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Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt Review

UPDATE: The Fusion Bolt used for the revisions of this review has been updated, but with the Ainol Novo 7 Venus Lite firmware, not the final release firmware made available to the public. However, the build has produced similar enough results with known benchmark scores from other users so we’ve decided that the Venus Lite firmware meets the needs for an updated review for the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt.

What can Php4k get you these days? When it comes to the latest gadgets, not much. But when Cherry Mobile released the Flare back in November, many of us hard to rethink what we should be getting in exchange for that kind of cash. Since then, users have been demanding more bang for their buck, and it looks like the local mobile phone company is at it again with the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt.

Yes, the name is a mouthful, and I hate having to say it every time somebody asks me what it’s called. And believe me, I get asked that a lot once they see it’s slim profile and particularly the gorgeous screen. China tablets that sell for the same price are typically much thicker and have screens with resolutions that belong on phones, so it’s also a shocker to them when I tell them that the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt only costs Php3,999. LOLWUT?!

But there’s got to be a kick, right? After all, there’s no way a tablet that looks this good should be priced that low. Well of course there are going to be compromises, so check out our Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt review to see just how much was compromised and if this tablet is worth lining up for once it officially comes out on March 6.

Build Quality and Design

Cherry-Mobile-Fusion-Bolt

One important thing to get out of the way is if the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt is a rebranded Ainol Novo Venus. IT’S NOT. It’s actually the Ainol Novo Venus Lite. We’ll get to the difference between the two in the chipset section of the review, but the essential thing here is that they both look like a Nexus 7 knock off, particularly because of that textured back.

Back of Fusion Bolt

The layout of the front-facing camera and the way the Cherry Mobile branding was printed on the back indicate that the Fusion Bolt is meant to be held in landscape orientation. This is a bit weird for me, since I would think that most people would want to hold a 7 inch tablet in portrait orientation, but maybe that’s just me. The front is almost completely dominated by the 7 inch IPS display, with the only other detail of note being the VGA front-facing camera.

Ports - Charger, HDMI, microUSB, earphones, microSD slot

Assuming that you’re holding the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt in landscape orientation, you’ll find all of the ports to the right: charger port, 3.5mm headset port, mini HDMI port, micro USB port and micro SD slot.

At the top is the hardware home button, volume rocker and power/lock button. They’re very thin, but the home and power/lock buttons were easy enough to find and press. The volume rocker was a different story, as it was a bit hard for me to figure out if I was pressing volume(+) or volume(-). The left side and bottom of the Fusion Bolt are totally bare.

Sides-CM-Fusion-Bolt

At the back, you’ll find the 2mp fixed focus camera to the upper left, the large Cherry Mobile branding smack dab in the middle, and the loudspeaker on the lower right. The rear-facing camera could have been placed better since in landscape mode, you’ll find your hand covering that camera most of the time.

I did mention that the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt looks a bit like a Nexus 7 knockoff, but there are some very noticeable differences. For one thing, the Nexus 7 is meant to be held in portrait orientation, and assuming you are holding both of them the same way, you’ll also find that the Nexus 7 has narrower bezels on either side. Those of you who were hoping to be able to fit the Fusion Bolt into a Nexus 7 case should give up right now. The Fusion Bolt is just to wide (or tall, depending on the orientation you’re holding it in).

Design issues aside, the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt has been put together quite solidly, although the plastic does feel a bit cheap. There was no creaking when I pressed down on the edges, nor was there any flex when I pressed down on the center of the back. I did drop my Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt a couple of times, and on the second drop, the screen shifted from the back cover, but I just snapped it back in, no biggie.

The Display: So Good, You Could Frame It

One thing that can really make or break a tablet is its display. After all, it’s the primary means of consuming content on such a device. Thankfully, the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt sports a 7 inch IPS display with a resolution of 1280 x 800. That gives it a pixel density of about 213ppi, which means that even the smallest text will still be readable.

Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt Price, Specs, Features

It isn’t just sharp. Color reproduction and viewing angles are also very good. That’s to be expected from an IPS display, but it’s hard not to gush about how good this screen looks knowing that the whole darn thing only costs Php3,999. Much of my first few hours with the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt was spent looking for a punchy looking wallpaper, and I had a hard time choosing one because all of them looked so good on its display.

One thing I didn’t like was that everything appeared so small. That’s mostly because the DPI has been set to 160, resulting in everything being shrunk down. Thankfully, you can adjust the font size by going into Settings > Accessibility, but most people won’t know how to do that when they first get their Fusion Bolt. It’s also a good thing that the screen is sharp enough for small font to be readable anyway.

The quality of the display on the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt makes it ideal for consuming a wide range of content like ebooks, comics/manga, movies and web articles. It’s become my primary means of reading articles, whereas I used to do that sort of thing on my Titan TV. If you only need one good reason to get the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt, get it for the screen.

The Chipset: Not Quite Buttery Enough | Update: Significant Boost to Benchmarks After Firmware Update

The Fusion Bolt is powered by a quad-core Actions ATM7025 processor clocked at 1GHz paired with the Vivante GC1000 GPU to handle graphics. That’s the same chipset as on the Ainol Novo Venus Lite, whereas the Novo Venus sports the Actions ATM7029, which is clocked at 1.5GHz.

However the number of cores isn’t everything, and the benchmarks prove this. I tested the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt on my favorite benchmarking tools. Antutu and Quadrant test for things like CPU, I/O and graphics performance, while Nenamark 2 and KFS test for Open GL 2.0 performance. Check out the results below.

Cherry-Mobile-Fusion-Bolt-Benchmarks

As you can see, the benchmarks are a bit of a disappointment and not something you would expect from something being billed as a quad-core device. The Actions ATM7025 and Vivante GC1000 is a rather feeble combination, probably more suited to smartphones with lower resolutions and fewer pixels to push rather than on a full-fledged tablet.

CM Fusion Bolt Benchmarks

And it isn’t just in benchmarks. Navigation through the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt’s UI is sluggish. It would seem that the software optimizations in Jelly Bean 4.1 can’t even eek out any buttery smoothness from the weak chipset.

If there’s anything that Cherry Mobile went through great lengths to market about the Fusion Bolt, it’s the quad-core processor. They even went so far as to claim that it was 4x faster on their promo graphics. The chipset’s sluggish performance across various benchmarks and real world usage scenarios would have been fine with me since this is a budget tablet after all, but if you’re going to advertise this as being 4x faster then you better bring it.

Update: Now that we’ve tested the Fusion Bolt with updated firmware, the difference in performance is staggering. I was able to record an Antutu score of more than 10k, while users who tested their own units shortly after purchase reported scores of more than 11k. The boost to the Nenamark 2 score was more modest in comparison, jumping up to 44.9fps from 33.8fps for what should be a noticeable boost to the gaming experience on the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt.

The improvements in benchmark scores translate well to real world performance. Navigating through the UI is no longer a struggle, and while it’s still not quite as buttery as you would expect from a quad core chipset, it’s much more usable with the final release software.

The Software: Jelly Bean for the Masses

Jelly Bean 4.1 has been out for a while now and there are a few phones and tablets out there that run it. However, most budget devices run on ICS 4.0 or lower, meaning everyone who will be lining up to buy the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt on March 6 will probably be experiencing it for the first time. Thankfully, the Fusion Bolt runs on a mostly vanilla version of Jelly Bean 4.1.1, so there shouldn’t be many surprises.

Screenshot

If you’re coming from ICS 4.0 or a lower version of Android, here are some key features you should look out for on the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt running Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean:

  • Improved Notification Area – The notification area can be accessed by pressing the small clock in the lower right corner of the screen, just like in ICS 4.0 and Honeycomb 3.0. However, the notifications in Jelly Bean are richer, and in some cases (like Gmail) will display a preview of the app to help you decide if you want to access the app or just dismiss the notification.
  • Intuitively Resizable Widget – Previous versions of Android made it difficult to place widgets just anywhere on your homescreen, but Jelly Bean 4.1 moves everything out of the way when you want to place a widget in a particular area of the homescreen.
  • Offline Voice Typing – ICS 4.0 featured voice typing, but you had to be connected to the internet. Now you can do that on your Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt without being connected over WiFi.
  • Google Now – Sort of like the old Google Search app, except with a little more functionality. Not that useful on a strictly WiFi-only tablet though.

