MTK6577's Last Hurrah
Cherry Mobile does it again. They manage to up the ante whilst preempting their competitors with a price to spec ratio they can't possibly match. Their offering this time? A 5.0" Android Jelly Bean phone graced by a fancy 1280x720 IPS panel equipped with Dragon Trail (think Gorilla Glass) glass and a 12 megapixel BSI camera. Asking price? Php 7,999.
The recent wave of Android phones from local phone brands have spurred customers here in the Philippines to be more vigilant and eagle-eyed with regards to the specs of the phones they are buying. Just like computers, they want the best hardware for a little money as possible. When the Omega HD's specs were revealed, the most worrisome sight though for those in the know is the pairing of the 1280x720 screen with PowerVR SGX 531 found on the MTK6577. A massive bump in resolution from the common WVGA and qHD resolutions we have at the moment was deemed too taxing. Alas, the Omega HD shows that the MTK6577 does still have a few aces up its sleeve.
Design and Build Quality
If anything, the Omega HD looks like Samsung's new flagship, the Galaxy S4. The thin bezel. The 5.0" screen. The chrome bumper. Even the earpiece design. It's definitely not a clone though. But essential elements are there. The design and finish is clean, minimalist, modern and devoid of anything visually unessential, like the myriad of "black dots" beside the earpiece on other phones which constitutes as sensors. It screams: "Hey look! We have a lot of sensors and stuff!". The amount of spacing between the functional elements on the facade is just right. The Omega HD remains trim and classy, not barren and dull which others mistake for minimalism. There are also just enough curves in the right places to avoid looking too "executive". In short, it is just a design that works and should cater to a majority of people compared to other designs.
The front simply features the front-facing camera on the left of the earpiece and the light and proximity sensor on its right. The three backlit touch buttons on the bottom (from left to right) represent options/menu, home and back functions. Below the options/menu touch button is a tiny slit which is the mic.
The back of the phone uses a plastic that is similar in feel to the white HTC One X. Located at the back is the 12 MP camera, single LED flash and single loudspeaker at the bottom.
The left of the phone features the volume up and volume down buttons and a button which serves as a hardware shortcut to the camera.
The top of the phone contains the micro USB port and 3.5 mm jack. The right side contains the power button.
The Omega HD's dimensions are 143.5 x 70.8 x 8.8 mm and weighs a relatively very light 140 grams. The extensive use of plastics and Dragon Trail can be attributed to the phone's feeling of lightweightedness. In comparison, the 5.0" Titan W500 weighs in at a hefty 205 grams. Despite being light, the Omega HD feels solid, particularly thanks to the bumper which also gives it a subtle contrast in texture when gripping it with one hand as you can feel where the back cover's slippery plastic ends and where the bumper's matte plastic begins. The weight is also evenly distributed. It can be described as having the same feeling as holding a bigger iPhone which uses the same plastics as the HTC One X, if that actually made sense. The build quality and construction is tangibly better than other rebranded Android phones from local brands in the same price range.
Only the Cloudfone Thrill 430x comes close thanks to the Thrill 430x's OGS (one glass screen) implementation where the panel and glass are fused as a single component. It should be noted that the Omega HD also has an OGS implementation, with the glass used being Dragon Trail. Dragon Trail glass is notably used on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Active which is penned for being ultra durable. Cherry Mobile themselves have demonstrated that the Dragon Trail glass on the Omega HD is very resistant to scratches and other abuse. The OGS implementation also helps the phone maintain a very thin bezel since a singular construction on the front provides better support for the body, much like a strong frame. The thin bezels ensure that the phone stays compact whilst maintaining maximum screen estate.
My only caveat with their design choice is letting the rear camera protrude about 2 mm which increases its chances of taking scratches in the long run. Then again, having protruding cameras without protection seems to be the norm these days, even on high-end models by well-known manufacturers.
The Omega HD also comes preinstalled with a screen protector out of the box. Just peel the plastic off the screen and you will notice that there is a screen protector underneath.
Here is the checklist of what comes inside the box:
- 1x Cherry Mobile Omega HD
- 1x 2100 mAh battery
- 1x CM-800 charger
- 1x USB cable
- 1x Earphones
- 1x User's manual
- 1x Warranty card
The "HD" in Omega HD refers to the screen's 1280x720 resolution. The 5.0" 720p IPS screen which supports 5 point multitouch is a marvel to behold at this price range. No other phone, even at twice the retail price of the Omega HD, has a screen with this resolution. As an IPS panel, it offers excellent viewing angles and brightness. In addition, IPS panels manufactured today at this size all offer a full RGB stripe so people who are worried about getting a PenTile pattern display will be at ease.
Here are some shots of the Omega HD's screen demonstrating viewing angles:
Aside from the obvious image quality improvements that an IPS panel provides compared to other panel technologies, the OGS implementation also reduces the gap between the panel and the glass. Although not to the same degree as on the Cloudfone Thrill 430x (the gap on the 430x is very, very small, which makes it look like printed stickers), the smaller gap reduces backlight bleeding, prevents additional diffusion and reduces reflectivity when the screen is on. In effect, this increases contrast notably under direct sunlight which makes the screen more legible in sunlit conditions. The screen on the iPhone 4 and later models is a good example of this, offering good sunlight legibility.
If you've held phones with an IPS screen before, you would know what to expect from the Omega HD. Contrast and saturation is great. Brightness is excellent as expected. Speaking of brightness, even on the lowest brightness setting, the screen is pretty legible, more so than even other upper-mid range and high-end phones. Panel response times are great and if you're upgrading from Cherry Mobile's Titan which has a MVA panel (which has slow response times), your eyes will be offered some relief when scrolling and watching fast-paced action. Color temperature is slightly on the warm side, but color reproduction remains fairly accurate.
There is a crispness in image that only more pixels can provide, and the Omega HD provides just that with its 294 PPI (1280x720 @ 5.0"). This will be most appreciated when reading text messages and browsing the web. On WVGA devices, which is the most common resolution found on Android phones sold by local mobile brands here, viewing web pages and reading ebooks and documents still require a bit of zooming in to become legible. The Omega HD allows you to comfortably view webpages and documents without zooming in in fullscreen on landscape mode. Even reading ebooks and documents in portrait mode is doable now with a good pair of eyes.
The screen on the Omega HD is a big step up from what any other local brand is offering as of this writing. The number of pixels increased over their current offerings alone is huge. 800x480 is 384,000 pixels. 960x540 is 518,400 pixels. 1280x720 on the other hand, is 921,600 pixels. To put it in perspective, most laptops sold today have screens with 1366x768 resolution -- 1,049,088 pixels, which isn't far off from what the Omega HD has.
It is simply a beautiful screen regardless of price point. It can hold its own or even outperform screens on some upper-mid range or high-end models. Below is a comparison between the screens of the Omega HD, Cloudfone Thrill 430x, Sony Xperia Ion and Apple iPhone 5.
- Upper left: Cloudfone Thrill 430x (4.3" Sharp ASV - VA @ 960x540. 256 PPI)
- Lower left: Sony Xperia Ion (4.55" VA @ 1280x720. 323 PPI)
- Upper right: Apple iPhone 5 (4.0" IPS @ 1136x640. 326 PPI)
- Lower right: Cherry Mobile Omega HD (5.0" IPS @ 1280x720. 294 PPI)
Here is a closer comparison between the Omega HD and Xperia Ion since their screens are both 1280x720 resolution and would have been the most appropriate comparison:
The ever ubiquitous MediaTek MTK6577 returns to power the 720p Omega HD. The MTK6577 is a dual-core Cortex A9-based SOC with a PowerVR SGX 531 Ultra GPU for graphics. Dual-core Cortex A9s (or equivalent dual-core Scorpions) have been plenty powerful even for devices equipped with 720p or WXGA screens as can be evidenced by many devices such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 10" series, Google Nexus i9250 and Motorola RAZR HD to name a few. Even the iPad 3 with its uber resolution of 2048x1536 uses a dual-core Cortex A9! However, their dual-A9 or equivalent SOCs have always had a GPU that was more or less up to date. Samsung's Exynos 4210 had a Mali-400MP in quad-core configuration. TI's OMAP 4430 and 4460 had a PowerVR SGX 540 at higher clocks. Qualcomm's Snapdragon S3 line all had an Adreno 220. Apple's A5X had a monstrous PowerVR SGX 543MP4 to handle the iPad 3's 3 megapixel screen.
The MediaTek MTK6577 was designed with mass market smartphones in mind and it probably didn't occur to MediaTek that display resolution on mobile devices would advance so quickly, explaining why they most likely opted for one of the lesser PowerVR GPUs, the SGX 531 Ultra, since it also costs less to license. They probably anticipated a ceiling of WVGA or qHD at most before their next-gen SOC comes to market and felt that the SGX 531 Ultra was "just enough" for that. Unfortunately, it did not stop OEMs in China from pairing the MTK6577 with 720p screens. The MTK6577's successor, the MTK6589, was meant to power the next generation of devices equipped with HD and full HD screens.
We have established at this point that application graphics on mobile devices are less CPU bound and more GPU bound. While those dual-A9 or equivalent SOCs have matching GPUs, the MTK6577 doesn't. It's stuck with the rather dated PowerVR SGX 531 Ultra. I've already stressed in my previous reviews how ancient this is by today's standards and it's a miracle that developers actually still support it as evidenced by the excellent application compatibility on the SGX 531 Ultra. Virtually all games I've tried on the Play Store work with it. The most important question now is this: "How well does it run on 720p resolution?".
Credits to Greg Tay of http://gt35pro-mobile-gadgets.blogspot.com for this video comparing the graphics performance of the MTK6577 across WVGA, qHD and 720p resolutions, and against a Sony Xperia S.
The video above demonstrates how the MTK6577 performs across 800x480 (WVGA), 960x540 (qHD) and 1280x720 (720p) resolutions. I've already stated the number of pixels for these resolutions and 720p has nearly 2.4x the number of pixels as WVGA, which is staggering. The SGX 531 Ultra must now work much harder to render games at acceptable/playable framerates. The video clearly shows how dated the SGX 531 Ultra is given how the Adreno 220 on the Sony Xperia S (720p + Qualcomm S3 MSM8260) effortlessly runs NOVA 3, a more recent release by Gameloft which is also graphically very taxing. In comparison, the MTK6577 device with a WVGA screen is already struggling. The MTK6577 device with a 720p screen running NOVA 3 was even worse, appearing more like a slideshow rather than an action shooter game. A run of Nenamark 2 and AnTuTu Benchmark on the Omega HD will reaffirm this.
The Omega HD scores in the 5.5K range in AnTuTu Benchmark and 17.5 FPS in Nenamark 2. In comparison, MTK6577 devices with WVGA resolution like the Titan TV score around 6.5 to 7K in AnTuTu and 27-28 FPS in Nenamark 2. If you look closely, the Omega HD only got 916 in the 3D graphics score on AnTuTu while the Titan TV I also reviewed scored 2153. The Omega HD's 1K+ difference in score vs WVGA MTK6577 devices come from the 3D graphics alone.
A comparison with the Sony Xperia Ion paints an even bloodier picture. Do note that the Xperia Ion is actually close in specification to the Omega HD. Both have 1280x720 screens and 12 MP cameras. Both have similar CPUs: a dual-core Cortex A9 (2.5 DMIPS) at 1 Ghz for the MTK6577 Omega HD and a dual-core Scorpion (2.1 DMIPS) at 1.5 Ghz for the MSM8260 Xperia Ion. The real difference lies in the GPU. The Adreno 220 on the MSM8260 is by no means cutting edge by today's standards. But it's still more than powerful enough to run a game as demanding as Real Racing 3 at 1280x720 smoothly. The Xperia Ion does have a slight advantage in CPU performance as well due to highly clocked Scorpion cores, but the bulk of the advantage in games comes from the Adreno 220. The Xperia Ion's 37.7 FPS in Nenamark 2 compared to the Omega HD's 17.5 FPS underlines that.
This isn't to say that it isn't capable of playing any 3D games. However, for those expecting the Omega HD to be a suitable gaming phone, don't get your hopes up. The Omega HD is capable of playing most games on the Play Store with acceptable framerates, but it should be limited to casual or not-so-graphically demanding titles. Demanding titles such as Real Racing 3, Dungeon Hunter 3, Modern Combat 4, etc. run with very low frame rates. Console emulators though work quite nicely on the Omega HD. So if retro gaming is your thing, the Omega HD is just fine. The following video demonstrates this:
The Omega HD is also equipped with 1 GB of RAM where 500 to 600 MB is available after a task manager "kill all" action. Like the Titan TV, the copious amounts of RAM ensures that you can multitask as much as you want without slowing the UI to a crawl and without forcing Android to kill tasks eating up a lot of RAM. i.e. games. This combined with Jelly Bean and the dual-core Cortex A9 processors make for a smooth experience on the Omega HD for the most part.
The Cherry Mobile Omega HD is equipped with a 12 megapixel BSI (backside illuminated) sensor that is capable of shooting 720p30 and 1080p15 video. There is also a strong single LED flash for pitch black scenes. One of the most surprising things is actually the presence of 1080p recording. Unfortunately, 1080p recording is only 15 FPS and chances are you will be using 720p most of the time. The viewfinder is relatively fast except in low light conditions. The shutter speed is also very fast, only requiring you to hold your hand steady for half a second to take a blur-free shot. The viewfinder performance overall is a slight step above the already satisfactory viewfinder on the Titan TV.
Auto-focus performance is fast and only takes about a second to fully focus. My only issue is the lack of various focus options to enable single/normal auto-focus, as you will find the Omega HD's auto-focus to be rather aggressive. For instance, you were focusing on a subject, and a face immediately pops into the viewfinder. It will focus on the newly recognized face instead since focusing is automatic. Another quirk I have with the camera is the removal of "hold shutter button to focus" feature. Tapping anywhere on the viewfinder to focus on a subject or setup a macro shot is still the same, but holding on the on-screen shutter button now makes the camera take a sequence of shots, similar to "burst shot" mode on other cameras. Note that it takes about 3 shots per second in full, 4000x3000 resolution every second you hold the shutter, which is a very impressive feature.
The lack of other focus options aside, there are plenty of manual controls and options. Everything from ISO, metering, exposure (3 steps -/+), brightness, contrast, hue, etc. are adjustable. For shooting options, there is face/smile recognition mode, best shot and beauty mode, etc. For special shooting modes, there is panorama and multi-angle shot mode. Like on the Titan TV and Titan, the panorama mode on the Omega HD is particularly good due to its intuitive implementation. When you hit the shutter in panorama mode, the phone automatically displays an arrow where you have to point the camera and when you overlap the arrows, it automatically takes a photo and the next arrow is shown. The photo stitching process is fast and seamless. You can shoot panorama in either landscape or portrait and from left to right, right to left, up to down, or down to up.
The 12 MP BSI camera on the Omega HD does bring the image quality as fancy as its description suggests for still shots. The increase in overall sharpness that a higher resolution sensor brings is apparent, but so is the noise level (which is why it is BSI in the first place). Noise isn't evident in moderate to good lighting condition when viewed from an overview, but as expected, noise is rather abundant in low light conditions. However, detail captured in low light conditions is pretty impressive, particularly color detail, provided there is actually some light. As with BSI sensors, scenes with little to no light is met with plenty of black clipping. Also, getting a clean focus in low-light conditions is much easier on the Omega HD compared to nearly all the Android phones released by local phone brands so far.
Shots taken in good lighting conditions are excellent as expected. Much better than one would expect at this price point. Given that, I have prepared a special section below comparing the camera of the Omega HD against stiffer competition: the similarly specced 12 MP Sony Xperia Ion and widely recognized as one of the smartphones with the best image quality, the 8 MP Apple iPhone 5.
Lastly, the Omega HD also has HDR (high dynamic range) mode which generates two pictures, one with HDR and one without HDR. The BSI sensor helps the further in resolving shadow detail in HDR shots, thereby demonstrating greater range.
Omega HD Sample Shots (Good lighting)
Omega HD Sample Shots (Low light)
Omega HD Sample shots (Macro shots)
Omega HD Sample Shots (Panorama shots)
Omega HD Sample Shots (HDR Comparison)
The video recording on the Omega HD was almost a total upgrade from what we were getting so far from the local phone brands. Alas, the Omega HD is stuck with 1080p15. Captured detail on the 1080p recording without a doubt beats 720p, but you're stuck with a lowly 15 FPS. 720p30 recording is good, though oversharpened, with no hints of dropped frames or screen tearing even in fast paced scenes and while panning. Videos are encoded in H.263 with a constant bitrate of 12.5 Mbps inside a .3gp container. Video recording is around 120 MB per minute on both 720p and 1080p settings. It should be noted that 720p in the video recording settings is labelled "Fine" while 1080p is labelled "HD". You can also take lower resolution still shots while recording a video.
Here's the lowdown on the Omega HD's camera:
- Excellent shots in decent to good lighting
- Great low light shots, with very good color detail and quick focusing
- Excellent macro shots
- Excellent panorama shooting mode
- Plenty of manual controls and options
- Decent 720p video recording
- Auto-focus is a bit aggressive
The Omega HD one-ups the Titan TV by having a 2.0 megapixel BSI front facing camera. This ensures video calls in more unfavorable lighting conditions remain good. This is a big step up from front facing cameras on phones from local phone brands.
Below are sample shots from the Omega HD's front facing camera:
Camera Shootout: Omega HD vs Xperia Ion vs iPhone 5
Given that extremely high megapixel counts on mobile phone cameras these days are usually reserved for high-end models, I thought it would be ideal to compare the Omega HD's 12 MP snapper against tried-and-tested combatants in the smartphone camera arena.
The Omega HD's image quality upon closer inspection is a mixed bag. While the overall detail captured due to the sheer amount of pixels is great, the amount of resolved detail when zoomed up close is lacking against both the Xperia Ion and iPhone 5. This is also considering the iPhone 5 is only 8 megapixels and has a disadvantage is terms of raw sharpness. Oddly, the Omega HD is rather soft when it comes to straight lines and slightly overly sharpened for everything else. Shadow details on the Omega HD is clean and is about on par with both the Xperia Ion and iPhone 5, but falls short on dynamic range. To make up for it, the Omega HD boosts contrast where necessary to provide more "pop" and avoid looking washed out. Lastly, color temperature on the Omega HD is a bit on the cold side and there is also a subtle pinkish tinge to the pictures.
The Omega HD doesn't quite beat the Xperia Ion and iPhone 5, but don't mistake this comparison for downplaying the Omega HD. It is great pictures that the Omega HD churns out that prompted such a comparison. The fact that it even gets that close to those phones at this price point is a noteworthy achievement.
We do have eyes and I have provided comparison shots so you can see and make it out for yourself. Below are comparison shots of the Omega HD, Xperia Ion and iPhone 5.
The Omega HD is equipped with a removable 2100 mAh battery. Normally 2100 mAh is considered well above average in this size and performance class as shown by the Cherry Mobile Titan (2350 mAh) and MyPhone A919 (2000 mAh), but it's more modest for the Omega HD. The three primary power drains for devices are the screen, processor and radio. The upgraded screen also comes with an increased power drain as a much higher pixel count requires better backlighting to provide sufficient brightness since pixels are more densely packed and light transmission is lower compared to screens with lower pixel density. This is also considering the screen on the Omega HD is relatively bright even at the lowest brightness setting. The perceptible brightness by 35% of the brightness bar on the Omega HD is about 55% of the brightness bar on the Titan and Titan TV. Standby time and battery readings have no problems though.
For the battery test via looping playback, the application used to play the video is MX Player. The following were the conditions during the test:
- Screen brightness: 3/15 of MX Player brightness setting or about 30% of Android brightness bar
- Volume: 13/13 of MX Player volume setting or 100% of Android volume bar, with earphones attached to Omega HD
- MX Player-specific settings: H/W decoder used for video. S/W decoder used for audio
The following are the details of the video file used for playback:
Video playback began at 12:50 am with battery registering 100% and 4.130V and was looped until 7:45 am where the battery registered 20% and 3.674V. There were no breaks in this test and video playback was continuous.
The total playback time was 6 hours 55 minutes. The Omega HD managed nearly 7 hours of video playback. In comparison to the numbers I've been getting on my previous Cherry Mobile Androids who all have over 2000 mAh batteries, the 7 hour figure on the Omega HD is rather modest. As anticipated, the culprit is the screen with the screen accounting for 54% of the battery drain during playback. The battery should last at least 1 day of moderate use and 1 1/2 days of light use. By moderate use, I refer to 1 hour of gaming, 2 hours of 3G web browsing and 30 minutes of talk time and several text messages.
Charging times for the Omega HD are relatively slow given the stock charger, which only outputs 800 mA. If you charge the phone while turned on (but on sleep), It takes around 1 1/2 hours to get from 20% to 90% and roughly another 45 minutes to get from 90% to 100% charge.