I have been a long time fan of Chinese smartphones and tablets since they offer a cheaper way to get your hands on Android gadgets. Most of the big smartphone companies have manufacturing sites in China and the “Made in China” sticker is ubiquitous on Android phones. However, smaller companies often don’t get the attention they deserve. I was recently asked by Chinavasion if I wanted to take a look at the ThL W1 3G smartphone and I jumped at the chance. This is what I found out.
The ThL W1 is dual-core 4.3 inch Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich based device with an 8 megapixel camera, 3G, GPS and dual SIM support. At its heart is the 1GHz dual-core, Cortex A9 based MT6577 CPU which incorporates a PowerVR SGX531 GPU. A 1GHz dual-core CPU isn’t a record breaking power house and the SGX531 is a lesser known sibling of the SGX535 (which is found in chips like Apple’s A4 or quite a number of Intel’s Atom chips), however the device performs well for an entry level smartphone and during my tests, CPU performance was never an issue.
For those who like the numbers, the full specification is:
The phone is easy to hold, has good sound quality from a fairly powerful speaker on the back and the back battery cover isn’t a fingerprint magnet. I placed the phone next to a HTC One S and listened to some music. Two things are noticeable, first the sound is on par with the One S when using the external speaker, maybe slightly more “tinny”. Secondly the W1 is thicker. I didn’t really notice it when using the device, but when laid next to the HTC One S its thickness can be clearly seen. The One S is 7.8 mm thick, the Samsung Galaxy S3 is 8.6 mm and the W1 comes in at 10mm. So we are talking about 1.5 to 2.2 mm thicker than some of the leading phones. The iPhone 3GS was 12.3 mm, so 10mm isn’t bad, but it just isn’t as thin as others on the market today.
In the box the phone comes with two 1550mAh batteries (meaning it is possible can take two fully charged batteries away with you), a USB cable, a USB charger and headphones/hands-free mic. There is also some instructions in English and a free screen protector. Since the phone charges by USB it is possible to charge the phone while in the car and/or have it plugged in if using the GPS a lot.
The phone supports two SIM cards, the first goes into a slot that is situated above the battery and is next to the micro SD slot. The second is actually under the battery – which needs to be removed in order to get the card in. One slot 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, as supported by the W1, while in Europe it tends to be 900MHz. Both slots are unlocked and will work with any SIM card, contract free. Besides the 3G and GSM support, the W1 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 W1 with a HTC One S. I was surprised to find that the W1 actually had better Wi-Fi reception than the One S and I was able to wirelessly access the Internet from all around the house and outside without any problems. This is a big plus point for the W1 as Chinese phones and tablets have a bad name when it comes to Wi-Fi reception.
The ThL W1 comes with Android 4.0.4 pre-installed and looking at the build information it was created during November making it a recent build of Android 4.0.4. The build is stable and I didn’t encounter any Android crashes or glitches during my testing. The official ThL website does have a firmware download section, but there was nothing newer for the W1. There is no news of any updates to Android 4.1 or Android 4.2 Jelly Bean.
Along with the standard Android apps like the Google Play Store, Gmail and YouTube etc, the phone doesn’t have much in terms of extra software other than a few simple apps like a compass, torch and FM Radio app. Actually this is a good thing as some Chinese phone manufacturers litter their devices with lots of Chinese social media and search apps, which although they can be removed, are just an annoyance.
Using Google Play was simple and I didn’t come across any incompatible apps. All the top free and paid apps including beasts like “Need for Speed Most Wanted” and essential apps like Twitter, Yahoo! and Facebook all reported compatibility with the W1. For those who like customization be warned that the phone isn’t rooted by default.
The MediaTek MT6577 isn’t going to challenge a quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 3 or a quad-core Snapdragon, however it isn’t the slowest chip on the pack. The phone scores 6436 on AnTuTu v3 and 2737 on Quadrant. In context this means that the device is comparable with the Samsung Galaxy S2 (which scores around 6400 on AnTuTu – depending on the exact model and OS) and is faster than the LG Optimus 2X, Motrorola ATRIX 4G and the original Samsung Galaxy Nexus. This is as expected when looking at the CPUs in these phone. For example the Galaxy S2 also uses a dual-core Cortex-A9 CPU, as does the LG Optimus 2X.
The phone has a 8 megapixel rear camera and a built-in LED flash. The auto-focus camera is reasonably fast and using the built-in camera app’s 16 shot mode it is possible to take 16 pictures in around 8 seconds, so that is 1 picture every 0.5 seconds. The HTC One S can take about 20 pictures in the same time frame. In terms of quality the pictures look good, however they could be a bit more vibrant. But that isn’t really a problem as apps like Pixlr Express are very good at changing the hue, saturation and colors of photos. Here are some example photos, I must apologies in advance for my compositions as there is not a closet photographer inside of me who is struggling to get free!
You can get the ThL W1 for less then $190 from Chinavasion and if you catch a special offer you can pick it up for around $170. You will need to add shipping and you will likely have to pay a sales tax to customs when you take delivery. However for considerably less money than the price of some of the big name devices, you get a good general purpose 4.3 inch Android smartphone with an 8 megapixel camera. There is room for expansion via the micro SD card slot and having dual-SIM support can be a very useful feature.
Other than the couple of extra millimeters in thickness, the design and specs of the phone are on par with other entry level 4.3 inch phones. It is no Galaxy S3 but for the price I would recommend it.