Budget phones mean different things to different people. For giants like Samsung, it’s a challenge to try and squeeze as much of their flagship tech into a handset that’s less than half the asking price. For other vendors, it’s a whole different ball-game: a race to the bottom where big ticket features don’t matter as much and corners are all but encouraged to be cut.
With Huawei’s GR5, it feels like the Chinese smartphone player has taken more than a few queues from its high-end rivals rather than companies more familiar with the budget-phone space. Even if it lacks the polish, this feels more like a Samsung-branded handset that many of its competitors. Still, despite some shortcomings, there’s a lot to like here.
When it comes to specs, it doesn’t exactly trump the S8. However, the performance side of things still shapes up nicely. The GR5 features a 5.5-inch full-HD display, Kirin 655 processor and 3270mAh battery. It’s also packing 3GB of RAM and 32GB of on-board storage.
Design-wise, it’s a little light on flair but more-or-less consistent with its more-expensive cousins. It comes with a clip-on case that adds a layer of transparency and additional protection to the phone’s metal uni-body. All told, the GR5 feels a lot nicer to hold than a $400 handset should – even if it felt just a tad too weighty for me personally.
The GR5 sizes up nicely when it comes to battery. 3340mAh gives the device a usual charge length that’s slightly longer than other phones (16-19 hours of mixed use). It’s not quite at the level of the Huawei’s Mate 9 or Motorola’s own Moto Z Play but it’s pretty respectable regardless.
However, the biggest dot-point here is the dual-lens camera on the back. Similar in nature to the Leica-branded one found in the P9 and Mate 9, it’s a 12-megapixel shooter with a second 2-megapixel camera sitting below it. On paper, Huawei say it can autofocus on a subject in 0.3 seconds and create an impresive “Bokeh” effect that makes portrait photography taken with the phone stand out among the crowd.
Unfortunately, in reality. We found shots taken with the camera just didn’t look that good. Whether its due to the lenses or the sensors involved, they just didn’t have that spark you find in more expensive smartphones. They’re passable but not really much to write home about.
Still, at $400, it’s hard to be too picky. There are lots of settings for photography fanatics to fiddle with, from wide aperture to beauty mode, HDR, panoramas and a full-manual ‘professional mode’. Overall, it feels like it’s definitely possible to take some good shots with this camera – it just feels like it’s going to take some work.
The other weak link here comes with the software side of things. Like the Mate 9 and ZTE’s recent Axon 7, the GR5 delivers a pretty stock-standard Android experience that throws everything at you at once. Right from the outset, I found myself at odds with the device’s set of pre-installed applications and UI. Over time, I grew a little more accustomed to it but it still feels unpolished and disorganized. It feels like every possible feature that you can find in an Android phone is here but there’s not been much thought put in to how to arrange them.
For various reasons, the software side of the GR5 never quite clicked into place. I can respect what it’s doing at the price it’s doing it at but (personally) craved an experience that was a little more curated.
That said, the Huawei GR5 shapes up as a pretty solid handset even if you can clearly see where the corners have been cut. It carries a lot of the same issues you’ll find in Huawei’s flagship phones and the dual-lens camera doesn’t quite live up to expectation but in raw value for money terms, it’s a solid package that’s easy to recommend for those on a budget.