Easily the most awaited budget handset for the Indian market, the Micromax A116 Canvas HD is finally here and already is proving very difficult to find. Micromax managed to sell over 9,000 units on the first day itself and the demand seems to be only rising, and for good reason. This is the first handset, ever, in the sub-Rs. 15,000 price bracket to feature an HD IPS screen and a quad-core SoC. These are pretty remarkable specifications for a budget Android handset and it certainly looks very tempting on paper. But, as we’ve seen in the past, glowing specifications on paper needn’t necessarily translate to good real world performance. The A110 didn’t exactly blow our minds. Sure, it was a good option given the price, but the build and finish seemed unrefined and didn’t measure up to the competition in that respect. Can the A116 raise the bar for budget droids when it comes to build quality and aesthetics, and not just impressive specs? Let’s find out.
Unboxing the Micromax A116 Canvas HD
Design and build
Compared to the A110, we’re happy to report the A116 scores much higher in the build quality department. The front looks similar, but the rear cover now has a glossy finish with a fine sprinkle of pixie dust. This gives it a nice shine and also manages to conceal quite a bit of fingerprints. The entire handset bears a striking resemblance to the HTC One X, so it scores high on aesthetics as well. The battery cover is easy to remove thanks to the soft plastic. Inside, we have two GSM SIM slots with the microSD card slot in between. None of these are hot-swappable and you’ll need to remove the battery to insert the cards.
Slim and sleek is the Canvas HD
The power and volume rocker buttons assume their usual place on either side of the handset and are easy to reach. The headphone jack and microUSB port are placed on the top. The Canvas HD is slightly narrower than the A110 thanks to the smaller bezel around the screen; it is lighter as well at 157 g. The handset is quite comfortable even if you don’t have large hands and fits snugly in your pocket. You’ll want to be careful where you place your phone, though, as the protruding camera lens could get scratched easily. Overall, we really like what Micromax has achieved here; it is definitely a step above the its previous offering.
Dual SIM slots, but no hot swap for the memory card
IPS panel makes a return in the Canvas HD, but instead of a lowly WVGA resolution, the A116 boasts of an impressive HD (1280 x 720) resolution, which makes all the difference in the world. Text is sharper, images are more vivid and crisp and the UI simply looks better. The panel itself has good viewing angles along with good colours. However, we noticed that the videos didn’t have the same level of vividness as photos. All our test videos and the ones we shot had weak black levels and the contrast was quite low, so it appears as if there’s a white haze throughout. We only faced this during video playback and through any video player. The A116 features a lightly-modified Jelly Bean 4.1.2. You get notification toggles and extra settings in the menu to configure the two SIM cards.
Plain ol' Jelly Bean
The Canvas HD is powered by the MediaTek MT6589 quad-core SoC. This is made up of four ARM Cortex-A7 CPUs running at 1.2GHz and a PowerVR SGX 544MP GPU. The SoC is fabricated using the 28nm process, so it should sip power rather than gulp it down. The chipset also houses the baseband radios, so there’s no need for a second chip. This budget oriented SoC packs in quite a punch as well. In benchmarks, the Canvas HD is right on the heels of the HTC One X and the Samsung Galaxy S III. We got an impressive 13043 points in AnTuTu and 4004 points in Quadrant, which is pretty good. All this power, along with a whole 1GB of RAM, translates well into real world performance. The UI is incredibly smooth with the occasional lag creeping in. Apps open and close quickly and games like Temple Run 2 and Angry Birds Space run smoothly. Even while running these heavy tasks, the phone gets warm at the most.
Impressive scores for a budget phone
Music playback is handled by the stock Jelly Bean player. The quality of audio is strictly average at first, but sounds good with a little equaliser tweaking. The rear speaker is quite loud, so you won’t miss any of the alerts even in a noisy place. You get 4GB of internal memory and a slot for expanding it up to 32GB. Video playback is much better this time around.
Audio quality is good after a bit of tweaking
The custom video player supports MKV files as well and the A116 handles 1080p video smoothly. There is a very minute lag that creeps during playback, but it’s barely noticeable.
The Canvas HD only supports two bands for 2G and just one for 3G. Other connectivity features include Wi-Fi ‘n’, Bluetooth v4.0 and USB plug-and-play support. Other than the Play Store, Micromax also bundles its M! Store and M!Zone for added content. The bundled apps include some games like Cricket Fever, Fruit Devil along with some productivity apps like File Manager, M! Buddy and HookUp.
Web browsing is a smooth experience
The 8MP shooter seems to have been lifted from the A110, albeit with a slightly different interface. There’s the usual selection of exposure, colour effect, scene modes and white balance. For stills, the camera is also capable of burst mode, up to 99 shots. Unlike the One X, holding down the shutter button doesn’t kick-start burst mode immediately. There’s a little lag and that’s mainly due to the focus speed being a little slow. Even for macro shots, the camera takes more than a couple of seconds to focus before it’s ready to capture. The image quality is pretty good for indoor and outdoor shots. The sensor is able to pick up decent amount of detail and accurate colours. Once you zoom in to 100 percent, the details get a bit hazy, but that’s to be expected from a camera at this price point.
Burst mode is an added bonus
Captures good detail but focus speed is slow
The funny thing is, Micromax claims that the A116 is limited to 720 video when it easily manages to record in 1080p if the video quality is set to "Fine". The video container used is 3GP and moving objects in the video don’t have a very smooth motion as it’s not 30fps at this resolution. It's still passable, however, and 720p video fares a lot better.
This was an area of concern for many from the time Micromax announced the A116. A 2000mAh battery powering a 5-inch HD screen and a quad-core SoC did not sound very good. Surprisingly, the Canvas HD managed to deliver 7-hours and 45-minutes of continues video playback. This translates to roughly 14-hours of real world usage, which is not bad all things considered.
Verdict and price in India
The Micromax A116 Canvas HD is available for a bargain price of Rs.13,990, which easily makes it the most powerful smartphone under Rs.15,000 right now. The best part is the powerful specifications on paper actually translate well into real world performance, which makes this very usable as a primary phone. The Canvas HD is lighter and slimmer than the A110, has a much better screen, comes with Jelly Bean, packs in a powerful SoC, 1080p video recording and playback and a surprisingly decent battery life. This makes it a steal at this price point, so no wonder it’s sold out everywhere. Apart from the lack of an OTA update option and the video playback looking a bit dull, there’s very little to complain about here. While we highly recommend the Canvas HD if you can find it, we’re really eager to see XOLO’s A1000. This handset is priced the same as the A116 but features a dual-core SoC instead of quad-core. While this does limit the video playback capabilities to 720p, we should get better battery life and based on XOLO’s previous offerings, we should expect better build and finish as well. It also has the awesome BSI sensor we saw in the A800. For now, the Micromax A116 Canvas HD is the handset to beat in the mid-range price bracket.