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Vowney V5 Review
The Vowney V5 is one of a number of MT6589 devices available for a rock bottom price in China. But how does it measure up?
Since its introduction in 2008, the stratospheric rise to prominence of the Android operating system has in many ways led to what can only be described as a mobile device revolution in China. With it’s ‘Open Source’ nature, it has to some degree served to remedy the Achilles heel of many a Chinese device that came before it... the issue of software.
Not only has it enabled some of the most prominent Chinese manufacturers Like Huawei and ZTE to become household names within the mainstream consumer mobile industry, it has also opened a wealth of possibilities to a whole load of other smaller home-grown manufacturers that may not have previously been able to engineer and manage such complex software systems.
After closely following the rise of Meizu from clone-like imitator to genuine innovator, it was really Xiaomi’s introduction of the cult Mi One phone in 2011 that made me take the plunge and order my first Chinese phone.
Since then however times have changed... it’s not only household names like Xiaomi producing powerful smartphones on a low budget. With the introduction of MediaTek's highly capable MT6589 and MT6589T cpu’s we are starting to see sub £100 (China price) smartphones that are not only powerful but also able to match and often eclipse the performance of their mainstream rivals within the price range.
This review will focus on the quad core, MT6589 based, 5 inch Android phone from lesser known manufacturer Vowney called the V5.
- Manufacturer: Vowney
- Operating System: Android 4.2.1 OS
- Processor: MTK6589 Quad Core, Cortex A7 @ 1.2GHz
- Graphics: Power VR SGX544MP2
- Screen: 5.0 inch OGS HD IPS Touchscreen
- Display Resolution: 1280*720 pixel
- Color Support: 16 million Colours
- Screen Technology: 5 Point Multi-touch
Resolution: 8.0MP BSI Rear camera + 1.3MP Front camera, Digital zoomConnectivity
- Connectivity Technology: GSM + WCDMA(Dual Simcard)
- Network Band: GSM 850/900/1800/1900 MHz + WCDMA 2100MHz
- Data Technology: EDGE, GPRS, HSDPA + (42.2MB/P/S)
- Bluetooth: Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
- WLan: Wi-Fi IEEE 802.11 b/g
- USB: USB 2.0
- GPS: GPS/A-GPS
- OTG support
- OTA Updates
- Battery: Li-on battery(2400mAh)
- Standby Time: 150-200 hours
- Built-in Memory: 1GB RAM, 4GB ROM
- Micro SD Card Slot
- Dimensions: 141.8mm X 72.6mm X 9.2mm
- Weight: 175 grammes
£125 shipped via Singapore Post from MeriMobiles in 14 days
1X Vowney V5, 1X 2400mah Battery, 1X Screen Protector, 1X Chinese Charger, 1X GB Adaptor
When deciding which Chinese device to buy my decision was really based on 2 things. Firstly I wanted a cheap phone. With the Xaiomi Mi3 and Nexus 5 expected for launch towards the end of the year I really just wanted to buy something to tide me over until then. I was also curious about smaller Chinese manufacturers and the performance to price ratio of these MT6589 phones. The Vowney was one of the cheapest MT6589, 5 inch 720P handsets available at the time and I also wanted a phone which didn’t look like a clone - the V5’s styling fitted the bill.
The second was the screen. I wanted to try a 5 inch display and while I would have liked a full HD panel, I decided on 1280x720 as I had heard rumours that the MT6589 does not handle the larger display resolution as well and wanted to avoid performance hiccups even if it meant taking a slight hit in pixel density. It turns out that 1920x1080 is generally not a problem for the MT6589 although you will see a slight performance hit in benchmarks and perhaps more dropped frames in 3d intensive games.
One of the first things you notice when you pick up the V5 is the glorious 5 inch OGS IPS display. I was genuinely shocked about how good this thing looks and even more shocked when you consider that this phone costs under £100 in China. You could be forgiven for thinking you were staring at a £300+ smartphone.
At 400 nits it is also ultra-bright and although it has a rather ‘cold’ temperature it doesn’t suffer from the yellowing found on the Nexus 4. Light bleed is also minimal, pretty close to non-existent in fact. And while it may not quite have the sharpness of the more pixel dense Nexus 4 or Full HD phones like the Galaxy S4 etc it’s still very sharp with individual pixels almost unnoticeable. Sensitivity and responsiveness are also very good, easily on par with my Xiaomi Mi One or the Samsung Galaxy S2. I have also experienced no ghost or missed touches.
