The Cherry Mobile M1 is easily the most powerful locally-branded smartphone in the Philippine market thanks to its Helio X20 processor. I was lucky enough to get my hands on a review unit, and with its specs, I’m certainly happy to put it through the paces as my main phone for a while. Is the Cherry Mobile M1 and its Helio X20 SoC really all that? Find out in my full review!
Cherry Mobile M1 Specs
- 5.5″ Full HD IPS display (1080 x 1920 resolution, 401ppi)
- 2.1GHz MediaTek Helio X20 MT6797 deca-core processor
- Mali 880 GPU
- Android 6.0 Marshmallow
- 4GB RAM
- 32GB internal storage, non-expandable
- 21mp PDAF rear-facing camera with dual LED flash and Sony IMX258 sensor
- 8mp front camera with LED flash
- 4G/LTE, dual SIM (2x nano)
- WiFi a/b/g/n/ac
- Bluetooth 4.2
- GPS with A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS
- USB Type-C
- FM radio
- 3,600mAh battery
- Price: Php11,999
What’s in the Box?
The M1 comes in a box that is much more premium box than I’m accustomed to from Cherry Mobile. Not only does the box give off a premium vibe, but the accessories inside also come in their own smaller boxes, making it easier to store everything back in case you’re not using them any longer. Heck, even the manuals have their own box. As far accessories go though, you’re still getting the same kit as Cherry Mobile has typically included in every standard retail package. That is, with one exception – a USB Type-C cable.
- Headset with in-line mic
- 2A wall charger
- USB Type-C cable
- User Manual
- Cherry Fun Club info sheet
While the M1 comes with all the accessories you would need, one thing you might want to buy soon after aside from a better headset is a more durable cable. After 2 and a half months with the stock USB Type-C cable, I’m seeing an obvious amount of wear and tear near the connectors. Unlike micro USB cables, you probably won’t find spare Type-C cables just lying around the house so it’s best to have a sturdier one ready.
Build Quality and Design
While the specs are pretty impressive, the overall design is actually a bit generic. There’s a large silver accent strip that runs along the edges of the M1 to give it a bit of character.
Since the M1 uses onscreen navigation buttons, the front of the device is maximized, eliminating a good chunk of bezel at the bottom. However, there’s a bit of stealth bezel that borders the screen as well.
The slim earpiece above the screen juts a bit out and below it can be found the front camera, front-facing flash, and light/proximity sensors.
Interestingly enough, the M1 sports front-facing loudspeakers.
The SIM tray can be found on the left side, toward the top.
On the right are the power/lock button and volume rocker.
On top, you’ll find the 3.5mm headset jack and a mic pinhole for noise-cancellation.
At the bottom, there’s the USB Type-C port and another mic pinhole, this time for calls or voice recordings.
At the back, you’ll find the 21mp camera, LED flash, fingerprint scanner, and Cherry Mobile branding toward the top.
While there are attempts to give it more character, the M1 reminds me of dated designs of past Cherry Mobile phones like the Omega HD and Omega HD 2.0. It’s not entirely bad, but for something that’s supposed to be a flagship, I expected a bit more even for a local phone.
The Cherry Mobile M1 comes equipped with a large 5.5 inch Full HD IPS display that’s great for consuming content. Whether you’re reading web articles, watching movies, or playing games, the high resolution and great color reproduction that IPS displays are known for helps maximize the viewing experience. It’s pretty responsive too, with hardly any perceptible delay when speed-typing out SMS and emails. In fact, a good chunk of this review was actually composed on the M1.
Software and UI
The M1 runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow out of the box. The UI is mostly stock, but there’s a crap-ton of Cherry Mobile bloatware. In the past, I didn’t mind the extra Cherry Mobile bloat that much since it was just a bunch of unobtrusive apps in your app drawer. Theses days though, I’m seeing pop-ups and notifications more often than I’d like. If you’re paying upwards of Php10k for a phone, I’m sure you’d like it to be ad-free.
Benchmarks and Performance
The Cherry Mobile M1 is equipped with a Helio X20 deca-core processor, which consists of two Cortex-A72 cores clocked at 2.3GHz, four Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 1.8GHz, and another set of four Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 1.4GHz. The CPU is set up in such a way that only the lower-clocked 1.4GHz Cortex-A53 cores are activated for most menial and background tasks, with the more powerful 1.8GHz Cortex-A53 and 2.3GHz Cortex-A72 cores kicking in for tasks that demand more computing power. So not only is the Helio X20 powerful, but it’s also power-efficient, at least in theory.
Benchmarks certainly confirm how powerful the Helio X20 is. The M1 scored 91k, 2.6k, and 3.1k in Antutu, Vellamo Metal (single core) and Vellamo Multi-core, respectively. This pegs its performance as just a little better than last year’s flagship smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge and significantly better than the LG G4.
Of course, benchmarks aren’t the be all and end all when it comes to performance testing, but the scores do translate well into real-world performance. The M1 launches apps pretty quickly and loading times in large games are relatively short as well. Coming from a Galaxy S6 Edge myself, I didn’t feel like I was missing much in terms of overall user experience in my switch to the M1.
One thing though is that the SoC does tend to heat up a lot, which leads to other problems not limited to performance. For example, GPS starts getting spotty when the chip heats up, resulting in a weird Pokemon Go experience at times. It also seems to lead to a faster battery drain, even after you’ve stopped playing games or other CPU/GPU-intensive task.
Telephony and Wireless Connectivity
One of the benefits of the Helio X20 SoC is it comes with a full suite of wireless connectivity options from 4G/LTE and WiFi down to GPS and Bluetooth. The M1 is also a dual SIM phone, allowing you to use two nano SIMs at the same time. As mentioned though, I did have an issue with GPS accuracy when the SoC heats up, but this usually only happened when I was playing games like Pokemon Go which required both mobile data and extra effort from the GPU.