You guys will notice that I didn’t mention Project Butter. While I’m sure the software optimizations are there on the Fusion Bolt, the chipset is just too slow for it to be noticeable.

There are also a few pre-installed apps that have been included on the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt. There are the typical social networking apps that most users would install right away upon buying the Fusion Bolt, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Then there’s the typical bloatware that most users would prefer not to have, such as the Cherry Shop and Kabayan apps which were also found on the Cherry Mobile Titan and Cherry Mobile Flare. Click the City is probably an app that most people would ignore but is a really good establishment finder. Finally, there’s Kingsoft Office, which is a full-fledged Office reader and editor.

I should mention that the Fusion Bolt units Cherry Mobile gave away during the launch event came with a rooted version of Jelly Bean 4.1. During the Q&A portion of that event, it was specifically asked if we were being given release versions of the device, and they said yes. Of course, I doubt that Cherry Mobile or any other manufacturer would sell a rooted device, but hey, if it does, then I’m not complaining.

Update: Surprise, surprise. The final release firmware turns out to be rooted as well. All you have to do to get apps to take advantage is install the Super User app from the Play Store or from some other alternative source.

Imaging: Bare Basics

Taking pictures with your tablet looks awkward at best, but if that’s your thing, then the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt does come with a 2-megapixel rear-facing fixed focus camera for basic stills and a VGA front-facing camera for video calls via services like Skype. The resulting images are hardly what you would call decent, but then, who uses their tablet as their primary camera anyway? There’s no need to get into too much detail here, so just check out the sample images below.

Camera Sample CMFB

Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt Camera Sample

Photos

Connectivity: Mostly Wired

Being a WiFi-only tablet, the only way you’ll be able to access the internet is either through WiFi b/g/n, or a 3G dongle that you would connect to the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt via the USB-OTG cable. That is about the only wireless connectivity option that you get. It should also be noted that not all 3G dongles will work with this. Thankfully, there’s a complete list of supported dongles that you’ll find by going to Settings, looking under the Wireless & Networks category, then pressing More > 3G Support List.

Wi-Fi, Internet, Facebook Browsing

Aside from WiFi, the remaining connectivity options are all wired. Take note that I use the term connectivity very loosely. They’re all just ports. There’s the charger port, 3.5mm headset port, mini HDMI port, micro USB port and micro SD card slot.

The 3.5mm headset port has  the same compatibility issues as I’ve become accustomed to when it comes to Chinese OEMs. If your headset comes with a built-in mic or volume controls, it’s likely they won’t sound right on the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt. Otherwise, they should sound just fine. How to tell the difference? Take a look at the number of segments that your headset jack has. Three segments typically means it won’t work, while 2 segments should work most of the time.

The mini HDMI port can be useful for connecting your tablet to an HDTV. If you want to use the tablet as the control center for your home media player, this could come in handy. However, playing 1080p videos can be a challenge for the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt, which we’ll get to later in the Entertainment section of this review.

The micro USB port should allow you to connect wired peripherals such as a mouse or keyboard. I’m interested in testing a Bluetooth dongle with it, although I doubt it will work since there’s no Bluetooth setting on the Fusion Bolt the way there is with 3G dongles. Unfortunately, I doubt have Bluetooth dongle lying around.

Finally, there’s the micro SD slot, which allows you to expand storage on the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt by up to 32GB. Combined with the built-in 8Gb storage, 5Gb of which is user accessible, that isn’t bad at all.

