Guest Post: Albert is a developer, gadget geek, and all-round nice guy. He‘s passionate about Android, and writes for ZADroid, a new blog that covers Android in South Africa. However, anything shiny and sufficiently technologically advanced puts a smile on his face. Above and beyond that, Albert loves the web and the technologies that drive it, good design, and original ideas.
Red Bull Mobile has launched in South Africa on the back of Cell C, and they brought two new Huawei devices with them. The ZADroid folks lived with the RBM HD (Huawei U8800) for a few days, and we were pleasantly surprised.
First off, we have to make it clear that the only way, at the moment, to get your hands on the RBM HD is by signing a 24-month contract at any Cell C store. Now, this may seem like a major caveat, but the RBM 200 deal isn‘t a bad one. For R250/month you get the RBM HD (or Motorola MB525 ““ review coming soon), 500 Megabytes of data, 200 minutes of talk time (that roll over), and 100 SMSes. Considering that 600MB of data goes for almost R200 from Vodacom, getting all this is, quite simply, a bargain. You‘ll have to live with the RBM HD with the next two years, though. Is it worth it? Read on to find out.
I‘ll be honest with you. I wasn‘t expecting much in the way of build quality from a re-branded Chinese device. Granted, Huawei isn‘t your average back-alley Chinese manufacturer, but expectations weren‘t high to begin with. Those expectations started dissipating the moment I took the device out of the box. At 120 x 62 x 11.6 mm, and 130 grams, it has heft without being too heavy. The front is dominated by the 3.8-inch screen surrounded by a brushed-aluminium bevel, and a row of the standard Android navigation buttons of the dreaded capacitive kind. We‘re not fond of capacitive buttons around here, but these are positioned far enough from the screen itself that their annoyance is dampened somewhat. These are joined by a subtle grille along the top where the earpiece lives, ambient light and proximity sensors nestled right next to it, but barely noticeable. Unfortunately there‘s no front-facing camera here.
The back is made of plastic, but it‘s that soft-touch, almost rubbery kind of plastic that seems like it can take a beating. It has a custom Red Bull themed graphic in white printed across it that doesn‘t comes across as too gaudy. Also to be found at the back is a 5 mega-pixel camera with an LED flash. The camera sticks out a few millimetres, which is a design that we‘ve never been fond of. It makes it way too easy to scratch the camera, seeing as it juts out from the rest of the body. To the right of the camera is a single speaker, and to the left what seems to be a second microphone (this may be for both noise cancellation purposes and video recording ““ a nice extra). The right side of the device has a decent volume rocker, the top has an easy to press power button and a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, and the bottom has a standard Micro-USB jack (and the main microphone). The left side? It contains nothing.
All in all we like the physical design of the device. It‘s pretty in an understated way, and it feels good in the hand.
The display on this device is a 3.8-inch capacitive TFT-LCD, with a resolution of 480Ã—800 pixels. It doesn‘t hold a candle to some of the displays that are out there, like Samsung“˜s Super AMOLED, but it‘s good enough. It‘s bright, colours look like you expect them to, and text is clear and crisp. The only issue we had with the display is that every now and then, for a split second, it seemed like either the accuracy or sensitivity of the touch sensor wasn‘t quite perfect. This didn‘t happen often enough to be a major irritation, though ““ and it may have been specific to our review unit. The display is multi-touch capable, but only allows for a maximum of two points of touch at a time.
Sensors and The Rest
The RBM HD comes with the usual array of innards. The ambient light sensor and proximity sensor mentioned above worked without problems. In fact, we were quite impressed by how accurate the proximity sensor is. The WiFi (b/g/n) had good range, and also allows you to use the phone as a mobile hotspot right out the box. The device has Bluetooth 2.1 with A2DP as well, which worked like a charm with our bog-standard hands-free kit. The G-Sensor, as they call it, which is a standard accelerometer, also worked as expected, with a quick response time. A-GPS was quick to lock, and held strong. A standard, quite boring collection of hardware that does the job, and does it well.
