Since my first smartphone, I’ve been a loyal Android girl. Having worked extensively with Apple macs in a professional capacity I was never as bowled over by their alleged coolness as many of my contemporaries, nor willing to pay the premium. I started with an HTC Wildfire which didn’t disappoint; I quickly became used to checking and responding to emails and social media, navigating via Google Maps and accessing the full extent of the web.
In 2012 I was given a Nokia Lumia 800 to review but quickly discovered that despite loving the physical design I absolutely hated the Windows platform. With a vengeance. I switched back to my HTC before the Lumia and I came to blows. When I eventually looked to upgrade the Wildfire I stayed loyal to the brand – that proved to be a mistake; the entry level HTC Desire was three years newer and yet slower, with poorer battery life, than the Wildfire it was intended to replace.
I was reluctant to blow the big bucks when I’d only just upgraded but was seriously considering it… when along came an offer to review the brand new Samsung Galaxy S4. I totally clicked with my S4 phone and have been using it happily for two years now.
Out of the box; after a few weeks
My latest review item is a Huawei Ascend G7, launched in the UK late in April.
The Ascend G7 is an Android smartphone with large screen size, smart, slim, metal casing, 4G capable and an attractive midrange price point – currently around £200.
If, like me, you hadn’t heard of Huawei, here’s the cheat sheet: Huawei is a global Chinese company specialising in telecomms networking and equipment; one of the largest manufacturers in the world. You may well have encountered their products before, as a large part of their business is making white-label products for other brands. Now they are promoting their own brand mobile handsets across Europe.
I’ve now been using the G7 for a few weeks. There are a few aspects I really like, but quite a bit that I find frustrating – I haven’t yet made a decision on whether I’ll be stick with the G7 or switch back to my S4.
MY THOUGHTS ON THE HUAWEI ASCEND G7
The slim form metal case is attractive, there’s no denying this is a good looking phone.
But bigger isn’t always better – I’ve come to realise that the size is just that little bit too large for my hands; the extra 7 mm width means I can’t comfortably use the G7 one-handed without quickly feeling muscle strain. That’s a personal issue, of course, and not a criticism of the G7 and it will suit those who are looking for a larger screen.
Image & Sound Quality
Sound quality seems pretty similar on the S4 an the G7, certainly I’ve not found myself thinking the G7 is better or worse than the S4. In fact, I just played the same music video on both phones and I’d say the sound is definitely comparable.
Officially, the resolution of the S4 is much higher (441 ppi against the G7’s 267 ppi) but I think the G7 does a fantastic job of harnessing those pixels – everything looks good and sharp, with nice colour definition and,to my surprise, I haven’t felt a step down from the S4.
However the (impressively large) screen shows every fingerprint and smear in a way that my Galaxy S4’s screen doesn’t. The smears are really intrusive in bright light, and I’m constantly rubbing the phone against my trouser leg trying to clear up that display.
Likewise, I struggle to see the screen in bright light, making outdoor photography and general phone use rather tricky when the sun is shining.
Phone Manager & Battery Life
Hands down my favourite feature of the G7 is this clever app management (and security) software which allows me to easily and quickly close apps and clear trash files, thereby hugely extending battery life. I can choose myself which apps will never be closed by the Phone Manager and can manually override on an individual basis.
There are a number of power save settings available, which will likely come in useful for those occasional times when I am not able to plug the phone in for a charge overnight.
Apparently there is also a harassment filter which can be used to block nuisance calls or messages from specified numbers and even a Do Not Disturb mode which blocks all calls save those from your personal Allowed list.
And by the way, battery life is phenomenal – I’ve never come close to draining the phone, even on a really heavy-use day.
Before running the optimisation and after
Missing Apps Tray
In their infinite wisdom (I hope you can hear the sarcasm in my words, even in the written format?) Huawei have done away with the Apps Tray which means that every single app you install, plus all the ones they’ve preloaded the phone with (including quite a few useless ones), are crowded into your five home screen pages.
Having an Apps Tray (a standard part of the Android platform) means that all apps are automatically listed in alphabetical order, which makes it very easy to find those I only need to access very rarely. I can therefore create shortcuts on my home screen pages only for those apps I use on a regular basis, creating a layout that is customised to my needs.
On the G7, every time I install a new app it randomly inserts itself into one of the few free spaces in one of my home screen pages, and I have to waste several minutes moving several other app shortcuts around (rather fiddly) in order to position the new app in alphabetical order. This is utterly nuts and a really stupid decision on Huawei’s part, no doubt an attempt to emulate the iPhone platform.
