Wileyfox isn’t a brand I think you will have heard of, and that’s okay. Wileyfox is a new, London-based start-up, it has announced plans for 2 phones in Q4 f 2015, and we’ve got the first one, the entry-level WileyFox Swift. Here, as a present from me to you, is my Wileyfox Swift Review.
Disclaimer: Wileyfox supplied us with a Swift review unit, it is running CyanogenOS 12.1-YOG4PAS1T1. This review has been conducted for a week using the Wileyfox Swift as our Daily driver on the Three network in the Southeast of the United Kingdom for 8 days.
- 5” 1280x720p IPS LCD, Fully Laminated
- Gorilla Glass 3
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 410, 4x 1.2Ghz Cortex A53 CPU cores
- Adreno 306 GPU
- 2500mAh removable battery
- 16gb Internal storage, up to 32gb MicroSD expansion
- 2GB RAM
- Dual-MicroSIM, 4G LTE capable on one,2GB on the other
- 13mp Samsung ISOCELL rear facing camera
- 720p60 slow motion video or HFR recording on rear
- 1080p30 recording on rear and front camera
- 11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, 2.4Ghz only.
- CyanogenOS 12.1, based on Android 5.1.1
The WileyFox Swift came in a very compact box and the box also happened to be fluorescent orange with a Wileyfox Logo and branding up front. On the bottom we just have “#Wileyfox” whilst on the top has just their website www.wileyfox.com. The left proudly states that the phone is powered by Cyanogen and the Right is the odd bit; it isn’t fluorescent orange, it’s black because this is the part you pull on to remove the device from the box.
Removing that black piece from the orange box gives us a frosted white piece of paper with the Wileyfox branding and logo on it. Removing that shows us the WileyFox Swift encapsulated by a foam ring to stop it getting damaged in transit; a nice touch. Removing the ring and pulling out the paper spacer we are greeted by the MicroUSB charging cable, and I must say, the cable that comes with the Wileyfox Swift is a beauty. It’s flat, but not flimsy. The Type-A end for your charger or computer is unshielded but it doesn’t look as if it’ll be a problem, and the Micro-B connector is on the other end. This Micro-B connector has some of the biggest teeth on the other end for securing the jack in the receptacle I have seen, and the micro-B jack itself is slightly longer than others I have (we’ll talk more about this afterwards though). The cable is topped off by a nice silicone tie to keep the cable coiled. Under another spacer next to the cable we have the regulatory and warranty information.
If all that reading bothered you, you can actually watch the unboxing of the WileyFox Swift I did on my personal YouTube channel below.
When picking up the WileyFox Swift the first time, before even powering it on, I was quite impressed. For a device that costs this little, it feels remarkably sturdy. Let’s get some things out-of-the-way first. Yes it creaks a little when squeezed tightly, but so does my Moto G 2015, and Idol 3 4.7”, both devices which cost more than the WileyFox Swift. At 135g it is rather light, but it feels a lot lighter than it actually is. I don’t know if this is due to the plastic construction, but it really does feel remarkably light, and sometimes I forget I have the device in my pocket if I haven’t moved for a bit.
On the Front of the WileyFox Swift we have the centre piece, a 720p IPS LCD, and I can happily say that without a doubt this is the best 720p LCD screen I have ever seen. The 294PPI isn’t the absolute highest but for me it’s more than good enough and I have no problems with 720p at 5”. It is incredibly bright, with 25% being the comfortable brightness level for me more often than not. Whilst possibly inaccurate, the colour reproduction is good, and the screen itself has really rather great sunlight visibility. This is a nice screen in its own right, and when I realise this phone costs just £130, I’m shocked. Holding it side by side with the Idol 3 4.7″ and the 2015 Moto G further illustrates how good this screen is. The WileyFox Swift just spanks both of them, eats their dinner, spanks them again and takes their seat on the couch; it’s that good a screen. My only reservation would be slightly iffy touch response. I’ve encountered it once or twice in my review period, but I’ve been unable to reproduce it at will. I could have just been typing a bit too quickly perhaps.
