Huawei’s latest budget phone appeared out of nowhere a couple of weeks ago, announced as an exclusive by UK network Vodafone a day before going on sale — with a bargain price of £130 attached to the Ascend G510 should you buy it on a pay-as-you-go basis. It’s the natural replacement for the £100 Ascend G300, which was 2012’s best budget performer by some margin.
For that price you get what is, on paper, a relatively high spec smartphone, with a 4.5″ display running at 480 x 854 resolution and powered by a 1.2GHz dual-core processor, plus the Ascend G510 arrives running Android 4.1.1 — albeit potentially hindered by Huawei only sticking 512MB of RAM inside it and 4GB of media storage space.
Physically the G510 is pretty bland, but it feels slim and very solid. You get the older style Android capacitive button layout of Back, Home and Menu beneath the display, with a long-press on the Home button pulling up Android’s multi-tasking list of recently used and hopefully still open apps. Buttons and the display are sensitive to the touch and quick to respond, although, as with several other Huawei phones we’ve used, there’s a brief delay after hitting the power button before the display lights up ready for use.
The screen’s recessed a little, so there’s about half a millimetre of case sticking up around the side. That’ll help protect it from getting scratched should you inadvertently place it on a table face down, you IDIOT. It’s quite clear, although not amazingly bright, with text and icons on the low (by today’s standards) resolution 480 x 854 display looking pretty sharp.
Round the back it’s also nice enough but again hardly thrilling. The back cover’s a plastic mesh affair with only a very slight bulge to accommodate the camera sensor. And there are some logos to reassure you.
One old/large format SIM slot and SD card support. None of your fancy modern “unibody” design for Huawei. At least not down here in the cheap seats.
And here’s the interface. The Ascend G510 arrives running Android 4.1.1, to which Huawei has added an odd user interface which removes the app drawer. All pre-loaded and downloaded apps are shown on an extended Home screen, with up to five floating dock spots at the bottom for your favourite apps.
It’s a bit of a mess to begin with, as you see EVERYTHING on the phone right there on display and, as is the way with Android, plenty of these apps simply can’t be uninstalled. We ended up using the iOS technique of shuffling lesser-used apps into a folder, then hiding it away on a far screen to tidy up the Home layout. It’s weird, but nothing you can’t live with once it’s been tidied up. And Huawei lets you edit the number of Home screens, with up to nine possible. Nine!
And although Huawei has sadly removed the option to revert to a nearly untouched version of Android as we saw on its 2012 models, you do get a good number of transition effects. They’re a bit silly, but we had fun leafing through them. Windmill is particularly bonkers.
The notifications area sees Huawei adding a scrolling toggles bar to the top. What’s actually rather sweet is the way you can edit this from a custom menu (right), building your own little collection of quick access toggles.
This is Huawei’s own “Me Widget” which is a weird combi-widget you assemble from component parts. The size can therefore vary depending on which items you populate it with from its own creation menu (bottom), but apart from housing clocks, weather icons, quick-dial contact icons and alternative size music apps, it doesn’t do much else.
Huawei’s also edited the settings page to include a tabbed layout (left), with the ones it thinks you’ll use most often pulled out separately and Android’s standard list of everything behind the “All” tab to the right. The image to the right shows how you edit the function of the buttons found on the lock screen. Speaking of which:
That’s the lock screen (left) complete with music player controls, and how the Play music app integrates with the notifications menu as is standard in Android these days.
Another nice little Huawei touch. Widgets are broken down into pre-loaded system ones and ones you’ve downloaded yourself, making it a little easier to find the widgets for an app you’ve just downloaded. See? Manufacturer skins aren’t always a bad thing.
Huawei’s own profiles system. This is accessed through the notifications toggle and lets you switch between power and radio modes, for easily turning things off/on/up/down at the touch of a button. Nice to see a bit of chrome in the software, too, courtesy of Huawei’s amazingly random rotating profiles dial.
There are two music players on here. Google’s own Play Music thing and Huawei’s own rather more basic option (above). They both work. You’ll be able to form your own opinions about the merits of them. The external speaker’s good, nice and loud and comparable with the output of the bigger, more costly phones we’re reviewed recently. A pleasant surprise, that.
The older “Jelly Bean” keyboard (without gesture input) comes as the default here (left), although you also get the Huawei Input Method to choose, which offers long-press alternatives, next word prediction and is quite a nice thing in itself. Critically, there’s no lag apparent when using either of these keyboards, which is something we’ve seen other budget Android models suffer. +1 for that.
BABY PHOTOS TIME! Hasn’t he grown? The Huawei Ascend G510’s camera captures stills at up to 5megapixel resolution, with a decent flash and front-facing camera for sexy chat times.
We like the results, given its budget status. Colours are bright and accurate, and although distant detail can become a bit blotchy and vague, it’s surprisingly decent for such an affordable model. The camera app’s also fast to use, although options are extremely limited — you get the usual crappy sepia/negative collection of filters, a few scene modes, white balance and a panorama stitching tool. It’s basic.
That’s a shot from the front-facing camera (right), which captures shots and video at 480 x 640 resolution…
…the same rather disappointing resolution as offered by the main rear camera’s video sensor. Clips are smooth and quite detailed, but you don’t really expect to see 640 x 480 as the highest resolution on a phone camera in this day and age. Click through to YouTube to watch it at full size.
In terms of battery performance, we have no complaints. it made it through a full day of Endomondo tracking, camera use and tweeting well enough, despite its relatively poorly rated 1,750mAh capacity. It’s in the same ballpark as everything else.
It has NFC and therefore supports Google’s Android Beam sharing protocol. It works.
It has a horrible Vodafone widget. It serves little purpose.
The standard Android email app.
Oh yes, web use. It’s surprisingly good given the RAM limitations. Not hugely clunky, scrolls pages well enough and you have a choice of the webkit browser or Google’s excellent Chrome app, with the latter featuring all manner of awesome new desktop bookmark and browser sync options. It’s definitely acceptable for mobile web use.
Memory. A large amount of well over 1GB is reserved for app installs, which is very nice, but that 512MB RAM limit isn’t ideal for working use. Still, it’s definitely one of the better performing 512MB models we’ve used, so that’s actually not much of a deal breaker here.
The SMS message layout (left) and a demonstration of the dialler’s quick dialling abilities. And that, we have been led to understand, is THE END.
Overall, the Huawei Ascend G510 is surprisingly good. We felt it was less hindered by the 512MB of RAM limitation than other phones and tablets we’ve used with the same amount of onboard memory, with the G510 usually managing to remain useful and snappy even when simultaneously downloading/updating apps and using other phone features.
It’s a shame Huawei has removed the popular option to revert to a very nearly unskinned version of Android in favour of its iOS-like Home screen-only approach to app listing, but removing all of Huawei’s Home screen apps and dumping them in a folder helps lessen the impact of the occasionally odd user interface tweaks.
We also suspect that not having to bother with an app drawer frees up some memory and helps make the phone a little snappier than those other 512MB phones that struggle to run smoothly and multitask properly, so perhaps Huawei’s odd interface tweaking is actually for the best.
So. It’s solid. Pretty fast. Surprisingly good at avoiding crunchiness and glitches (but still not what you’d call silky smooth). Cheap. Fairly acceptable camera. For the money, the G510 is a definite winner. We’d give it a 7/10. Perhaps even a 7.5 for those who understand the compromises that come with buying a phone at this price level.
Check it out over at Vodafone.