Trickle-down economics is alive and well, especially when it comes to the prepaid market, where no-contract carriers like Cricket can offer phones like the Huawei Mercury. The Mercury first wheeled into our CNET offices as the Huawei Honor, and the Mercury keeps most of the Honor's attributes, like the 4-inch display, 1.4GHz processor, and 8-megapixel camera with HD video capture.
The Mercury is a quite decent Android phone in its own right, perhaps with a few issues here and there, but on Cricket, it knocks out the rest of the lineup to become the carrier's most advanced smartphone. The Mercury costs $249.99 at full retail, but at the time of this review, you can buy it online $179.99 after a $50 mail-in rebate and a $20 Web discount.
Unlike the Honor we tested in white, the Mercury is like many of today's smartphones: black and glossy. From the rounded corners and straight edges to the curved back, its surfaces are smudge banks for sure--the shiny black plastic build material picks up finger grease in ways that'll make you want to invest in a tub of Purell. The phone's build looks solid enough, but the plasticky character and seams don't make you feel like you're holding a premium device.
The Mercury stands 4.8 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick and weighs 4.9 ounces. All these measurements add up to a phone with comfortably familiar proportions that feels nice and solid in the hand and on the ear, yet is slim enough to easily carry around in a pocket, a purse, a utility belt, and so on.
A phone's screen is its main event, and at 4 inches, this one won't disappoint. The FWVGA resolution puts it at a 480x854-pixel count. To the naked eye, colors will look bright enough and icons will appear sharp for the most part. There were one or two home screen icons for games that could use a little tightening up, but no real inconsistencies to distract or confuse the eye.
The Mercury serves up the Android 2.3 Gingerbread operating system, but flavored with Huawei's visual adaptations. These include a theme called Magic Light, and animation that presents swiping through your five customizable home screens as if you're turning a cube. There's also a pull-down menu with one-touch access to system settings like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and screen rotation. In addition, the skin includes stylized home screen navigation controls and a stylized app tray view that resembles Samsung's TouchWiz iconography, with horizontal scrolling through your pages of apps, and blocky visuals surrounding each app icon.
If you'd rather apply some Android standards, you can switch the onscreen controls to the Gingerbread default, choose two other animation actions, and dip into other settings to set the home screens.
I should mention that although the Mercury won't get an official Ice Cream Sandwich update until Cricket is ready to push that out, Huawei is offering Android 4.0 for the Huawei Honor (again, Mercury is a rebrand), but only from its Web site, and it probably works best if the phone is unlocked rather than tied to a carrier. You've been warned.
So now we move on to the other externals. Above the screen are the VGA front-facing camera and message indicator light, and below it are the four touch-sensitive navigation buttons that have now become standard on most Android phones. The Micro-USB charging port is on the bottom, the volume rocker is on the left spine, and the power button and 3.5mm headset jack are up top.
Flip to the back to see the 8-megapixel camera lens and accompanying flash. It's below the back cover that you'll find the microSD card slot. Unfortunately, you'll have to pop out the battery every time you want to remove or exchange the card. The Mercury takes up to 64GB in external memory.
By now it should be pretty apparent what you get with an Android 2.3 Gingerbread phone, but I'll summarize just in case. First, there are all the internal radios for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS.
A relatively new hot-spot plan lets the Mercury channel mobile data to other devices as well.
Then, there are all the communication features like speakerphone, support for multiple e-mail inboxes, and multimedia messaging. Next, Google layers on its own services and apps, like Gmail, search, Google Maps, Navigation with turn-by-turn voice readouts, YouTube, the works.