Big on specs, small on price.
Although technology evolves on a continuous basis, the price we pay for the latest/greatest continues to stay. For example, the iPhone 5 costs the same as the iPhone 4S did a year ago. You’re still paying the same amount for cutting-edge technology as you did five years back. However, Huawei is looking into changing that equation. With their new Ascend D1 XL smartphone, they are offering the latest in technology at a launch price that is almost 40% lower than competing handsets at launch.
Packaged in what has become an industry standard sized box, the Ascend D1 Quad XL has a picture of the unit on the front with specs on the back. Inside the white box, you find a white USB charger, a USB cable and a white headset. Also included is a quick start guide along with warranty information.
Build Quality and Design
The Huawei Ascend measures 129 x 64 x 10.9 mm and weighs 150 g which is definitely not as thin or light as some of the competing high-end Android phones. In fact, I found the Ascend D1 a bit on the chunky side- maybe a trend that is coming back to phones of late. That being said, the narrower width of the Ascend D1 made it the only Android “Superphone” that I could use with one hand.
The build quality of the phone is strictly ok. The removable back cover’s finish is a bit on the rough side which I didn’t like much. There is also a bit of creaking when you grasp the phone a little tightly. Under the cover, you have a slot or a regular sized sim card as well as a MicroSD card which is good. The battery, although impressivly powerful is non removable.
Button placement on the Huwawei is nicely thought of. On the top you have a 3.5mm jack as well as the lock button which, considering the form factor, is not hard to reach. The right side sports volume buttons while the left has the micro USB connector placed towards the top making the phone usable while charging.
An 8MP camera sits on the back and is cerntered along with dual LED flashlights while the front sports a 1.3 megapixel camera above the 4.5″ touchscreen. Below the screen you have three buttons- back, home and menu which I think is an ideal configuration for Android phones. I don’t know why Google likes to place the soft button for menu on the top of the screen which, in many instances, makes it hard to reach- especially on larger sized phones. With the menu button at the bottom, navigating the device becomes a lot more easier. For those wondering, holding down the home button brings up the app switcher.
Huawei is certainly aiming high with the Ascend D1 Quad XL with specs that will match almost any high-end smartphone available today. It comes equipped with the Huawei K3V2 chipset featuring a quad core 1.4CHz processor and 1GB or RAM. For storage you have 8GB on board along with a microSD card slot to expand at your wishes. Huawei also has you covered with radios as you get HSDPA, 21 Mbps and WiFi 802.11b/g/n with Bluetooth 4.0 and AGPS.
Screen and Apps
I hear many complain about the screen size of the phone being either too big or too small. I think many of those will be satisfied by the 4.5″ screen that Huawei has chosen for the Ascend D1 XL. It’s big enough to watch videos and surf the web comfortably while being usable with one hand. The IPS panel with a 1280×720 resolution results in a ppi or around 326 making everything appear very crisp and readable on the screen. The screen did appear a bit harder to read in the UAE sun but cranking up the brightness helped.
Coming to the UI, the Ascend D1 XL can either use it’s own custom UI with 3D effects that I grew tired of pretty fast or use the stock Android UI which I think is great for a user that prefers a pure Google experience. Where I do think the phone fails is providing the latest Google has to offer. The Ascend D1 XL comes out of the box with Android 4.0 which is over a year old. There is no reason for Huawei to not have bundled Jelly Bean 4.1 on this device which helps tremendously with the smoothness of the UI- something quite visible on the D1. The phone has the specs but really needs the software optimizations that Jelly Bean provides for a lag-free experience.
The 8 MP camera on the Ascend D1 is just about average. It takes decent shots with plenty of light but not the best when used indoors or without much light. The following shot is taken in my office which has good lighting but as you can see, the picture is still a tad bit grainy.
One of the best things about the Huawei D1 is the battery life. Powered with an extremely juicy 2600mAh battery, the Ascend D1 provides you with superb battery life. Almost all of the Android based handsets I’ve tested generally run out of juice by the end of the day for me but the Huawei kept on chugging along until the later half of the following day. About the only phone that I’ve reviewed with a better battery is the Samsung Galaxy note II but considering the size of that device, I think that Huawei has done an excellent job with the battery on the D1 Quad. while it does add some chunkiness to the design, it’s a tradeoff anyone wanting a larger battery would happily accept.
The Ascend D1 does quite a few things right but at the same time falters in areas it shouldn’t have. For example, not providing Jelly Bean 4.1 out of the box at the end of 2012 is not really excusable. On the other hand the screen and one-handed usage along with the superb battery life make it one of the better Android based Smartphones, especially at a price of AED xxx at which you don’t necessarily get the latest greatest.