Friday, 8 May 2015

Review: Huawei Ascend G7

Review: Huawei Ascend G7

Introduction and design

Huawei is the third biggest global smartphone maker, but outside of its native China the brand name doesn't carry that much weight – especially when it comes to premium products.

Apple and Samsung seem to have that corner almost all to themselves, and despite its successes, Huawei somehow hasn't managed to shake off its cheap also-ran reputation.

Huawei hopes to rise above its somewhat unfairly earned reputation with the appropriately named Huawei Ascend G7, a stylishly designed smartphone that packs in some of the latest features but without a huge price tag.

Retailing for £199 (around $296, AU$385), the Ascend G7 comes in at a fair bit cheaper than the Huawei Ascend P7, which launched at £370 ($625, AU$690); compared to phones from more established brands (in the West at least), on paper the Ascend G7 looks a steal.

The midrange market is a competitive and crowded one, with the Ascend G7's closest rivals being the HTC Desire 816 and the OnePlus One, which both offer high specifications for low prices, proving that you don't have to pay premium prices for premium features.

So has Huawei managed to create the Holy Grail of smartphones by combining premium features and design with an affordable price tag in the Ascend G7, while simultaneously improving its standing in the eyes of Western customers? The Ascend G7 certainly has a lot to live up to.

Huawei Ascend G7 review

Design

Huawei has obviously lavished a lot of care and attention on the Ascend G7, as this is an impressive looking device considering the price. Obvious design cues have been taken from the iPhone 6, with the rounded edges and premium-feeling metal back.

Huawei Ascend G7

"Ooh it looks a bit like an iPhone 6" will likely be a lot of people's first impression when you flash the Ascend G7 down the pub, and I feel that this could be both a blessing and a curse.

The stylish design certainly puts the Ascend G7 ahead of the HTC Desire 816 and even the OnePlus One, but will the people you show it to be impressed with a smartphone that looks a bit like an iPhone, but isn't really one?

Most people will probably just comment that it looks like a cheap Chinese knock-off, which in a way it is, but that also does a disservice to the Ascend G7, which does a lot more than simply rip off Apple.

Although I really like the look of the Ascend G7, I can't help but feel that if Huawei had gone for a design that, while stylish didn't quite invite comparisons to Apple's flagship as much as it currently does, the handset would have a better chance of stepping out from the iPhone's shadow.

The metal unibody not only looks premium, but also feels premium. It has a weight that feels far from cheap, and the solid build quality gives you confidence that you could safely take the Ascend G7 out and about with you.

Ascend G7

The metal unibody does contribute to the weight of the handset, with the scales tipping at 165g with a 5.5-inch screen and body dimensions of 153.5 x 77.3 x 7.6 mm, so this is definitely a handset that you'll notice when you carry it around in your pocket.

Still, the heft of the Ascend G7 means that you don't have to worry about any bendgate shenanigans, with the 7.6mm thickness of the handset giving it a reassuring sturdiness, while still remaining rather impressively thin.

The power button and volume rocker are located on the right-hand side of the handset within easy reach, and considering the size of the screen I'm pleased that the power button isn't placed on the top of the handset, as it would be a bit more of an uncomfortable stretch to reach it.

Huawei Ascend G7

Alongside the power and volume controls are a tray for a SIM card and a microSD slot, and the designs are flush with the edge of the Ascend G7's body, which again helps give the handset a premium feel. It does, however, also mean that you'll need a pin to insert into the small holes to eject the trays, which can make swapping out SIMs and microSD cards a bit fiddly.

The entire body of the Ascend G7 is sealed shut, which some people might see as an unwelcome influence from Apple, so there's no easy way to gain access to the G7's 3000mAh battery to replace it if the battery life drops drastically.

Overall, the design of the Ascend G7 is a clear improvement over Huawei's previous smartphones, and although it won't trouble the aesthetically-blessed iPhone 6 or Samsung Galaxy S6, it is one of the nicest looking phones for its price range, and you won't be embarrassed to take this budget smartphone out in public.

Key features

Besides the design, the large 5.5-inch screen is the main talking point of the Huawei Ascend G7 – but is it for the right reasons?

Large-screen 'phablet' devices that bridge the divide between smartphones and tablets have been popular for a while, since Samsung proved that there is a healthy market for large-screen smartphones with the Galaxy Note back in 2012.

Since then, there has been a healthy stream of smartphones with big displays coming out, with even Apple joining the phablet party with the launch of the iPhone 6 Plus last year.