Entertainment: It All Starts from the Screen

Music, Video - CM Fusion Bolt

There is a gallery and music app that comes preinstalled, and it should be noted that the gallery app can show both images AND videos, eliminating the need for a separate video app. Its functionality is pretty limited as a video player though, so you’ll want to install something like MX Player on your Fusion Bolt to get the most out of your movie-watching experience.

As I said earlier, the 7 inch IPS display lends itself very well to things like reading ebooks, comics and web articles, and this is where I feel the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt really shines. Of course, you’ll still have to install the necessary reader apps to accomplish some of things, but that’s easily done through the Play Store over a WiFi connection.

One cool thing you can do with your Fusion Bolt is use it as a media center of sorts for your home theater. It comes with an HDMI port, which allows it to output video and audio. That way, you can watch movies or play your music library on your home entertainment system rather than on a dinky little screen and speakers.

 

However, it should be noted that video playback is a bit hampered by the slow chipset. Full HD videos (1080p) would stutter every now and then, while HD videos (720p) fared better and didn’t stutter so much to be bothersome. I’d recommend 480p videos for the smoothest playback without losing too much detail.

 

After the Update: After updating the firmware, video playback is no longer buggy. Using MXPlayer, I was able to play The Walking Dead Season 2 at 720p without any problems, whereas the pre-release software would struggle even on 480p videos. Some users have also reported playing 1080p videos without any problems, although I don’t see any point to this unless you would use your Fusion Bolt as a media center by outputting via HDMI.

Gaming: Stick to Casual Gaming | Update: Holy Crap! NOVA 3 is Playable!

One look at the screen and one of the first things you’ll want to do with the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt is play a system intensive game. I installed three of my favorite games for testing: Need for Speed Most Wanted, Dead Trigger and Temple Run 2. I was going to install NOVA 3 since it showed up as being compatible in the Play Store, but I already knew that basic UI navigation was a bit sluggish and decided to put that off and see how well it would do against the first three games.

Download Games Fusion Bolt

Temple Run 2 is the most popular game on the Play Store at the moment, so it’s likely to be the first game people would install on their newly bought Fusion Bolt. On medium graphics settings, the game is rendered quite nicely and the rich colors pop out very nicely on the IPS screen. However, the frame rates were already not as fast as I would have liked them to be. Still very playable at this point. After the Update: Gameplay was very smooth on medium graphics settings, although the drop in frame rates became evident when I tried to bump the graphics to the highest setting.

Dead Trigger is a popular first person shooter, and while it isn’t the most taxing game you can install, it’s still a great game to test how well an Android device performs on games that are heavier on the system. Again, frame rates were slow, but the game was largely playable on the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt and didn’t cause it to heat up by much. The only hiccup is that sometimes at the start of the game, the environment isn’t properly rendered, leading to a second or two where everything looks like a mess. After the Update: Gameplay was also quite smooth, despite being graphically more taxing than Temple Run 2. There were still a few environment rendering issues that continued to persist from the pre-release firmware, but as soon as you start moving around, they disappear anyway. Surprisingly, the Fusion Bolt didn’t heat up that quickly.

Games on Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt

Finally, Need for Speed Most Wanted is easily one of the more system taxing games from the Play Store because of the frantic onscreen action. This time, there is a rendering issue where the windshield and the other car windows look cracked rather than smooth and shiny. The game also seems slower than it should be because of the drop in frame rates, but the game is still playable. The unit did heat up quite quickly though. After the Update: Gameplay was also much smoother after updating the firmware, and despite the rendering issue that persisted from the previous firmware, it was now much smoother than before.

 

Although all the games I tested were playable on the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt, games like Dead Trigger and Need for Speed Most Wanted weren’t as satisfying because the actual gameplay was inhibited by the low frame rates. I didn’t even bother to install NOVA 3 because I knew I probably wouldn’t make even a few steps into the game to capture a decent screenshot. The Fusion Bolt is better suited to casual games like Temple Run 2 and Agent Dash than anything hardcore.

 

Seeing as the gaming experience of Dead Trigger and Need for Speed Most Wanted on the Fusion Bolt were much better after the update, I then proceeded to install NOVA 3 just as I had intended to, as well as Real Racing 3, which I knew would be better for pushing this tablet to the limits.

