Friday, December 30, 2016

Urbanears Plattan II

You’ve no doubt seen people wearing the Urbanears Plattan on your commute without ever realizing what they are, and that’s the point. Urbanears’ styling is a mix of modern design with traditional Bauhaus minimalism that doesn’t stand out, but manages to be iconic nonetheless. 

While the original Plattan headphones were just fine, Urbanears wasn’t satisfied with being mediocre. The company took customer feedback to heart and addressed many complaints about comfort, sound quality and isolation. For the most part, Urbanears succeeded, making the Plattan II a worthy sequel to the company’s most popular headphone.  

Urbanears addressed user complaints about discomfort by revisiting the ear pads. The Plattan II feature thicker, comfier ear pads that also isolate better. We had no problem wearing the Plattan II for extended periods of time. Clamping force is just about perfect, though your mileage may vary. 

Externally, the Plattan II look nearly identical to the original Plattan. It’s not until you look closer that you notice the subtle differences in design. Besides the thicker earpads, the Plattan II features more metal accents, namely on the headband and polished rings around each earcup. As with the original, the only branding can be found on a small fabric flap on the right side of the headband. All said, those who hate obnoxious branding will love the look of the Plattan II. 

One of our favorite parts of the Plattan II’s design is the friction size adjustment. Instead of clicky stepped adjustments, you can simply put the headphones on and slide them in place. The headphones are also easily folded up for transport. The headband can also be bent at severe angles but will always pop back into place, which should help them to withstand abuse. 

The Plattan II are wired headphones but with a couple of tricks up its sleeve. The headphones feature a 3.5mm jack on each earcup, meaning you can attach the removable cable to either side, giving users more flexibility.

Having two 3.5mm jacks on the earcups means you can share music with a friend. All you have to do is plug your friend’s wired headphones into the free 3.5mm jack on the Plattan II. If you and your friend have Plattan headphones, you can daisy chain them to share with even more friends. This is a great feature that wireless headphones struggle with, as devices will default to only playing audio through one pair of Bluetooth headphones at a time. 

The one downside is that the Plattan II’s cable features a mic and remote with only one button. This means you can’t change volume via the remote, but that’s probably not a deal breaker for most potential listeners. 

In terms of sound, there’s no getting around the fact that Urbanears has tuned the Plattan II to be bass heavy. However, the bass isn’t so overbearing that it’s difficult to listen to. The added warmth in the low end makes listening to rap, electronic and dance music fun. 

We weren’t impressed with the muddy sound quality of the more expensive Urbanears Zinken headphones, but if the Plattan II are any indication, the company’s other headphones may soon get retuned with better sound.

More critical listeners won’t like the Plattan II for that reason, but they’re not made to please audiophiles, especially at their $50 (£45, about AU$69) price point. For the money, we found the Plattan II’s warm sound signature and slightly muddy bass perfectly acceptable in its class. 

One of the biggest complaints about the original Plattan headphone was its middling sound quality – though, the re-tuned Plattan II fixes this issue. The headphone’s highs are crisp (and a bit lacking resolution). Its bass is fun and impactful, but can be muddy at times. Its soundstage is also quite narrow, but most listeners probably won’t notice nor care. 

Final verdict

While the Plattan II may look nearly identical to the original, subtle tweaks have made the headphone a great value buy at $49, £45 or about AU$70. Not only are they super comfortable, but they can withstand the abuse of your daily commute, too. 

The ability to fold up the headphones into a small package make them easy to transport in your backpack or purse – which we like – and Urbanears’ decision to go with a thicker ear pad means you’ll be able to listen for hours without painful pressure on your head. The thicker pads also increase give the headphones good passive noise isolation for an on-ear headphone. 

The Plattan II’s sound signature is strictly mainstream with a warm bottom-end but that’s not a bad thing. They offer a fun sound signature with impactful bass and sparkling highs, but lack the soundstage width and resolution of more expensive on-ear headphones like the Klipsch Reference On-Ear II. At a quarter of the price, the Urbanears Plattan II are a great value for those looking for a fun sounding pair and stylish pair of headphones that won’t break the bank. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

LeEco Coolpad Cool 1 with dual rear camera & 4000mAh battery launched in India at ₹13,999

CoolPad cool 1

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LeEco in collaboration with Coolpad launched a new smartphone Cool 1 in the Indian market today with the price tag of INR 13,999. The new Cool 1 comes with the dual rear camera and comes in two variants of 3GB and 4GB RAM. Both variants of the smartphone will be available on Amazon from January 5. While the company also said that it would make available the 3GB RAM variant offline as well after that.

Talking about the specifications of the smartphone, it comes with 5.5-inch Full HD IPS display on top along with 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution. The pixel density of the screen is 403ppi. It powered by 1.8GHz 64-bit octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 processor along with Adreno 510 GPU. As we told you earlier, it comes with 3GB and 4GB RAM variant. There is 32GB internal storage on board. The smartphone runs on Android 6.0 Marshmallow based LeEco EUI 5.6.

The smartphone will be available in Silver and Gold colors. The main feature of the smartphone is its dual rear camera. It has two 13-megapixel camera setup at the back with f/2.0 aperture and dual LED flash. One rear camera takes care of colors while other one handle depth, brightness and details of the images. There is the 8-megapixel front camera as well in the smartphone for selfies. The front camera is a f/2.2 aperture with 80-degree wide-angle lens.

On the other hand, there is the 4000mAh large battery as well on the smartphone. On the back of the smartphone, there is a fingerprint scanner as well. Talking about the connectivity features of the smartphone, it is a dual SIM smartphone with 4G support. It has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth v4.1, GPS, USB Type-C, accelerometer, ambient light sensor, gyroscope, magnetometer and proximity sensor on board.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Asus Launches Zenfone Go 4.5 LTE with quad-core processor & 4.5” display at ₹6,999

Asus Zenfone Go 4.5 lte

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Taiwanese company Asus today launched a new smartphone Zenfone Go 4.5 LTE (ZB450KL-6J028IN) in Indian market with price tag of INR 6,999. The new smartphone listed on Amazon India website and comes in four colors Silver-Blue, Gold, Red and Grey. This smartphone is the new variant of Zenfone Go (ZB450KL) which launched in April with a price tag of INR 5,299. The company will also sell the same smartphone through retail stores from next month. Right now it is only available on Amazon India website.

