It's been a long time since I first laid eyes on the Huawei Ascend II, last spring at CTIA. Compared with the original Huawei Ascend, it's much sleeker and more modern, and, of course, it runs the much more recent Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS.
See this phone for what it is, and it isn't a bad entry-level device. Android brings a standard for communication, Google services, and applications. Yet the 5-megapixel camera is frankly mediocre and the 600MHz processor is pokey. The price is the Ascend II's saving grace, just a penny at the time of this review, when you buy with a two-year service agreement. If you're buying the Ascend II prepaid, it'll ding your bank account $139.99.
The Ascend II is a much sexier model than its predecessor, with a glossy black face, a shiny dark-gray finish along the rim, and a black, matte soft-touch back cover. It's got a rounded top and even more rounded bottom, and it feels nice and grippy in the hand.
At 4.6 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick, it's a more petite, pocketable phone than many current smartphones. It's a nice size, but that does mean a smaller screen. The 4.1-ounce weight gives the device a nice, solid feel in the hand.
I mentioned that the screen is slightly smaller than you see on many of its comrades, but I definitely wouldn't call the Ascend II's 3.5-inch screen small in absolute terms. The HVGA resolution (320x480 pixels) supports 260,000 colors. It looks fine on automatic brightness, but perhaps just a tad dull. I kept wanting to pump up the brightness. Graphically rich Web pages like CNET's didn't render perfectly either. I noticed some color bleeding and pixelation around a few graphics.
Huawei's own user interface skin runs on top of the Android 2.3 Gingerbread. The skin does change some things, but for the most part, the visuals don't get in the way. There are some nice system shortcuts in the pull-down notifications menu, so you'll be able to do things like turn on Wi-Fi with a tap. The five customizable home pages rotate in a cubelike animation (you can change this), there's some stylized onscreen navigation, and there are stylized app icons in the app tray.
Below the screen you'll find the touch-sensitive navigation buttons to go home, pull up the menu, go back, and search with Google. You'll find the Micro-USB charger on the bottom of the phone, the volume rocker on the left spine, and the power button and 3.5mm headset jack on the top. On the back cover is the lens for the 5-megapixel camera. Slide up the same cover to reveal the microSD card slot, which comes with a 2GB card to get you started.
Thanks to Android Gingerbread, the Ascend II is well-equipped with support for Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, and VPA. It has multimedia messaging, support for multiple inboxes, and essentials like a calculator, calendar, clock, browser, and music player. The address book is virtually limitless, and there are tie-ins to social-networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr via Huawei's "Social Club" grouping. There's also an FM radio onboard, and support for using the phone as a hot spot.
Google services work well on this phone, as on all other Android phones. You'll find Maps with turn-by-turn voice navigation, Search, Places, YouTube, and Talk. U.S. Cellular and Huawei also preloaded a handful of apps between them. There are utilities like backup apps, Documents to Go, and the Richpad memo pad.
You'll also find several stores like Amazon Appstore for Android and for access to ringtones, podcast streams, and Android games. Twitter, City ID, and Audible are three other apps you'll see. There's just one virtual keyboard, the Android default, so if you're all thumbs with it like I was, you may find yourself downloading alternatives.