-Solid design and build quality
-Impressive audio experience
-Clean software package, with useful extras available if required
-Good battery life
-Very affordable. Great bang for you buck
-Not the best display
-Performance, while decent, could disappoint spec hungry
-Average camera performance
Lenovo is slowly but surely making an impact in the Android smartphone market, particularly here in India. Lenovo has some fantastic devices on offer, with a smartphone portfolio that is continuously expanding, and one of the most popular of their devices is the Lenovo K4 Note.
Its predecessor was very popular, and the latest offering takes things one step further, with the K4 Note bringing some of the best features of the higher-end Vibe X3 to this affordable series. What does this device bring to the table? We find out, in this comprehensive Lenovo K4 Note review!
The phone comes in pretty standard packaging, with an image of the phone and the large VIBE branding splashed across the box. Opening the box reveals the phone in all its glory, and it’s nice to see the device already in a protective case. The hard plastic case isn’t the most impressive though, and if you are particularly clumsy, you may be better off picking something sturdier.
Diving in deeper, you will find the standard documentation, an AC wall adapter, and a USB charging cable, and Lenovo also includes a screen guard with the device, which is another nice touch. There are no headphones included, but that does make sense, given the affordable nature of this phone. Setting up the device only takes a few minutes, and follows the standard steps that any Android smartphone user will be familiar with. Once the phone is setup, you will find the official update for Android 6.0 Marshmallow waiting for you.
The K4 Note sees a significant upgrade in terms of design and build quality, when compared to its predecessor. The device now features a metal frame and a polycarbonate plastic backing, which makes the phone feel sturdy and solid in the hand. The combination of dual-front facing speakers and a fingerprint scanner just below the camera makes the K4 Note aesthetically similar to the Lenovo Vibe X3, which isn’t really surprising, given that this device has been released in some markets as the Vibe X3 Lite.
The plastic backing is removable, giving you access to the microSD card and SIM card slots, but the battery cannot be replaced. Removing the plastic back cover is when you notice how thin and flimsy it is, but despite appearances, it certainly holds up very well, and is something you won’t even notice when snapped in place. For those still worried, the device does come with a plastic protective case in the box, and there is also a version of the phone now available with a wood backing. The wooden back doesn’t seem to be sold separately yet, but is something that we can expect to see soon.
Taking a look around the phone, the headphone jack and microUSB port are at the top and bottom respectively, and the power button is below the volume rocker on the right side. On the back is the camera that is centrally located along the top, and below it is the fingerprint scanner. Up front, below the display are the three capacitive navigation keys, but these buttons aren’t illuminated, which can make them quite difficult to see in the dark.
The power button doesn’t come with something like a ridged pattern to help differentiate it from the volume rocker, but the buttons are placed far enough away from each other for this to be a minor concern. The buttons also protrude quite a bit, so you can actually easily see which button you are pressing. The buttons don’t offer as much tactile feedback as might be expected, and the power button in particular feels quite mushy. However, with you being able to unlock the device and directly go to the homescreen using the fingerprint scanner, you won’t need to use the power button all that much anyway.
As far as the handling experience is concerned, a slight curve on the back allows for the phone to nestle nicely in the palm of your hand, and unlike metal smartphones, the device isn’t slippery either, courtesy of the polycarbonate backing. Overall, the Lenovo K4 Note is a very well-designed smartphone, and as is also the case with some of its competitors, the design and build quality of the phone certainly goes beyond what you would expect from a sub-$200 device.
The K4 Note comes with a 5.5-inch IPS LCD display, with a Full HD resolution, resulting in a pixel density of 401 ppi. Many affordable smartphones are starting to boast Quad HD screens now, but 1080p gets the job done here, with text appearing sharp, and watching videos and playing games is a lot of fun as well. The viewing angles aren’t great however, and while the brightness at the highest setting is good enough to allow for easy outdoor viewing, the screen can be quite dull and dark when the brightness is set to less than 40% even when indoors.
The default color balance is good enough, but the color temperature is on the cooler side. You do have some options available to set the color balance and temperature to your liking, including a manual mode that gives you granular control over these aspects. One preset setting is called Comfort Mode, that helps protect your eyes when browsing the phone for long periods of time. There is also Smart Brightness, which judges when the phone is in harsh lighting conditions and enhances the visibility. It works well enough, but as mentioned, the display brightness is cranked up anyway.