Sticking any old large screen on a smartphone isn't a recipe for instant success, however, with larger displays being more unforgiving with lower resolutions and cheaper technology – and sadly this is where the Huawei Ascend G7 reveals its budget origins.

Huawei Ascend G7

The screen of the G7 features a rather middling resolution of 720 x 1280, which stretched over 5.5-inches gives a pixel density of 267ppi (pixels per inch). The more pixels your smartphone's display packs into each inch, the sharper and clearer the display is. Fewer pixels over a larger area results in a reduction in image quality, which unfortunately is often evident when using the G7.

The OnePlus One offers the same 5.5-inch screen size, but packs a higher resolution of 1080 x 1920, leading to a pixel density of 401ppi. The difference in image quality between the two devices is stark, proving that when it comes to screens, size really isn't everything.

However, I should point out that you rarely see a screen this size on a smartphone that costs as little as the Ascend G7, so it would be unfair to expect the same level of technology that is present in phones that cost twice or even three times as much.

The large size and lower resolution of the screen does have its benefits as well, and before you go to grab the pitchforks or book me an urgent appointment at an opticians, hear me out.

Huawei Ascend G7 review

A 5.5-inch screen is large for a smartphone, however it is still a relatively small display area, and the higher the resolution that you pack into that space, the smaller some elements, such as icons and text, appear.

This can make reading or using the smartphone uncomfortable and occasionally frustrating. A larger screen with a lower resolution means bigger icons, which are easier to hit with your finger, along with text that can be read without straining.

It means if you want a large screen but image quality is the be-all and end-all, then the Ascend G7 will be a disappointment, and it also means you're going to have to look at increasing your budget. However, if you don't mind a few compromises to image quality, and just want a large screen for a low price, then the Ascend G7 could be for you.

The lower resolution means the Ascend G7 doesn't have to work so hard displaying web pages, media and games, which leads to a relatively smooth experience. Android 4.4 KitKat looks perfectly fine at this resolution, and websites – especially text-heavy ones – are clear and easy to read.

The fact that the screen is a decent IPS affair means that contrast is good, and even viewing the screen from an angle produces good, but not exceptional, results.

Price is everything

The other important feature of the Ascend G7 is its price, and in this regard I can't really fault it. For just £199 (around $296, AU$385) you get a lot of features that are normally the preserve of smartphones that are a lot more expensive.

The inclusion of 4G LTE is incredibly welcome, and ensures that despite its price, the Ascend G7 isn't going to feel outdated any time soon thanks to its ability to connect to fast, and dependable, mobile data networks.

An increasing number of budget handsets are including 4G, although it's still not a given that you'd get it in phones at this price range, so it's nice to see it included here.

Other touches, such as 16GB onboard storage (where some budget smartphones still try to palm us off with 8GB at this price point), and Near Field Communication, also prove that the Ascend G7 is excellent value for money.

Performance and Battery

Easily one of the best features of the Huawei Ascend G7 is that you can look at the price tag, then at the hardware it packs, then double-check that you didn't misread how much it costs.

Huawei really has done an excellent job of fitting in decent specifications in the Ascend G7, including a quad-core 1.2GHz processor and 2GB of RAM, which is pretty competitive at this price point.

This results in Android 4.4 KitKat performing well, with minimal lag or hang-ups. Scrolling through menus feels smooth, though there are sometimes noticeable delays when launching certain apps.

It's a shame that the Ascend G7 comes with the dated Android 4.4 KitKat, rather than the most recent Android 5.0 Lollipop, as I would have liked to have seen how the Ascend G7 coped with Google's latest operating system.

It means that Ascend G7 owners will miss out on some of the handy new features of Android 5.0 Lollipop, such as lock screen notifications, though hopefully an update will be made available later. Still, it's a disappointing misstep for a smartphone in 2015 that does a lot of things right.

Android has Huawei's Emotion 3.0 user interface (also known as EMUI 3.0) overlaid, giving a slightly tweaked feel to the stock Android experience. It does the job just fine, and thankfully there aren't many unwanted apps preinstalled, which is often the bane of smartphone manufacturers' custom interfaces.

Huawei Ascend G7

One element of EMUI 3.0 that is a big change is the fact that there is no apps menu. Having switched from stock Android to EMUI 3.0, I spent a few moments searching in vain for the central apps menu that gives you an overview of all your installed applications.

