Launched in December 2015, the Gionee Marathon M5 Plus had one single purpose and that was to be the successor to the Gionee Marathon M5. The older M5 packed in a massive 6020 mAh and also came with a narrow form factor apart from the additional weight. At the launch we were treated to a successor that cut down on both the heft and the battery with some new upgrades in terms of software and hardware.
Unfortunately for Gionee, plenty has changed since December 2015. Manufacturers have introduced new chipsets and components to the market that are not just powerful, but energy efficient as well. Take for example the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 with its Snapdragon 650 that takes on most flagships from 2015 with its Cortex-A72 and Cortex-A53 cores and it costs just Rs 9,999 (16GB).
So in what appears to be a much delayed launch with a hefty Rs 26,999 price tag, where does this mammoth stand among the new smartphones? Let’s find out.
Build and Design: 7.5/10
We were not exactly fans of the original Gionee Marathon M5’s design that looked chubby at best and was heavy to carry as well. Gionee has certainly improved on that and made the Plus not just slimmer, but also managed to pack in a bigger 6-inch display in what appears to be a similar footprint.
The phone thanks to its smaller but efficient battery is also lighter at (a still heavy) 208 grams than the previous model’s 211 grams. The older smartphone was definitely easier to hold thanks to the narrow (yet chubby) design and the Plus losses out on some points for that.
While we did not like plastic inserts at the top and bottom ends on the back, we did like the 2.5D glass on the front (shown above) that gave the smartphone a polished look that definitely trumps its successor.
We had the gold model in for review and although we are not fans of gold, we did appreciate the fit and finish of the panels that felt seamless, smooth and polished.
As mentioned at the beginning of this review, the Gionee Marathon M5 Plus is indeed a bit late to the Indian market. Still, it will appeal to big screen fans as it manages to deliver a great screen-to-body ratio.
We get a 6-inch AMOLED Full HD display on the front. Inside, we get a MediaTek MT6735 clocked at 1.3GHz with Cortex A53 cores that is also found in the InFocus Bingo 50 entry-level smartphone we reviewed recently. The chipset is paired with 3GB RAM and 64GB of internal storage that is expandable up to 128GB using a microSD card.
As for the cameras we get a 13MP f/2.0 unit with PDAF that is accompanied by a single LED flash on the back. On the front there is a 5MP f/2.2 aperture unit for selfies.
Connectivity options include 4G bands, Wi-fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth v4.0, A-GPS and an FM Radio. Add to this a USB Type-C connector for charging and data transfers. Also available on the front is a fingerprint reader that is quick, but not unbelievably quick like the one we used on the Oppo F1 Plus.
Powering it all is a non-removable 5020mAh battery which utilizes two chips to charge the smartphone quickly and is also expected to retain its capacity after 600 charge cycles.
The 6-inch AMOLED display does pack in plenty of punch and shows saturated colours as many would expect from display of this type. And this shows, even when held in direct sunlight with text being legible and images looking as colourful (not washed out) as we would like it to be. Viewing angles were pretty good as well and handset made for a great PMP thanks to the battery and display combination that seemed to work well in power saver modes.
We did however, experience a green tinge on the display, but it was only visible when viewed at steep angles and did not hamper our multimedia experience.
While the auto-brightness worked fine and was quick enough to adapt to the various lighting scenarios that we were using it in, we wished that the ‘LCD effect’ setting (odd right?) in the display had a customisable setting as we found the display a bit too vivid in most situations.
Having used the older Gionee Marathon M5, the software on the Plus does feel (ever so little) like an upgrade. Nothing has changed underneath the Amigo OS apart from a couple of new additions and plenty of additional bloatware that cannot be uninstalled. The Android base version also remains at 5.1 Lollipop, which is pretty old and could definitely do with an upgrade (or two).
Talking about the pre-installed apps there’s tonnes of them. From games, to app stores, to stuff that we just did not want to play around with like 360 Security Lite to Du Battery Saver, all of which we placed in a ‘Unused’ folder. Thankfully, we could uninstall most of them.
As for the UI you get the standard layout with all the icons laid out on the homescreen with no app drawer. Then you have the iOS-inspired control centre that is accessible with a swipe from the display’s bottom edge. Adding to the swiping confusion, swiping upwards anywhere else on the display gets you access to the (secret) homescreen editing menu that will also let you change themes and edit the desktop.
The interface is fairly standard and nothing refreshing. In fact, the default theme seems to be inspired by Samsung's TouchWiz, while the pre-installed wallpapers were the result of some bad Photoshop work. We did however have access to a theme store that saved the day with its massive selection of themes.
Also worth mentioning is the Chameleon app that lets you pick colours from the environment around you and change the colour palette of the theme. An additional mention goes to the new app called the Gionee Abroad Service that was also showcased at the launch event.
The app simply acts as a companion app when you are travelling abroad and will also let you track flights, check the weather, maintain checklists and add memos. All-in-all the Abroad Service is a handy app but nothing substantial out here.
