For $80 off-contract, MetroPCS' Huawei Valiant is an affordable Android 4.1 handset. However, set your expectations accordingly. This phone has strong call quality and consistent 3G speeds over T-Mobile's GSM network (since T-Mobile purchased Metro). However, 4G LTE connectivity is absent, and the camera's lack of autofocus could be a deal breaker for some, even though image quality is high for a 3-megapixel shooter. My device also showed signs of software instability that made apps like the camera, gallery, and Google Maps flicker.
If you can look past the stunted camera and moments of instability, the Valiant is a decent ultrabudget performer. However, if you can afford to spend a little more, I recommend scoping out the Huawei Vitria and Samsung Galaxy Exhibit, both $130 options with LTE.
Design and build
The Valiant has a simple, but comfortable, design, mostly due to its rounded spines and corners and soft-touch backing. While the phone's face is glossy black (and quite thick of bezel), its navy-blue posterior shakes up the usual basic black.
With dimensions of 4.96 inches tall by 2.51 inches wide by 0.45 inch thick, the Valiant has a hearty build that's nevertheless comfortable to hold, pocket, and stow in a blazer, bag, or purse. The 4.94-ounce weight is certainly heavier than some, but its solidity fits with the phone's proportions.
Most of the $80 Android phones you can buy today sport 3.5-inch screens. The Valiant cranks it up a notch with a 4-inch display that's colorful and bright, despite its smaller color palette (262K instead of the 16 million you'll find in higher-end phones). Most eyes won't notice an appreciable difference when looking at Web sites, photos, and navigating around. The 800x480-pixel resolution is just fine for the screen's dimensions.
Huawei's usual three capacitive navigational buttons rest below the display. Press and hold the Menu key to bring up recent apps, and the Home button to invoke Google Now. You'll take a screenshot by pressing and holding the power button on the phone's crown and the Volume Down button on the right spine. Charging takes place on the phone's left edge.
A 3.2-megapixel camera lives on the back, and the microSD slot, capable of holding 32GB in external storage, lives below the back cover. Incidentally, the back panel is easy to take off and put back on thanks to a helpful indentation at its base.
OS and apps
The Valiant has the upper hand over its $80 rivals because of its more up-to-date Android 4.1 Jelly Bean operating system; others use Android 4.0. Huawei more subtly makes its presence known through a lighter customized layer than manufacturers like LG, HTC, and especially Samsung use.
You'll see Huawei's custom four-directional lock screen that lets you swipe to unlock the phone to the camera, dialer, and message inbox in addition to the home screen. There's some styling on app icons, the notifications menu, and the settings options, but other than that, Huawei's version of the OS is fairly straightforward and easy to navigate around. For a more artistic look than the wallpapers present, Huawei's Themes app gives you a few other options.
If you're familiar with Android and with MetroPCS, then you won't be at all surprised at the apps you see preinstalled. Google's regular bucket includes mainstays we've cone to rely on, like its Maps and Navigation, search, Chrome, and YouTube. There's the Google Play store for content purchasing and downloads, and an option to jump onto Google's social network, Google+.
MetroPCS loads on a bunch of carrier-specific apps to help you manage your account and use visual voice mail. Of course you've also got essentials in the calendar and calculator, the music player and file manager, and a handy FM radio. There's a sound recorder preloaded, too.
Although you won't see it in the app tray, the Swype virtual keyboard is another preinstalled app that you'll use every time you go to type anything. With it, you can trace words in addition to typing them out with your thumbs and fingers. You can disable Swype if you'd like, adjust its settings, and use Google's voice dictation.
Cameras and video
The camera is one major area where Huawei had to compromise in order to hit the lower price point. Color reproduction is strong on the 3-megapixel shooter, but where it falters most for me is that it's fixed-focus. That means if you're not so hot at judging distances and sharpness, you're going to be snapping a lot of blurry photos.
You should also be aware that there's no flash here, which isn't unusual for an entry-level smartphone committed to a starter price. A front-facing camera isn't in the cards, either. However, phone owners will find a handful of booster modes and filters in the native camera app, including panorama, geotagging, and white-balance presets.
The controls are easy to use, at least, and switching from camera to camcorder requires a simple onscreen flick of the finger. Low-resolution VGA video capture is your best choice; the other option is to limit the clip length for multimedia messaging.
Both the native camera and gallery apps acted rocky at times, flickering more than once while I was reviewing or taking photos, and not responding to my gestures. Rebooting the phone or app fixed the problem, but the instability occurred more than once during my testing process. It didn't really get in my way, but it was an annoyance.
It's possible this was an isolated incident that affected just my review unit, but I also had some issues with the Huawei Vitria as well. At the very least, you should be aware of possible bugginess.