Android gives Huawei 858 a life

2012-01-13 22:29

Cape Town - Smartphones appear to be becoming universal, especially as regards their functionality as internet access points, but for most, the price of these devices remains a significant barrier.

While the big brands from Samsung, Sony Ericsson and Motorola slug it out for the top end of the market share, cheaper devices like the Huawei 858 (marketed in SA as the Vodafone 858) are quietly offering smartphone access at budget cost.

The device has relatively unspectacular hardware specs compared to devices like the Xperia or Galaxy range of smarphones, but it runs the Google Android operating system that breathes life into a device that might have been stillborn in this fast-paced industry.

The 858 has a comparatively slow processor speed of 528MHz and 130MB of onboard storage. When the standard among the big boys is around 1GHz dual-core, one can appreciate that the baby Huawei has a huge handicap to compete with top-of-the-line smartphones.

But it does.

Online access

Google's Android OS allows one access to the Android Market, and similar to other top-end smartphones; it can be set up as a wireless hotspot to allow web access for other devices.

Of course, it doesn't compare to the Android skins and the high definition displays on top-end devices from Sony Ericsson, Motorola and Samsung, but the tools are all there: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS, web access and a built-in e-mail client.

The genius of Android is that it makes this budget smartphone relevant in a growing market segment where online access is paramount.

There is a significant shortcoming though: To fully experience Android, one needs data and the 858 can chomp through a significant amount of data as apps constantly update themselves in the background.

One can disable this functionality, but that makes the experience somewhat poorer for it.

If another device manufacturer can somehow hammer out a data deal in the same fashion as BlackBerry maker Research In Motion, it would be a gold recipe.

BlackBerry dominates the mobile landscape in South Africa because users, particularly in lower income groups are sensitive to data costs.

The Huawei 858 doesn't even attempt to target users who can afford the top-end smartphones because they only make up about 2% of the market; it targets the 98% who want a web-enabled mobile device that serves their needs.

In that, it does the job well, but it hangs in the balance until data costs decline to a point where users don't consider carefully updating their Facebook status or browsing the web because they're concerned about airtime.

The 858 retails for R799, compared to top-end smartphones costing as much as ten times that running the same Android operating system.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter

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