My customised home screen centre page
App Names & Icons
Speaking of icons and shortcuts, I’ve quickly discarded Huawei’s own Calendar and SMS Messaging apps – they just aren’t very good – and unfortunately, when I install my preferred Google Calendar and the standard Android SMS, the G7 doesn’t pull through the relevant icons, using instead the same ones as it’s own label versions. Very confusing. I’ve had to hide the Huawei versions away in a dumping ground apps folder in order to keep them out of the way. (Yes, still missing the Apps Tray, here).
The camera really failed to impress for the first couple of weeks. I couldn’t understand why my images were so frequently out of focus until I eventually realised that it seemed to be back-focusing. Since social media is a key reason I use a smartphone, a camera that didn’t work for me was an immediate deal breaker.
Thank goodness, Pete suggested trying some other camera apps to assess whether it was the camera hardware itself at fault or just a poorly-written camera app.
I’m currently using the Google Camera app, which is much much better and gives me handy exposure compensation controls, which I appreciate. Certainly I’m not having any trouble with focus / sharp images anymore. Unfortunately, this app plays an annoying shutter click sound even when my phone is in silent mode and there’s no setting I can find to override that. That said, it has at least proved to me that the camera hardware itself is fine, which is a huge relief.
I’m keen to find a better solution and am considering Camera FV-5, but the free trial version restricts me to very low res images which are hard to assess properly. If you have any experience of Camera FV-5 or other good Android phone apps, please leave me a comment – I’d be hugely grateful for your suggestions!
For number crunchers, the G7 has a 13 MP main camera with f2.0 aperture and LED flash. The front (selfie) camera is 5 MP. (Virtually the same as my trusty S4, the only difference is a f2.2 aperture).
I’ve not explored the G7’s camera software features much as I so quickly gave up on using Huawei’s camera app but the app boasts HDR, panorama settings (on both front and rear cameras) and a facial-enhancement feature called Beauty Mode. An intriguing All-Focus mode allows you to take a photo and then select the focus later, blurring the foreground or background appropriately to create shallow depth of field after the fact – weird but it does work, should you want it!
File & Image Folders
Samsung’s Gallery feature was irritating as hell but once I worked out how to turn it off, I was happy with image organisation and could easily create folders and move / copy images between them.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be possible to create folders and sort content within the G7 File Manager, and that applies to image files too. Irritating!
Notifications, Shortcuts & Settings
Both Push Notifications and Shortcuts to key settings are accessed by swiping down the top menu. Unfortunately, the Huawei skin hasn’t made this user friendly.
On my S4, the first swipe down immediately lists notifications, and then a tap on either of the two icons provided will take me to either Shortcuts or to full Settings. On the G7, swiping down gives me access to either Notifications or Shortcuts, seldom the one I want at the time, and I have to switch between them.
Furthermore, the Shortcuts list is truncated and there doesn’t seem to be any way to tell it to always display in full; given that you can’t customise which settings are shown in the list, and that all the ones listed fit easily on screen, this seems a pointless extra step.
The main Settings panel has also been reskinned for no good reason, making everything that little bit trickier to find, but not offering a single advantage over the Android standard.
Although I’m open to innovations that provide a benefit, I’m really not a fan of change for change’s sake.
Shortcuts shown as they first come up, and expanded
I remember from my brief switch to the HTC Desire (before I got my S4) the frustration of slow performance when I was used to fast.
Although the tech review sites have highlighted laggy performance in their G7 reviews, I can’t say this is something I’ve noticed at all and I’m very happy with the phone’s performance.
I nearly always set my phone to Vibration mode (zero volume, buzzing for incoming calls and notifications) and it’s easy enough to select that option. Unfortunately, time and time and time again (several times a day) I discover that the G7 has switched into completely Silent mode, without vibration. This is driving me crazy, so if anyone has an answer to how it keeps happening, or better still, a way to stop it, I’m listening!
And speaking of Vibration mode, the vibration is really weak. Perhaps that contributes to the excellent battery life but I’d sure like a way to pump it up a little. (Hey, get your mind out of the gutter, yes you!)
Like most of Huawei’s in-house software, the Phone Dialler must surely also have been written by people who just don’t use phones very much! I can work out how to call a number from my Contacts and I can see how to type a number in myself. What I can’t readily do is paste in a phone number that I’ve copied from an email or tweet – the only way I’ve found is to start typing a number in to the Diallier, paste my copied number in and then go back and delete the number I typed in to bring the field up in the first place.
Although my review isn’t altogether positive, the Phone Manager / battery life are such strong additions to the Pros column that they do go a long way to balancing the Cons. And if Huawei gave up their insistence on replacing perfectly good default functionality with crappy in-house versions, most of the Cons could be crossed off the list.
Let me end with a few photos taken on the G7 (and posted to instagram):
Kavey Eats was provided a Huawei Ascend G7 for review purposes.