Although Spice has been in the mobile game a long time now, and has only recently entered the Smartphone market, they haven't really outshined the competition. Their Mi-310 was not too bad though, but it's their upgrade i.e. the Mi-410 that's got the industry going ga-ga. So, I give you the Spice Mi-410 that sports a high power processor and large screen, but just so you know, technically, Spice had nothing to do with manufacturing the phone other than fixing their name on it. Beneath the Spice branding, its actually Huawei’s i9000 IDEOS X6, that’s sold in the West and Far East. But, is this enough to lure prospective buyers away from other seasoned brands? Let's find out.
The Mi-410 feels like a slab of metal in your hand. The design is very monolithic and is devoid of any curves or other design elements which does not make it very ergonomic. The 4.1-inch capacitive touch screen somewhat makes up for it though with a very decent resolution of 480 x 800 pixels. The screen is not fitted with Gorilla Glass, but isn’t very prone to scratches either. Android-centric touch sensitive buttons for Return, Options, Home and Search are located under the display. The Mi-410 is equipped with a pair of speakers located at the bottom on either sides of the device. By doing this, the sound is not muted when you place the phone on the table, but unfortunately it could be hampered if you hold it in your hand, as the tendency is to obviously hold a phone from the bottom when you're on speakerphone. There’s also a front-facing VGA camera, proximity sensor and ambient light sensor beside the earpiece.
Slim design and sturdy build
The power button is placed on the left and the volume rocker is on the right. While it's easy to control the volume with your thumb, it's a real pain when you have to lock/unlock the phone. The problem is that the power button does not have a groove nor is it raised and sits flush with the bezel so it’s hard to tell exactly where it is without looking. It should have been placed on the top beside the 3.5mm headphone jack. At the bottom we have a mini-HDMI and micro-USB port. The HDMI-out is a great addition, especially when you consider the price.
Screen is decently bright but only indoors
The 5.0MP camera is slightly raised above the body of the phone and without a lens protector it's prone to scratches. The Mi-410 is also capable of capturing 720p videos at 30fps, another first for a sub-15K phone. While most of the body is made of plastic, the battery cover is metal. Along with the battery, the phone feels a bit heavy in your pocket at 143g, and a bit slippery as well due to the metal back. Overall, the Mi-410 has a pretty good build quality and by no means feels like a cheap phone that you would be ashamed to flaunt in public.
Features and Performance
The Spice Mi-410 runs stock Android Froyo (2.2.2) with a few customizations here and there. At first, it feels a bit laggy, but a quick install of Launcher Pro fixes everything. Whether you're swiping through the home screen or scrolling through the menu, the motion feels fluid and snappy. Even the animations are butter smooth, and why not! After all, there’s a 1GHz Snapdragon CPU with an Adreno 205 GPU beating inside. Spice (or Huawei to be precise) has taken some cues from HTC and included an LED indicator in the earpiece. It blinks green when you get an alert and red when the battery is low.
Navigation is quick and fluid
The Mi-410 also has three scene modes which are preset themes with different widgets like Travel, Work, etc just like in Sense UI. The lock screen also gives you the option for accessing the Phonebook, Contacts or Messages directly without having to unlock the phone first, another feature seen in the latest version of Sense UI.
The screen has decent brightness and colors for indoor use, but outdoors everything goes for a toss. Even at maximum brightness, you can barely make out what's on the screen. Also, when the screen gets too greasy (which happens very quickly), it's not very responsive. Many times I found myself struggling to unlock the screen. The touch sensitive buttons work fine without much problem. Boot up time may appear to be quick, but it still takes some time for all the widgets to load.
The default video player will only playback AVI, MP4 and 3GP files. It won’t even detect any other file formats. There are two applications, Videos and Video Portal. While, Videos simply lists the available videos without any options to group them, Video Portal does a better job in presenting your videos and also gives you access to YouTube. The default player is quite strict when it comes to playing back AVI, as I noticed some SD videos would not get detected.
Videos look good, but the colors aren't very vibrant
Moboplayer (which is free to download) helps you read more file formats like MOV, FLV and MKV, but for some reason we couldn’t get 720p MKV files to play smoothly or AVI (encoded with Xvid) for that matter. You’d think a phone with a 1GHz CPU would just breeze through this test, but sadly it doesn't. I also encountered a very strange bug with the media player. If you try to play a full HD AVI file in any player, the audio starts playing, but there's no way to stop it. I tried shutting the player by killing the process via the settings as well but the audio continued to play. If you own this phone, do not attempt to do this, you have been warned.
