EE Harrier review: 4G and a full-HD screen under £200

With 4G connectivity and a large full-HD screen under £200 the EE Harrier is excellent value. Nevertheless, it's difficult to get excited about this smartphone. Find out why in our EE Harrier review. Updated on 02/7/15 with our video review. Also see: Best cheap 4G phones.  

Sold exclusively in the UK through EE, the Harrier is available free on contracts from £21.99 per month, for which you'll receive 500 minutes, 500MB of data and unlimited texts. We're also told you can buy it in store on a PAYG basis for £199. 

The fact the Harrier is available on EE's 4G network is exciting not only because it's fast, but because later this year the phone will also benefit from EE's Wi-Fi Calling service. This eliminates mobile signal problems by allowing you to route calls and texts over Wi-Fi, without you even realising it's happening. It's just a shame Wi-Fi Calling wasn't available to the EE Harrier at launch. Also see Best smartphones 2015 and best Android phones 2015. 

The Harrier is joined by the cheaper Harrier Mini, which replaces the Kestrel, another excellent value 4G phone from EE. But the Harrier is a completely different bird to the Mini, and while they look the same they have a very different squawk. 

The Harrier's larger 5.2in screen is a key selling point. This IPS panel is very bright with realistic colours and strong viewing angles. It's usefully large without bordering on phablet territory, and reasonably slim bezels and a slightly curved rear mean the phone still feels good in the hand.  

More importantly, though, this is a full-HD (1920x1080, 424ppi) panel, which means it's very clear and an ideal display for watching videos and viewing photos. Full-HD is still far from standard for a cheap 4G phone. 

The Harrier's got bigger wings than the Mini, too, with an octa-core Snapdragon 615 chip clocked at 1.5GHz, a generous 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage (plus microSD support), a 2,500mAh battery and a 13Mp rear camera. Performance *should* be good. 

Trouble is, it's not. While the Harrier is a capable smartphone and will be fine for many people in daily use, it's not the benchmark results but the amount of time we were left hanging around when trying to do just about anything that irked us most in using this phone. In launching apps or even just waking the screen we found ourselves waiting several seconds for the Harrier to respond.  

For the amount of time you were waiting for the screen to turn on, you kind of feel as though the Harrier could have made more of an effort, too. (Or less.) You get a vanilla implementation of Lollipop, and then about three inches of bloatware slapped on top. It's immediately obvious, with Lookout and Deezer shortcuts and a massive Amazon widget staring back at you from the home screen. After installing our benchmarks less than half the storage space was available. 

The design could do with a little something else, too. There's nothing exactly 'wrong' with the Harrier's looks, but it's very functional, and boring. EE has tried to spice things up with a brushed-metal-effect rear cover, silver EE logo and gold camera surround, but we're not fooled: this is still very much a plastic smartphone, and it feels like one. 

So while there's lots to love about the EE Harrier, there are also a few things we definitely don't love. Let's have a more in-depth look at the EE Harrier. 

EE Harrier review: Superb-value phone with 4G and a full-HD screen under £200, the EE Harrier will suit lefties down to the ground

EE Harrier review: Price and UK availability 

For the money the Harrier is a good deal. Most £200 phones will come with lower-resolution and potentially smaller screens, and 4G is not a given at this price point. EE clearly has some deals in place to help it lower the cost, and you're unable to remove the Deezer, Amazon, Lookout and other apps preinstalled on this phone. 

The EE Harrier is available now, in-store at £199 or free on contracts from £21.99 per month. At this price you'll receive unlimited texts, 500 minutes and 500MB of data. Once Wi-Fi Calling becomes available for the Harrier that will also be included in your package. 

EE Harrier review: Design and build 

At this price you really can't expect a premium build. On the plus side the bezels are extremely thin, the phone is reasonably slim for a budget model and also lightweight, and the 5.2in full-HD screen is fantastic under £200. 

With an IPS display, the EE Harrier offers realistic screen colours, decent viewing angles and it's usefully bright. At 5.2in - large but not too large - it's also a great fit for watching movies and viewing photos, which isn't often something we can say about phones at this price point. (Gaming, not so much, but casual games will play fine on the Harrier.) 

EE has made an effort to spruce things up with a brushed-metal-effect rear (it's still plastic) and a gold camera surround; as an own-brand phone you'll also find a silver EE logo on the back cover. The slightly curved rear and rounded corners make the EE Harrier fit naturally in the hand, too. 

But a few things give away this phone's mid-range price. First and foremost, it's entirely plastic, and that brushed-metal-effect rear does little to conceal the fact. The removable cover adds to this cheap feel, with the Harrier creaking a little in use. Given that the battery is not removable, we'd have preferred to have seen a side-loading tray for the Micro-SIM and microSD card, and a fixed rear. 

