It's not every day that you see a budget smartphone with 4G capabilities and a camera that captures 720p HD video. Those features are usually found on high-end smartphones or even superphones. The Huawei Impulse 4G, however, is neither a superphone nor a high-end phone. Its 800 MHz processor and all-around average hardware put this phone right in the low-end to mid-range category. Yet, there it is with 4G and a camera that captures HD video.
So the question is, How does it perform overall? Yes, it may have a few nice features, but if it's not at least a half-way decent phone, then it's not worth buying. Honestly, the Impulse surprised me while I was testing it out. It won't fool you into thinking you're using a high-end, expensive phone, but if you have reasonable expectations, then you should be satisfied with your purchase.
Design & Features
The Impulse is an average-looking phone; there's no standout design features that set it apart from other smartphones. The top and bottom of the phone have a more curved design than most, but the rest is standard - black plastic with a soft-touch coating on the back. It's small and light-weight and feels solid given the building materials. The Impulse measures 4.72-inches tall, 2.56-inches wide, and .46-inches thick. The 3.8-inch display is larger than what you'll get on most low-end or mid-range Android smartphones, meaning that typing will be easier compared to some of the 3.2-inch or 3.5-inch displays. The resolution is also slightly higher than other devices in this category, but it's still a standard display. The WVGA resolution makes text look smooth when viewing it from a normal distance. The capacitive touchscreen was also smooth and responsive.
There is no dedicated camera button on the Impulse. The 3.5mm headphone jack, along with the Power/Screen Lock button, is on the top of the phone and the microUSB port is on the bottom. The volume rocker keys are on the left side. The Impulse does have an LED notification light. It is placed underneath the grill for the earpiece. The microSD card slot is underneath the battery cover but it is not necessary to remove the battery to access it. The phone ships with a 2GB card and supports up to 32GB of additional memory.
Usability & Performance
It's upsetting to me that the Impulse ships with Android version 2.2 considering the fact that version 2.3 has been out for nearly a year now. The average consumer will probably not notice, care, or even know what the difference is. If you are that "average consumer", then I'll briefly explain why this is upsetting. For starters, yes, version 2.3 has been available to manufacturers and carriers for nearly a year. It brings several improvements to the OS in terms of performance and features as well as design updates that give a modern feel to the visual appearance of Android. Now, the Impulse is not the only phone shipping with version 2.2 and it won't be the last, but it still boggles my mind that this is even a problem.
Huawei hasn't added any customizations to Android, which means that the phone will run much better than other mid-range smartphones that do have a custom UI. High-end smartphones and superphones can handle the weight of Android and a custom skin, but low-end and mid-range devices usually get bogged down and tend to lag more when the processor has to handle so much. It is because of this fact that the Impulse runs so smoothly. In fact, the Impulse's 800 MHz Qualcomm processor scored a mind-blowing 1642 on the Quadrant Standard test. While performing everyday tasks, the processor did a great job of keeping up with little to no lag. There were times when the processor had a brain-freeze of sorts and things got a little laggy, but that's to be expected with a device of this caliber. For the most part, performance was smooth and met my expectations for a mid-range device.
The Impulse does not have a physical keyboard so you'll be using an on-screen virtual keyboard for all of your typing. As I mentioned earlier, the 3.8-inch display is comfortable for typing on and the screen is responsive enough for a nice typing experience. Out of the box, the phone ships with the standard Android keyboard and Swype. You can, of course, download other keyboards from the Android market.
There is some debate over whether or not AT&T has a "true" 4G network since HSPA+ could technically be considered 3.5G or a step between previous 3G data technology and 4G data technology. Nevertheless, HSPA+ is what the Impulse uses for data and it is marketed as a 4G device. In my tests, the average speed I got for downloads was about 1.3 Mbps. AT&T advertises that their network is capable of 14.4 Mbps but you're never going to get anywhere near those speeds, just like your wireless Internet at home is never as fast as advertised. Real world speeds should be around 2-3 Mbps, so 1.3 is on the low end of the speeds I should have gotten. I tested the Impulse in several different parts of the Dallas area of Texas. Speeds will vary depending on coverage in your area. The Impulse can also act as a Wi-Fi hotspot for up to five devices.
Another standout feature of the Impulse is the camera and its ability to capture 720p HD video. This just isn't something you see on a phone that has an on-contract price of $30. In fact, it's unheard of. I was anxious to test out this feature and recorded a few video samples. To put it simply, it's nothing spectacular. It's rather disappointing, to be honest. The video quality was not terrible. I wouldn't call it HD video quality, but it was decent. The audio quality, on the other hand, was horrible. I included a video sample in my video review of the Impulse. Pictures taken with the camera did not meet my standards for a 5-megapixel shooter. The pictures were decent and had a good amount of clarity, but when compared to other 5-megapixel cameras with a higher quality lens, there's no contest. Still, this is a budget phone and the pictures are about what you would expect from a budget phone.
The Impulse uses a 1500 mAh Li-Polymer battery made by Huawei. Considering that it's a 4G device, battery life was actually pretty good. 4G devices are notoriously plagued with terrible battery life so even though I would recommend having a charger handy, you may be able to get through a full workday or schoolday if you play your cards right.
The question I posed in the beginning was, Yes it's a mid-range phone with a few surprising and cool features, but how does it perform overall? Those features are useless if the phone isn't usable. Overall, I'm impressed by the phone. It's still an inexpensive device so there will be some hiccups here and there and not everything performs as well as it should, but it's a great phone for the price.
What's Good: Great processor performance; decent still-picture quality; decent battery life; larger display than on most low-end and mid-ranged Android smartphones.
What's Bad: Poor video capture quality; 4G speeds in my tests were not that great; ships with outdated version of Android.
The Verdict: For the price, it would be hard to find anything better than the Impulse.