There are a couple of things that appear in the title of this post which you don’t normally see side-by-side. There are plenty of Android smartphones available for $275 (and much less). There are also smartphones with very large screens, including the Huawei Ascend Mate and the Samsung Galaxy Note 2. But both of those phones cost $500 or more to buy unlocked and without a contract. What is startling is to see is a 5.8 inch, 720p, Android 4.1 quad core phone for just $275, unlocked and contract free.
Darcy had a chance to get his hands on the 6.1 inch Huawei Ascend Mate back in January and since then I have been eager to try out a larger screen phone. My current personal phone is a 4.3 inch dual core from HTC but when Chinavasion offered me the chance to review the 5.8 inch Mithril I couldn’t refuse!
The Mithril is what is known as a white label smartphone. What that means is that it doesn’t have a brand name like Huawei or ZTE, but it is built using similar parts and often in the same region of China as the big names. The Mithril is one of several new quad core, 720p Android phones that Chinavasion are stocking and if you want the experience rather than the label, then getting one of these beasts is the cheapest way to furnish yourself with a large screen phone.
At the heart of the Mithril is the MediaTek MT6589 quad core processor coupled with PowerVR SGX 544 GPU, the same GPU core as the Samsung Galaxy S4. The 1.2 Ghz MT6580 uses the Cortex A7 core which is the next generation of Cortex core from ARM. However the A7 is designed primarily for power saving rather than performance. In fact it is the core design used in the “little” part of ARM’s big.LITTLE architecture (where the Cortex A15 is used for the performance related “big” part). However this is still a modern quad core CPU and initial testing has shown that the CPU can perform just as well as a quad core Tegra 3.
The display is a 1280 x 720 IPS display and the phone comes with two cameras. The front camera has 5 MP while the main camera has 12 megapixels! There is also a flash. The device runs Android 4.1.2 and includes all the normal bells and whistles like GPS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
Here is the full specification list:
In the box the phone comes with two of those 3200mAh batteries (meaning it is possible for you to take two fully charged batteries away with you), a USB cable, a USB charger and headphones/hands-free mic. The phone also comes with two back overs, one is the standard type of back cover while the second incorporates a flip cover for the front of the phone.
Describing the size is hard without you actually holding one of these phones in your hand. It is big. There is no doubt about it. If you like little dinky phones which fit into your shirt pocket then the Mithril isn’t for you. But if find the Galaxy Note or a similar phone compelling then the 5.8 inch form factor on this phone is very nice.
Here are some comparison pictures to try and show how the phone looks next to a 4.3 inch HTC phone and a 7 inch Google Nexus 7.
And here I am holding the phone in my hand:
The Mithril has two SIM card slots. Both are situated above the battery next to the SD card slot. Although you don’t feasibly need to take the battery out to put in a SIM card, it is just practically easier. The battery pops in and out easy enough, which means that changing the battery over is quite painless.
Of the two SIM slots, one is for 3G comms and the other is for GSM. The GSM slot basically supports any GSM network around the world, while the 3G slots supports WCDMA on 850/2100 MHz. 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, which is what the Mithril supports. In European countries like France, Finland, Denmark, Poland and Romania it tends to be 900MHz.
I tested the 3G slot with two carriers both of which had 2100MHz and 900MHz networks. In both cases a 3G signal was found (and could be used) but the range and effectiveness wasn’t as good as a phone that also supports 900MHz.
Both slots are unlocked and will work with any SIM card, contract free. Which SIM slot is used for 3G and which is used for GSM can be configured in the Android settings. Besides the 3G and GSM support, the Mithril has Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth and GPS.
Using the free “Wifi Analyzer” app from the Google Play Store, I compared the Wi-Fi signals strengths of the Mithril with other Android devices I had at hand, including a Nexus 7. The Mithril matched the Wi-Fi reception of just about every device I had and I was able to wirelessly access the Internet from all around and outside the house without any problems. This is a big plus point for the Mithril as Chinese phones and tablets can have a bad name when it comes to Wi-Fi reception.
The phone runs Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean and includes Google Now. It seems to be a stock version of Android with no extras added. The settings menu does have an extra page for controlling the SIM slots but besides that it looks very normal.
