In New Zealand 2degrees sells the phone for NZ$549. That’s less than half the price of Apple’s iPhone 4 and lower than other smartphones.
The price is low, but the phone comes with all the key features. It has an 800 by 480 pixel touch screen display which measures 98mm across the diagonal. In practice the screen is sharp enough for reading text and showing images.
The display struggles in bright sunlight – show me a phone that doesn’t.
Huawei hit the size sweet spot. There are smartphones with larger displays, yet the X5 will fit in any pocket – the larger phones are harder to carry. It feels comfortable in the hand with smooth curves – I’ve tested more expensive smartphones that are awkward and less solid feeling. It feels fine when used as a phone and is held up to your ear.
Smooth-running Android 2.2
Some Android phones feel underpowered.
Not the X5. I’ve used Android on slower phones and have been frustrated by sluggish behaviour and lags between using a command and getting a response. The X5 rips through all the tasks I’ve thrown at it. I wanted to leave it for a few weeks before writing this review to see if my impression of the speed changed with familiarity – it hasn’t. Applications load quickly, things happen fast.
Huawei has opted for Android 2.2 but, thankfully, without swamping it with a custom interface. This, coupled with the speed, means you get to experience Android the way Google intended.
I’ve previously had problems with Android keyboards. My fingers aren’t especially big or clumsy, but they struggled to type on earlier Android phones. The Huawei Ideos X5 comes with Swype keyboard which lets chubby fingers glide over the letters to form words – it doesn’t work perfectly every time but is an improvement on the hunt, peck and endless corrections on the earlier keyboards.
Ideos X5 speech recognition
If the keyboard gets too much, there’s always the built-in speech recognition. I’ve had mixed experience in the past with voice controls, but they work so well on the X5 it feels like magic – especially when searching the contact book for names or triggering a Google search.
The phone comes with Documents to Go, but it costs extra to use its editing ability. I bypassed the program and installed Dropbox which allows me to share text and pdf documents with my PCs. I’ve previously paid for Documents to Go on a Palm Pilot and found I never used it. There’s also a built-in ebook reader. One can read books on the X5 at a pinch, but it isn’t a top-notch experience.
Google’s navigation works well using the phone’s GPS receiver. I tested it finding my way to obscure parts of Auckland – my only concern is it is illegal to use a mobile phone while driving so I had to rely on the voice directions and not the screen.
Surprisingly good camera
I’ve never been excited by mobile phone cameras in the past. They always come with so many hardware compromises that the pictures are instantly forgettable. The X5 has a 5 megapixel camera which takes remarkably good photos and 720p video.
Using the camera can be fiddley as there’s no physical shutter button – instead you need to push a software button on the touch screen and this can jerk the lens. The camera flash seems to work as expected although I found indoor pictures lacked colour vibrancy. However, there are plenty of image controls to play with if you’re keen to get the most out of the phone’s video and photography – I’ve made a mental note to explore this later.
The Ideos X5 comes with plenty of non-phone communications options. There’s Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a USB port which doubles as the charger plug. The Wi-Fi works well most of the time although I did experience drop-outs on my home router – this may be a setting that needs tweaking as I had no problems using the phone where there is public Wi-Fi.
You wouldn’t expect any smartphone to be perfect. While the Ideos X5 is unquestionably the best value smartphone on sale in New Zealand at the time of writing it has one minor flaw: battery life.
This won’t trouble most people, there’s enough juice to use the phone to listen to music on public transport to and from work, put in an eight-hour day with a little light smart phoning. But if you tend to work extended hours you might not get to the other end of the day in good order. I found a 12 hour workday with some browsing and using the smartphone features for roughly an hour saw me reach the 15% power remaining warning before I started on my return journey.
Verdict – Huawei Ideos X5
It’s hard to get past the price of the Huawei Ideos X5. The phone has all the features you’d expect from a smart phone costing twice as much. Apple fans might feel otherwise but if you’re comfortable with the Android OS then you won’t find better value.