Huawei Ascend W1 review: first look

26 Feb 2013

We expected to see our fair share of high-end mobile hardware at MWC, but this year's show has been notable for the rise of another type of smartphone: the low-cost Windows Phone 8 handset. First came Nokia with the Lumia 520 and Lumia 720, and it's now Huawei's turn with the Ascend W1.

First unveiled at CES earlier in the year, Huawei announced this morning that the Ascend W1  is set to arrive in the UK at same price as the Lumia 520. It will cost only £120 on pay-as-you-go and will be free on a £13.50 per month contract. Both deals are exclusive to O2, and the phone will be available from 7 March.

You might expect, at those prices, that Ascend W1 would feel particularly cheap - however, it's anything but. We've had a brief hands-on with the phone and it feels exceedingly well put together, with a high-quality matte plastic finish and a curved rear cover. It's only available in electric pink and electric blue at first, which might put some people off, but we think it looks rather fetching in either colour.

Usually, it's the screen that suffers from cutbacks in cheap smartphones, but again the W1 pulls off a surprise. Like the Lumia 520, the Ascend W1 has a 4in, 800 x 480 IPS display, which is surprisingly easy on the eye. It isn't the last word in quality: blacks look a touch grey, and if you look for it you can see backlight leakage around the edges, but neither are show-stoppers.

Another unusual feature in a phone this cheap is that the  touchscreen is laminated to the LCD panel beneath. The idea behind this is to minimise glare and reflectivity, although it isn't something we'll pass judgement on without taking the phone out and about.

Finally, despite only sporting a dual-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm processor, performance is pretty slick. Menus and web pages respond instantaneously to the touch, and when we ran the SunSpider benchmark it returned a respectable result of 1,216ms.

Eyeing the rest of the specifications reveals few shortcomings. The Asend W1 has a 5-megapixel autofocus camera with an LED flash, which in our test shots produced noisy, but not completely disastrous, shots in low light. It also has a microSD slot, so the small 4GB of internal flash storage can be expanded, and the battery is a sizeable 1,950mAh.

We like the Huawei Ascend W1, and we like its price even better. If budget Windows Phone 8 smartphones continue in this vein, Microsoft's mobile OS could soon be competing on an equal footing with Android at the low-end, and that can only be a good thing.

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