Update: Cherry Mobile has announced that a Jelly Bean 4.1 update is now available for the Blaze. Make sure you still have your receipts and head out to a service center
Cherry Mobile has had a lot of success with the Flare and the Titan, and the local phone brand looks to have a challenging time following them up. However, they don’t appear to be taking this challenge lightly, releasing the Skyfire, Flame and Blaze in quick succession to make sure that budget-minded Filipinos stay salivating at just how much their pesos can get them. The Cherry Mobile Blaze appears to be the most intriguing of the bunch, delivering a mix of looks and features that you would only typically find on smartphones that cost two or three times as much. The most notable features in particular are the flagship-sized 4.7 inch screen and 8 megapixel autofocus camera. To put things in perspective, my Galaxy Note has an 8mp shooter while the most successful flagship phones of 2012 were in the >4.5″ range. Still, there has to be some compromises. After all, there’s only so much you can cram into something that only costs Php6,499, right? Read on and find out in my Cherry Mobile Blaze review.
Build Quality and Design: S3 Clone
The Cherry Mobile Blaze is an elegant, albeit, generic-looking phone with curved sides and rounded corners that make it much more pleasant to hold and look at compared to the boxy design of the Flare or Titan. The white Blaze variant is especially pretty, and the paint job on the back cover even mimics the white S3, achieving a faux ceramic white finish. There’s no avoiding comparisons to the Galaxy S3 on this one, particularly on the white variant of the Cherry Mobile Blaze. It mimics everything from the rounded sides and corners down to the layout of the navigation keys and the shape of the home button. It’s not a 1:1 copy of the S3, though. The Blaze is a bit thicker and heavier than the S3, so cases designed for the S3 won’t fit properly. Believe me, I tried.
This being a full touchscreen device, the screen dominates the entire front of the Cherry Mobile Blaze, and the bezel on the sides is thin enough to be satisfactory. Above the screen are the earpiece, proximity and ambient light sensors, along with the front-facing camera. To the bottom, there’s the S3-esque layout of the navigation keys: a hardware home button and the capacitive menu and back buttons on either side of it.
There aren’t too many hardware control buttons on the Cherry Mobile Blaze aside from the home button. The volume rocker on the right is large and easy to press. Perhaps a little too easy, as I would often end up accidentally messing up the volume of the music I was listening to whenever I would pull the Blaze out of my pants’ pockets. It’s situated along the silver-gray accent line that runs along the edges of the device. On the left, there’s the micro-USB port that does double-duty as the charging port.
At the top, there’s the Power/Lock button and 3.5mm headphone jack. The Power/Lock button is situated just slightly off-center to the right and is easy enough to press using your index finger, whether you’re right or left-handed.
The bottom of the Cherry Mobile Blaze is almost totally bare. There’s the tiny microphone pinhole for calls and sound recording. There’s also a small notch so it’s easier to pry off the back cover, and that’s it.
At the back of the Cherry Mobile Blaze, you’ll find the 8mp autofocus camera and flash, along with the Blaze and Cherry Mobile branding. Right below the Cherry Mobile branding is the loudspeaker. One thing I like is that the branding is small and not very obvious. It’s even in a light gray so it doesn’t stand out at all. I like Cherry Mobile and all that, but I’m sure a lot of people will still want to keep it discreet.
Overall, the build quality and design is pretty solid. Ignoring the S3-inspired looks, the Cherry Mobile Blaze is a gorgeous phone to look at, particularly if you own the white variant. It’s still an all plastic build – nothing premium, but I wouldn’t expect anything else but plastic on something that costs considerably less than Php10k. Cherry Mobile also did a nice job with the finish. If you look closely at the back (it’s not visible in the photos), you’ll observe a subtle texturing that helps deceive you into believing you paid more than you did for the Blaze. If there’s anything I have to complain about, it would be the placement of the micro-USB port. Upper left of the screen. Really? It’s a rather odd placement to be sure, especially when you consider that the placement of just about everything else makes sense.
The Screen: Not IPS, But Still Surprisingly Good for a Budget Phone
Larger screens make content consumption so much easier and was one of the reasons I was looking to upgrade from the Flare to the Blaze. The Cherry Mobile Blaze sports a large 4.7 inch capacitive LCD display with an FWVGA (480 x 854) resolution. That gives it a pixel density of 208PPI (pixels per inch), which is reasonably good considering its price and size. That makes it noticeably sharper than the Titan (187PPI), but not as good as the Flare (233PPI). Those are some decent numbers, but how does the Blaze’s display perform when it comes to real life usage?
