The EE Hawk is a welcome change of pace from four-figured smartphone flagships, but is far from budget perfection
- Incredibly cheap
- Decent performance for the price
- Underwhelming battery life
- Camera struggles in low-light
- Disappointing display
Oh dear, spending north of £700 on the latest smartphone is beginning to become commonplace, isn’t it? With the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and Apple iPhone X leading the way, the price of flagship phones skyrocketed last year, but that’s not to say all smartphone segments are following suit.
Following the apparent success of the Harrier way back in 2015, EE is once again offering a brief respite from the possibilities of a pricey flagship takeover. Continuing the British network provider’s avian naming tradition, the EE Hawk is the firm’s latest budget smartphone for 2018 and it’s an enticing proposition.
EE Hawk review: What you need to know
Let’s get one thing clear from the get-go, though, the EE Hawk isn’t one of these flashy, all-glass, edge-to-edge screened prima donnas. Instead, it’s a bland-looking 5in handset with a 720p display and a not-so-special 13-megapixel camera on the rear. The Hawk won’t be winning any awards for innovation, that’s for sure.
And it certainly isn’t a particularly speedy beast, either, with a low-power MediaTek MT6750 processor powering things, complete with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of onboard storage, expandable via microSD. It’ll do the job but you won’t love the way it does it.
EE Hawk review: Price and competition
For the price, though, it’s perfectly adequate, given you can pick up almost six and a half Hawks for the starting price of a single iPhone X at a meagre £150 a pop. That’s dirt cheap, if I hadn’t already made that clear.
There’s plenty of similarly-priced competition, too. Glance at our best budget phone list and you’ll find the Hawk has its work cut out, facing stiff competition from Lenovo’s long-lasting P2 (£169), the super-budget Alcatel Pixi 4 (£49) and the snap-happy Moto G4 (£169). Pay a little more and you can pick up Samsung’s recent Galaxy J5 for around £195.
EE Hawk review: Design
The Hawk isn’t much to look at but neither is it outright ugly. In fact the biggest issue of all is that its glossy rear is dreadful for picking up fingerprints, it’s the worst offender I’ve seen in recent times. I was forever wiping the back and taking product shots for this review felt like I was stuck in perpetual torment.
Still, it’s a welcome change of pace to use a small form-factor, 5in phone and I’ll always applaud the appearance of the 3.5mm headphone jack, which can be found on the top edge.
Elsewhere, you’ll find a USB-C port for charging on the bottom flanked by dual downward-firing speaker grilles with the power button and volume rocker keys on the right side and microSD and SIM card tray on the left. There’s a fingerprint sensor on the rear as well, just beneath the camera and dual-LED flash.
EE Hawk review: Display
Next, onto the 5in 1,280 x 720 display, which to put things mildly isn’t great. Quite apart from the low-resolution screen, which is just about acceptable at this size, it simply doesn’t deliver enough punch. Colours lack any kind of vibrancy, making for a particularly washed-out display with a nasty blue tint tingeing everything in sight.
Sure, it’s cheap, but you can get much better than this than the money, and our X-rite display calibrator agrees. The screen covers a mere 79.6% of the sRGB colour gamut and the average Delta E of 6.66 (the closer to 1 the better) is inexcusable. It drove me nuts in the week I was using it and I suspect I’m not alone.
EE Hawk review: Performance and battery life
As for performance, things get slightly better. Under the hood is an octa-core, 1.5GHz MediaTek MT6750 processor paired with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, expandable by up to 256GB via microSD.
That might sound uninspiring but given the price, performance is far from abysmal. In fact, place its Geekbench 4 CPU scores next to its closest rivals and you’ll spot very little difference. The Hawk does the job, can juggle multiple apps without too much hassle and is capable of running the majority of the Google Play Store’s library of mobile games. You’d be greedy to ask for much more.
With a low-powered processor usually comes greater power efficiency, although there’s little evidence of that here. The EE Hawk lasted a mere 10hrs 4mins on a single charge in our continuous video rundown test. Translated to day-to-day usage, that should be just about enough to get you through a day, just don’t expect to have a two-hour long WhatsApp call with your Grandma in the evening.
EE Hawk review: Camera
There’s no point in putting it off any further, the verdict is coming up: the Hawk’s rear camera isn’t great. Okay, you can’t expect much for £150 but when the Moto G4 still clutches the crown for budget smartphone photography and did things so well nearly two years ago, you simply have to be critical.
The issues predominantly lie in low-light photography. Once the lights dim, the Hawk’s 13-megapixel rear camera struggles to capture any discernible detail in shots with an abundance of visual noise and an overall softness to images that makes them unshareable in all but the smallest of sizes.
Switch to outdoor scenery with plenty of light, and the Hawk does slightly better, but the results aren’t exactly going to get you noticed on Instagram. In the test shot below, intricate details such as brickwork and wisps of clouds are reproduced nicely, but images lack contrast punch and shots look whitewashed and dull.
EE Hawk review: Verdict
Oh dear, it isn’t looking good for the Hawk, is it? Sure, at £150 one or two of its long list of issues can be rightly excused, but there are simply better alternatives at this price.
For instance, Lenovo’s P2 has an unbeatable battery life – provided you can find one in the UK – and Samsung’s Galaxy J5 offers better performance, a far better display and a more impressive camera for just a little bit more. Likewise, I still haven’t found a better budget camera than the one plonked on the back of Motorola’s Moto G4.
And so, it’s probably best to let the Hawk fly as far away from you as its metaphorical wings can take it. The Hawk isn’t the budget predator I initially hoped it would be.