Huawei had a big winner on its hands in the form of the Ascend G300, a phone launched back in the spring of 2012 exclusively through Vodafone in the UK.
Arriving at just under £100 when bought alongside a PAYG SIM card, it offered a surprisingly well made phone with a decent 4" display.
It quickly gained a huge following among those looking for decent Android performance on a budget, replacing the Orange San Francisco as the top choice for those looking for a great combination of power, style and a price tag substantially less than today’s high-end models.
Now Huawei’s looking to repeat the trick with the Ascend G330. It’s not an entirely new phone, but you get a faster, dual-core processor and a slight external redesign that dumps the G300’s silvery style for a more traditional all black approach.
It’s still a nice, weighty little phone, with Huawei doing a good job of making a 4" display fit the hand well. It’s not what you’d call stylish, though, with Huawei seemingly intent on cloning the cheaper Samsung models of a couple of years ago.
The display’s a high point, though. It’s bright and sharp and offers the same 480×800 resolution as the old Ascend G300. Icon text is pretty clean and crisp, plus it’s perfectly usable outdoors if you stick the brightness up to full whack.
Huawei’s also beefed up the camera spec by a factor of two, adding a front-facing camera along the top edge of the G330. That’s the telltale sensor there beside the Huawei logo.
The G330 also comes with a proximity sensor in the front to deactivate the display when you’re on a call, plus a sensor to adjust the display’s brightness automatically.
Button and hole location is unchanged on the Ascend G330, so you won’t require lengthy rehabilitation should you be upgrading. The 3.5mm jack and a nice, chunky, easily locatable power button are on the top edge with the USB connector on the bottom, plus the volume up/down toggles on the left.
Android fans will be pleased to see a normal SIM slot and a micro-SD card hole beneath the G330’s back cover, which is a relatively flimsy and bendy plastic affair.
At least it’s easy to lever off, though, with even the most chewed of finger nails able to fit under the slot on the top edge and pop the case open.
The G330 is a nice phone to hold. The rubberised back is grippier than the slippery silvery finish of the G300, making it feel a little more glued to your fingers. Build quality is mixed.
The display’s solid, smooth and responsive, as are the three capacitive buttons, but it tends to creak a bit when you’re pressing the power and volume buttons.
It’s a little bit bland and there’s nothing to love or get excited about, but for £10 a month you can’t really expect glassy backs and spangles and a chassis built by robots on the International Space Station. It’s all about what it can do internally.
The Huawei Ascend G330 is powered by version 4.0.4 of Google’s Android software, more commonly known as the Ice Cream Sandwich release.
This is a big step beyond and above the 2.3 software that came pre-loaded on the Ascend G300, offering stacks of new features and an entirely new look and feel.
Thankfully for Android fans, Huawei’s not made many changes to Google’s original code. You get all the Android staples – a lock screen with music player controls and quick unlock shortcuts, a number of home screens to install your shortcuts and apps, the Notifications pull-down panel for system updates and app news, plus access to Google’s immense Play Store to download whatever apps and widgets take your fancy.
There are two main elements to the home screens, the desktop space where you install shortcuts, plus the permanent floating dock beneath.
Both of these areas are customisable, by long-pressing an icon and dragging it around or flinging it into a rubbish bin to remove it.
If you’d like to try Huawei’s own take on Android, pressing the menu button brings up the option to install a couple of other Huawei themes.
They’re not particularly invasive or offensive, mainly just changing the colours and design of the dock icons and apps. You’re best off using the more stylish standard Android option, which Huawei has only amended by fiddling with the lock screen and adding a few widgets of its own, like the big, HTC-like clock and weather station.
Pressing the middle button on the floating dock pulls up the app drawer, where all the stuff pre-loaded by Google and Huawei and anything you’ve downloaded yourself lives.
Huawei’s stuck with Google’s standard way of organising this in Android 4.0, giving you a list of apps followed by a graphical scrapbook of all available widgets, which you press and chuck onto a home screen slot.
Some widgets, like the useful Bookmarks one that populates itself with a list of bookmarks either on the phone or pulled in from a Google account, are resizable, with a long press on them once they’re in place letting you pull in the sides until they form a shape that best fits your mobile phone feng shui.
And to further simplify your layout, Google’s mobile OS features simple folder creation. Dragging one app shortcut on to another automatically creates a folder and sticks both icons into it, with a pretty little round porthole now showing the folder’s contents on the home screen.
In terms of buttons, Huawei’s keeping it a little old school here. You get three capacitive touch buttons beneath the display – Back, Home and Menu – with a long-press on the menu button bringing up the multitasking panel and its list of recent accessed apps.
One of the minor failings with the Huawei Ascend G330 is its relative lack of RAM at only 512MB. This means that the multitasking menu is often rendered a little useless, as the OS can’t keep too many apps running at once.
