Update, November 15, 2012: The Cherry Mobile Flare does not have an FM radio onboard. We apologize for failing to mention this earlier.
When the Cherry Mobile Flare and its P3,999 shocker of a tag price were first revealed, the budget Android Ice Cream Sandwich smartphone pleased a crowd of resellers and members of the press as much as it raised eyebrows. Some pundits are more skeptical than awestruck.
Who’s to blame them? A dual-SIM, dual-core offering valued like a pair of Nikes is previously unheard of in the Philippines.
But truth be told, the 4-inch Cherry Mobile Flare doesn’t look, feel, or even act like a bargain-basement compromise. We’d go further by saying it’s the farthest thing from it (more on this later). It shouldn’t sell for as cheap… yet it does. And that’s damn good news for all of us!
Design and build quality
In terms of aesthetics, the device borrows heavily from other “made in China” handsets. Translation: It’s an ordinary-looking, all-black number with a design cue that’s the opposite of fresh. You can’t tell it apart from other China-breds when all phones are laying flat on whatever surface.
Gracing the front is a 4-inch real estate; a status indicator; a VGA lens for Skype and other video-calling apps and taking vanity shots. There are also virtual navigation keys for Home, Menu, Back, and Search. The wraparound lining is made of shiny, metal-like material, which is the norm for a few Huawei variants.
However, unlike, say, the Huawei Ascend Y200 (see Review: P5,490 Huawei Ascend Y200 Android phone), the curved back cover has a soft-touch, matte outer layer embossed with an uninspired Cherry Mobile branding in white.
In fairness, the embossed letters—much to our surprise—don’t rub off easily considering the daily beating the device gets from our bag pockets. If anything, the rear cover’s finish, coupled with its gentle curves, adds to a good hand-holding experience.
A standard headphone jack is located up top beside the Power/Lock key.
Moving over to the left of the Cherry Mobile Flare, you’ll see a volume rocker and a microUSB socket for charging and wired file transfers. The setup may take a while to get used to, particularly for those coming from Samsung-made Androids, but it’s one you’ll be able to wrap your head around in a matter of days.
Build quality is another likable affair; Cherry Mobile has done a decent enough job with its rebranded two-core entry. (In case you didn’t know, the device is a rebranded Karbonn A9+.) The form factor feels pleasingly solid altogether.
Hardware and software
Up front, the Cherry Mobile Flare packs a 4-inch 800 x 480 touchscreen mentioned earlier, buffered by IPS techology for better viewing angles and lifelike colors.
To some extent, the panel delivers on the promise of lovely visuals, but we can’t help but deem it wanting when browsing websites and watching videos under direct sunlight. We guess the best way to describe it is that it’s adequate—average at best and not particularly bright at the brightest setting.
The Flare is unquestionably the cheapest dual-core smartphone in the market as of today, boasting a Snapdragon chipset consisting of two 1.2GHz CPU cores. An Adreno 203 chip takes care of graphical duties, and a decent 512MB serving of RAM works well for light to moderate multitasking.
The phone also comes with 4GB of built-in flash storage, with the usual microSD expansion option onboard, and a 1500mAh battery.
As mentioned earlier, the device ships with dual-SIM card slots so you can have both your personal and work numbers accessible at all times without having to bring two phones. The feature comes with one caveat, though: Only one slot has access to 3G mobile data; the other is limited to 2G networks.
Unlike budget Androids stuck in the past—those running Froyo and Gingerbread—the Cherry Mobile Flare is very much a Google-based smartphone of the present.
It’s fairly obvious with the company’s aesthetically pleasing take on Android Ice Cream Sandwich, featuring a clean and colorful collection of rounded icons and functional toggles in the notification shade. Purists will be happy to know that besides a handful of cosmetic differences, Cherry Mobile’s re-skin doesn’t deviate too much from the vanilla Android experience.
