Shortly after the Cherry Mobile Dealers’ Night for 2013 wrapped up, we were approached by their marketing department and handed gift-wrapped boxes with a small promo flyer sticking out. We had thought that Cherry Mobile had revealed all the handsets they were going to reveal in that product brochure that had all their current and upcoming models on it. So imagine our surprise when the flyer said “Cherry Mobile Flare HD: HD ng Bayan”. Daaayumm.
It took all of my self control to keep myself from unwrapping the box and opening it on the way back home. And let me tell you, it was a long way from Le Pavilion near SM Mall of Asia to Marikina where I live. Itching to find out if it’s all that it will surely be hyped to be? Find out in my full Cherry Mobile Flare HD review.
Update: Cherry Mobile has announced that the Flare HD will be priced at a cool Php5,499! That’s cheaper than the Apollo by Php1.5k!
What’s in the Box?
The Flare HD retail box is what you would typically expect from Cherry Mobile. The local brand has been cutting down on the size of their retail boxes compared to a year ago and it’s about 1/3 smaller than it used to be. Still, you get the full range of standard accessories:
- micro USB transfer cable
- charger (5.0V, 1,000mA)
- 1,800mAh battery
- jelly case
- user manual
Cherry Mobile has started using in-ear type buds versus the regular earbuds that didn’t go in all the way into the ear canal. The sound quality still isn’t that good, but the improvement comes in the loudness and more secure fit that an in-ear design provides. The charger is also notable since it’s rated at 1A output.
Build Quality and Design: Flare Upsized
The design of the Cherry Mobile Flare HD is most reminiscent of the original Flare. Unlike recent Flare successors like the Flare 2.0, Flare 2X and Flare S that are “Flare” only by name, the Flare HD actually looks like the true successor to the Flare, featuring the same clip-on back cover design that the original had. The placement of the ports and various other design elements might be different, but the overall look is really a throwback to the original Flare.
The front of the device is dominated by the 4.3 inch HD display. The bezels on either side are surprisingly thin for a budget device. Above the screen is the earpiece, front camera and light and proximity sensors.
Below the screen are the capacitive navigation keys. The navigation keys have a 3-button layout in reverse order than I’m accustomed to, starting with the back button on the left, home button in the center, and menu button on the right.
On the left side of the Flare HD, you’ll find the really thin volume rocker.
The right side is completely bare of any hardware buttons.
On top are the 3.5mm headset jack, micro USB port, and power/lock button.
At the bottom is the barely perceptible microphone pinhole.
Flip the Flare HD over and you’ll find the 12mp autofocus camera and LED flash close to the top, Flare HD branding in the center, and the Cherry Mobile branding toward the bottom along with the loudspeaker.
If you used to own the original Flare, you’ll easily mistake the Cherry Mobile Flare HD for it. Even the rip-off design and matte finish of the back cover are the same with the body being only slightly larger.
The Screen: The Apollo Eats Dirt
Remember the Apollo that I reviewed for NoypiGeeks? At326 ppi, It was supposed to have the best pixel density of any local phone that didn’t have a Full HD screen. Well, the 4.3 inch HD IPS screen of the Cherry Mobile Flare HD has the same 1280 x 720 resolution but on a slightly smaller screen, resulting in an even better pixel density of 342ppi.
But those are just numbers. The Flare HD’s screen really is something to behold. You might not give this phone a second look if you were to see it outside because the design is so generic, but turn this baby on and it’s like something magically coming to life. The screen is satisfyingly bright indoors, and the colors are rich and vibrant. The viewing angles are also pretty darn good. Now, there is a bit of backlight leakage toward the bottom, but it’s hardly noticeable except when a darker image is being displayed.
Of course, it’s smaller, which makes it a little more cramped compared to typing on the Apollo, but it’s still possible in portrait even for a guy with large hands like me 😉
Software and UI: Neat Lockscreen!
The first thing you’ll notice after booting up the phone is the new lockscreen replacement. Rather than going with the stock lockscreen, Cherry Mobile preloaded the Flare HD with the Start Lockscreen app. It’s similar to the Active lockscreen that MyPhone has preinstalled on the Iceberg and Iceberg Mini and it even apes the functionality and adds something of its own. For customization freaks, I’m sure they’ll love it, but I tend to prefer a no-nonsense lockscreen that unlocks the phone with a single swipe.
The Cherry Mobile Flare HD runs an almost stock implementation of Jelly Bean 4.2 with hardly any customizations. The icons are all stock and there’s a good mix of both branded and non-branded wallpapers. There’s a bit of bloatware in the form of the Cherry Fun Club, Cherry Play, eWarranty, and Kakao Talk apps, none of which can be uninstalled. Thankfully some of them are actually useful and their footprint isn’t that large, but it’s still a bit of wasted space, particularly if you don’t use them.
SoC and Performance: Tried and Tested MT6589
I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with the 1.2GHz quad core MediaTek MT6589 system-on-a-chip that most local brands like to use on their higher end phones. It’s the same one you’ll find on the Flare HD. I should correct one thing though. The little pull out flyer that came with the gift-wrapped box Cherry Mobile gave us says that it has a Mali 400 GPU, but as some of you already know, the MT6589 is always coupled with the PowerVR SGX 544 GPU.
The performance is typical of MT6589 phones with HD screens. I ran it through my three favorite benchmarking applications, Antutu, Quadrant, and Nenamark 2. It scored a respectable 13,490, 4,899, and 43.7fps respectively. To put things in perspective, it performed somewhere in the range of the HTC One X, even beating it in the Quadrant benchmark.
