Huawei may be planning to release a special custom Android skin dubbed "Emotion," but there's currently no trace of it on the Ascend P1. That doesn't mean the Chinese manufacturer hasn't placed its own stamp of love on the thing. While the default skin of choice happens to be nearly all stock (with the exception of the camera UI, themes and notification bar), you're also offered the opportunity to hit the menu button from the home screen and quickly switch over to a custom skin called "3D Home." If you're familiar with the user interface found on the Honor and other older Huawei devices, you'll notice that the 3D Home experience closely resembles it. So much, in fact, that we felt as though we were transporting from Ice Cream Sandwich to Gingerbread in the space of mere seconds. First, let's tackle the name: the 3D moniker appears to refer mainly to the types of transitions and widgets that can be enabled within this particular skin. The animations aren't unique or new to the Android world, as we've seen enough cube-style UIs over the years to keep us from doing a double take at what Huawei has put together here.
Diving deeper into the UI, the resemblance to ICS is minimal, though Huawei has at least stayed true to the five-button shortcut bar layout and the use of Roboto. Long-pressing the home panel brings up the option to add your choice of 2D or 3D widgets as well as folders and shortcuts (all of which were left out of this menu on stock ICS). Wallpapers can still be accessed, but only by pressing the menu key, which -- incidentally enough -- throws together a whole smorgasbord of various options you'd never find available in pure vanilla form, such as app management, settings, transitions and application icon appearance (you can choose between two icon styles). The app tray is a 4x4-icon grid with no option to peruse widgets. You'll also notice two large buttons at the bottom: home on the left and an icon manager on the right. The latter option gives you the ability to quickly uninstall apps you don't want anymore, and it even lets you add folders within the app menu itself (similar to later versions of TouchWiz). That's one feature we'd love to see used more often.
Looking back at the mostly-stock Android build, there are only a few places Huawei lightly salted with its own flavor. One of the most obvious differences is the inclusion of a capacitive menu button (arguably, including any capacitive buttons at all is a glaring differentiator from the virtual keys found on the Galaxy Nexus), which isn't uncommon to legacy devices with the four-key setup. The notification menu is nearly all stock, with one different feature staring you in the face: a set of five toggle switches (WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, Data Switch and Auto-Rotate), in a fashion very similar to what you'll find in most custom skins. The vanilla Android keyboard is available, but you're defaulted to Huawei's IME option, in which the keys are slightly taller than stock and the numbers can be accessed by swiping your finger from right to left (or vice versa).
The lock screen offers four quick-access points, consisting of home, phone, camera and messages. In addition to the usual suite of styles for opening your device such as Face Unlock, pattern, 2D unlock and PIN, Huawei's also added a "3D unlock" option. Notice a theme here? Again, it's nothing you'd need a pair of special glasses to see -- it's just a version of the standard 2D unlock screen with fancier logos and a circle in the middle that resembles a globe. Fast boot is also included in the settings, and the name definitely fits: it took only six seconds to get from a cold start to the lock screen. To share a bit of contrast, we turned the setting off and the same process lasted 40 seconds before we saw the lock screen.
Within the default ICS skin on the device, three different themes are offered. Essentially, all this does is change the wallpaper and appearance of the icons on the screen. This is a nice customization option if you don't like the look of stock ICS (we're obviously huge fans of it though), but in switching back and forth between themes we discovered -- to our frustration -- that the wallpaper settings on the default theme don't get saved. So when we returned to our original theme, we had to manually switch to our preferred wallpaper once more. When we first received our test model, it was pre-loaded with a Chinese ROM. As such, Google accounts and the Play Store couldn't be used on the device -- even after attempting to sideload the APK files, we couldn't get the apps to work (though we could sideload third-party app stores without incident). It did, however, have Chinese apps and services not found on global versions, such as Mobile QQ, HiSense and Baidu Mobile. Oh, and a user guide, all in Chinese (even though we had changed the language settings to English). Huawei hooked us up with an international ROM, which we downloaded and installed via a microSD card. This treated us to a setup we're more accustomed to using, with full Google account and Play Store access.
The 8-megapixel autofocus shooter on the back of the Ascend P1 didn't blow our minds, but it didn't disappoint us either. Why the mixed bag? We found the color to be well-saturated in most cases and we were satisfied with the white balance, but the images didn't seem to turn out as crisp or detailed as those taken with the HTC One X -- especially when comparing shots at 100 percent zoom. It's a perfectly average camera when it comes to performance, but at least it comes fully stocked with features and offers respectable images when taken casually. Even though the Ascend P1's skin is incredibly close to stock Android, Huawei chose to use its own user interface for the camera. The still / video toggle switch is on the top of the right sidebar above the shutter button, and the gallery shortcut is on the bottom. Changing LED flash modes and swapping to the front camera can be done using buttons located on the top left corner, and settings are accessed via an arrow on the left side. If you need to zoom, you can do so using the volume rocker. Pulling out the settings menu, you'll find (from top to bottom) scene mode, filters, effects and miscellaneous settings. If you're looking to switch over to HDR, Panorama, Low light, Smile Shot or Group mode, you can do so in the scene mode section. Other various needs, such as picture resolution, quality, white balance, toggle switches for AF and face detection, brightness / exposure adjustments and ISO (up to 800 is available) can be found in the miscellaneous menu. Sadly, we were unable to find a true macro mode and had difficulty mimicking the feature using any other modes provided to us. We also couldn't hunt down a way to turn off the obnoxiously loud shutter and focus sounds. This may not come as a bother to most, since it's a solid indication to the photographer that the camera's actually doing what it's supposed to do, but we'd appreciate having the choice to shut it off when it gets to be too much. Lastly, the P1's shutter button is capable of locking focus and exposure, which we have found to be incredibly helpful in a whole smattering of situations in which the available light and exposure just aren't quite right for what you're trying to capture.