Second Chances: SKK Mobile's Track Record with the Phoenix X1
A little over half a year ago, SKK Mobile was hot on the radar with their Phoenix X1. It was a 5,499 Php phone equipped with the octa core MediaTek MTK6592. At the time, the MTK6592 was only available on more expensive models costing 10,000 Php and up. Its spec sheet also consisted of a 720p IPS display, a 13-megapixel rear camera, and a 2,500 mAh battery, infrequent at that price point even if you didn't take into account the performance-oriented chipset.
Naturally, many buyers put the Phoenix X1 on their wishlist. August, September, and more months passed, and the only thing that came were delays and an engineering unit from SKK Mobile which wasn't even available to reviewers. Then came late November—the phone finally hit the market, but its availability was extremely spotty until the year ended. Very few people could get their hands on one. Worse still was that the Phoenix X1 itself was disappointing. It didn't come with the MTK6592 as advertised, but the lower-clocked MTK6592M instead. Its camera was also found to be garbage, not something you'd expect from a "13-megapixel" snapper at all.
In the end, the Phoenix X1 was a failure that left a bad taste in the mouths of prospective customers. Now, SKK Mobile appears to be dangling a similar carrot with a new model, the Lynx. Except the Lynx is already available and priced lower than what they originally asked for the Phoenix X1. This phone has the opportunity of putting SKK Mobile back on the map, especially against competitors like Cherry Mobile, which plays cutthroat with a shiny spec sheet and a very low price. Of course, frequently shiny spec sheets don't translate to real-world performance, e.g. phones parading around with 18-megapixel cameras that can't keep up with some "lowly" 8-megapixel snapper from Samsung or Sony in a shootout. This review seeks to uncover any issues like these with the Lynx—is it really is as good as it looks?
Please note that the SKK Mobile Lynx is known as the Ulefone Be Pure in China.
Design and Build Quality
Design and Build Quality
The Lynx follows a similar design to the SKK Mobile Prime I reviewed a while back; it resembles the design language of Oppo's smartphones. The Lynx looks specifically like the Oppo Find 7a. The front is very flat with angular edges and a slightly curved bottom with a chin. It's not a very generic design nor is it too unique, but it succeeds in standing out against many of the devices in the same price bracket. A quality design is important because other phones in the same price bracket are starting to look better and better—there's a lot more competition now than there was in the days when all phones looked like shiny plastic bars.
The main difference is that the Lynx goes for a two-toned approach to its silhouette. The front is entirely black regardless of color variant while the back is matte. There is also a faux brushed metal bumper encircling the sides, an understated but succinct embellishment. Combined with the matte back, it cuts through the glossiness with a clean line, emphasizing the illusion of thinness. It's a well-thought design, as most plastic phones tend to be extremely glossy. Not only are glossy surfaces fingerprint magnets, but also they look cheap and unsightly when light scratches begin to accumulate—like a car that has lost its clear coat.
The back is unashamedly similar to that of the Oppo Find 7a, down to the shape, size, and position of the camera, LED flash, and loudspeaker. Not that the similarities are necessarily bad things because they work well. The gem here is how they managed to work with contrasting materials to deliver a decidedly upscale feel. It has a very executive vibe mixed with a bit of contemporary chic. It doesn't look out of place beside a Macbook or a Thinkpad at Starbucks or in a corporate meeting room.
Don't get me wrong: There are no truly premium materials on the Lynx. But they managed to ensure that the display, which is not flush with the body, doesn't stick out like a sore thumb. The capacitive touch keys at the bottom are illuminated a bright, solid white instead of the usual soft, bluish white. The gleam from the brushed metal bumper draws the eyes away from the flatness of the matte black back cover. The contrasting textures play out well in the hand as well. The slick front, smooth and cool side, and soft, slightly coarse back ensures it doesn't feel like a kid's toy. This is why metallic bumpers and faux leather back covers seem to be the rage these days.
It also has good ergonomics. The matte back with its tiny cross-hatched emboss provides grip, and the placement of the ports and buttons are ideal. The buttons don't feel flimsy and have a quiet but audible click when pressed. Both the 3.5 mm and micro-USB port are centered on the top side, leaving only the microphone hole at the bottom. The volume buttons are on the left side, and the power button is on the right, ensuring the right fingers land where they should. The only concern is that the loudspeaker is located on the rear as it is almost entirely covered while the Lynx lays on a flat surface, leaving you with muffled sound.
The body is constructed out of ABS plastic while the back cover is made out of a polyurethane-like light and bendable material. Its 148 grams of weight feels distributed equally with some feeling of heft. The cuts of the plastic are even and smooth, and the gaps are small and tight. It seems effort was spent on ensuring a good finish overall, which contributes to both appearance and feel.
