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Huawei Ascend D1 Quad XL Review
It makes a change not to start a Huawei review with 'blah-blah-low end amazing cheap good specs-blah-blah' and instead to say that this is a high end device with very compelling specs that is competing at or near the top end of the market! For me this is one of my most anticipated devices to date... not only because of the hardware it packs (which is fascinating), but because of what it represents. I firmly believe that as time progresses it will no longer be just the 'elite' manufacturers (Samsung, HTC, Sony) that can produce really desirable devices and in some ways this phone represents that. Today Huawei, tomorrow ZTE, then who...? Anybody?
But first things first, is the Huawei Ascend D1 Quad XL worth buying? Let's find out!
My review device is a full retail unit. It was purchased from China (specifically this seller on AliExpress) and flashed with the release English ROM from Huawei. This is NOT pre-release hardware.
In The Box
The box contains the device (black), a power adaptor, USB to microUSB cable and a set of headphones (all in white).
Hardware - overview
If there's a box on the spec sheet, there's a good chance the HAD1QXL ticks it - it doesn't want for much in the hardware department! Specifications include...
- Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich
- Huawei K3V2 HiSilicon Hi3620 1.4GHz Quad Core Processor with 16 core GPU
- 1GB RAM
- 8GB ROM
- 4.5" 1280x720 IPS+ screen (326PPI) with 32 bit colour
- GSM: 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
- UMTS: 850 / 900 / 1700 / 1900 / 2100 (HSPA+ 21 Mbps / HSUPA 5.76 Mbps)
- 802.11 b/g/n WiFi
- Bluetooth 3.0
- 8 Megapixel BSI camera with dual LED flash
- 1.3 Megapixel front facing camera
- FM Radio
- GPS / A-GPS
- earSmart by Audience audio processing
- microSD expansion
- microUSB with MHL support
- 2600mAh battery
- 129mm x 64mm x 11.5mm
Hardware - around the device
Let’s go on a tour of the device starting with the front.
The front of the device is primarily occupied by the 4.5" 720P IPS screen. The bezel at the sides of the screen is actually pretty small, helping to keep the device width down. Above the screen, centrally placed sit the silver Huawei logo and red speaker grille. The front facing camera and multi colour notification LED are on the right of the speaker with the various sensors on the left. Below the screen sit the 3 capacitive buttons (back, home and menu). The primary microphone is at the very bottom.
The back of the device, which wraps around the sides and is removable in it's entirety, has the 8 megapixel camera up top with it's dual LED flash. The camera area has very little protrusion from the device and has a dark grey sheen framed with a red accent. '8.0 AF FULL HD' camera branding sits to the right, the secondary microphone is below the camera and the small Huawei logo is underneath that. Towards the bottom comes a 'Dolby Digital Plus' logo and the speaker hole, again with a red grille. The back has a 'bumpy' texture which looks good, makes the device reassuring to hold and looks very durable.
The left hand side of the device is home to the microUSB port and the right hand side has the volume rocker. The top of the device has the power button and 3.5mm headphone socket, the bottom of the device is free of ports / buttons.
Removing the back cover reveals the 2600mAh battery, the microSD slot and the miniSIM slot.
I actually think the device looks great. The red accents look good against the black finish and on the whole the look is understated, but it does seem very well made. There is certainly a premium feel to the device, which is very reassuring given Huawei's low cost device roots.
The three hardware buttons have a reassuring 'click', again inspiring confidence in the build of the device.
The HAD1QXL ships with Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich - as far as i'm aware there have been no official announcements regarding the future availability of Jelly Bean for the device. With that said, as a flagship phone that is only just being released I would expect it to become available, but that is just my personal assumption.
The ICS build that is on the device stays very close to the stock experience. Changes are limited to...
- An enhanced lockscreen that provides quick access to favourite applications
- An optional '3D' launcher (a stock style launcher is also included)
- Launcher themes
- A backup application
- An APK file installer application
- An enhanced dialler with 'smart dialling functionality'
- DLNA support
- A File Manager application
- A Flashlight application
- A FM Radio application (hurrah!)
