Review: Lenovo S920

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Legend. That’s the name that I originally knew Lenovo by, back before it became more popular as a brand. Even after its acquisition of IBM in 2005 and its name change to Lenovo, I still refused to purchase their products, under the pretense that it was a shitty Chinese brand. This was of course, back in the day when anything with the slight association with China, be it a Chinese company, or a label on a product that had the words ‘Made in China’ generally got you cringing a little, a word back then, associated with subpar quality with low reliability.

Well, in today’s markets, things have changed substantially. Hugo Barra has joined Chinese company Xiaomi, and the Wizard of Woz himself, Steve Wozniak admits he’s a user of the Chinese mobile phone brand Meizu. In Lenovos’ case, it’s hard to really ignore their offerings as they push towards you a strong price point ratio, as well as offerings that just catch your eye. The question on my mind is this though:

Does the top PC maker in the world have what it takes to pull off a good mobile phone? I guess there is only one way to find out, and that my friends, is why this review was born. So without further ado, let’s get down to seeing what Lenovo has in stored for us, with its more mainstream oriented offering, the Lenovo S920.

Note: During time of writing as well, Lenovo has bought up Motorola Mobility for a cool 2.91 Billion from Google. Wow.

Unboxing


The S920 comes in an unusually large box for mobile phones, in a world where mobile phone boxes are small and can be held single handedly. Still, it’s not really an issue, just something that has me wondering. The box is squarish in shape, and white, with a large hieroglyph looking symbol up front with the Lenovo branding all over. Strangely though, nothing about the phone’s model on the outside of the box at all. Peculiar. Moving into the box, you’ll find:

  • Lenovo S920 smartphone
  • Lenovo 2250mAH battery
  • Lenovo Wall Charger (US head)
  • Lenovo USB Charging Cable
  • Warranty Booklet
  • User Manual

Prying the box open from the top, you’re first greeted with a black tray with the phone up top, loosely wrapped in plastic. The USB cable provided is nice and has a solid feel, though it’s not exactly the prettiest USB cable around. It has a slightly more generic look, but it is pretty solid and has a Lenovo branding. As far as the wall plug goes, the fitting is also quite solid into it, and the unit that came with the phone is of US Head, and rated at 5v @ 1A.

The manuals however, are all in Chinese, which further suggests that even though I got the phone locally, the device is actually a grey import rather than a local model. No matter.

Overall though, the fitting inside the box is kinda loose, with a lot of wasted space thrown around. I can’t say that I’m particularly pleased about it, but as long as the device is good, and the price point is low, we have to be reasonable with expectations.

On to the devices, but first, its specifications.

 

Specifications


 

  • OS: Android 4.2.1 Jellybean
  • Processor: Mediatek MT6589 Cortex A7 Quad Core @ 1.2Ghz
  • GPU: PowerVR SGX544MP (Single Core)
  • RAM: 1GB
  • Internal Memory: 4GB + MicroSD Expansion (Up to 32GB)
  • Camera: 8MP Rear Camera, 2MP Front Camera
  • Display: 5.3” IPS LCD Display @ 1280×720 (277 ppi)
  • Connectivity:
    • WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n
    • Bluetooth 3.0
    • A-GPS
    • Dual Sim
  • Battery: 2250mAh
  • Dimensions: 154mm x 77.7mm x 7.9mm
  • Weight: 159g

 

Walk around the device


 

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Up the front of the S920, is the larger than average 5.3” IPS LCD Display, that has a screen resolution of 1280×720. While it’s not really up to par with 2013/ 2014 standards, it’s not as if it’s lacking either, as for the most part, you will not be able to discern the difference. In fact, you’ll find more visible pixels on the Galaxy Note 2, so to me, this is a pass for a mid-range budget device. Being an IPS panel, the viewing angles and colours are great, with no visibility problems even in bright sunlight. Always a plus to see this thrown in to a device in this price range. The one thing I can appreciate as well, is how the device, unlike certain low end devices from other manufacturers, have a visible lining between their glass pane and the LCD down the bottom. It’s something that always irks me, but it’s not present in this device.

Bezels on the device are slightly on the thicker sized, but again, I excuse this. They’re not overly thick and don’t detract from the experience though. Luckily top and bottom bezels are rather minimal, with the top making way for the 2MP Front camera and the earpiece and light sensor, and for capacitive buttons down the bottom.


