The Indian smartphone market is fierce and largely dominated by Chinese vendors. Now, a Bengaluru-based startup Creo (previously MangoMan Consumer Electronics or makers of Teewe) decided how the smartphone market still lags behind when it comes to software features and updates. After all, for long the discussion has been how hardware gets stagnant after a point, and companies should start focusing on software. Creo has done just that with its first smartphone called Mark 1, and clubbed it with a decent specs sheet. However, has Creo build a device good enough to woo audiences? Let's find out.
Design and build: 6.5/10
While the company focuses on software and specs, the design (to some extent) takes a backseat. Its a usual bar shaped device, which is fine, but the problem arises when you start looking for portability. Its a tad heavy at 190 grams, and the form factor ensures that it doesn't make it to the list of sleek devices we see these days.
On the other hand, when it comes to looks, we would say that the device is pretty classy with an all-black glass front and back (Gorilla Glass 3), and a grey aluminum frame. What we also liked are the three round buttons - volume and power - that sit on the right edge. They add to the sophisticated looks. But the glossy front and back acts as a fingerprint magnet.
On the front, you see the 5.5-inch display and the back comes etched with Creo logo along with a 21MP camera sensor and dual LED flash. Above the screen is an 8MP front sensor, while just below the screen are three customisable capacitive buttons. The lower edge has the speaker grille flanked on both sides of the microUSB port. The left side has two separate SIM slots - a nano SIM slot that also doubles as a microSD card slot and a micro SIM slot. The upper edge is fitted with an audio jack. One hand usage worked fine, but not for prolonged use.
The Creo Mark 1 follows the phablet trend with a large 5.5-inch display, not less than Quad HD 2560 x 1440 pixels of resolution. Under the hood, it gets an octa-core Mediatek Helio X10 processor clocked at 1.9GHz and coupled with 3GB of RAM. It comes equipped with a 21MP rear snapper - a Sony IMX230 sensor with PDAF. It supports 4K recording and 120 fps slo-mo capture too. It also fitted with an 8MP front-facing camera with features like beautification, 3D Selfies, and more.
But the highlight remains the new Fuel OS that is based on Android Lollipop. Let the rather older Android iteration not fool you, as the company has packed in some nifty features. To begin with, it comes with a special Software hub app called Refuel that is a home to all the new updates and explains what each software brings in. There's a security feature called Retrieve for tracking your device, and in-built answering machine and also a new improved Search functionality. We will look at them later in the OS and performance sections. The USP of the device is the monthly software updates that will make the device look new every month. The next update is slated for 13 May with more improvements to the newly announced software features.
On connectivity front, it won't disappoint you with the support for Bluetooth, 4G, 3G, GPRS, GPS and Wi-Fi with support for ‘ac’ draft. The list of sensors include accelerometer, gyro, geo- magnetic, hall sensor, proximity, light and indicator light. The onboard storage is 32GB, out of which 25GB is available for users. The microSD card slot does support up to 128GB, but like seen in almost all phones these days, it's a compromise between opting for dual SIM or extra space. All of this is fueled by a decent 3100mAh battery.
It's a 5.5-inch display of Quad HD 2560 x 1440 resolution, which means a pixel density that goes all the way up to 534ppi. The icons looked sharp and the display reproduced vivid colours. We played 1080p as well as 720p videos, and it could handle both pretty well. However, we did notice a few instances (when looking at the tips within ReFuel) when the display didn't register the swipe in the first go. But it was pretty smooth elsewhere. Overall, the display won't disappoint you at all.
The Creo Mark 1 runs Android Lollipop-based Fuel OS. The Fuel OS has been designed, keeping in mind, how to make navigation quick, simple and efficient. It brings a new feature called Sense that can be accessed by either double tapping the home button or swiping downwards on the screen. You can then key in what you are looking for - could be content from an email, an app, photos, docs and so on - and Sense will give you options to choose from, cutting down on at least two steps that you would otherwise need to look for particular content. We tried Sense to look for app as well as emails, and it worked just fine. It should be noted that, Search with Sense lets you find email content only from the Email client, and not Gmail. So, you will have to add your Gmail account to the Email client.
There's a feature called Echo, which is nothing but a built-in answering machine. So, you will see a new mic-shaped icon within the call log app. But to start using it, you will have to enable Echo under Settings. On enabling the feature, it is turned on for all contacts, and there is no way to make it contact-specific. However, Creo is working on personalising this feature, which will be seen in an upcoming update. For now, you can choose a time frame, and after ringing for the specified time, the calls are diverted to an answering machine. You can also set a default message and customise it by recording one. The Call log app has separate section for Echo and also lets you access all those recorded calls anytime.
