Lenovo has been aggressively releasing smartphones this year, specially in the budget segment. One look at the Google smartphone search trends for 2015 shows that more than one Lenovo smartphone made it to the most searched phones list of 2015. Lenovo has certainly come into its own this year in the smartphone segment. Motorola, which is also owned by Lenovo, has been taking care of the high end segment of the market with the Moto X Play and the Moto X Style, and the Moto X Force which is expected to come next month.
So towards the end of the year, Lenovo has decided to release the Vibe S1 which was first launched at IFA in Berlin. The Vibe is becoming a sub-series within the Lenovo smartphone portfolio with three other smartphones - Vibe Shot, Vibe P1 and Vibe P1m also released this year. So here is a detailed review of the Lenovo Vibe S1
Build and Design: 8/10
If the A-series phones from Lenovo had a very functional and somewhat boring design, the aesthetics on the Lenovo Vibe S1 will certainly take you by surprise, in a pleasant way. The Vibe S1 comes with a curved back design and has a Corning Gorilla Glass 3 cover on the front and rear, along with an aluminum frame. The phone comes in two colour variants - Pearl white and Midnight Blue of which the latter certainly looks more impressive.
The phone has the volume rocker and power/standby buttons on the right hand side, the 3.5mm audio jack is present on the top, on the left hand side you have the dual SIM card slot. This is a hybrid slot, so you can either use two SIM cards or one SIM and microSD card. The micro USB charging and data transfer port is present on the base and is surrounded by speaker grilles section on either side. But one needs to note that there is only one speaker on the right hand side. The rear side just has the camera section located in the top centre with the LED flash unit below it.
The phone measures around 7.8mm thick on its thinner edges and weighs a light 132 grams. The rear side does tend to collect fingerprint smudges and you will need to be constantly cleaning it, specially since it is a reflective surface and smudges are easily visible. Thanks to the 5-inch form factor, one handed use is not so difficult, but you have to be careful as the phone does tend to get slippery.
The Lenovo Vibe S1 features a MediaTek MT6752 chipset which houses an octa-core processor clocked at 1.7GHz and a Mali T760 GPU. This is paired with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage out of which around 25GB is usable space. You can also expand the storage by adding in a microSD card of up to 128GB. The phone runs Android 5.0 Lollipop along with the Lenovo VibeUI running atop it. We will get into the details of the VibeUI in the software section.
The phone comes with a dual nano SIM card slot which is hybrid in nature, so with the second slot you will have to select between a SIM card or expanding storage. In terms of other connectivity options, you have Wi-fi 802.11n, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS with A-GPS and so on. There is a non-removable 2420mAh battery.
There is a 13MP camera on the rear side and an 8MP camera in the front. Rather there are two front-facing cameras - one 8MP and another 2MP, making this the first phone in the world with a dual front-facing camera. We will talk in detail about this under the camera section.
Lenovo Vibe S1 comes with Lenovo’s proprietary Vibe UI atop the Android 5.0 Lollipop OS. Now Vibe UI is known to be a bit on the heavier side thanks to the pre-loaded apps that come with the phone. But thanks to the MediaTek MT6752 chipset, along with 3GB of RAM, things do run fine. Some of the preloaded apps include ShareIt, SyncIt, CloneIt, Theme Centre, Lenovo Companion, Guvera Music, Navigate and some gaming apps among others. As compared to the boat load of apps we’ve seen with the Asus ZenUI, the VibeUI certainly has more useful apps. You cannot uninstall the Lenovo apps though.
Like most Chinese phone skins, the Vibe UI too does not have an app drawer. The notification tab has a good 3x5 grid letting you speed up certain operations. In the settings menu, you get multiple options to tweak your phone. For instance, you can play around with the colour balance, enable high sensitivity touch when you are using the phone with gloves on, double tap to wake up the display and so on. Wide touch gives you the option to have a floating button with your favourite apps on it from any app, without having to exit it. You also get gesture support for Wide Touch, which is quite nifty.
The Secure Zone feature lets you have the same set of apps in a more private zone, which gives an extra layer of security. So basically you can have one gmail account in the open zone and another one in the secure zone. If you are using two WhatsApp accounts on the dual SIM, you can have one each in the open zone and secure zone and so on. Notifications from secure zone apps show up with a red dot on them. Switching between the two zones is as easy as tapping the Secure Zone icon on the quick notification drop down. This is an interesting feature on the Vibe UI interface.
