XOLO BLACK first impressions: the latest challenger on the block

“We go hands on with XOLO’s newest smartphone, the BLACK”

Till about a year ago, Indian companies enjoyed a considerable market share in the affordable segment against multinational giants such as Samsung and Sony. However, with the entry of brands like Motorola, Xiaomi, ASUS, Lenovo (it became more aggressive in the past one year), and Honor among others, which changed the game with online sales, weekly flash sales, etc., it looks like devices from Indian companies have dipped in popularity.

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But not ones to back down easily, it seems that the Indian brands follow the mantra of “adapt or perish” quite literally. The numero uno homegrown manufacturer Micromax introduced a new sub-brand called YU to take on the competition, and now XOLO is also following suit. XOLO, which is already a sub-brand of Lava has introduced a new series dubbed BLACK, with which it’s taking the war on the same turf as the new-age brands. The devices in this lineup will exclusively be available online via Flipkart.

The first smartphone, carrying the same name as the range, i.e., BLACK, was introduced yesterday and we were able to spend some quality time with it. Here’s our hands-on experience.

XOLO devices have always paid special attention to the design aspect, be it the XOLO 8X-1000 (review) featuring a unibody design or other offerings from the brand. The BLACK is no different – it features smooth edges and rounded corners, along with a glass panel at the back, which not only lends it a unique identity, but also makes it appear premium. Even with its big profile, the device remains slender at 7.3mm, fitting in the hands well.

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With minimal design aesthetics, the display panel remains the centerpiece of the XOLO BLACK. It’s flanked by an earpiece, a couple of sensors and a secondary snapper above, and a row of capacitive keys below. The navigation buttons are backlit and follow Android guidelines, with the first key letting you access options, the home button letting you jump to the home screen or display recently-opened apps when long-pressed and the last key allowing you to return to the previous screen.

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Moving towards the edges, you’ll find the volume rocker followed by the power button on the right. XOLO has chosen an interesting placement for the notification light as the power button is surrounded by an LED breathing light, which subtly blinks in different colours based on notifications. This makes it easier to be alerted about missed notifications regardless of how the device is kept… facing down or up. The left spine houses an ejectable tray that hides the primary SIM slot along with a hybrid slot. The 3.5mm audio socket can be found at the top, whereas the micro-USB port is available at the bottom.

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At the back of the unibody smartphone, you’ll find a flash unit sandwiched between two camera sensors. You’ll also find a XOLO logo towards the middle and Hive written at the bottom. The back features a Corning Gorilla Glass layer to make it impervious to minor scratches, along with an olephobic coating. This allows the rear panel to be free from smudges or stains, though it still remain quite reflective and attracts fingerprints.

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The two camera sensors are the calling card of the XOLO BLACK, so let’s pay special attention to them. While HTC introduced a duo camera setup with the One M8 (review) and a few others like Honor 6 Plus (camera review) also followed its footsteps, the Indian brand is aiming to bring this novelty feature to the masses. Inspired from human eyes, the BLACK offers two cameras – the first one captures the scene, and the secondary sensor captures depth information. This allows for some interesting functionality, such as the ability to focus on subjects later or adding effects to the image(s) afterwards.

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In terms of numbers, the main camera unit is 13-megapixels, while the depth camera is 2MP. While we weren’t able to test the camera capabilities of the XOLO BLACK extensively to give any verdict, there’s little doubt that it seems very promising. The company has also added several features to exploit the potential of the dual cameras such as UbiFocus. Don’t worry, the handset is also targeted at selfie lovers since it offers a 5MP sensor at the front. Both the primary and secondary snappers are complemented by flash units for shooting in dimly-lit environments.

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A 5.5-inch display panel is XOLO BLACK’s window to the world, bringing the device to the trending category of phablets. The IPS OGS panel bears full HD resolution, resulting in a rich pixel density of 401ppi. We found the screen to offer impressive colour variance and display sharp text, with good viewing angles. The brightness levels also seemed to be good, but it’s actual quality can only be judged outdoors to check whether the display is even legible under sunlight. The display panel also gets a protective layer of third-gen Gorilla Glass.

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At the heart of the XOLO BLACK beat eight cores of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 SoC, which offers two quad-core clusters running at different clock speeds of 1.5GHz and 1GHz. For handling graphics, the 64-bit processor is complemented by an Adreno 405 GPU. Rounding off the performance department, the phablet sports 2GB RAM. The combination is extremely capable and we didn’t find any lag while switching between apps or navigating between screens.

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For installation of apps or storing personal content, the device ships with 16GB of storage on board, which offers around 8.7GB for actual use. In case you want more storage, then you can slide in a microSD card of up to 32GB, though you’ll need to forego the dual-SIM functionality for the same.

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XOLO is the first Indian company to develop its own custom skin for Android devices, Hive UI. The same can be found on the BLACK, however the version is 1.5, codenamed Atlas, and it’s based on the latest iteration of Android, i.e., 5.0 Lollipop. While the basics of the UI remain the same as earlier, such as the ability to download themes with Edge, give the developers suggestions to improve via Connect or the auto-categorised app launcher, there are some interesting additions too.

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The manufacturer has partnered with Opera to introduce a custom browser dubbed Comet Browser. The browser also has a Turbo mode to conserve data usage and battery consumption. The interface offers a private space for your apps with the Underground option. There’s also reading mode to make the display ideal for reading eBooks for long periods without straining the eyes.

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Connectivity wise, the mobile offers support for next-gen 4G networks (compatible with both TDD and FDD bands) along with the usual features like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS with GLONASS. Powering the show on the XOLO BLACK is a generous 3,200mAh battery, which should easily last for more than a day. The device also features Qualcomm’s Quick Charge tech, letting it juice up from 0 to 50 percent in an hour.

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The XOLO BLACK sports top-notch hardware along with some useful software enhancements, not to mention the dual camera setup, yet the brand has priced it aggressively at Rs 12,999. At this price point, it’ll be competing against the Xiaomi Mi 4i (review), MEIZU m1 note (first impressions) and ASUS ZenFone 2 ZE550ML (review). Going by the specs alone, XOLO seems to have a slight edge against the rivals. As an added incentive, the brand has also tied up with Vodafone to offer its subscribers free music streaming and 1GB data for a period of two months. It also promises to repair the device within an hour with its Care-Xpress service. But the actual worth of the XOLO BLACK can be known when we put it through its paces as part of our review, so stay tuned for that.

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One of the earliest members of the 91mobiles' editorial team, Nitansh is a walking encyclopaedia of product specs. Name a phone and he’ll tell you the specifics on screen resolution, processor and camera without blinking an eyelid. Ask him if he remembers the launch date of a noteworthy phone, and he'll tell you the dates when the device first leaked, its global unveil, its Indian launch, and when it got a significant update. He’s a lover of all things Android, and loves writing reviews and scouting for new apps. A Wordpress whiz, he’s always ready to help out a fellow writer. While he juggles between many things at 91mobiles, he always manages to find time to write. In his non-tech avatar, Nitansh is a philatelist, which is a fancy word for stamp-collector.