There are two SIM card slots, one mini and one micro. Neither the SIM card nor the micro SD card slots are hot-swappable due to the battery locking the insertion point.
The Lynx comes installed with a screen protector. You just need to peel the thin plastic off the display and a screen protector is underneath it. Here is a checklist of what else comes inside the box:
- 1 SKK Mobile Lynx
- 1 2500 mAh battery
- 1 1000 mA charger
- 1 USB cable
- 1 headset
- 1 user's manual
- 1 warranty card
The Lynx is equipped with a 5.0" AHVA panel from AU Optronics, which is identical to IPS. The display has a resolution of 1280 x 720 (720 p) and a refresh rate of 54.31 Hz; it supports five-point multitouch. Surprisingly, the screen on the Lynx is an OGS (one-glass solution), which means the LCD panel/cell is fused with the glass screen and touch panel to form one component. It ensures little to no gap between the LCD and glass itself. It also allows the Lynx to have a thin bezel because the glass itself acts as the frame. This is a relatively expensive manufacturing process that provides a thinner footprint and ensures exceptional light transmission and luminosity. The clarity of the Lynx's display is excellent with no diffusion at all. This furthers the already good viewing angles provided by the AHVA LCD, allowing it to maintain good visuals even at extreme viewing angles, similar to more expensive LCD-equipped phones like the iPhone 6, LG G3 and Huawei Ascend Mate 7.
Its maximum brightness of 381 nits is average for a display with these specifications, but it still allows it to be appreciable in most lighting conditions except intense sunlight. The display is OGS, but the glass itself is not specially treated to enhance the image. Specifically, it doesn't have a polarizing coating, which means strong and harsh light, such as direct sunlight, makes the display difficult to see. This means sunlight legibility is below average on the Lynx. However, brightness uniformity is good and backlight bleeding is minimal.
Brightness scaling is linear, so 75%, 50%, and 25% of the brightness bar is approximately 75%, 50%, and 25% of the maximum brightness respectively. Actual brightness at 0% of the brightness bar is 46 nits though. Automatic brightness is available, which automatically adjusts the display brightness in about two to three seconds. The automatic setting is rather conservative, and many will find it too dim most of the time. I wish SKK Mobile added a (+) and (-) option to the automatic setting like Samsung phones have, so we could adjust it to our liking.
Brightness, White (cd/m²)
SKK Mobile Lynx
Cloudfone Excite 501o
Starmobile Up Lite
MyPhone Agua Rio
LG G2 Mini
Apple iPhone 5
Apple iPhone 6
Samsung Galaxy Note 3
The display feels calibrated nicely and the quality of the image in general is great for a 720 p display, although rather tame if "wow" factor is concerned. The AHVA LCD is 8-bit, providing a wide color gamut. Since this is also a VA-based panel, it has better contrast than a similarly priced IPS part. The wide gamut and great contrast allows superior color fidelity, but saturation and contrast values are lowered on the Lynx. Gamma and hue are surprisingly level too. In short, the colors are detailed and fairly accurate, but not too intense or rich. In addition, the color temperature is slightly cold, which can be seen in the subtle blue tinge to pure whites and blacks. This is understandable on budget LCD panels because WLEDs are costly—instead they use LED backlights that are not pure white but slightly blue. Nevertheless, the decision to go with a more accurate image and the cold color temperature benefits the user by being more easy on the eyes, making prolonged viewing more comfortable.
One of the few unique things on the Lynx that I did not expect to find was its Screen Saving Mode. It is similar to the Ultra Low Power Mode found on the Samsung Galaxy S5, which makes the display run in monochrome instead of color. This is ideal for the Galaxy S5 since it uses an AMOLED display. AMOLEDs do not have a backlight because they are lit on a per-pixel basis, which means that turning off the sub-pixels that represent colors reduces the power consumed by the display significantly. It doesn't make as much sense with the Lynx because it uses an LCD display. The savings incurred by disabling the sub-pixels on the Lynx is minimal as the LED backlight accounts for most of the power consumed.
It would be interesting to see how much power is saved and because of this, battery tests were also conducted while this mode is enabled. Regardless of whether the Screen Savings Mode actually saves meaningful amounts of battery life, the monochrome display is great for reading text in general, such as ebooks, web pages, and text messages. The display starts to look more like an e-ink than an LCD. Even at 0% brightness settings, glare on the screen becomes less noticeable due to the way our eyes perceive contrast in monochrome. Users can benefit from better battery life due to maintaining display legibility at lower brightness settings while using the Screen Saving Mode.
