Huawei's U.S. offerings have never been particularly impressive. The original Ascend was a severely underpowered, cheap smartphone that barely offered enough performance to scrap by as a modest low-end phone in the market that existed a year ago, when it was released. Back then, a single-core 528 MHz processor and a 3-megapixel camera, though considered weak, were still enough to garner a decent amount of attention in the budget smartphone market. A year later, a 600 MHz processor, 5-megapixel fixed focus camera, and a smaller battery than the original only makes me wonder who Huawei was planning on trying to trick into buying this phone when they created it.
Hey, I appreciate budget phones as much as the next person who lives paycheck to paycheck or someone who doesn't put too much emphasis on technology and just 'wants something that works'. I respect that niche. If you're in that position, there are some excellent options out there. The Huawei Ascend II is not one of them.
Coming in at 4.6-inches tall, 2.4-inches wide, and weighing 4.8 ounces, the Ascend II is a small, lightweight device. It's relatively thin, only .5-inches in depth, and the curved edges and rounded back give it a sleek, comfortable feel. The phone is made entirely out of plastic. The back battery cover has a soft-touch coating. The phone's design is not a sore spot by any means. It's attractive enough for a device in this price range.
The front panel includes the 3.5-inch HVGA (320x480) touchscreen display and four capacitive touch buttons for Home, Menu, Back, and Search, in that order. There's not much to say about the display. It's bright and the touchscreen is responsive. The low resolution means that text is pixelated and graphics appear rough.
The left side of the phone is where you'll find the volume rocker buttons and the right side contains no buttons or ports. The microUSB port is on the bottom spine and the 3.5mm headphone jack and Power/Screen lock button are all on the top spine.
The battery cover easily pops off, though there is no notch for quick removal. Underneath the battery cover is the microSD card slot. The phone ships with a 2GB card and supports up to 32GB of additional memory to supplement its 512MB of internal memory. The phone comes with several apps pre-installed out of the box. These apps cannot be uninstalled.
The Ascend II's Qualcomm processor is clocked at 600 MHz, a negligible improvement over the original Ascend's 528MHz processor. The processor scored an 836 on the Quadrant Standard test and a 1,025 on the AnTuTu Benchmark test. Smartbench 2012 kept giving an 'Invalid' error message.
Due to the low amount of RAM, 256MB, multi-tasking generally caused the device to slow down and performance became sluggish. (During testing, I had two active widgets running and updating in the background, along with at least three other programs pulling updates.) On occasion, even the keyboard had a hard time keeping up with my typing and would stall for a few seconds before displaying the text I had already typed. Simple tasks were completed with ease and general everyday performance was smooth, but once I used the phone for more than five minutes or began performing more processor-intense tasks such as web browsing, watching videos, playing games, or viewing the Gallery, the slowness began to frustrate me.
The phone ships with Android 2.3.5 along with a custom skin by Huawei. The skin actually acts more like a launcher in that it allows you to download custom themes and icon packs as well as change the animation when sliding through the home screens. The phone comes with an "Android Theme" that offers a more vanilla Android experience than the default Huawei theme, but Huawei's custom notification panel and widgets are still present no matter what theme you're using. Outside of these options, the home screen features a dock with three customizable shortcuts and two unchangeable shortcuts - one for the app drawer and one that allows you to see all of your home screens. Apps like Messaging, Phone, and Contacts have also received a makeover. Huawei's widgets are large and somewhat cartoonish, as is the UI as a whole. Huawei has not included a custom virtual keyboard. Instead, the phone ships with the Android Gingerbread keyboard and the Swype keyboard.
As expected, the 5-megapixel, fixed focus camera delivered poor picture quality. Without autofocus and a flash, virtually all photos were grainy and looked like they were taken in terrible lighting conditions despite some being taken with two bright lights shining on the objects. Outside shots looked much better but still lacked detail. The Ascend II offers VGA video recording but the audio and video quality were terrible.
The Ascend II is a 3G device and uses U.S. Cellular's EV-DO Revision A network for data. While testing the phone in the Dallas area, I pulled about 300-500kbps for downloads with lows of 24kbps and highs of 667kbps. These speeds are on par with other 3G devices I've tested. Web browsing is subject to data speeds as well as processor performance. Given the phone's slow processor, don't expect much from the web browser. Scrolling is somewhat smooth but the phone lacks multi-touch for pinch-to-zoom so you're relegated to the ancient Plus/Minus buttons. It's no big deal, but the process is definitely much slower, like everything else with this phone.
Huawei went with a 1400 mAh battery for the Ascend II. Considering the phone's small, low-resolution display and low-powered processor, I assumed that the battery, though small, would offer decent longevity. However, the results have been disappointing. With light use, I can get through a full day before it dies, but with normal to heavy use, the battery generally only lasts about half of a day. Keep in mind that battery life depends on your usage habits and your results may be different from the results I got.
All in all, the Ascend II is not a phone I would recommend buying. The price is attractive but U.S. Cellular has better options, even for budget-conscious consumers. Check out the HTC Merge or the Samsung Mesmerize. Both will offer much better performance than the Ascend II. With its slow processor, unimpressive display, and terrible camera, the Ascend II is a phone you should definitely pass on.
What's Good: Price; nice customization options with Huawei's UI/launcher; good 3G speeds.
What's Bad: Sluggish processor performance; doesn't handle multi-tasking well; terrible camera quality; no multi-touch; poor battery life.
The Verdict: All things being considered, the Ascend II is not worth your time. I understand it may seem hard to berate a free phone, but the fact is that U.S. Cellular has better options in this price range.