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As far as capacitive keys go, you have the options key on the bottom left, the home up the middle, and the back button on the right. A very standardized layout that is quite familiar to use, at least in my opinion. I like having my back buttons on the right of the device, rather than the left, like most HTC devices.

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In this particular model that I have, the back of the S920 is shaded in this metallic blue tinge, which as matte and almost silky to the touch, making accidental slippage out of the hand a difficult thing to happen. Certainly better than a gloss coat, so that’s an additional plus in my books. You’ll also find the speaker grill, which has a notch right above it to elevate the speaker when placed back down so that it’s not covered.

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There’s also the rear 8mp camera that has an extrusion of its own from the main body of the phone, and is made out of aluminum with the same metallic blue tinge. Alongside that, the LED flash, what looks to be the secondary noise cancelling microphone and below all of that, the Lenovo branding in white.

The back of the phone comes off easily with a click using the notch on the bottom left of the phone, revealing the battery compartment for the 2250mah battery, the SIM card slots and the MicroSD slot. An interesting thing to note, is that just above the SIM card slots, is a diagram that shows that SIM1 does 3G/2G where as SIM2 only does 2G. An important thing to take note of for those who use one for calling and the other for data. Just as easily as the rear cover comes on, it snaps right in easily as well, while feeling nice and secure at the same time. This could possibly one of the only phones I’ve seen with a removable back that fits so nicely and snugly that you could almost swear that the phone was a unibody phone. Holding it as per normal, you can’t really feel the seams where it comes into place at all. Kudos to Lenovo for not skimping out on the build quality.


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On the right of the device, you’ll find the volume rocker. The buttons have a nice click to them when pressed, and feel really nice and solid. It’s nice that they’re extruded a nice amount as well, which makes them pop out just enough to be felt without snagging on anything in your bag or pants if you will.

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Up top, is where things get the busiest in this device, as it is home to the (bear with me) home button, the micro USB port, and the headphone jack. The headphone jack has a nice snug click all the way when you insert it, and it doesn’t have any signs of wobbling around, and the same could almost be said for the microUSB port. Overall, impressed and pleased, but if I had to chime in, I’m not exactly a fan of flimsy micro USB port covers.

The left and bottom of the device is left barren without any buttons to press, so to wrap things up here, I’m extremely pleased with the build quality of this phone. Usually, you’d only find this level of quality in the higher range segment of devices, but it’s clear that Lenovo has put a lot of thought and love into this device as far as the body goes, such that it looks good, feels good, and is not cheap to the touch either, and that’s certainly a feat to me, coming in at this price range of 639 MYR (192 USD at time of writing). A minor complaint then is that the phone flexes a little when held horizontally and given just a little bit of force down center.

 


Hands On and Benchmarks


Starting up the device, comes with the Lenovo logo as well as the “For those who do” tagline. Also comes with a bit of a slightly irritating boot sound, but I guess I’ve heard worse. Boot up times clock in at 43 seconds from a cold boot, which is not particularly bad. The good thing is that you have the option on shutdown to enable Quick Boot which does it in 4 seconds.

Once boot up is completed, the device looks very similar to most stock Android interfaces, with nothing much changed. The launcher looks and feels very much like the stock Jellybean launcher, however, the notification pulldown has a quick toggle bar that is scrollable, revealing more options. While the whole launcher looks and feels like a stock android experience, you won’t find the tabs in the app drawer to apps and widgets however, as it will only show you the applications installed on the device, scrollable in an infinite loop in either directions. Going into setttings however, is more akin to looking at a MIUI device, where the settings are split in between ‘Common Settings’, ‘Character Settings’ and ‘All Settings’, all of which are scrollable through using a left and right swiping gesture. There are some interesting settings as well, like ‘Pocket Mode’, that makes the phone ring louder when in the pocket, ‘Decrease tone’, which reduces ringing volume when the phone is picked up, and ‘Smart Roll’, which I’m not exactly sure what it does, but either way I couldn’t really get it to work

As far as pre-installed applications go, Facebook, Asphalt 7, Block Breaker, Evernote, Gameloft Live, Little Big City, Kingsoft Office, Facebook Messenger, Twitter and the usual Google applications are preinstalled in the phone, alongside Lenovo’s own applications like the Dialer, Messaging and Contacts app, Gallery, File Browser, Video taking, Clock, Browser, Calendar, Calculator to name a few. Not exactly the most bloat free device, but they’re easily removed from the phone. Can’t say I like having so much of these things pre-installed though, given that you’ve only got access to 1.8GB of the 4GB of internal storage space for your own applications. After having installed all the benchmarking applications, I found myself with only 348 MB left to spare on the device. Certainly a good thing that I can at least insert a MicroSD card for additional storage.