The 720 p (1280 x 720) resolution at 5.0 inches equates to 294 PPI, which makes the display quite sharp and enjoyable. Icons, text, and other UI elements are crisp and do not display noticeable aliasing, even when viewed close up. This allows desktop-size web pages to be rendered in full size on the browser without the need for scaling to be legible. Those used to small text and thin fonts will be happy with the Lynx.
All things considered, the Lynx's display is quite good and not only because of its price:
- First of all, it's a nicely calibrated display that's pleasant to look at.
- Second, it's an OGS screen that offers great clarity.
- Third, the 720p resolution is crisp and fitting of a mid-range device.
The only concern is sunlight legibility—in bright situations, you'll be forced to set the brightness to maximum.
Like the Cloudfone Excite 501o, which I also reviewed recently, the Lynx also comes with MediaTek's MTK6592 chipset which has an octa core CPU with eight Cortex A7 cores that are able to work simultaneously. The graphics is a quad core Mali-450MP. However, the Lynx is equipped with the MTK6592M, the "M" denoting the "lite version." The maximum CPU clocks for the MTK6592M are 1.4 Ghz instead of 1.7 Ghz while the maximum GPU clocks are 600 Mhz instead of 700 Mhz. This means slightly less "oomph." But since it's also manufactured on the 28 nm HPM (high-performance mobile computing) process, it's also power efficient. Chipsets manufactured using an 28 nm HPM require a lower voltage and provide better thermals, which high-end chipsets require to due their high-performance targets. This is necessitated by all eight Cortex A7 cores and the Mali-450MP4 graphics running continuously at full speed without significant throttling. Likewise, high-end chipsets like the Snapdragon 800, 801, 805, and the Tegra K1 are also manufactured this way.
The Lynx appears to be well optimized and doesn't feel any less responsive than the Excite 501o despite the Lynx's slightly slower chipset and higher resolution display. It's very snappy even when running the latest apps. The Cortex A7 is dated now, but still offers good efficiency and performance for general computing. However, the octa-core configuration is rarely leveraged, and most apps run with four cores at most. This is why despite the core count, devices like the phased-out Snapdragon 600 with four Krait cores are still faster. In synthetic benchmarks optimized to make use of all eight cores, the MTK6592M is nearly as fast as the Snapdragon 600 and faster than other popular mid-range chipsets like the Snapdragon 400, Snapdragon 410, and the Intel Atom Z2560/2580, which are found on popular mid-range models like the Motorola G, Samsung Galaxy Grand 2, and ASUS Zenfone 5.
|Benchmark||SKK Mobile Lynx (MediaTek MTK6592M, 1280x720)||Lenovo S90 Sisley (Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 MSM8916, 1280x720)|
AnTuTu Benchmark 5
Vellamo - Multicore
Vellamo - Metal
Geekbench 3 - Multi core
Geekbench 3 - Single core
3DMark - Ice Storm Extreme
Basemark X - Medium Quality
Epic Citadel - High Quality
GFXBench 2.7 T-Rex (Offscreen, 1080p)
GFXBench 2.7 T-Rex (Onscreen)
As I found out with the Excite 501o, the MTK6592's graphics performance is overkill for a 960 x 540 display. The Lynx's 1280 x 720 display has nearly twice as many pixels: 921,600 pixels vs 518,400 pixels. It also has the slightly less potent MTK6592M. Nonetheless, the Lynx remains a very able gaming device. Surely not as fast as it was at 960 x 540, but definitely a good match at 1280 x 720. I could not find a game, emulators excluded, that could slow the Lynx to a crawl. Most 3D games have smooth framerates even at higher graphics settings while only the most graphically intensive games show lapses in performance. Graphically intensive games such as Real Racing 3 and Modern Combat 5 run smooth on the default graphics setting and the chipset only shows sweat when graphics are set to high. And before anyone asks: No, the MTK6592M is still not powerful enough to run the majority of PSP games via PPSSPP.
The 1 GB of RAM on the Lynx is considered low end these days, but I haven't found a single app that cannot run on 1 GB of RAM. For multitasking, 1 GB is sufficient for light apps in the background, e.g. the calendar, messaging, and notepad app residing in the background while a light game such as Temple Run is running in the foreground. As for heavy apps like Chrome and 3D games, only one or two of them will be able to run in the background at most. Once the RAM runs out, apps in the background will be terminated to make room for the RAM required by the app in the foreground. Still, multitasking, in general, is smooth on the Lynx, and there is no noticeable delay when switching or juggling between apps.
