A large 5.5-inch full HD display, 2GB RAM, and a 3,000mAh battery…. these specs might be mainstream now for budget smartphones, but they sure weren’t in 2015. That’s why, when Chinese giant Lenovo launched the K3 Note with such a powerful configuration (as per 2015’s standards) in June two years ago, the phone was an instant hit. In fact, as per 91mobiles’ mobile phone landscape report – the K3 Note was the most popular smartphone of the year 2015. Fast forward to now, and K3 Note has already given way to the K4 Note (review), the K5 Note (first impressions) and the K6 Note (review). But none of the successors have received the same amount of adulation as the progenitor.
Enter the brand’s latest, which has a lot of expectations riding on it. Perhaps that explains the brand’s decision of skipping the number 7 from its moniker and jump straight to the K8 Note to highlight the generational leap. But is that so? Well, that’s what I intend to find out in this review.
Related read: Lenovo K8 Note vs K6 Note – what’s new?
Specs at a glance
|Resolution||Full HD (1080 x 1920 pixels)|
|CPU||Dual core, 2.3 GHz + Quad core, 1.85 GHz, MediaTek MT6797D|
|Internal memory||64 GB|
|External memory||Up to 128 GB|
|Capacity||4000 mAH, Li-Polymer, Non removable|
|Primary camera||13 MP|
|Secondary camera||13 MP|
|Network support||Dual SIM 4G|
|Other options||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS|
|Operating system||Android 7.1.1 Nougat|
I’ve been using the Lenovo K8 Note for a week, and have to say that the smartphone not only carries forward the awesome features of its predecessors, but also brings all the good stuff available in offerings from the competition (along with borrowing quite a few tricks from Moto devices). With prices starting at Rs 12,999 (Rs 13,999 for the higher-end model), the K8 Note has a killer pricing, and of course, a look at its spec sheet (mentioned above) suggests that it also has a killer instinct on all fronts – potentially capable of decimating the competition.
Design and display: follows the norm, yet manages to stand out
Dimensions: 154.5 x 75.9 x 8.5 mm
Weight: 180 grams
With a 5.5-inch display and 2.5D glass, a metal unibody construction, and curved edges, the Lenovo K8 Note looks just like any other budget offering. It’s only when you take a closer look, you’ll notice subtle, yet important differences.
The fascia is dominated by the display panel, but there’s considerable space above and below. You’ll find the earpiece, a couple of sensors, and a secondary camera with LED flash above, and a row of capacitive keys below the screen. The navigation buttons follow the Android convention with the first key being used for returning to the previous screen, the home button for jumping to the home screen, and the last one for accessing recently-opened apps.
The placement of ports and buttons on the Lenovo K8 Note is nothing out of the ordinary, though I must add that the buttons are extremely responsive and offer good tactile feedback. Thanks to the textured pattern, the power switch is also easy to identify just by feel. What will catch your attention however, is another key which sits on the left, symmetrically opposite the power switch. While the button has a music symbol, it’s actually much more than that. Let me get to that in a bit.
Flip to the back and you’ll see the dual cameras – a first for the Lenovo K series. The dual cameras protrude on the K8 Note just a little and are accompanied by a dual-LED flash, with a fingerprint scanner placed below. There’s a Lenovo logo closer to the bottom. Talking about the fingerprint reader, it works as expected – it’s quick, accurate and offers 360-degree recognition. The Lenovo K8 Notes comes in two colour options of Fine Gold and Venom Black – and I got the latter for review. While I might be biased towards it, the all-black exterior looks quite premium and has a classy appeal. Thanks to the matte finish, the phone doesn’t feel slippery due to sweaty palms… and in case you feel the need, you can use the transparent cover that comes bundled.
The Lenovo K8 Note is possibly the first device from the brand’s stable to offer a splash-proof P2i nano-coating. While you may not be able to dunk the phone in water, it’s certainly good to know that it can handle splashes.
The 5.5-inch display on the Lenovo K8 Note is a 1080p affair with a pixel density of 401ppi, resulting in crisp text. The IPS panel offers vibrant colours. The brightness levels are also adequate, and I didn’t face any issue in reading the display outdoors. Protecting the display against scratches and accidental drops is a layer of Corning Gorilla Glass 3.
Software: from Pure UI to naked Nougat
Operating System: Android
OS Version: 7.1.1, Nougat
Like all Chinese companies, Lenovo used to layer its Android smartphones with a custom skin, and in the brand’s case, it was dubbed Vibe UI. It later started shipping Vibe Pure UI on its offerings to offer a clutter-free interface. But with the K8 Note, the brand is completely reversing its strategy. It has decided to take the same route as Moto devices, i.e. offering stock Android with the latest iteration.
