Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Phone Review? Lenovo A789 - great low-cost China smartphone!

Yes a mobile phone review. I've haven't been travelling as much recently so thought I would diversify my blogging into other areas. Hope you enjoy this review.

So about a month ago I took the leap to purchasing a smartphone from China. After checking out the multitude of options on a number of websites including genuine and copy phones, I decided on a Lenovo model (the Lenovo A789). 

My main reasoning was that Lenovo is an established manufacturer in the Chinese market, and are well known outside China following their purchase of IBM's ThinkPad division - they now manufacture/assemble ThinkPad laptops (and other Lenovo products) which are sold around the world and are good quality.  Given this I figured that the product build quality would be good, and I wasn't disappointed.

The Build
The phone is built solidly and finished well. The front of the phone is quite minimal, with no mechanical buttons on the screen, rather 4-backlit buttons at the base of the screen. The lock/unlock is activated by tapping the mechanical power switch on the top of the phone, where there is also a 3.5mm headphone port and USB charging port. The back of the case is made of a rubber coated plastic and snaps on/off to the unit by virtue of a number of small clips around its outskirts. If I could criticize the build quality in any way I would say that the back cover appears to be the weakest part, but in several weeks of use I have not had any trouble with it. Once it is on it feels solid, and not 'plasticy', but rather fits firmly into place.

Quick Specs
This model runs a MediaTek MTK6577 ARMv7 Cortex-A9 Dual Core 1.0Ghz CPU, PowerVR SGX531 Ultra GPU, 512MB RAM, 4GB eMMC flash storage (for applications/music etc), a micro SD expansion port (supports up to 32GB), a 4" capacitive touch screen (480x800), runs Android 4.0.4 ICS,  5.0 Megapixel camera, wifi-hotspot enabled, 802.11/a/b/g, 2000mAh Li-ion battery, and has a FM transmitter. Charging is facilitated via supplied charger to micro USB port.

Software / ROM
The phone arrived with a chinese ROM (with Chinese language enabled too!), but this was easily fixed as the Android OS is quite intuitive with its icons, so upon finding the settings option it was a matter of entering languages and changing it over. I stuck with the chinese ROM for about a day but after realising it only contained the Lenovo store, and most of the applications didn't support English well, I then started looking for options for flashing the unit, and stumbled across some posts on xda-developers forum regarding flashing this phone with a clean ROM. A user there "cybermaus" has created a stripped-down ROM containing english applications, the Google Play app (for obtaining more apps), and has removed many of the Chinese applications which you dont need.

Although it appeared daunting, the flashing process was suprisingly easy. After following the instructions on the forum (overly simplified instructions: install USB driver for phone, download flash utility, scatter file and custom ROM, then load up scatter file and start the flash process, connect phone, complete) I was left with a cleaned ROM containing the Google play store (and removal of a number of Chinese apps which are not useful) so I proceeded to download and start using my phone to its full potential.

Instructions for Flashing the ROM
1. The ROM and instructions for the A789 is available here.
2. Q&A on the A789 here.
3. Instructions for flashing are available here.

I followed the instructions provided at link 1 and have been using "A789_S227_cybermaus_V2" with no problems over the last two weeks. If you follow the instructions closely you shouldn't have any problems.

The phones performance is good and I've experienced no lag in the interface, Android ICS has a number of great features (especially around controlling your data usage around disabling individual application 3G data access, and graphing usage across WiFi/3G), a good size battery (2000mAh  - which has been providing over a day of usage), and the phone is dual SIM (one sim is 3G/2G, the other SIM is 2G only) - so its great for travelling and using a local SIM for local calls/data, whilst keeping your roaming SIM online for receiving calls/messages. It also has a FM transmitter (use in the car for music), FM radio and 5.0 megapixel camera. The camera isn't fantastic as it does not have a flash, but works pretty well in well lit environments (I carry a camera when travelling / likely to take photos).

Price and Accessories
The best thing about this phone is the price. I scored it for just over $150 USD, with about $22 for shipping via EMS. From ordering to delivery took about 2 weeks. The package included the phone, headphones, charger, and a case and screen protector (a bonus!). For this price I don't think you could do better for a dual-core phone at the moment (you could try one of the copy phones - but I have heard reports of some features not working, and poor build quality).

