Huawei Ascend Y530, First Take: Entry-level smartphone with 'simple' Android UI option

Huawei Ascend Y530, First Take: Entry-level smartphone with 'simple' Android UI option

Summary: This affordable smartphone includes a Simple Android Interface, but it's only skin-deep, and to access it you need to be able to navigate the standard UI.

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It isn't easy being an Android smartphone maker these days. Your flagship handsets are scrutinised for cutting-edge features, yet they're criticised if these features seem to be unnecessary, or are unnecessarily complicated.

Ever faster multicore processors are sometimes deemed by reviewers to be faster than needed, with the trade-off between power consumption and responsiveness often cited. Higher-resolution screens can be dismissed, as there comes a point where pixel count goes beyond being a factor in smooth text and graphics rendition. What's a manufacturer to do in the face of such criticism?

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The 145g Ascend Y530 is a 4.5-inch (480 by 854 pixels) Android 4.3 smartphone powered by a 1.2GHz dual-core Qualcomm MSM8210 SoC with 512MB of RAM and 4GB of internal storage (1.8GB available), expandable via a MicroSD card slot. It has 802.11b/g/n wi-fi, Bluetooth 4.0 and HSPA (but not LTE) connectivity. There are front (0.3Mpixel) and rear (5Mpixel) cameras, and the 1,750mAh battery is rated for 8h GSM talk, 590h on standby and 6h wi-fi browsing. Image: Huawei

One area where Android handset makers can make a mark — for better or worse — is in user interface design. Huawei's latest attempt to make Android more user-friendly is an option on its new entry-level smartphone, the Ascend Y530.

With a list price of £149.95 (inc. VAT) SIM-free (now available from Argos at £119.99 inc. VAT), the Ascend Y530 will appeal to first-time Android users, who Huawei suspects may be put off by the complexity of the standard Android user interface. So, alongside Huawei's standard skin for Android 4.3, the company offers what it calls a Simple Android Interface (SAI) on the Ascend Y530.

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Huawei's Simple Android Interface (SAI) offers three customisable large-icon screens, inlcuding a button to return to the standard Home screen. Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The multi-screened standard Android skin is easily swapped with a much simpler trio of screens offering large shortcut icons. You can personalise many of these icons to link to a frequently used app, or your most contacted friends or colleagues.

It is not a bad idea in itself, but it does fall down in some key respects.

The default UI is the standard Huawei-skinned version of Android. To access the SAI you have to go into Settings — and in so doing you'll prove that you can navigate the standard UI.

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Some, but not all, of the SAI's large icons can be replaced with your choices. Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The large icons on the SAI can't all be customised. You don't have the option to remove the weather app, phone, messaging, people or camera links from the first screen, or the calendar from the second screen. You can, however, remove the link that takes you back to the standard view from the third home screen, and the link to settings. Do this and you can still get to settings and the standard UI via the notifications area, but you'll need to know that's possible. Most likely, by the time you've found all this out, you'll be expert enough not to require the SAI any more.

If you tap one of the SAI options, you go into a fully-fledged Android app rather than a 'simple' version, so you'll have to make the best of getting to grips with it.

These may sound like churlish criticisms of an attempt to make Android accessible to novice users. They're not meant to be. However, it's difficult to see how the act of making large icons is enough on its own to constitute a 'simple' user interface.

Similar large-icon-based screens are employed as an alternative to the more complex Android UI for in-car use, and there I can fully see the point. I can also see a place for a simplified user interface for the visually impaired.

But for such users Huawei's current offering doesn't go far enough. One icon tap and you're into standard Android apps with their small text, icons and menu options. Until Android itself gets a 'simple' UI option, efforts like Huawei's on the Ascend Y530 can only ever be skin deep.

Read more on Android

Topics: Android, Reviews, Smartphones

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  • User Experience vs. user interface

    Thanks Sandra for the insightful article.

    Over the past year at zilta.co we've been designing an entry-level Android phone and your evaluation seems spot on. Making buttons bigger and other visual features only go a certain distance in making things simpler for beginners. The real difference comes from designing the whole user experience, how the user engages with the device for the first time, how they are on-boarded and how they unlock the "smart" features over time and at their own pace.

    The good news is that Android 4.4 KitKat is actually a big step up in terms of usability, but we've certainly got a long way to go.
    larinum
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