2Degrees Huawei IDEOS X5 Review

2Degrees Huawei X5

2Degrees Huawei X5I’m confused. On the one hand we have Vodafone pimping the Samsung Galaxy S, an Android 2.1 phone hobbled with Samsung’s custom interface. On the other hand (in my actual hand), I have the IDEOS X5 from 2Degrees. It runs the all-but-latest Android 2.2, with almost identical specs to the Samsung. The Samsung is a thousand dollars. The X5 is $549.

To be fair, the Galaxy S has a faster processor and larger screen, but in complete honesty I prefer the feel, performance, and price of the X5 by a long way. This cements my opinion that Google’s Android OS is properly suited to phones around that $500 mark. If you’re spending $1000, just get an iPhone (or wait till later this year and get a Nokia WP7).

I’ve had the X5 in my pocket for the last few days, giving it a real workout. The bottom line is that this is one of the best Android devices I’ve used. It feels a lot better in the hand than many other phones. It has a better “heft”, and feels a lot more solid than the Galaxy. The build quality is up there with the Nexus One – there’s no wobbles, creaks, or alignment problems. The back has a nice soft-feeling matte finish, and the front is the fairly traditional monolithic glass screen with soft-buttons below the screen.

The X5 flips through all the regular expected smartphone shenanigans with speed and aplomb. Android users will know they need to install a bunch of apps, and dig around in the settings to turn on things like transitions and live wallpaper, but once you’ve got the phone set up to your liking, it really flies.

2Degrees have done a very good thing, in my opinion, by rejecting Huawei’s custom interface baubles. The customisation of the phone out of the box extends only to a few installed applications. Swype keyboard is there by default – I personally prefer the default Android keyboard, but some people swear by Swype. You also get Documents To Go (for editing office documents), Aldiko (for e-books), and Layar (for showing off). Other than that, this default Android build gets out of your way and leaves the user to make decisions about what they want the interface to look like.

All the great Google apps are built into the phone, including the voice commands and voice navigation feature. I have to say the voice commands didn’t really like my kiwi accent, but the navigation was very accurate when driving across Auckland. Initially I couldn’t find the settings for Android 2.2’s much publicised WiFi hotspot function, so I put in a call to the PR company to ask about it. They politely informed me that within the PR material (that I never read, but really should), was a note saying that hotspot functionality will be coming in a software update by the end of May 2011.

Upgrades?

It’s the question every Android user has to ask: will I get the new versions of Android? I can only say that I have no idea. I could imagine Huawei releasing 2.3 for this device, but then again at the price they may not want to pour much post-release support into it. Watch this space.

It’s not all roses

It wouldn’t be a review without finding flaws, but they really are rather minor.

Firstly, you need to know that Huawei don’t ship MicroSD cards with their phones. This is something widely discussed in the comments on my review of 2Degrees’ previous Android phone, so I thought I’d better point it out up front. If you have a lot of music or photos, add $50 to your budget to grab a 16GB MicroSD.

There’s one thing that I’d call a genuine (albeit minor) flaw in the X5:  the soft-buttons are meant to light up in low-light conditions, but I think the threshold needs some serious tweaking, or perhaps my test phone is broken. Most of the time the buttons are not lit up, and they are really quite hard to spot in dim indoor light. I can prove it’s a sensitivity issue by covering the light-sensor area at the top of the phone – the buttons dutifully light up nice and clear when all light is blocked to the phone. Try as I might, I couldn’t find a setting to make the buttons light up in less ambient light. It really is a minor issue, because the buttons work fine in all conditions, and you get used to their location after a few days (although you’ll have to memorise the specific locations when moving from another Android phone 😉 )

Conclusion

I’d seriously doubt if you can get a better non-imported phone in New Zealand for the price. If you want a fully supported phone from a local supplier, and you’re not an iFanboy or Windows Phone 7 weenie, you couldn’t really go wrong grabbing an X5.

Pros

  • The price!
  • Vanilla Android 2.2, no crapware
  • Build quality

Cons

  • Soft-buttons don’t always light up when required.
  • Probably no upgrades to 2.3 or above.

2Degrees Huawei IDEOS U8150 Review

ideos The way I read it, 2Degrees’ main target market is the younger pre-pay user. They’re not (yet) looking for corporate accounts or sophisticated high-end smartphone users. In this sense, the IDEOS U8150 is a great fit as their first smartphone: capable, not going to stun the geeks, but priced well for the market.

At $379 outright, you can’t expect the U8150 to compete with the iPhone 4 or top-end android phones, but it performs admirably. I think this is largely down to the unmodified Android 2.2 version that Huawei have loaded on the phone. Even with a 528MHz CPU, the U8150 performs almost snappily. In fact in places it out-performs a full-price Android smartphone running 2.1 with layers of OEM cruft.

It still has that classic Android UI lag, with the screen running a few milliseconds behind your thumb. But the thing is, I’m ok with that for the price. When I pay near-on $1000 for a phone, I want it to feel like an iPhone or Windows Phone under my thumb. But for $379? I’ll accept feature-phone performance and smartphone features.

Features? We got Features!

Another huge plus of vanilla Android 2.2 “with Google” is you’re guaranteed to get all the things you’d expect from Android. Apps, maps, email, contact sync, navigation, active wallpaper. It’s all right there out of the box. Which is frankly amazing for the price. This phone even does some stuff that the iPhone 4 can’t do: it has WiFi tethering and FM Radio.

I like Huawei’s approach with this device. Step away from the forking customisations that HTC, Sony, Samsung, and others seem so enamored by, and just run the device the way Google planned. And Huawei are no slouches either: apparently their network gear is behind the networks that serve more than a billion humans.

So what are you compromising by not spending $500 more? Two key things: screen size and upgrades. The screen is tiny, and the on-screen keyboard is just adequate at the size. If you txt and email a lot, play with one first to make sure you’re comfortable.

The lack of upgrades will be a concern for the geek-set: Huawei have categorically stated that this phone won’t be getting Android 3.0. I don’t know if that also means no other 2.x versions, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve dropped the facility for upgrades altogether. Again: no real drama for the target market, because 2.2 doesn’t lack features (like 1.x) or performance (like 2.1).

One-upmanship

Vodafone tried to pull one over 2Degrees by dropping their 845 Android phone to $199. Thing is, the 845 is really at the level of a throwaway phone, or perhaps just barely valid as an emergency backup for smartphone users. A resistive touch screen and Android 2.1 on slow hardware is just a recipe for pain and anguish. Comparing the devices side-by-side, you can see a couple of other places the 845 falls short: no FM radio, no 802.11n (but it does have a headphone plug too).

Do yourself a favour and stretch to the IDEOS if you’re looking for a cheap Android phone.

Conclusion

I can’t believe how good the kids have it these days. When I was a young scallywag I had to pair a Nokia phone with an iPaq (that’s a Q there, not a D) over infrared.

Pros:

  • Did I mention the price?
  • Vanilla Android 2.2
  • Capacitive touch screen
  • Coloured backs for cool kids

Cons:

  • Screen size and resolution (ok for price though)
  • No upgrades to Android 3