However... let’s not get too carried away. It does have it’s limitations. What you won’t be getting with this display is the outrageously deep blacks of SAMOLED or the crazy viewing angles of SLCD displays. Not to say the viewing angles are bad or the display looks washed out - quite the reverse, but it’s just not on the same level as phones like the HTC one, Galaxy S4 or iPhone 5.
While I believe the auto brightness does work, changes in display brightness are not particularly noticeable. Unfortunately one area in which the display does fall short is visibility in direct sunlight. It is pretty difficult to see in direct range of bright light however it is worth bearing in mind that I have come from the transflective display of the Xiaomi Mi One which was actually particularly good in direct sunlight. For the price range I think it is pretty normal. Another small quirk I noticed is the top and bottom of the display have some small black gaps where the display meets the bezel, hardly noticeable but worth mentioning.
I have also found the screen on mine gives a slight ‘ripple’ effect (usually found when applying to much pressure to a touchscreen surface) when touching just above the home button.
The V5 can be seen here next to the Xiaomi Mi One
Build quality / Form factor
Another area in which the V5 initially surprised me was build quality. Being a relatively unknown Chinese manufacturer my expectations were not particularly high but I was pleasantly surprised upon opening the packaging. The build and manufacturing process actually feels quite similar to the Xiaomi Mi one with a nice weight and finish. One of the first things you also notice on handling the device is just how slim this thing is! At 9.2mm it is noticeably slimmer than my Mi One and actually very similar in thickness to the Samsung Galaxy S2, although the camera does protrude from the back.
A sturdy metal band surrounds the bezel and although the nicely tapered polymer back has a matte finish, some may find it a bit slippery. The 5 inch form factor is also not for everyone, personally I love it, looking at my 4 inch Mi one next to the v5 it looks almost comically small in comparison but as expected one handed operation can be a little testing at times. This also isn’t helped much by the 5mm bezel on the left and right hand sides.
While it doesn’t look bad or out of proportion, they are not as slim as some Chinese phones and do add a tiny bit of additional width. But again this is reflected in the low price point. Saying that I compared it to a GS3 and the bezels are actually very similar in size.
Another area where the V5 shines is the power button on the right hand side and volume rocker on the left, both of which feel surprisingly sturdy and responsive, an area where certain devices slip up.
The backlit capacitive buttons are well lit and work ok, although when using nova launcher with the buttons correctly assigned I still find they can be slightly unresponsive at times and require a couple of touches to implement the necessary actions. But again, while the overall impression is one of decent build quality again remember the price point and don’t expect HTC One or iPhone 5 build.
Unfortunately there has also been a slight defect I noticed which has been verified by a few different MoDaCo forum members, which is a small rattling sound created by the LED flash. It’s not a huge issue but personally I find it a bit annoying as it does tend to vibrate a little bit when in call creating a very slight distortion like effect that can be irritating. I tried some electrical tape but to date have found no solution.
Niggles aside it still feels pretty well made and definitely on par with or an improvement over other budget handsets like the Huawei G300. It is also a massive improvement over the original ZTE blade/San Francisco which I also own.
Note the difference in slimness between the 11.9mm Xiaomi Mi One and the 9.2mm V5. Electrical tape around the flash was my failed attempt to fix the rattling issue.
The V5 is a dual SIM dual standby handset meaning that you can have 2 SIM cards active in your phone at one time ready to make and receive calls. Only one of the SIM slots is 3G capable however. The other SIM slot cannot be used to transfer mobile data. The 3G capable slot uses a micro SIM and the GSM only slot uses a regular size SIM.
The WiFi signal seems to be about on par with my Mi One and the GS2, picking up a strong fast signal from most areas of my 2 story house. No complaints here.
I have not tested Bluetooth, I presume it works ok, but there have been reports of disconnects in certain scenarios.
3G does work however I am using the EE network in the UK which roams between T-Mobile and orange and at times does cause problems. Namely the 3G signal completely disappearing for a few moments or being replaced with ‘E’ or sticking on ‘G’. In Addition the signal icon sometimes shows 3G/H is available but applications simply stop loading content. Facebook in particular fails to pull down certain photos and content although I know the app is not the most efficient at doing this anyway.
These issues could be network specific though and others may not find them an issue.
