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Cherry Mobile Fuze Review

cherry-mobile-fuze-review

DAT BATT, Pt 2

When I first saw the Cloudfone Thrill 430x with its 4160 mAh battery in late 2012, I thought to myself: "That must be a typo!". I was wrong. It did have an absurdly huge battery and that's what made me decide to review it. I even decided to keep it as a backup phone because it took forever to die. Fast forward to early 2014, and its battery remains very strong and undying. The problem was if this were my main phone, it would be pretty much a pain in the ass to use simply because it's so damn slow. Yes, it was already relatively slow back then because the 960x540 resolution was too much for the Qualcomm MSM8225 processor. But it's even slower now considering all the new apps and how much more interactive webpages are. If you aren't the patient type you'd probably get brain hemorrhage from frustration while browsing desktop webpages and various games. Simply put, it remained unchallenged as THE big batt phone. Sure, Cloudfone also released the Thrill 530qx with a 4500 mAh battery, but it had a Qualcomm MSM8225Q processor which is pretty much dead-on-arrival with that 960x540 screen. *Update: I have finally confirmed that the Thrill 530qx sports a MediaTek MTK6589M chipset. I've led to believe otherwise by most sources, including Cloudfone sales personnel that it used a quad core Qualcomm chipset.

More recently, I heard news that Cherry Mobile would release a 5.0", 4,000 mAh phone with USB OTG. That piqued my interest. Then I found out it had a MediaTek MTK6582M processor and thought to myself: "Damn. The gamers would love this for sure.". More surprising is the price. "5,499 Php? Hmm... What's the catch?". Even if I bought it, I was doubtful it would replace my Thrill 430x as a backup phone, which is already sort of "battle hardened". But due to the sheer scarcity of reasonably price big batt phones, I also hoped that reviewing this will raise interest in bringing in more phones with higher capacity batteries, not just models with shrinking waistlines at the cost of battery capacity given that battery technology hasn't made any significant strides lately. Seeing as there weren't too many big batt phones, even amongst international brands, I finally decided to get one to review, exactly to find out the catch.

*While I have not yet identified the OEM of this device, Micromax of India has also released a virtually identical phone called the Micromax A96, difference being the A96 only has 512 MB of RAM.

Design and Build Quality

Personally, the Fuze is one of the better designed phones out there. Not just aesthetically, but in terms of layout and ergonomics. In terms of aesthetics, the Fuze is very executive by design. It's monolithic by stance, which is further characterized by the faux polished metal bumper rounding the phone and its flat surfaces. This also helps the phone visually maintain a slimmer profile. I would liken it closely to the Samsung Galaxy S4 as both are 5" phones and have similar design characteristics, albeit more macho and down to business due to the understated tone of the Fuze and the different materials used in the construction.

Size comparison: CM Fuze vs Samsung Galaxy S4

Size comparison: CM Fuze vs Samsung Galaxy S4

cherry-mobile-fuze-review
Thickness comparison: CM Fuze vs Cloudfone Thrill 430x and Samsung Galaxy S4

Thickness comparison: CM Fuze vs Cloudfone Thrill 430x and Samsung Galaxy S4

It is also surprisingly thin for a phone packing a big 4,000 mAh battery, measuring in at about 10.6 mm. In comparison, the 4160 mAh Cloudfone Thrill 430x is 14.2 mm thick and is noticeably thicker than the Fuze.

In terms of ergonomics, the Fuze puts both the volume and power buttons on the upper right side of the phone and both the USB and 3.5 mm port on top of the device. Having all the buttons on the right side allows the right hand thumb access, compared to other devices where the volume or power control are on opposite sides. This prevents having to switch between your thumb and index or middle finger when pressing buttons. Having both the USB and 3.5 mm port on one side also helps in handling the phone when both ports are being used. However, the location of the 3.5 mm port would've been better on the right side of the USB port so it doesn't intrude your resting fingers while holding the phone in landscape mode.

The recessed camera hole and the tiny nudge beside the loudspeaker are also well-thought design cues. It reduces the chances of the camera lens getting scratched and prevents the loudspeaker from being completely covered when placing the phone on top of a flat surface.

