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.