The MTK6592's DSP is more advanced than the ones found on prior MediaTek chipsets, and it supposedly can now decode H.264 video content in 4K resolution. The Excite 501o with its MTK6592 could not play 4K H.264 video via its hardware decoder, and I simply thought they did not implement it. It's the same with the Lynx, as it wasn't able to play 4K H.264 video using the hardware decoder. It's entirely possible that the MTK6592 chipset doesn't support hardware playback of 4K H.264 video in the first place, despite what their marketing material suggests. However, I've found that 1080p H.264 video poses no problem, even at 60 FPS and a moderately high bitrate.
|1920x800 @ 24 FPS, AVC High Profile L4.1, with CABAC, 3 reference frames||1920x800 @ 24 FPS, AVC High Profile L4.0, with CABAC, 5 reference frames||1920x1080 @ 60 FPS, AVC Baseline Profile L3.0, with CABAC, 1 reference frame||4096x1716 @ 24 FPS, AVC High Profile L5.1, with CABAC, 4 reference frames|
317 Kbps, 6 channel AAC
306 Kbps, 6 channels, AAC
132 Kbps, 2 channels, AAC
640 Kbps, 6 channels, AC-3
Plays via hardware decoder?
Plays via software decoder?
Yes, but with dropped frames
The ClearMotion is a feature found on MTK6592 chipsets. It's not always implemented, as can be seen on other MTK6592-equipped devices from other brands, but it is present on the Lynx. ClearMotion smoothens motion by interpolating frames and basically increasing the framerate. This is very similar to what 120 Hz LCD TVs do to lower frame rate sources. It interpolates the frames by interpreting the difference between frames, creating a new frame out of that, and inserting that frame between the existing ones. This basically makes any 30 FPS video feel like a 60 FPS video, smoothing out otherwise blurry motion. This makes watching movies with fast-paced action sequences a big treat.
ClearMotion is implemented by the hardware decoder, which means only videos played back using the hardware decoder will be affected. Videos that don't use the decoder, such as the ones you play on the YouTube app, will not benefit from it. Additionally, while the Lynx can play back high bitrate 1080p video, the ClearMotion feature has trouble smoothing out the motion of high bitrate 1080p video. Lower bitrate 1080p videos pose no problem though.
This feature is unique as it is only available on high-end Mediatek chipsets like the MTK6592. Even flagship phones such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Sony Xperia Z3 don't have this. The video below, which is recorded in 60 frames per second, demonstrates this feature. The video must be watched in 720p60 or 1080p60 for you to see the difference. The smoothing effect by the ClearMotion feature is more pronounced in person.
The Lynx is equipped with a 13-megapixel auto focus camera with a single LED flash and a five-megapixel fixed focus front-facing camera. The rear camera sensor is an Omnivision OV8865, which is the latest eight-megapixel sensor from Omnivision. It is a 1/3.2" sensor BSI sensor with a pixel size of 1.4 µm. The rear camera's aperture is f/2.2, which means it's pretty bright.
Although the Lynx already runs on Kitkat, the camera interface is still stock Android Jellybean. The still shot and video recording facilities share the same interface, which may make framing video a bit tricky. If you are trying to record video in a 16:9 ratio, the camera will appear to zoom in because it can only record in a 4:3 ratio. It will then crop the image to make it a 16:9 ratio.
The Lynx has an assortment of shooting modes and manual controls. Aside from auto mode, there are also the following shooting modes:
- Live photo mode—Simultaneously activates both front and rear cameras. The thumbnail of the front camera's shot will be placed on top of the image taken by the rear camera, sort of like a postcard from abroad.
- Motion track mode—The user will be asked to tap on a moving object on a viewfinder, i.e. a pet or a car. The user will then hold the shutter button, and the camera will do its best to track and focus on the moving object to come up with well-focused, sharp shots. Great for taking action still shots.
- Face beauty mode—Adds post-processing to any faces detected on the captured image, and air brushes them for a smooth, glowing look.
- Panorama mode—Your typical panorama mode. It can do sweeps in any direction. From left to right, right to left, top to bottom, bottom to top.
- Multi-angle mode—Slightly similar to panorama mode, but the user can either sweep or go around an object. It creates an interactive photo where the user can take a 360 degree shot of an object or his/her surroundings.