Talking about the specifications of the smartphone, Asus Zenfone Go 4.5 LTE comes with 4.5-inches FWVGA capacitive touchscreen display along with 854 x 480 pixel resolution. The smartphone comes with 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 quad-core processor along with Adreno 306 GPU. There are 1GB RAM and 8GB of internal storage on board. The storage can be expanded up to 128GB via a micro SD card. Not only that company is also giving you 100GB of Google Drive storage free for two years with the smartphone. It runs on Android 6.0 Marshmallow out of the box.

On the photography front, it has 8MP rear camera along with LED flash. The rear camera also comes with the low light mode, backlight, HDR mode, enhanced beautification mode and zero shutter lag. There is 2MP front camera as well for selfies. The smartphone also has an accelerometer, ambient light sensor, digital compass and proximity sensor.

On the connectivity front, it is a dual SIM smartphone with 4G dual standby. The smartphone supports one micro and one nano-SIM card. There is Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, FM Radio and Micro USB as well on the smartphone. It has 2070 mAh battery as well on the smartphone. The company claims it can give up to 14.6 hours of 3G talk time and up to 13 hours of Wi-Fi browsing time. The dimension of the smartphone is 13.7 x 1.1 x 6.7 cm and weighs around 136 grams.

Commenting on the launch, Peter Chang, Region Head – South Asia & Country Manager, ASUS India said,“Through our smartphones, we aim to cater to a broad segment of users, and we endeavour to offer the differentiated ASUS technology even in mass segments. We are sure this smartphone will able to provide an enriching user experience and be appreciated by our users across the country.”

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Swipe Launches Konnect 4G Smartphone with Quad-core processor & Android Marshmallow at ₹2,799

Swipe Konnect 4G

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Smartphone company Swipe Telecom today launched a new smartphone Konnect 4G in the Indian market. The new Konnect 4G is listed on e-commerce website Shopclues exclusively and priced at INR 2,799 only. Shopclues even offering 5% cashback on Mobikwik and 10% cashback on the purchase through Airtel Money Wallet. The entry level smartphone also supports 4G VoLTE and comes with Jio Happy New Year offer.

Talking about the specifications of the Swipe Konnect 4G, it comes with 4-inches TFT capacitive touchscreen display along with 800 x 480 pixel resolution. It powered by 1.5GHz quad-core processor. There is 512MB RAM on board along with 4GB internal storage. The storage can be expanded up to 32GB via an SD card. The smartphone runs on Android 6.0 Marshmallow operating system out of the box.

On the camera front, it has 5MP rear camera with LED flash. There is 1.3MP front camera as well for the selfie. It powered by 2000 mAh battery which company claims can give it up to 7 hours of talk time and up to 150 hours of standby time. It has G-sensor on board and supports OTG as well.

Talking about the connectivity of the smartphone, it is a dual SIM smartphone and comes with 4G VoLTE support. It has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Micro USB and GPS support as well. Swipe is offering one year of warranty with the smartphone along with six months of accessories warranty. The smartphone weighs around 119 grams. It comes in Black color.

Swipe recently launched an Elite Max smartphone in India with the price tag of INR 10,999. Elite Max comes with 5.5-inch full HD IPS display. It has 4GB RAM and available on Flipkart for purchase. There is 64-bit octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor in the smartphone. There is 32GB internal storage. Elite Max has 13MP rear camera along with LED flash and an 8MP front camera for selfies. Swipe had launched half a dozen of smartphones in its Konnect series like Swipe Konnect Pro, Swipe Konnect 3, Swipe Konnect Trio, Swipe Konnect Plus etc.

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Monday, December 26, 2016

Josh Mobile launches feature phone Mint in India at price ₹995

Josh Mobile Mint

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Earlier, we told you about two Ziox StarZ series feature phones launched in India under INR 1000. Now another company Josh Mobile launched Mint feature phone in India with a price tag of INR 995. The company is launching this phone keeping in mind tier 2 and tier 3 cities of the country. The new Josh Mint comes in black and white colors and available in various retail stores across the country.

Talking about the specifications of the phone, it comes with 1000 mAh battery along with one year warranty. There is 1.8-inch bright display along with VGA rear camera. The rear camera supports video recording as well. The Josh Mint sports curvy polished body which makes it attractive.

The phone is dual SIM and comes with auto call recording function. There is Bluetooth and GPRS support as well on board. With GPRS, one can also browse the internet on this phone as well. It has wireless FM radio feature with recording. So one can record their favorite broadcast for FM station. There is 8GB of memory card support for storing media files. The phone comes with built-in LED torch.

If we compare Josh Mint with recently launched Ziox StarZ Neo and Bolt. Both companies feature phone share same specifications, but Josh Mint comes with better battery than Ziox feature phone. On the other hand, all of these feature phones have the same 1.8-inch bright display. But Ziox StarZ series phones come with up to 16GB memory card support while Josh Mint only supports 8GB memory card out of the box.

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Ziox Mobiles Launched two StarZ series feature phones Neo & Bolt, price starts at ₹920

Ziox Starz bolt and Neo

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Ziox Mobiles launched two new feature phones under its StarZ series starting at INR 920. The company launched StarZ Neo and StarZ Bolt phones with price tag of INR 920 and INR 930 respectively. Both phones come with same specifications and different designs. Both phones supports multi-languages, wireless FM.

Talking about the specifications of the devices, both comes with a 1.8-inch bright display on top. There is a rear camera at the back for capturing images, the detail of camera is unknown. Both phones come with auto call recording feature, and it can record both incoming and outgoing calls as well. There is Bluetooth, GPRS support on board. With GPRS one can also access the internet on this phone. There is 800 mAh battery in the phone along with 16GB memory card support for storing media.

Both phones also come with FM radio with recording, so one can also record the favorite broadcast. Like other feature phones, both these also comes with built-in LED torch. Both phones also support multi-languages like English, Hindi, and others. The Ziox Starz Neo comes in Black-Blue, Black-Red & Black-Grey color options, and the Ziox StarZ Bolt comes in Black & Blue color options. Both the devices already on sale in different retail stores across the country.