The 5-inch full HD display on the Lenovo Vibe S1 is quite impressive and you get a pixel density of 441ppi. Colours are vibrant and the IPS LCD display has great viewing angles. The text appears crisp and there was no issue with sunlight legibility. The Corning Gorilla Glass 3 protection does tend to collect fingerprint smudges and needs to be cleaned often.
The display was quite good and it was a pleasure to watch videos on it. Despite being an LCD display, the contrast ratio on the Vibe S1 is quite good. Black levels are sufficiently deep, but the display does turn into a mirror in dark scenes.
The call quality on the Lenovo Vibe S1 was quite good with the audio speakers being loud and clear. The audio speaker section is a bit lacking in terms of sound quality but is sufficiently loud.
The MediaTek MT6752 along with 3GB of RAM ensures that the phone runs smooth. The VibeUI skin does not slow down the device, although you can still experience that slight bit of lag when switching between apps or opening between folders. The camera app does take a bit longer to open and it can be annoying if you want to take that quick street shot. However, this does not mar the overall user experience.
In terms of benchmarks, the phone gave scores which were higher than Snapdragon 615 sporting phones. So clearly the MT6752 is the new mid-range chipset to look forward to. In some tests, the scores obtained on the Vibe S1 were closer to that on the Snapdragon 801 + 3GB RAM combination phones such as Xiaomi Mi4 or OnePlus X.
Gaming on the Lenovo Vibe S1 is fun and we could play Asphalt 8: Airborne at the highest graphics level without any slowdown. The phone does heat up on the rear side, but it never got really hot enough to make it unbearable.
On the rear side you have a 13MP camera with phase detect autofocus and on the front you have an 8MP and a 2MP camera. This makes it the first phone to sport two front-facing cameras. The 8MP camera is the major camera while the 2MP camera is used more for depth sensing in order to let you isolate your selfie from the background.
The camera interface on the Lenovo Vibe S1 is quite simple and barring the HDR mode, ISO and White balance adjustment there is no other manual settings. You can select between the Auto and Panorama modes. But with the front camera, you are presented with some interesting features. For starters, in case you want to activate both the front cameras, then you need to select the double-aperture icon. Under the settings menu on the front camera, you can select resolution, snap mode, mirroring mode and so on. After you have clicked a selfie with the dual camera setup, you can then make edits such as blurring the background or changing the background altogether. It is quite a neat feature to play around with and selfie enthusiasts will like it.
Please note: Click on the images to see the high resolution uncompressed images
In terms of image quality, the daylight photos are impressive and packed with details. Although we were not expecting stellar performance in low light situations, the Vibe S1 can certainly hold its own in that department. The focussing speeds do take a hit in low light, but the phone is able to retain enough detail. While the low light image quality is nowhere close to that on the Nexus 6P or Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+, it is certainly better than the OnePlus X.
Battery Life: 7/10
Battery life on the Vibe S1 is good enough considering the 2,420mAh capacity. And it will easily last you for a work day and on regular usage, you can use it for a day. But don’t have too many expectations if you are a power user. A 100 percent charge at 9am with use such as calling, messaging, video streaming, surfing the web can make the phone go on till about 6pm after which you will need to charge the device. Gaming will exhaust the battery sooner. PC Mark for Android gave an onscreen time of 7 hours 50 mins.
Verdict and Price in India
Lenovo Vibe S1 is certainly a breath of fresh air in the sub Rs 20,000 price bracket. The design on this phone makes it really stand out from competition. Only OnePlus X offers a comparable design. But the Lenovo Vibe S1 leaves the OnePlus X behind in a lot of departments including camera and battery life performance.
The MediaTek MT6752 chipset paired with 3GB of RAM gives the Vibe S1 enough horsepower to ensure that the performance is stutter-free. Even playing heavy games wasn't an issue with the Vibe S1 and heat management is good. The camera performance and image quality on the Vibe S1 is second only to the Xiaomi Mi 4 in this price bracket. We just wished the battery life was good on heavy usage. But as compared to the OnePlus X, it is certainly better.
So should you buy the phone? Well, the Lenovo Vibe S1 is definitely a phone worth considering at Rs 15,999. The beautiful design, respectable internal specs and a decent performance make it a worthy phone in the under Rs 20,000 price bracket. If you can look beyond the Vibe UI skin, then the Vibe S1 makes a better buying option than the OnePlus X.
Lenovo's family member Moto X Play, which is slightly more expensive, is the only worthy competitor to the Vibe S1. In case you can stretch your budget, then the Moto X Play is the device to go for under Rs 20,000.
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