Chinese phones and your requirements
They say, you should never judge a book by its cover. They also say, run a Chinese product for a few months and then you’ll know how good it is.
It’s really true about Chinese products. You really HAVE to be sure. Well, I guess the Chinese non brand market is really coming at par with the brand producing plants, because the phones like Micromax, Xolo, Symphony, Walton are getting better and better every day.
You can’t have all the good things in one product, not even in the much hyped Galaxy S4 or the HTC One or the iPhone 5 or Nokia Lumia 920. Every product has its shortcomings. So what matters, when you think of what you expect from a phone?
Well, for one thing, you definitely want a good battery life, considering the fact that phones these days are resource hungry. You want a good camera, because, you have high chances of running into photo opportunities on the go. Where is your camera when you need it? It’s right there in your pocket. Mobile cameras used to be something that can take photos where you can barely make out that there is something or someone resembling a human being standing in front of the camera when you are shooting. Now, mobile cameras have become something that can easily beat a regular point and shoot camera. But, here, too, the megapixel race like the regular cameras have come into play and often high megapixel doesn’t mean good photo quality. Low light sensitivity still is not up to the mark in mobile cameras.
Chinese re-branded phones in the world and Bangladesh
Ok, let’s get back to the point. People put reviews on high end mobiles on the net all the time. I’m writing on Chinese phones from Symphony. What is Symphony? Ever heard of it? You may have, if you are a Bangladeshi. You may not have, if you are not. So, what does Symphony do? They are like some lesser known mobile handset companies like Micromax, Blu, Xolo, Spice, Karbonn, Celkon, verykool….. and countless other names you may find in GSMArena (ww.gsmarena.com), one of the trusted sites to check phone specs.
What all these handset companies do, is they bring their phones out of cheap Chinese factories that can afford to give high specification phones for very less. The phones these days can give you Quad Core processors with 1.5 GHz+ speed [Chinese brand processors], 1 GB + RAM and high capacity internal memory of as high as 16 GB (as of July 2013). We don’t know what they are going to bring in the coming days, but they are getting bolder and bolder. So, the names I mentioned above just make their phones and imprint their names on the phones and import them from China. Hence, most of the mobiles look similar. A great number of these phones are rebranding done on a certain less known Chinese brand, Gionee. But in fact, they are not the exact copies of the Gionee phones. Phone companies modify the stuff under the hood according to their budget and requirements. The Chinese factories are more than happy to comply.
In Bangladesh, we have a number of less known companies that are bringing these Chinese phones branded in their name. But the two companies that made most names are Symphony and Walton. I, myself has been a Symphony user for a few months in the past, but there are a lot of Walton fans out there as well.
I actually started this review on the Symphony Xplorer W125, which I used for something like 3 months, before I fell for a new model, the Symphony Xplorer ZII (Zed two). It was not like the W125 was giving bad service or anything. Actually it was a superb phone. But the new model was too irresistible.
Symphony W125: Just a few words on the Symphony W125. It had a Mediatek 6589 Quad Core 1.2 GHz Processor, 1 GB or RAM, 4 GB of internal memory split into 2 GB of System reserved space and 2 GB of user space. It had memory card slot allowing up to a 32 GB micro SD card. It had a 4.5 inch high resolution qHD IPS Screen, Android 4.1.2 and a 8 Megapixel Camera with BSI Sensor and flash. I was so amazed by its photo quality that I didn’t need to bring out my DSLR at all to do photo shoots of my little one at home. I will give a sample photo from the W125 below. The W125 had a customized interface of Jelly Bean running, which I found quite similar to the stock Android look.
Symphony Xplorer ZII: Back to the Xplorer ZII. Contrary to the many other Chinese rebranded models that copy designs from Gionee Phones (Symphony W125 was a rebrand of Gionee GN708W), the Symphony ZII copies the design of a phone from Chinese brand Konka’s latest smartphone Konka W980. You can google the phone and learn about it.
Back to Xplorer ZII once again. It’s a phone with Mediatek 65XX Quad Core 1.2 GHz Processor (probably Mediatek 6589), 1 GB RAM, 16 GB Internal memory (2 GB of user available phone storage and 14 GB of system memory). It runs Android Jelly Bean 4.2.1 and has a high definition HD Super AMOLED Screen (1280×720). The screen size is 4.8 inch and the material is also Gorilla Glass, so pretty scratch proof. The camera is a 13 megapixel one for the rear facing one and a 720p one for the front facing camera.