Above that screen we have the circular earpiece, which is very reminiscent of the Google Nexus 5, as well as the 5mp front facing camera, and very well hidden in between the two is the ambient light and proximity sensors. Wileyfox doesn’t go into as much detail about the front camera as they do about the rear camera, but it is a 5mp camera capable of taking 1080p video at 30fps. If I had to guess I would say it’s an OmniVision sensor, but I could be wrong. There doesn’t seem to be autofocus on this front module, but auto exposure is gladly here and very welcome in applications that use the front camera, such as Snapchat. The circular earpiece is a really nice touch. It doesn’t however make the earpiece any better or worse. It doesn’t drastically change the output as a mediocre earpiece is always going to be mediocre, and that’s what this is. It’s not horrendous, but it certainly isn’t magnificent. It’s more than serviceable for what this phone costs. The look though, that’s nice, it gives the WileyFox Swift some more personality. If you can’t tell… I dig it.
On the left side we have nothing, which is becoming a bit of a trend, and as a leftie I should be upset by this, but it’s actually not bad. On the right hand the WileyFox Swift has the buttons inverted to what I prefer. The WileyFox Swift has the Volume rocker up top followed by the Power button beneath it. The buttons themselves are a tad mushy, but they aren’t unusable. They’re more of an annoyance once you notice them, but then you get on with your day and forget about them. They’re no worse than the Moto G 2015, if you have one to compare to.
Up top we have the 3.5mm audio jack and what I’m assuming is a secondary noise cancelling microphone, but as I cannot find evidence of another microphone port, this is just speculation. Flip the phone 180 and we arrive at the bottom of the phone, with a microUSB port central flanked by two speaker grills, though it seems that only one (the right, if you were wondering) is actually a speaker, the other must just be hiding the main microphone, though removing the back both do still look like speaker ports.
Speaking of the back, that’s out last stop on the trip around the hardware. The top houses the 13mp Samsung ISOCELL camera module and beneath it we have the dual LED flashes. They’re the same colour so none of that fancy colour balancing flash tones here, but it’s £130, how much do you want? The 13mp Samsung camera sensor is actually really pretty great…in decent light. In day light or ample lighting the WileyFox Swift is able to take great shots, often rivalling or surpassing the Idol 3 and Moto G in my opinion, both of which use the Sony IMX214 module. The BSI ISOCELL sensor from Samsung is able to focus really quite fast and in scenes where there is a lot of colour, this phone takes some great shots. It’s not immune to mis-focusing, slow shutter abnormalities or overexposure. My favourite test of taking photos of flowers yielded me all three of these issues, as well as giving me some really decent pictures. I was able to get some good bokeh shots and sometimes even decent low light shots helped by the WileyFox Swift’s ISOCELL technology, this is despite the relatively small 1.12µp pixel size. I was unable to find the rated aperture for the WileyFox Swift, but other devices using the S5K3M2 (the camera sensor used by the WileyFox Swift) seem to have the aperture at F2.0, and judging by the depth in those bokeh shots, I wouldn’t say it’s a bad guess to assume that here.
Video is remarkably really good. I did one of my usual tests which consists of me being a passenger in a car and holding the phone to the window and capturing the landscape at speed, changing the view to change exposure, focus etc, and the WileyFox Swift did really well, if a little bit slow to focus. Colours look really nice and it is some of the smoothest video I have seen. It isn’t going to rival a phone with optical image stabilisation, but damn, I was very surprised. Another trick up the WileyFox Swift’s sleeve is 720p video at 60fps, and that can be configured to either be used for slo-mo purposes, or to be used in HFR mode. HFR is High Frame Rate, and I’m really not a fan of real life in 60fps. It feels very off to me, and it’s the same here, but the fact the WileyFox Swift can do 720p at 60fps HFR is really rather surprising to me. Slow motion on the other hand wasn’t so great. It reminds me of the slo-mo mode on the original Moto G in the sense that yes it is there, and yes you could use it, but you probably won’t because it’s not that great. It isn’t terrible, but it is far from great. Then again, remember the cost? Be surprised it even has slo-mo and HFR.
