The influx of Chinese brands in the Indian smartphone market means the consumers are being spoilt for choice. Still, the news of a homegrown brand launching a smartphone intrigues people all the same. With the big players having set standards in the game, everyone has their doubts as to whether or not a new company will be able to deliver a product which is on par with what’s already available in the market, and that goes for every new brand… not just Chinese or Indian per sé.
Smartron, a Bangalore-based startup launched its debut smartphone, dubbed the Smartron t.phone, a couple of months ago. It’s a new brand, and an Indian one too (did we mention it’s backed by Sachin Tendulkar?), which made it a curiosity-magnet at the time of its unveiling. Now, the Smartron t.phone is an unconventionally designed flagship from the company, and was claimed to be the lightest 5.5-incher at the time of its launch. We’ve spent a lot of time with the device, and here are our two cents on it.
Specs at a Glance
|Resolution||Full HD (1080 x 1920 pixels)|
|CPU||Quad core, 2 GHz + Quad core, 1.5 GHz, Snapdragon 810|
|Internal memory||64 GB|
|External memory||Up to 128 GB|
|Capacity||3000 mAH, Li-Polymer, Non removable|
|Primary camera||13 MP|
|Secondary camera||4 MP|
|Network support||Dual SIM 4G|
|Other options||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, GPS|
|Operating system||Android 6.0 Marshmallow|
Design: Not Your Average Design Language
Dimensions: 158.2 x 78.2 x 6.9 mm
Weight: 149 grams
Where a bunch of bigger names in the industry have failed to innovate and have found it better to stick with the full-metal, somewhat iPhone 6s-like design language, the Smartron t.phone dons a plastic body like a boss. Available in four intriguing dual-tone colour variants, the t.phone is especially light with its plastic body, and yet, has been designed to have you mistake it for a metal-body smartphone, credits to which goes to the matte yet subtly shimmery finish on the chassis.
Now, while that makes the phone look rather beautiful, it makes it slippery as well. You probably won’t go three days without dropping the t.phone, which is not the best thing in the world, since the handset (including its screen) is prone to scratches, and chips. Funnily enough, the phone seems to take drops better than everyday wear.
It’s not the best when it comes to single hand use either. The 5.5-inch display comes flanked by thick bezels on all sides, which are followed by the top and bottom segments of the phone’s body, housing the (understandable) front camera, earpiece, and sensors above, and just the primary mic below, since the phone uses soft navigation keys. All of it simply translates to a lot of wasted real estate. If you do take the risk of still operating it with a single hand, as we mentioned earlier, it’s slippery, which brings us back to all the dropping.
The port and button placement is more or less standard, so we’ll list what’s unique. The Smartron t.phone sports four microphones, including the primary one we just talked about, and three others placed above the display, right alongside the primary camera module, and on the bottom of the back panel. At its launch the company gave ‘brilliant call quality’ as the reason behind this assortment, which is true. In a very long did we come across a phone with such clear call quality. However, despite the plastic body, we didn’t see much effect on the signal reception.
Apart from the four mics, what are still not really standards in the smartphone market yet, present on the t.phone are a USB Type-C port and an ejectable SIM tray, which accepts a micro-SIM, and a nano-SIM or a microSD card. The t.phone is a well-designed smartphone, with its orange variant being a head-turner for sure. However, the slippery and extremely scratch-prone build is making us deduct some points.
Display: Bright Hues, Deep Blacks
Size: 5.5 Inch
Resolution: Full HD (1080 x 1920 pixels)
Display Type: AMOLED
Pixel Density: 401 ppi
We’ve told you a couple of times already that the handset sports a 5.5-inch screen, and it comes with Corning Gorilla Glass 3 and an oleophobic coating on top. It’s a full HD super AMOLED display and looks pretty sharp when viewed from a normal distance. However, if you’re really stubborn and will try to discern pixels, it would simply require looking a little closely at the display. Since most people do not do that, we’ll give the t.phone this one.
The colours on the display look brilliant… they just pop, and yet the screen does not look oversaturated. The screen brightness is more than you can ask for, and during the night, even at its dimmest, we felt we were straining our eyes while scrolling through Facebook and Instagram. It’s an OLED display, and does what it’s supposed to. The black levels are impressive. We compared it with the screen on the OnePlus 3, and while the black levels on the latter were simply brilliant, the t.phone’s display didn’t look half bad in front of the OnePlus 3’s.