- An enhanced Music application
- A 'Security Guard' application for performing functions such as SMS / call black and whitelisting, a password safe and file encryption
- A weather app / widget (data provided by Accuweather)
- Modified Settings icons
- Power saving modes (see below)
- Fast boot mode
So the hardware looks solid on the spec sheet and the software sounds like it should be up to scratch too... what's it like to use?
Let's start with the question I've probably been most frequently asked about this phone - 'does it feel big because of it's big battery?'. No, it does not. This device feels GREAT in your hand. It's not super light but it's not overly heavy either... although the device is 11.5mm thick, that is by no means a 'fat device'. Were the screen / device width bigger I think perhaps the thickness might be an issue but on the HAD1QXL, it just gives you a device that is reassuringly solid. The 'feel' of a device is always something that's hard to qualify - it's a combination of the size, weight and materials used and in that regard, the phone seems to really hit the spot for me. Styling is very much a personal preference of course, but I think it looks pretty cool too. It's rounded in all the right places and I think the subtle red accents (a-la-Sensation XE / One X+) really work nicely. This is a phone that i'd be more than happy to use as a daily driver from a visual perspective.
So, you take the phone in hand and tap the power button (which responds with a reassuring click) and it starts to boot. Your first impressions of the screen will probably vary depending on which device you are coming from, but the 720P 4.5" is super sharp with great colour reproduction and a great range of brightness. It is a little bit of a shame that the in built auto brightness is excessively aggressive (I took to using the third party 'Lux' replacement to get a level I was happy with) as when you first set up the device you might be slightly concerned that the screen is sub-par. Thankfully it's not. Everything looks incredibly crisp (as you'd expect with no pentile matrix and a true 326PPI) and it will make you wonder... why aren't there more 4.5" 720P IPS screened devices? I would definitely like to know that... it's a really nice size. Of course the blacks aren't as black as an AMOLED screen and the brightness doesn't crank up to quite the same level as the world-beating SLCD2 on the One X series but it's an excellent panel nonetheless.
As the device boots up you're taken through the standard setup wizard before you arrive at the homescreen. At this point you can choose either the 3D Huawei homescreen / launcher or the more conventional 2D homescreen, which will feel instantly familiar to seasoned Android users. Only a few additional options are sneaked in there, primarily to allow you to switch between 2D / 3D and also to let you choose from 3 preinstalled themes. Thankfully the 'Android' theme is the default, giving the near-stock experience. A typical time / weather widget is included on the stock homescreen configuration. HTC really started something there didn't they. 2D and 3D lockscreen options are also included.
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As you start looking around the device it's immediately obvious that there's some serious horsepower inside. Everything is incredibly smooth and responsive with no determinable lag at all. Anywhere. It's all mightily impressive, particularly as you start digging around the settings menu and discover that the default power saving mode is 'battery saver'. Unfortunately, it's not actually clear exactly what these modes mean - it appears that they affect data update rates rather than CPU speed or similar, I can see the CPU clocking up to 1.4GHz regardless of which mode the device is in.
Dragging down the notification bar reveals that there are no toggles added (as we see on some Huawei devices), again the look is as close to stock as it gets... whether that's a good or a bad thing in this instance i'll leave for you to decide!
So let's explore some of the headline features of the device.
Huawei are making big noises about the CPU and GPU in the device, so it seems right that I should throw not only some benchmarks at the device (you can view them below), but also some of my favourite, most graphically intensive games too. The result? Super-smooth gameplay. Running a 720P screen full of pixels is a pretty intense job for any device and i've seen some of the best phones out there struggle with certain software. Thankfully the HAD1QXL seems up to the task and refreshingly doesn't seem to reach scary temperatures while doing so, something that i've also seen frequently on it's 40nm technology peers. I imagine that chipsets like the 28nm S4 Pro will really take performance to the 'next level', but there's no question that this phone isn't lacking raw power.
As mentioned above, the phone proudly wears a 'Dolby Digital Plus' logo on the back and apparently contains 'Dolby Mobile 3.0'. What does that mean in real life? Well, let's talk first about sound played through the rear speaker. When I fired up my test music track of choice on the device, I have to say I was seriously impressed. Of course, the playback is largely lacking in bass but what it lacks in true low end it makes up for in decent midrange, impressive volume and overall clarity. I think this is one of the finest mono speakers I have heard in a device - as you hold the device in your hand you can 'feel' the music through the back cover, it FEELS loud. Plugging in my earphones confirmed that the HAD1XL is a good choice as a music playback device - the sound was clear, accurate and playing with the various EQ / bass boost / 3D sound options worked as expected.
