Huawei Blaze review
Android 2.3, 3.2in 320x480 display
Huawei may seem like a new name, but the company's phones have been available in the UK for some time - the Orange Barcelona was a re-branded Huawei U8350, and in our review we lamented the fact that Huawei didn't sell its handsets direct. The Blaze is the first handset the company has released under its own name, and at £80 on prepay with Android 2.3 Gingerbread, it looks like a bargain.
Our main gripe with the San Francisco was Orange's intrusive software, and we're happy to report that Huawei's choice of software is far more useful. All the familiar Google apps are installed, along with a file manager, a data monitor, a custom keyboard and a social aggregator called Huawei Social Club. The latter pulls your contacts in from Facebook, Twitter and Flickr, and comes with a home screen widget that displays the latest updates from all these services.
A trial copy of Documents To Go lets you view office documents, but you'll have to upgrade to be able to edit files or access your Google Docs account. The inclusion of the TouchPal keyboard is odd, as it mimics Android's keyboard rather than offering a swipe-to-write alternative, such as Swype. The lack of a native Android file manager is a good hole for Huawei to plug, and the inclusion of a data monitor is also welcome - Google's installed one by default in the latest version of Android.
Social aggregation software, like Motorola's Motoblur or HTC's Sense, is always useful on smartphones, which have become a central repository for most people's contacts. Huawei's Social Club integrates with the Contacts app, adding an extra Streams tab, which lists all your contacts' latest updates. However, it only covers Facebook, Twitter and Flickr, which is quite limiting.
When setting up accounts, it insists on importing all your contacts from each service, rather than matching the contacts on each service to your pre-existing contacts. We also found updates inconsistent, with our feed sometimes full of Facebook news only, and sometimes Twitter news only. Still, it's a nod in the right direction, and hopefully if Huawei starts selling more phones direct, they'll upgrade the Social Club app and add other services to the roster.
Another replacement is the launcher: the software that displays the home screens, icons and effects that make up the Android experience. Huawei's replacement is called aHome, and it's the full version of a commercial product. You can change the number of screens, set the default home screen and change the icons and wallpapers using pre-made theme packs, hundreds of which are available on the Market. Pressing the Home button when on the home screen brings up a helicopter view of your different home screens, much as in HTC's Sense, and you can also change the animation that appears when you flick from one screen to the next.
Our only gripe with the Blaze's software is the redesigned icons for common Android apps. Critics love to point out how Android is fragmented - how phones from different manufacturers and networks fail to present the user with a uniform interface - and Huawei only fans the flames with its garish icons, which add nothing but confusion to the Android experience.