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Wileyfox Swift Review: Is This 2015's Best Budget Smartphone?

Forbes logo Forbes 03-11-2015 Ewan Spence, Contributor

Wileyfox Swift (image: Ewan Spence) © Provided by Forbes Wileyfox Swift (image: Ewan Spence) WileyFox is a new name to the smartphone world. The British-based company has brought together partners from around the world to produce its first two handsets, the Swift and the Storm. They both promise an open and ‘freedom-rich’ experience with high specifications at a competitive price.

Today I’m looking at the smaller Wileyfox Swift model to find out if it can stand up those claims and how good the handset actually is.

Priced at £130 ($200) unlocked, the Swift comes with 16 GB of storage and microSD card support, 2 GB of RAM, a removable 2500 mAh battery, and a 5-inch IPS display with 720×1280 resolution covered by Corning’s Gorilla Glass 3. Given the budget price of the device I’m happy with 720p, and the smaller screen dimensions mean the 293 pixels per inch specification offers great quality for the price. Wileyfox has also ramped up the brightness of the backlight on the handset, trading away some color reproduction for outdoor visibility. You’d be hard pushed to suggest this was a budget handset on the evidence of the screen alone.

Performance-wise the Snapdragon 410 holds no surprises. It pairs up a quad-core 64-bit CPU running at 1.2 GHz with an Adreno 306 GPU. That puts the Swift in the same specification space as this year’s Moto G handset, although the Moto G CPU runs at a slightly faster 1.4GHz. In normal use you’re not going to notice the drop in speed, but place some heavy demands on the Swift (notably in gaming) and you can see a touch of slowdown in the system. The question of whether this is acceptable in a budget device is always a judgement call. For me you’re not buying the Swift (or the larger Storm) for high-end specification, you’re looking for an all-rounder that does the job you need it to do with little fuss. The Swift delivers that.

Wileyfox Swift (image: Ewan Spence) © Provided by Forbes Wileyfox Swift (image: Ewan Spence) Sitting comfortably in budget-land, the Swift also lacks NFC support or a fingerprint reader. If Wileyfox was targeting the geekerati this might be an issue, but as it stands it gets away with it this year. Both of those hardware features are getting close to becoming ‘default’ options for 2016.

It also has dual-SIM support, although only one of the SIM slots will support 4G data. This is one of the issues that I have with the Swift, although it’s nowhere near a deal breaker. Dual SIM support could be improved in the operating system, allowing for either SIM to be used with all of the hardware, and more granular access (such as allocating specific contacts to specific SIMs). That’s down to the choice of the OS, and while WileyFox’s choice of Cyanogen means dual SIM support is weak, most of the benefits of the Android fork outweigh the occasional issue.

Wileyfox Swift (image: Ewan Spence) © Provided by Forbes Wileyfox Swift (image: Ewan Spence) Cyanogen is a smart choice of operating system. For the majority of consumers, they’ll see an Android powered device, it looks like the Samsungs and the HTCs in the store, and it runs all their favourite apps. For those who like a little bit more, it is far easier to customise the handset through theme support and the huge number of settings that can be changed allow for a handset to be set up to a user’s individual tastes. That said I still can’t find the setting that flips the volume up-down keys so up is on the more traditional top key.

Wileyfox Swift camera image, with full-scale crop (image: Ewan Spence) © Provided by Forbes Wileyfox Swift camera image, with full-scale crop (image: Ewan Spence) Budget smartphones have made great strides in camera technology, with the Moto G offering some of the best reproduction at this price level. Unfortunately the Swift is not up to the same standard. Given good light the handset can capture sharp images, although the color reproduction is a little bit too cold for my liking with using the automatic settings. That can be fixed with some editing, but I’d rather a more natural look in the source material. Move into situations with lower lighting and the thirteen megapixel sensor begins to struggle, with weaker colors and noise artefacts creeping into the images.

It’s not helped by Cyanogen’s default camera software. While it has a significant number of filters and options, the automatic mode is problematic and it takes far too many keystrokes to switch to night mode to try to make the best of a poor situation

Similarly priced handsets can produce better images, and I feel that WileyFox has traded away some of the expense in the camera to allow for a better offering in other areas. I’m happy with that trade-off, but it’s not one that everyone will agree with.

Wileyfox Swift camera image, with full-scale crop (image: Ewan Spence) © Provided by Forbes Wileyfox Swift camera image, with full-scale crop (image: Ewan Spence) For those looking for a more secure smartphone, Cyangoen’s privacy-driven modifications to Android will offer them something that cannot be found ‘out of the box’ from other smartphone manufacturers. This includes Privacy Guard (allowing permissions on data collection to be set pin a per-app basis), PIN Scramble (which randomizes the layout of the digits on the PIN lock screen so that smudges and repeated use will not give away PIN info), and Protected Apps (which allows you to put apps in a password-protected folder on the home screen).

Cyanogoen tucks away many of the options that could scare away normal users, but they are not so far away that they are impossible to reach. That offers a huge amount of flexibility to the Swift – far more than other Android devices – but keeps it all in a comfortable look for the mass market.

Wileyfox Swift (image: Ewan Spence) © Provided by Forbes Wileyfox Swift (image: Ewan Spence) Users switching to Cyanogen should be aware that it will always lag behind Google’s implementation of Android, so the major changes announced by Mountain View will not always be readily available in Cyanogen. On the other side Cyanogen is quick to respond to security issues, and the Stagefright exploit was patched within weeks of its disclosure.

Wileyfox Swift (image: Ewan Spence) © Provided by Forbes Wileyfox Swift (image: Ewan Spence) The Wileyfox Swift is an interesting proposition. The British-based company has taken elements from across the Android ecosystem to put together what it feels is an attractive package. There is low-cost manufacturing from China, there is a customisable operating system from Silicon Valley, and there is British design and styling evident throughout the package.

The style of the whole package is probably the most impressive part of the Swift for me. Corning Glass gives the front of the Swift a solid and expected feel, while the detachable cover offers a welcome tactile feel which is easy to grip. The branding on the rear includes strategic use of orange to highlight the company name, and the orange ring around the camera lens is likely to be a design cue that will be seen in every handset.

Wileyfox Swift (image: Ewan Spence) © Provided by Forbes Wileyfox Swift (image: Ewan Spence) There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the device. It delivers what it promises and at £130 you’re getting good value for money. It doesn’t offer the same tight integration of software and hardware that you would see in a Galaxy or Moto handset which is one of the issues every small manufacturer will have, and it remains to be seen just how fast Wileyfox and Cyanogen can roll out major changes to Android.

Out of the box, Wileyfox has a competent budget smartphone. For a new manufacturer with its first device, this is a smartphone it can be proud of.

Disclaimer: Wileyfox supplied a Wileyfox Swift for review purposes

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