The high quality speaker didn't just manifest itself in music playback, gaming sounds are often startlingly good. A classic example of this is when I started a game of 'Scramble' on the device, unaware that I had the sound cranked up. The sound effects sounded stunning, with a great depth that made them sound (and again, feel) entirely different to how I'd experienced them on any other device.
You'd expect the speaker to be great for Speakerphone calls too and it was. Again it was loud and clear, although it appeared that speakerphone calls were best made with the device face down... exposing both the device's speaker and the secondary mic. The device features audience earSmart processing for crystal clear calls and boy, are they! Not only is call clarity excellent, but the in call volume goes up to a very high level too. I don't really make many phone calls, but if you do - this is a great phone for you.
We'll talk more about the Camera and Battery Life specifically later on in the review, but there are a couple of other quick apps that I think are worth highlighting.
The first is the smart dial in the dialler - why on earth this isn't part of base Android yet I don't really understand (is it a patent thing?) but i'm really glad Huawei have included it. The next is the FM radio app - regular readers will know that I'm a big fan of FM radios in devices and the Huawei implementation is very nice. It auto-tunes extremely quickly, provides a slick UI and excellent sound quality. No RDS however is a shame. As always the headset must be connected as an antenna to allow playback via the speaker. I wonder if it would be technically feasible for someone to make an internal FM antenna in a device?
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The File Manager deserves a nod as it's very nicely implemented, splitting files out by location (internal / sd card) but also by category. With a 3 LED flash the Flashlight is exceptionally bright. Generally speaking Weather apps are not exactly hard to come by, but the preinstalled one here actually looks quite nice and works well.
The Huawei 'All Backup' app has been gradually improving with each iteration and it's finally at a stage where it's really quite useful! It can now backup up various types of data as well as applications, it looks slick and supports scheduled backup. Now, if they add cloud support in the next release it'll be pretty much there.
So that's the good... any apps that aren't so good? I have to say I don't really see the point of the 'AppInstaller' APK installer when a file manager is included, including Huawei's own Music app when Play Music is also preloaded seems a bit of unnecessary duplication and the UI in the 'Security Guard' application can be a bit confusing at times but on the whole... Huawei have done a very good job!
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The device includes an 'Online Update' application in settings for providing OTA upgrades. There isn't one yet, so I can't really vouch for how well this works, but it's nice to have eh.
The Huawei Ascend D1 features a backside illuminated 8 Megapixel sensor and dual LED flash... and Huawei are keen to make a point that this is their best camera yet - but to be honest that's not saying much - they've historically been atrocious.
Let's start with the software. Accessed directly from the lockscreen with a simple drag, the camera application is a home-grown affair.. thankfully no sub-par stock Android experience here. Options include...
Shooting mode. Single, Group, HDR, Burst, Smile, Beauty, Panorama and low light options are offered. In particular HDR works well and the burst mode takes seriously quick shots!
Effects. A number of effects can be applied - Antique, Lomo cold, Lomo warm, Negative, Mono, Emboss, Sketch Gray and Sepia. They are previewed in real time which is pretty cool.
Photo Effects. None, Big face, Big nose, Gobbler, Insect, Professor, Wide smile. These are really great fun! Again applied in real time (to either front or rear cameras) these are very effective, very funny and nicely done.
Scene Mode. This can be set to Auto, Action, Portrait, Landscape, Night, Night Portrait, Theatre, Beach, Snow, Fireworks or Candlelight.
White Balance. This can be set to Auto, Incandescent, Daylight, Flourescent or Cloudy.
ISO. This can be set to Auto, ISO100, ISO200, ISO400 or ISO800.
Adjustments. Exposure, Saturation, Contrast and Brightness can be adjusted between -2 and 2.
Timer. This can be set to Off, 2 Seconds, 5 seconds or 10 seconds.
Review. This can be set to Off, 3 seconds or 5 seconds.