Speaking on the launch, Mr. Deepak Kabu, Chief Executive Officer at Ziox Mobiles says, “To strengthen the relationship with our customers we want to provide them with technologically advanced yet uncomplicated devices, this Christmas, we are gifting our consumers with devices which will make their lives simpler and more able.”

Recently, Some reports also suggested that Reliance Jio is also going to announce an Android-powered Jio feature phone. The new phone from Jio will also come with VoLTE support on board and will come with attractive price tag of INR 999 only. The device will also come with bundle offer from Jio which includes free voice calls. With new feature phone, company is aiming rural area where fewer people using 4G enables smartphones.

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LYF F1S smartphone with 5.2” display & octa-core processor listed online at ₹9,599 with ₹500 cashback

LYF F1S

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Reliance Industries smartphone arm LYF smartphone launched a new smartphone in India. The new device LYF F1S listed on company’s mylyf website along with price tag of INR 9,599. As usual, this smartphone also comes with Jio Happy New Year offer which bundles free data, voice and video calls, SMS and premium suit of Jio apps till March 31, 2017. Apart from this, the company is also offering INR 500 cashback on the smartphone through Jio Money purchase.

Talking about the specification of the LYF F1, it comes with 5.2-inch FHD IPS display along with 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution. The pixel density of the screen is 432ppi. The display comes with Corning Concore Glass 3 protection. The smartphone also supports screen mirroring. The smartphone runs on Android 6.0 Marshmallow out of the box. There is Octa-core (1.8GHz + 1.4GHz) Qualcomm Snapdragon processor along with Adreno 510 GPU for better graphics. It comes with 3GB RAM on board.

LYF F1S comes with 3000 mAh battery, and according to the company, it can give up to 11.5 hours of talk time on 4G or up to 8 hours video playback or up to 21 hours audio playback. The smartphone can last up to 320 hours on standby. There is 32GB internal storage in the smartphone along with up to 128GB memory card support.

On the camera front, it comes with 16MP auto focus rear camera along with LED flash, and there is 5MP fixed focus front camera as well for the selfie. The front camera also comes with LED flashlight. The rear camera can record up to 4K UDH videos and comes with continuous autofocus, video HDR, OptiZoom, and UbiFocus. The smartphone weighs around 146 grams.

Talking about the connectivity options of the smartphone, it is a dual SIM smartphone with both SIM slots supports 4G. At a time, only one SIM can be used as 4G while another one will work on 2G. The smartphone comes with Hybrid SIM slot and supports VoLTE as well. On the other hand, there is Wi-Fi, Bluetooth v4.1, GPS and USB Type-C. It also comes with Accelerometer Proximity Sensor, Gyroscope, E-compass, Ambient light sensor and hall sensor. The smartphone also supports some motion and gesture to wake or unlock screen, play music and camera launch. For more updates, Stay tuned with PhoneRadar.

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Saturday, December 24, 2016

Moonlite – A $35 Accessory brings Projector Feature to Any Smartphone

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Remember that time when you were a child and your mother or someone else from the family used to sing you fairy tales at night. Those fairy tells were just words and few lines, but for us as a child that was a whole new world of imaginations. Now as the era of smartphone emerging like never before, these fairy tales are also transforming, and people are bringing something new with the help of technology.

A Kickstarter project Moonlite started by a mom Natalie Rebot, is also same and creating something new out of the basic storytelling. Moonlite is a simple projector that fits on any smartphone’s LED flashlight and projects story images on the ceiling or wall. Moonlite creates hi-tech bedtime stories for kids. It comes with an app and story reels that fit into Moonlite. The flash and reels projects images while app adds sound effects in the background.

The founder of Moonlite Natalie said,” I have a four years old daughter, and I am a pretty big reader, and she wasn’t as into reading as I like her to be. So I started trying new things and brought my smartphone one night. With the flashlight, we started doing little shadow puppets. We made up entire shadow puppet stories, and she was super into it. I liked that she started using her imagination. So I wanted this kind of idea of story telling and started looking for something like this, but didn’t found anything. I am a software engineer, so I figure this out to make an app. And then I got the first prototype of Moonlite and now it just ready for production.

moonlite 2

Right now, Moonlite has 20 different story reels, and Natalie said that with the new year they would have more than 50 stories on the board. Moonlite offers fairy tales stories, bedtime stories, educational stories, and custom name story. The project is live on Kickstarter with the price tag of $35 and more.By pledging $35, one will get Moonlite starter pack. It comes with one Moonlite device and two bedtime or educational story Reels. The Reels includes some of the original Moonlite titles and can be ordered according to choice. The delivery will be done on next year April anywhere in the world.

The Moonlite app supports iOS and Android. The app adds the sound effect for a true audio or visual experience. While on the other hand, Moonlite reels come with page detection software. It is encoded such that when someone turns the reel, it automatically turn the same page on the app as well which results in seamless reading experience for kids. The Moonlite app is also designed to limit the blue light emission, so it will not hurt the eyes of kids at night.

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Friday, December 23, 2016

Microsoft Surface Book i7

If you’re holding out for a Surface Book 2 in 2017, it may very well be OK to stop waiting. The Surface Book with Performance Base stands to be one of the best laptops for digital artists yet.

Using the same Clipboard tablet to run the show with an enhanced base housing a larger battery and stronger graphics, the new Surface Book – first introduced as the “Surface Book i7” – vastly improves on the capabilities of last year’s 2015 model. In fact, the improvements are enough to put the Surface Book neck-and-neck with the new Macbook Pro – and, in many cases, well beyond it.

If you work in a creative digital field, you should seriously consider the Surface Book with Performance Base – maybe even before the new MacBook Pro models. However, whether you should pick up the new-and-improved Surface Book depends on how badly you need or want those improvements now versus waiting for the eventual Surface Book 2. 

 Price and availability 

Of course, you’re going to pay up more for a more powerful Surface Book, but that doesn’t make the digits sting any less. The Surface Book with Performance Base starts – starts – at $2,399 (about £1,939, AU$3,305) with a 256GB solid-state drive and 8GB of RAM.

[Editor’s Note: the Surface Book with Performance Base won’t hit the UK until early 2017, we’re told.]

Bump up the storage and RAM to 512GB and 16GB, respectively, and the price skyrockets to $2,799, while a 1TB storage configuration tops out at a whopping $3,299. All models come with the same dual-core Intel Core i7-6600U processor used in the first models at the high end and a new (for it, at least) Nvidia GeForce GTX 965M graphics chip.

