Wileyfox, a new UK-based smartphone manufacturer, has revealed its two debut products: the £129 Wileyfox Swift and £199 Wileyfox Storm. Despite the budget prices, these handsets will launch this autumn with some pretty respectable mid-range specs, including Qualcomm Snapdragon processors, 5in-plus displays and dual-SIM support.
Nonetheless, Wileyfox is banking on Cyanogen OS 12.1, an extensively customised skin for the base Android 5.1 Lollipop operating system, to make these smartphones stand out. We got our hands on the Wileyfox Swift to see whether this strategy is likely to pay off.
A curved, matte-effect backplate makes the Swift a pleasure to hold. It's not the thinnest smartphone around, but it's very light and the toughened glass front adds a classy touch to what could easily have been another dull-looking budget handset.
There's a standard microUSB port at the base of the phone, while the microSD slot and two micro SIM slots are hidden underneath the backplate. Making this removable doesn't appear to hurt the Swift's durability too much. The whole thing feels fairly solid, and we could happily drop it to the floor without leaving a mark.
The 5in display boasts some very bold, punchy colours and the kind of wide viewing angles we'd expect from an IPS screen. The 1280x720 resolution is far from market-leading, but it's plenty sharp enough for a display of this size, and there's no faulting the responsiveness of the touchscreen.
The glass is reflective enough that the Swift can be difficult to use in the sun or under bright lights, although to be fair this is a problem with most smartphones, budget and premium alike.
Operating system and software
Excellently, the Swift will come pre-loaded with the latest Android 5.1 Lollipop, with all its performance optimisations, security updates and enterprise-friendly features like managed user profiles and built-in encryption.
However, Wileyfox is keen to push the Swift's Cyanogen OS 12.1 custom skin. We're generally suspicious of Android skins since they tend to delay the arrival of updates, add unwanted bloatware and generally mess around with the UI.
Cyanogen OS 12.1 does seem to be pretty clear of additional pre-installed apps, and the way the app drawer is organised alphabetically (as opposed to the usual grid view) makes a kind of sense. But this is still a fairly comprehensive overhaul of the Android interface, swapping shortcuts around from their default locations and adding a pile of new options to the settings menu.
Not that all these changes are bad. The UI can be customised with various themes which can even be applied only to certain apps. Cyanogen OS 12.1 also includes some potentially useful features for privacy-aware users, such as the ability to hide sensitive apps in a separate password-protected folder and randomly scramble the PIN entry keypad so that codes can't be reliably guessed from thumb movements. We're also quite fond of Privacy Guard, which allowed us to manage permissions access for each app after they'd been installed.
Navigating the Swift is, well, swift, with no sluggishness or lag when switching between menus or opening apps.
As for benchmarks, it scored 1,000.9ms in Sunspider, 13,384.8ms in Kraken and 22,250 in Antutu. These scores put it on a par with the latest Motorola Moto G, which shares the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 processor with 2GB of RAM. What's particularly impressive is that the 2GB Moto G model starts at £179, considerably more than the Swift, making the latter an even better deal performance-wise.
The 13MP rear-facing camera and 5MP front-facing camera sound impressive on paper by budget standards. In practice they take decent, if unspectacular, photos and videos. The front camera produces sharper, clearer images than most other selfie cameras in the same price range, although the main snapper's autofocus sometimes failed to kick in, resulting in some very blurry stills and videos. At least they were appropriately crisp when it worked properly.
Battery and storage
We haven't done a full series of burn tests, but the Swift's 2,500mAH battery seems to cope well under pressure. After three hours of moderately intensive use, including web browsing, photo-taking and benchmarking, the battery had drained by 10 percent, or 3.3 percent per hour. That means it should last over a full day on a single charge, especially if used sparingly.
We're pleased to see that the battery is removable so that it can be swapped out once depleted, provided spares become available.
Storage isn't the Swift's strong point, as it includes only 16GB of internal space. Still, the microSD card slot means that this can be expanded with up to 32GB of removable storage. That is likely to be enough for all but the heaviest of users, and even they can up the limit with additional, hot-swappable cards.
The headlining Cyanogen OS is a mixed bag, but there's plenty to like about the Wileyfox Swift's hardware, and £129 is fast looking like a bargain for the level of performance, build and display quality on offer here.
Breaking into the smartphone space is a tough task for any company, let alone a new entity like Wileyfox. Nonetheless, there's no better way than to create a genuinely good little handset, and it's already clear that the young firm has done just that.
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