EE Harrier and Harrier Mini review

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Hardware

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Last year, EE sought the manufacturing grunt of Huawei to deliver its first own-brand device. This time around, however, EE drafted in an old friend from the Orange and T-Mobile days, BenQ, to produce the Harrier and its smaller sibling. The result is a pair of bespoke devices developed for EE alone, as opposed to a retooled and rebranded version of an existing device as is the Kestrel. Despite being made specifically for the carrier, though, neither Harrier manages to shake that OEM-made aura all own-brand handsets seem to bear.

That’s not to say either is particularly unseemly, just that they have a generic quality to them. Rectangles with rounded corners, slightly curved backs — not too thin and not too fat: basic, functional design. Due to its larger display, the Harrier is significantly taller and wider than the Mini, but otherwise they’re identical in appearance. The only real defining feature of the pair is the brushed metal-effect back they share, which looks like it was lifted off an HTC One M8 or M9. It’s just a removable plastic cover shielding the micro-SIM and microSD card slots, but somehow it doesn’t come off as tacky despite it being an obvious imitation of more premium materials. The gold ring around the main camera lens and mirrored EE logo aren’t gaudy either, even if they sound like EE trying hard to make the Harriers look like something they’re not.

They certainly don’t feel excessively cheap, anyway. Build quality is robust and consistent across both Harriers, although being all-plastic affairs means you can twist and flex them (especially on the larger model) to a greater extent than if there were metal or extra glass incorporated into the design. There aren’t any squeaky seams, ill-fitting backplates or loose buttons, though, which are typical indicators of crude builds.

In use, both handsets are comfortable enough, with curves in the appropriate places that allow them to rest snugly in your palm. If I had to pick a side, however, I’d have to say I prefer the Harrier Mini to its bigger brother. It’s smaller, lighter, cuter and slips into your trouser pocket that much easier. The Harrier proper, in comparison, is much more difficult to use one-handed; awkward, almost. Yes, it has a significantly bigger, 5.2-inch display, but it doesn’t seem like much attention has been paid to ergonomics. The 5.2-inch LG G2 feels downright small in comparison. Still, you might not mind giving your hand a bit of a workout in exchange for the extra screen real estate.

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EE didn’t cut any corners when it came to the devices’ screens. The Harrier has a 5.2-inch, full HD display (1,920 x 1,080) and the Mini, a 4.7-inch, 720p panel (1,280 x 720), both of which are respectable for their respective price points and sizes. And, despite a gap in pixel density between the two — 424 ppi for the Harrier and 312 ppi for the Mini — I can’t see any noticeable difference in acuity. Both are IPS LCD panels, meaning deep blacks aren’t their strong suit. Whites, on the other hand, are accurate, and colours are as vibrant as they should be. The Harrier’s display seems to have a little extra pop when bright colours are at play, but only when both handsets are next to each other showing the same image can you tell there’s a slight disparity.

Viewing angles aren’t the best, but they are by no means terrible, and sunlight readability is an area in which both shine. There’s plenty of power available to those LCD displays, especially the Harrier; enough to cut through the majority of glare on especially bright days. Android Lollipop’s adaptive-brightness setting judges situations admirably, but manual tweaks are sometimes necessary if you’re trying to frame a picture when the sun’s on your back, for instance.

Software

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Both Harriers come with Android 5.0 Lollipop out of the box. The latest version of Google’s mobile OS is a significant upgrade from the last, so if you want to catch up on everything that’s changed, from the new “Material Design” language to added features, check out our full review here. EE hasn’t taken it upon itself to create any kind of branded skin for the Harriers, so you’re getting more or less the stock Lollipop experience. I say “more or less” because the carrier has decided to preinstall a lip-curling amount of bloatware, none of which can be uninstalled to free up space or declutter the app tray.

Some of this is pretty irritating, particularly the “Free Games & Apps” store I wouldn’t peruse if you paid me. Others, like Lookout Security & Antivirus and MailWise (an email client), some might find useful, but definitely didn’t need to be baked in. It’s a similar story for all of Amazon’s services: Kindle, Local, Music and its Appstore. I often take advantage of Amazon’s free app promotions and I’m invested in the Kindle ecosystem, but I’d prefer to make my own decisions and not be force-fed apps and services. It’s worth mentioning here that all of Google’s services are present on the handsets, too, so you’ve got access to the Play store (et cetera) as well as Amazon’s equivalent.

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The Harriers were announced shortly after EE launched its seamless WiFi calling feature, and the Mini was pitched as the “most affordable 4G smartphone with WiFi calling.” This isn’t actually live on either Harriers at the moment, though, and is coming “this summer” as part of a software update. So, if WiFi calling is of particular importance to you, know that neither device is currently compatible.

Camera

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Another area in which the two Harriers differ is their camera chops. Both sport 2-megapixel front-facing cameras for selfies and video calling, but the Harrier has a 13MP main camera compared with the Mini’s 8MP primary shooter. Surprisingly, you won’t find the stock Android camera app on either device; instead, there’s an app of unknown origin in its place. It takes a split-second longer to load than I’d like, and makes for a slightly more cluttered viewfinder. But it has a similarly basic interface. By this I mean you’re not overwhelmed with options: White balance, exposure compensation and ISO settings are all taken care of automatically. The menus aren’t for fine tweaking, but they’re where you find the panorama photo and slow-motion video modes, image quality settings — that sort of thing.

 

source:http://www.engadget.com/2015/05/22/ee-harrier-and-harrier-mini-review/

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