The slightly rubbery matte back cover is soft in feel and provides grip for resting fingers. The faux polished metal bumper also provides contrasting textures when holding the device. The Asahi Dragontrail glass that graces the display feels thick and provides a noticeable assurance of strength when tapping it with fingernails. The phone feels very solid too, with nary a flex or creak when gripping it tightly. Combined with its hefty 183 grams of weight, the Fuze impresses with its build and solidity which is personally, almost premium by feel. The Fuze is definitely one of the best built phones in its price bracket.

The Fuze's two SIM slots which sit atop each other both fit regular, mini SIM cards. The microSD card slot is directly above the battery terminals. Neither are hot-swappable since the battery covers the insertion points.


Here is a checklist of what comes inside the box:

  • 1x Cherry Mobile Fuze
  • 1x 4000 mAh battery
  • 1x 1500 mA charger
  • 1x USB cable
  • 1x USB OTG cable (micro USB male to USB female)
  • 1x Headset
  • 1x User's manual
cherry-mobile-fuze-review

Display

The Cherry Mobile Fuze is equipped with a 5.0" FWVGA (854x480) screen that supports 2 point multitouch. It also uses a TN panel. More depressing is that they used an even lower quality TN panel on the Fuze; lower than the usual. While other phones with TN panels like the Cherry Mobile Flare 2.0 enjoy a good viewing angle from three sides, the Fuze only has two. The top and right side viewing angle on the Fuze is bad. Only the left and bottom viewing angles are good. Heck, even the bottom side suffers from contrast loss when viewed from an angle, so I wouldn't call it completely good.

Here are some shots of the Fuze's screen demonstrating viewing angles:

Left side viewing angle

Left side viewing angle

Right side viewing angle

Right side viewing angle

Top side viewing angle

Top side viewing angle

Bottom side viewing angle

Bottom side viewing angle

Luckily, the Fuze's screen uses Dragontrail glass which improves clarity, light transmission and more importantly, reduces glare. The screen isn't a OGS (one glass solution), so there is a gap between the panel and glass, but the gap is rather small on the Fuze. The Dragontrail glass and small gap allows the Fuze to maintain decent legibility under sunlight as well as improve perceived brightness compared to other phones that use TN panels and inferior glass. At full brightness, the Fuze's display is almost as bright as many phones equipped with an IPS panel. Speaking of brightness, the light sensor on the Fuze adjusts the brightness very well as the sensor poll rate is high and the brightness update is quick and gradual. It can adjust the brightness in as fast as 2 seconds when going under a shade.

Another fortunate and important thing to offset the inherent deficiency of the Fuze's panel is how well calibrated it is. When looking at the screen dead center, you'd think the Fuze is equipped with an IPS panel -- no buts. Even the color gamut at first glance seems similar, although TN panels are just 6 bit and attempt to imitate 8 bit panels (16.7 million colors) via dithering. This can be seen in the color gradient test below, which also allows you to appreciate the calibration as there is little crushing between colors aside from blacks. The hue, contrast and gamma are done right as the color temperature is neutral with colors only very slightly saturated. Whites look white, not grayish white. And blacks look as black as far as the contrast can push, not blueish black.

In all, the Fuze's display is capable of churning out good looking images which look vivid, lush, yet accurate -- something you wouldn't expect from a TN panel. The display's refresh rate is also 60 Hz out of the box, so viewing moving images on the Fuze is smooth and blur-free.

Aside from the limited viewing angles, the other caveat with the Fuze's display is the FWVGA resolution which at 5.0" translates to 196 PPI. I expected it to be worse, but I can honestly say the level of sharpness is still usable even when displaying web pages fully zoomed out in landscape mode. The calibration on the display manages to trump the low PPI level.

The display on the Fuze is a mixed bag. They could've easily went away with any effort to improve the viewing experience considering this is a low cost device, but somehow I'd like to commend the manufacturer for thinking of ways to offset the lower quality panel being used.

Performance

The Cherry Mobile Fuze is powered by a MediaTek MTK6582M which has four Cortex A7 cores running at 1.3 Ghz and dual core Mali-400MP graphics. As with MediaTek's other current offerings, the MTK6582M is also manufactured at 28 nm. The "M" variants of MediaTek's SOCs usually represent a variant with a lower clocked GPU, and the MTK6582M's GPU runs at 416 Mhz, down from 500 Mhz on the regular MTK6582. Given that the Fuze's FWVGA resolution is relatively low, this maybe more desirable given how fast the dual core Mali-400MP already is. That way, power draw is lower while delivering a similar experience.

