[dropcap]H[/dropcap]uawei and other Chinese manufacturers dominate the low to mid range sector of the smartphone market in Australia and for good reason. They build quality hardware, and manage to do so without hiking the prices. The bulk of consumers live and buy in this sector and it is for this reason that Huawei’s profits continue to grow despite softening of the market.
Huawei, not long after dropping the Nova Plus on us have brought a new phone, the GR5 2017, into this segment and they hope it will be another success for them. The Huawei GR5 2017 is a low end phone which is the same as an Honor 6X (if you follow the Honor brand and the inroads it is making into the US market).
It is not designed to be a high end phone and as such we need to temper our expectations before even beginning the review. For $399AU we should not expect it to be as fast as the $1400 Pixel XL or the newer $1000 LG G6 or Samsung Galaxy S8. We should not expect the specs to be as high end. This phone is designed for those who want a cheap phone that does most things well.
Huawei GR5 2017 What’s inside?
As I said above for $399AU you should not expect high end specs and you can be sure as hell you will not get them with this phone. Does it matter? Not one single iota. If you are buying a $399 phone you most likely do not care what processor is in it as long as the user experience is decent.
So what is in it? The 5.5in 1080P LCD display is powered by an octa-core HiSilicon Kirin 655 SoC running a Mali-T830 GPU. There is 3GB of RAM with 32GB of onboard storage with the capacity to expand this further via the microsd card slot. Of the 32GB of space there is only 24.2GB free for the user to take advantage of. For this reason 64GB should be the minimum in any phone in 2017, even if it is a low end phone.
The display itself does not seem as bright as some other phones I’ve tried recently but the clarity was good and the colours relatively deep. Huawei, to their credit give you the option to change the warmth of the IPS LCD display to how you like to view it. Some prefer more blue in their display (colder) while others opt for the warmer display.
There is a dual rear camera with one camera 12MP and the other 2MP. The front facing camera is 8MP with f/2.0. The battery is a decent size at 3340mAh which is definitely acceptable, especially in a low end phone such as this. The Bluetooth version is only version 4.1 and the Wi-Fi support only for Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n but that is expected in cheaper phones.
One omission that a lot of lower end phones also tend to be missing is NFC. There will be no opportunity to use Android Pay with this phone.
As with many of the cheaper phones the GR5 2017 is not packed into a stylish super-thin case. What it is packed into is a very solid metal casing that Huawei use for nearly all their phones now. It is 150.9 x 76.2 x 8.2mm in size. It has decent bezels, not Pixel-like bezels though and as such is slightly smaller than the Pixel XL while having the same size display. I like the look of Huawei phones and even though this is a cheap phone it is by no means ugly. It has some heft to it at 162 grams but is a very solid phone that feels like it could handle some treatment without batting an eyelid.
Huawei have included a decent thin plastic hard case for the phone as well which is something they seem to be doing routinely these days and it is very welcome.
Inside the very average, cheap-looking box is the microUSB charging cable plus a standard speed charger. There is no fast charging with this phone. Huawei have included some headphones with this phone which indicated the presence of the headphone jack. Any manufacturer who decides to not include it should be ridiculed and avoided in my opinion. Until they offer a solution for using wired headphones while charging I think they are being very narrow minded.
Huawei GR5 2017 What’s it good at?
This phone just works. It does not do it in an overly speedy manner but it just chugs away getting the job done. There are no hang ups. It is the phone version of the little engine that could. It is not blazingly fast like the Pixel XL or the LG G6 (at times) but shouldn’t be expected for this price range.
The fingerprint sensor, as with all Huawei phones I have used, is fast and works very consistently. The phone unlocks fast with the sensor being easy to find without looking for it (don’t laugh, not all phones are like that).
The battery life is good for a day quite easily. The slower processor, combined with the 1080P display and the large battery make for a good battery life. With high usage I easily got a full day, which is exactly what I am after.
The phone is just good at being a phone. It functions at a definite acceptable level for a low end phone. It gets the job done so for my Dad or someone who needs a good solid phone but doesn’t need a blazingly-fast phone it is a great phone. It is well built and solid. Huawei phones feel indestructible to me and feel extremely solid in the hand, no matter the price range that they sit within. Everything about this phone just screams solid.
