Review: Lenovo S650

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A recent article posted by Lenovo brings some interesting insight into Lenovo’s business strategy; the company has started shipping more mobile phones than they do PCs, pushing out 15.8 million mobile phones as opposed to 14.5 million PCs. If anything it shows Lenovo’s commitment to the mobile phone segment thought they used to primarily deal in the PC business.That said though, majority of the phone that are released and sold are not targeted at the high end segment, but rather the budget/emerging market.

The smartphone that I’ll be looking at and scrutinising today is the Lenovo S650, a phone that exists in the sub 200 USD mark, 179 USD to be exact. The question to ask however is what does 179 USD get you?  What kind of trade-offs have to be made? What are you going to get for that amount of money and what sacrifices do you have to make. Hopefully this review will be able to clarify all of this, and be able to tell you if this is the right phone for you.

Unboxing


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Packaging for the S650 comes in a rather nice looking white box with Guilloché patterns over it, with the Lenovo and the phone’s model printed in reflective ink, giving it quite a nice looking simple look. The base of the box itself is in red, so there’s a bit of a duo tone effect going on. Contents of the box isn’t too tightly packed in, so shaking it gets quite an audible rattle, not something I really like to see or hear. Opening up the box you’ll find

  • Lenovo S650 smartphone
  • Instruction Manual
  • Warranty Card
  • 2000 mAh battery
  • Lenovo Mini Wall Charger – 5V, 1A
  • Micro USB to USB Cable
  • Earphones with Microphone

Popping the top lid of the box of, you’ll find the S650 in a loose plastic sleeve. The cardboard under it houses the warranty card and user manual, and underneath that, you’ll find the battery, wall charger, USB cable and earphone with microphone.

I’m not a fan of the way Lenovo has packed the contents of this box, which just seems to be an afterthought, having everything just rattle around. Having the phone in a clear loose plastic sleeve really drives home the fact that this is a budget device as well. The wall charger and the USB cable look to be of good build quality however, so that’s really pleasing to see. It’s nice that the charger included operates at 1A as well, which is not what I can say for the charger bundled with similar budget phones (500mA on the Moto G).

The bundled headset is nothing to write home about, as it’s more generic than anything. It gets the job done, but for those looking for a more refined listening experience, I would suggest bringing along your own earphones instead of using these.

Overall, I like the exterior look of the packaging. Looks great, and doesn’t really look as budget as it does cost, though the gig is let up as soon as it’s opened, as the sloppier internal packaging does let off the target market of this device, i.e. budget. Still, I can’t grade it badly, as for what it’s worth, it still gets the job done.

Onto the specifications.

 

Specifications


 

  • OS: Android 4.2.2 Jellybean
  • Processor: MediaTek MT6582 Cortex A7 Quad Core Processor @ 1.3Ghz
  • GPU: ARM Mali400 MP2
  • RAM: 1GB
  • Internal Memory: 8GB
  • Camera: 8.0MP Rear Camera w/LED Flash, 0.3MP Front Camera
  • Display: 4.7” LCD Display @ 960×540 (234 ppi)
  • Connectivity:
    • WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n
    • Bluetooth 3.0
    • A-GPS
    • Dual Sim
  • Battery: 2000mAh Replaceable
  • Dimensions: 138mm x 69.8mm x 8.8mm
  • Weight: 126g

 

Walk around the device


 

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Front of the device houses the modest 4.7” display at 960×540. While not the sharpest display, the pixel grid is only noticeable if you hold the device closer than you should. Through normal day to day use, the lower than usual density doesn’t really stand out too much, in a good way. Surprisingly, colours are great, contrast ratios are pretty good, and viewing angles are acceptable. They’re not up to IPS standards, but for the most part, you won’t have to constantly keep shifting the phone around to read something.

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Alongside the display, you’ll also find the 0.3MP front facing camera, along with the usual sensors up top, and down the bottom the capacitive buttons in Options, Home and Back respectively from left to right. The capacitive buttons light up when touched, so you’ll have no trouble finding them in the dark, though backlighting for the keys aren’t the most even, causing the keys to look a bit dark at some areas even though they’re backlit.

Bezels on the device are a bit on the thicker side of things, but so much is to be expected honestly, especially coming in at this price point. Still, I didn’t find them particularly distracting, though it should be noted that the top and bottom bezels around the display are rather thick, possible to make way for the Lenovo branding as well as the capacitive buttons.

