The Huawei Blaze U8510 is hardly the first low-price Android smartphone that we’ve seen, but it’s one of the first designed with aesthetics as well as affordability in mind.
Huawei’s previous efforts, such as the T-Mobile Pulse Mini were stumpy, squat and difficult to use, due to resistive screens that required a stylus, but the Blaze ticks all the right boxes. The curves and faux-metal strip are enhanced by the impressively slim 11.2mm depth and light 104g weight. And though the rubberised back panel will collect fingerprints like a police database, it’s a pleasure to grip. There’s a reassuring rigidity to the Blaze, too.
Huawei has kept ports and buttons to a refreshing minimum. There’s three capacitive buttons (Back, Menu and Search) below the screen, a 3.5mm headphone jack and power/lock button on the top, micro USB charger on the bottom and volume rocker on the right-hand side.
The Blaze also sports a front-facing camera, a surprise on such a low price smartphone. That means you can video chat either over Skype or Google’s own IM service – Android 2.3.4 supports webcam chats in Google Talk).
Perhaps the greatest shock, however, is that the 3.2-inch LCD-TFT touchscreen isn’t a botch job. It’s capacitive, which means typing is easy and pinch to zoom gestures are enabled, and it has the same reasonably sharp 320×480 resolution as other Android phones of around the same size, such as the HTC Wildfire S.
But it’s the broad viewing angles and bright, crisp colours that really stand out on this phone. It’s not a patch on AMOLED panels you can find in Samsung Galaxy S phones and the first batch of Orange San Francisco phones from ZTE, but the former cost much more, and the latter are no longer in production – ZTE ran out and had to switch to LCD. Combined with a life of a day-and-a-half from the 1200mAh battery, and you’ve got one impressively constructed handset.
Where the Blaze really has the competition beat is on the software: it’s bang up-to-date, which means every new app, bar taxing 3D games, will run.
The qualifier here is that this is dependent on what the 600MHz CPU can handle, particularly when paired with a meagre 256MB of RAM (rather than 512MB as on most Android phones). But you’d never guess it from how the Huawei Blaze flies.
Browsing was nippy, HTML5 mobile web video ran without a stutter, and even the camera processed snaps quickly. Huawei’s lightly modified Android launcher (what’s known as the home screen and menu system) didn’t bog things down much either, and we rather came to enjoy moving between home screens as though they were faces of a cube. Adding connection options (Wi-Fi, GPS, data) to Android’s pull-down notification drawer, is also a welcome move that saves you from poking around in the options much.
One thing you should disable is the default keyboard, TouchPal. Huawei has presumably gone with it because it’s excellent for Chinese language jotting, but if that’s not a concern for you, head over to the Android Market app store and download a replacement keyboard, such as Better Keyboard. You can activate these just by long pressing in a text field, and they’re as usable as keyboards can be on touchscreens measuring just 3.2 inches diagonally.
We recently reviewed the Alcatel OT-990 Android, another low price smartphone exclusive to O2. That had very few custom apps pre-installed, but Huawei is to be commended for its inclusions on the Blaze. A Smart Traffic app keeps an eye on your data limits so you don’t go over, which can be important on prepay tariffs, while All Backup will make a backup of the phone on your SD card (which you can then copy elsewhere for safekeeping). There’s also a Streams app that syncs your Twitter, Flickr and Facebook updates.
It’s not pretty, but it doesn’t get bogged down ever, and will suffice for many. It is worth noting, though, that INQ recently opened up its People and Social widgets up on the Android Market; these provide a superior option for every Android phone,
Thought the mobile phone industry was already cut-throat? It’s about to turn into a massacre, but us shoppers only stand to gain from this vicious price war. If you want up-to-date affordability on your carrier of choice, the Huawei Blaze is a no-brainer right now.