Surprisingly, NOVA 3 didn’t just load up, it was also playable. The frame rates might not have been as good as it was with Dead Trigger, but for something that only costs Php4k, it over-performs its price point. The same goes with Real Racing 3. It’s a game that can even make my Optimus G and its top of the line Adreno 320 GPU stutter every now and then, but again, the Fusion Bolt was able to run it with a decent enough frame rate.

Overall, I still wouldn’t recommend the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt as a gaming tablet, even after the update. However, if there’s any game that you’re interested in playing, the Fusion Bolt will likely allow you to play it, though probably not at frame rates that are fast enough to satisfy most hardcore gamers.

Battery Life: 4,000mAh Goes a Long Way

Larger screens suck more battery. It’s just that simple. And since tablets typically have larger screens, the battery life typically isn’t that good even when they’re usually equipped with larger capacity batteries.

However, the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt makes up for it by sporting an even larger battery than you would expect from this price point. Most Chinese-made 7 inch budget tablets like the Haipad A13 are powered by a 3,000mAh battery, but the Fusion Bolt goes one further by sporting a 4,000mAh battery.

I don’t use the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt as often as I do my primary phone, and as a result, it’s typically lasted me about 5-6 hours of total usage. That’s while being constantly connected to WiFi along with occasional browsing, reading comics, and syncing my Facebook, Twitter and RSS feeds every hour. I don’t play games a lot, but then, the Fusion Bolt isn’t a gaming device anyway. There were even times when the tablet was on standby for an entire night and when I picked it up the next morning, there was still some juice left in the battery.

So Should You Buy the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt?

It’s not hard to imagine Flare Day happening all over again with tomorrow’s release of the Fusion Bolt. After all, it pairs some decent specs at the exact same price point. Quad-core processor paired with a gorgeous IPS display for just Php3,999? How can you go wrong with that?

Cherry-Mobile-Fusion-Bolt-Review

The IPS screen is simply the best part of the whole package, and I rediscovered my love for manga as a result. Not only that, but apps like Flipboard that place an emphasis on a magazine-style reading experience are especially beautiful to look at on the Fusion Bolt. I’ve even elected to go without a screen protector because it looks so much better without one.

However, it’s important to note that it isn’t what you would call a balanced device. The IPS display and its HD resolution just don’t pair well with the feeble chipset, resulting in performance that leaves a lot to be desired, even with the major improvements with the final release firmware. Sure, it’s a quad-core processor that they managed to install in it, but one that probably belongs on a budget smartphone with a WVGA screen.

Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt Specs

  • Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean
  • 7-inch HD IPS Display, 1280×800 resolution, 216ppi
  • 1GHz quad-core Actions Semiconductor ATM7025 processor
  • Vivante GC1000+ GPU
  • 1GB RAM
  • 8GB internal storage
  • expandable up to 32GB via microSD card
  • WiFi
  • 2-megapixel main camera
  • VGA front camera
  • microUSB v2.0
  • miniHDMI slot
  • Super HD 2160p video support
  • 3.5mm audio jack
  • 4000mAh Li-Ion battery
  • Price: Php3,999

Despite its shortcomings, I’ve enjoyed my time with the Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt, but it’s not something I would recommend to everyone looking to buy a tablet. After all, different people have different needs. If you want to use a tablet as your primary gaming device, then it probably isn’t for you. It will play just about any game that you throw at it, but hardcore 3D games won’t be as smooth as you would want them to be.

However, if you’re looking to buy a tablet as a mobile browsing device and reader, then it’s hard to go wrong with the Fusion Bolt and its 7 inch 1280 x 800 IPS display. Not when tablets in the same price point only sport a basic 1024 x 600 display as best.

Editor’s Note: The Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt used in this review is running on the pre-release firmware from Cherry Mobile. We’ll update this review once we get the update. – Adam

UPDATE: We’re currently reviewing the updated Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt. We’ll update this post after a week.

UPDATE: The review is now updated.

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