passed the phone around to many of my colleagues, and all were very impressed with the quality, and most of them were already using Samsung or Sony Android phones, and some were Nokia Symbian users (none were Apple users).  Many were running Gingerbread on lower hardware, and were very pleased by the overall performance.  However a key concern were them was the pricing, they felt if the pricing can be aggressively it will jump start Huawei, specially since the hardware and software was stable and pretty much equal to the competition.

From my point, after my very good experience with the MediaPad i was happy with the Honor, but felt that Huawei could have pushed harder, but then again this was a device launched late 2011 in the other markets, and the new devices being launched by Huawei seems ready to take on the big boys in style.

I like the size and feel of the phone, and the nippy interface bearing the quirk with the sometimes finicky touch.  The battery is good, the software running on it is up to date, and overall its a good phone but falls short on any innovative features such either an exceptional camera or higher res screen or special audio features, etc.

Photo Gallery (samples from the camera)

Photos taken with the stock camera app or Camera Zoom FX.

Photos taken indoors under fair light

Photos taken indoors under poor light

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