EE Harrier Mini review: A palm-sized high-def 4G machine that gives the Lumia 640 and Moto E a decent run for their money, despite ropey performance
Last year, EE’s own-brand Kestrel was one of the best sub-£100 smartphones we reviewed, offering 4G browsing, HD visuals and swift performance on a budget. This year, there are two new offerings: the £149 EE Harrier, which packs a 5.2-inch Full HD screen, and the dinkier EE Harrier Mini, which cuts back the specs a little and shrinks to a 4.7-inch 720p screen, for just £99.
If price is more of a factor than performance, you’ll probably be swaying towards the Harrier Mini – but is it any good?
The EE Kestrel was basically a rebranded Huawei smartphone, but EE has instead looked to Taiwanese tech firm BenQ to provide the Harrier Mini’s hardware. From the front, the phone is completely non-descript. With no kind of logo to speak of, plus a pretty bog-standard all-black glossy finish, this really could be pretty much any cut-price phone on the market.
However, flip that bad boy over and you’ll find the plastic back is masquerading as a shiny brushed metal body. The textured effect is pretty and helps the Harrier Mini to stand out amongst its peers.
That said, the Harrier Mini is quite a chunky beast and those fat bezels surrounding the screen make it fill the hand more than similarly sized phones like the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact. In fact, the Harrier Mini is almost the same size as the 5-inch Moto G, for comparison purposes.
Regardless, the Harrier Mini – despite not really being that mini – can still be used one-handed. It’s also quite light and slips into a pocket without too much fuss. In fact, the only ‘funny’ that took a while to get used to was the left-mounted power button, a massive departure from most phones which have the power button up top or on the right edge.
You can prise the back off the phone to get at the innards, although the battery isn’t removable. Inside you’ll find a SIM card slot, plus a microSD memory card slot for expanding the teeny 4GB of usable built-in storage.
Features and interface
EE has wisely loaded Android Lollipop onto the Harrier Mini and then left it well alone, so you get a vanilla Android experience that’s typically only found on Google’s own Nexus handsets. EE’s tinkering is restricted to throwing on a colourful green wallpaper, plus a couple of EE and Amazon apps.
And of course, as this is an EE mobile, the Harrier Mini packs full 4G support. From Central London to the outskirts of zone 6, I managed to get a 4G signal a surprising amount of the time. Web browsing is suitably nippy and I had no problems streaming video on the go, with none of that tedious buffering malarkey.
WiFi Calling demonstrated on a Galaxy S6 at EE’s launch event
The Harrier Mini is also officially the cheapest handset that supports WiFi calling, which on EE just went live earlier this month. This allows you to ring your mates using your WiFi instead of your mobile quota, which is great news if you’re low on signal or remaining minutes.
We’ve already covered Android Lollipop’s standard features in great detail in our massive Lollipop review, so check that out for more info.
Screen and media
One of the EE Kestrel’s best features was the bright and sharp 4.5-inch screen and the Harrier’s display is another worthy budget offering. It’s very similar to the new Moto E’s screen, offering crisp 720p visuals and a top brightness that can counter a lot of ambient light and glare.
And while colours could be a little more vibrant, images certainly don’t disappoint given the low asking price.
The Harrier Mini’s single speaker is housed on the rear, near the base of the phone. It’s annoyingly easy to muffle with your fingers when watching a video and won’t exactly shake the walls on top volume, but quality is perfectly fine for enjoying a bit of YouTube.
Performance and battery life
If you’re the kind of user who only pulls out their phone to occasionally check messages and maybe have a browse of the web on your commute, you’ll easily get two full days of use between charges. The Harrier Mini still boasts solid battery life if you ramp up usage too, lasting a day and a half even if you take a few camera shots, mess around with apps and have the occasional quick go on Crossy Road.
Take it to the limit by streaming HD video non-stop and you’ll get over six hours of playback per charge, a better-than-average result.
As for performance, the EE Harrier Mini packs a bog-standard 1.2GHz quad-core processor and 1GB of RAM. In everyday use I found that performance was a bit of a mixed bag.
Often things would be nice and smooth, most likely helped by the vanilla OS, which isn’t weighed down by pointless overlays and extra features ticking away in the background. However, if I tried playing around with a few too many apps at once, there would usually be a lengthy pause or stutter as I tried to quit back to the desktop or switch tasks, an inevitable curse of the single gig of RAM.
I also found that some more intensive games such as Implosion: Never Lose Hope skipped frames to a near-unplayable level, so you’ll want to stick with more basic time wasters like Candy Crush Saga.
An 8-megapixel camera sits perfectly flush in the back of the Harrier Mini, complete with an LED flash. The camera interface is a little cluttered, with lots of options permanently housed on-screen, and I also found that taking a shot could be quite laggy, especially if you try shooting a few in quick succession.
Still, for a basic budget camera, the Harrier Mini’s snapper does a decent job of capturing shots to share online. A fair few of my snaps looked a little murky and sharp light contrast totally throws off the lens, so you certainly can’t shoot into the sun. However, get the lighting right and you’ll find your pics pack a decent amount of detail. HDR mode seems to help too, although you’ll have to hold the phone very steady to avoid blurry snaps.
You also have a 2-megapixel front-facing camera for those essential selfies. My photos came out a little grainy when viewed back on a larger screen, but they’ll do the job just fine for sharing your mug with the world over social media.
EE’s Harrier Mini is one of the most affordable ways to enjoy 4G and sports plenty of strong features, including WiFi call support, an HD screen to make the most of your movie streaming and solid all-day battery life. However, you will have to put up with the occasional stutter and jerk and the camera can be a little frustrating.
For a solid alternative, check out the new Motorola Moto E.