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Mobile operators' own-brand handsets have come on an awful lot recently, for two main reasons. First, the rise of Android has provided a sturdy platform on which to build affordable high-spec phones. And second, perhaps more importantly, operators are realising that when consumers buy an own-brand handset they aren't simultaneously signalling a willingness to be overwhelmed by software bloat.
EE's Harrier is a good example of that: it's a nicely designed handset running a relatively unadorned version of Android that will offer a good experience for those who don't feel the need to buy into one of the big-name brands.
The Harrier looks good, with its 5.2-inch screen occupying most of the front. The shell is plastic masquerading as brushed aluminium, but the mirrored EE logo in the middle of it isn't too obtrusive and the gold-coloured ring around the camera sensor lends it an upmarket air. The headphone jack does produce a rather ugly bulge, though -- enough of one, in fact, that I thought I had pranged the chassis when I first spotted it.
The Harrier looks somewhat better that it feels in the hand, though, thanks to that plastic casing. The volume rocker is on the right-hand side and the power button on the left, and I found myself confusing the two quite often.
The Harrier's 5.2-inch screen has a full-HD resolution of 1,920 by 1,080 pixels, giving a decent pixel density of 424ppi; viewing angles are good, and it's nicely responsive too. The big 2,500mAh battery can take a lot of charging, but once it's full it takes a good while to run down even with that big screen to power, so getting through a day's usage shouldn't be a problem.
The main camera has a 13-megapixel sensor, which is pretty big -- although, of course, it's not just about megapixels. You can see a few test shots below: it handled close-up shots nicely, but coped less well with the gloom of a summer's morning in London.
The front-facing 2-megapixel selfie camera is fine, if unremarkable -- although the 'smile shutter' option, which takes a snap when it recognises a smile, is quite entertaining.
We have no compliants with the 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon SoC powering the Harrier, observing no stuttering or lag during the review period. The Geekbench 3 processor benchmark gave the phone a score of 644 for single-core and 2495 for multi-core operations: by way of comparison, Samsung's Galaxy S6 scored 1504 and 5307 respectively, while Vodafone's budget Smart Prime 6 only managed 465 and 1387.
The EE Harrier runs Android 5.0 (Lollipop), which EE has wisely left pretty much alone, apart from adding its own app and a few from Amazon, none of which get in the way. It's a good decision by the operator -- adding excessive amounts of extra software does nothing but irritate.
The Harrier is a nicely designed handset with a big screen and a capacious battery. If you don't feel compelled to buy a leading brand, then something like this offers an affordable yet capable alternative.
EE Harrier: alternatives
One of the great things about Android is the sheer variety of options. If the 5.2-inch Harrier is too big for you, try out the Harrier Mini with its 4.7-inch screen. If the £200 price tag on the Harrier is too high then Vodafone's Smart Prime 6 is a more wallet-friendly option. And if you want to splash the cash there's always the current Android flagship, Samsung's Galaxy S6.
EE Harrier key specs
Dimensions 147mm x 74.5 mm x 8.9 mm Weight 145g Display 5.2-inch, HD 1,920x1,080 Operating system Android 5.0 (Lollipop) Processor 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon Battery 2,500mAh Storage16GB, expandable via Micro SD Camera 13MP main camera, 2MP front camera