It has all the sensors (accelerometer, GPS, proximity, gyro etc.) and a new user interface developed by Konka Ltd. – the MUSE UI. More on that later.
It has dual SIM function and both SIM sizes are standard traditional mini SIMs. First slot (SIM 1) is definitely a 3G supported slot, while the 2nd one may support a 3G SIM as well. Let’s get into the phone.
Unboxing: The contents of the box were pretty standard – the phone, the battery, an earphone, a charger adapter, a data cable cum charger cable. Also there were the warranty card and the user manual.
Look and Build: Lookwise it’s a total winner. I would say the design beats any available Chinese smartphone brands 10 to 1; it even beats Samsung designs 3 to 1, I would say. And it would be almost competitive with designs from HTC or Google Nexus 4.
The screen, as I already said looks very smooth and so it is to the touch. It does not have the cheap and plasticky feel of the other Chinese smartphone screens. The sides are stylish as well with the power button on one side and the volume up and down button on the other side. There is only the 3.5 mm headphone jack on top and the mini USB port for charging and data connectivity at the bottom.
The back also looks pretty smart, although the shiny finish means a lot of finger smudges that you can wipe off easily. The back, as you can see has the camera and the flash on top and the name written in the middle and lower middle area and the speaker for sound output in the bottom right area of the back.
The Screen: The screen is a HD Super AMOLED display with Gorilla Glass. So, the screen is supposed to be scratch proof, although you could feel tempted to use a screen protector (out of practice over the years). The screen looks brilliantly bright thanks to the Super AMOLED display. Everything looks sharp, crisp. Colors are bright, good enough to match Samsung Galaxy S4.
The touch is very smooth and you are unlikely to feel any lag while swiping the screen.
User interface: The UI is not stock Android. It is a new interface developed by Konka Mobiles ltd. – the MUSE UI. It looks good, however, I didn’t quite like the call, contacts, messaging and browser buttons in the below. They look too Chinese-ey….
The screen lock only allows unlocking, while swiping the screen while it is locked allows you to use camera in Standby mode and also you have options to add more lock screen widgets (like calendar and gallery), just as it is in case of Android 4.2 stock.
The icons look pretty smart with transparent kind of looks on their edges. But of course, if you don’t like the UI, you can always download one of the other launchers available in Google Play store, like Go Launcher EX, Apex Launcher, Nova Launcher etc.
One other thing about the launcher. You can select one of the available themes from the option they provide through a theme selector app.
The top pull down menu looks same as the Android 4.2 default one with notifications showing in the menu, date and time on top and the user profile button on top right corner, clicking which brings the quick settings menu, which also gives access to the full settings menu inside.
The settings menu has the all the standard looks regularly seen in stock Android with a white background unique to this UI. All selection colors (colors that show when you select something) seems to be red by default. Here is a screenshot of the settings menu.
Settings Menu: The settings menu has the standard options available. It also has the Developer Options available by default. The USB Debugging option can be seen in the Developer Options.
Looks like there are quite a number of mods to make from this menu, which are not available in many other phones.
Smart Gesture Options: There is also a sub menu for some smart gesture options (as far as I understood):
I didn’t try them all out. But
- The Smart Hands free feature, when turned on will take your phone to normal phone mode when you pick up the phone from the Speakerphone mode and place it against your ears.
- Direct Call is a feature to directly call a person automatically, who has sent you a message and you have the message open before you and while the message is open, you pick up the phone and place it against your ears.
- The Smart Stay feature will track your eye movements and maintain a smart brightness while reading, browsing etc.
- The Unlock Action is a feature that will enable you to move your hands and pass it in front of the front camera to unlock the screen.
- Gesture lock is a feature, which will allow you to swipe the screen from top down with three or more fingers, which will lock your screen.
Take that, Galaxy S4.
Disk Storage: The disk storage is a total of 16 GB internal. As far as I understood, the user will have 2 GB of memory where applications will be installed and there will be 12 GB (11.08 GB) space available where the user can store media files by copying them there. Here is the screenshot of the storage space from the settings menu.
Contacts and Calling: The contacts menu had the basic functions of alphabetic order and also the options to scroll by alphabet on the right side and option to search people by names.
Pressing the Call button brings a smart dial screen where you can dial through numbers or search names using the numeric alphabet keypad. There are tabs on the bottom to access call log, contacts and other options. Pressing the menu brings advanced options as seen in the picture on the right above. Simply pressing the photo thumbnail commands a dial and if your calling options are not frozen to a certain SIM only, option will be given to choose the SIM to make the call with. Also, if you have called the contact with the SIM 1 frequently before, it will write a word “Suggested” beside the SIM 1 option when giving you option to call.
