British company Wileyfox has announced three new smartphones: the Spark, Spark+ and Spark X.
The three devices all aim at the budget end of the smartphone market, priced between £90 and £130, making them all cheaper than both the new generation of Moto G, as well as the recently announced Vodafone Smart Ultra 7. But what do they actually offer and can these phone be both cheap and cheerful?
Wileyfox Spark: Design
The three WileyFox Spark smartphones all share very similar designs. The cheapest is the Spark, which we are focusing on in this preview, while the most expensive is the Spark X, as you'll see in the gallery in the white and rose gold colours.
On the rear, you'll find the Wileyfox logo finished in black, distinguishing this device like the Moto "M" does for the Moto G. The fox head sits almost centralised on top of the tactile sandstone finish, while the company name stands out in orange positioned at the bottom of the removable rear. A speaker sits below the WileyFox name, while the camera lens sits slightly off centre at the top.
The Spark looks the cheapest in terms of design compared to the other two devices, despite looking almost identical. The Spark X and Spark+ both have more premium-finished logos, including rose gold, along with different coloured accents on the edges, helping them look a little more up-market.
The curved rear of the Spark makes it a pleasure to hold and the display has a nice 2.5D edges that help it seamlessly blend into the side of the phone. It is super light though, weighing just 134.5g with the battery in place. This is in the same ballpark as the Samsung Galaxy S7 and the Apple iPhone 6, but the Spark feels too light, perhaps because of the lack of metal to give it that premium feel.
The front of the Spark is plain. There is nothing distinguishing about it, or special, except for the small speaker at the top of the display, with an orange accent grille. The power button sits on the right-hand side, while the volume rocker is on the left. You'll find a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top left, while the Micro-USB charging port is annoying off centre to the right at the bottom.
Overall, the Wileyfox Spark is nice to hold but it looks as cheap as it is. The more expensive devices - the Spark+ and Spark X have better logos to give the design a lift, but in the case of the £90 Spark, the sandstone finish picks up fingerprints like they are going out of fashion and it doesn't really have anything in the design to get excited about.
Wileyfox Spark: Display
The Wileyfox Spark has a 5-inch display, like the Spark X, while the Spark+ gets a 5.5-inch display, putting it more in line with the latest Moto G4.
All three devices have an HD display, meaning a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels for a pixel density of 294ppi on the Spark and Spark X, and 267ppi on the Spark+. Unfortunately, this is a simple case of you get what you pay for.
There are some who will not find the fuzziness or washed out colours a problem. There are others who will. We sit in the latter camp and although we understand the need to keep costs down, we would rather pay a little more for a Full HD display and a crisper, sharper experience. There are some display tuning options in the UI, as well as options to change the colour temperature for day or night, but it overall lacks vibrancy and clarity.
The Wileyfox Spark has some tough competition in this field and while its display will be ample for some, we want the vibrancy and the crispness that's lacking here.
Wileyfox Spark: Camera
The WileyFox Spark has an 8-megapixel autofocus rear camera, coupled with an 8-megapixel front camera. The latter is a higher resolution than most would expect for a budget smartphone so it gains a few points here, even if we don't know how it will perform in the real world yet.
The Spark X and the Spark+ both have 13-megapixel rear snappers, again with 8-megapixel front snappers. None of the three handsets have front facing flashes.
All three are capable of 1080p video recording from their rear cameras. There's nothing really ground breaking in terms of specs here, but it isn't just about the numbers, it's about the performance, which is something we will test out properly when we have more time with the devices.
Wileyfox Spark: Hardware
The Wileyfox Spark has a quad-core 2.3GHz MediaTek processor under its hood, supported by 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal memory, which ends up being about 2GB of useable memory once all the built-in apps have updated. Ouch. The Spark X and Spark+ both have the same processor but up the RAM to 2GB and the storage capacity to 16GB.
All three offer microSD storage expansion, which is compatible with Android Marshmallow's adoptable storage feature, allowing the SD card to be used as internal memory, but the maximum card supported is 32GB. That's enough memory to tide most people over, but it of course means that £90, turns into £100 once you add the cost of the SD card to the mix.
We found the Wileyfox a little slow to react, with everything running a little sluggishly, but this could be down to the software. As with the fuzziness in the display, there are some who may not notice, but others will, so it depends on the compromises you're willing to make to save some cash. Of course, we can look more closely at the performance as we spend more time with this handset.
In terms of battery capacity, the Spark and Spark+ have 2200mAh batteries, while the Spark X ups this to 3000mAh, the latter of which is a good capacity and found on most of the current flagships.
There are some key elements missing from the latest Wileyfox devices however, one of which is no NFC, which means none of the models will support Android Pay. They also have no 5GHz Wi-FI, no fingerprint scanners and no fast charging capabilities. Some of this is accounted for in the price, although you don't need to pay much more money to find these features in some phones.
Wileyfox Spark: Software
The Wileyfox Spark, Spark+ and Spark X devices all run on Cyanogen 13 based on Android 6.0. It's basically an experience close to stock Android but with more customisation.
You'll find the usual Google suite of apps, such as Google Play, Chrome and Gmail, but there are also extras, such as another browser and a different gallery.
Other changes from standard Android include the apps tray being alphabetised and Themes, which offers lots of customisation by allowing you to change various things around the launcher, change the icons, or the navigation icons, as well as download extras.
We've not had the time to fully explore the complete set of functions that the Spark offers, and we'll bring you more once we've spent more time with the phone.
The Wileyfox Spark is cheap but it isn't all that cheerful. On the surface it looks ok and it has a couple of charming aspects, especially in the more expensive models, like the logo.
Dive a little deeper though and you are left with a device that will probably leave even the non-power user hungry for more.
Granted, £100 is a good price for a smartphone but spend £30 more than the more appealing Spark X and you could bag yourself the Moto G that offers plenty more physical customisation with Moto Maker, NFC for Android Pay and a better display.
Wileyfox has got it right in the past, but we fear in the case of the Spark, it went that little bit too cheap and took a step backwards.
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