updated 04:05 pm EST, Sat January 14, 2012
We get to try Huawei's super-slim P1 S flagship
Huawei isn't normally known for high-end phones; usually, it's the company serving the $200 off-contract smartphone to a Chinese resident who might never get a smartphone otherwise. The Ascend P1 S, then, came as something of a surprise at CES this week when it it not only hit a record-breaking 6.7mm (0.26 inches) thickness but became one of the first truly official phones with Android 4.0 beyond the Galaxy Nexus. We gave the P1 S a shakedown at CES; read on for whether it signals a change in Huawei's impact in smartphones.
The first aspect that catches you is, of course, the thinness. Apple and Samsung both claim thin smartphones as a selling point; the P1 S is clearly thinner than either. If you have particularly tight pockets or just like your smartphone to be unobtrusive, you've found your weapon of choice. Huawei's design isn't as premium feeling as the iPhone's, but it still feels well-made and sturdy -- and it can even look unique with a distinct shade of red as an option. It's narrow, too: at just under 2.6 inches wide, it doesn't strain your hands to make a phone call.
There's also a slightly thicker, regular P1 with a 7.7mm (0.3in) thickness, although even that is practically thinner than most other smartphones.
Its display is attractive, too. Getting a 4.3-inch, 540x960 Super AMOLED screen is no longer a rarity, but at least in the light of a convention room, it came across as well-saturated without being excessive. We didn't notice the "fuzzy" look of a Pentile screen, so it's possible Huawei is using Samsung's Super AMOLED Plus or another second-generation display that doesn't have to give up sharpness.
Android 4.0 is getting its first real test on non-Samsung chips through the P1 S. Huawei is definitely not targeting the budget market here, and it shows: the dual-core, 1.5GHz TI OMAP 4460 it's using had no problems keeping up with the new OS and was quite smooth, bogging down only in those places where it's clear the software was the issue and we'd seen the same problems. Those are thankfully uncommon.
You can tell that Huawei was in something of a hurry to implement the new OS, although that has its its own benefits. The interface is almost entirely stock; to us that's a good thing, as it gives Android 4.0's consistent look and controls a chance to shine through. Huawei has only made two changes over the Galaxy Nexus: it's using hardware navigation keys instead of the touchscreen, and the lock screen now has extra options to launch into other apps, such as the phone.
As you'd expect, we couldn't upload photo samples, but we're already positive about the rear camera. While not having the same instant response as the Nexus' camera, the P1 S is using an eight-megapixel, backside-illuminated sensor that clearly performed better in the low light of the hall than the Nexus' at times notoriously darkness-intolerant five-megapixel shooter.
In the end, we were more than a little taken aback by the Ascend P1 S, because it appears to have hit nearly all the right marks for a high-end smartphone; it picked up Android 4.0 where even Motorola and Sony are still planning around 2.3. Future phones in 2012 will see it eclipsed, but it clearly shows that Huawei understands what it needs to compete and that it's not content sitting on the sidelines of the top-tier smartphone race. Huawei is planning a worldwide release in April, including North America, and our early look makes us think Apple, Samsung, and others will take notice.