Overall, usage of the S920 proved to be smooth and hitch free. Screen waking is almost instant, no delay in swiping across screens, and app load times are fast as well as smooth. In comparison, despite having the faster chip, the iOcean X7 isn’t as smooth as the Lenovo S920, and it’s something that I can absolutely put down to a single thing; Software. The software on the S920 is just that much more fine-tuned and optimized as opposed to the more run of the mill software found on the iOcean X7, the kinds we see on every other smaller name Chinese phone. In their defence though, they probably don’t have the same amount of resources that Lenovo has to develop their own software as well.

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The specs section in Antutu Benchmark match Lenovo’s listed specifications on their website, so that’s always a good thing.

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Nothing too out of the ordinary here as we see the S920 with its MT6589 sit below the more aggressively clocked MT6589T on the iOcean X7 Elite. As per above though in the usage, despite being clocked lower, it’s no slouch in usage.

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3dMark stresses the single core SGX544MP and it comes out slightly below the MT6589T, despite having the same GPU. I suspect that the CPU then has more to play in this puzzle, but overall still a decent score.

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Epic Citadel is tested on two settings, ‘High Quality’ and ‘Ultra High Quality’. Under ‘High Quality’, the S920 performs very well topping out at the 65fps cap for this device, and scoring a good average of 55.3 fps. ‘Ultra High Quality’ though, is not such a good story as for the most part, Epic Citadel’s rendering came out choppy and if your games were to run at those frame rates, I’d consider it unplayable. This is however, expected from the single core PowerVR SGX544, and is not exactly a new story either.

Sound, Speakers and Usage


Call and voice on the S920 is pleasing. The voice heard on the receiving end is loud and clear, and the earpiece is loud enough to hear what the person on the other side is saying.

As far as vibration of the device, I kind of wished it was a bit stronger. It’s not weak by any means, but I still feel that it could be just that little bit stronger. It’s still strong enough for vibrations to be felt however, when placed on a table. The loud speaker on the S920 is loud and easily heard however, so I suppose it’s not too bad that it complements the slightly weaker vibration motor.

Per my usual testing video, I tried to play an h264 encoded version of 2011’s ‘The Thing’ in an MKV container, and using the default media player, playback of the video was possible, but scaling of the playback video was kinda strange, in that rather than have the video centered on the screen with the black bars on the top and bottom, the movie was pushed to the edge of the display, with a massive black bar down the bottom. Audio and Video plays back fine though, but it’s just a little bit irritating. Of course, it’s entirely possible for you to load up another player to test things, and so I did, with MXPlayer.

I tested audio playback quality on the S920 with my JVC HA-M750 Black Series, with the benchmark tracks of Zedd’s Legend of Zelda, Clarity (Andrew Rayel Remix), and Stay the Night (Kevin Drew Remix), as well as Armin van Buuren’s Save my Night. The results of playback were generally quite good, and I consider myself a picky listener, though I am not sure if I’m up to a level of an audiophile. Even at max volumes though, I found that it was slightly insufficient, meaning that if you were to use larger cans with this phone, you’re more than likely to need an amp in between. Bass was nice and tight, though trebles were slightly off mark to where I would like them. Overall though, a very good experience, so it gets a thumbs up from me.

Hooking in the USB brings up an interesting and long array of options, to enable USB Storage, Connect as MTP, PTP or have no pop up at all, as well as turning on USB Debugging and USB Tethering on the fly, together with a help section if you scroll down till the end. Comprehensive? I sure think so! Transfer speeds are about 14-15mbps for a 1.4gb movie, which is pretty much standard USB speeds.