The 5mp front facing camera sadly is a bit of a potato. Sure it’s 5mp, but that’s pretty much all it has going for it. Most camera apps I used it with look incredibly blurry, as if there was a thin veneer of Vaseline over the lens. Colours look okay, and when you’re in the right focal point the subject doesn’t look terrible, but I’m going to call it what it is. It’s a potato, even for the price.
Cyanogen’s Camera app is not one of my favourites. I feel like it’s trying to be spartan and simple, whilst still having features for the pro users, but to me it just feels disjointed. That and the fact I have had the camera app crash on me 4 times in the last week, and as the ruling goes, it always happens at the time least appropriate, which in my case meant it happened when I didn’t have a second smartphone to capture what this couldn’t, so I missed those shots. Luckily, this being Android, the Google Camera was just a download away, and when I wanted to use it as the default when the option came up, I just clicked “always”; simples!
Wileyfox is in an interesting position. It’s a small company, and developing an Android skin costs a lot of time, money and resources, something they likely don’t have. So they have essentially two options; use bone stock AOSP, or they can license from someone. They went with option B and went to Cyanogen. Cyanogen started out as one guy creating some new software back in the early days of Android for his G1, now fast forward a few years, that’s ballooned. They became a company, hired some great people and started licensing their OS to companies, most notably, OnePlus. The OnePlus One came shipped with CyanogenMod 11s, later changed to CyanogenOS to differentiate between the FOSS version of Cyanogen vision, and the paid for version which does include some goodies.
For those who don’t know, let’s start off by saying that the best way to describe CyanogenOS would be to say it’s Android+. It’s Android, but things have been tweaked, most of which is under the hood, so visually it seems very similar to bone stock AOSP, something many users (myself included) are fans of.
There were a few high-profile partnerships going into CyanogenOS. The two off the top of my head being the crowdsourced dialler application from TrueCaller, and the Boxer Email client. TrueCaller works in conjunction with TrueDialler and it’s a crowdsourced app that basically references a huge database of known spam numbers, business numbers etc and displays the information it has on a number calling you. So if BT is calling you but you don’t have them saved in your phone, instead of just seeing a number, you’ll see the corresponding information from their database (e.g. “BT Support”). It’s a super handy feature, and with its known list of Spam numbers, you can auto block them, so your phone doesn’t even ring for them. It’s truly great.
There are very few things that set a Cyanogen phone apart from a Nexus device visually with the software. It’s when you dig into the detail is where the fun begins. For instance, on pretty much any other phone, Nexus included, the lock screen shortcuts are camera on the right and dialler on the left. Cyanogen lets you change that, so whilst I kept the Camera on the right, I changed the Dialler to a shortcut for Talon, my Twitter client of choice. A much better shortcut for my needs. If for some strange, unknown reason I wanted to have a permanent search button or menu button, or both, in my on-screen navigation bar, with Cyanogen, I can do that, and I can change the order of buttons as well. The same with the swipe up to launch Google Now. I have also added Google+ to the left bubble, and Instagram to the righ. These are small things that I could live without, but CyanogenOS allows me to have my cake and eat it. All of these customisations I’ve talked about are barely scratching the surface of what’s available to the user and the best thing (in my opinion at least) they aren’t forced on you. You don’t know about them until you dive right into the settings, and if you don’t like what you’ve done, you can hit the “revert to default” button and it’s as if you hadn’t touched anything.
One feature I want to call particular attention to is a feature that Cyanogen call “Live Display” and it’s an adaptive display. If you’ve ever used f.lux on your computer, it’s that… except for phones, and it’s great. At either night or automatically (I put it on night only) the WileyFox Swift would go a more orangey colour temperature and it stripped out the harsh blue lights from the display ensuring that using the WileyFox Swift at night wasn’t murdering my corneas. A great feature that I can’t recommend highly enough. Here’s hoping it gets borrowed by other companies.