The Android 7.1.1 Nougat build running on the Lenovo K8 Note is completely stock, and is devoid of any custom icons, themes or any other customisations. There’s hardly any bloatware either, save for Microsoft apps (since Lenovo made a strategic partnership with the Redmond giant a couple of years ago) and an app called Protect. As the name suggests, Protect helps you keep your personal information safe, along with highlighting the apps that are consuming the data the most. You can also enable VPN protection to encrypt your data while accessing the internet. With My Data Usage, you can also enter the limits of your monthly 3G /4G plans to keep track of cellular data consumption.
Coming to the functionality of the Music key… as can be expected from its name, it lets you control music playback. Along with letting you play / pause songs by long-pressing, it also lets you jump to next or previous tracks with a double press or a triple press respectively. What I particularly liked is the fact that the key is completely configurable, and you can use the long-press to toggle the torch, take a screenshot or open just about any app, without forgoing the next / previous playback controls. The best thing is that it works with any app you’re using to play music, and not just the default Google Play Music, and it responds extremely fast.
Like its predecessors, the K8 Note also supports Virtual Reality as it comes with the company’s TheaterMax technology. It allows you to have a split-screen view (one for the left eye, and the other for the right one) with any app, even if it’s not made for VR, and all you need is a compatible headset to view it in VR.
Camera: it takes two to tango
Primary camera: 13MP + 5MP
Flash: Dual-color LED Flash
Secondary camera: 13MP
Within a short time, dual cameras on phones have become a necessity rather than a rarity. And now, we’re seeing them across budgets, and not just in the high-end segment. Following the trend, Lenovo has bestowed the K8 Note with a pair of cameras – with the primary Purecel sensor rated at 13-megapixels with f/2.0 aperture and a 5MP secondary sensor from Samsung. The combination lets you click images with depth-of-field effect as the secondary camera captures depth information. The camera app also lets you choose the aperture between f/1.2, f/1.8 and f/2.8. Thanks to stock Android, you can access the camera app even from the lock screen or while using any other app by simply double-pressing the power button.
Talking about the camera interface, this is yet another thing which the phone has borrowed from its Moto cousins. I’m certainly glad for the same, since this means you get a minimalistic UI and can change exposure quite easily with the focus ring. The usual features are also present up front – the shutter button at the bottom (you can also enable the tap to click option) is flanked by the front camera toggle, plus access to different modes such as video, panorama and professional mode. As can be expected, the professional mode gives you granular control over focus point, white balance, ISO levels, etc. The options above include toggles for HDR, flash and a self-timer along with the depth mode. To access all the settings, you simply need to swipe to the right.
Since the cameras can capture depth info, the Lenovo K8 Note has a depth editor that lets you utilise the feature to apply a black and white filter selectively to a certain area, change focus along with different levels of blur, and even replace the background entirely. As far as the images clicked in this mode are concerned, they definitely look quite pleasing as your entire focus is on the subject. However, the aperture needs to be selected as per the need, as at times, the output looks unnatural. In some cases, I also noticed softness around the edges of the subject.
Coming to the camera quality, the Lenovo K8 Note is a versatile shooter that offers good performance across situations, be it in landscape images or close-ups. The pictures reproduce a good amount of details and vibrant colours, with noise kept to the minimum. The HDR mode is really effective and adds a lot of punch to the scene, although it takes some time to process. Like most smartphones, the K8 Note struggles in low light, but the dual-tone LED flash provides illumination without making the image look too artificial. Not just the twin cameras at the rear, the 13MP shooter at the front is also quite capable. Furthermore, it comes with HDR and Pro mode – which isn’t available on most phones for the front camera, and there’s an LED flash as well for ensuring bright selfies even in dim environments.
Instead of reading what I think about the K8 Note’s camera performance, you can gawk at some image samples below.
Sadly, the handset can only capture full HD videos and not 4K even though the SoC is capable, which is odd considering quite a few smartphones in its budget offer this capability. I spoke to Anuj Sharma, Head – Product Marketing, Lenovo India, regarding the same, and he made a valid point that “users don’t really capture videos in 4K resolution as there aren’t many compatible TVs to consume the same. Additionally, if by mistake, someone has captured a video in this resolution, even a two-minute video would consume almost a GB of space”. He also added that the K8 Note’s camera will soon get a “slow-mo video recording via a software update”.
