One of my favourite games is to find the best price/performance values.
This is particularly challenging when it comes to Smart Phones. The new THL W100 (aka Changjiang W100) quad-core Android phone has many strong points to stand out as a safe choice amongst the huge crowd of Chinese phones.
This is one of the most time-consuming research I've done lately.
There are just so many unknown phone manufacturers with as many unknown models, all looking like clones of each others!
It's far easier to figure out a good tablet from the forums and reviews than a phone.
The limited choice of non-phablet phones
My first criteria, the phone size (4.5" screen, shell size 134x64x11.3), reduced the list greatly with the majority of new phones being 5" and more. Also, for my first Chinese smartphone, I wanted to keep my investment minimal, and 130€ for a device with latest hardware and software makes the risk acceptable.
THL or not THL?
A few Chinese manufacturers acquired a good reputation: Xiaomi, Zopo, Lenovo, Star, ... and THL as part of those. The OEM version, Changjiang, only differs by the absence of printed logos. If accessories matter, Changjiang more often comes with a flip cover and back case in the deal. On the other hand, if color matters, the THL-branded W100 recently became available in black.
Some compromises, but not much:
- There's no HDMI on that model and only much dearer phones like the Xiaomi Mi2 seems to have that in the quad-core family. This is however balanced by the Wireless Display feature in Android 4.2 which can send the phone display to a Miracast compliant device.
- The micro-USB does not support OTG accessories.
- The W100 was only available in white when I ordered it, but the black version just arrived on the market.
MTK6589 1.2GHz Quad core Android
1GB RAM/4GB ROM configuration is common in that category, and anything more will mean a much higher price.
The ROM is shared as 1GB internal and 3GB external (internal SD card). Surprisingly there's no bloat-ware included so the initial storage space was almost entirely available.
The CPU is obviously more than adequate to deal with the modest (but good) display and doesn't give a sweat in any situation. I tried some games, although not the heaviest ones yet, and all ran smoothly without the shortest lag.
Screen: the [email protected] screen is very bright and sharp. It can use Auto-brightness thanks to the embedded light sensor. Antutu tester didn't detect any dead pixel and multi-touch handles up to 5 fingers altogether.
Other sensors (detected with AndroSensor): Location, Orientation, Accelerometer, Compass and Proximity. About this last one: The screen was a bit slow to wake up when ending a call, in fact it just needed a visit to Settings>Display>Proximity Sensor Calibration.
Good~Average Cameras: There's one 5mp at the front and one 8mp at the back with an average LED flash. Both sides give average results (but far better than a tablet I recently reviewed) with all the usual limitations of such small sensors, but they achieve correct pictures with the right combination of built-in camera settings and post-processing options. The front camera is perfectly fine for video chat and face unlock even in low light condition.
The rear camera is good for day to day snapshots (and full HD videos) but won't replace a real pocket camera for holidays like the Xperia range would.
Phone (and telephony aspect) quality:
The whole phone shell is made of plastic, not worse than my old mainstream smartphone, with simple design (Galaxy S2-style) and proper finish. The sound quality in both directions is loud and clear. The SIM1 port detected my Meteor Ireland carrier straight away. The screenshot on the right from the Engineering menu (*#15963#*, don't mess with it!) gives the specifications for SIM1 (GSM/UMTS) and SIM2 (GSM only) slots.
Wi-Fi signal: Unlike a tablet reviewed recently, the Wi-Fi connection is very stable even with distant access point (2 floors away)
Bluetooth: I've paired my W100 with numerous devices, including the picky Nissan Connect unit, and could find a single problem yet with either data or audio streaming.
I guess that's mostly due to the huge leap from Gingerbread (my previous phone) to Jelly Bean.
USB: The micro USB port won't power any OTG peripherial, so it's just for data transfer and charging. Using a PC USB port for charging the phone takes forever, unless you set the USB mode as "Charging Only" which then makes a real difference. Still, the most efficient way is use the travel A/C adaptor provided .
Note: one of the USB options, "Built-in CD-ROM" gives access to a useless ISO file holding one pdf document on micro-USB specifications. You can easily replace this (e.g. with drivers) by creating your own iso file and replace the iAmCdRom.iso file under /system/mobile_toolkit. The content of this file will be automatically mounted as the Built-in CD-ROM. Battery life:
It's always difficult to quantify and depend on how many services are used (Wi-Fi, BT, GPS, ...). I found the battery life to be good enough to ensure one of my typical day of use comfortably: BT only for streaming music to auto-radio, no GPS, Wi-Fi always on, auto-brightness, Audio Profile set as "general", frequent access to Hangouts and Emails.
No bad surprise either for the GPS, just working as it should, with only an expected longer first lock, but then obtained within a minute with high accuracy even on a overcast day. Once acquired, the signal remained stable during my test journey.
If it wasn't for the experiment, I wouldn't have rooted the phone yet. For once, a phone that doesn't come cluttered with bloat-ware! The Android 4.2.1 provided is quasi-vanilla.
As for most MTK6589 devices, rooting the W100 is no big deal: it just requires the right MTK6589 PC drivers and a rooting tool such as Motochopper (might generate a false positive from your antivirus). The process took me a few retries (lots of "adb-server is out of date" during the execution) but finally went through.
Same story goes as to flashing the phone: it's the first time that I don't feel the urge to replace the firmware right away, for everything seems just right the way it is! Unless a good reason arises, it might well stay like that until the Key Lime Pie release.
Conclusion: The THL W100 rocks in all aspects. It's well equipped and makes good use of the latest improvements from Android 4.2.1 with no noticeable glitch. Rooting and Re-flashing is completely optional because there's simply no crap-ware to get rid of and no outstanding bugs to address (as far as I can tell after 4 days of use).
A very good surprise in every aspects which is worth every pennies!
Decent battery life
No crap-ware included
All the goodness of Android 4.2.1
Excellent bright and crisp IPS display
Not so good:
USB not supporting OTG