Most of the manual controls, image options, and filters are only available in auto mode. The following are available:
- Exposure (-/+ 3 steps)
- Color effect (none, mono, sepia, negative, aqua, blackboard, whiteboard)
- Scene mode (auto, night, sunset, party, portrait, landscape, night portrait, theater, beach, snow, steady photo, fireworks, sports, candlelight)
- White balance (auto, incandescent, daylight, fluorescent, cloudy, twilight, shade, warm fluorescent)
- Image properties (sharpness, hue, saturation, brightness, contrast)
- ISO (auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600)
- Sound shutter (on/off sound when taking a picture)
The following shooting assists/aids are also available but are mostly available in auto mode only:
- Zero shutter delay (removes shutter delay)
- Voice capture (use a voice command to snap shutter)
- Face detection (automatically focuses on faces in the viewfinder)
- Smile shot (automatically snaps shutter when a smiling face is detected)
- HDR (takes high dynamic range shot; generates 1 HDR and 1 regular photo)
- Auto scene detection (automatically changes scene mode)
- Self timer (standard timer; off, 2 seconds or 10 seconds)
- Gesture capture (automatically snaps shutter when the peace sign is detected)
The Lynx interpolates shots from its eight-megapixel sensor to a final output of 13 megapixels. Interpolation is usually frowned upon as it borders on misrepresentation. But that doesn't take anything away from the image quality of the Lynx's main camera. It's very good. Not just in good lighting, but also in low light. Aside from image quality, the camera is quite fast in terms of shutter and focusing speed. It also doesn't have too much difficulty focusing in low light, which is a usual problem for cheap phones. It's a reliable camera in most lighting conditions.
The color contrast and saturation is great on camera: lively looking without being punchy. The hues are slightly on the green side, but that's okay. More importantly, the camera doesn't suffer from pink tinting in overcast or intense sunlit conditions. Not much issue there. Resolved detail in good lighting is superb, and the interpolation method makes use of the added pixels to resolve more detail instead of simply stretching the image. Compression artifacts are also minimal. Images are noticeably sharpened, which adds some noise, but it is controlled and is not sharpened to the point where it looks artificial. A good rationale here is that they implemented this to offset the cheap optics on the camera, which aren't the sharpest. This is understandable because quality optics are costly. Thankfully, the eight-megapixel OV8865 sensor features Omnivision's OmniBSI-2, and it can be seen in the dynamic range of the camera. It handles contrasting light and dark scenes well in a properly metered shot. This allows the Lynx to capture better shadow and highlight detail for more revealing photos.
The combination of the bright f/2.2 lens, OV8865 sensor, and proper tweaking of the software and ISP makes the Lynx an excellent low-light shooter. By excellent, I did not just mean that relatively. I have not seen any local phone, even the overpriced ones that cost well over 10,000 Php, handle low light this well. The camera can manage to focus on what would otherwise look like a pitch black area in the viewfinder because it can still make out the contrast in that void. Noise taken in low light is high as expected, but not intrusively so. Most phones usually come up with either a relatively clean looking but blurry mess due to aggressive noise reduction, or a somewhat detailed but very dirty image due to very high luminance noise. What's amazing is that the Lynx manages to keep everything detailed in low light, striking a balance between ISO noise and noise suppression. In low light, the resolved detail manages to keep color, sharpness, and shadow detail intact while keeping noise in check.
There is also night mode, which increases shutter time to allow more light in, thus more detail. But it increases noise levels to almost dirty levels and requires the user to hold their hand steady for about 2 seconds since it relies on a longer shutter time. Suffice it to say, night mode is only useful for very low light situations because the Lynx already does well using auto mode in typical low light situations.
In terms of perceived luminosity, the Lynx's camera has about the same visual acuity as the human eye, perhaps just 2/3 or 1 EV darker. If you see the images above, that is approximately what my eyes saw when I was taking the pictures in auto mode. Most smartphones would falter and just show a pitch black image in this scenario.
It's an excellent snapper overall, but it is not without fault. The Lynx has been calibrated well to perform in low light, but in situations with middling lighting (usually indoor lighting at night), the Lynx has a tendency of overexposing the image slightly. White balance adjustments are fine, leaving images color correct, but the exposures in said conditions often leaves highlights too bright. The LED flash is also bright, at least brighter than any phone in the same price range. But the Lynx's flash burst is sustained a few milliseconds too long which leaves small and close subjects overexposed. This can be seen in the two photos below.
Update (April 3, 2015): SKK Mobile has released an OTA update that fixes the burst length of the flash. It now automatically adjusts burst length for closer subjects to prevent overexposure.
The Lynx's LED flash is better suited for taking group pictures as it is strong enough to adequately illuminate subjects 1.5 to 2 meters away. Taking up close shots will just lead to overexposed subjects. For macro shots, the Lynx is able to get as close as five inches on a small object (around one or two inches wide) and still be in focus. As expected, the macro shots come out razor sharp without looking artificially sharpened. Panoramas stitching is decent and fairly even and have a vertical resolution of 704 pixels in portrait panorama or 480 pixels in landscape panorama.