Huawei GR5 2017 How’s the camera?
Has there been any smartphone released in the last year that has had a “bad” camera? I suspect not. This phone is no exception. The GR5 2017’s camera is good but not great. The colours tended to be under saturated when compared to the LG G6 and the Pixel XL but by itself they were decent pictures. As for most cameras, and especially those in the cheaper phones, the camera struggled in low light with the pictures being noisier than those with a high end phone.
While the camera lens was 12MP it struggled to find the resolution you would expect of a camera with that sized lens. All in all, for those buying a sub-$400 phone, it is good enough. It doesn’t excel but then I did not expect it to. It launched quickly (including using the double tap volume down button while display was off to launch) and took decent photos quickly. Isn’t that all you really need?
Huawei GR5 2017 What it’s not so good at?
Software, software and software is the easy answer to that question — as it always has been with Huawei.
With Huawei already having 3 phones available with Nougat on it amazes me that they put Marshmallow 6.0 on yet another new phone. The improvements that came with Nougat would do wonders for this phone. Will it ever see Nougat? There are reports of Huawei beta testing Nougat for the GR5 2017 and it’s identical twin, the Honor 6X has already received some Nougat goodness. Huawei Australia are unable to confirm if or when this update will arrive in Australia but we assume it will arrive in the next few months, but then again, anything could happen.
Huawei really need to improve the software version their phones launch with and then keeping them updated. It’s not about whether those buying the phone need the latest version. It’s about the fact that the phone will run so much better and be so much more secure running a newer version of Android.
Saddled alongside, well, actually growing over the top of it like a parasitic fungus, is EMUI 4.1. When Huawei say that they improved EMUI when going from 4.1 to 5 it wasn’t hard. EMUI 4.1 is so downright miserable in the way it looks and functions that it should have been banished long ago. The icons are ugly and tired, the EMUI apps Huawei included are even uglier and downright exhausted.
Huawei need a massive overhaul of their software. EMUI 5.0 was meant to be that. It has improved but it really had a long way to go. I feel they are moving in the right direction with their flagships but their mid-tier and lower tier phones continue to suffer the disease that is EMUI 4.1. If/when the phone ever receives Android 7.0 Nougat the software will be improved immensely with EMUI 5.0. Until then you are lumped with Marshmallow and EMUI 4.1.
The launcher is possibly the worst launcher I have used. There is no app drawer which is ridiculous (yes, I know a lot of manufacturers are doing it — that doesn’t make it right). Huawei should just put a link to Nova or Action launcher on the desktop so buyers can immediately get a decent launcher and improve their experience exponentially. Once I had installed Nova Launcher the use of the phone and the look of it improved immensely.
While I have given the software a decent whack here the phone was still good enough to use. There are very few tweaks to enhance the experience but the few that were there were nice to have. If Huawei insist on giving the users EMUI then they should at least include all the system tweaks that come with the higher end versions of EMUI. I suspect in this case if the software was less intrusive and less memory hungry the phone would have been a lot faster. It chugged along consistently as it was — take away the fluff that is hamstringing it and I have no doubt it would have been faster.
Huawei GR5 2017 Should you buy one?
The Huawei GR5 2017 is a cheap low level phone and as such there are a few corners that were cut to make the price point. If you are looking in this price range you no doubt want a phone that is reliable, takes a decent photo and can allow you access to your Facebook. This phone can do that consistently albeit without flair. It just gets the job done.
The phone packs decent hardware without increasing the price point but is unfortunately let down by the software. While the software is average at best the hardware is enough to keep those looking at this price range interested. It is solid, well built and reliable. It is a very hard sell for Huawei though considering the Moto G5 Plus is priced around the same and includes everything the GR5 2017 does plus NFC and runs Nougat. Once Nougat arrives on the GR5 2017 I suspect the story will be different. For this reason I say check out the Huawei GR5 2017.
All things considered the GR5 2017 is a decent, solid phone at a cheap price that gets the job done. It takes a good photo, surf the web and run apps. What more could you ask for in a $399 phone?
The Huawei GR5 2017 is available now from Vodafone. Check it out if the price sits in your wheelhouse.