A staple of CyanogenMod for years, and now CyanogenOS is the themes aspect. There is an incredibly comprehensive theme app in the settings and a very dedicated community making all kinds of themes for Cyanogen devices from the brilliant to the basic, from the fantastic to the freaky; there is more than likely a theme for you. It can change the on-screen navigation bar, the icon pack, the font, the wallpaper, the boot logo and more. I personally have decided to have the WileyFox Swift stay with the stock theme, but I have changed two things; the lock screen wallpaper and the navigation bar. I’m sure if I looked hard enough I could have found an Aliens theme with a Hello Kitty icon pack with a Tron boot logo, though alas I didn’t go quite that far.
With a 2500mAh battery, which is removable by the way, a 720p screen and the Snapdragon 410, you’d think the WileyFox Swift would be a venerable warrior in the battery life wars, just like the Moto G 2015, which this shares many specifications with. Sadly, in my testing that doesn’t seem to be the case, and it’s compounded by another issue I’ll circle back around to.
The WileyFox Swift merely has “okay” battery life. It isn’t impressive in any way, shape, or form, and at most I was able to get around 3 hours of screen on time and I never went to bed with the Swift above the 15% low battery warning. 12 hours was doable on the WileyFox Swift, much more than that felt like a chore, and the battery saver mode is pretty much a necessity here. If I had to guess what contributed to the so-so battery life my guess would be the display. The incredibly pretty, but also incredibly bright display. That is unless this is a rather poor battery (which I highly doubt). That can be my only guess for the WileyFox Swift’s iffy battery performance.
That issue I spoke about earlier and said I’d get back around to? Here it is. The MicroUSB charging and Data port is probably one of the worst I have used in recent memory. It’s very far recessed into the body. Now that doesn’t sound like too much of an issue, just get another cable right? Right?
Aside from the official Wileyfox cable, I have one cable that fits into the WileyFox Swift and feels like it’s supposed to be there. All others feel as if they’ve barely made a connection and in some cases, they haven’t. The cable from my Palm Pre almost feels like it’s there, but not quite. My Motorola cable from my Moto G 2015 feels like it’s barely in there, and as that is the one by my bedside table, more than once have I woken up to find out the WileyFox Swift hadn’t charged because the cable hadn’t made a reliable connection. Who knows, maybe a fly landed on it!
I should say, all but one of these cables worked, but none, apart from the Wileyfox and that one other cable I mentioned, actually felt like they were properly seated and locked into place, and I was reminded of this every time I went to plug my WileyFox Swift in.
I’m not much of a synthetic benchmark person (anymore) but nevertheless I ran some for you guys. We have Geekbench 3, AnTuTu and 3D Mark Sling Shot. Below are screenshots of the results, Interpret them as you will.
Call Quality, Data speeds and reception.
This is one of those odd sections as for many people in 2015, making phone calls isn’t a primary requirement of a smartphone anymore. For others it isn’t even secondary. Nevertheless I made an effort to make some calls on the WileyFox Swift, and they sounded…okay on both ends, nothing spectacular, it’s a phone, it sounds like a phone call. It wasn’t as if I was speaking to the person right next to me, and it also didn’t sound like a Dalek conversation, it was just, ‘okay’. Another cost saving measure I’m sure, but I could hear them, and they could hear me. Of note is VoIP calls, they sounded better than standard voice calls to me, but the jump in quality wasn’t as large as on other phones, which leads me to believe that another cost saving measure was indeed the earpiece.
Reception on the WileyFox Swift was actually really quite good. Early on in my testing I had a few issues in which I would receive full signal but there was no data reception and people could not call me. My APN was correct and my mobile data was enabled, but in switching SIMs back to my Moto X Play the problem persisted leading me to believe it was an issue on my carriers end, which was resolved an hour or so later. In the East Sussex Area on the Three UK Network the WileyFox Swift did really well, holding onto signal in hard to reach places. It wasn’t quite as good as my Moto G and Moto X Play in this regard but Motorola has a very long history of making phenomenal radios, and I would be very surprised to see the WileyFox Swift outperform the Motorola devices here.