So instead of a multitasking menu, it’s basically just a list of things you’ve had open before, with no guarantee that the phone’s actually been able to keep them open in the background.
That’s not a huge problem, but it does mean that if you’re playing a game and you decide to pop off back to the Home screen to check Twitter or your email, chances are the game will actually exit and boot you out, rather than stay open in memory.
Multitasking shortcomings aside, the Huawei Ascend G330 and its dual-core processor do a good job of moving these home screens and their interactive widget content around smoothly.
Huawei’s even enhanced Google’s Android core a little by letting users pinch-zoom the display out to an overview mode, from where it’s possible to shuffle the order of the home screens or add or delete a few.
You can have up to seven home screens – more than Ice Cream Sandwich’s usual offering of five.
Contacts and calling
The contacts section uses Google’s minimalist blue-on-white approach, breaking down your friends and numbers into a tabbed collection of three main areas – Groups, Everyone and your Favourites.
The Groups section is one of Android’s smartest little features for sociable people. Here you can add anyone from your entire contact list to a form a little buddy huddle, where you can send a SMS message or email to everyone within the section. It makes organising drunken evenings and coach trips to Blackpool super simple.
Each entry in your contacts has its own individual page, where you’re able to add (or instantly take and insert) a photograph of your friend, plus you can add in a web site address, home address, email and instant messaging contact details, internet calling account details and more.
Android’s home screen system lets you break this down even further. You can add a 1×1 icon shortcut to the home screen, setting this to automatically call or send an SMS message to any individual contact. One press of the icon is then all it takes to ring or text your favourite person.
The calling area also saw some big changes come along with Google’s Ice Cream Sandwich software, and Huawei’s got them all into the Ascend G330.
The lock screen is your first line of defence when it comes to avoiding talking to people. When a call comes in you’re able to automatically reject it by telling the caller you’re busy and palming them off with a present SMS reply.
The dialler itself is Android 4.0’s chunky blue-on-black system, which again gives you three top tabs to speed access to the dialler itself, your recent call log and quick access to any Favourite contacts you’ve starred within the main listing.
It also supports smart dialling, so all you have to do is start typing in the first few characters of a person’s name to have Android pull up their number and chuck it in the field ready for calling.
Call quality on the G330 was good. Voices came through loud and pretty clear, while we didn’t encounter and issues with dropped calls. The external speaker’s also pretty loud when used in hands-free mode.
The SMS system in the Huawei Ascend G330 is the same slightly underwhelming layout as found in Google’s Ice Cream Sandwich code, giving you simple threaded messages and plenty of attachment options.
Photos you’ve previously taken are automatically resized for sending through the limited SMS system, although there’s no such feature when it comes to video clips.
The only way to send a video is to take one, live, but then you’re only allowed to take a two-second clip. Probably best not bothering.
Huawei’s put a custom keyboard of its own on the G330, replacing the TouchPal option found in the G300.
Huawei calls this the utilitarian "Huawei Input Method" and it’s a pretty bland, awkward system to use. Alternate characters are hidden away in sub pages, and we found it very unintuitive when trying to switch between different fields.
It does attempt to auto-predict words as you’re typing, though, putting them up in an orange bar above the keyboard, and none of the dictionary issues present in the Ascend G300’s Android 4.0 update are present here. It’s a bit fiddly, but it works.
Fortunately, the standard Android 4.0 keyboard is also in here, offering a much simpler and more user-friendly way of sticking words into your telephone.
This one also has a line of numbers on the top row of the keyboard, accessed through a long press, plus there’s a useful punctuation bar that appears each time you enter a word and a "…" icon beneath suggested words that pulls up loads of extra suggestions. It’s much better than Huawei’s own effort.
The email app is the same as found in Google’s code. It supports multiple accounts and lets you select options for checking frequency, plus there’s even an area for managing a selection of stock phrases, making it simple to spam out easy quick replies by choosing "Insert Quick Response" from the menu button when replying to someone.
Coming with Android 4.0 as its core operating system means the Ascend G330 features Google’s enhanced and updated web browser, which now comes with loads more options, syncing with your desktop Google and Chrome bookmarks plus a handy visual tabbing system for managing multiple windows.
The G330’s dual-core processor does a great job of building and scrolling pages, with text quite readable and clear on its 480 x 800 resolution display.
There’s a bit of an issue with the phone’s relatively limited 512MB of RAM, though, with big browsing sessions really eating up the memory, meaning the G330 often takes a few seconds to rebuild the home screens once you exit a session.
But in terms of actually using it as a browser, Google’s software is excellent. One of the cleverest recent additions to Android is the little floating menu bar, which, once selected, can be pulled up by swiping a finger in from the side of the screen.