Readability is one of the things the Blaze excels at when you’re indoors and I had a great time reading articles using the Flipboard app. It’s not an IPS display, so viewing angles aren’t that great, but all in all it’s still surprisingly good. There’s a good deal of white-shifting when you start to look at it from an angle, but text is still readable and you can still make images out for what they are. In fact, it would seem to be on par with the Flare’s display, which some are arguing isn’t an IPS display at all. That controversy aside, the Blaze’s display is also capable of some deep blacks and great color reproduction. That, plus the wider aspect ratio makes it great for watching movies. More on that later. On the other hand, outdoor readability is rather poor. You’ll want to crank up the brightness if you want to be able to make out that text message you just received when you’re outdoors.
The Chipset: Galaxy Nexus Numbers for a Third of the Price
The Blaze features a MediaTek MT6577 chipset with a 1GHz dual core ARMv7 CPU and PowerVR SGX 531 GPU. It’s basically the same setup as on the Cherry Mobile Titan and performs similarly, albeit a notch lower in the benchmarks because there are exactly 25,920 more pixels to process (409,920 pixels on the Blaze vs 384,000 for the Titan). I ran the Cherry Mobile Blaze on stock software through 4 popular benchmarking tools. Quadrant and Antutu both measure things like CPU, I/O and graphics performance. KFS is another popular graphics benchmarking tool that runs OpenGL 2.0 tests to stress vertex throughput, fill rate, and draw calls. Finally, NenaMark2 is an OpenGL|ES 2.0 benchmark for high-end mobile devices that runs a device through several scenes to test performance on various effects. Check out the numbers below.
The Cherry Mobile Blaze scores pretty well against popular devices like the Galaxy Nexus and Atrix 4G in Antutu and Quadrant, getting a 6,941 and 2,839 respectively. On KFS, the Blaze only achieved an average of 18.5FPS across all three tests, topping out at 25.6FPS on the vertex throughput test and 14.7FPS and 18.3FPS on the fill rate and draw call tests respectively. On the other hand, it averaged 26.8FPS on NenaMark2 to put it slightly behind the Optimus 2X. The MediaTek MT6577 chipset is still quite capable at its price point, although the PowerVR GPU is positively ancient. Thankfully, it was capable enough to play some of the more graphically intensive games, which I’ll cover in the gaming section of this review.
The Software: Almost Stock ICS. Even the Icons!
One thing I like about the Android smartphones from local phone brands is that they don’t customize their stock ROMs as much as the more established brands do. The Flare that I reviewed about a month ago was one good example of a barely touched stock ROM, but I didn’t like that they modified the stock icon set. I appreciate that the Cherry Mobile Blaze didn’t modify the overall look and feel of stock ICS, and the only noticeable changes they made was to the wallpapers and notification area. The wallpapers are all Cherry Mobile-branded, which is typical of the local brand, while the notification area has been modified to provide quick access to things like brightness settings, data, and audio profiles, aside from the typical power toggles.
Cherry Mobile or whoever took care of the firmware did a better job on the Blaze than on the Flare. The Flare was a fine phone for the price, but there were some weird bugs and oversights, such as a missing FM radio app, miscalibrated G-sensor, and sluggish screen auto-rotate. Those problems are not present in the Blaze and UI navigation is quick and snappy. The animations are a bit fast, which was probably done intentionally to artificially boost that snappiness, but I don’t mind it at all.
Telephony: Messaging is Smoooooooth
As much as we want to do with our smartphones, it’s easy to forget their original intended function. The Blaze functions quite well in the telephony department, and much of it has to do with that screen. Typing on the Blaze is fast, responsive and accurate. The big screen has a lot to do with the improved typing experience, making this an excellent phone for composing texts and emails. Call quality was also decent, and the only time I experienced any dropped calls was when the recipient was in an area with poor reception (e.g. may girlfriend at her apartment).