The plastic metallic trim that goes around the device is visible even from the front, and while the paint job on the plastic looks quite good, it does catch quite a bit of fingerprints. They also make me slightly concerned as I am pretty sure that the paint finish would peel after a while of wear and tear exposing the plastic underneath, that could potentially look quite unsightly.


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The S650 only comes in a single colour, and that is silver with accents of chrome. Moving to the back of the device, the battery cover has a bit of a crosshatched textured surface, so it’s rough to the touch, doesn’t catch any fingerprints, and makes sure that the device doesn’t easily slip out of your hands when you’re operating it with one hand.In the upper corner of the back, you’ll find the Lenovo logo branding, that has a glossy chrome finish, together with the 8MP camera, that protrudes from the body with an aluminium ring surrounding the lens. For the most part, the ring should buffer any scratches that you may get from placing it on the base of a table, so that’s not so much of an issue. Below that you’ll find the LED flash as well.

Down the bottom of the rear, is where the chrome lip continues from the side frame to form the bottom portion of the phone. The chrome finish gathers quite a bit of fingerprints, so it’s not exactly my finish of choice once again. You’ll find the rear speaker grill here as well, that shouldn’t find itself covered even if placed on a flat surface due to the elevation provided by the protrusion of the camera.

The back cover of the phone is very firm in place, and removing it requires just a bit of prying off the top corners of the phone. It isn’t the easiest to get off, but I feel that that’s a good thing as it feels a lot sturdier than most of the other budget phones out there. Peeling the back off you’ll find the microSD slot, two full sized sim slots for the first and the second sim, as well as the 2000mAh battery.


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Left of the device is left blank and boring, and the only action you’ll find is on the right of the device, where the volume rocker is located. The buttons don’t really shift around that much ,and they have quite a nice study press to them as well, so that makes them quite a pleasure to press as well. The fact that they have quite a notch from the body of the phone makes them easy to find as well, so kudos to Lenovo for all of that.


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Top of the device is home to the home button, and just like the volume rocker, it’s easy to locate, and pressing down on it gives quite a nice tactile feedback. Since this phone comes at a rather comfortable size at 4.7”, coupled with my hands that aren’t exactly that small, I found it easy to hit the power button up the top, though admittedly, I’m not really a fan of power buttons up the top of devices.Alongside that there’s also the 3.5m headphone jack that feels quite sturdy when headphones are inserted. There is some small amount of rocking of the head of the cable once inserted, but nothing too major, and pushing the connector feels solid enough to feel secure from any accidental tugging out of the jack.


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Bottom of the device is home to the Micro USB port, though unlike the headphone jack, I didn’t find the connection quite as sturdy. Hooking in a cable didn’t feel particularly secure, there was quite a bit of wobble once put in, and it just didn’t really feel too good overall. If there’s a silver lining to it however, is that not once through the fiddling of the cable did the connection to my PC drop. Still, not something I fancy.Not overly exciting as well, you’ll find a pinhole for the microphone down the bottom.


Hands on and Benchmarks


Booting up the S650, first things you see is the Lenovo branding followed by a slick and simple boot animation that is accompanied by a bit of an audio chime. From a cold boot, the phone took 26 seconds to boot up to the lockscreen.The lockscreen is a rather simple affair, that comes without the ability to quickly jump to any of the apps like the dialer, the camera or the messaging app. The only actions available is to swipe the display up to unlock, and from there you’re brought straight to the homescreen. Operation wise, the lockscreen doesn’t lag so that’s nice, though it would have been nice to get some of those shortcut keys to quickly jump into the aforementioned applications.

The OS on the s650 is Lenovo’s own skin of the Android software that in my opinion looks quite similar to that of MIUI. There’s no app drawer, as all the applications that you install can be found on the home screen. You can make folders however to get some organisation happening, so that it’s not just a mess on your homescreen. Icons look like they have a bit of pop out to them, and frankly isn’t really too much up my alley, as with the combination of all the other colours, looks like it’s just got a little bit too much going on. Navigation on the homescreen however, is nice and smooth, without any hiccups or noticeable lags, so that’s really nice to see from Lenovo.

Pulling down the notifications bar, you’ll find access to some Quick Toggles up the top, that allow you quickly turn on and off things like the WiFi, Data Connection, Outdoor viewing mode, Brightness and the GPS. Should you want to see more toggles you can always tap on the Grid icon on the top right corner that brings you all of the other settings, again, very much like how MIUI works.