This does away with the URL bar, giving more screen to the sites and allowing quick access to any open tabs.
Chrome users will love the way their desktop bookmarks and folders instantly pop up inside the G330’s menu, plus there’s support for offline reading – save a page and it’ll be stored within the Saved Pages part of the bookmarking area for reading when away from mobile signals and Wi-Fi.
In terms of other little touches, the browser’s menu button lets you open a new incognito tab for keeping your internet use private, pages can be shared through any of Android’s social apps, email or Bluetooth, plus a long-press on an area of text lets you select text, copy it to the clipboard, share it or search for the highlighted terms.
It’s a feature-packed browser that makes web use on the go simple and intuitive, with the G330 packing enough oomph to avoid crunches and slowdown.
The camera is one place where Huawei’s done quite a bit of customisation, giving the imaging tools a simpler appearance and cutting back on the features somewhat.
You get a simple menu system that lets you select the white balance or activate a handful of useless image filters (negative, solarise, posterise and more), plus there’s the option to shoot single images of have the G330 attempt to build a composite panorama image.
The G330’s sensor is rated at 5-Megapixels, with images coming off the camera at 2592 x 1944 resolution.
Pics taken outside in good light are quite crisp and clear, capturing grassy detail well, but inside it struggles more.
Low light photos are quite noisy, plus the camera takes longer to focus and shoot when lounging about indoors in the semi-darkness of winter.
The digital zoom lets you get 4x closer to your subject, and as long as you’re not viewing the images at full size you can live with the results.
One big improvement over the G300 is the addition of a front-facing camera, which shoots at 480 x 640 resolution. It doesn’t produce the clearest shots in the world, but is a nice thing to have in a phone at this budget price point.
It’s a nice and fast camera to use, though, with the option to access it direct from the lock screen making it a little easier to whip out in a hurry when your dog does a funny face.
If you want to jazz up the photos a little, there’s an image editor accessed through the Gallery. This lets you add retro filters like a vignette and film grain, or crop and flip photos, edit red-eye and rotate your shots a little to straighten them up.
The G330’s video capture features are rather underwhelming. The video app has again been simplified by Huawei, offering only the basics like white balance, resolution settings, GPS tagging and the option to change default storage from the internal memory to SD card.
The maximum video resolution is 864 x 480, which although pleasingly widescreen results in some blotchy and disappointing results, with the MP4 files lacking colour and detail.
What it can do well, though, is handle dark and light areas, with the sensor adjusting quickly when lighting conditions change.
There’s also a responsive auto-focus which, although perhaps a bit too keen, manages to keep subjects sharp and clear.
It’s an odd video camera. It handles movement well, but lacks colour. The frame rate is a consistent 30fps, but the detail’s a bit patchy. It’s the G330’s weakest link, but by no means unusable.
Huawei’s stuck its own music player on here, which it calls Music+. It’s a pleasant enough thing, coming with a large home screen widget that pulls in album art, plus lock screen controls for easily skipping the more tedious of album tracks.
Playlist support doesn’t deviate from the Android norm, with Huawei’s player automatically generating playlists for recently added tracks and your most played tunes, also letting you sort them via any you’ve added as a Favourite.
This Favourite implementation is a bit odd. Instead of being able to "thumbs up" or "star" a track, faves are added by accessing the My Favourite tab, then scrolling through your library to find the ones you want to highlight – which is a bit cumbersome.
Of course, the first thing you ought to do is fire up Google’s own Play Music app instead, which is also pre-loaded on the Ascend G330 and brings the joys of cloud storage and playback to Android.
It’s a much prettier player too, offering a big graphical library, integrated shopping links that take you out to Google Play’s music store and the option to cache music you may have stored within Google’s cloud servers to the device for offline access.
One curiosity here is the way Google’s Play Music app doesn’t integrate with Huawei’s own lock screen music controls, meaning there’s an additional step (pulling down the Notifications menu) to skip tracks when using Google’s Play Music app. And even then it only lets you skip forwards, not back. Odd.
Video playback is a little disappointing. We couldn’t get the G330 to play any of our usual review AVI files, with it only wanting to play MP4s out of the box.
That’s easily fixed with a video player app download, though, so isn’t a particularly sore point.
Battery life and connectivity
The G330 comes with a 1,500mAh removable battery. That’s at the lower end of what we’d expect to see in a smartphone these days, especially one with a 4" display, but we found it to be one of the better performing, longer-lasting phones around.
We managed to sail through a day of heavy Twitter and general app use, taking photos and fiddling with the phone non-stop as one tends to do to pass the time these days.
In fact, if you can dial your use down a bit it ought to be possible to nurse the G330 through two days of uptime, making it one of the most reliable and dependable of today’s smartphones.
Huawei’s put a power saving mode of its own on here. Once battery life drops to a certain level the G330 will ask if you’d like to engage this low power mode.