The supplied cover and top view of phone 

The back cover

 Top view (3.5mm headphone jack, micro USB port and power button visible)

 Side view showing volume rocker (right) and camera button (left in shadows)

 Side view showing clean side
Top view showing home screen (and four backlit buttons at base of screen)

The Verdict
The good:
- features
- android 4.0.4 ICS
- battery life
- price

The bad:
- camera poor in low light
- Chinese ROM requires flashing
- back cover appears flimsy when removed (however this is solid when fitted to phone)

Where to get it?
I purchased mine from fastcardtech as I had read decent reviews of them during my research. I hope you have found this review useful - if you have any questions comments are welcome. 

The following is a link to this phone on the fastcardtech website (further specs and pricing information). They ship worldwide and can provide insurance and tracking facilities.

Monday, February 6, 2012

ISSSC 2012 Completed, now back to the UK

Well its been almost 3 weeks since my last post, and in that time we competed in the Royal Navy competition in Tignes and moved on to Meribel for the Inter-Services Ski and Snowboard Championships (ISSSC 2012). Following the PGS we competed in boarder cross and slopestyle. The Navy team has some very good riders, so it was a great environment to train and compete in.

I thought the resort area at Tignes was huge, but Meribel and the 3 Valleys area is even bigger (with heaps of accessible areas in between for some pow time).

Top of Dent De Burgin towards Meribel-Mottaret
The ISSSC 2012 competition brings together riders from the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force, so the standard to be met here was much higher. Everyone did really well, considering also we were racing on normal twin tip boards. The event also had a greater media presence with BFBS covering it with print, tv and radio reporting.

I'm back in the UK now, after hauling my bags over 3km through snow in Leicester due to the cancellation of bus services and all of the cabs sliding around the place (it started snowing about 5hrs before I got back - lucky me!). I must have walked past 50 cars revving out but going nowhere. I will be here for another week before the journey home.

Snowing in Leicester

Monday, January 16, 2012

Race Day Preparation and Free Riding

We arrived into Tignes yesterday afternoon around 6pm and checked into our accommodation, which is apartment style and comfortable (and only located a short walk from the majority of the competition piste). Today was spent familiarising ourselves with the area and practicing for the events ahead.

Tomorrow we have the first event - Parallel Giant Slalom (PGS). The weather has been clear for about a week, so the cover is very firm now, so there should be some fast times tomorrow. My backs still in a little pain if I push it, hoping that it clears up in the next few days.

Check out some photos of the area. The two resorts (Tignes, and Val d'Isere) are huge with some spectacular surroundings, with 300km of downhill area and 10000 ha to explore. Makes you feel really small when you get to the top and take a look around.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Time to recover, time to ride!

I've been off for a few days due to a back injury which has limited the amount of riding I can do, even with a steady intake of Ibuprofen, but it looks like that is clearing up now. Completed a short run up the hill this morning so things are looking positive.

Weather forecast for Pila for the next 5 days is clear and sunny conditions. Terrible! :P

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Day one, things escalated (again)

We rocked into Pila (which is near Aoste, Italy) around 9pm on new years eve as the Mont Blanc tunnel was closed and we needed to drive the long way, up what appeared to be a fairly treacherous road to be traversing in a motor coach. Missed dinner at our lodge but contingency arrangements were made for a feed at Gallagher's Pub which is a short walk away. We got into the bar around 9:30pm, our group being the first there, but it gradually filled to capacity which was a good suprise. The local population starts their bar socials late here.

Things escalated towards 00:00 and shortly thereafter people were dancing on tables and getting epic. I learnt a new drink called Purple Rain, which involves lighting a shot in a double tall glass, extinguishing and consuming the contents, then snorting the remnants of the shot off the underside of an upturned wine glass when you are done (no idea what was in the shot though - may find out later).

So after what was many hours and attempts to bail the party early, the head hit the pillow around 4am, and we started new years day on about 3 hours sleep. We spent the next day with some mellow snowboarding mostly shaking out the cobwebs and finding the legs, but lack of sleep and a hangover didn't help too much. It was also a beautiful clear day, which made things very bearable :) The day finished with a good meal and early night.

Pila is a pretty cool resort, they have a decent terrain park (probably on the smaller side, but there is variety, and nobody is riding it), a super pipe (somewhere, haven't found it yet), and way less boarders than skiers for some reason (probably an 90/10 ratio). This makes the riding around interesting. The layout is a little confusing and we are still getting our bearings.

Today we met our coach/instructor and got into some light drills and getting to know everyone's riding (as well as slowing things down and breaking some habits). Tomorrow will probably be more of the same, with some snow to improve the conditions.

Happy days :)

Fantastic view from lodge balcony