Now we come to the real Achilles heel of the V5. GPS. I have yet to find a solution that enables the phone to consistently find and keep a lock. I have tried a number of solutions all of which work for a while but after a few hours the phone completely stops locking.
A custom rom from MoDaCo member Tillaz has enabled approximate location via data network, another feature missing from the original stock ROM. Whether the GPS issues can be remedied by future updates remains to be seen.
The V5 comes with a near stock build of Android 4.2.1. I opted for merimobiles rooting / Chinese app removal and Play Store installation service but it turns out that rooting and getting Clockwork mod installed is very easy.
The stock launcher itself is slightly different from a regular stock build as the Apps/Widgets headings in the app launcher are larger than usual. The Google Search widget on the home screen is also non removable. Obviously these are easily remedied by installing your preferred launcher of choice.
Nova Launcher on the V5...
In terms of performance it is a generally smooth and snappy build with hardly any lag or noticeable slowdowns around the OS. Saying that I don’t think it is as smooth as stock android 4.2.2 on the Nexus 4, which probably has the more powerful quadcore Krait cores, 1GB of extra RAM and Google optimizations to thank for that.
Curiously the build does come with a version of Movie studio, which I have not properly tested but does appear to work. Vowney also include a stripped down video player and a custom stripped back version of the old Google music app, which are said to support a range of formats including DivX, XviD and FLAC. There is also a Note book and todo list app.
Unlike a lot of other Android phones holding down down the Menu button as opposed to Home button brings up the Recent apps menu. However when holding the button occasionally the recent apps appear for a split second, then disappear, leaving just a black screen. There are no other glaring software issues to note and app compatibility also seems good. The latest build has introduced a volume bug though which causes a force close in the notification/ringtone volume settings.
Apps and Games tested included Dashclock, Facebook, Snap Chat, BBC Weather, Tapatalk Beta, RoundR, Engadget, The Verge, Gmail, Gmaps, Mobile Uncle Tools, Sector Strike, Guess the word, Instagram (Video now working after update).
The accelerometer works fine and changes orientation at a reasonable speed although I’ve seen faster, as with the proximity sensor which again works but is not as fast to react as my Mi One. Boot times on the V5 are also very quick, much quicker than both my Mi One and the Galaxy S2.
Interestingly Vowney also claim support for OTA wireless updates, although none have materialised yet. I have yet to test OTG either although but there is an app pre-installed to handle wireless input device functionality.
Performance from the MTK6589 is well documented with most antutu scores falling somewhere between the 11,000-13,500 bracket. I have included some benches anyway for reference.
It's a bit of a mixed bag here. Starting with a plus... the volume through headphones is actually pretty good. Quite loud at the highest level and music in both MP3 and FLAC format sounds pretty rich, full and balanced through my Sennheiser MX780 headphones. The back speaker is reasonably loud although not the loudest I have heard and obviously sounds pretty tinny but is by no means bad - I have heard worse.
In call sound on the other hand is one area I feel the V5 falls short. The in call volume is in my opinion too low and the sound itself noticeably tinny and less full than other handsets I have used. There have also been reports of slight echo, muffle and distortion.
On the plus side the latest firmware appears to have rectified some of the echo issues I was having and Tillaz has provided some sound fixes that do also help to give a more bull balanced sound. It still could be better though in my opinion. Ring tone volume seems reasonable and the speaker phone works but sounds slightly muffled.
The V5 sports a 8 Megapixel BSI sensor on the back and a 1.3 Megapixel unit on the front. Before we talk about image quality of the main camera, it should be pointed out that the front camera is to put it bluntly... rubbish. No clarity, very blurry, overly light sensitive, weak colour reproduction etc etc. It may be ok for a video call or 2 but don’t expect much.
The rear camera on the other hand is a different story. Surprisingly good considering the price point. While sharpness, clarity and detailing are evidently not on the level of some of the high end handsets it does do a very reasonable job of capturing pretty well balanced images in well lit conditions. Colour reproduction is actually quite accurate too and the ‘painted’ effect that often affects low end camera images is kept to a minimum. It does however suffer a bit when attempting to capture moving objects and is not great in low light situations either. In low light clarity is lost and a slight glow or ‘haze’ effect to images is noticeable plus the usual graininess.