Having said that, the Lenovo K8 Note certainly manages to capture killer shots with its dual rear cameras as well as its selfie snapper.
Hardware: a 10-headed performance beast
CPU: Dual core, 2.3 GHz + Quad cor…
GPU: Mali-T880 MP4
RAM: 4 GB
Memory: 64 GB + Up to 128 GB
SIM Slots: Dual SIM , GSM+GSM
Battery: 4000 mAH
Deca-core processors aren’t new – they’ve been around for almost two years when MediaTek launched its first chipset with 10 cores, the Helio X20. But for some reason, deca-core processors never caught on… quite possibly because no major phone maker utilised these SoCs. The Lenovo K8 Note aims to change that. It draws power from the Helio X23 SoC, which offers four power-efficient Cortex-A53 cores running at 1.4GHz, four powerful cores Cortex-A53 tuned at 1.85GHz and the remaining two Cortex-A72 cores aimed at performance with a clock speed of 2.3GHz. Coupled with a Mali T-880 GPU, the smartphone promises buttery-smooth performance and incredible graphics. And my usage was a testament to that, as I didn’t face a trace of lag while navigating screens and jumping between apps. In fact, the K8 Note is easily the most powerful smartphone in its segment, as per benchmark results.
The gaming experience is no different, be it while playing casual titles such as Smash Hit or the graphics-heavy Asphalt 8 and Injustice 2. I often lost track of time while racing on tracks or fighting superheroes and supervillains from the DC universe. That said, the Lenovo K8 Note isn’t able to manage its thermal efficiency well as it tends to heat up within just 15 to 20 minutes of gaming. The heating issue also exists while using Google Maps or using the camera app for longer durations. Thankfully though, it doesn’t impact the performance in any manner.
The K8 Note also takes care of the multitasking aspect with the 3GB RAM in the base variant and 4GB in the higher-end model. Switching between apps is instantaneous, and at one point of time, I had as many as 15 apps open on my 4GB RAM unit without any issue. Depending on the variant, you’ll get 32GB or 64GB of storage on board. But you don’t need to worry about the limited storage, as the device comes with a dedicated microSD card slot to extend it up to 256GB.
Talking about the connectivity options, the dual-SIM smartphone offers 4G VoLTE support, along with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS.
The Lenovo K8 Note comes with a single speaker unit, but don’t undermine that. Thanks to Dolby Atmos support, the speaker offers loud output. With the available app, you can also tweak the equaliser settings or get enhanced bass.
With the Lenovo K6 Power (first impressions) and the K6 Note, the brand started packing massive 4,000mAh batteries in its K series, and the K8 Note comes fuelled with a battery of the same capacity. The smartphone can easily last a day even with heavy usage. In my case, the phone still had some juice left at the end of the day with cellular data enabled, 30 minutes of calls, an hour of GPS navigation, an hour of music streaming and a little bit of gaming. The handset also comes bundled with a 15W rapid charger, and the K8 Note can be charged fully in almost two hours.
When Lenovo launched the K3 Note, it branded it as the Killer Note, and while it didn’t opt for the same branding for its successors, the K8 Note is being dubbed as the #KillerNote – and rightly so, if I may add. The Lenovo K8 Note offers a killer combination ofpractical design, loaded specs, capable dual cameras, and a long-lasting battery along with a vanilla iteration of Android – all at a mouth-watering price. Add to it the fact that the phone is splash proof and offers a dedicated microSD card slot.
At the starting price of Rs 12,999, the Lenovo K8 Note makes a strong case for itself, though that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have any competition. The most obvious challenger is another ‘Note’ – the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (review). In my opinion, Lenovo’s latest not only packs in everything that the Redmi Note 4 offers, but also delivers better camera performance and the latest Android in its clean avatar. Then there’s the dual camera-toting Honor 6X (review), but the K8 Note edges past it because of the long-lasting battery and stock OS. It’s also up against a device from its own family, the Moto G5 Plus (review), but the K8 Note comes across as a better package, even including what has been the USP of Moto’s smartphones – the clean software. It’s clear that stock Android acts as the icing on what’s already a delicious cake.
All said and done, the Lenovo K8 Note is a fully-loaded smartphone that’s able to deliver on all the fronts.
Editor’s rating: 4.5 / 5
- Solid, splash-proof design
- Beefy internals
- Impressive cameras
- Latest Android in its vanilla form
- Heats up
- No 4K video recording
Photos by Raj Rout