The Huawei Ideos X5 appears to be that rare beast, a crave-worthy budget smart phone. With a decent-sized touchscreen and acceptable looks, the X5 could hold its own against much pricier competition -- from a distance. We just wish Huawei had resisted the temptation to add its own skin to the Android operating system.
The X5 should be available in May, but whether we see it in shops will depend on networks picking it up. If they do, they'll probably sell it under their own brand names. There are two versions of the phone -- one with 2GB of internal storage and one with 4GB. We don't know which one is likely to go on sale yet.
The X5 looks rather like the love child of the iPhone 3GS and Acer Liquid -- there's plenty of plastic on show, and a touch of chrome. It's not the slickest-looking phone, but it's acceptable considering that Huawei's phones tend to be very inexpensive.
The 3.8-inch touchscreen offers a 480x800-pixel resolution and plenty of room for looking at videos and Web pages. The phone also packs in 802.11n Wi-Fi and HSPA for faster browsing over 3G.
A 5-megapixel camera with an LED photo light will help you capture the occasional snapshot. You can store your photos on a microSD card of up to 32GB, or the 2GB or 4GB of internal memory.
We tip our jaunty hats at Huawei for making a bargain smart phone that features all the hardware treats we love, just like it did with the first Ideos. But it's Google's Android 2.2 Froyo operating system that provides the brains of the operation.
If you're not familiar with Google's mobile software, have a gander at a video we knocked together that explains Android. If you can't be bothered, take our word for it that Android has more features than the Milky Way has stars. Probably.
The Android 2.2 Web browser is fast and accurate, and it's one of the very few browsers that supports Flash. That means you won't miss out on Flash videos, photos slide shows, or sites that use Flash for navigation.
Android also offers fantastically useful apps for a range of Google services, from Gmail to Google Maps. If that's not enough, there are thousands more apps available in the Android Market.
Android isn't the most user-friendly operating system, especially when you consider the child-like simplicity of the iPhone's software. But, once you get your head around it, there's much to love about Google's geeky treat.
On the original Ideos, Huawei stuck to the default Android user interface -- wisely. Despite its flaws, we're very wary of attempts to tweak Android's user interface. Such attempts often only make cosmetic changes, without making meaningful usability improvements, and, unfortunately, they usually make Android uglier. HTC's Sense user interface, seen on phones like the Desire S, is an exception -- we adore its clean, playful design, as well as its useful widgets.
With the X5, Huawei has decided it's time to put its stamp on Android. But some of its changes don't float our boat. For example, the rotating-cube effect when you swipe between home screens looks like a rip-off of the user interface on some old LG phones. Also, the rounded grey squares that sit behind the app icons in the menu do make for greater visual consistency, but the icons look very iPhone-like as a result. We're sceptical about the value of Huawei's tweaks, but we'll approach them with an open mind in our full review.
Huawei could have played it safe by letting the Ideos X5 run an untouched version of Android. Instead, it's gone out on a limb, introducing its own version of the software. We'll see whether it's a smart move when we take the X5 for a spin in our full review.
Edited by Charles Kloet