Despite the small 100 Mhz increase in clock speed over the MTK6589, the MTK6582M's CPU performance is noticeably faster -- up to 15% in some cases. I find this odd considering the MTK6582 line has half the L2 cache of the MTK6589 line. The performance improvement could be attributed to the MTK6582 using the new r0p3 revision of the Cortex A7 core. The MTK6589's Cortex A7 cores are of the old r0p2 revision.

Performance improvements from revision r0p2 to r0p3 have been officially documented under Section 1.8 'Product revisions' of the Cortex A7 MPCore Technical Reference Manual (revision r0p3) found here: <click here>.

BenchmarkScore

AnTuTu Benchmark 4

17496

Linpack - Single Threaded

88.06 MFLOPS

Linpack - Multi Threaded

240.952 MFLOPS

Sunspider v1.0.2

1275.1 ms

Vellamo - HTML5

1958

Vellamo - Metal

572

Epic Citadel - High Performance

56.4 FPS

Epic Citadel - High Quality

57.7 FPS

Nenamark 2

60.2 FPS

Basemark ES 2.0 Taiji

39.57 FPS

Basemark X 1.1

4833

3DMark - Ice Storm v1.2

3051

GFXBench - T-Rex (Onscreen)

8.8 FPS

GFXBench - T-Rex (Offscreen, 1080p)

3.8 FPS

More exciting on the MTK6582 line is the dual core Mali-400MP graphics. It simply makes the PowerVR SGX544MP graphics on the MTK6589T (fastest in the MTK6589 line) look like a pushover, even against the MTK6582M and its lower GPU clocks. On newer graphics benchmarks where there is an emphasis on shader performance vs fillrate, the MTK6582M is up to 14% faster than the MTK6589T (i.e. GFXBench - T-Rex (Offscreen), 3.8 FPS vs 3.3 FPS) and up to 27% faster than the MTK6589M (i.e. AnTuTu 4 3D graphics, 4800+ vs 3500+). The real world performance difference is even bigger from experience.

Combined with the less demanding FWVGA resolution and the relatively potent graphics of the MTK6582M, this allows the Fuze to play graphically demanding games at higher settings compared to MTK6589 devices. Take for instance Real Racing 3. Whereas on the MTK6589 the graphics setting must be turned down to 'low' for smooth framerates, the MTK6582M can be set to 'high' yet remain as smooth. Heck, I was even able to turn it to 'extra high' via the 'RR3 Graphics' app and it still remains smooth on the Fuze. I surmise the farthest you can go with smooth frames would be 'high' if the resolution was 720p. Alas, the Fuze's display is only FWVGA so you can push even higher settings.

The Fuze also has 1 GB of RAM (971.5 MB to be precise) which should allow you to run any application, including heavy benchmarks without problems. All the benchmarks I've tried that closed on many phones with 512 MB of RAM, like Basemark X and 3DMark, ran without a hitch on the Fuze. Free RAM after a fresh boot is around 600+ MB. This is more than enough for general multitasking loads without causing your app in the background to stop. i.e you get stuck in your game, you open your browser to check GameFaqs for help, change song on your music player, go back to your game as if it were just minimized.

As with the MTK6589, I expected no less from the MTK6582M when it comes to its hardware video decoder. The Fuze is able to play 1080p60 H.264 video content with reasonable bitrate and encoding with its hardware decoder. The hardware audio decoder cannot process beyond two channel audio so multi-channel audio streams like 5.1 will be handled via the software decoder.

 1920x800 @ 24 FPS, AVC High Profile L4.1, with CABAC, 3 reference frames1920x800 @ 24 FPS, AVC High Profile L4.0, with CABAC, 5 reference frames1920x1080 @ 60 FPS, AVC Baseline Profile L3.0, with CABAC, 1 reference frame

Video bitrate:

3000 Kbps

3703 Kbps

18000 Kbps

Audio:

317 Kbps, 6 channel AAC

306 Kbps, 6 channels, AAC

132 Kbps, 2 channels, AAC

Plays via hardware decoder:

Yes

Yes

Yes

Plays via software decoder:

Yes

Yes

Yes

(HW) Has dropped frames:

No

No

No

(SW) Has dropped frames:

No

No

Yes, a few during fast paced scenes

Camera

The Fuze is equipped with a fixed focus camera that outputs 8 megapixel pictures interpolated from a 5 megapixel Omnivision OV5648 sensor. The OV5648 is 1/4" BSI sensor with a pixel size of 1.4 µm that can be fitted into fixed focus camera modules. The lens aperture on the Fuze's camera is f/2.8, which is pretty standard fare.

The camera interface on the Fuze is stock Jellybean where the still shot and video recording modules share the same interface. This means framing video may be a bit tricky since the FOV (field of view) is different when recording video as there is a crop factor where only a portion of the sensor is being used during recording.

As you can see from the video above, the Fuze's camera is well appointed although since this is a fixed focus camera, focus-related features are missing. I did wish though that tapping on the an area in the viewfinder would allow you to set metering focus. However, tapping on the viewfinder does nothing even if you set the metering mode to spot. Some of the phones I reviewed before with fixed focus cameras allowed this.

Aside from common manual controls such as brightness and contrast, there are a variety of shooting modes for most situations, although personally I find the default mode does the job fine except in low light situations. Other manual controls include white balance, exposure (+/- 3 steps), color effects/filters, and ISO 100 to 1600. There is also a zero shutter delay option which makes shutter lag virtually non existent, although the shutter lag is minimal even without it. Without the ZSD option enabled, I measured the shutter lag to be between 350 and 400 ms.

Shooting options include panorama, which can done from left to right or up to down and vice versa; face beauty, which attempts to enhance skin tones and whatnot when it detects a face; smile shot, which automatically shoots a picture when it detects a smiling face on the viewfinder; EV bracket shot, which generates several shots at different exposure values; and best shot mode which does additional post-processing on the shot to make it look better, though honestly the difference is minimal vs a shot taken in default mode. There is also HDR shot mode which is relatively fast as the shortest delay I was able to measure between the low and high range shot is between 700 and 800 ms, though this can take longer depending on the lighting conditions.

Shots taken by the Fuze can weigh up to 3 MB and they aren't trigger happy with the compression. Compression artifacts are minimal compared to some phones I reviewed before that used a MTK6589 processor + Omnivision OV36xx series sensor like the Arc Mobile Memo which had shots weighing in at 1 MB at most.

The sensor does well to keep noise down and details intact up to ISO 400 in good to decent lighting. Moving up to ISO 800 introduces too much noise and should be reserved only for low light shots. Despite this, I find the 'night mode' on the Fuze much more useful as you have no way to precisely control the exposure time. The lowest exposure time I was able to achieve is 1/10 seconds on default mode. But in night mode the exposure time can go as far as 1/5 seconds in genuine low light conditions, allowing for a much brighter picture. The downside is that subjects should stay perfectly still slightly longer due to the extended exposure time, and that night mode will automatically choose the sensitivity so images might have more noise than expected.

Surprisingly, you can enable the LED flash to fire even when night mode is activated. A lot of phones don't allow this. The flash performance on the Fuze isn't spectacular, but it's highly usable and it can adequately illuminate subjects up to 2 meters distance. Combined with night mode, shots taken of close subjects even in pitch black conditions are usable.

Since the Fuze's camera module is fixed focus, you will not be able to take macro shots. Although everything beyond 1.5 meters should be in even focus, the quality of the optics isn't very good and overall the images are devoid of sharpness. Applying additional sharpness doesn't help much since this is a deficiency in the lens.

While this isn't obvious at first, a quick glance at the sample pictures in my Cherry Mobile Flare 2.0 review makes the difference in detail and sharpness rather apparent despite the pictures in my reviews already downsampled. Regardless, the sharpness is more than adequate when the pictures are downsampled for web use or for small prints, just like the sample images you see in this review. Compared to the original Cherry Mobile Titan though, the Fuze's shots look better.

Besides the lack of sharpness, the lower quality optics also doesn't filter the camera from things like hazing and tinting when shooting in very strong sunlight. Many of these can be very easily corrected in Photoshop though, even just on the Android version of Photoshop.

Please note that all images aside from the low light shots are taken using auto mode.
All low light shots are taken using night mode.

The Fuze is able to record videos at 1080p30, with a resolution of 1920x1088 to be precise. The videos are encoded in H.264 with a variable bitrate up to 17 Mbps while the audio is encoded in AAC with a constant bitrate of 128 Kbps. The framerates are a steady 30 FPS at 1080p in good to decent lighting conditions. In low light conditions, framerates can drop as low as 15 FPS. While this sounds good, again the low quality optics makes the video look unnaturally soft with smeared details, which is also partially the fault of the variable bitrate which can be conservative. The videos still look practically like 720p. The file size of the Fuze's 1080p video recording ('Fine' setting on the Fuze) can go as high as 130 MB per minute of footage in good lighting where the bitrate will remain up.

Below are video recording samples taken by the Cherry Mobile Fuze:

Sample 1 (outdoor):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Apn3EqFQSik

Sample 2 (low light):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOZwnY83xUg

Sample 3 (indoor):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-meTmkH8Lk

Here's the lowdown on the Cherry Mobile Fuze's camera:
- Soft, but usable shots in good to decent lighting. Good enough for web use and small prints
- LED flash + night mode combo can produce usable shots even in pitch black conditions
- No macro shots, no metering focus
- Can do steady 1080p30 recording in decent lighting, but overall quality is more representative of 720p

Lastly, the front-facing camera is VGA only and making video calls is advised in good lighting. Still shots by the front-facing camera are interpolated to 1.3 megapixels.

Battery

The highlight of the Fuze is its very large 4000 mAh battery. The MTK6582M is supposedly a rather efficient SOC, so I expected no less than half a day of continuous playback for video playback and wifi browsing. True enough, the Fuze was able to squeeze over 13 hours in both scenarios with a little left to spare.

However, when it came to the 3D gaming battery test, the Fuze only scored a little over 6 hours. 6 hours is actually pretty good considering the heavy 3D workload and the Fuze's bright screen. The thing is, my expectations have been raised considering the Cherry Mobile Life with its 1500 mAh but lower power SOC (MTK6572; dual Cortex A7 + single core Mali-400MP) was able to score 4 hours in the same test. Notwithstanding the dim screen of the Life and the weaker graphics, I still feel that the Fuze could've squeezed an extra 1 to 2 hours more especially given how big its battery is.

The following are the test conditions for the three tests. Note that brightness is set to 30% for all tests and that the battery has been calibrated prior to testing:

  • Looping video - a 1 1/2 hour 480p XVID/H.263 video is played on loop until the battery level reaches below 20%. Hardware decoding is used for the video and software decoding is used for audio. Earphones are plugged and volume is set to maximum.
  • Wifi browsing - a script continuously reloads the page every 30 seconds among a pool of five (5) popular websites until the battery level reaches below 20%. The websites used for the test are heavy on Javascript and HTML5 elements.
  • 3D gaming - a graphics-intensive 3D game is run on loop until the battery level reaches 15%. Built-in loudspeaker is used and volume is set to 50%.

Battery Tests - Results

TestHours lasted

Looping video

13 hours 32 minutes

Wifi browsing

13 hours 12 minutes

3D gaming

6 hours 9 minutes

The issue here is exactly that: the Fuze uses the MTK6582M which has double the CPU and GPU cores of the MTK6572, and a very big battery. To achieve the relative thinness of the Fuze despite its big battery, they crammed everything into the upper portion of the device which leaves less room for dissipating heat. Combine that with the big battery that acts as a heatsink and the MTK6582M being warm while gaming (goes up to 37C with an ambient room temp of 26C), you get a negative impact on battery life. This is the same issue with the Cherry Mobile Flare 2.0, although the MSM8225Q on the Flare 2.0 ran much hotter. The MTK6582M remains pretty cool though when not gaming, but I still wish they added an implementation to limit the framerates (like on the Nexus 7) when gaming so the GPU isn't always on full load. The GPU on the Fuze is relatively fast, so most games run well over 30 FPS on default or lower graphics settings.

The standby time is exceptional and you can leave your mobile data on the entire day without worrying about its impact on battery life. Overall, the Fuze should easily last several days with light use (calls, text and light browsing only), two to three days with moderate use (a little bit of everything), and a full day of pure, abusive use (high brightness, mobile data on, mix of everything).

Charging times with the stock 1.5A charger is good considering how large the battery is. It took 2 hours 30 minutes to charge the Fuze from 15% to 90% and another 45 minutes to reach 100%.

cherry-mobile-fuze-review