Pricing like this all but guarantees that most purchases toward this machine will be from folks in the creative industry – big or small firms alike. The average user would be delighted by such a sublime device, but could probably find something close to that experience elsewhere for far less. Like, the current Surface Book, perhaps.

Design and features

The general look about the Surface Book hasn’t changed at all in this revision, save for a slight thickening of the base that’s noticeable only with both models side-by-side. Despite this, the two models are identical in thickness at 22.8mm at their thickest point. 

How is this so?

Because the clever engineers at Microsoft raised the height of the base and filled in the existing gap between the Surface Book’s two halves. The result is a keyboard deck that bubbles up to pool around the function keys and substantially taller vents. However, it’s all tapered in a way that maintains the original thickness of its sides while meshing with the returning fulcrum hinge. 

That’s how.

Of course, this model definitely sees an increase in density, from the 3.48-pound version of last year to the 3.63-pound revision this year. You can chalk most of this up to a larger battery to compensate for the increased power needs.

Beyond these points, just about nothing else regarding the Surface Book design changes. You’re still treated to the same brushed magnesium frame encasing both the Clipboard and Performance Base. 

And, the typing and tracking experiences feel largely the same as before – perhaps the keyboard travel is slightly deeper. But, if so, the change is too subtle for us to notice.

Finally, the same 3,000 x 2,000-pixel touchscreen in 3:2 aspect ratio looks as gorgeous as ever and feels just as lightning quick to respond to our touches. 

The new ultimate creative’s laptop? 

All of the modes and features put forth in the first Surface Book iteration work just fine, if not better here. (Removing the Clipboard from the base isn’t noticeably any faster with the new hardware inside, though.)

Microsoft’s more powerful Surface Book does everything the original could, but markedly better in some key areas to creative professionals, like photo- and-video editors and designers. 

Do the new processor and GPU make the device better as a drawing device than before? Not necessarily, but the component gains will sure make demanding creation apps, like Lightroom and Illustrator from Adobe, work much more smoothly.

Not only that, but we expect the new-and-improved Surface Book to be a stronger candidate for 3D animators than before, judging from how well it performed rendering 3D graphics in our various gaming benchmarks.

The Surface Book doesn’t have to prove itself again on its merits. Drawing on the display is as much of a delight as ever, not to mention accurate, and removing or repositioning the Clipboard is still a relatively seamless affair.

A much bigger battery and improved graphics power – 20% and 131% gains, respectively! – help solidify the Surface Book with Performance Base as an incredible proposition to creators with an incredible price tag to match.

While the Performance Base’s massive power gains do plenty toward justifying the improved Surface Book’s astronomical price tag, they don’t change the number: $2,399 (about £1,939, AU$3,305) to start. Alas, let’s not look at this in a vacuum – how does its archnemesis, the MacBook Pro, stack up?

Well, to get close to this new Surface Book – spec for spec – with an Apple machine, you’d have to buy the new, “entry-level” 15-inch MacBook Pro for the same price: $2,399 (£2,349, AU$3,599). That said, this sizable sum will get you twice as much RAM from Apple and a comparable AMD Radeon Pro 450 with an equal 2GB of video memory.

You’re getting a bigger display – though less pixel-rich at only a 2,880 x 1,800 resolution – and twice as much multitasking power from the new MacBook Pro for the same price. Of course, you’re missing out on an entire tablet for the second half of the actual creating part. Oh, and that Microsoft’s latest includes a full-size SD card reader where Apple’s doesn’t hugely works in its favor for some crowds.

All said, if you’re just looking for a convertible Windows laptop or tablet and aren’t much of a creator type – more of a consumer – there are plenty of options that don’t cost over two grand. If it’s a tablet you crave, then Microsoft’s own Surface Pro 4 offers much of the same touch experience for half as much cash. On the laptop side of the 2-in-1 equation, the HP Spectre x360 and Samsung Notebook 7 Spin could serve you well for more than $1,000 less.

Ultimately, the newest Surface Book’s value depends a lot on whether you sit in the niche that it’s designed to serve. If you create digital art or design of any sort, especially with a stylus and digitizer at some point in the process, then this is a pretty remarkable deal over most combinations of mobile workstation and digital drawing surface, Apple’s latest laptops included.

Performance

The number one reason you’re buying the updated Surface Book in the first place does not disappoint in the slightest. With the quad-core processor and new, stronger graphics combined, the Surface Book with Performance Base blows its predecessor out of the water in nearly every regard, including battery life.

Take the 3DMark: Fire Strike result, for instance. That’s a 131% gain from our test of last year’s model, and about as strong as some of last year’s best gaming laptops. Not that the Surface Book with Performance Base is about this at all, but rest easy knowing this workhorse can double as an enviable Hearthstone machine while on lunch.

What the impressive gaming benchmarks are more telling of is the laptop’s ability to render graphics for the purposes of digital animation and other creative work. The test results make it clear that the Performance Base version of the Surface Book is far better suited to meet the needs of creatives that also happen to be power users. (In the modern world of media, the two tend to intersect often.)

Now, surely this massive power boost comes at the cost of juice?

Battery life

Nope, quite the contrary, actually. The new Surface Book with Performance Base puts out some of the longest battery life numbers we’ve seen on a laptop this year – hybrid or otherwise.

On the arguably unforgiving PCMark 8 Battery Life test, the latest Surface Book model was estimated to last 4 hours and 47 minutes on a charge. That’s a sizable 20% gain over our reading of last year’s model, but still not an awesome number.

Running our own battery test, however, the new Surface Book lasted an insane 9 hours and 16 minutes playing a local, 1080p copy of Guardians of the Galaxy on loop at 50% brightness and volume. That, too, is an impressive 20% gain from the 7 hours and 39 minutes we recorded from last year’s version.
(On its own, the Clipboard lasts for the usual 4 hours we recorded with last year’s model.)

Stack that up against the storied 15-inch MacBook Pro, and you see the Surface Book with a 90-minute advantage. We’ll repeat that: this pro Windows laptop can last longer than a MacBook Pro.

