The word premium tends to get thrown around a lot these days when it comes to locally-branded smartphones. I’ve tried to avoid that label on phones that don’t deserve it, but just so you guys know, I’ll be throwing it around quite a lot in this Cherry Mobile Excalibur Review.
And why not? You’re getting an octa-core smartphone with both the front and back protected by Gorilla Glass with metal details on the edges for just a peso shy of Php7k! Of course, a premium feel does not equate great performance. Want to know if the Excalibur performs just as good as it looks? Find out in this full review!
What’s in the Box?
The Cherry Mobile Excalibur comes in a relatively new box design from the pioneering local brand. The box itself is wrapped in a decorative sleeve featuring a render of the Excalibur and some key specs. Of course inside, you still get the same standard retail package that is typical of Cherry Mobile.
- in-ear headset with in-line mic
- USB transfer cable
- SIM ejector tool
- quick start manual
Build Quality and Design
For the price point, the Cherry Mobile Excalibur features a surprisingly premium build. And I don’t take the word “premium” lightly here. The front and back are protected by Gorilla Glass while the edges feature a combination of plastic and metal. There are a few decorative metallic pieces and the SIM card tray is even made from magnesium alloy!
There is very little wasted space on the front of the device. The bezels on either side of the screen are minimal while there is just enough space for the earpiece, front camera, sensors and notification light above and capacitive navigation buttons below the screen.
On the left side of the Excalibur is the SIM tray, which when you pull out reveals that it can accommodate two SIMs. There’s also a tiny pinhole for the SIM ejector tool.
On the right is the micro SD card slot, which likewise has to be ejected using the ejector tool. There’s also the power/lock button and volume rocker.
On top is the 3.5mm headset jack and micro USB port.
At the bottom are a couple of loudspeakers and presumably the microphone for taking calls as well as it doesn’t appear to be visible the way it usually is on most phones.
On the back, you’ll find the 8mp camera, courtesy of Sony, along with the LED flash. There’s also the Excalibur branding in the middle and Cherry Mobile branding toward the bottom.
The Gorilla Glass protection is a very nice touch and will keep the Excalibur from falling victim to the random scratch or dent. The entire phone looks and feels However, the sides are still predominantly plastic, which obviously isn’t scratch-resistant.
Also, the front and back glass panels are ever so slightly recessed. It’s barely noticeably, but that means the plastic edges are what the phone is resting on when you lay the Excalibur on a flat surface, whether it’s laying on its front or back. It would be nice if Cherry Mobile comes out with a bumper case accessory to help Excalibur owners to address this.
My biggest gripe though is that the speakers are very easily obstructed when the phone is held in landscape orientation. I’ll get more into this in a bit.
While the Cherry Mobile Excalibur’s screen only has HD resolution, it’s an OGS panel, meaning the touch panel and LCD display have been fused into a single layer, eliminating the air gap and bringing the actual display much closer to the surface of the glass. This results in even wider viewing angles than is typical of IPS, not to mention more vibrant colors.
This translates well to various content when viewed on the Excalibur’s screen. Text is crisp, images are sharp, and high quality videos seem to pop from the screen. It’s not Full HD, but to be honest, I’ve never been able to tell the difference on a 5 inch screen, and most people won’t either, I presume.
Underneath the hood of the Cherry Mobile Excalibur beats a MediaTek MT6592M SoC with a 1.4GHz octa-core processor and Mali 450 GPU. The MT6592M is actually an underclocked variant of the more popular MT6592, which runs at 1.7GHz. While it’s not the best that MediaTek has to offer, it’s still pretty capable.
The MT6592M hardly seems like it ever breaks a sweat. Navigating through the UI is smooth and fluid while executing apps was effortless. Back when quad core was the “in” thing, there were still some noticeably long load times when launching an app, but the MT6592M just breezes through those now.
Anyway, I bet some you would rather look at some benchmark scores, so here they are.
Software and UI
The Cherry Mobile Excalibur runs a relatively vanilla-looking version of Android 4.4.2 out of the box. Nothing much has changed from stock Android 4.4 except for the wallpapers, which are all Cherry Mobile-branded. Otherwise, the homescreen, app drawer, notification area, and menu layouts all look the same.
One weird thing about the software is that notifications seem to wake the phone up every now and then. There doesn’t appear to be anything in the phone’s options that would allow me to turn it off. So if you have a notification that turns the Excalibur’s screen on while it’s inside your pocket, you can very well end up wasting a bit of battery when the screen rubs against the moisture in the fabric and keeps itself on.
One last gripe is that the phone will sometimes reboot when I try to multitask with a heavy game running. For example, I’ll be playing Modern Combat 5 and I receive a message through the Facebook Messenger app. If I try to bring up the chat head so I can read the message and reply, and then lock the phone to do something else, it will reboot a few minutes later. It’s hard to be sure about what causes this, although my guess is that the 1GB RAM might be the issue. Other than that though, the software is pretty stable.
Telephony and Wireless Connectivity
As smart and powerful as the Cherry Mobile Excalibur might be, it still has to function as a phone. Texting on the Excalibur was a breeze for me because of its large 5 inch screen and compact body. The body does have a bit of heft to it, but then, this is a large touchscreen phone we’re talking about.
