Huawei Honor Hands-On review

Phone makers love to take pride in the extravagant names they give their products, but it's likely that the Huawei Honor is more to its creator than just a decently-specced handset. After all, the introduction of the Honor -- followed by last week's announcement of the super-slim Ascend P1 S -- appears to represent a shift in the OEM's overall product placement strategy. Huawei has done a great job finding customers in emerging and prepaid markets, but now it has its sights set on cranking out noteworthy phones that will gain the attention of anyone looking for a high-end device.

Huawei Honor shipping in December to select markets
Huawei Mercury arrives on Cricket
Huawei Honor gets Ice Cream Sandwich
Based on its laundry list of specs, the Honor isn't a high-end handset compared to some of its LTE and dual-core competitors. And yet, it's still the best device Huawei's offered to date, and it's clear the company's upcoming phones are only going to get better. So we're really eyeing the Honor as a step closer to the OEM finally realizing its ultimate goal. Does it live up to its name? Can the Honor play with the big boys, or is it nothing more than just an outward indication of the company's future? Read on to find out.

With specs like these, you can tell Huawei, best known for its budget devices, is making a push into higher-end devices, but the Honor isn't quite there. Nor does it pretend to be. It has some quality components, but there's no way it could be viewed in the same light as the HTC Rezound or Samsung Galaxy Nexus. That said, it easily fits into the upper end of the mid-range tier: it sells at select retailers for roughly $350, while its Cricket iteration, known as the Mercury, goes for $250 with no contract involved.

Let's start off with the display. It takes advantage of a 4-inch TFT display, but the Honor uses a thinner and longer screen that helps it become much easier to grasp. Since it offers FWVGA (854 x 480) resolution, the panel's pixel density stands at roughly around 245ppi; it's not high-res by any stretch, but we certainly can't call it a lightweight either -- to give you an idea of where it sits in comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket's WVGA display is 207ppi, whereas the iPhone 4S Retina Display is 326. The colors look good in normal conditions, but they appear distorted in direct sunlight. Viewing angles are about average, meaning you'll have a difficult time reading text or watching movies when looking at it from the side.

We also enjoy the look and feel of the Honor. It doesn't try to be too flashy, though anyone who enjoys something other than basic black will be happy to know the back cover comes in six different choices. Our tester unit was white, and when we tilt it just the right way, we can easily see tiny sparkles all over it, reminding us of something we'd normally see in some types of car paint. It's not a huge surprise, but the battery cover is made of plastic and is a bit slippery. This wasn't ever a concern to us since we never had issues gripping the thing, but we'd still prefer some sort of textured or soft-touch plastic regardless. We're happy to note that the device weighs 4.94 ounces (140g) and, as a result, feels incredibly light. With its rounded corners, slightly tapered battery cover and minimal array of buttons, the Honor did a fantastic job at offering an elegant appearance without looking too loud or noisy.

Taking a tour of the phone, the top is adorned with the standard 3.5mm headphone jack on the right and a power / screen lock button on the left, which is bad positioning for anyone who holds the phone with their left hand. The buttons, by the way, are raised up high enough from the body of the phone to be easy to press, but not so high that they interfere with our personal enjoyment of the device. A volume rocker sits on the left side and the micro-USB charging port is conveniently located dead-center on the phone's bottom side, next to the microphone just a few millimeters to the right. On the right side you'll find nothing -- it's completely smooth, devoid of any camera buttons. A 2MP front-facing cam resides just above the display, while the standard four capacitive navigation keys hang out below.

And let's not forget that back cover of which we've made mention of already: you'll see a snazzy 8MP rear camera with an LED flash to the left and speaker to the right. Underneath lies the SIM card and microSD slot, though it doesn't come included with one -- since you only have 4GB of internal storage at your disposal, it may not be such a bad idea to grab as much external space as you can.

The Honor uses a quad-band GSM / EDGE radio for worldwide compatibility and 900 / AWS / 2100 UMTS / HSPA with a max speed of 14.4Mbps. This is great for Europe and Asia, but in the US, your only bet for bringing down respectable 3G download speeds is with T-Mobile; if you have AT&T service, you're going to be limited to its turtle-slow EDGE network. Better than nothing, of course, but if you've been thinking of plunking down a few benjamins for the Honor, it's best not to have any cruel surprises when it shows up in the mail. However, there is one other option for US folks: Cricket, a prepaid carrier, offers a variant of the Honor called the Mercury. In addition to taking advantage of a CDMA / EVDO Rev A radio rather than GSM, the Mercury's front-facing camera has been downgraded to VGA resolution.

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