All of this improved power inside a frame that lasts far longer than before are tough upgrades to ignore, even if you bought in on the ground level in 2015. However, it’s only a matter of months before we expect Microsoft to unveil a Surface Book 2, so as impressive and welcome as these improvements are, they’re only as good as how badly you need them right now rather than a few months from now.

We liked

It’s a marvel that Microsoft managed to improve both the power and longevity of its Surface Book without drastically, if even tangibly, changing the design. It’s a testament to how far the firm has come as a hardware maker in a very short amount of time.

The performance increases are also demonstrably huge. With 130% stronger graphics in some places and 20% longer battery life all around, this is inarguably the best Surface Book yet. Not to mention that it’s potentially better than the MacBook Pro in some of those key areas.

We disliked

Regardless of whether these vast improvements are worth it for someone that already owns the original Surface Book, Microsoft is asking those customers to pony up the original price and then some for said upgrades. That the firm isn’t offering the Performance Base alone as an upgrade to existing customers feels like a slight, but we also get the desire to, well, make a profit.

We also wish that, while it’s not the status quo, Microsoft would at least offer more storage and/or RAM at that starting price. We all know that most people within this price range would probably make good use of either, and being stuck with a small disk drive is a hard problem to fix years down the road.

Final verdict

Microsoft has made one of the ultimate laptops for creative professionals ever in the Surface Book with Performance Base. Speedier and longer-lasting than ever, this version will better enable creators to work on more demanding projects.

The fact that a new Microsoft-made machine has outlasted a new Apple one in our testing is nothing short of a milestone. One of Microsoft’s insurmountable hurdles in hardware has finally been overcome.

That said, the starting price is an awful lot for what’s on offer, making us wish for a bit more storage or memory, as either decision is likely an irreversible one for most customers. Regardless, if you’re a digital artist or other creative professional, you should give the Surface Book with Performance Base a long, hard look over those new MacBook Pros.

Origin EON17-X

This has been the year that desktop performance truly arrived in gaming laptops. Nvidia’s new GTX 10-Series graphics chips have already proven themselves to bring desktop-level performance and some of the best gaming experiences we’ve seen on a notebook this year. But what happens when you add a full-on, PC-equivalent processor to that equation? 

The new Origin EON17-X is here to answer that question with overwhelming performance. The 17-inch desktop replacement comes equipped with a top-end Nvidia GTX 1080 and an unlocked Intel Skylake processor – both of which have been overclocked to the max – plus enough DDR4 RAM and PCIe SSD storage to make most PC towers cry in envy. 

However, you’ll really tear up when you see the $3,637 (about £2,940, AU$5,010) price you’ll have to pay for all this awesome power packed into our review unit.

Design

This year’s Origin EON17-X not only comes with new internals but a completely new design courtesy of the Clevo P775. Clevo might not sound like a familiar name, though it’s the manufacturer Origin has worked with for years as the chassis provider for most of its EON-series gaming laptops.

Following the tradition of sacrificing portability and thinness for maximum performance, the new EON17-X measures 16.4 x 11.6 x 1.6 inches (41.7 x 29.5 x 4.06cm; W x D x H) and weighs 8.6 pounds (3.9kg). The laptop won’t fit in anything but the largest of bag, and make you feel sore every day you’re carrying it. 

This latest model also adds to the increasingly angular look as seen with the Lamborghini-esque Origin EON17-SLX. Our review unit is furnished with a bespeckled candy red lid that shimmers in the light. On top of this hot paint job, panel lines are etched into the screen lid, giving it sculpted lines like a hypercar.

Around the rear, you’ll also find the EON17-X’s forked and extended exhaust system. Don’t mistake this for a hinge forward design like that of the Alienware 17, though. The 17-inch screen is actually attached at this extended stern section. It’s more likely that Clevo pushed in the center of this machine to create a small cubbyhole for cleaner routing with the backside ports. 

Interestingly, this indented center of the laptop is also the only spot that’s made with metal. Unlike the Origin EON15-X, there’s no soft-touch coating to cover up the unmistakable plastic construction of this machine. The good news is the EON17-X feels solid throughout, with only the most miniscule bit of flex in the center of the keyboard.

Little touches

Although it looks like there isn’t much to the EON17-X’s all black interior, there are enough little touches to keep things interesting.

The aforementioned metal flap rises up from the back and drapes itself over and onto the interior of the laptop to meet the power button. Just below this, there’s a set of white indicator lights arranged into a chevron. And just to the sides of this whole arrangement is a sizable, split speaker bar.

The keyboard also lights up into three distinct zones – though we stuck with a simple white color scheme, matching it to the system lights and power button. Typing on the keyboard feels solid thanks to keys with a firm actuation point and an appreciable amount of key travel.

Unfortunately, we don’t have as many nice things to say about the touchpad.

Finger trap

Don’t forget to bring a mouse with this laptop, because you’re almost always going to want to disable the Synaptics touchpad on this laptop. We can forgive the basic plastic build and the pointing devices serviceable job of translating our cursor movements, but palm rejection was virtually non-existent.

While writing this review, we would abruptly jump to a different page or end up deleting large sections of text whenever our hand brushed too closely to the touchpad.

And as if that wasn’t enough of a frustration, the integrated fingerprint reader turned out to be completely useless. No matter how we swipe our fingers on the biometric sensor, we couldn’t properly register a single digit. Instead the process put us through a ringer of successfully scanning our fingerprints six times in a row, only to be told the authentication failed.

Worse yet, even gently brushing our palm against the sensor causes the BioExcess app to pop up. This prompt overlaps all other windows until we dismiss it and click through another dialogue box to confirm that we really want to close the app. 

This becomes an especially bad problem when we’ve triggered the fingerprint reader while playing games. BioExcess will literally bust through all our open programs like the Kool Aid man, forcing games to drop out of full-screen mode while also making every other window unresponsive. From there, we’ll have to bring up the task manager force the program to end its task.

According to Origin stems from a Windows update causing causing the BioExcess software and driver to behave erratically and inconsistent. The company also explained it has since pulled the software and switched to Windows Hello.

Ultra HD the way it was meant to be seen

One of our biggest complaints of the Origin EON17-SLX we reviewed last year was the lack of a 4K screen option from the onset – though Origin added it later. Thankfully, the Ultra HD screen option is available from the get go now, and it’s spectacular.

