We review the £99 EE Kestrel (also known as the Huawei Ascend G6 4G), currently the cheapest 4G phone you can bag in the UK.
Essentially a Huawei Ascend G6 4G in feathery form, the Kestrel is an enticing prospect if you fancy streaming media on the move, but don’t have enough cash for a 4G data plan and a top-end smartphone. But is the Kestrel a massive budget bargain like the Motorola Moto G, or does it flap straight into the deadly jet engines of mediocrity?
EE Kestrel design: WTF earphone jack
Although the EE Kestrel doesn’t rock any colourful plumage (alright, no more bird references, we promise), it’s a decent-looking 4.5-inch phone. Aside from the curved bottom edge, it’s your typical rectangular Android design. You get three touch-sensitive home, back and menu buttons housed beneath the screen, plus volume and power buttons on the side.
The only real ‘wtf’ moment comes from the earphone jack, which is found on the left edge near the bottom of the phone. This is a Huawei staple that was thankfully ditched for the Ascend P7, as it makes it really difficult to listen to music when the Kestrel’s in your pocket (the phone basically has to be poking out unless you have the pockets of a clown).
Prise off the back plate and you’ll find a battery that’s locked in place, the SIM card slot and a microSD memory card slot.
We’re a bit gutted that the EE Kestrel doesn’t come in a range of colours, not even the vibrant EE yellow that’s splashed all over the box. Maybe we’ve just been spoiled by the bright, bold colours of budget rivals such as the Motorola Moto E and Nokia’s Lumia 630, but the Kestrel seems a little dour in comparison. However, it’s still a smart little handset that’s firmly constructed and easy to operate with a single hand.
EE Kestrel features: 4G streamer
The EE Kestrel’s main draw is its 4G LTE support, a great little feature given the £99 price tag. In comparison, the 4G version of the Motorola Moto G is £50 more expensive.
Of course, you’re only going to benefit from that 4G connectivity if you A) live in a 4G catchment area and B) spend half your day browsing the web and streaming media on your phone. Thankfully EE has spread its 4G coverage around well, with 200 towns now covered across the UK, and most of London supported. Hooray!
Look beyond the 4G and you’ll find a bright, cartoony make-over for Android 4.3 Jelly Bean. It’s the same visual treatment you’ll find on Huawei’s phones, and we’ve got to admit we like the look. As usual you can add widgets to your desktops, although we hate how you can’t hide apps away – you have to have every last one on show, although at least you can pack them away into folders.
You can’t download Huawei’s crazy themes for the Kestrel, but you can set the wallpaper to whatever you want, and tweak stuff like the desktop transition animation. You can also customise the notifications tab to put your favourite power settings in each reach, and there are motion gestures for muting your mobile by flipping it over or answering calls by raising it to your ear.
EE Kestrel screen and media: Bright and shiny
The next slice of awesomeness is the Kestrel’s 4.5-inch screen, which is one of the best budget displays we’ve had the pleasure to use.
That 960×540 resolution matches the likes of Sony’s Xperia M2, a phone that’s twice the price, and gives a pleasing 245 pixels-per-inch. In this price range, the only superior display is the Motorola Moto G’s, which boasts full 720p visuals.
That said, the Kestrel matches the Moto G for vibrancy and brightness. And if you’re with your buddy, you can happily enjoy a movie together on the same screen thanks to the excellent viewing angles.
Many budget phones are a bit stingy with storage, and although you get 8GB of space in the Kestrel, only 5.5GB is available to use, and only around 2GB of that for apps. Good thing you get a microSD memory card slot then – something we pretty much expect in all phones these days.
EE Kestrel performance and battery life: Slick as it comes
Get ready for more gushing, because we loved how slick and smooth the Kestrel is to play with. The 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm processor, backed up by 1GB of RAM, handles Android and your apps beautifully.
Tap on an app and it’ll load almost instantly, and a tap of the home button takes you straight back to the desktop, just like you’d hope. No lag or stuttering like you get with some budget offerings, like the Sony Xperia E1. Gamers will also be pleased with the smooth frame rates we saw from the latest games.
So, what about battery life? Is the Kestrel a short-lived creature thanks to that bright screen, 4G mobile broadband and slick performance? Well, no.
In our first 24 hours with the phone, we used it to browse the web, send some emails and take some photos, and we still had 60% life remaining. In the next 24 we used it more regularly, throwing in some app play, and the Kestrel still happily survived well over 24 hours. If you want to stream movies non-stop, the battery drains a lot quicker, but you’ll still get a little over five hours of playback per charge.
EE Kestrel camera: The gammy wing
Sadly, like the Motorola Moto G and many budget smartphones before it, the EE Kestrel stumbles (or mis-flaps) when it comes to the 5-megapixel camera.
Our main criticism is that our photos lacked sharpness. Many of our shots had a soft, almost hazy quality to them, and the focus particularly seemed to struggle with up-close macro shots, often blurring the subject.
Thankfully it’s not all bad news. Colours really stand out, and picture quality is generally fine for sharing around online. And you get more features than the standard budget snapper, with HDR, Sound & shot and 720p video modes all present, plus object tracking and voice activation. And we’re pleased to see an LED flash for night shots.
EE Kestrel verdict
EE’s Kestrel phone isn’t just the cheapest 4G phone around, it’s also one of the best budget phones we’ve fiddled with in 2014. The 4G support is a fantastic feature that no similarly priced mobiles can offer, and it’s backed up by a slick all-round mobile experience.