The Cherry Mobile M1 is equipped with Sony’s 21mp IMX230 sensor, one of the better camera sensors available to OEMs these days. It also comes with phase detection autofocus, which is not only faster than traditional contrast detection that most smartphones come with, but it’s also better at focusing in a wider range of scenarios, such as sports or your rowdy toddler. The combination of a great sensor and quick autofocus results in great shots most of the time, if these samples are any indication.
I’m particularly proud of the landscape shot because of how well it was framed, but the fact that a lot of detail was captured as well certainly contributed to the quality of the shot. The shot in rainy weather was also remarkable as I had HDR on for better overall lighting in the shot, yet the lady walking in the foreground was captured with hardly any blurring.
Obligatory Food Shots
While both shots look reasonably good, the one with bright overhead lighting is obviously the better of the two. However, the pancit malabon shot still managed a lot of detail despite the less-than-adequate lighting.
Challenging Lighting Scenarios
Mediocre sensors are often overwhelmed by challenging lighting scenarios, such as strobe lighting, and bright lights in a low-light environment. In both shots, the M1 did admirably well. I stuck to Auto when capturing the strobe lighting because they tended to dance around. With the fountain shot, I switched to HDR to get as much detail from the foreground as possible while keeping the lights and fountain as the focus.
Bazaar lighting at night can be another challenging lighting scenario, since the lamps can sometimes be a bit overbright. Here, the M1 does another good job.
This panoramic landscape was taken without the aid of a tripod, so I’m pretty happy with it. Lighting wasn’t all that bright, but the M1 still managed to capture a lot of detail. There’s also hardly any evidence of stitching, which is awesome considering I captured this without the aid of a tripod.
If selfies are more your thing, the M1 doesn’t disappoint either thanks to a reasonably good 8mp Omnivision OV8856 sensor. It’s only a fixed focus shooter, but it performs well even in challenging lighting situations and comes with an LED flash in case you need it.
Regardless whether you’re using the front or back camera, the Cherry Mobile M1 seems to do well either way. Not only can it take great shots, but it can do it in a jiff thanks to an autofocus that’s able to lock on in milliseconds. One thing I did notice though is that when saving at 21mp, it can be slow to save the shot. Of course, for a smartphone to process and save 11MB shots is no joke, so if you find image capture to be too slow, try dialing down the resolution.
Media and Entertainment
The M1 was made to play back media thanks to its large 5.5 inch Full HD IPS display. Its beefy processor and GPU also allows it to make quick work of even the highest quality video and audio files, supporting even up to 4K resolution playback. And while it doesn’t necessarily need any help decoding and playing back these files, it comes with a few extra tricks thanks to MediaTek that enhance the multimedia experience even further.
ClearVision improves the fluidity of videos through frame interpolation, essentially upscaling your content so they appear to play back more smoothly. MiraVision lets you calibrate contrast, saturation, brightness, sharpness, and color temperature. You can simply switch to Vivid mode or customize your own profile.
There’s both an earphone and loudspeaker playback enhancement on the M1 that boosts overall loudness and in the case of earphones, bumps up the bass and treble. There’s also simulated surround sound works best with earphones.
As an all around media player, the Cherry Mobile M1 doesn’t disappoint. It comes with 32GB of storage so most casual users should have no trouble accommodating a sizable media library. Unfortunately, storage is non-expandable, but only power users and those who like to watch a lot of movies should find issue with this. Even then, there’s USB OTG support so you can just plug in a USB OTG thumb drive if you really need that extra storage.
One small issue I’ve experienced is that enabling ClearVision can result in some weird framerate issues where frame-by-frame playback suddenly stutters, then struggles to catch up with itself. It’s surprising to see this issue with a chip as capable as the Helio X20 and its Mali 880 GPU, but I still like to keep ClearVision as it really does noticeable enhance video playback.
I ran the M1 through one of my favorite gaming tests in the GFXBench GL suite of benchmarks. The higher end Car Chase and Manhattan tests are a bit of overkill and even the more graphically challenging games wouldn’t task the GPU as much as they did. The T-Rex test is much more reflective of what you can expect from most games these days, and the M1 performed admirably well. I also tried out my favorite test games: Asphalt 8, Modern Combat 5, Minion Rush, and Piano Tiles 2. Not once did I want to go back to my Galaxy S6 Edge. Framerates were consistently playable while responding very well to controls.
The Cherry Mobile M1 packs a considerably large 3,600mAh battery, which is big even for a 5.5 inch smartphone. Battery capacity isn’t everything though, and with as many features as the M1 has, there are a lot of opportunities to drain the battery faster. Still, I’ve been pretty satisfied with the M1.
Since July, I’ve been using it as my primary phone, using just 2G and WiFi while at work and then switching to 4G during the commute. It’s managed about 15 hours of up-time between full charges, which is great since most people have a total of about 13 hours before they need to plug in again: 9 hours during work and 4 hours commuting to-and-from work.
So Should You Buy the Cherry Mobile M1?
As of writing, the Cherry Mobile M1 sits unchallenged as the single most powerful locally-branded smartphone in the market. Not only is it the first local smartphone to rock the Helio X20 chipset, it’s also the first to come with 4GB RAM. Simply put, the M1 is a powerhouse. However, it’s also currently one of the most expensive local smartphones with an SRP of Php11,999. Finding itself north of Php10k, a lot of Pinoys may simply overlook it just for being too pricey. Still, the Cherry Mobile M1 gives you an almost flagship experience at half the price of branded smartphones capable of delivering the same performance.