The problem is it’s not customisable, simply offering the option to limit features to restrict power consumption.
Huawei’s also integrated DLNA sharing, with a DLNA folder option added to the standard Android share system. Pick a file, share it through the DLNA app and it’ll be ready and accessible by any other devices currently hooked into your home network.
As for radio wireless things, the G330 supports GSM 3G and HSDPA, plus there’s an FM radio in here along with Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n connectivity and Google’s ace wireless hotspot feature, that lets you turn the phone into a little Wi-Fi router for hooking a laptop into a 3G data connection.
Maps and apps
The G330 comes fully loaded with all the Google apps you’d expect to see on a modern Android phone, with the incredibly slick Google+ tool on here, your usual Gmail, YouTube and Talk apps, plus the fantastic Google Maps to solve all your pizza-finding problems.
As well as offering a great map complete with GPS integration, Google’s Maps app also works as a full power satnav tool, taking your current location and using it as a start point to map out any journey.
The G330 managed to secure a GPS lock within seconds, while Google’s Navigation tools worked as seamlessly as ever on Huawei’s phone.
Google’s Navigation app offers much more than simple directions, too. You can scan ahead to the next junction, even firing up Google’s Street View imaging app to give yourself a proper picture of what the next corner’s going to look like. You also get spoken voice directions, just like a proper satnav.
The Android Chrome browser has also been pre-installed as part of Huawei’s Android 4.0 software, giving users an alternative way of accessing the web. It’s very pretty and has a lovely tab system, but we’d rather have the 50MB of storage space it eats up.
As for other cool stuff to play with, Huawei’s put on its own phone back-up solution in here. This can store your personal data, contacts and more to SD card, plus it’s also able to back up your apps to its internal storage, should you be planning any ROM fiddling or factory resets.
There’s also a rather nerdy AppInstaller tool on here, which lets you bulk-install any Android APKs saved to memory card.
We doubt many people will use it, but it’s a nice power-user feature. And there’s a file manager on the G330. We all love a file manager.
One of the main problems with budget Android models is the amount of app memory supplied with the phones. The Ascend G330 comes with around 630MB of usable app space, which on the surface seems like quite a good amount.
However, with the likes of Chrome (50MB), Facebook (26MB), Google+ (27MB) and other large apps all pre-installed, you might still find yourself running out of space.
Android lets you shuffle some apps to SD card, which is handy, and something you may well end up doing here to remove the low memory warning from the Notifications pane if you really go crazy with the app installs.
Hands on gallery
The Huawei Ascend G330 is a nice phone for the money. It’s a little boring in terms of design, so you won’t be impressing anyone with its appearance, but there’s more than enough power internally to make it a good performer and solid choice considering its budget price tag.
Huawei offers a selection of themes and its own user interface skins, but the default Android 4.0 look is by far the best.
A few dodgy Huawei widgets and a custom lock screen are Huawei’s only changes to Google’s Ice Cream Sandwich code. It’s great to find a relatively untouched version of the OS on a cheaper phone.
Battery life was surprisingly good for a modern smartphone. The smaller 4-inch display and Huawei’s own set of power-saving tools combine well here to keep you up and running through a working day and well into bedtime Twitter mode on one charge.
The display’s great for a budget model. It’s bright, sensitive to the touch and feels nice and solid. There’s a pretty slim bezel on the G330 too, making it feel like modest little thing despite its 4-inch screen.
It does creak and groan quite a bit when you’re pressing the volume and power buttons, making us slightly suspect of the build quality.
It’s probably just the plastic back not fitting that tightly, but it does make you worry that it’s not the sturdiest of devices.
The camera app’s a bit on the basic side, more so when capturing video. Video quality’s not great either, with the clips maxing out at 864×480 resolution – and there’s also quite a lot of digital noise on clips.
Media playback isn’t that impressive either. The G330 couldn’t handle any of the AVI files we threw at it, so you’ll be needing to convert stuff or download an alternative app if you have stacks of old videos you want to watch.
The Ascend G330 is a solid performer. It’s smooth in use, has the power to run even the most demanding apps very well, and although not hugely exciting to look at and hold, the display’s clear and bright enough to elevate it above some of the tattier budget models.
And it’s definitely more capable than the old Ascend G300, with hardly any glitches when downloading/updating apps and navigating the phone at the same time.
Currently only available through TalkTalk on contracts starting at £10 a month with a paltry amount of minutes and data (100 mins and 200MB), it’s a good choice for those after a decent amount of power on a budget.
The Ascend G330 isn’t quite the storming winner the original Ascend G300 was at its £99 price point, but it’s still one of the more capable budget Android models out there today.
It delivers a great smartphone experience for the money with hardly any obvious compromises.
By Gary Cutlack, TechRadar