Interestingly, despite high brightness levels, the sunlight legibility on the Smartron t.phone is just average. On top of it, you get a rather reflective screen, which worsens the situation. A display setting called Assertive Display helps a little to operate the screen under the harsh sun. The viewing angles are good. You do see a lot of reds and purples while looking at the screen from extreme angles, but that’s mostly not the use case.
The t.phone sports ambient display, a feature which made its appearance on the Nexus 6, with Android Lollipop. It has become a pretty common feature on smartphones these days, and might get you wondering why we’re taking the time to talk about it. The execution of the feature on the t.phone seems half baked. While it does display the time, or your notifications every time you pick it up or pull it out of your pocket, you can’t perform any actions on the notifications, be it dismissing them, or launching the respective app, by tapping on them from the ambient display. All the phone does is show you what you missed, but you will have to press the power key and wake the display up to access the notifications. In our opinion, just the notification LED would have sufficed in that case. The ambient display on the t.phone seems like a feature thrown in at the last moment.
Cameras: Mostly Disappointing
Primary camera: 13 MP
Flash: Dual LED Flash
Secondary camera: 4 MP
The t.phones sports a 13MP phase primary camera with phase detection autofocus, and assisted by a dual-LED flash, and a 4UP front camera. Contradicting what these numbers might have you believe, the camera performance on the t.phone is below average. However, before getting into that, let us tell you about the default camera app UI on the t.phone.
The default camera application on the device out-of-the-box was disappointing. It seemed like a tweaked version of the Google’s camera app for Android KitKat. It lagged in focussing and clicking, and did not offer any extra shooting modes or features, apart from an HDR mode. However, soon enough the company rolled out an update for the Smartron Camera app, which can be downloaded from the Google Play Store.
The UI is still minimal, but the app operates more smoothly, and the primary shooter focusses pretty quickly now. That said, there hasn’t been much improvement in the shutter speed. While the virtual shutter keys can be found on the bottom of the viewfinder, on the top there’s a row of quick toggles for switching to the front camera, using the HDR mode, LED flash, and timer. Another toggle gives access to newly-added shooting modes like Time Lapse and Slow-motion. You can control the white balance by choosing from among a few preset scene settings, along with controlling the exposure, contrast, and saturation as well. The Smartron Camera app does not bring a whole lot to the table, but it can be worked with.
Coming to the camera performance… the t.phone does not fare exceptionally well in this department. While the images look sharp enough on the screen, and some of the details remain intact after zooming in as well… but overall, the images just look grainy. The camera seems to do well during macro photography… capturing immense details, and delivering relatively better picture quality. The colour reproduction in most cases was warm, and we saw quite a fair bit of yellow in the images. The HDR mode on the phone makes the pictures look a bit overexposed. Low light images showed only a tad more noise than the long shots, with the subject being completely visible. So comparatively, it’s a better low-light shooter. And you might want to stick to the grainy low-light shots, since the flash on the t.phone completely burns out the scene. Night shots clicked with the primary camera had a lot of noise, but when viewed on the phone’s screen, they should give away what you were planning to click easily. The front camera on the phone will remind you of days when it was a given fact that a selfie-shooter will not be as good as the primary shooter, and hazy selfies were alright. But times are changing and a lot of phonemakers are trying to offer front cameras better than the primary cameras on their devices… yet, the t.phone sticks to the old way, resulting in average selfies with not much detail. The ones clicked in broad daylight should turn out good, though. The slightly warm colour reproduction is uniform across the primary and secondary camera performance. The sensor on the front has bigger pixel size, which is meant to deliver better low-light selfies, but the phone fails at that as ours turned out extremely noisy. Below are some images clicked with the shooters on the Smartron t.phone.
Software: Stock Delight
Operating System: Android
OS Version: 6.0, Marshmallow
It’s always a pleasant surprise to unlock a smartphone and be greeted by stock interface, and that is precisely what the Smartron t.phone offers. It runs Android Marshmallow, with no custom skin on top.
By default the device runs Google Now launcher, and hence you find familiar things like a dedicated app drawer (a rarity these days with all the Chinese smartphones in the market), and Google Now cards, which appear when you swipe right from the homescreen. The UI will be a delight if you appreciate vanilla experience. On the flipside, you won’t find much customisation and tweaking options some other UIs and OSs like MIUI, CyanogenMod, Oxygen OS offer, and will mostly be dependent on third-party launchers, and applications to achieve that.