If you weren’t aware, the Wileyfox Swift is a Dual-SIM device. There are 2 Micro-SIM slots under the battery cover but sadly for me this meant I needed a Nano-Micro adaptor. Once my SIM was inserted though, all was fine. I didn’t have another SIM to test with, but my understanding is that both of the slots are 4G capable, which is a nice change as usually one has to drop down to 2G or 3G speeds. Dual-SIM is quite a useless feature in the UK in my opinion, unless you must have two phone numbers since most networks offer unlimited calls and high amounts of texts and they all offer similar amounts of data. The notion of using say EE for calls and texts, and then Three for Data seems a bit odd to me but in other markets this will obviously differ.
Speaking of data, the Wileyfox Swift again performed really well here. Being LTE capable I had to go find somewhere to get LTE as my carrier actually doesn’t support LTE where I live just yet. A quick trip to Eastbourne lit me up with LTE, and even though I was inside and there were a lot of people, the Wileyfox Swift and the Three network managed to pull in roughly 42mbps download and 12mbps upload speeds. This I was very impressed with! Either not many people where on the Three LTE network or the Swift just figured out a way to pull in as much as possible. Either way, it worked and I was suitably impressed. On the motorway on HSDPA (I’m guessing it was actually DC-HSDPA) I got 15mbps on the download and just under 5mbps on the upload. Again, not too shabby a showing from the Swift. Good job Wileyfox! It would have been all too easy to omit LTE from the Swift to get the price down, but I’m very glad that you didn’t.
A sad omission but one that I’m not sure Wileyfox could have fixed is the lack of 5Ghz Wi-Fi. As stated this is not really Wileyfox’s fault. The Snapdragon 410 doesn’t actually support 5Ghz Wi-Fi, so Wileyfox would have had to change the chip or use discrete modems, which would increase cost, space requirements and reduce battery further. Wileyfox made the correct choice here, and in all honesty, If you were expecting 5Ghz Wi-Fi in a device this cheap, you need to re-evaluate your expectations.
The WileyFox Swift has been a very fun device to review, and I’m not quite sure I can put my finger on why, but the front-runner is that the phone just isn’t bad. I know that sounds weird, but hear me out. Wileyfox is a new smartphone OEM, and the Swift is their first device. Not only is the WileyFox Swift their first device, it’s also their budget device! It’s the cheapy cheapy version, the entry point into the Wileyfox brand and the only major trade-off you make for paying a quid under £130 is just okay battery life? I’d make that trade-off in an instant. Here’s why. You get probably the best camera in a £130 or lower phone. You get solid performance from the Snapdragon 410, just like other 410 phones. 2GB of RAM keeps everything running smoothly too, and don’t forget, you get that stand out display. Had I not already been in possession of a Moto G 2015 and a 4.7” Idol 3, I’d certainly consider the WileyFox Swift over those two. It has better software and camera than the Idol 3 and a better screen than both the Moto G 2015 and the Idol 3, whilst managing to come in at £60 cheaper than my Moto G 2015 and £30 than the Idol 3 4.7″. Nothing whatsoever to scoff at here.
Would I recommend the Wileyfox Swift to someone looking for a phone in the roughly £150 or lower market? Hell yes, of course I would, and not only that, I have faith that because it isn’t Wileyfox, but Cyanogen looking after the software, I’m sure it’ll get Marshmallow sooner rather than later. I’m also sure I’ll enjoy using it just as much as I do other devices running Marshmallow, if not more, due to Cyanogen’s customisability.
Bottom line? I’m going to be sad to send this back to Wileyfox, but equally interested to see what else comes from this new player in the market in the coming years. A great first attempt!