Cherry Mobile Flare specs:
- 1.2GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU
- Adreno 203 GPU
- 512MB RAM
- 4GB internal storage with microSD expansion slot up to 32GB
- 4-inch IPS touchscreen (800 x 480 resolution)
- 5-megapixel rear camera; VGA front camera
- 1500mAh battery
- Dimensions: 123 x 62.5 x 11.8mm
- Dual-SIM, dual-standby feature
- WiFi; 3G (one SIM slot)
- Android Ice Cream Sandwich
So much for the specs rundown… now, on to where the real muscle-flexing happens. It’s the insides that Cherry Mobile is relying on to get the Flare into your pockets, and the firm is very likely to succeed in doing so. The Cherry Mobile Flare’s hardware results in performance that stands head and shoulders above similarly priced smartphones.
Compared to smartphones with single-core engines—even those with higher-than-usual clock speeds—it’s visibly more responsive, as everything happens faster on screen. Apps and webpages, for example, load at an increased rate (connection speed notwithstanding) and Play Store best sellers Angry Birds Star Wars and NBA 2K13 run with minimal hesitation.
Needless to say, the fiery dual-core Snapdragon inside this phone makes a notable difference in daily operation.
NBA 2K13 on the Cherry Mobile Flare
Here’s a rundown of benchmark results:
- Quadrant Standard – 2,890
- AnTuTu Benchmark – 5,654
- NenaMark 2 – 34.5fps
- Vellamo – 1,231 (HTML 5); 378 (Metal)
To put it into perspective, the Cherry Mobile Flare scored 5,654 in AnTuTu, and the Huawei Ascend G300 and Lenovo P700 netted 3,225 and 3,605, respectively, in the benchmark suite.
Flipping the smartphone over reveals a 5-megapixel rear-facing optic accompanied by a flash module. It has auto-focus and face detection built in as well. Alternatively, you can use the touchscreen to manually emphasize specific objects in the frame. And as current smart devices go, there’s also a panorama mode to capture landscape shots.
The resulting photos and footage are passable in general, although some are apparently lacking depth and clarity. Not only that, the main camera struggles when shooting in poorly lit places despite the flash. Take note also that you’ll need to pan the device very slowly in order to take serviceable panoramas. To its merit, the handset does pack a handful of color effects and shooting modes to somewhat redeem itself.
The Cherry Mobile Flare may just be an average shooter overall, but given its sub-P4,000 price point, we can hardly complain.
Here are a couple of sample photos we took with the Cherry Mobile Flare.
Sample photo 1
Sample photo 2
In typical Android fashion, the 1500mAh cell inside the Flare taps out after a single day of moderate use. But of course, you’ll be able to skip the nightly charge by cutting down on common battery eaters. You know, the usual suspects like brightness, tethering, and gaming.
It’s not in any way a deal breaker, though you’d be wise to pair this Cherry Mobile with a portable high-capacity battery pack if you have cash to spare.
That said, an extra cell is a must if you’re planning to use the handset like a lesser PlayStation Portable often. And even with the additional cost, we’d wager the sum you’d pay for the Cherry Mobile Flare and the battery is still considerably cheaper than most Android alternatives with similar specs.
Two things make the Cherry Mobile Flare absolutely stand out in a field full of big-name competition: price and computing performance.
It’s amazing enough that the phone packs all the bells and whistles of a mid-end Android offering a working panorama mode, dual-SIM card slots, and Ice Cream Sandwich. All this while being a peso shy of P4,000. The fact that it makes use of a dual-core Snapdragon, which handles resource-intensive apps, tasks, games… simply almost everything you throw at it with relative ease, however, takes it over the top.
Will the Flare eventually set a precedent for spec’d-out, rock-bottom-priced smartphones in the Philippines? Or will other mobile makers remain stubborn on pricing? And if brands do follow suit, does that mean feature phones are in for an earlier-than-expected retirement? We believe so.
Let’s face it, “dumb phones” are called what they are for a reason. Besides having a more-than-stellar battery life, physical keypads, or frustratingly unresponsive touchscreen, and typically being tough as nails—is there anything else genuinely desirable about them?
One thing we’re more than 100% sure of: The device you see before you has value-for-money written all over it. It’s comparably big, yet comfortable in the hands; snappy; and comes with Android ICS on tap. Minor gripes aside, we’re glad to say with certainty that, peso for peso, the Cherry Mobile Flare is the name to beat right now.
Way to go, Cherry Mobile! Pat your backs for a definitive low-priced Android offering.
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