With a MediaTek MT6735 performance should not have been a problem. But we did notice some stuttering in the multi-tasking menu and other places, like when swiping through the homescreen. These are minor and often creep up when there is a game or a heavy app running in the background. Clearing the RAM kills the glitch but we think this is more to do with the Android Lollipop base than anything else.
The older Android software also meant that the heavily skinned OS often felt a bit slow and not buttery smooth. To give you a comparison, the InFocus Bingo 50 (a budget smartphone) with the same specs and Android 6.0 Marshmallow managed to run a lot smoother and stutter free. We think this was something to do with their choice of a 720p display instead of the Full HD one onboard the M5 Plus.
The audio quality while listening to music via the headphones was really good. The DTS was not exactly to our liking, but it did enhance the audio to quite an extent. Also available was an equalizer with preset effects and a user-customisable one. Audio output through the speakers on the back was sufficiently loud, but it did sound a bit empty. We do think this is more of placement problem as the speaker is pointed away from the user.
Coming to call quality, we faced no issues whatsoever. The handset offers HD voice as well and conversations at both ends could be heard loud and clear.
Gaming was not such a great experience given the processor at hand. Casual games worked fine and ran smoothly without any hiccups, but the same cannot be said about graphic intensive games that raised the processor temperatures a bit. Still then, it was not too hot and neither did performance take a hit. The handset cooled down much faster than it heated up. Games like Asphalt 8: Airborne, Modern Combat 5 did not play well and stuttered throughout. Dead Trigger 2 on the other hand ran pretty smoothly. The big screen is definitely a plus point for this handset.
The camera onboard the Gionee Marathon M5 did a fairly average job considering its price tag. While we do understand that the sole purpose of this phone is to be a road warrior and deliver battery life, may be Gionee could have skipped on the camera altogether and made it clear.
The images we got did get the saturation levels right but that’s about it. While the Full HD AMOLED display did a great job of showcasing those images, the sensor did a good job by actually recording the right colour saturation levels. So we were sure that they weren’t deceiving. The same can be said about the white balance levels as well. But as for the rest of them, it was nowhere close to where we wanted it to be.
The camera’s autofocus mechanism (with PDAF) was simply not quick enough, nor did it accurately lock focus most of the time. This became an even bigger problem in dim or low light situations. The highlights were blown and rarely did we get any good results even with the HDR mode turned on.
One will really need the lighting scenario to be just right when using this camera (indeed most of the times it is not). There’s purple fringing all over and it is noticeable. The ISO levels creep up in almost every light setting no matter whether it was low light or daylight, which is a bit disappointing.
In short, you can only get good photographs with this camera if you are pointing in the direction of the light (still the autofocus does not lock accurately). Anything else and the results are far from impressive.
The front facing camera saw similar results, but the images looked better because of the distance from the subject (usually at arm’s length) but add a little opposing light and they get ruined.
However, video recording was pretty good and showcased smooth and steady frame rates, but the troubled auto focus mechanism would suddenly falter ruining some videos.
Battery Life: 8.5/10
As expected, the M5 Marathon Plus delivered when it comes to battery life. And it can help you get some more juice when needed by including a number of power saver modes under Power Management in Settings. While we did get a day and half of battery life with casual use on just 4G networks, turning on the Standby Intelligent Power Saving checkbox helps take it to 2 days, which is pretty good.
But one should note, that like every other power saver mode on an Android smartphone, you may miss a couple of notifications, as the smartphone will turn off data to save power from time to time. This also means that it will sync data only when you switch it on or according to its own schedule depending on the battery life available.
Using the camera frequently will bring down that two day battery life and by quite a big margin. When taking camera samples, we noticed that the battery life did drop quickly. Overall, it gets the job done, but it comes at the price of a heavier smartphone.
Verdict and Pricing
For what it was supposed to offer, the Gionee Marathon M5 Plus does deliver plenty. You get battery life that you can depend on and a large AMOLED display that works well both outdoors and indoors.
But the company really needs to ramp up with its software. And while this did not make much of difference earlier (older versions of Android), it does today. Marshmallow is a big improvement over Lollipop and for those who have been left behind; the cracks are beginning to show. The software experience could have been smoother even though it was polished with the Amigo UI.
While the hardware was doable, the chunky software easily hampers the experience. Moreover with such a big display at hand, we did expect a custom DPI scaling solution where we would have been able to see more lines of text rather than just smaller text. Indeed, this is an opportunity that went to waste, but it could be implemented with future updates.
The camera was not up to the mark and that is something to be concerned about when you have an older generation chipset and Rs 26,999 price tag to defend. There are better phones in the market like the recently reviewed Oppo F1 Plus that is an all-rounder and can run circles around the M5 Plus with everything other than battery life and costs Rs 26,990. And it is light as well. Then we have the Xiaomi Mi 5, which thanks to its pricing (Rs 24,999), presents a value for money offering with an impressive spec sheet, a capable camera and good battery life.
Right now with its Rs 26,999 price tag, it is just a case of too little, too late for the Gionee Marathon M5 Plus. And we would recommend this smartphone only if battery life is your priority.
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