An inexpensive off-contract Android phone is hard to find, and for $99 after a $50 mail-in rebate, MetroPCS' Huawei Premia 4G has a particularly attractive price tag for a 4G Android 4.0 phone.
There are some very decent features for the price point, including a 5-megapixel camera with flash, a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, and a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor.
Yet, something has to give, and in this case it's the phone's battery life, and to a lesser extent, its voice quality. MetroPCS' 4G LTE network, while steady in my tests, also produces speeds you'd expect from a 3G handset, not a 4G device.
Design and build
If you've seen a black candy bar phone with rounded corners, you've seen the Premia 4G. It has a nice metallic-looking rim around the face, and a dark gray back cover that gets it grip from a fine layer of plastic goose bumps. I like that Huawei's placed the cover release on the phone's bottom corner; it makes popping it off obvious and manageable while still preserving your fingernails. It snaps reassuringly back into place.
The Premia measures 5 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide by 0.48 inch deep and weighs just under 5 ounces. It's fairly hefty, but doesn't seem overly brickish. I could slip it into a back pocket and carry it around with me indoors, but mostly I carried the Premia in my bag. The phone feels fine in the hand, and I had no complaints with it at the ear.
A 4-inch display is your window into Android, surrounded by a bezel that's fairly thick by today's standard. Its screen has a 800x480-pixel resolution, which isn't a sharp as some premium smartphones, but I think that with automatic brightness and support for 16 million colors, it does just fine indoors. If you're outside, you'll notice a substantial glare.Above the screen you'll find the 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera and below the screen are the three capacitive navigation buttons, including the Back, Home, and Menu buttons.
Turn the Premia toward its left spine to locate the Micro-USB charging port. Flip it the other way to raise or lower the volume. The top of the phone houses the power button and 3.5 millimeter headset jack, and on the back are the 5-megapixel camera lens and LED flash. If you've got a microSD card up to 32GB in storage size, you can insert that right under the back cover.
OS and apps
Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich may not be the most up-to-date Android version, but it covers all the basics of a modern Android operating system. Existing handsets are still getting Jelly Bean updates at this time, so I won't hold the lack of Android 4.1 against Huawei.
As an Android phone, the Premia 4G has all the Google services you could want on a smartphone, including Google Maps with Navigation, Gmail, access to all your contacts and to your Google Calendar, and then some. The Swype keyboard is one of a few different input options.
MetroPCS and Huawei have also loaded the phone up with a full roster of apps, one of which is incredibly intrusive by default. The offender in question is Metro's MyExtras app, which pings you all sorts of "news" items in the morning, afternoon, and evening. This was turned on by default in the Premia 4G. You can either adjust the pinging frequency in the settings, or, luckily, uninstall the app altogether in your apps manager settings.
Other MetroPCS app are much less obtrusive. You'll find a mobile hot-spot helper, a backup manager, the MetroWeb browser, and various other hubs for content and online connections.
In addition, Yahoo Answers, a DLNA connector app, Pocket Express, Rhapsody music, and Joyn messenger are other preloaded programs. You'll also find visual voice mail, a weather app, a note taker, and a sound recorder in addition to system apps like the clock, the calendar, and the music player.
Cameras and video
When taking photos outdoors in daylight, I was actually pleased with the quality of the Premia's 5-megapixel camera. Although images never rendered quite as sharp after processing as they did through the viewfinder, colors were pretty accurate and I took some nice shots I wouldn't mind uploading to my social networks or sharing via e-mail.
The Premia comes with autofocus, a bonus for a phone of this class, but you can also manually apply focus points. The camera doesn't seem equipped to handle extreme close-ups in automatic mode, either. Images blurred if I held the lens too near, and didn't resolve on screen. However, if I pulled back a little bit and refocused, the image generally grew sharper.
Adjusting camera settings is pretty straightforward on the Premia 4G: you can rotate the lens around and turn flash on and off with on-screen controls. A pop-out settings menu lets you toggle shooting modes, like HDR, burst, and panorama, plus there's a range of filters to choose from, including sepia tone and negative. White balance presets are also around, and in the settings, you can adjust ISO, photo quality, and face detection, among other items.