Cherry Mobile Flare Review
JM Balicano | On 14, Dec 2012
Some will argue that the Cherry Mobile Flare is akin to the iPhone of the Philippines, generating Apple-like buzz that I’ve never seen before for a local brand. For good reason too, as the Flare offers an unbeatable combination of great specs and a killer price to boot.
Seriously, where else can you get a dual-core, dual-SIM phone coupled with a 4 inch IPS display for just Php3,999? Still, there’s got to be some compromises, right? After all, at that price, it just seems too good to be true. Well sure, there are some bugs here and there, but it’s best to go objectively go through everything the Cherry Mobile Flare has to offer before passing judgement if it is worth your money or if you should be looking elsewhere. Behold, the Cherry Mobile Flare review!
Build Quality and Design: Generic Black Slate
Okay, to be fair, the Cherry Mobile Flare doesn’t exactly look bad. In fact, it looks like it costs more than the Php3,999 that I paid for it (after standing in line for 4 hours). A CD-R King saleslady even mistook it for one of the small new Xperia phones when I was out looking for a cheap micro SD card for my Flare. However, there’s nothing unique or inspiring about it. It’s literally just a black slab of plastic with a screen that dominates the front of the device. Below that gorgeous IPS display are 4 capacitive buttons: home, menu, back and search. Above the screen is the speaker grill when receiving calls, the 1.3mp front-facing camera, and the proximity and light sensors.
Running along the left side of the Cherry Mobile Flare, you’ll find the volume rocker toward the top and the micro-USB port near the bottom. The right side of the phone is absolutely devoid of any hardware controls and other details, save for a small notch on the back cover to help you pry it open when you want to get to the battery, SIM cards or microSD. At the top and on the lefthand side is the 3.5mm headphone jack while to the right is the power/lock button. On the bottom, you’ll find the microphone pinhole for voice calls or recording audio. The 5mp camera and LED flash can be found at the back, along with tiny Flare branding in the middle and the Cherry Mobile branding closer to the bottom where the loudspeaker grill is at.
One thing that’s hard to ignore is that the back cover is a little loose and creaky because of how it’s designed. I’m not worried about it coming loose or anything, but it’s just not as snug as it should be. A smaller issue is that I find the power/lock button rather hard to press because the button itself is recessed so deeply into the body of the Flare, and I often resort to using my fingernails to press it properly. The placement of the micro-USB port is a bit weird because I’m accustomed to finding it on the top or bottom of most devices, and the same thing goes with the placement of that notch on the battery cover when you need to pry it open. It’s hard to balance the phone in your hands when taking off the battery cover, especially for someone like me who has large(r) hands.
Of course, there are a lot of things I do like about the Cherry Mobile Flare’s build quality and design. First is that the generic black design may be a good thing if you don’t want to be distracted from the screen. Images just stand out better against a black bezel, and with the IPS screen that’s on the Flare, you’ll definitely enjoy some rich colors. Second is that the Flare and CherryMobile branding on the phone isn’t obtrusive the way it is on most other phones. Finally, I absolutely love that the back cover isn’t a fingerprint magnet. One thing that can easily make a phone look cheap is smudged fingerprints all over the body, and I can happily say that you won’t encounter that problem with the Flare.
The Screen: Gorgeous 4 Inches of IPS
The 4 inch IPS display of the Cherry Mobile Flare is one of its obvious key selling points, and it has a resolution of 480 x 800 (WVGA). That equates to a pixel density of 233ppi, which is really sharp when compared to other phones that you can get at similar price points. For example, the Galaxy Y has a pixel density of 133ppi while the Optimus L3 has an even crappier 125ppi. Color reproduction is also quite remarkable, and it really showed when I used on of my favorite multicolor wallpapers on the lockscreen. It’s really nice to wake up the device and be treated to colors as rich and vibrant as the Flare is capable of. Viewing angles are also great, but not especially so. While most budget smartphones out there come with cramped 3-3.5 inch low resolution screens, the Flare is an absolute steal with its larger, sharper and more vibrant IPS display. A larger screen means better enjoyment when watching movies, playing games, and reading articles on the web, simply because of how much more detail the screen is capable of.
