Phabulous Devices (Part 1)

3/13/2013 6:11:50 PM

The gadget in my pocket is bigger than yours!

When Dell launched the Streak, it was a great product but launched way ahead of its time and wasn’t well accepted in the market. Fast-forward to 2011 and Samsung took a bold step and launched the Samsung Galaxy Note. It was quite a good product with great power under the hood, a skin that complemented the Android OS and a stylus that could be used for a whole lot more than just navigating.

Given the popularity of the Note, every manufacturer wanted a taste of the phablet pie. So what is a phablet? Well, it is technically the sweet spot between a really large phone (larger than 4.5-inches) and a small sized tablet (around 7-inches).

We got around 13 phablets this month, ranging from under $15,000 all the way up to the Samsung Galaxy Note II, which is the most expensive at $56398.5.

Most of the products are homogenous, which is to say that 9 out of 10 of their features are the same. But some of them do bring some interesting distinctions to the crowd.

Phones under $15,000

This price bracket can be considered as testing waters for those that want to know what it feels like to own a tablet/smartphone hybrid. These devices have a 5-inch display but the resolution, at 480x800, isn’t the best. Surprisingly, the processors of the phones are 1 GHz dual-core except the Zync Cloud Z5 that has a single core processor. All these devices compromise on the RAM, which is 512 MB making heavy-duty multi-tasking a bit of a problem. All of them run on Android 4.0 ICS. They have a standard set of specifications such as a front and rear-facing camera, access to the Play store for apps and expandable memory.

the Zync Cloud Z5

The Zync Cloud Z5

Build and usability

The Magicon Mnote has a design that is very reminiscent of the Samsung Galaxy SIII, from the one physical and two capacitive buttons to the rear panel and the placement of the camera. You wouldn’t recognize that this is a budget phone if you saw it from a distance. On its right, it has the power button and the left has the volume rocker, which are really slim and may be inconvenient to use without looking at them. The phone even comes with a Samsung Galaxy Note style flap cover. The device feels heavy but is comfortable for use with one hand.

The Zync Cloud Z5 has a design that is very reminiscent of the Samsung Galaxy Note. From the glossy front to the textured back, from a distance it’s easy to mistake this device as the first generation Note. Just like the Note, it is very comfortable for single as well as two-hand use. It has the power switch on the left and the volume rocker on the right. These buttons have a slight bulge to them, which makes it easy to identify without looking.

The Micromax Canvas 2 A110 has a Samsung Galaxy Nexus style curved design and it has mimicked this design element quite well. We wish it had copied the slimness of Nexus device too, but the A110 isn’t thicker than its peers. It’s surprisingly a lot more comfortable to hold than the other devices in this category. The textured back adds to the grip and the bulgy volume rocker and power button are way more conveniently placed that the Cloud Z5. At the bottom of the display are the three capacitive navigation buttons. The device isn’t the lightest in its class, but it is easy to use with single as well as both hands. It has the best design in this segment though. The Intex Aqua 5 on the other hand looks like a brick and a bigger version of the Intex Aqua 4. The display has a square design to it rather than the rectangular look we are familiar with. This isn’t a bad thing for regular use but makes typing in the landscape mode a bit uncomfortable. It is the lightest phone in its category on paper but in usage it feels heavier. Where other phones have only three buttons below the display – back, home and menu, the Intex Aqua 5 adds the long lost search button, which we have missed on devices. In its overall design however, it is the least comfortable phablet to use.

Intex AQUA

The Intex AQUA

Features and Performance

So the budget phablets have done quite a good job at mimicking the looks of some premium devices. But do they perform as well?

The Magicon Mnote has a stock Android experience and that is a very good thing. On paper, its raw hardware performance is the best in its category but not by much. It’s slightly faster than the competition and a user will not be able to tell the difference in the real world. It also boasts of dual-SIM capabilities just like the rest of the devices in this category. It has an 8 MP rear camera. All the games and apps we threw at the device ran quite well, but the 512 MB RAM fell a bit short while multi-tasking. It doesn’t come with any premium-preloaded apps or cloud storage support. The video playback on the device wasn’t the best. The only format it recognized was AVI and the video played back at a slow frame rate. The audio too wasn’t the best.

The Zync Cloud Z5 however did a better job with the AVI files, but refused to play any other formats. The audio while watching videos wasn’t loud from the speakers nor was it the best with music, but it was quite loud when we played games or ran some apps. It’s a dual-SIM phone as well. We had a better experience of browsing the web on the Zync. The resolution of the display may be low, but its large display made it easy for us to read text. Being the cheapest phone in its bracket, it really does a good job with the overall performance. The display how-ever is cumbersome to use under direct sunlight.

The Micromax Canvas 2 A110 is a really good performer. If you have used a Funbook tablet, or any other Micromax Android smartphone, you will feel right at home with the UI. Android is skinned but not to an extent that we dislike. You are greeted with very gaudy wallpaper and very childish icons when you power up the device but that can change with any Android theme available on the Play store. One feature that distinguishes the A110 from the rest is that apart from the Play store it also gives you access a lot of local content such as Bollywood news, cricket, news, astrology, devotional content and more via the M!Zone and M!Store. It also comes preloaded with the M!Buddy chat app. It has an IPS LCD panel, which adds to the viewing angles and a pleasant smartphone experience. The Intex Aqua 5 too comes with stock Android. Its biggest drawback is that it has a 5 MP rear camera where the rest of its peers have an 8 MP camera. Interestingly, the Aqua 5 comes with an app called the Intex Zone that let’s you record calls as well as track your phone. It also links to certain useful Intex Mobile websites. Its extra features aren’t as extensive as the one available on the Micromax A110. Other preloaded apps include Flipkart, NQ Mobile security and IRCTC. Overall, it’s quite homogenous to its peers but doesn’t have any features that make it stand out.

The Micromax Canvas 2 A110 is a really good performer.

The Micromax Canvas 2 A110 is a really good performer.


The Micromax Canvas 2 A110was awarded the Best Buy. Not only is it a good-looking phone but it is a great performer as well. It has power under the hood to run apps, a good display and a very comfortable user experience. The UI may be a bit cartoonish for some but that can be rectified. It also offers quite a bit of local content. Despite being big, the device is quite comfortable when held up against ones ear for making calls.

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