The button placement is bizarre. Unusually, the EE Harrier is far more comfortable to use in the left hand than it is in the right. Held in your left hand the thumb falls naturally over the power button and fingers over the volume rocker; held in the right hand the distance between the two is simply too great, and all the steps EE has taken to make the phone comfortable to use in one hand quickly become forgotten as you struggle to adopt the awkward hand contortions necessary to operate the Harrier. Sadly, for EE, this reviewer is right-handed. But lefties will love it. 

EE Harrier review: Superb-value phone with 4G and a full-HD screen under £200, the EE Harrier will suit lefties down to the ground

EE Harrier review: Hardware and performance 

The EE Harrier is equipped with a 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 octa-core processor, 2GB of RAM and 16GB storage, which can be expanded via a microSD slot - and you'll want to do so. Having installed our benchmarks less than half the capacity was available (and they really aren't that big). A 2500mAh non-removable battery keeps it all going. 

That sounds like a reasonable specification for a mid-range phone, but in our experience with the EE Harrier we found it would take a second or two to think before doing whatever you had asked of it, whether that was launching an app or opening the Settings menu. Remember, though, that this is a £200 phone. We're used to reviewing super-fast handsets such as the Samsung Galaxy S6, which cost three times the price, and what seems like an interminable wait to us an average user wouldn't batter an eyelid at. For that reason we also measure performance using several benchmarks. 

In our benchmarking of the EE Harrier we found performance similar to that of Chinese phones such as the ZTE Blade S6 and S6 Plus, Doogee F1 Turbo Mini and Bluboo X6. Some of these phones are significantly cheaper than the Harrier, but while you might save money buying phones from China (the EE Harrier is also made in China, but sold in the UK through EE), you could also get hit with additional customs charges and if you need to return a faulty device you could have trouble. By buying direct from EE you should be able to get any problems sorted relatively quickly and easily. Read more about the ins and outs of buying grey-market tech. 

In Geekbench 3, which measures processor performance, the EE Harrier recorded 640 points single-core, and 2042 multi-core. That makes it a little slower than the ZTE Blade S6 (2420) and S6 Plus (2095), but faster than the Doogee F1 Turbo Mini (1947) and Bluboo X6 (1940). Comparing it to some other phones with which you may be more familiar, it's slower than an LG G2 (2271), but faster than the HTC Desire 816 (1503) and new Moto E 4G (1463). Importantly, it's much faster than EE's previous own-brand 4G phone, the Kestrel, which recorded 1152 points (at half the price, mind). 

Next up is SunSpider, which measures JavaScript performance (and in which a lower score is better). We run this benchmark in Chrome to ensure a fair test across phones, and saw 1275ms for the EE Harrier. That places the Harrier very much in Microsoft Lumia or Windows Phone territory, with the 640 scoring 1201ms, the 735 1217ms, 435 1284ms and 535 1295ms. In comparison to Android phones it's in the Huawei P6/P7 and HTC Desire 610's domain - not amazing, but by no means attrocious (the Sony Xperia Tipo still wins that award with 5781ms). You can compare the Harrier's performance to all other phones reviewed by PC Advisor in our article What's the fastest smartphone 2015. 

A new test for us is AnTuTu, in which the EE Harrier recorded 29,154 points. We have few in-house results with which to compare this, but according to other results in the AnTuTu database that makes it faster than the original HTC One (M7), but slower than the Nexus 5 and LG G3. 

Graphics performance comes next, for which we use GFXBench 3.1. In the T-Rex test the EE Harrier recorded 15fps, which is slightly faster than the Kestrel (14fps), and on par with the HTC Desire 610, LG G2 mini and Sony Xperia M2. In Manhattan we saw just 6fps, which is the same score we saw from the new Moto E 4G. This phone hasn't been designed with gaming in mind, but you should find it quite capable of handling casual titles. 

Lastly we measure battery life performance, and for this we again turn to Geekbench 3.0. As with AnTuTu, this is a relatively new test to the PC Advisor lab, and we have few scores with which to compare the Harrier's performance. However, of the scores we do have, the EE Harrier turned in by far the worst performance with 1424 points (03:33:20). Even its little brother, the Harrier Mini, performed better, with 2163 points (05:24:10). While you might assume this difference could be put down to the lower-spec hardware on the Mini, the phone that scored the highest in this benchmark was the Samsung Galaxy S6, which has a much higher-resolution screen, significantly faster hardware and only 50mAh extra in the battery department. 

With moderate real-world use the Harrier should get you through the day, but expect nothing more beyond that. Smart battery options let the Harrier automatically turn off Wi-Fi and data connectivity when the screen is off. You can set this to occur only between certain 'off-peak' times, such as overnight when you don't want to be disturbed, or to happen all the time. However, if you want people to be able to get hold of you, that's perhaps not the best idea. The Harrier can also show you which apps might be causing excessive battery drain. 