Heading into the settings page, each setting that you usually find is now segregated in between 3 tabs, ‘Common’ where you’ll find the more commonly accessed settings like WiFi, Bluetooth, Wallpapers and Volume, ‘Character’ that probably has the most misleading tab name ever, as it brings you to settings like Pocket Mode, Reducing Ringtone volumes and so forth, and finally ‘System’ that is a combination of the two tabs and more, bringing you the complete settings list that you usually find on a stock android build.

The IdeaPhone S650 comes with 8GB of internal storage, though you’ll find that not much of that is actually free for the user to use. After installing all my benchmarking applications, I found that I was only left with about 500 MB left to install applications, and 1850 MB left for other files like music and the like on the internal storage. Not much at all, seeing as the benchmarking applications weigh in at about 500 MB in total, leaving me with 1GB to install applications, and about 2GB for everything else, something that I found quite disappointing.It’s strange as well, as not a lot of applications come preinstalled with this device, hence it leaves me wondering what exactly could be taking up so much space in the system. Either way, it leaves more to be desired. The good news is however that you have a MicroSD slot to expand your internal memory, but unless you use applications like App2SD, you probably won’t be able to install much applications even then.

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Above is the spec printout of the phone based on the Antutu Device info section.

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In Antutu, the Lenovo S650 scored 17257, making it on par with the Snapdragon 400 on the Moto G, though the Moto G does have to put up with a higher resolution display of 1280×720.

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3dMark scores were pretty average at best, but that’s expected from the aged Mali400 MP2, A chip that has been around since the Galaxy S2.

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Normally, Epic Citadel is tested on two settings, ‘High Quality’ and ‘Ultra High Quality’, but on the S650, the option to run the ‘Ultra High Quality’ benchmark seems to  be missing, so that has been omitted. Running High Quality however, the FPS averaged at 55 FPS, which is really good as for the most part, it flies above that.

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The S650 is capable of registering up to 5 touches at any given time.

Sound, Speakers and Media Playback


Call quality is pretty good on the S650. I had no problems with the other end hearing what I needed to say and so forth.The rear speaker is quite loud however, so if you have this device hidden or stacked away somewhere, you definitely won’t have any difficulties finding it. The sound quality however is to be expected of a device at this price range, where it sounds just a bit tinny and empty.

Vibration strength of the phone is probably average at best. I’ve handled devices with stronger more prominent vibration motors, making them quite easy to feel when you have an incoming call or notification, but with the S650, there were a few cases where I didn’t notice that I had one, unless of course I had the device in my hand, or when the device wasn’t on silent mode. If it is however, all bets are off.

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To test out the audio quality, I hooked in my JVC Black Series HA-M750, and the results were actually quite surprising. I used the default media player to play back Armin van Buuren’s Intense album, and while the highs were slightly on the muffled, I found the mids to be decently clear, and the bass to be quite tight and punch. After I started playing Zedd’s Legend of Zelda though, the issues with the highs become a bit more evident as the 8-bit chiptunes just sounded more muffled than they should have. Overall, not a bad device to go listening music in. It’s not audiophile quality, and most of the drawbacks could probably be remedied by playing with the EQ a little.

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Plugging in the Phone via USB, you’re able to choose 4 different options, MTP, PTP, USB Storage aka MSC and the odd one out that I don’t usually see, USB Debugging. Transfer speeds are about 14-15mbps for a 1.4gb movie, which is pretty much standard USB speeds.
The default video player didn’t manage to playback The Thing 2011 1080p that was encoded in H264 and with AAC audio, so I had to resort to using MX Player to get that working. Scaling of the video didn’t come out correctly no matter what setting I left it on, and playback would stutter at parts with high bitrate.

Camera, Photo Quality & Video Recordings


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Firing up the camera app on the S650, on the bottom left corner, you get the option to switch from rear facing camera to the front facing camera, and the option whether to turn the flash on or off, or set it to auto. The top left corner has a button that allows you to choose different filters and shooting modes, the top has information on the current settings applied, battery level, and number of photos left, and on the right, the shortcut to jump into the gallery application. On the right you’ll find the camera and the video taking buttons, and on the bottom right, an options buttons to head into the advanced options.

