Huawei Ascend Y (U.S. Cellular) review

The Huawei Ascend Y for U.S. Cellular has an attractive price, but you can get a much better phone for not much more.

A better name for this phone would have been the Huawei Ascend Y Not. After the relative success of the Ascend II and the original Ascend, Huawei is sticking to the formula. The Huawei Ascend Y is a low-end Android smartphone that’s free with a contract from U.S. Cellular. And while that price may be attractive, the phone’s performance and capabilities are not. You can get a better phone without having to spend a dime, and you can get a much better phone for less than $50.

Design and Call Quality
Design-wise, the Ascend Y is more of the same. It’s a fairly generic, unimpressive little black slab that measures 4.6 by 2.4 by 0.46 inches (HWD) and weighs 4.41 ounces. It’s the type of phone that could trick you at the store. It feels surprisingly well-built and solid, and the relatively small size will fit into most hands like a glove. But don’t let that fool you. When you turn the display on you begin to get the real story.

The 3.5-inch, 480-by-320-pixel capacitive touch screen remains unchanged since the first Huawei Ascend, and it shows. Everything looks pixelated and grainy, and colors look muted and drab. There are three haptic feedback-enabled touch keys beneath the display, and typing can be frustrating on the cramped keyboard.

The phone is a dual-band EVDO Rev A (850/1900 MHz) device with 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi. In New York where I tested it, U.S. Cellular phones use Sprint’s network. Reception was fine, and it connected to my WPA2-encrypted Wi-Fi network without a problem. It can also function as a mobile hotspot with the appropriate data plan.

Call quality is pretty good. Voices sound somewhat digitized, but otherwise very full and clear in the phone’s earpiece. Calls made with the phone sound a little muted, and noise cancellation is average. The speakerphone sounds fine and is loud enough to hear in a car, but not outdoors. Calls were clear through a Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset and standard Android voice dialing worked fine. Battery life was average at 6 hours and 2 minutes of talk time.

Android and Apps
Now that Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean have finally eclipsed Gingerbread as the version of the OS on most existing Android phones, there’s no excuse for the outdated Android 2.3.6 (Gingerbread) found here. This phone probably won’t be updated to Android 4.0, let alone 4.1 or 4.2, and Huawei’s minor UI customizations do little to extend what life is left in Gingerbread.

To add insult to injury, the phone is powered by an 800MHz Qualcomm MSM7625A processor. This is the same chip that powered many low-end Android phones—two years ago. Today, it just isn’t fast enough to keep up with most of the tasks users expect their smartphones to perform. The Ascend Y turned in poor benchmark scores across the board, and you can really feel this phone struggling to keep up.

There are five customizable home screens you can swipe between, which come preloaded with a number of apps and widgets. There isn’t too much bloatware preinstalled, and most of it is deletable. As far as apps go, you get Google Maps Navigation for free voice-enabled, turn-by-turn GPS directions. You also get solid email support, and a capable Web browser, all of which is held back by the slower processor. There are more than 700,000 apps available in the Google Play store, but we can’t guarantee good performance.

Multimedia, Camera, and Conclusions
The Ascend Y has 140MB of free internal memory, as well as a 2GB microSD card preinstalled in the slot underneath the battery. My 32GB and 64GB SanDisk cards worked fine as well. There’s a standard 3.5mm headphone jack that bumps out a little on top of the phone. Music tracks sounded fine over both wired earbuds and Altec Lansing BackBeat Bluetooth headphones. I was able to play AAC, MP3, OGG, and WAV files, but not FLAC or WMA. Video support is poor. I was only able to watch movies at resolutions up to 640-by-480, and couldn’t play DivX files at all.

The Ascend Y’s 3.2-megapixel camera is actually a downgrade from the 5-megapixel sensor on the Ascend II. That’s weird. It still lacks auto-focus and an LED flash, and test photos still look soft, with flat color detail. The camera records 640-by-480 video at a maximum of 15 frames per second, but even then, they look choppy and have a slow-motion-like quality. There’s no front-facing camera, so you can’t use the phone for video chat.

The Huawei Ascend Y would’ve been a fine option two years ago, but you can do much better now. The HTC One V is also free with a contract, and gets you a larger 3.7-inch screen with a higher 800-by-480-pixel resolution, as well as a faster 1GHz processor, and Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). If you step your budget up to $49.99, you can get the Samsung Galaxy Axiom, which also has a larger, higher-res screen, a faster processor, better battery life, Android 4.0, and support for U.S. Cellular’s 4G LTE network. Of course, you can spend even more on even better phones (the Samsung Galaxy S III comes to mind), but if you’re shopping on a tight budget, both of these choices will keep you satisfied much longer than the Huawei Ascend Y.

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Specifications
Service Provider US Cellular
Screen Details 480-by-320-pixel TFT LCD
Battery Life (As Tested) 6 hours 2 minutes
802.11x/Band(s) 802.11 b/g/n
Operating System as Tested Android OS
Megapixels 3 MP
Physical Keyboard No
Bluetooth Yes
Phone Capability / Network CDMA
Camera Yes
High-Speed Data EVDO Rev A, CDMA 1X
Camera Flash No
Bands 850, 1900
microSD Slot Yes
Processor Speed 800 MHz
GPS Yes
Screen Size 3.5 inches
CPU Qualcomm MSM7625A
Storage Capacity (as Tested) 140 MB
Form Factor Candy Bar

Verdict
The Huawei Ascend Y for U.S. Cellular has an attractive price, but you can get a much better phone for not much more.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc