Love at first touch

23 Jan 2013

Wow! The Ascend D1 certainly isn't the typical phone of a so-called "second-tier" Mainland handset producer, better known for its low-cost infrastructure gear than it's cutting-edge devices.

I've been "testing" Huawei's Ascend D1 Quad for a month and hope to use it a bit longer (until I have to return it).

At first grasp, it's big, it's light, it's thin -- it feels great in the hand. With its 4.5-inch display, the D1 (measuring 129.9 x 64.9 x 8.9 mm) surprisingly isn't at all bulky. It fits in the hand comfortably (no sharp edges) and doesn't require a case because it's too slippery like some well-known models. And it's easy to control with one hand (something that is becoming difficult as displays move toward 5 inches).

It's just slightly larger than the iPhone 5 -- 6 mm longer, 6 mm wider and 1.3 mm thicker -- and offers a higher resolution of 1280 x 720, with a pixel density of 330 ppi (vs 326 ppi for the iPhone 5). It weighs in at just 130g.

The big display is wonderful for video and browsing. The quad-core 1.4-GHz CPU (Huawei) gives it an incredibly zippy performance even on 3G networks (note: this is not a 4G phone). Have been spending much more time surfing and reading on my phone this month (and less on my iPad).

It runs on Android 4.0.4. Not many complaints there. Overall, by far the best user experience I've ever had -- one or two touches (or flips) to everything.

A compelling UI is all about the little things, and this is where the OS excels. Such as the pull-down frame on the home screen that shows status of apps as well as connections. With so many apps now running, it's a pain to check messages, email, WhatsApp, Skype, etc, so it's convenient to have the status of all those in one place. And it makes turning cellular data on/off a two-step process instead of four if you go through Settings.

Chrome does seem slower than Mozilla (5.0) but not by much.

Data transfer took just a few minutes. Did run into difficulty importing data from iCloud to gmail, but then exported address book in vCard format and imported to gmail in just a couple of minutes.

The device supports five UMTS bands, has 1 Gb of RAM, 8 Gb of internal storage, an 8-megapixel camera and 1.4-megapixels front camera for video chat.

On the down side, Huawei has moving in the direction of Apple (and now Nokia) and uses a non-replaceable battery. Certainly would be good to switch to a fresh battery at the end of a long day or when flying. As with most large-screen models, nightly charging is almost a requirement unless you're a very light user.

The phone was announced last February at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona but was released in Hong Kong only in late November at the unbelievably low price of HK$2,180 (about $280).

While many commentators have said Samsung's Galaxy III was the first to equal or surpass the performance of the iPhone, in my book the device is bordering on a phablet -- almost 8 mm longer and 5 mm wider than the D1 but the same resolution on its 4.8-inch display. Coupled with Android's Ice Cream Sandwich, the D1 Quad is definitely a strong iPhone contender.

The global smartphone sector expanded 50% in Q3, and Huawei aimed to triple its sales to 60 million units, but analysts reckon it was falling far short of that target (the company doesn't break out smartphone sales in its quarterly results). The company aspires to be a top-3 player with a 15% market share by 2015. It now has about a 5% share.

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