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Huawei Ascend TapouT Edition Review

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Huawei Ascend TapouT Edition
I’ve never been the target market for branded cell phones. So I approached the TapouT edition of the Huawei Ascend with some trepidation. The TapouT Ascend is a budget-priced Android smartphone that I understand pretty well, dressed up with a mixed martial arts (MMA) theme. It turns out that this is mostly a cosmetic job, albeit with a welcome OS upgrade. Underneath lies the same sluggish, subpar Android device we tested in January.

TapouT Exclusives
For the uninitiated, TapouT is a clothing line and now-on-hiatus reality TV series about mixed martial arts. What does mixed martial arts have to do with cell phones? Usually, absolutely nothing—unless you’re considering hitting someone over the head with your phone. In the case of the TapouT, for your extra $20 you get a unique color scheme, two interchangeable battery covers, TapouT photos and videos, custom wallpapers, and a TapouT Android app (more on this below). MetroPCS also sells a special TapouT case for the Ascend as an accessory. Finally, by buying this phone, MetroPCS automatically enters you into a contest for two ringside seats, return flights, and accommodations at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for the Ultimate Fighter 13 Finale on June 4th, 2011.

TapouT put their mitts all over this phone. It boots with a TapouT logo into a home screen with TapouT wallpaper and a TapouT icon. (What did you expect?) The TapouT icon leads to the extra content, including an MMA-related news feed and hundreds of recent photos. The app itself was quite slow, taking 15 to 20 seconds to move from screen to screen. I watched several streamed videos with choppy frame rates, even when connected over Wi-Fi; moving the time slider back and forth froze the app entirely.

If I’m not a TapouT fan, and not part of the target market, why am I reviewing this phone? [Because I told you to - Ed.] I want to use it as an example of what I consider a ridiculous practice of branding. The whole point of buying a smartphone is so you can customize the heck out of its software. That’s why we bristle at the way carriers like Verizon and AT&T preload apps and lock down portions of their Android phones. This phone is even worse. So in the spirit of that, why not just download the content you want separately and stick with the regular Ascend? Besides, you can buy aftermarket cases from anywhere.

Service Provider
Operating System
Android OS
Screen Size
3.5 inches
Screen Details
320-by-480-pixel, 16m-color glass capacitive TFT touch screen
850, 1900, 1700
High-Speed Data
Processor Speed
528 MHz


It’s Still an Ascend
Okay, now I’ll get down from my soapbox. Aside from all that, this thing is a Huawei Ascend, albeit one with an OS upgrade. A quick recap: the Ascend measures 4.6 by 2.4 by 0.6 inches (HWD) and weighs 4.8 ounces. The new TapouT battery cover is invisible with the face up, so you could still use the Ascend in a board room without the boss getting suspicious. The 3.5-inch glass capacitive display offers 320-by-480-pixel resolution, which is the minimum we consider usable for an Android phone for maximum compatibility with third-party apps. There’s still a mostly-useless trackball beneath the display.

The Ascend remains a tri-band 2G 1xRTT (850/1700/1900 MHz) CDMA device with 802.11b/g Wi-Fi. Voice quality was just okay; I live in a fairly marginal MetroPCS coverage area, and it showed quite clearly with the Ascend. Callers sounded choppy in the earpiece, with plenty of computerized sounding syllables, although it didn’t actually drop any calls. Callers said I sounded about the same; things improved once I stepped outside, anyway. The buggy proximity sensor was a bigger problem; I’d pull my face away from the phone to end a call or respond to an automated system, and it would remain blank. Press the End key to wake the screen, and you’ll disconnect the call.

Apps, Multimedia, and Conclusions
One nice bonus is the Android 2.2 upgrade, which normally improves responsiveness and adds lots of little details throughout the UI. But the 528MHz, ARM11-based Ascend still managed to feel sluggish, with several second delays here and there. Battery life took a nosedive compared with the Android 2.1 version; I only saw 4 hours and 2 minutes of talk time. Music and video playback were the same as before: good but not great. The non-standard 2.5mm headphone jack is still a problem. The 3.2-megapixel auto-focus camera and camcorder perform about average for the price, although it has no LED flash, and recorded videos are still limited to 352-by-288-pixel resolution and about nine frames per second.

The Huawei Ascend TapouT Edition exists because a bunch of marketers sat in a room and came up with it as a way to distinguish an also-ran smartphone. As is the case with any special edition phone, it’s fine if you want to advertise your allegiance to all things MMA. Heck, I’ll admit it: I was partial to Fender’s (now discontinued) version of the T-Mobile myTouch 3G. I liked the classic sunburst finish, matching earbuds, and beautiful travel case, and the guitar-themed apps were neat, too. But I dinged that handset for being something of a poor deal with no actual improved functionality, and the same applies here. If it were me, I’d put the $20 toward a better smartphone like the LG Optimus M ($199, 4 stars), and go click the Like button on TapouT Worldwide’s Facebook page instead.

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