Audio playback is decent and the speakers are loud enough to be heard even when travelling. Although the Huawei X6 packs a Dolby sound enhancement feature, the Mi-410 does not have this. The audio quality with the stock earphones is average but it gets better if you use good IEMs like the EP-630s. The stock music player doesn't have any equalizer presets either for enhancing the sound.
Other multimedia apps include FM Radio which worked well even when travelling and MuVee video editor for editing MP4 and 3gp files. Here, you have options to trim, fade in/out, join a video or add text to it, all of which are very basic but simple to use.
The Mi-410 is 3G ready and supports HSDPA up to 14.4 Mbps. Wi-Fi ‘n’ with tethering and Hot Spot support is also included. There's also Bluetooth v2.1 with A2DP support and Flash 10.3. The stock browser does a good job of rendering web pages and just like every Android device, you have options for Gmail, Microsoft Exchange and any other mail service you wish to configure. Internet related apps include GTalk, YouTube, RSS Reader, News and Weather, Places, Maps, Navigation, Google Search and Latitude. There is no Twitter app or Facebook app, simply a link to the Facebook page, which is odd since the app is free and could have been... sorry, should have been preloaded.
Keyboard is responsive and works well
I didn’t face any problem with the call quality. The earpiece volume is sufficiently loud and the person on the other end could easily hear my voice even in noisy, crowded trains. I didn’t experience any dropped calls, either, so we can say the Mi-410 does well in this category.
Spice has pre-installed the Documents-to-Go app, which allows you to read spreadsheets, word files, power point and PDF files. Other standard apps include Voice Dialer, Voice search, File browser, Clock, Calendar and Calculator.
The 5MP camera snaps decent outdoor pictures. There is a slight bloom effect in the whites, but other than that, the quality is not bad. If you zoom in a bit though, you’ll notice it doesn't capture a lot of detail. The camera interface is really nice with plenty of options to play around with. On the left you have brightness settings, white balance and flash settings.
Good camera interface, but very average sensor
On the right you have capture modes that include Tap capture (which is more like touch focus), smile capture (which is a little slow in detecting a smile), face capture, timer and panorama. In panorama mode, the program manages to stitch the picture well, but you have to be very steady as it doesn't compensate for shaky hands. The LED flash is weak and can only illuminate nearby objects properly.
Outdoor shots are decent, but lack detail
The Spice Mi-410 can also capture HD (1280 x 720) video in MP4 format. The result is not great, though. The captured video is very jerky and is by no means 30fps. Even if you’re shooting indoors in a well lit room, the colors are all washed out and faded and it certainly does not look like it’s been shot with a 5MP camera. The problem lies with the sensor. It may have high mega-pixel count, but the sensor used doesn't seem to be of very good quality.
The Mi-410 comes with a 1400mAh battery which gives you about a day's worth of use. This is with a little bit of everything, phone calls, Wi-Fi, EDGE, some music playback and Auto-Sync for GMail on all the time. By disabling Auto-Sync, I managed to get a little more like a day and half, but nothing more. Hopefully, if Spice officially releases the Gingerbread update for this soon, we may see a slight improvement.
Of all the companies, Spice happened to be the first to break the sub-15K price barrier with a 1GHz processor on an Android phone, and I can see why this phone has such huge hype around it. While the MRP may say Rs.17,999, you can buy this phone from the market for as little as Rs. 13,999, and if you check online with the right coupons, even lower. There’s no denying that the Mi-410 offers tremendous value and has made other companies stand up and take notice. The Samsung Galaxy Ace was not too long ago the crowd favourite at this price point, but the Mi-410 renders it moot now. For a lesser price, you’re getting a larger screen, faster processor and HDMI-out (for those who care). But, would I recommend everyone to run out and buy one? Not really.
Could have been a lot better
If you’re simply looking for large touchscreen phone that can run Android “the way it was meant to run” then by all means get the Spice Mi-410. But for those who care about camera quality, sunlight legibility of the screen, battery life and video and music playback, I’d recommend getting the Motorola Defy. It may have a smaller screen and slower processor, but with its recent price drop, it’s hard to ignore. The Mi-410 has all the right ingredients for a very successful phone - great pricing and good specs and in theory it should have blown away the competition. But sadly, there are many little problems that take away from what should have been an outstanding product.
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