The 4x resolution bump from your traditional Full HD display makes games and high-resolution movies look incredible. Colors are vividly represented to make everything pop off and the EON17-X 4K screen also produces the best blacks and contrast we’ve seen on an Origin laptop yet.

That said, everything looks a little warm and that’s even with Origin’s optional screen calibration, so we wouldn’t really rely on it for editing photos or color correcting video reels. As a media machine, though, we would say hell yes. 

On top of the big ol’ gorgeous 17-inch 4K display you’re getting here, the split speaker bar on the EON17-X is also dazzling. Music played on this laptop is both loud and full of richness. Thanks to the size of the drivers inside, you can practically use it like a Bluetooth speaker to fill an entire room with sound. 

Last year, the $3,305 (about £2,341, AU$4,114) Origin EON17-SLX was the most expensive laptop we reviewed due to its two desktop-grade parts, and now the $3,637 (about £2,940, AU$5,010) Origin EON17-X has eclipsed that.

It’s a pricey proposition, but let’s consider the fact that it’s essentially a very well specced desktop that also happens to be portable and has a 4K screen. Yes, it’s entirely possible to build an equally powerful desktop for the same price while still having plenty leftover to buy a 4K screen and additional peripherals – but not everyone has the time or space for this type of setup, and this is when a gaming laptop makes the most sense. 

That said, there are more affordable alternatives out there, like the $3,339 (£4,399, AU$5,799) MSI GT73VR Titan. Although it may not include a processor pulled from the desktop bin, it’s Intel Core i7-6820HK chip is still unlocked, plus there’s a larger 1TB SSD and 64GB of RAM on tap here. The thinner, though only QHD (2,560 x 1,440) resolution, Alienware 17 can also be had for $3,199 (£2,829, AU$4,199).

The Origin EON17-X may be the most expensive option in this desktop replacement group, but it’s the only one that offers a full desktop processor. The true value of an Origin system comes with its ability to customize the system however you’d like.

The base $1,894 (about £1,530, AU$2,610) Origin EON17-X is merely a platform with a 1080p screen, Nvidia GTX 1060 (6GB GDDR5), 3.2GHz Intel Core i5-6500, 8GB RAM and 120GB SSD. From there, you can build up the system to be a mid-range gaming machine or a media workhorse equipped with tons of storage.

No matter how you build it, Origin includes a year of insurance coverage and guaranteed parts replacement service. Our review system also came with optional overlocked CPU and GPU upgrade, the earlier of which is pushes the processor to operate at 4.5GHz – rather than the 4.2GHz limit Intel suggests.

Performance

Thanks to the desktop CPU and overclocked parts, the Origin EON17-X is the best performing machine we’ve tested this year. Both the MSI GT73VR Titan Pro and Razer Blade Pro wowed us with their impressive scores, but Origin’s 17-incher just smashed them out of the park.

The EON17-X’s 3DMark Fire Strike scores landed 3,000 points ahead of everyone else, and we saw identical results from the processor in the GeekBench tests. In terms of gaming performance, Origin’s desktop replacement also ran games faster with 20 more frames per second (fps) at 1080p Ultra.

At 4K Ultra, the Origin EON17-X also proved its worth, running Watch Dogs 2 and Battlefield 1 at an average 45-60 fps. Our benchmark games, The Division and GTA V, stayed at 28 fps on 4K Ultra but we were able to get 60fps by dropping down the graphical settings a tiny smidge.

The only thing more impressive than these numbers is the jetstream the Origin EON17-X produces to keep itself cool. The cooling fans inside the laptop produces at least a foot of air pressure coming through the back while making a giant racket at the same time.

Ultimately, though, if you’re looking for a machine with the raw power to just smash through everything. This is it.

No worse or better battery life  

With all the emphasis on power we weren’t expecting much in terms of battery life. Our battery benchmark tests (PCMark 8 and our standard movie test) and our own everyday usage, confirmed the Origin EON17-X lasts for less than two hours.

If you’re looking for a machine with portability in mind, the Razer Blade Pro offers up to five hours of battery life. Otherwise, the EON17-X’s run times falls in line with the trend of 17-inch gaming laptops lasting for next to no time at all.

We liked

There’s nothing elegant about the Origin EON17-X. It’s a burly, brute of a gaming laptop focused solely on raw performance, and that’s exactly why we love it. We’re finally able to play 4K games with high-to-Ultra settings on a laptop at consistently smooth frame rates.

We disliked

Between the annoying trackpad and downright useless fingerprint scanner, you’ll almost always want to plug in a mouse into this laptop. Coupled with the two-hour battery life, and this is a machine you’ll likely never use anywhere but at a desk. Thus, it’s less of a gaming laptop you can use anywhere and more of  deployable desktop you can carry around.

Final verdict

If you’ve been searching for a gaming laptop that’s truly as powerful as a desktop, this is it. The Origin EON17-X sets itself apart from all 17-inch gaming laptops with its full-on desktop-grade processor and overclocked components to achieve the best performance we’ve seen from a notebook this year.

Beyond its ability to play practically any and every game imaginable, the Origin EON17-X is the perfect mobile workstation for editing video and rendering those files quickly. The large 4K screen and booming speakers also make it an excellent media player in the coming age of Ultra HD movies and TV.

The only question left is whether you are willing to part with the equivalent of several car payments or three months security on an apartment to pay for all this performance.

Wileyfox Spark Plus

Building a budget smartphone that stands out from the crowd has never been harder. From Honor to HTC, BQ to ZTE, a veritable horde of different players are shoveling handsets of varying quality into the hungry hands of a waiting public.

Of these, Wileyfox quickly became a front-runner, at least in the UK, with the great value Wileyfox Swift and Wileyfox Storm

But a year has passed since these launched, and the competition has only become fiercer, with price wars raging. What was powerful and well-priced in 2015 now looks antiquated and weak.

With the newer Wileyfox Spark range, priced at a minimum of £90, the firm hopes to reclaim a little lost magic, while undercutting its competitors significantly.

There is a fine balance to be struck between cost and quality however, so has the Wileyfox Spark Plus, at £120, sacrificed a little too much to be worthy of consideration?

Key features

  • CyanogenMod gives choice of visual themes
  • Aspects of interface are also highly customisable

If there’s one thing that’s immediately obvious about this device, it’s that the USP is not the hardware, but rather the software: CyanogenMod.