However there is a downside to the Flare’s screen. It’s only a two-point touch, multi-touchscreen, meaning it can only recognize two simultaneous screen presses at any given time. Two-point touchscreens on most smartphones are a bit flawed because they have a hard time recognizing simultaneous key presses that are spaced close together. So it will sometimes recognize key presses from two different fingers as just a single key press. This wouldn’t be much of a problem if it were just about navigating through the UI, but there are other areas of the phone’s usability that this affects, which we’ll get to a bit later.
The Chipset: Dual Core on a Budget
Another key selling point of the Cherry Mobile Flare is that it comes with a 1.2 GHz dual core Qualcomm MSM7627A CPU coupled with an Adreno 203 GPU. Not only does the Flare have a gorgeous display, it’s also quite fast and zippy. In fact, when I was first standing in line to buy the Flare, I knew what the specs were but still had some tempered expectations. Needless to say, I was quite impressed by how responsive the Cherry Mobile Flare was when navigating the UI or running various games and apps.
“Not only does the Flare have a gorgeous display, it’s also quite fast and zippy.”
Of course, user experience can be rather subjective. What about hard numbers? I ran the Flare on 3 popular benchmarking apps. Quadrant and AnTuTu are popular benchmarking apps that measure CPU, I/O and graphics performance, while KFS Benchmark is a graphics benchmarking tool that measures framerates through 3 different OpenGL 2.0 tests that stress vertex throughput, fill rate, and draw calls.
I scored a 2,929 on Quadrant, which is better than what Galaxy Nexus and Atrix 4G users scored. I also ran it through AnTuTu v3.0.1, although this time I got 6,319, which is slightly worse compared to the Galaxy Nexus. Finally, I ran it through KFS, where it averaged 25.393 FPS (frame rates per second). When it came to the KFS tests, the Flare performed quite well in the fill rate test, topping out at 32.965 FPS while the vertex throughput and draw calls were stuck at 22.793 and 22.761 respectively.
These are very respectable numbers that show that the Cherry Mobile Flare is able to perform on par with a phone like the Galaxy Nexus. To put things in perspective, The Galaxy Nexus still sells for a little more than Php15k in the gray markets. You’re getting almost that same level of performance for just Php3,999. Cool, huh?
The Software: Almost Pure ICS
One thing I hate about some of the custom skins that manufacturers like to preload on their phones is that they can become quite bloated (here’s looking at you, Samsung and HTC). Thankfully, that’s not the case with the Cherry Mobile Flare as what you’re getting is an almost stock ICS experience. There are a few noticeable customizations, such as the extra notification area toggles for Data and Mute, which I haven’t seen on other ICS phones that I’ve handled. There’s also the icon set, where the stock icons have a square shape with rounded corners, and the non-stock apps are given that same look.
“I tried all my favorite apps on the Flare like Flipboard, Appy Geek, Shadowgun, Dead Trigger and Agent Dash, and they all worked smoothly.”
The icon set isn’t for everyone. I particularly didn’t like that the App Drawer icon was smaller than any other icon because it just looked weird. Still, that’s just a minor issue that can easily be solved by an alternative launcher and theme. To be fair, ICS runs quite smoothly on my Flare, and navigating through the homescreens and App Drawer is a breeze.
Another plus is that this build of ICS is quite stable on the Flare’s hardware. I didn’t encounter any force close issues due to an app not playing nice with the software and hardware, unlike the Cherry Mobile W300 that I had the chance to play with a couple of weeks ago that only played one out of the six games I tried to install on it. I tried all my favorite apps on the Flare like Flipboard, Appy Geek, Shadowgun, Dead Trigger and Agent Dash, and they all worked smoothly, with only Dead Trigger having a few rendering issues.
Messaging and Telephony: You Can Still Use It as a Phone, But Just Barely
Of course, a smartphone should still function as any other cellphone should, allowing you to make your typical calls and send text messages to another device. The Cherry Mobile is no different, and does everything a dumbphone should, but the experience isn’t perfect. In fact, there are a few things that have me scoring the Flare pretty low in this department.