We should also note that the cellular radio on this phone is full HSDPA, which means it can take full advantage of Cell C‘s high-speed network. That being said, it worked without a hitch when I popped my Vodacom SIM in there, so it‘s good to know this phone isn‘t bound to one network.
Performance and Battery Life
This is where the RBM HD had its biggest surprise in store for us. It features an 800Mhz “œScorpion“ Processor, based on the Qualcomm MSM 7230 chipset, and a separate Adreno 205 GPU. Add to this mix 512MB of RAM, and you‘ve got a device that keeps pace surprisingly well amongst the latest generation of 1Ghz+ devices out there. We experienced no lag whatsoever, with great all-round responsiveness, and very acceptable performance in more taxing scenarios, such as 3D games utilising OpenGL.
The RBM HD‘s battery life is rated at 350 hours on stand-by, and 4 hours of heavy use. We didn‘t outright test battery life, but it was pretty much on par with what we‘ve come to expect from smartphones. Charge it during the night, while you sleep, and it lasts they whole day with regular use. No complaints.
Storage-wise the device also didn‘t disappoint, with a 4GB internal “œSD card“, which can be expanded up to 32GB with an additional external card. A nice touch is that you don‘t have to remove the battery to get to the external SD card.
As previously mentioned, the RBM HD sports a 5 mega-pixel camera with LED flash. The pictures it produces are better than average during the day, with colour reproduction being quite good, and shadow and highlights quite balanced. Unfortunately, as is the case with most of these cameras, photos taken in low light were noisy, and using the flash either didn‘t help at all, or washed out the colours by overexposure.
Where the camera really comes into its own is video, as it allows you to shoot at 720p, and it handles motion better than most. And, surprisingly, the phone plays back the 720p content with no problems at all.
If there‘s one thing that we‘re not fans of, it‘s when manufacturers or carriers try to differentiate themselves by customizing Android. Whether it be a horrid home replacement, or as simple as changing the system colours, things usually don‘t turn out too well. With the RBM HD we have very good news, and then we have some bad news.
The good news is that it runs stock standard vanilla Android. In fact, it runs 2.2.1 (Froyo), to be exact. No modifications. None. It‘s something you don‘t often see, and it‘s appreciated. This means that you get all the features of 2.2, without exception. Tethering via USB, for example, is present and works without any fuss. Flash 10.1 is supported and works as well as expected. You get the newest Google applications (GMail, Maps, etc.) as they‘re rolled out. And this probably means that a 2.3 update isn‘t far off, as there‘s nothing to customize.
Now, the bad news. To “œadd value“, there are a few Red Bull applications pre-installed. Now, we don‘t have a problem with the applications themselves, as some of them may come in handy, and fit right in with whole Red Bull vibe (there is, for example, a sports timer, and a 3D motorcycle game that is quite a timewaster). What we do have a problem with is that you can‘t remove these applications if you wanted to. To make it worse, some of the pre-installed applications are non-native J2ME games that don‘t run well and look like crap ““ and are time-limited demos. Demos that you can‘t remove. If this wasn‘t an Android device, this would‘ve been a deal-breaker.
Luckily it is Android, and it is quite hackable, which means that you can actually remove those applications. All it takes is some time, some patience, and Z4Root by RyanZA. Root the phone, use a file manager with root access like ES File Explorer, and get rid of those unwanted applications with the press of a button.
We were also pleasantly surprised to find that the Recovery allowed for flashing of signed updates. Also, Huawei has release the kernel source for this device. Although no custom recoveries or ROMs are available yet for this device ““ this should make it much easier to actually build them than it would for most other devices.
Even though we only got to spend three days with Red Bull Mobile‘s RBM HD, we grew very fond of it very quickly, and were reluctant to give it back. It‘s an unexpectedly awesome device at this price point, and we‘ll recommend it to anyone that asks, especially paired with the RBM 200 contract. It should hold its own for the next two years, especially once a modding community pops up.
Build Quality: 8/10
Performance and Responsiveness: 7/10
For more information, head to Red Bull Mobile South Africa‘s official site.