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 apps and essential apps like Twitter, Yahoo! and Facebook all reported compatibility with the Mithril. However, for those who like customization be warned that the phone isn’t rooted by default.
The MediaTek MT6589 is a relatively new quad-core CPU and although it isn’t going to challenge processors like the upcoming Snapdragons, it is none-the-less a 1.2GHz quad-core device with a modern GPU. During my daily usage of the device I found the smartphone to be responsive, quick and smooth. I certainly couldn’t “feel” any difference in performance when compared with my Nexus 7.
The phone scores 12,737 on AnTuTu which is nearly double that of the MedtiaTek MT6577 dual core processor. Putting that into context it means that AnTuTu rates the Mithril 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 Mithril scores 4010 on Quadrant putting it on par with the Asus Transformer Prime.
I also install the Unreal 3D engine technology demo app – Epic Citadel. Using its benchmark feature the Mithril managed an average of 46.4 frames per second at 1280 x 720. The Tegra 3 based Asus Transformer TF300 manages 46.5 FPS and the Nexus 7 53.7 FPS.
Since the phone comes with built-in GPS, I tested it using Google’s Navigation app. Having installed a 3G SIM card I set off in my car. Since the phone doesn’t have a magnetometer (compass), I wondered how well it would do. The good news is that the lack of compass doesn’t affect the navigation as the software calculates your direction using the changes in your position. In general the navigation went well, with Google giving me all the information I needed over the 3G connection and a nice voice telling me where to turn. The only wrinkle was that is takes a long time for the phone to get a GPS reading. When I say a long time, I mean like 4 or 5 minutes. This can be a bit disconcerting as I thought the GPS had somehow failed, but once a lock was achieved the phone performed as expected.
Back to the compass for a moment, it is worth noting that without a compass the device is less useful for star gazing, just in case you wanted to use apps like Google Sky Map.
The Mitril packs a 12 megapixel camera and although the phone is lower in cost when compared to its other larger screen rivals, the photos are relatively good. The colors seemed vibrant and there is no discernible color bleed. Obviously at such high resolutions noise is going to be an issue, but not as much as I suspected. There is also a built in flash.
Here are a couple of very amateur compositions to try and show the coloring for an indoor and outdoor shot.
This next picture is a 600 x 400 piece cut out of the full 4096 x 3072, 12MP landscape picture above, it demonstrates the level of noise on an outdoor picture.
The only negative thing to report about the camera is that I couldn’t get HDR to work at all. Using the native camera app all pictures taken in HDR mode just failed and produce an invalid image. I also tried a couple of HDR apps from Google Play and neither of them could get on with the camera. Although both apps attempted to take the photos, it took a long time for anything to be produced. Other than the HDR, all the other camera functions worked including panorama mode and burst mode.
The Mithril comes with not one, but two 3200mAh batteries in the box. Since the phone has such a large screen it needs all that power but it also means that the device has a good battery life. As will all smartphones actual battery life may vary according to your usage. For example using 3G to sync with your Google account takes more power than using Wi-Fi. Having GPS on, Bluetooth on and so on drains the battery more.
For my first test I started Epic Citadel and let it run in its guide mode (which basically just fly s non stop around the citadel). Wi-Fi was off, but syncing was enabled via 3G. In this setup at least 5 hours of 3D game play can be achieved. I then enabled Wi-fi for the syncing and that number jumped to around 7 hours.
For another test I started playing a long YouTube video and after 1 hour of streaming over the Wi-Fi the battery was depleted by just 13%. using a bit of maths and that means that the phone can stream YouTube videos for over 7.5 hours over Wi-Fi.
In another test I started to watch an MP4 movie (using hardware decoding) and again with the Wi-Fi switched on. I estimate that the Mithril can handle 7.5 hours of video playback.
With Wi-Fi, 3G and syncing all switch off these numbers should all increase.
I have been a long time fan of the price and value of the different types of China electronics that are coming out of Asia and the Mithril is no exception. For less than half the price of a branded phone you get a very large 5.8 inch IPS, 720p resolution smartphone with 3G and dual SIM support plus all the best bits of Android. The camera is good and has a very high resolution. Also the battery life is remarkable plus getting two batteries is a great benefit.
For the price the Mithril is brilliant, now my only problem is that my 4.3 inch HTC phone seems to small!