Regular readers will know that we’ve been tracking low cost Chinese smartphones for a number of years, starting with the tacky and almost hilarious iPhone clones, and their other cheap Android cousins. Well times move on, and the Chinese no longer worry about copying the Apple marque, now they’re just into building better products which work well and have some style.
Breakout domestic brands like Huawei and ZTE are already snapping at the heels of the major Western brands, but judging by the latest products we’re seeing out of China, they’re soon going to be joined by a pack of ultra low cost manufacturers who will rip the smartphone market apart like a bunch of rabid hyenas with…['that's enough...' - Ed].
On the face of it, the THL W5 Android smartphone is just like every other low cost Chinese handset on the market, but my how things have changed. This brand new model comes with all the trimmings we now expect from high end smartphones, but at a significantly lower price and with some subtle but very cool differences.
The THL (‘technology, happy life’ – geddit?) W5 sports a 1GHz dual core processor, 1GB RAM (which is an important differentiator with other low cost handsets, which usually feature a bare minimum 512MB!), 4 GB of ROM storage memory, GPS, 3G, WiFi, Bluetooth, an 8 megapixel camera (plus a 2mp up front) and a 1280×720 4.7 inch capacitive touchscreen which features superb graphical resolution and responsiveness.
The battery life from the 2000mAh battery is excellent, and easily delivers over a day’s worth of work from a full charge, thanks, we suspect, to some clever and aggressive power management. But none of these things are especially extraordinary, and when put alongside the major league players like Samsung, Apple and HTC, the handset still struggles in a few areas, although we have to remember that this THL retails for a fraction of their price.
There is however one genuinely world class feature of this phone, which we hope other manufacturers will pick up on and incorporate in their future products. The standout for us is the seamless, simultaneous dual SIM feature. The stock 4.0.4 Android operating system has been revamped to offer full SIM management, which means that you can slot in two SIMs and the phone will make and receive calls and texts from either SIM on demand, with no clumsy switching or reboots needed.
To make a call you press either of the color coded buttons to choose your network, and when you write a text message you have two Send buttons to choose from. You can set up either SIM to handle your 3G data, and set and customize the contacts – and ringtones – for each SIM as you wish. The phone even manages your roaming to prevent you making a call from the ‘foreign’ card, which could be a great money saver.
It’s all superbly implemented and a feature that makes this twin SIM handset a real bonanza of value. The SIM Management section of the Android system is also a joy to use, and it makes it easy to custom tailor your two SIMs the way you want to work, in terms of data, video and voice. It’s fast, easy and very powerful.
There are other nice touches on the phone as well, starting with obvious things like the build quality, which is excellent. The phone feels solid, has a great ergonomic feel to it, and a superb screen. This is not your typical low resolution WVGA, it’s HD proper and it shows! As a size comparison, we shot it alongside a Samsung SII, and a Samsung Note, and as you can see it sits firmly in the middle in terms of screen real estate. A nice compromise in size actually (although we do love the Note).
Read on for my video hands-on, photo samples and more details.