First, the speaker above the screen for taking calls is just too tiny and weak. In a quiet, enclosed space, there isn’t much of an issue, but when I tried to make calls outside with the occasional car passing by, I would always have to pause the conversation with whoever I was speaking with. Take note, I did these tests in a quiet neighborhood where the loudest vehicles on the street are the quiet engines of the Hondas and Toyotas of my neighbors. Oh, and if you are forced to make or receive a call while commuting on a jeepney? Forget about it. Sure, you can try using the stock headset for calls, but it’s not much better since it’s not an in-ear model and doesn’t do much to block out ambient noise. Not only that, but if you try to use another headset that has a built-in mic or volume controls, the sound comes out fuzzy because the Cherry Mobile Flare has compatibility issues with such headsets. Thankfully, all the headsets I tested that didn’t have built-in mics sounded just fine.
Things don’t get much better in the texting department. Remember that problem with 2 point touchscreens? If you’re accustomed to speed-typing on touchscreens the way I am on the Galaxy Note, don’t expect the same responsiveness using the Cherry Mobile Flare. Despite having a 2-point touchscreen, simultaneous touches and touches that take place quickly after one another are often only recognized as a single touch, especially when they are spaced close together. A member of an unofficial Cherry Mobile Flare group on Facebook reported trying to type “music” at the speed he normally types, but only ended up typing out “mic” and unfortunately, I have had the same experience. It has somewhat slowed down the speed that I am able to compose text messages and emails on the Flare. This is a common issue among 2-point touch devices, although it’s hard to ignore.
Imaging Quality: A Pleasant Surprise
I generally have a low opinion of cameras on budget smartphones. I’ve tried the MyPhone A818, W100 and Cherry Mobile W300 and they all performed pretty bad, so even though the Cherry Mobile Flare is supposed to come with a better 5mp autofocus primary camera, I still had my doubts. Anyway, I tested the primary shooter through various scenes, ranging from bright outdoor lighting to indoor with no lighting with no flash.
As expected, the camera performed just fine in outdoor scenes where there was adequate to bright lighting. Here, I just used the Auto scene setting.
I find the Action scene setting to be rather ironic. The camera was so slow to respond, my dogs were long out of the frame by the time the picture was actually taken. Still, there was minimal blurring of their wagging tails, so I guess that counts for something if you can stand that 2 second wait.
Here are some indoor shots under low lighting. I used the Auto scene setting in one shot and the Night setting in the other. I’m surprised that the shots still appeared quite bright as all the other cameras on budget smartphones really suffered in this area.
Finally, here’s a shot inside with flash enabled. That last shot with the flash enabled really impressed me. Usually, the LED flash doesn’t do much on budget smartphones, but you can really see the difference between the completely dark shot without flash and the one with flash enabled.
Overall, the actual image quality is just okay for the Cherry Mobile Flare. However, when it comes to performance under various lighting conditions, the Flare really impresses. You can basically take a decent shot regardless of how poor the lighting conditions are. You’ll mostly be using the Auto scene setting for most shots, but that Night setting is great for indoor shots where there isn’t a lot of ambient lighting. I really appreciate the Flare’s LED flash because it isn’t just for show the way it is with most other budget smartphones where the flash doesn’t do anything to illuminate the shot. Shots are actually illuminated quite evenly, even in a completely dark room.
Gaming: PSP? What PSP?
Whenever I test gaming on a smartphone these days, I start out with Asphalt 7, followed by Dead Trigger, Agent Dash, Temple Run, Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja. I run them in that order with the most system intensive games first, and ending with the games that aren’t as demanding on the system.
Dead Trigger plays alright except for the main menu where there are a bit of rendering issues on the map. Those rendering issues persist in the main game, but it isn’t as annoying because it’s not as easily noticeable. Gameplay is smooth and framerates are pretty consistent.
“It’s capable of running some of the more gorgeous 3D games out there.”