Telephony and Wireless Connectivity: Yes, It’s a Phone
It seems like smartphones are being used more and more for gaming, taking pictures and browsing the net than as actual phones. Still, every smartphone should perform well as an actual phone and the Flare HD is no different.
The Flare HD’s relatively small size and curved back make it really comfortable for making calls. The earpiece is good enough for indoor calls, but take things outside and you’ll start looking for that headset. Thankfully, the headset is the in-ear variety so it really helps seal in the sound. Call quality is okay as far as I can tell. This is certainly something that requires more extensive testing, so I’ll update this section of the review if I find anything new.
Coming from a larger phone, texting on the Flare HD’s 4.3 inch screen is a little cramped, especially in portrait mode. The stock Jelly Bean 4.2 keyboard serves as the default keyboard, although you can also use the preinstalled Touchpal keyboard if you wish. (I don’t)
As for wireless connectivity, you’re getting up to HSPA+, which gives you faux 4G speeds on a good day. The difference between regular HSPA and HSPA+ might not seem that much, but it makes a difference when you have a time-based consumable data plan and every second counts.
Imaging: It’s a Point and Shoot Camera Too!
The Cherry Mobile Flare HD comes with a 12mp autofocus camera with LED flash. It wasn’t specified whether it was a BSI camera or not (which usually means it’s not), but the shots are surprisingly good. I’ll be taking a few more in the coming days and updating this post as I go, but for now, here are a few sample shots for you to check out.
This one is 7am in the morning outside the house.
This is a shot of a bookshelf with the flash on.
Here’s the same subject with the flash off.
The shots are surprisingly well-resolved if we’re to assume this isn’t a BSI camera. It does require some light for shots to be decent, but some of the titles are still readable on the books even without flash. This is in stark contrast to some of the bad cameras I’ve tested that could barely make out any detail when there was hardly any ambient lighting.
Entertainment: I Can Use My Sennheisers!
Personally, I’m not that particular about performance on my own phones. I’m almost perfectly happy whether I’m using a phone with a quad core MT6589 or a less capable Snapdragon 200 SoC. However, the thing I hate is that Snapdragon 200-powered phones can barely play Full HD movies. When watching Full HD movies on MX Player, I always have to switch to software decoding on a Snapdragon 200 phone because the chipset just can’t decode it on its own.
This is one of the reasons I really like the Cherry Mobile Flare HD and the fact that it runs on a MT6589 SoC. It’s simply more powerful and provides the extra oomph needed to decode Full HD movies. Yeah, I won’t be able to appreciate Full HD resolution on an HD screen, but at least it saves me the time of having to convert a Full HD movie down to HD resolution just so it’s playable on the phone.
One thing I’m really crazy about the Flare HD for is that it supports CTIA-compliant headsets. This means it’s compatible with the more popular headset brands like JBL, Sennheiser, Urbanears and Colouds. Some of you may recall that locally branded phones tend to be choosy with the headsets they work with because they support the OMTP standard. Not so with the Flare HD 🙂
The loudspeaker is a bit on the weak side though. I used the Cherry Mobile Flare HD on loudspeaker inside the car because the radio was busted. Compared to my fiance’s iPhone 4 loudspeakers, it was pretty tinny and flat.
Gaming: Yep, Get Rid of Your PSP
The Cherry Mobile Flare HD is equipped with a respectable PowerVR SGX 544 GPU clocked at 286MHz. I tested it on Dead Trigger 2, which allows you to set the graphics settings to high or low. Naturally, I set it to high.
Gameplay was really smooth and fluid. Check out this cool lens flare effect.
Here’s another in-game screenshot that highlights particle effects. Again, pretty cool.
The Flare HD should be able to play anything you throw at it, although in my experience, the MT6589 SoC and PowerVR SGX 544 GPU tend to struggle on the heaviest games like NOVA 3.
Battery Life: 11 to 12 on Normal Usage
The Flare HD is equipped with a 1,800mAh battery. The capacity is smaller than you guys may be accustomed to seeing, but keep in mind that 5 inch HD phones tend to come with 2,000mAh batteries and this is a smaller 4.3 inch screen that should hopefully draw less power. I’ve only had a day with the phone, but during that time I’ve used some mobile data to check Facebook messages and emails, played some games, watched a Full HD movie and did my normal calling and texting routine. According to a passive battery drain analyzer app that I use, the discharge rate has been at 8.56% an hour. That’s about 11 to 12 hours of battery life per full charge.
So Should You Buy the Cherry Mobile Flare HD
The Cherry Mobile Flare HD is an incredibly capable smartphone that retails for Php1.5k less than the Apollo. It has the best clarity of any non-Full HD smartphone from a local brand and comes equipped with a chipset that you would typically spend twice for on other phones. It’s already a great buy just for the screen and MT6589 SoC combination alone. And I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed being able to use a local phone that wasn’t so choosy with headsets.
Cherry Mobile Flare HD Specs
- 4.3″ HD IPS display (720 x 1280 resolution, 342ppi)
- MediaTek MT6589 SoC with 1.2GHz quad core processor
- 286MHz PowerVR SGX 544 GPU
- Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean
- 1GB RAM
- 4GB internal storage
- 12mp autofocus camera with LED flash
- 5mp fixed focus camera
- WiFi b/g/n
- Bluetooth 4.0
- GPS with A-GPS
- 1,800mAh battery
- Pricing and availability: Php5,499, Q1 2014