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The S920 registers 10 touches at the same time, which is a nice thing to have. For what reason you may find it helpful still is unknown to me, but I’m sure it has its uses.

Camera


The camera on the Lenovo S920 is Lenovo’s on Super Camera, which is loved by some in the community for the image quality it delivers.

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On the top of the interface you have the shooting settings, with an option to change shooting modes on the left hand side. On the right, there’s the shutter button for photos, and another shutter button for video recordings. Below that is the options button to tweak additional shooting settings on the phone. Taking photos while doing a video recording works fine, and the photos come out in a 6MP widescreen resolution. Swiping to the right on the interface goes directly into the gallery, similar to how the interface works on Nexus devices.

You are able to change the sizes of the photos taken all the way from QVA to 8MP in a total of 10 steps, which is plenty of options, however, choosing video recording sizes is a little more vague as you’re only allowed to choose from low, medium, high or fine. Video recording resolutions are as follows:

Low – 176×144
Medium – 640×480
High – 1280×720
Fine – 1920×1088

Video recording quality is quite noisy to be honest, though usable. The good thing though, is that they’re recorded at about 30fps resulting in some pretty smooth footage.

Photo taking on the S920 is where things get a little more fun in my opinion. The 8MP snapper takes some decent photos, though noise control is certainly a bit of an issue. Where it lacks in noise control however, it makes up with a f2.0 Aperture camera, and the photo taking modes, in particular the HDR mode and EV bracketing mode, two of which I found gave really pleasant results. The colour front is pretty much good news as well, as I found colour reproduction on the taken photos to be generally good and vibrant, with very little occasion where the camera fails and gets the picture wrong. Clearly shows why SuperCamera is a favourite of many, even outside of Lenovo devices.

Connectivity


Connectivity is a good story on the S920, even when it comes to GPS.

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In both the 25m and the 5m test, the S920 performed admirably, with pretty strong pickup signals, even at further ranges. The one thing that I should note however, is that some website slate the S920 as being dual band, and at least on my end, I can confirm that this is false, as it doesn’t pick up signals coming out from my TP-Link router, where all my other devices do.

Signal strength is great, even in indoor conditions, and on par if not better than other devices. Data usage isn’t an issue either, as you’re backed with a quick HSPA+ data connection.

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A common worry about phones with the MT6589 devices is the GPS performance and lock on times, and I can confirm that this is pretty much due to manufacturers (mainly smaller Chinese ones) not really designing their antennae too well. I draw this from the fact that the S920 pulls out a GPS lock extremely quickly, and not only that, with a good 3M accuracy, and has no problems at all when it comes to navigation.

Battery Life


I ran some applications, collected their battery usage, and based on that, extrapolated the results to bring you these estimates on battery life:

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  • 9 hours 30 minutes of video playback
  • 6 Days 11 hours of pure standby (GSM, Wifi)
  • 1 Day 11 hours of normal usage

Conclusion


I am thoroughly impressed. I went in with the impression that I was going to review a budget device with plenty of compromises and cuts, but found myself dealing with a rather sturdy well built device, with a good choice of processor and optimized software that lends to a smooth operating device that keeps up with most of everyday usage. Bear in mind, that I’m not paid off by Lenovo to say any of this, rather, I’m just that impressed, after going in not expecting much and finding myself dealing with a rather underrated gem. The S920 isn’t without its flaws however, where I wished that the headphone output had better amping with crisper trebles, or perhaps a camera that does 13MP with good noise control, or maybe even a 1080p display. That much however, is reserved for a flagship device, and for a budget device, the Lenovo S920, does bloody damned fine.

Pros

  • Good build quality and body design
  • Non glossy body
  • Smooth usage performance thanks to well utilized MT6589
  • Great connectivity performance for GPS, Wifi and Network
  • Great viewing angles on display
  • Great battery life
  • Value for money

Cons

  • Packaging is a bit strange and contents are loosely packed
  • GPU is not made for intense gaming
  • 720p resolution on a 5.3” display
  • Camera produces noisy images
  • Headphones output could be amped more
  • Body, though being well built, feels slightly on the cheap side because it’s full plastic.
  • Side bezels are a bit thick
  • 4GB of internal memory story is just below what should be an industry minimum of 8GB


All in all, I give the Lenovo S920 a great 8.5
/10

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