Apart from the Google app suite and Hungama Play, you’ll find tron.x pre-loaded on the device, which is the company’s own set of apps to provide seamless experience across all your Smartron and other IoT devices. While everything about the software and the pre-loaded applications works in the t.phone, the FM radio application is a little messed up. It either lets you choose a region and autotunes whichever channels it can find under the frequency band, or lets you manually tune channels, but with even frequencies only. So, if it didn’t detect Radio City 91.1 on its own, you won’t be able to tune it yourself since you can only stop at 91.0 or 91.2, manually. A firmware update had been rolled out the address the FM Radio app issues, and what we just mentioned are the results after the update.
Performance: A Mixed Bag
CPU: Quad core, 2 GHz + Quad core, 1.5 GHz, Snapdragon 810
GPU: Adreno 430
RAM: 4 GB
Memory: 64 GB + Up to 128 GB
SIM Slots: Dual SIM , GSM+GSM
Powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 chip, the Smartron t.phone gets 4GB of RAM, and an integrated Adreno 430 GPU. The built-in storage is rated at 64GB, and the phone allows you to use 54 gigs out of it. You also get unlimited storage on the t.cloud, and an option to expand up to 128GB if 54GB doesn’t sound enough. We’ve been using the t.phone for a while now, and it handles everyday use easily. However, you will experience a tiny lag when launching new apps, or switching windows. It does not feel very swift for a device sporting 4 gigs of RAM.
To test the performance further, we played a bunch of heavy games, including titles like Dead Trigger 2, Modern Combat Blackout, Real Racing 3, Vector 2, Overkill 3, Jetpack Joyride, Asphalt 8, and Alto’s Adventure. The experience comprised lags and stutters for the most part. The t.phone heats up quite a bit as well. We recorded temperatures of up to 53 degrees, however, due to its plastic body, the phone does not feel as warm in the hands.
Battery and Connectivity: On Par With The Standard
Capacity: 3000 mAH, Li-Polymer, Non removable
The t.phone scores above average in this department. Backed by a 3,000mAh battery, it manages to cruise through the day with mixed usage.
Ours included streaming music on 4G, streaming videos on WiFi, using WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, and Gmail. We got a screen-on time of around three and a half to four hours which is decent. Stand-by was approximately 54 hours, which too, is an impressive number. On our standard battery test, which includes running an HD video on loop, with both the brightness and volume set to 50 percent, and draining the battery from full to zero, the Smartron t.phone delivered a little over 11 and a half hours, which is neither exceptionally great nor extremely disappointing. The phone supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0 tech, and takes between 90 to 100 minutes to charge completely with the bundled charger, rated at 2A. In the case of a battery crisis, there’s a regular Battery Saver mode, which can help extend the battery life a bit.
As we discussed in the design segment, it’s a hybrid dual-SIM device, with both the slots supporting 4G on all Indian bands. There’s Wi-Fi ac, and Bluetooth v4.1. The device does not come with NFC, which is a little disappointing.
The Smartron t.phone is a nice looking phone. In a pile of full-metal body smartphones, it proudly boasts a plastic frame, and still manages to ace the design game. It offers one of the better displays we’ve seen of late and delivers decent battery life as well. However, you can’t expect much in the camera and performance department.
In the upper mid-range segment, the smartphone that’s topping the charts is the OnePlus 3 (review), though it falls on the more expensive side at Rs 27,999, as compared to Smartron t.phone’s Rs 24,999. The immediate competition to the Smartron device includes the 3GB RAM variant of the Xiaomi Mi 5 (review) which is relatively more compact with its 5.15-inch display, and gets its grunt from the powerful SD820 SoC. The 4GB RAM model of the LeEco Le Max2 is another rival for the t.phone and betters what’s best about the Smartron device by boasting a 2K display. The Le Max 2 also gets a better processor and camera. For a significantly lesser price you can also get the newly-launched ASUS ZenFone 3 (unboxing | first impressions) which is powered by a newer Snapdragon 625 chip, and supposedly sports an amazing camera.
The competition is way ahead. While the made-in-India t.phone seems like a decent debut from a new homegrown startup at first glance, a deeper analysis reveals that it’s only good enough for basic usage. Unfortunately, nobody spends Rs 24,999 for basic usage these days. We won’t recommend anyone to, either.
Editor’s Rating: 3/5
- Good Display
- Interesting Design
- Stock Android
- Poor Cameras
- Average Performance
- Scratch-prone build
Photos by Raj Rout