Living with Tech: One Week with the Huawei SnapTo (Review)

May 25, 2015

Reference Specs

This is a completely and entirely serviceable phone. There is your BLUF bumper sticker, in case you’re the sort who needs that kind of thing. With that out of the way, let me say that this is another review that is going to be tough to write. Does this phone stack up to my Sony Xperia Z3v, LG G3, or HTC One M8? In most ways not. But sometimes phones that are out on the extreme end of performance bring with them a lot of baggage. Sometimes that excess is manageable by power users. But there are a lot of people who just want to use their phone. People who want to get into and out of a task without a lot of pain (and who for some reason choose not to use Windows Phone, which is more tilted towards that end). The Huawei SnapTo is not going to win any drag races with the bigger boys on the market. What it will do is provide a steady and stable experience throughout the week and let you get on with your life, which is worth something to a lot of people; myself included.

I’ve completed my first week of living with the Huawei SnapTo as my daily driver, which included a couple of days of international travel. Not a bad way to get a good trial run in. Just to set expectations. I do not do reviews of hardware in the classic sense that many other sites do. I do not run benchmarks, except on gaming PC’s. For phones, even if a device blows speed tests out of the water, it doesn’t mean anything if accessing that speed is obstructed by ridiculous software and heavy-handed inconveniences. To review phones, tablets, and most other hardware, software, and services, I just use the thing as my primary tool for an extended period of time. I will provide a score when all is said and done after week two. So with the Huawai SnapTo, I put my other phones away, turned them off, and forced myself to use the SnapTo as my only smartphone. Week 1 is over and here is what I experienced. Oh, and if you need to refresh your memory from my initial hardware impressions, you can peep that video and write-up here.

snapto front and backI am truly amazed at what people can get today for the low costs that some of these devices are now available for. The Huawai SnapTo goes for $180 on Amazon. That gets you the phone unlocked. On top of that, wireless carrier service prices continue to come down, especially in the MVNO/prepaid space. I have been using this phone on AT&T’s PayGo prepaid service at a cost of $45 per month for unlimited calling and texts and 2GB of LTE data (the site says 1.5GB, so I need to double-check this). My understanding is that you can continue to use data beyond 2GB, but at a lower speed, but I have not independently verified that yet. Rollover data is now also included in the PayGo plans. Point being that this would be an excellent phone for a student or family member getting on to their first smartphone, both for the hardware and the available service plans. The Huawei SnapTo will work on both AT&T and T-Mobile (or any MVNO’s riding their signals) for voice, texts, and data. That means it would also be good for accident-prone family members. Or for those family members who insist on having a smartphone, but do not really appreciate or know how to appreciate more expensive options. Now to my first week takeaways.

I commented in the hardware review how I was not all that crazy about the leather-touch back on the SnapTo, but it has grown on me over the last week. I cannot say enough how, after using gargantuan phones, the SnapTo really does feel good in providing a usable one-handed phone that still provides a sizable screen. The speaker is very good, with a great range of volume without becoming overly distorted. I’ve been using the phone both in speakerphone mode for teleconferences, and using it to play various music services and local media and it has been great. Most phones in this range and even some high-end phones just never get loud enough. Not a problem here. No, it does not have two speakers operating in true stereo, but it is probably one of the best single-speaker phones I have used, and definitely exceeds the single speaker on the LG G3.

While the display does not carry the high resolution of some other phones, I will say that the text is surprisingly crisp and clear. The color gamut and sharp text provide an attractive display experience, with deep darks, despite not being an OLED or IPS display.

Where you will see evidence of budget trade-offs is in the camera. I found it difficult to get a picture that approached anything close to current year or even last year’s smartphone imagery standards. Forget about low-light photography other than just being able to make out the basic structure of what you captured and then having to talk someone through what you were actually looking at. If you are using this for admin purposes, like taking photos of receipts or hand-written notes or taking photos for insurance purposes, it works fine. If you are looking to capture meaningful images of your kids’ childhood, you’ll need a bigger boat.

snapto side

Call quality on this phone is also surprisingly good. Volume is better than I expected for a budget phone and cuts into high-end territory. With its 1.2GHz Quad-Core Processor and 1GB of RAM, I expected to see a slew of performance problems. But honestly, I have only seen a few hints of potential performance issues. This occurs mainly when there are several app updates going on from the Play Store; then getting around in a multitasking environment can be a bit choppy. I will say that I have not gamed on the device so that is one area remaining to evaluate.

Probably the biggest area of dislike that I encountered was in the proprietary Huawei additions to Android. The Huawei Home Launcher (powered by the company’s EmotionUI), which is the default home screen app out of the box, is the biggest stinker. In its default state, it does not feature an app drawer button. They have everything in pre-configured folders out on the home screen pages. Not only was the folder alignment not in-sync with the organization I normally use and recommend, but I couldn’t see a way to get into the app drawer and configure homepages myself. Long-pressing on the screen did not present the normal app / widget selection options. Through a bit of trial-and-error and brute force, I finally got myself onto the Google Now Launcher, but it was a pain. While this device is likely targeted for someone who needs that safety zone and some prevention from harming themselves, it is incredibly frustrating for someone who wants to custom configure their home screen and launcher.snnapto front

What I walk away from using this phone (so far) is that it is a joy to use, and that is the most important thing to me in terms of a review. Do I feel like the device is personal, and do I take some joy from having it in my kit. A big kick I get is out of using a device that makes me feel like I am sticking it to the man. Paying $180 for a device off-contract instead of the man’s $200+ for a premium phone with a two year commitment? That makes me feel giddy every time I pick up the phone to use it. Let me also say that I focus a lot on the micro-economy of velocity when using a device. Meaning how much can I get done how quickly over a long period of time. I used to focus on that metric based on a device’s processing power, memory, storage, and interface. I’ve realized over the past week with the Huawei SnapTo that it is also dependent on the device’s ergonomics and size. In some cases, I’ve gotten more done on the SnapTo because I can do tasks one-handed and get around the phone quickly. On some of my personal phones, a given task might have to wait until I have two hands free. So while I absolutely love super-phones like the Galaxy Note series, I cannot begrudge phones below 5-inches. As long as they do not go the old iPhone route where they were too small for me to comfortably hold, had a display too small for me to comfortably see enough of my documents, and keyboards that were too small for me to type on. The Huawei SnapTo stays out of that danger area, and is pretty pleasant to use. I couldn’t live with it as my primary phone, but as a backup device, for sure. For many others types of users, it will be a great fit. Stay tuned for my final commentary in Part Two of this Living with Tech coverage after my second week using the SnapTo. I’ll be focusing on multimedia and gaming this week, and can take a strong look at anything else you would like to hear about concerning this device, provided you drop me a line in the comments below!