For calls, the earpiece was strong enough for indoor use. Take it outdoors though and you’ll soon be cupping the phone with both hands to hear the other end. This isn’t anything new with cellphones in general though. Thankfully, the Excalibur comes with an in-ear headset that should make outdoor calls more understandable.
As for wireless connectivity, the Excalibur doesn’t disappoint. Being equipped with a MediaTek MT6592m SoC, 3.75G/HSPA+ network connectivity, WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, and GPS are already built into the chip and supported by the phone.
As a potential point-and-shoot replacement, the Cherry Mobile Excalibur was certainly promising. After all, it packs a 13mp Sony IMX 135 sensor with backside illumination. Unfortunately, what’s great on paper doesn’t always translate to real life performance.
Athough the detail was up to par with other 13mp shooters, the images ended up being too cold. Here are a few sample shots for you guys to check out.
Outdoor shots with great lighting turn out well most of the time. Here’s one at about 11am in the morning. The sun is already pretty bright so the shadows are pretty dark. This is the ideal situation to use HDR, and the Excalibur performs well in this regard, even bumping up the contrast a bit.
For indoor shots and mostly any other shot were the lighting isn’t bright, the resulting images tend to look too cold, such as this in-car shot of the Cherry Mobile Selfie and G2 that I posted on the Facebook page a few weeks ago.
Normally, I would adjust for this by changing the White Balance setting to Daytime so the images come out a little warmer. This is what I tried to do, which you can see in the first (Auto) and second (White Balance – Daylight) shots above. Unfortunately, the Excalibur processes it too harshly. Again, it’s the HDR shot that turns out the best with more vibrant colors and better contrast.
Another way to compensate for a camera that tends to take cold shots is to take pictures of a subject that is mostly warm already. Here, the burger doesn’t end up too cold, but it’s still quite dull. Here, HDR saves the day by bumping up the contrast and vibrancy.
To be honest, I’m a little disappointed in the Excalibur’s camera, especially when you consider it’s made by Sony. Sure, you can take nice and detailed shots with a bit of tweaking, but smartphone cameras are supposed to be about quick and easy self-gratification. Sure, you can keep it on HDR all the time, but HDR takes a while to process on entry-level to mid-range phones, and for moving subjects, you’ll end up with a blurred shot every time.
Entertainment and Gaming
There’s nothing like a nice high resolution screen to enhance the movie-watching and overall gaming experience. The 5 inch screen is large enough that you can even enjoy a movie comfortably with a friend and even though resolution isn’t quite up there, with a pixel density of 296ppi it’s not like you’ll notice. The SoC is also capable of playing most 1080p Full HD video formats. For others, just use something like MXPlayer, which comes with its own software codecs.
This translates well to gaming too. Because touchscreen controls don’t have have any tactile feedback, an overall larger control layout helps prevent accidental preases and misses. And because of the capable Mali 450 GPU, the frame rates are consistently playable, even on heavier games.
However, as I mentioned earlier, the loudspeakers are very easily blocked in landscape position. A lot of games are played in landscape orientation, which makes this a big deal. The same thing goes with movies so you’re going to have to figure out how to hold the thing without obstructing the loudspeakers.
The Cherry Mobile Excalibur is equipped with a 1,920mAh battery. Why they didn’t make it an even 2,000mah battery is beyond me, but a few mAh isn’t going to make that much of a difference.
I’ve been using the Excalibur for a little less than a month now and it’s typically been able to last the day before needing a charge. I’m constantly connected to my home WiFi network checking Facebook or the news feeds I’ve subscribed to. I do turn on mobile data and GPS but only nonly on the few occasions that I have to attend an event. Still, an average hourly usage of 3.05% or almost 33 hours isn’t bad.
Of course, keep in mind that actual battery life vsries depending on usage. And if you’re surprised at the Excalibur’s batrery life from my personal tests, it’s because I don’t game. Of course, if you’re more interested in baytery life based on a straifht gaming isage scenario, I’ve got that too.
So Should You Buy the Cherry Mobile Excalibur?
While the Cherry Mobile Excalibur is a great phone overall, it does have its downsides. The camera isn’t as great as that Sony IMX 135 sensor will have you believe. The loudspeakers are easily blocked when holding it in landscape, which gamers almost always do. Also, the fact that the battery is both non-removable and not quite 2,000mAh will be a turn off to some.
Still, the Excalibur is a sleek execution of great specs for the price. You’re getting a very capable smartphone sandwiched between two layers of Gorilla Glass. I’ve often gone out and mixed the Excalibur with my keys and spare change for a lack of pockets and it still came out unscathed. You just don’t expect to get that kind of build quality and performance at this price, but that’s exactly what you get with the Cherry Mobile Excalibur.
Cherry Mobile Excalibur Specs
- 5″ HD IPS OGS display (720 x 1280 resolution, 294ppi)
- 1.4GHz MediaTek MT6592M octa-core processor
- Mali 450 GPU
- 1GB RAM
- 8GB internal storage, expandable via micro SD
- 8mp rear-facing autofocus Sony IMX 179 camera
- 5mp front camera
- WiFi b/g/n
- Price: Php6,999