Huawei has been steadily supplying second-tier U.S. carriers like MetroPCS and Cricket Wireless with midrange Android smartphones at lower prices--at least ones that are affordable for those buying phones off-contract, at a higher up-front cost. Take, for instance, the Huawei Ideos X5 and the Huawei Ascend family.
Although the company often saves a better class of devices for Asia, we are starting to see higher-caliber Android smartphones from Huawei in the U.S., like the Impulse 4G from AT&T.
The Honor, with its Android 2.3 Gingerbread operating system, 4-inch screen, 1.4GHz single-core processor, 8-megapixel camera, 2-megapixel camera, and promise of three days of battery life, resides in the higher end of the smartphone spectrum. Though the Honor still falls short of premium status (sadly not all of its features deliver), the company is headed in the right direction.
The Honor is a pretty good-looking device, and in terms of size, it hits a sweet spot at 4.8 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.43 inch thick--not too big, not too small. Its glossy black face is encircled by a silvery rim, and its backing comes in six colors: Glossy Black, Textured Black, Burgundy, Elegant White, Vibrant Yellow, and Cherry Blossom Pink. I tested the white model.
Long and fairly slim, the Honor has the rounded edges and straight sides that are so popular today, and its sharper corners are reminiscent of the iPhone 4. It weighs 4.9 ounces.
A 4-inch screen is the perfect size for easy viewing, especially if you find devices with 4.5-inch screens awkwardly large. It has an FWVGA resolution of 480x854 pixels, and supports 16 million colors. The screen is very bright, colorful, and clear, and the larger-than-usual icons are still sharply detailed, in addition to being easy to press.
Above the display is a 2-megapixel camera and below it are four touch-sensitive buttons for navigating around the typical Menu, Home, Back, and Search quartet. There's also a tiny message indicator light on the phone's face that glows when you receive a notification. The Micro-USB charging port is on the bottom of the phone, the volume rocker is on the left, and the power button and 3.5 millimeter headset jack are up top.
On the back, you'll find the camera lens and LED flash. Unfortunately, you'll have to remove the battery to access the microSD card slot. I should note that the SIM card took a lot of maneuvering to slide in and out. I wish Huawei had used a more streamlined design for inserting and removing those plastic wafers.
The Honor ships with Android 2.3 Gingerbread, but was the first phone to be technically upgradable to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, using a software download from the manufacturer's Web site. In the past, Huawei has played around with adding different skins to differentiate its Android smartphones. This time, the software is a little different.
There's an unlock screen, similar to what we've seen on HTC devices, which lets you slide a circle over icons of a padlock, a phone, a card, and a camera to unlock the phone to show the home screen, the call log, the text message inbox, and the camera app, respectively.
You'll have five customizable home screens, with a default animation that makes the screens appear as if they're on a cube as you swipe among them. The pull-down menu offers quick-access buttons for toggling Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, automatic screen rotation, and data on and off.
The apps tray also receives a design touch with two large, static buttons. One takes you to the home screen and the other "activates" your app icons, making them vibrating squares you can rearrange within the app list. This isn't the strongest or most intuitive feature.
Better is the TouchPal virtual keyboard, one of the Honor's four input options. (The others are the Android keyboard, Huawei IME, and MobiDiv keyboards.) Although not every one of TouchPal's innovations is strictly necessary (a tutorial walks you through them all), I do really like that for any given virtual key you can swipe up to capitalize a letter and swipe down to choose a corresponding number, rather than the usual technique of pressing down on a letter key until the associated number pops up. TouchPal's virtual keyboard offers the fastest, most convenient method yet for capitalization and numbers. My only complaint is that the virtual keys are a little tall and narrow.
You can also slide your finger across the keyboard with right and left swiping motions to pick from among three keyboard configurations. There are buttons to quickly select TouchPal settings, a grid of controls to edit, and a shortcut to voice actions.
As an Android 2.3 Gingerbread device, the Honor has the usual communication features, like Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth support, access to multiple e-mail accounts, and multimedia messaging. There's also support for social networking and browsing. There's a clock, a calculator, a calendar, a basic music player, and in this case an FM radio as well. The Android Market has 300,000 additional applications and games to download.
Google services are a major Android perk, and they're here as always: Google Maps, navigation with turn-by-turn voice directions, Places, Talk, YouTube, and others.