In day to day use, there are a few differences between Cyanogen and stock Android. The basic home screen looks identical, but moving to the app list reveals a difference.

Instead of the usual left to right swipes to move between different groups of apps, there's an alphabetical list (like that found on Windows 10 Mobile). Underneath this there is a quick scroll, allowing the user to easily jump to the letter of their choice.

Cyanogen also plays host to a powerful theming engine, with a marketplace for downloading new themes. The available options are currently quite limited, but the ability to change the look of the interface on the fly is still a nice feature to have.

And it’s not just the appearance that you can tweak. Don't like the DPI setting of your screen? There's a switch for that. Want to change the colour temperature of your display? There's a toggle for that. Want to encrypt your phone? You can bet there's an option for that.

Having all this control is of course an enormous boon to the user, but it does come with a price, as there is a great deal of potential to screw things up if you press the wrong thing.

As such, the Spark Plus isn’t ideal for new smartphone users, but the in-built apps do help to make life easier. For those who don't wish to faff about when adding an email account, there is an 'Email' app, which is based on Boxer and really rather nice.

There is also a decent baked-in browser, a Gallery app, FM radio and 'AudioFX' among others.

AudioFX is a reasonably effective digital equaliser, and activating it improves general speaker performance by around 10%. It doesn’t make much difference when listening through headphones though, with the in-built sound chip providing weak bass and iffy trebles.

Lastly, there’s Truecaller, embedded right into the dialler app. This proved to be quite helpful, recognising incoming calls against a user-generated database and alerting you to spam. For those who regularly receive cold, false PPI calls, this could prove to be useful.

Design and display

  • A cheap, plastic build
  • Reasonably sharp 5-inch 720p screen

Plastic is to be expected in a phone of this price, but even among plastic phones the Wileyfox Spark Plus manages to feel particularly cheap, as this isn't a nice soft touch matt plastic, such as the kind HTC uses on its budget handsets like the Desire 530.

This is a relatively rough, sandpapery material that is grippy but unpleasant to hold, and one that collects fingerprints and oil marks like they are going out of style.

And although plastic is expected, it’s not essential, as for example the metal-clad Lenovo K5 is available for similar money.

The use of plastic certainly keeps the weight down though, with the Plus only coming in at 134.5g. A lightweight device can be a good thing, but in the case of the Wileyfox Spark Plus it ends up feeling, and looking, a little like a toy.

For the money, this is acceptable, but as more rivals are beginning to deliver a full metal construction at ever lower price points, the materials used here are a little disappointing.

Moving beyond the materials, you'll find the ports and buttons in largely expected places. The left side of the Wileyfox Spark Plus is home to the volume rocker, and is otherwise completely flush, while the right of the handset is devoid of features, other than the power button.

The top hosts the 3.5mm headphone jack (a welcome inclusion in this uncertain world). On the bottom of the phone you’ll find the (annoyingly asymmetrical) micro USB port, for charging and data-transfer via a PC.

Compared to 2015's Wileyfox Swift, the Spark Plus has a relatively subdued rump. Here you’ll find the rear-facing 13MP camera with a slight bronze trim, and the bronze 'fox head' logo, along with the subtle 'Wileyfox' lettering above the rear-firing speaker.

The back of the device is fully removable, giving access to the microSD and microSIM card slots. The battery is also removable, giving you the option to replace the battery if you ever feel the need.

Lastly, on the front of the Spark Plus you’ll find the 5-inch 720 x 1280 display (with Dragontrail protection, which is less common than Gorilla Glass, but still tough), the call speaker, a brightness sensor and the 8MP front-facing camera.

A factory-fitted plastic screen protector is also included, although many may wish to remove this as it feels quite unpleasant and sticky after any prolonged use.

For £120, it might be wrong to expect the Wileyfox Spark Plus to be both capable and a potential fashion accessory. But with a number of devices, like the Honor 5C, having metal shells for a similar price (or just a little more), the real value of the handset comes into question.

Though the design of the Wileyfox Spark Plus isn't exactly inspiring, there are a few other features that do it credit. First and foremost among these is the screen.

Although 720p at 5 inches doesn't quite stretch the screen into 'Retina' territory (where individual pixels are invisible to the naked eye), the display is sharp enough for everyday use.

From reading to watching videos, all but the most ardent of pixel peepers should have no issue using this screen for all their multimedia requirements.

Colour reproduction is just OK however. The screen is noticeably warm, making whites a little orange. It does get decently bright though, powering through direct sunlight in most situations.

Interface and reliability

  • Smooth general performance
  • Not completely bug-free

Having just a 720p screen actually gives the Spark Plus an advantage in one way, as with fewer pixels to push, the MediaTek 6735 SoC (a couple of years old now, and manufactured on a 28nm process) mostly flies.

Backed up with 2GB of RAM and the relatively lightweight (and reasonably well-optimised) CyanogenMod software, general performance is pretty smooth. Navigating through various menus and other parts of the interface feels snappy, and it's well laid out too.

The device is capable of keeping several apps in memory at once, although some more memory intensive options (such as games) will force app closures in the background.

MediaTek has come a long way from several years ago, whereas once its chips were poor bargain-basement fodder, now they have really begun to catch up with Qualcomm in terms of power and performance. However, this comes with a caveat: updates.

If you are the kind of person who wishes to see their device updated continuously throughout its lifecycle, then this may be a handset to avoid. MediaTek is not known for adapting its chips to the latest Android versions, and there is no word yet on whether the Spark Plus will ever be upgraded to Android 7.0 Nougat.

The potential lack of updates also means bugs could take a long time to be fixed, and this isn’t a bug-free device. Our review unit suffered from an annoying one that would force it into a reboot-loop until it ran out of power.

Regardless, the 16GB of in-built storage is welcome, and is far better than the 8GB included in the standard Wileyfox Spark (though far from the 64GB of the reasonably affordable Bush Spira E3X).

There’s also a microSD card slot, which allows for up to 32GB of extra memory, and included cards can be formatted as internal storage, should you so wish.

Benchmarks and performance

  • Reasonable benchmark performance for the price
  • Iffy call quality

In the CPU-intensive Geekbench 4 benchmarking app, the Wileyfox Spark Plus achieved some predictable results, scoring 602 in the single-core test and 1690 in the multi-core.

