Some people mistakenly think that all Android phones that come out of China are white-label devices with no support and no hope of future upgrades. That is true of some phones, but not all. China has several popular international brands including ZTE, Huawei and Lenovo. ThL is another brand that is popular in China where it has over 340 stores across the country. Its phones are also for sale internationally from places like Chinavasion. The ThL W100 is its latest smartphone and it was launched only this week. Not only does this phone have a 4.5 inch IPS display, sport a quad-core Cortex A7 based processor, include an 8MP rear camera along with an amazing 5MP front-facing camera, it only costs $159.99! That makes it the first branded quad-core Android smartphone to be offered internationally for less than $200.
At the heart of the W100 is the MTK6589, a quad-core A7 processor designed for low power but yet quad-core performance. A7 cores are becoming increasingly popular and are starting to replace the Cortex A9 cores that were popular in dual-core phones. By using the A7 core the MTK6589 is able to reduce its energy needs, but at the same time offer quad-core performance. Here are the full specs of the ThL W100:
The device is 134 mm long, 70 mm wide and 9 mm thick which is reasonable considering the 4.5 inch display. However the phone is amazingly light. It weighs just 102 grams and when I first picked it up I thought I had forgotten to put the battery in! Much of this lightness is achieved by using lots of plastic, so no aluminum uni-body designs here, but still it is pleasure to hold.
The phone only comes with 4GB of internal storage that is divided into 1GB phone storage and 3GB external storage. This can be a problem for larger apps or games as they simply won’t fit into the 1GB of phone storage. However the good news is that a microSD card can be added and in the settings the microSD card can be set as the default write location. This helps keep the price down but doesn’t leave the user frustrated with no hope of expanding the storage.
Although the resolution of the screen is “only” 960 x 540 the display is remarkably high quality. The IPS screen has excellent viewing angles, the colors are vibrant and when on full brightness the screen doesn’t look washed-out. Below is a photo comparing the same image on a HTC One S, a Nexus 7 and the ThL W100. Although the HTC One S offers deeper coloring, I think the W100 is actually the best of the three displays (in terms of color at least).
The phone has all the standard connectivity options like Wi-Fi ( 802.11 b/g/n), Bluetooth, 2G GSM and 3G. It doesn’t have NFC nor does it support LTE but for only $160 that isn’t a problem!
There are two SIM card slots both of which can be used for normal GSM services and messaging but only one of which can be used for 3G. It doesn’t matter which slot is used for 3G as everything is configurable via the settings. Which SIM is used by default to make calls, which SIM is the default for SMS and which SIM should be used for 3G can all be set accordingly. Both slots are unlocked and will work with any SIM card, contract free.
For 3G the phone only supports 850 and 2100MHz. The latter number is the “normal” 3G frequency and should work in most places around the world, however a lot of carriers also use a secondary 3G spectrum range. In Asia this tends to be 850MHz, as supported by the W100, while in Europe it tends to be 900MHz. I tested the 3G slot with a local carrier which uses 2100MHz and 900MHz networks. The 3G worked fine but the range and effectiveness wasn’t as good as a phone that also supports 900MHz. The 3G connectivity will be optimal in areas with only a 2100MHz network or with a 850MHz/2100MHz network.
I compared the Wi-Fi signals strengths of the W100 with a HTC One S and a Nexus 7 using the free “Wifi Analyzer” app from the Google Play Store. The W100 performed just as well as those two devices and I was able to access the Internet from all around the house and outside without any problems.
The phone runs Android 4.2.1 Jelly Bean and includes Google Play and Google Now. The phone is running a slightly tweaked version of stock Android. The most noticeable difference is the transparency of the app draw. When the app draw is opened the background (but not the desktop) can still be seen. It is visually pleasing and a nice touch from ThL. The other thing I noticed was that the settings app uses color icons. Other than that, everything looks to be stock Android.
The device supports Google Play and although not all the official Google apps like YouTube etc are pre-loaded, it is a simple matter to install them via the Play Store. Using Google Play was simple and I didn’t encounter any “incompatible” apps. All the top free, paid and essential apps like Twitter, Yahoo! and Facebook all reported compatibility with the W100. For those who like customization it is worth noting that the phone isn’t rooted by default.
The MediaTek MT6589 is becoming increasingly popular at the lower end of the quad-core smartphone market and since it uses one of the the latest core architectures from ARM, it is a good choice for this phone (and other in the range).
I previously tested the 5.8 inch, 720p Mithril phone which uses the same processor and the results are very similar with the W100 getting slightly higher benchmark results mainly due to its smaller screen (and hence less effort needed by the CPU/GPU).
The phone scores 13,041 on AnTuTu (compared to the Mithril’s 12,737). Putting that into some context it means that AnTuTu rates the W100 as being faster than the Google Nexus 7, the Asus Transformer Prime (both of which are Tegra 3 quad-core devices) and faster than the Samsung Galaxy Note. Similarly the W100 scores 4006 on Quadrant putting it on par with the Asus Transformer Prime. For further comparison the ThL W1, which is powered by a 1GHz dual-core Cortex A9 based MT6577, scored 6436 on AnTuTu and 2737 on Quadrant. Older dual core phones like the HTC One S score just under 7000 on AnTuTu. Overall the phone performed well and there was no lags or annoying pauses. It felt as fluid and usable as any of the Android devices I have at hand, maybe even better.
A quick test using Epic Citadel showed that the W100 can manage an average of 47.4 frames per second at 960 x 544 using the high resolution mode. The Tegra 3 based Asus Transformer TF300 manages 46.5 FPS and the Nexus 7 53.7 FPS.
The W100 includes an 8MP camera which takes vibrant pictures and is certainly well beyond what to expect in this price range. Also the inclusion of a 5MP front facing camera is remarkable. The built-in camera app includes features like face detection, HDR, continuous shooting and panorama. The camera works well for quasi-macros shots and I was able to get a good focus lock on objects even when quite close. The dandelion picture below demonstrates this the best.
In the box ThL provide two 1800 mAh batteries. The advantage of two batteries is that you can leave home with both fully charged and know that you will get double the battery life during long journeys or times away from a mains socket! The device includes a fairly standard USB mains charging adapter and the phone can also be charged from a laptop or PC since charging only requires 500mA. My battery tests revealed that the ThL W100 can play video for about six hours on one charge. In another test I found that a full battery will allow you to watch YouTube videos over Wi-Fi for about five hours or play heavy 3D games for about three hours.
For those with questions about buying electronics online from China, see our guide (part one, part two) – it isn’t as difficult as you might imagine. For $159.99 this phone could be missing half the features it has an I would still recommend it! OK, this isn’t a Samsung Galaxy S4 or a HTC One, but it costs a lot less than they do. The W100 has a quad core processor based on ARM’s low power consumption Cortex A7, a vibrant IPS display, good connectivity options, reasonable battery life and a nice 8MP camera. The support for only 850MHz and 2100MHz on the 3G side could be limiting to some, but there are other advantages like dual-SIM support plus features like GPS and a compass. All that from a branded Chinese company for just $160.