The camera software itself is quite useful and provides a ‘burst mode’ option, not even found on stock google 4.2 builds, which allows a series of rapid fire images to be taken by holding down the shoot button. Capture is surprisingly quick too. There is also a panorama mode, HDR mode and the usual array of filters and scene settings. The latest software build actually also allows capture of 10mp and 12mp images, when you change the preview aspect to 4:3, interpolated from 8mp I presume. One thing I also noticed is that changing the image properties sharpness to high does improve clarity a bit but the app does not save the setting once you exit.
Video is also of a good standard with low, medium, high and fine options. There is no indication of the resolutions in the settings menu but the fine setting records video at 1920x1088 as opposed to the norm of 1920x1080. Quality again suffers in low light but in daylight it works well and although it could do with some stabilization and increased speed in refocusing it is surprisingly good for such a low price handset.
It must also be noted that after seeing camera image and video samples from both the Jiayu G4 and the UMI X2 I would argue that the V5 is possibly better than both of them in terms of image quality and colour reproduction accuracy. Video is definitely superior.
The first image was taken with HDR mode enabled, all shots at 12mp setting, running the latest firmware build.
1080P Video Sample
The V5 sports a 2400mah battery and in terms of endurance seems to be a pretty good performer. While some have been reporting impressive 2 day battery figures I have not seen performance on that level. In heavy usage (brightness set high on Auto with a mixture of web and app use over 3G & wifi and a small amount of gaming and GPS testing) I have found that the Device lasted approximately 15 hrs. It does appear to drain pretty slow on standby though so with light usage I could foresee 24hr + times.
It is worth noting that charge and discharge do seem a little disproportionate. Between 100% and around 40% drain is pretty even but at around 40% drain actually slows down. It is the opposite on charge, where the first 50 percent or so increases very quickly on the battery meter but then slows in the last half of the charge. Also reboots have been known to cause battery drops of up to 5% and rom flashes as high as 15%. Curiously reboots have also caused 2% rises in battery readings at times. Apart from these quirks though on the whole battery performance feel solid and I don’t think many would find room for complaint.
Being a relatively infrequent gamer, I tested sector strike and a few non 3D Intensive games. All ran fluid with minimal frames dropped. My feeling is that the GPU is more than capable and only the most graphically intensive 3D titles may lead to dropped frames and performance snags.
My experience with the V5 has overall been both surprising and frustrating in equal measures but perhaps not in a way some people may have been expecting.
What is truly astonishing about the V5 is that in China this handset costs under £100. When you compare it to a phone like the Huawei G300 or other budget handsets available from mainstream manufacturers at a similar price point it’s fair to say the V5 simply blows them out the water. Solid mid range CPU performance coupled with strong graphics processing, a glorious 5 inch HD display and near stock Android 4.2.1 almost make it the stuff of mobile tech dreams. Not forgetting that trim form factor and the surprisingly good camera performance. The fact that this phone can be imported for as low as £110 on some sites is in many ways mind boggling.
However... my personal experience with the v5 has been hampered somewhat buy some critical flaws to the phones core functions. The weak / near non-existent / unreliable GPS performance means that unless some rock solid fixes emerge I can’t recommend this phone to anyone who needs a reliable GPS lock on regular occasions. The most frustrating part for me though has been the 3G performance. I’m not sure if the issues are related to some sort of baseband incompatibility or a weak radio or is even network related, but not being able to use 3G when it is available and random signal drop outs is a bit of a deal breaker.
It is worth noting though that my experience with both 3G and GPS has not necessarily been the norm, some users have reported no 3G problems at all on other networks and more success with GPS. Taking that into account and despite a number of other smaller flaws and quirks mentioned, the V5 has surpassed many of my expectations for a low price Android device and set a new benchmark for what is possible within the price range. With an ever growing user base we could also see some of these issues mentioned rectified with custom roms or even official updates (available on Vowney Chinese forums @ v5zn.com).
I recently read an article suggesting that the large manufacturers have nothing to fear from smaller Chinese manufacturers, however based on the evidence I have presented... I think they most definitely do. With some software tweaks and hardware refinement the V5 could be one of the best budget Android devices available anywhere, high praise for the company’s first foray into the Android handset market.
What is also even more interesting is that fact there are hundreds of manufacturers just like Vowney in China making handsets of this standard or better at an alarmingly fast rate. If you are willing to go out on a limb and navigate the confusing world of Chinese e-tailers I do believe that there really is gold to be found.