With a good screen, brand new software and a decent design, the Huawei Blaze hides its cheapo origins pretty well. But they become glaringly apparent once you fire up the camera app.
With a 3.2-megapixel sensor, no flash and a fixed focus, this snapper is only suitable for the most casual of photography sessions. There's some intense processing going on in the background too - as you can see in the samples, there's an almost painted look when viewed as 1:1 pixel crops. We have seen plenty of worse cameras on budget phones though, and the Blaze provides slightly more vivid colour than the worst offenders. Its colours are still pretty dull compared with what you'd reap from a proper dedicated digicam, mind.
The level of control the built-in camera app gives you is fairly limited. There are colour effects (sepia, negative, b&w, aqua), a handful of white balance settings and a digital zoom, but no panorama mode, no face detection and no ISO control. Some of these gaps can be plugged by using a third-party app. We wouldn't advise spending too much effort doing so, as they can't improve basic quality of shots - the Blaze takes, and always will take, ropey photos.
Battery life is another predictable stumbling block. The 1200mAh battery will drain within a day of fairly intense use, of browsing the web, consulting Google Maps, playing a few games and leaving the 3G turned on. More careful management of mobile internet will improve this, but you'll still have to charge every day if you want to exploit the Huawei Blaze's potential. Turn 3G off entirely and it'll last several days, but that's no fun, is it? The battery indicator seems unreliable too, reporting that the battery is charging much quicker than can feasibly be possible during the early stages of a battery recharge.
This depressing one-day stamina is standard battery performance for an Android phone - not specific to the Blaze. The same is true of call quality. It's OK and nothing more, and the built-in speaker is not hugely loud. Like most smartphones, making phone calls isn't its forte.
The Huawei Blaze is in many ways a typical mid-range phone. It suffers from the issues that afflict other Androids, and doesn't have any wacky features to set itself apart. What's so special about the Blaze, though, is that instead of matching its big-name price rivals, it comes close to matching handsets twice the price. It has less RAM than the HTC Gratia and a slightly slower processor than the Samsung Galaxy Ace - but it costs a lot, lot less and is otherwise fairly similar.
Its problem is that the Orange San Francisco offers a higher-resolution, larger screen for the same price. Then again, that phone feels a little more plasticky, runs Android 2.1 and only comes into its own once rooted and relieved of the Orange chaff squatting in its app menu. This is Huawei's first walk out into the sun free of the clown suit and sandwich board of another brand, and it's largely a roaring success.
The Huawei Blaze gets you an awful lot for nor much money. Solid build, the full roster of smartphone features and a decent screen ensure the phone can hold its own against devices that cost £200 or more SIM-free. It's not perfect - slight lag and nigglesome soft keys demand some patience - but the big brands of Android just can't touch it at the price.