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Jason Wu Huawei NZ

From my work portfolio:

When Chinese Premier Xi Jinping visited Auckland last November he joined New Zealand PM John Key to witness the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Huawei and Spark.

The agreement will see the world’s largest telecommunications equipment company use its massive research and development resources to tailor mobile technologies for the New Zealand carrier.

Spark and Huawei were already working together. In 2013 the two formed a Joint Innovation Programme, or JIP, which led to the world’s first commercial trial of 4G, fourth generation, mobile telecommunications using the 700MHz spectrum.

Read the full story by Bill Bennett in the New Zealand Herald.

Mixed signals from New Zealand government on telecommunications security.

You have to ask yourself what principles are behind the New Zealand government’s telecommunications security strategy.

On the one hand the government has a relaxed attitude towards carriers allowing Huawei to build key parts of their infrastructure. On the other hand it introduced the Telecommunications  (Interception Capability and Security) Bill to Parliament this week.

Security fears mean Huawei is shut out of Australia and the United States. Yet New Zealand’s centre right government is happy for the telecommunications equipment giant to build and finance networks here.

Far-reaching intercept bill

Meanwhile the bill intended to replace the earlier Telecommunications  (Interception Capability) Act 2004 officially takes government intelligence intrusion into the telco sector further than any of our strategic allies. At least, as far as they publicly acknowledge.

The new bill gives New Zealand spies the power to intercept communications in the name of national security. The first part is about telecommunications company obligations while the second part means telecommunications companies will need to work with the Government Communications Security Bureau on security issues and matters that could affect the economy.

Thomas Beagle of the digital civil liberties lobby group Tech Liberty points out this could give the GCSB control over the design and operation of communications networks run in New Zealand. It also gives the GCSB the power to stop service providers reselling overseas services that make it difficult for our security services to spy on communications,

As Beagle points out, it gives spies wide and open-ended powers. And it could make life considerably harder for network operators.

Economically counterproductive

One interesting aspect of the bill is that it could affect the way companies like Microsoft, Google and Apple do business in New Zealand. It would be economically counterproductive if companies decided to offer New Zealand customers a lower level of service than those overseas to comply with the law. It could also have implications for future investment in telecommunications networks.

Is there a disconnect here with the New Zealand government’s relaxed attitude towards Huawei?

Maybe not, the most likely explanation is that the government addresses each telecommunications policy decision afresh and makes on-the-fly decisions based on immediate considerations and not have an overriding philosophy. The results must sometimes look odd to outside observers.

HTC’s Sensation is not a direct competitor to Huawei’s Ideos X5.

At NZ$1100, HTC’s flagship Sensation costs almost twice as much as the NZ$600 Ideos X5.

How much extra hardware and user expereince does an extra NZ$500 buy?

It boils down to four things:

  • Display quality,
  • processor power,
  • battery life and
  • bundled software.

There are other minor differences. These are the ones that count.

Smartphone display

Spending an extra NZ$500 buys a better display. The HTC Sensation’s screen is 110mm across the diagonal compared to the Ideos X5’s 97mm. This doesn’t sound much. More important, the Sensation has 960 by 540 pixels while the Ideos X5 is just 800 by 480.

In practice these numbers add up to a huge difference.

Photos look better on the Sensation screen. Movies are stunning.

The Sensation’s 906 by 540 resolution is one-quarter of an HD screen. In a tiny handheld package it feels almost as good as watching HD. And there is sound. It is not great, but you can hold the Sensation in your hands and watch a movie in relative comfort. The Ideos X5’s screen isn’t bad for movies, but there’s a wide quality gulf between the two.

That extra resolution is also put to good use displaying text and web pages. Reading documents, email and other information is far better on the Sensation. Text is clearer and crisper. I can read the Sensation’s screen for much longer without tiring my eyes.

Dual core processor and bundled software

At first sight HTC’s 1.2Ghz dual core processor gives less of a performance boost than you might imagine.

The Ideos X5’s powerplant runs at just 800Mhz, so you’d expect a leap moving between the phones. In practice, HTC swallows much of the extra grunt with the Sense user interface. This is overlaid on top of the standard Android front end.

Sense is nicer to use and the animations are pretty. But there’s nothing essential about it.

There is little difference between the phones when performing most tasks. Sure, the Sensation is smoother experience. Yet the extra power doesn’t translate into extra productivity. There may be applications where it matters – so far I haven’t used them.

HTC says Sense boots faster – that’s true the Sensation phone boots faster than the Ideos X5. Yet, this doesn’t matters, I wouldn’t expect to book an Android phone more than once or twice a month. There’s some clever caching – which speeds some applications – and a built-in social networking hub. The customisable lockscreens are a good idea, but once again, not productivity boosters.

A great weather widget that comes as standard on the Sensation. I managed to download the same software from the Android store on my Ideos X5.

Battery life

In theory there should be nothing between the Ideos X5 1500 mAh battery and the Sensation 1520 mAh. In practice, the Sensation lasts longer despite its bigger screen and more powerful processor.

Over the long haul the Ideos X5 is good for about 12 hours use between charges. Of course this depends on which power-draining components you switch on. Also on whether applications update often and your usage pattern.

I found the HTC Sensation offers a few more hours before running out of juice. This could be because the review phone has a newer battery. I suspect the phone does a better job of managing power during down times.

What’s important is the Sensation can make it through an extended working day. There is still have enough power left to call a cab at the end of the evening.

Is the Sensation worth an extra NZ$500?

There’s no question the HTC Sensation is a better phone than the Ideos X5. What’s harder to decide is how much better and whether the extra stuff is worth  NZ$500. It comes down to what you want from a phone.

I work from home and generally only spend a day or two each week on the move in town. I’m a journalist, so I often carry a laptop computer – and may carry an iPad. The extra features of the Sensation are nice to have, but they do little to help my work. I could find better ways to spend that extra $500.

If I was working in an office, I would find the extra for the HTC Sensation – especially if I needed to spend lots of time reading information on its screen.

Huawei’s Ideos X5 is a full-feature Android smartphone at the price of a dumb phone.

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.

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.

Inevitable downside

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 journVerdict – Huawei Ideos x5

The Huawei Ideos X5’s price is hard to get past. 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.