Instead, every app that you install is plonked straight onto the home screen, and although this simplifies the operating system (handy for people who aren't used to using smartphones), it does mean that your home screen can quickly become cluttered and hard to navigate.

If you're not too keen on the default look of EMUI 3.0, you can easily change the theme via the included Themes app, granting the Ascend G7 a look that's more to your taste. The themes range from the horrid to the stylish and minimalist, so there's a good chance you'll find something you'll like.

Running the standard GeekBench 3 benchmark tests, the Ascend G7 scored 1398, which is roughly in line with what I was expecting of the device considering its specifications. The HTC Desire 816, which can be had for a similar amount of money as the Ascend G7 despite being slightly older, scored a bit higher with 1463. The Moto G, one of the best budget smartphones you can get your hands on, scored 1142 in the same tests, though it's a bit cheaper at £145 (US$270, AU$267).

These results mean that the Ascend G7 scores very well for its price range. It's a fair bit away from the scores of the OnePlus One (which netted an impressive 3050) and more expensive smartphones, but for the price you're getting pretty decent all-round performance.

Battery life

As I mentioned earlier, Huawei's desire to make a gorgeously designed smartphone means that the back panel isn't easily removable for access to the battery. However, before you groan too loudly, the good news is that Huawei has included a very capable battery, so you wouldn't really need to fiddle around with it anyway.

Huawei Ascend G7

The 3000mAh capacity is nice to see, with smartphones the same price as the G7 coming with much smaller power packs. For example, the Desire 816 comes with just 2600mAh, which goes to show just how generous Huawei has been. Considering the screen is 720p, it means you should expect some pretty decent battery life from the G7.

In fact, during my time with the Ascend G7 the battery performance surpassed those expectations, with the device easily lasting two whole days without needing to be charged. I wasn't going easy on the Ascend G7 either, as I was listening to music, streaming TV shows via BBC iPlayer and making liberal use of the 4G LTE connection to browse the internet while out and about.

The only fault with the battery I could find is that although it takes a long time to discharge, it also takes a fair while to fully charge – we're talking a couple of hours to get it back up to 100%, but thanks to the healthy battery life it's unlikely you'll be caught out and in need of an emergency charge too often.

Our battery benchmark, which involved playing a high definition video for 90 minutes with the screen at full brightness, showed that the Ascend G7 lost 21% of its battery. The 2500mAh battery of the Huawei Ascend P7 lost 26% of its juice during the same test, while the HTC Desire 816 lost 25%.

The essentials

Making and receiving calls is decent on the Ascend G7, with the Dialler app handling the duties with ease.

One thing I did like is that if you open the Dialler, Contacts or Messaging apps, tabs are displayed letting you switch between each app – so you can bring up the Dialler app to ring someone, and if you change your mind and would rather fire off a text message, you can just click the 'Messaging' tab to switch to the text message inbox.

This means that the Emotion 3.0 user interface has icons only for the Dialler and Contacts apps on the bottom persistent menu, leading to a more simplistic feel to the operating system, again ideal for someone who isn't used to smartphones or Android. You can drag and drop other apps onto this menu if you'd like a bit more flexibility, however.

Typing text messages (and general use) on the onscreen keyboard is pretty comfortable, thanks to the combination of large screen and relatively low resolution, which means the keys are big enough to hit comfortably and accurately.

Huawei Ascend G7

The screen is also responsive enough to register fast typing, and it coped well when I switched quickly between typing out words letter by letter and using swipe gestures, with the keyboard failing to register what I was trying to type only a few times.

An email app is installed by default, and does the job fine, though Gmail is also included – so if you have an account with Google you're better off sticking with that. Adding an account to the default email app is easy enough, though Gmail is the only Western email service included in the quick setup menu – the rest are Chinese accounts that you're unlikely to have signed up with.

I tested out setting up the app with a Hotmail account, and after adding my email address and password it successfully configured the app to send and receive emails, so adding your own email address shouldn't be too difficult.

The default web browser works well for displaying web content, and thanks to the Ascend G7's 4G LTE connectivity, it means even when off Wi-Fi and on mobile internet, web pages are served swiftly and accurately.

Media was also handled fine, with the 720p screen doing a good job of displaying high definition footage, while the built-in speakers did an okay job with music, though as you'd expect the quality was quite tinny.