Agent Dash is a fast-paced 3D game that, while gorgeous, isn’t as heavy on the system. The gameplay is similar to Temple Run, except that you don’t make use of the G-sensor to move your character left and right. Controls are only limited to swipes on the screen. This time, there were no rendering issues, and the gameplay was smooth. Responsiveness to my swipes was also quite good, which is important on a fast-paced game like Agent Dash that relies on your reflexes to dodge obstacles throughout the game.
Temple Run is one of the most popular casual games that you can play on either Android or iOS, and like Agent Dash, it relies on fast reflexes to dodge obstacles throughout the game. While it’s a 3D game, Temple Run has been known to run on lower end devices, such as the Optimus L3, so the Flare had absolutely no problems running it. However, that ugly G-sensor problem did make itself evident here, with the character always moving toward the left even when I held the phone relatively level.
Then came Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja. Seriously, if an Android phone can’t play these classics, it has no business being available to the public. Obviously, the Flare did just fine.
For just Php3,999, you’re getting a very capable gaming device. It’s capable of running some of the more gorgeous 3D games out there, and you’ll quickly become lazy about bringing your PSP with you since there’s a lot of variety in the games that the Cherry Mobile Flare can play.
Battery Life: Your Charger is Now Your Best Friend
One thing about Android is that it can be a real power sucker. This isn’t anything new, and most Android users have already grown accustomed to charging their phone at least once a day. But the Cherry Mobile Flare is a little worse than average, and it doesn’t help that it’s connected to two networks at once (when both SIMs are active) and packs a rather lacking 1,500mAh battery. That might seem great compared to other budget smartphones. Heck, the W100 lasted me a day and a half despite only having 1,400mAh. However, the difference between the two is that the Flare has a dual core chipset, a more capable GPU, dual SIM functionality, and a larger WVGA IPS screen. That additional 100mAh of battery juice just isn’t going to cut it.
The battery life issues become obvious in real world usage, and even as I only used the Flare as a secondary phone to my Galaxy Note, it typically lasted barely a day. I had it connected to 3G for 30 minutes, 6 hours on WiFi, and the rest on standby and occasional calling and testing. It only lasted me a little more than 17 hours. That’s okay for some people since most workdays will have you home by the time the battery hits 20%. However, the Flare is a very capable phone, and there are a lot of users who will do more than just calling, texting, and browsing on it. Those who use their phones a lot will quickly find that they will fall short of that 17 hour mark, especially those who like to play a lot of 3D games.
“The battery life issues become obvious in real world usage, and even as I only used the Flare as a secondary phone, it typically lasted barely a day.”
Android users, particularly power users with dual or quad core phones, should already be familiar with this kind of battery life, but the Flare has been attracting a lot of first time smartphone users who are making the transition from their dumbphones and feature phones because of its ultra affordable price. Guess what the first thing is that they complain about: battery life.
One thing that won’t help the Cherry Mobile Flare’s rather short battery life is that it’s battery indicator isn’t that accurate. This is a bit common on Android devices, but it’s especially bad on the Flare. I once charged the Flare to 100% and then left it on standby with WiFi, 3G and GPS off for about 6 hours. I then went into the settings to check the specific battery percentage, and it showed that it had only gone down to 99%. I had to go on an errand so I took it with me so I could use it as a music player. When I got back home just 30 minutes later, it had gone down to 88%!
Known Issues: Bug Report
Despite packing enough performance to play most of the games you would want to play, the bugs can be hard to ignore. The most obvious one that I hate is the screwed up G-sensor. Sure, Cherry Mobile will be coming out with a fix “soon”, but how soon is “soon” going to be? There are many games and a few apps that rely on tilt controls or are best experienced using this sensor, so it’s kind of a letdown.
UPDATE: Cherry Mobile just announced that the software update for the Cherry Mobile Flare is now available on all Cherry Mobile service centers nationwide. OTA update will be available early next year.