Navigating is made simpler by letting users customize the three capacitive touch buttons just below the screen. So, you can choose between long press and double tap. You can even swap actions associated with the left and right side buttons. There's also an easy screenshot icon that puts away all the hassles of holding onto power and volume keys, and brings you a screenshot with a single tap. Then there's a three fingers downward swipe in the gestures section that also lets you easily take screenshots. It also supports gestures such as drawing 'V' for the flash light, double tap to wake up screen and more, which are quite common and seen in most of the Chinese phones these days. Creo also adds the gesture control for music such as swipe up to play music and downwards to pause and so on.
The notifications appear as usual with a downward swipe, but Creo also lets you mute of block notifications directly from the lockscreen to ensure you aren't spammed all the time. Creo also has taken care that you don't waste time looking for the message with OTP, instead directly copies it on a clipboard for easy access. The Messaging inbox is also taught to categorise between people and businesses. So, we noticed that the spam was automatically put into one section while messages from friends and family under another. You can even mute a message to avoid further notifications or even choose to directly block it. The UI is simple and easy. We didn't take long getting a hang of it.
The Creo Mark 1 smatphone comes with a 21MP rear snapper and an 8MP front-facing camera. The camera app is designed to be quite handy. So, you just swipe your finger to choose between Quick photo (nothing but stills), Live Photo (its a 3 second video, basically capturing action before and after the click), 3D Photo (you can move the camera around a subject to capture it in 3D), and then there's Panorama. Switching between photos and videos is simple along with a quick gallery option to quickly look through all your images and clips. It also lets us shoot some decent videos. Again, you get options such as Quick video (the usual), Slow motion and Time Lapse.
The photos taken outdoors looked pretty detailed, at least on the desktop. The colour reproduction is good (look at the flower images) and doesn't look too saturated or washed off. However, in extremely bright lit conditions or in sunlight, the white merges with the subject. In low-light, with HDR, the images seemed fine, noisy otherwise. Live images and 3D Photos/Selfies may look like gimmicks, but they are a great add-on, especially considering how you can turn them into a gif and share via social networks. We did play around with Live Photos as well as 3D shots, which gets a thumbs up from us. You can easily switch between playing a 480p, 720p, 1080p and 4k videos. However, within seconds the camera area on the rear side starting warming up.
You can take a look at the camera samples below (resized images), and view these and other original photos in our Flickr album.
Let's start with the most basic function - call functionality. It is nice to see Creo put in some thought into this most common yet mostly ignored aspect. We aren't just talking about the built-in answering machine Echo, but also the option that lets you compress the background noise when on a call. This enabled us to easily answer calls even in packed buses and noisy streets. Then comes messages/SMSes. Creo has ensured that your important threaded messages aren't buried due to excessive spam. It has now segregated into people and businesses, putting all those spammy food and discount related messages under one roof.
Moving ahead, the Helio X10 coupled with the Fuel OS ensured that the usage is smooth, at least to some extent. Now, switching between apps did take a second or two lag, and wasn't buttery smooth. It managed to easily load picture heavy websites too. We also tried playing some casual games, which were stutter-free. However, the device would heat up quickly, whether we watched videos of YouTube, recorded a 4K video, played a game, and so on. We wonder if Creo has a patch for the heating problems in its upcoming update.
We also used the security feature Retriever. We set up a pin and then sent an SMS stating 'Find <pin>' from another smartphone to the Creo Mark 1. In roughly 15 minutes, it sent the location of the device, which was perfect. Meanwhile, the phone let off a loud siren until we inserted the pin to unlock it. We also got an alert when a new SIM was inserted along with the time and location. However, it didn't reveal the number completely and you would have to reach out to Creo support for further tracking down the phone.
The octa-core processor and the Quad HD display limits the battery life to a great extent. With average usage, we could barely squeeze through a working day. The battery test gave use a result of 5 hours 24 minutes on keeping the display resolution lowest possible, and with half the display resolution and turning on auto mode, we were restricted to roughly 5 hours.
There is no doubt that home-brewed Creo has tried to bring in the best of hardware and software, though the primary focus remains monthly software updates. After all, Creo has grabbed eyeballs by claiming the device will be a 'new phone every month'. A good camera (to some extent), display along with unique software features works in its favour, but there are factors like strictly ok performance, heating issues, bulky form factor which are a let down. Clearly, there is room for improvement.
But, the pricing will have a big say into where Creo is heading. For instance, we have devices powered by the powerful Helio X10 and specs at par (though not same) priced lower than the Mark 1 such as the Le 1s. However, there is no denying that those devices do not posses a 21MP camera or promise software updates month on month. There are also others like the Gionee S6, Meizu MX5 and Galaxy A5 that fall in a similar price bracket. Moreover, Creo is relatively newer than the Chinese vendors who have managed to woo Indian audiences, and the seasoned OEMs like Samsung and HTC who have started focussing on the mid-range segment. It's a tough battle ahead.
The Rs 19,999 price tag can be justified, provided Creo manages to push out those nifty features and improvements, bug fixes and so on that it has promised and ensure you experience a new device every month. This would make it a great option for all those looking for some cool handy features to dabble with, and are ready to ignore the bulk that comes with this not-so-portable device.
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