Under the hood, the K4 Note comes with an octa-core MediaTek MT6753 processor, clocked at 1.3 GHz, and backed by the Mali-T720MP3 GPU and 3 GB of RAM. There is also a version with 2 GB of RAM, but this iteration hasn’t been released in India. The performance has been pretty good, helped along by a clean software package, and there have been no glaring issues. The device handles day to day tasks very well, and opening, closing, and switching between apps has been smooth.
Of course, the K4 Note isn’t a performance powerhouse, and the benchmark scores reflect that, but with average usage, this phone certainly impresses. The gaming experience has been enjoyable as well, and playing games like Stick Cricket 2, UFC, and NBA Live Mobile have been a lot of fun. Games do take a bit to load, and there are some instances of stutter when navigating through the menus and settings, but when it comes to the actual gameplay, things have been smooth and lag free for the most part.
16 GB is the only on-board storage option available here in India, but in other markets, there are 8 GB and 32 GB iterations to be found. However, something to keep in mind is that the latter two come with 2 GB of RAM, while this Indian edition features 3 GB of RAM. If storage is a concern, the device features a dedicated microSD card slot, allowing for up to an additional 256 GB of space.
You get two microSIM card slots here, and you can pre-select which SIM can be used to for calling, texts, and data. The option you select for data will allow for access to 3G/4G LTE, while the other sticks to EDGE. It’s also a nice touch that you can choose different ringtones and message tones for the two SIM cards, making it easy for you to distinguish between them. There have been no issues with voice calling, with both parties able to hear the other loud and clear.
The K4 Note comes with dual front-facing speakers – which is always the best placement for speakers – with Dolby ATMOS features. While these speakers don’t get as loud as I would have liked, you get a rich stereo sound which further enhances the video-viewing and gaming experiences.
The Dolby ATMOS settings allow you to choose between preset options like Movie, Music, Game, or Voice, and you can also set up custom settings depending on your liking. You also get additional features, including Surround Virtualizer, Dialogue Enhances, and Volume Leveler. This is buried in the Settings menu however, and is found under the “Ringtones and Volumes” section.
With headphones on, the audio is absolutely fantastic, with impressive bass that I haven’t found with other, more expensive, smartphones. Something to remember is that it can get really loud with headphones on, so much so that the default volume setting is set to 50%, and you won’t find yourself needing to go any higher than that. If good audio is one of your requirements, the K4 Note is definitely a great option.
The phone comes with a fingerprint scanner on the back, and this is another feature that was very impressive. The setup is quick and easy, and the scanner is very accurate, but while it’s definitely fast enough, it may not be as fast as other sensors out there. Using the scanner unlocks the phone and takes you directly into the homescreen, which means that you will rarely have to reach for the power button.
The scanner comes with a few extra uses when the phone is as well. You can set it up so that a single tap can have it function as a back button or take you back to the homescreen, and a long press can open the Recent Apps screen, or again, take you back to the homescreen. Finally, you can have the scanner function as a shutter button as well, which is very useful when taking selfies. These are similar to the gesture support offered by rival Chinese OEM Huawei in some of its recent flagships.
The K4 Note comes with a 3,300 mAh non-removable battery, that allows for really good battery life. I was able to consistently get up to 5 hours of screen-on time with the device, and an impressive stand-by times means that the device easily lasted through a full day of use, and sometimes even two, depending on my usage. With heavy usage however, while the screen-on time was still pretty good, it was easy to drain the battery rather quickly.
You get the standard Battery Saver mode that automatically kicks in at the 15% mark, and there is also an Ultimate Battery Saver feature, that minimalizes the UI, and allows for only calls and texts. An interesting battery feature is “Scheduled Power On and Off,” that lets you preset a time period where the device automatically switches off and turns back on again.
The Lenovo K4 Note features a 13 MP rear camera with a f/2.2 aperture, and a dual LED flash, along with a 5 MP front-facing unit, also with the same aperture.
The default camera app is very simplistic, and everything you may need can be found easily on the viewfinder. At the top left are the buttons to switch between the cameras and toggle HDR, and at the bottom is the button to toggle the flash. Only two modes are available in the menu, including Panorama and another that adds color filters to your images. Further in the settings is where you fill find the option to choose the settings for aspect ratio, photo resolution, snap mode, triaxial leveling, and guidelines.
Using the front-facing camera adds the Beauty mode, and you also have an option called “fill light,” that adds two, pink or chrome, bars at the top and bottom of the screen to light up your face in dark environments, but it doesn’t really help much, and results in a pink or bronze hue in the shot.