The BQ Aquaris M4.5 for comparison, which runs the same chipset but with a weaker screen and less RAM, scored over 200 points less in both instances.

Indeed, this is a much faster phone in general than the Aquaris, providing an overall feel of polish that even more expensive phones often lack.

Wi-Fi and 4G speeds were also generally decent, although we found call reception to be particularly poor in low-signal areas.

Movies, music and gaming

  • Weak speaker
  • Can run basic games, but struggles with high-end ones

A phone with a 5-inch screen is in something of an odd position for media consumption. Not quite a phablet, yet far from compact, it is neither here nor there.

At 720p, the Wileyfox Spark Plus doesn't have the most pixel dense screen, nor does it have the best speakers or a powerhouse chipset, but for the most part it’s OK.

Audio reproduction is perhaps its weakest area. The single rear-facing speaker is in a poor position (audio should ideally never be blasting away from your face), and it fails to pump out sound to acceptable levels.

The trebles are tinny, and the bass is non-existent, and unfortunately this carries over to the headphone performance. The in-built audio chip is anaemic at best, audiophiles would be best to look elsewhere.

As for video playback, with its small battery and screen the Spark Plus isn’t great for movie marathons. For the odd YouTube video, it’s adequate, but for those looking for the best performance in this price range, there are definitely better options.

Games, for the most part, run well on the phone. Although it struggles with more intensive titles such as Dead Trigger 2 and Asphalt 8, it runs the likes of Crossy Road with ease. This isn't quite an A10 Fusion-sporting iPhone 7, but it gets the job done.

Battery life

  • 2200mAh battery drains rapidly
  • No fast charging

With a 2200mAh battery included, we didn't have great hopes for the longevity of the Spark Plus, and unfortunately our fears were well founded.

Starting at 7:00am, with Bluetooth headphones playing music and some website reading through a 50-minute commute, by 12:00pm we'd be on 62%, which would then drop to a paltry 10% following a similar journey home.

This was with the phone drawing email on push notifications from 3 accounts, interspersed with a few calls and some social media consumption.

In all, this isn't a device for power users who need a day from every charge. Moreover, while the battery is replaceable, replacement units are sold for £22, which is a significant outlay given the price of the device.

Standby drain wasn't great either. Even with the battery enhancements of Android 6.0 Marshmallow baked-in, the Spark Plus typically lost around 15-17% of charge every night, making plugging in a real necessity. If you want battery on a budget, consider the longer-lasting BQ Aquaris M4.5.

No fast-charging is included, unsurprisingly given the price of the device, with a full charge of the handset typically taking more than 3 hours.

Camera

  • Disappoints, even in ideal lighting
  • Camera app is easy to navigate

Whether budget or premium, the modern smartphone experience is increasingly hinging around camera performance. And that doesn't just mean the rear sensor, but the selfie snapper too. Today's consumers want the complete package, even when paying a hair under £120.

So, what can the Wileyfox Spark Plus offer? Well, on paper the results are mostly promising, with a 13MP camera on the rear, and 8MP to play with on the front.

Beyond the megapixel count, no great claims are made regarding the specifications of the camera. As such, with no information to go on such as aperture or autofocus, the only real metric for the camera's quality is, shock its performance.

Unfortunately, the performance is fairly pants. In good conditions (no harsh light on a sunny day), the colour produced by the Spark Plus is muted, and dynamic range less than stellar. What's worse, is that sharpness is poor across the frame, with detail produced being soft and mushy.

At 100% zoom, it has the unpleasant 'oil painting' effect that used to dog cheap cameras in the 2000s. In other words, the noise reduction is too aggressive and quite sloppy. Autofocus too is quite jittery, just about coping with static scenes but struggling with any sort of movement.

For sharing at low-resolutions, this may be OK, but even at this price point there are better options available camera-wise, such as the Moto G4 Play.

The selfie sensor doesn't really fare any better, blowing out highlights easily and smearing fine detail a little too judiciously.

On the plus side, camera operation is mostly quite smooth. Although the autofocus is generally inaccurate, it locks on reasonably quickly, and snapping pictures is lightning-fast in most instances.

Navigation is also much improved in some areas, compared to previous versions of the camera app (which is created by Cyanogen).

Moving between video, single shot mode and panorama modes is simple, and there are toggles at the top to move between the back and front camera, toggle flash modes, move to settings and to jump to a more advanced mode.

This allows white balance and more to be altered, and also offers a bewildering assortment of scene modes, many of which seem to be a little too obscure to be useful. Through this, HDR can also be toggled (although it makes little difference).

There is little to write home about with regards to video either, with the results being choppy and over-exposed.

Overall, for roughly £30 less the BQ Aquaris M4.5 offers mostly better image quality, as do many competitors at the £120 mark (including, oddly, the ageing Wileyfox Swift). This isn't the phone for you if you want quality imaging.

Camera samples

It's almost a cliché to say at this point, but the budget end of the market is the most cut-throat in the mobile industry. It is where both the margins and the competition are razor-sharp, and some suffer accordingly.

The Spark Plus in many ways takes the place of the older Wileyfox Swift, with similar specifications and an almost identical price point, and yet in many ways it is the lesser of the two handsets.

Battery life is worse, as are the cameras, and the reliability of the software. The Swift may no longer be available, but its shadow is long.

Moreover, devices like the Lenovo K5 and the Honor 5C are offering excellent metal build quality and superior specifications across the board, for little if any more money. Against this, the Spark Plus falters considerably.

This is an unremarkable handset with good performance and a decent screen, but other than that the Spark Plus doesn't seem to have anything to offer, other than to those who are already aficionados of the British-brand. For everyone else, there is better to be had.

Who's this for?

If you are on a very strict budget, and like the Wileyfox brand, then this handset is unlikely to disappoint. Though there are stronger options available for the price point, the Spark Plus is a reasonable all-rounder, if not remarkable in any category.

Should you buy it?

If you have a budget of just over £120, and wish to buy from a firm that designs and operates from UK shores, then it could be worth considering.

But as the Wileyfox Spark Plus can be bettered for similar money, it’s safe to say you probably shouldn’t buy it, unless you have an odd attachment to the brand.

First reviewed: December 2016

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