The Flare is also supposed to come with FM radio hardware built in, but for some reason, the app that controls the FM radio wasn’t installed. Sure, it’s possible to sideload the APK (android version of installer for apps) to get the FM radio working, but not a lot of casual or first-time Android users will know how to do that. (download the FM radio APK here)
Another bug that I hope they’ll be able to fix in that upcoming update is the responsiveness while typing. Being a two-point touchscreen, the Flare’s display often recognizes two presses that are rather close to each other to be a single press. Heck, the presses don’t even have to be that close, since keys on the far ends of the onscreen QWERTY keyboard are still detected as a single press. I’ve removed the original screen protector (it wasn’t placed very well anyway) and the responsiveness has improved in landscape mode, but it’s still just not usable in portrait (I have large hands).
Finally, there’s the audio plug issue. Sure, it comes with a 3.5mm audio port that you can connect a headset or external speakers. However the Flare can be more than a bit choosy about the kind of headsets and speakers it will play nice with. Does it have volume control? Forget about it! Does it come with a built-in mic? Unless it’s the stock headset, you’re going to have trouble finding a compatible pair. Thankfully, all the regular headsets with no built-in mics that I tested with the Flare didn’t have any issues, but it’s a shame since I have a pair of great-sounding Sennheisers that are close to useless on the Flare because it comes with a built-in mic.
So Should You Buy the Cherry Mobile Flare?
While the Flare presents a lot of value, there are also a number of accompanying bugs that affect its usability. Whether you should buy it or not, with respect to value, depends a lot on what you are willing to put up with. The Cherry Mobile Flare manages to cram a lot of performance into a price point reserved for feature phones and entry level budget phones. Where else can you get a dual core CPU and 4 inch IPS display for Php4k? Not anywhere that I’m aware of. And it’s going to be a while until we see another smartphone that can compete with it in terms of performance at that price point.
Sure, it has its issues, however there are also workarounds that you can use to get by them. For example, you can download the FM radio APK to get the full functionality of the FM radio hardware that the Flare does indeed have. You can turn off text prediction and replacement options that tend to slow down responsiveness. You can also switch to a T9 layout when in portrait mode, especially if you find the keys to be too small. As for the audio plug issue, I had to get myself a second pair of earphones without the built-in mic. No way was I going to spend another chunk of money on some Sennheisers, so I went out and just got a pair of CDR King earphones instead. The mid and high tones are acceptable and the bass is a bit muddy, but I can live with that since I only use this as a secondary phone for commutes. The G-sensor fix will have to wait for the update though, but it’s coming soon, so they say.
“You’re getting close to the same performance as the Galaxy Nexus while spending less than you would pay for the Galaxy Pocket.”
One thing that I absolutely love about the Cherry Mobile Flare is that it doesn’t feel as if I’m losing out on that much performance when I do a transition from my Galaxy Note to the Flare. Sure the screen is a bit smaller and the clock speed is slower, but the only game in my collection that I can’t install is The Dark Knight, which is a pretty heavy game, even for my Note. Everything else from Asphalt 7 down to Angry Birds plays fine. It’s even come to a point that I’m actually considering selling my Note to get a tablet since the Flare does pretty much everything I want it to.
So should you buy it? If you’re going to ignore value for money, then it’s all about what your willing to live with. Can you live with typing in landscape all the time? Can you live without a built-in mic or volume controls on your headset? Do you mind waiting for an update to fix the G-sensor issues? If you can, then you’ll be getting all of the benefits that a dual core chipset on a smartphone can give you. But to be fair to the Cherry Mobile Flare, it’s almost impossible not to have your purchase decision influenced by the great value for money that it offers. If I could rate the value that you’re getting from the Flare from 1-10, it would be a 12. You’re getting close to the same performance as the Galaxy Nexus while spending less than you would pay for the Galaxy Pocket. While I only technically use the Flare as a secondary phone, I’ve been using my Galaxy Note less and less because the Flare is so much more convenient to use. If you think you can live with its issues, by all means get it. It’s certainly opened my eyes to what Php4,000 can get me.
Disclaimer: I (JM Balicano) personally purchased the Flare review unit that was featured in this article. Neither I nor any other member of NoypiGeeks have received any compensation from Cherry Mobile or their affiliates for this post.