One flaw I can’t overlook though is that the Blaze has a few compatibility issues when it comes to headsets with built-in mics. The stock Cherry Mobile headset works fine, but my Sennheisers produced the same buzzy mess that I’ve experienced on phones like the A818, W100 and most recently the Flare. That’s a shame because my Sennheisers produce awesomely balanced sound with no distortion, even when I crank up the bass to head-shaking levels. Thankfully, you can use a regular pair of earphones with it and just speak into the phone’s built-in mic. It looks awkward, but it works in a jiff if you’re in an area with a lot of ambient noise.
Imaging: Megapixels Aren’t Everything (Sample Shots Uploaded)
Okay, so this part will disappoint those of you who were getting the Blaze for its 8mp autofocus camera. After all, it’s one of the key selling points that catches everyone’s attention when they first hear about this phone. After all, my Galaxy Note also has an 8mp camera and takes some of the best shots in its class.
However, megapixels are just one aspect of a camera and its the quality of the sensor that really determines how good your shots are. The camera unit on the Blaze just isn’t that good, even for a budget smartphone. Shots taken in adequate outdoor lighting were passable, even decent at times, but those taken in low light ended up much darker than the scene they were taken in. Also, shots tended to be warmer (slightly reddish) toward the center and colder (slightly bluish) toward the edges.
Thankfully, the Blaze does come with a full suite of options that you can tinker with to try and get the best shots possible. There’s even an Auto Scene Detection setting that takes care of that bit for you. Really, it’s a shame that the camera performance doesn’t live up to the fully-functional UI that its been given.
Update: Camera samples have been uploaded. Check them out below. Just click to enlarge
Bright Outdoor Lighting Samples
Normal Outdoor Lighting Sample
Indoor with Flash Sample
Indoor No Flash
Shot in a Completely Dark Room with Flash
Shot Under Fluorescent Lighting
Entertainment: Ditch Your Portable Media Player But Choose Your Headset Wisely
One of the areas the Cherry Mobile Blaze really shines is when using it as a portable media player. It can handle just about every multimedia preference you might have, as it has an FM radio, Music Player and Video Player app for all your basic needs. YouTube is also pre-installed along with the stock ICS internet browser for consuming online content. And being an Android phone, you can download third party applications if you feel that the stock apps don’t provide enough features.
Sound output is adequately loud, even when you’re just listening to music from an FM station. You’ll definitely want to upgrade from the stock headset that Cherry Mobile provides, but you’ll have to be careful when buying one as it has some of the same headset incompatibilities as the Flare. Examine the headphone jack to check whether it has 2 or 3 segments. Headset jacks with 2 segments are your typical headsets that don’t have any volume control or built in mic, while those with three segments have either volume controls or a built in mic and tend to be incompatible with the Blaze. The stock headset has a built in mic for telephony and a 3-segment jack, but a lot of others like my Sennheisers just don’t work properly on it.
Gaming: Another This is Just Php6.5k? Moment
What the Blaze lacks in the imaging department, it makes up for in gaming. That PowerVR SGX 531 GPU might be circa 2006, but it’s still quite capable until now. I immediately downloaded NOVA 3, Need for Speed Most Wanted, Dead Trigger, Agent Dash, Angry Birds Star Wars and Fruit Ninja from Google Play and put the Blaze’s gaming prowess to the test.
I was surprised that NOVA 3 showed up as compatible with the Blaze on Google Play. After all, even my Note struggled with consistent frame rates. While the game did indeed load, frame rates were in the single digits, rendering the game unplayable. Still, I got through enough of the game to capture this screenshot:
The next game I tested on the Cherry Mobile Blaze was Need for Speed Most Wanted. It was the next most graphic intensive game after NOVA 3 and this time, frame rates were better and gameplay was smooth. The audio stuttered a lot though, but the game was still very playable. It’s not like there’s any dialog in this game you would have to listen to anyway, but it was a shame since the game does have a decent soundtrack.
Another favorite of mind that I like to use for testing is Agent Dash. It’s still a 3D game, but it isn’t as graphically intensive as the first two. It’s more of a casual game that is similar in playing mechanics as Temple Run. There were absolutely no bugs this time around and gameplay was smooth. Waterfall scenes can tend to slow the framerates down on lower end phones, but not so much on the Cherry Mobile Blaze.