Overall, the Ascend G7 does a decent job of handling the essentials, neither excelling or failing in any regard. This makes for a bit of a boring smartphone, but it means if you're after a dependable budget handset, the G7 is a good choice.

Camera

The cameras of the Ascend G7 are another reminder that Huawei is determined to fit impressive specifications you'd normally find in more expensive phones into its budget blower. The G7 comes equipped with a 13-megapixel main camera with LED flash and f/2.0 lens, along with a 5-megapixel front-facing camera.

On paper, these sound pretty impressive, and I'm pleased to report that in practice the cameras of the Ascend G7 continued to impress, considering the price of the handset.

Indoor shots offer excellent colour reproduction and detail from the rear camera. From my sample photograph below, you can see the snapper performed very well in macro conditions, picking up fine details such as the dust on the leaves.

Huawei Ascend G7 review

Taking the Ascend G7 outside, I noticed the colours weren't quite as vibrant or accurate, and in direct sunlight some of the snaps I took suffered from a washed-out feel. Close-up shots and macro photography still impressed, however, though some detail was lost with subjects in the distance.

The front-facing camera was also good, though a step down from the 13-megapixel rear snapper. Although some detail was lost, the images were easily good enough for seflies, if you're that way inclined. A handy guide in the corner of the screen helps you look towards the camera, rather than the screen, so it doesn't look as if you're looking away.

Ascend G7

Video is shot at 720p by default, and looks fine, though if you want to do some serious shooting with your smartphone you're going to want to splash out on a more expensive device.

The camera app itself is simple enough to use, though there's no dedicated camera button on the Ascend G7's body, so you'll need to use the onscreen button instead.

There are a number of photo modes, including HDR and Panorama, as well as a confusingly named All Focus mode that is supposed to allow you to take a number of shots, then choose the focus point afterwards, though in reality it doesn't work very well at all.

Once again, the Ascend G7 performs well, though not exceptionally, and more than justifies its price tag. Are you sensing a pattern here?

Huawei Ascend G7

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Huawei Ascend G7 review

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Ascend G7

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Huawei Ascend G7 review

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Huawei Ascend G7 review

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Verdict

By this point, you probably have a decent idea of what I'm going to say here. The Huawei Ascent G7 is a very capable phone that neither disappoints nor excels in any particular area. This means that it might not be a particularly exciting smartphone, but considering the excellent price of this handset it does exactly what it needs to do.

The fact that it has a very attractive design and excellent battery life means if you're looking for a large, affordable handset that you can depend on, which boasts a number of features you'd often find in more expensive phones, then the Huawei Ascent G7 is definitely worth considering. If you're after something a bit fancier – especially in the screen department – then you'll want something a bit more pricey.

We liked

There's no denying that the Huawei Ascent G7 represents excellent value for money, and you'll be hard pushed to find a handset for a similar amount of money that comes with better specs and a larger screen.

Huawei Ascend G7

The design of the Ascent G7 is also a clear step up from Huawei's previous models, helping the handset to look and feel a lot more expensive than it actually is.

Finally, the battery life is fantastic, allowing you to use and abuse the handset for two days without having to frantically search for a power adaptor.

We disliked

The fact that the Huawei Ascent G7 comes with Android 4.4, rather than Android 5.0, is a disappointment, and makes the handset already feel a bit dated. The Emotion 3.0 user interface also takes a bit of getting used to, and won't be to everyone's taste.

The low resolution of the screen also reminds you that this is a budget smartphone, and the large 5.5-inch screen is less forgiving than a smaller display would be; however, for the price you can't really expect a screen that would trouble Apple's Retina displays.

Ascend G7

Speaking of Apple, the Huawei Ascent G7's design might come off as influenced a little too much by the iPhone, which might put off people who would rather their phones had a more distinctive look.

Verdict

If you want a good all-round smartphone that offers future-proof features such as 4G LTE connectivity and NFC, along with excellent battery life, decent camera and a big screen, all for an impressively low price, then the Huawei Ascent G7 is definitely worth buying.

It's clear that Huawei is serious about improving its image in the West, and with this competitively priced handset and attractive design, it certainly has a chance of doing this.

It's not perfect, however, and there are a few design choices that remind you that this is a budget phone, such as the lower-resolution screen and choice of Android 4.4 as the operating system. If these seem like a few too many compromises, then you'd be better off looking at the OnePlus One.

However, if this is a sign of things to come from Huawei, then we could be in for some very impressive handsets in the future.

First reviewed: March 2015








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