Picture Quality. This can be set to Super fine, Fine or Normal.
Picture Size. This can be set to various levels, defaulting to 6 Megapixel wide.
Face detection. This can be toggled.
Red eye reduction. This can be toggled.
HDR. Saving of the normally exposed photo can be toggled.
Grid. This can be toggled.
GPS Tag. This can be toggled.
So there's no shortage of options. When shooting video, the user can choose the resolution (full HD on the back camera, 720P on the front camera), white balance, real time effects and also enable / disable image stabilisation.
The camera app performs well in use. Touch to focus is available and the autofocus is generally quick. Taking a picture is very speedy indeed and you're ready to take another one in no time at all. The automatic flash is less over zealous than some devices i've used... with the dual LEDs when it DOES fire it's very effective.
Grabbing pictures from the device is easy - USB connectivity to the device supports MTP, PTP, Mass Storage and 'HiSuite' (Huawei's own sync software) modes. Plus of course you have microSD support, so if the worst comes to the worst you can pop it out and put it in your computer.
So what are the pictures like? Not awful, but not really up to keeping with the best equipped cameraphones out there. They're not gouge-your-eyes-out awful (i'm looking at you, Galaxy Nexus) but they're not up to One X / Galaxy S III standard.
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And so to battery life. I have no problem at all with saying that the 2600mAh battery is what initially piqued my interest in the HAD1QXL, only when I did my research did I find that the rest of the device was equally intriguing. I've been finding more and more that devices just can't go to the distance with my daily usage (which I don't think is 'heavy' in any way), so I did hope that the Huawei could do a better job.
It does - and then some.
Put simply, I am finding the battery life on the device exceptional. In my general use I don't tend to do things that tax the CPU excessively, but I do have pretty long standby periods and pretty long screen on times. I need a device that positively sips juice when not being used and then doesn't pillage the battery when the screen is on for triaging mail, reading tweets etc. - and this phone delivers. Following my daily usage pattern I was able to get between 5 and 6 hours of screen on time (bear in mind that I struggle to hit 3 on a One X) and pretty much as long as I could want in standby. In line with the best modern chips, Huawei's quad core seems to use very little power when idle.
It goes without saying that 'YMMV' and if your usage is significantly different (particularly in that I don't stress the CPU for long periods or make a lot of calls) then you might get different results but I am incredibly happy to report that the 2600mAh battery, the 'XL', really does deliver.
Big numbers! Make of them what you will.
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Rooting and Hacking
As a new device the hacking scene is yet to get going for the HAD1QXL. With that being said, I have already rooted mine easily using the Bin4ryDigit method. Some devices apparently DO have an locked bootloader, but even those devices can still be rooted. Various Huawei bootloader unlock tools are also floating around, although I have not used them on this device as yet.
Pricing and Availability
European / US pricing and availability is not confirmed for the phone yet - the first shipment in China sold out very quickly and more stocks are only now becoming widely available.
The best way to buy at the moment is probably the way I did - via AliExpress. I used this seller and on the whole was very impressed with their service. The device, with DHL shipping, is currently priced at $534.98, which is £333 (plus potential duty / import fees depending on where you live).
For a long time now we've been seeing the Chinese manufacturers such as Huawei and ZTE taking the big players' (HTC, Samsung et al) customers in the low price segment and their attention is gradually turning towards the higher end. The Huawei Ascend D1 Quad XL actually represents a unique proposition, a genuinely brave effort to be different... and it pays off. The 4.5" screen size makes for a device that really hits a sweet spot and the inclusion of the big battery in the face of everyone else trying to be the thinnest really is a winner. Huawei's own CPU seems to be perfectly capable of keeping up with the big boys (at least in the current generation) and could provide very valuable cost savings for future handsets. We've said it before and we'll say it again... their competitors had better watch out!
Pros and Cons
- Great size
- Solid build
- Ample spec sheet
- Pentaband 3G
- Excellent battery
- Great sound both generally and in call
- Good value
- Currently limited availability
- Long delayed
- High value item to import (with associated risks)
- Camera not up there with the very best
- Future software upgrade status unknown
Do you have an Huawei Ascend D1 Quad XL? Do you agree / disagree with my review? Post below!
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