updated 08:00 pm EST, Tue February 15, 2011
We go hands-on with Huawei's S7 and X5 at MWC
Two of Huawei's newest creations, the S7 Slim tablet and the Ideos X5 mid-range smartphone, showed at Mobile World Congress and gave us an opportunity to try them for the first time. The X5 is entering a crowded field, but the S7 Slim is a unique entry into Android tablets with a very wide screen and a freshly organized home screen. Read through for Electronista's impressions from the Barcelona show.
What stands out for the S7 Silm the most is how much the aspect ratio guides everything. The widescreen is great for watching movies, of course, but it also dictates the layout of the custom UI. Rather than just have simple home screens, Huawei uses multiple categories -- communication, entertainment, and the web, for example -- to organize content by its type. This could be irksome if you have an app that straddles the lines, such as Foursquare, but it made sense as a way to quickly drill down to a given area.
The device didn't have a working Internet connection, so we couldn't test the browser, but media, the camera app and overall navigation were fairly fast. The home screen widgets give direct access to common tasks: bookmarks, a calendar and weather are present. A nice touch is the photo gallery app, which supplies an iPhoto-style slideshow of recent photos without needing any special setup.
Widescreen certainly dictates the handhold. Unfortunately, there's no vertical, portrait-style option for the home screen; you have to hold it lengthwise, which certainly cuts down on the size of the page you can view or the number of social network updates you can see at one time. However, it's a very compact design and doesn't feel like a stretch. The keyboard is just wide enough to be usable without thumb typing but does feel small. We liked the overall thinness and weren't concerned about the build quality.
Our main concerns are how attractive it looks next to other tablets. Android 2.2 is quickly being replaced by Android 2.3 or 2.4 on many devices, if not Android 3.0. The 800x480 screen also means you won't see HD-level video and might not be ideal if you're trying to read. Still, while we weren't quoted a price, we suspect the S7 Slim undercuts the Galaxy Tab and other seven-inch tablets quite easily, and in its category it should be good value with 3G and dual cameras.
The Ideos X5 virtually defines the upper mid-range of Android smartphones: it's fast enough to have a very responsive interface and record 720p video from a five megapixel camera. It's not as premium feeling as other devices in its class, most notably the iPhone 4 or the HTC Desire, but it feels solidly built and should stand up to a moderate amount of abuse.
There's no hiding that Huawei's custom interface on the X5 is partly aiming at the same basic theme of HTC's Sense, down to the layout of the weather widget, but it follows closer to the stock Android 2.2 interface while throwing in some helpful additions of its own. The bottom tray has both the usual shortcuts as well as a quick shortcut to everything running.
The 3.8-inch screen is good if unspectacular, though Huawei's experience with making raw cellular hardware gives it an advantage in speed. It's one of the few devices outside of HTC and Samsung to support 14.4Mbps HSPA 3G, so websites can pull down very quickly if you're on a network that supports it. North Americans are currently ruled out from 3G, though, as it's just a dual-band device good mostly in Asia and Europe.
If there's a challenge Huawei faces, it's just that it's carrying with features that aren't very different just as the market's opening up. When phones like the Galaxy S II and Xperia Play are arriving, the X5 will have to compete mostly on price to stand out. We also weren't told if or when the X5 might move to Android 2.3 or 2.4, so it could be left behind before too long.