EE Harrier review: Superb-value phone with 4G and a full-HD screen under £200, the EE Harrier will suit lefties down to the ground

EE Harrier review: Connectivity 

A key selling point of this phone is its 4G connectivity. At £100 that's impressive; at £200 it's a nice extra - not all phones at this price have it, but neither is it a surprise, and especially not in an own-brand EE handset. You can check out some other great-value 4G phones in our Best cheap 4G phones article. 

One of the perks of buying an EE phone, though, is Wi-Fi Calling. This is not yet available to the Harrier, but it will be later this year. Wi-Fi Calling is a god-send if you often find yourself without mobile signal, allowing the Harrier to route your calls and texts over a Wi-Fi- rather than mobile network. You won't even notice the difference, and the minutes and texts you use simply come out of your monthly allowance. Read more about EE Wi-Fi Calling. 

In other respects all the usual connectivity bases are covered. There's 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC but, unlike many Chinese-made phones, the Harrier is not dual-SIM. If you need a dual-SIM phone, check out our dual-SIM buying advice. 

EE Harrier review: Superb-value phone with 4G and a full-HD screen under £200, the EE Harrier will suit lefties down to the ground

EE Harrier review: Cameras 

On paper, the 13Mp camera fixed to the rear of the EE Harrier is excellent. It has an LED flash, and a gold camera surround makes it all seem a little bit special. It can capture 1080p (full-HD) video, and there's also a 2Mp selfie/Skype camera at the front.  

Very few camera controls are available, but you do get smile-, voice- and touch-activated capture, plus a countdown timer. You can select Auto, Night or Panorama modes, while HDR is on or off and no real-time filters are available.  

The results, as you can see in our test shots below, aren't bad. But you'll want to switch on HDR (as seen in the second shot), and even then detail is lacking. Colours are natural, though, and for the money the results are acceptable. 

EE Harrier review: Superb-value phone with 4G and a full-HD screen under £200, the EE Harrier will suit lefties down to the ground

EE Harrier review: Superb-value phone with 4G and a full-HD screen under £200, the EE Harrier will suit lefties down to the ground

We also ran a video test using the primary camera, but found the footage quite jerky. 

EE Harrier review: Software 

The EE Harrier runs a very plain implementation of Android Lollipop, and even uses the Nexus launcher. However, there is a lot of bloatware slapped on top, and none of it can be uninstalled. Additional extras include Lookout, My EE, Amazon Kindkle, Local, Music and Appstore, Deezer and Games & Apps. By the time we had installed our benchmarks, only 7.89GB of the Harrier's 16GB of storage was available.

EE Harrier review: Superb-value phone with 4G and a full-HD screen under £200, the EE Harrier will suit lefties down to the ground

Read next: Best new phones coming in 2015.

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EE Harrier: Specs

  • 5.2in full-HD (1920x1080) IPS display, 424ppi
  • 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 octa-core processor
  • 2GB RAM
  • 16GB storage
  • microSD slot
  • 13Mp rear camera with LED flash, 1080p video recording
  • 2Mp front camera
  • Android Lollipop
  • 4G up to 150Mb/s
  • Micro-SIM
  • Wi-Fi Calling coming soon
  • 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • NFC
  • 2500mAh non-removable battery
  • 74.5x8.9x147mm
  • 145g
  • Geekbench 3.0: 640 single-core, 2042 multi-core
  • SunSpider (Chrome): 1275ms
  • AnTuTu: 29,154
  • GFXBench 3.1: 15fps T-Rex, 6fps Manhattan
  • Battery life (Geekbench 3.0): 1424 (03:33:20)
  • 5.2in full-HD (1920x1080) IPS display, 424ppi
  • 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 octa-core processor
  • 2GB RAM
  • 16GB storage
  • microSD slot
  • 13Mp rear camera with LED flash, 1080p video recording
  • 2Mp front camera
  • Android Lollipop
  • 4G up to 150Mb/s
  • Micro-SIM
  • Wi-Fi Calling coming soon
  • 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • NFC
  • 2500mAh non-removable battery
  • 74.5x8.9x147mm
  • 145g
  • Geekbench 3.0: 640 single-core, 2042 multi-core
  • SunSpider (Chrome): 1275ms
  • AnTuTu: 29,154
  • GFXBench 3.1: 15fps T-Rex, 6fps Manhattan
  • Battery life (Geekbench 3.0): 1424 (03:33:20)

OUR VERDICT

At £200 EE's Harrier offers 4G connectivity, a great 5.2in full-HD IPS screen and the promise of Wi-Fi Calling. For many people that will make it an excellent deal. But a number of issues prevented us getting too excited about this smartphone: there's a load of bloatware, relatively sluggish performance, unremarkable battery life, some awkwardly placed buttons, a plastic build, and the camera performance isn't great.

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