Messaging: Messaging is pretty standard threaded messaging view. But one unique feature is the Message inbox, where there are separate tabs for Contacts and Strangers. Interesting.
File Manager: One good thing about non-stock UI phones is that they have a file manager installed. The file manager in ZII was pretty standard with all options of New folder, copying, renaming, cutting and pasting available.
Scheduled Power On & Off: Another interesting feature was the Scheduled Power ON and Off feature in the settings menu, which can help you save some battery by turning off the mobile at a time of the night when you sleep and turning it on as you get up in the morning.
Calendar: The calendar app was also pretty good with ability to sync with multiple accounts including your Outlook calendar.
Camera: Now comes the bad news. Grameenphone, the leading operator in the country has launched the handset, emphasizing mainly on the 13 megapixel camera. But the camera does not come at par with the expected quality. The camera in the previous Symphony W125 that I used was so superior with its 8 MP camera with BSI sensor that it did marvels in low light and low light flash. One big problem the ZII camera has is that when the flash fires in low light, it somewhat blurs the photo. Here is a photo from the Symphony W125 with flash from a few days back. It was practically dark in the room.
Indoor with natural daylight
Daylight image is fine.
The camera interface is somewhat like this
Music: The music app looked pretty standard to me and the sounds were good as well. The earphones provided were not impressive at all, so they did a decent job I guess. The sounds were sharp and crisp. But maybe a better earphone will give out of the world experience.
Other Apps: There are some bloatwares installed, but most of them can be uninstalled, others can be disabled from App menu. Some useful software are Android Assistant that can act as Task killer as well as many other things. There was an app called Bootguard, which controlled the number of apps starting with the phone. There’a another app called Firewall, which among other features has a Call/SMS Blocking/Filtering option
Calculator: The calculator was a standard one with standard calculation and Scientific calculator available through scrolling.
Under the Hood
Processor: The processor is a Mediatek 65XX processor (probably a MTK 6589). The processor is a Quad Core Cortex A7 processor with 1.2 GHz Clock Speed. The processor in many benchmarks have been seen to perform better than all high end Dual Core processors but not as good as Quad Core Processors from Snapdragon or Qualcomm or Krait. But on the positive side the processor is much less power hungry, so conserves as much as 65% energy compared to Quad Core processors used in Samsung Galaxy S4s and HTC Ones. So, we get better battery life here.
The screenshot is after 18 hours of use and moderate use of internet, WiFi and games. But looks like the Battery usage graph still has difficulty in showing accurate usage pattern. But the battery charge was still 67%, no doubt about that.
RAM: The RAM is 1 GB, out of which around 700 MB are tied down by processes running all the time. So, user available RAM is just about 300 MB. But it seems enough considering Android is pretty smart in releasing RAM from other background apps to foreground apps, if they need it.
Internal Memory: I have mentioned before in the settings menu. A total of 16 GB internal memory is distributed between 2 GB for programs/apps installation and 11+ GB for media files. The rest of the storage is likely to be system reserved and unavailable to us.
Battery: 2200 mAH Battery gives pretty good charge duration. Standard usage, browsing, games and music (through headphone) should allow you to go for nearly 2 days. That’s pretty good.
Shutting Down the Phone: Here are some modifications from the Stock Android that are for the better:
- Reboot option
- Screenshot option
- Audio profiles
Final Words and Verdict
- Awesome screen
- Beautiful build
- Smooth touch and functions
- Low energy consumption
- High capacity battery
- Customized functionalities that are useful.
- Crappy camera
- App install storage is still 2 GB, which is insufficient. Although you can move any app to External SD Card.
This is the coolest looking Chinese smartphone in the Bangladesh market right now. If you are a little tight on budget (below 15K) and really prefer a good camera, take the Symphony W125. If you want a Walton with Gorilla Glass, you have Walton H2 and Walton NX, which have the same specification except the internal memory which is 4 GB in those models. If you have the budget for it, buy a Samsung Galaxy S4 or S3 or Note 2 or HTC One or Google Nexus 4. But I would prefer this phone over any other models from Samsung.
But if you think, you can somewhat overlook the camera performance in low lights and you are not bothered with the Chinese-Bangladeshi brand engraved in the back, and if (like me) you think that below 20K is the optimum price to pay for a phone that you are going to change in 1 and a half years, anyway (by the way, ZII costs 19,500 taka)…… Go for the Symphony Xplorer ZII.
You’ll love it.