Pressing on the Advanced button brings up a menu with three tabs. The first tab that deals with universal settings, allows you to set things like enabling GPS location, the exposure, colour offset, range mode, white balance, storage location, Image properties and anti-shake. Going into camera options allows you to enable Zero Shutter Delay, Face Detection, Self timer, resetting the capture number, setting the picture size, and the ISO options. Heading into the Video Tab, you get the option to enable or disable GPS, microphone recording for videos, Audio Mode, set up a time lapse interval, show the level line, and set the video quality. Quite a few options to play with.The one thing that bothers me with choosing the video quality settings however, is the use of Low, Medium, High and Fine. I would have much preferred if the application showed the resolution at which the videos were taken at as well.

Photo quality on the S650 looks great, provided the auto-white balance gets the white balance correctly. Some sample photos that I took with this phone turned out great, with good detail retention, and really good noise control, together with good exposure levels and white balancing. Even the dynamic range for the colours look excellent. I did however encounter a few times when the camera just made the images look a lot darker and colder than they actually were, in which everything quickly fell apart. Contrast was a bit too high, detail in the darker spectrum of things were lost, colours looked a bit too blue-ish, and dynamic range wasn’t really there.

For the most part though, I am really happy with the quality of photos that this phone took. They may not be the sharpest photos out there, and it may 1 or two tries to get the photos right, but the camera does try its best to make your photos look good.

When it came to the indoor darker environment photo test however, the noise was a lot more clearly visible, though I found them to look a bit more mono-chromatic. That said though, it faired alright at indoor photography testing, though not the best. Turning on the flash, I found that the flash was just a little bit too overpowering, making it quick to highlight the foreground in overexposure, and drench the background in darkness.

Tapping the video icon while in the camera app allows you to take videos straight away, though you won’t be able to take any photos while capturing videos. Tapping on the screen while a video recording is in process only allows you to switch your focus on the camera to something else.Video quality isn’t anything spectacular to mention about. Noise control is average, colours seem to be a little off balance, and audio quality that comes from the video recordings sound just a little bit muffled to me.

 

Connectivity


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WiFi connectivity signals are good when close to the source, but as soon as you start moving further away, the signal strength starts to drop quite quickly. At 25m away from the AP, I found myself with -79db, where the Moto G got -71db. That said however, it did score similarly to the Galaxy Note 3.GSM signal strength look great, so no connectivity issues there.

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GPS Lock was attained after 7 Seconds, and after letting it settle for a bit more, it picked up 9 satellites to get an accuracy of 3 meters. Not too bad.

Battery Life


 

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I ran some applications, collected their battery usage, and based on that, extrapolated the results to bring you these estimates on battery life:- 6 hours of video playback
  • 2 Days 14 hours of pure standby (GSM, Wifi)
  • 15 hours 45 minutes of normal usage
If runtime battery life wasn’t that great, with 6 hours of constant video playback, then the idle time isn’t anything short of sad either, as the S650 only managed to do 62 hours of pure standby without touching the phone whatsoever. Throwing in normal daily use together with standby time, the S650 got a score of 15 hours and 45 minutes. Not the prettiest number around, in fact the lowest number I’ve ever recorded.

Conclusion


For all things budget, the S650 is a decent pick, nothing more. It gives you an easy to use interface that’s quick and fluid, and for the most part, it isn’t jammed packed with a lot of bloatware, and has a pretty decent camera. I’m not particularly sold on the body work and the design however. It feels just a bit of a dated design for something to be seen in 2014, and parts honestly feel a bit cheap, and hollow. I can’t say that I like the use of the chrome on the body too. I’d like to point out however that it’s not just this phone, but a lot of phones in Lenovo’s recent line-up that employ this design language, something that I just can’t find myself getting behind on. There are prettier looking budget phones out there is what I’m trying to say.That said though, the real things that drag it down for me is the battery life, and the small internal storage space in the device, despite given the option to extend it via MicroSD (thank god). What you’ll end up with then when purchasing this device, is a phone that works quite well, performs most day to day tasks well, but probably won’t last you long through the day before you have to start looking for a power outlet, and also perhaps you’ll find yourself deleting and uninstalling apps more often than you’d like due to the limited internal storage.

Pros

  • Price point at 179 USD
  • Decent looking screen, though not at the highest PPI.
  • Smooth and fluid operation without lags or stutters
  • Camera has the ability to take some pretty nice photos
  • Dual Sim
  • MicroSD slot for expansion of memory
  • Removable Battery

Cons

  • 2000 mAh battery doesn’t last very long at all
  • Body design looks dated and not on par with something from 2014
  • Low internal storage space out of the box

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