Finally, there’s Angry Birds Star Wars and Fruit Ninja. While Angry Birds Star Wars is the latest iteration of the popular Angry Birds franchise, it’s still one of the more basic games you can play. If it can’t play on your phone, it’s about time you upgrade. The same goes with Fruit Ninja. Obviously, both ran just fine on the Blaze, and since the Blaze has a 5-point multi-touch screen, you can absolutely murder those fruits!
Battery Life: It’s a Good Thing Cherry Mobile Also Sells a Power Bank
Although the Android platform is notorious for being quick to drain even the highest capacity batteries that can be found on smartphones and tablets, some devices are just especially bad. From the start, I didn’t expect the Cherry Mobile Blaze to have stellar battery life since the spec sheets I had checked across the internet listed it as only having a 1,500mAh battery. This is a real downer on a phone that is able to provide as smooth and complete an experience as the Blaze. I did a couple of tests on the Blaze to get a good idea for how this phone would last through light and heavy usage.
The first test was made with screen brightness on low, screen timeout to 30 seconds, Network Mode on GSM only, and WiFi on for just 6 hours. Both GPS and Data were turned off. I only used the Blaze for light calling, texting and browsing, and I didn’t play any games or videos. The phone lasted me from 9 in the morning to almost 11am the next day. That resulted in 26 hours of uptime without being plugged into a wall socket.
Of course, being a smartphone, I doubt anyone would use it that minimally unless they were getting the Cherry Mobile Blaze as a secondary phone. So for the second, more power-intensive test, I had the phone on medium brightness, screen timeout to 30 seconds, and Network Mode on GSM only. I also had WiFi on for about 3 hours, Data enabled for 30 minutes, and GPS on for an hour. A also watched a 480p video (AVI format) for 30 minutes and played Dead Trigger and Need for Speed Most Wanted another 30 minutes after that. Take note that I would switch the Network Mode from GSM only to WCDMA only to really maximize the speeds and juice it was draining. The phone lasted from 9am to just 7pm that same day, resulting in an uptime of only 10 hours.
While the Cherry Mobile Blaze is a very capable Android smartphone, it is hampered by its poor battery life. That large screen and higher resolution compared to the Flare is just too much of an additional drain on the battery. On moderate usage, it will still likely last you through a workday, but just barely. You may want to consider getting a power bank, which conveniently enough Cherry Mobile offers as well.
So Should You Buy the Cherry Mobile Blaze?
While the Flare provided a lot of value and performance at its price point, there were so many accompanying bugs that I actually dedicated an entire Known Issues section on my Cherry Mobile Flare review over on NoypiGeeks. But for an additional Php2.5k, you can get the Cherry Mobile Blaze and its larger screen and a much better smartphone experience compared to its little sibling, the Flare. The Blaze’s large 4.7 inch screen has a lot of benefits on top of the specs, such as improved messaging due to the larger onscreen keyboard. The FWVGA resolution also makes the Blaze’s screen more suited to widescreen videos since it is physically wider in landscape mode compared to the WVGA resolution on phones like the Flare and Titan. Because of this overall improved experience, I would say that the Blaze is indeed worth it.
However, if you are in the market for a smartphone that takes great pictures, the Blaze doesn’t quite satisfy. There is more to image quality than the megapixel count, and when compared to shots taken by my Note, which also has an 8mp primary shooter, the Blaze disappoints. The shots it takes are barely decent, but at that price point I shouldn’t have expected that much to begin with.
Overall, the Cherry Mobile Blaze is a great phone that really over-delivers compared to even phones from other local brands that are in its price point. This is also a phone you won’t mind taking out in the midst of all those Galaxy S3 and iPhone 5 users. Okay, maybe not so much against the iPhone 5. Camera shortcomings aside, I’ve actually enjoyed my time with the Blaze and it looks like this is going to be my primary phone for a while.
Cherry Mobile Blaze Specifications
- 1GHz dual core MediaTek MT6577 CPU
- Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich
- PowerVR SGX 531 GPU
- 4.7″ FWVGA 5-point multitouch capacitive display
- 512Mb RAM
- 8mp autofocus rear-facing camera, VGA front-facing camera
- 3G/UMTS 2100 MHz
- GSM/GPRS/EDGE 900, 1800 MHz
- 4Gb ROM, expandable up to 32Gb via MicroSD
- WiFi b/g/n
- Bluetooth 2.1
- 3.5mm audio port
- Micro USB 2.0 port