As far as the image quality is concerned, the 13 MP rear camera is capable of taking some nice shots, especially in well-lit situations, and the images can be crisp and clear sometimes. Not surprisingly, some noise and grain starts to creep in as lighting conditions deteriorate though. The camera doesn’t handle shadows particularly well either, with very little detail to be seen, and while HDR tends to help here, it creates an oversharpened, unnatural looking shot. The camera also tends to underexpose shots in a few situations, and when you use the tap to focus feature, it also adjusts the exposure, leading to either overblown highlights or super dark shadows.
As far as video is concerned, the camera is capable of recording at a Full HD resolution at 30 fps. Video quality isn’t particularly impressive, and with no OIS, you can get some noisy and shaky videos. The phone comes with a 3 microphone system intended to help with background noise reduction, and while it does a good job when outdoors, the sound is somewhat muted when recording audio in quieter locations.
Overall, the K4 Note camera is serviceable and will certainly get the job done in a pinch, but it’s in the little details that the camera lets you down. It’s certainly not the worst camera we’ve seen on an affordable smartphone, but it isn’t close to the best either and if the camera is important to you, this is certainly something to keep in mind.
On the software side of things, the K4 Note is running Android 5.1 Lollipop out of the box, but – following the update’s release in India last month – there is now an official update to Android 6.0 Marshmallow immediately available after you first set up the phone.
The software experience is very clean and minimalistic, at least on the surface, and while it does have significant differences, quite a lot of stock and Material Design elements are to be seen here. The Settings menu and Recent Apps screen are the same as stock, Chrome is the default web browser, and Google Keyboard is the preset keyboard of choice. The notification dropdown and Quick Settings menu are also similar in the look, but it is packed with a lot more options, with even more available when you dive deeper, allowing you to pick and choose which settings are more useful to you.
The app drawer retains the Material Design look, but is side swiping, instead of a top to bottom scroll. A nice addition here is that the app search menu up to also comes with a section that houses the most recent apps opened. There is a lot of bloatware to be seen however, with a slew of unnecessary, often redundant, apps pre-installed on the device.
Luckily you can uninstall most of these third-party applications, and the only ones that can’t be removed are Lenovo staples like ShareIT, SyncIT, and the Lenovo Companion app. There is also a Theme Center, but it isn’t particularly robust, and all you can really do is change the look of the lockscreen, icons, and wallpapers.
The Lenovo Companion app is a very useful tool to have, and provides a quick and easy way to set up service requests, or browse through the forums to find solutions to everyday problems you might come across. There are also video guides available, and also a robust diagnostics tool that lets you check whether all the device hardware is working the way it should be.
Finally, another feature that can be useful to some is Secure Zone; it can be toggled in the Quick Settings menu, and allows you to set up two virtual zones, that help keep your professional and personal lives separate. You can set up each zone to have their own accounts, passwords, and apps, and settings of one don’t carry over to the other.
If a notification arrives in one zone, you will know via a red dot that appears in the status bar, and you will then have to switch over to be able to check it. App data and documents are also kept apart, and if you are looking to share anything between the two, the way to do it is a via an OpenUserData shared folder. However, call logs and messages are shared between the zones.
|Display||5.5-inch IPS LCD display
Full HD resolution, 401 ppi
|Processor||1.3 GHz octa-core MediaTek MT6753 processor
expandable via microSD card up to 256 GB
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
|Camera||13 MP rear camera, f/2.2 aperture, dual LED flash
5 MP front-facing camera
|Software||Android 6.0 Marshmallow|
|Dimensions||153.6 x 76.5 x 9.2 mm
Pricing and final thoughts
The Lenovo K4 Note is currently priced at Rs 10,999 (~$164), and the wooden back version isn’t that much more, priced at Rs 11,499 (~$171).
So, there you have it for this in-depth look at the Lenovo K4 Note! Lenovo has certainly done a fantastic job with this smartphone, and while using, it has been difficult for me to wrap my head around how affordable it is. With a solid design, decent performance, great audio, and good battery life, Lenovo checks all the right boxes.
The software package does have a lot of extras, but you always have the option to de-activate the various settings and enjoy a stock-like experience, and the only real caveat here is the camera performance, which isn’t poor by any means. There are a lot of great affordable smartphones out there, but Lenovo stands out with a great audio experience, and if that is a requirement, I would definitely recommend the K4 Note.
What do you think of the Lenovo K4 Note and do you plan to buy one? If not, what other affordable smartphone would you buy? Let us know your views down below guys!