Wednesday, December 13, 2017
MobileTechPinoy

Cherry Mobile Taiji Review: A Tale of Two Displays

When you’ve been in the tech blogging scene long enough, it’s easy to get jaded. Then something interesting comes along like the Cherry Mobile Taiji and all of a sudden, it’s grabbed everyone’s attention. Well, mine at least.

When you take a look at the specs on paper, the Taiji is a perfectly serviceable smartphone today, but might have been more appropriate if it was released a year or two ago. While it does pack a perfectly decent octa-core processor, it’s a 2 year old chip. The same can be said for the Lollipop 5.1 OS that it’s running.

But then you flip the Taiji over and find what’s earned it its namesake: a 4.7 inch e-ink screen that allows you to read your eBooks from something that resembles paper. At the very least, the Taiji is intriguing, but how does the 2-screen dynamic work? Does the second screen mirror what’s on the first? How do you activate the second e-ink screen? Can you only use it for eBooks? These were just some of the things that came to mind when I first learned about the Taiji. And after a year or so from being announced on a Cherry Mobile brochure, I finally have a review unit.

Cherry Mobile Taiji Specs

  • 5.2″ Full HD LTPS primary display (1080 x 1920 resolution, 424ppi)
  • 4.7″ qHD secondary E-ink display (940 x 560 resolution, 233ppi)
  • MediaTek MT6752 SoC
    • 64-bit 1.69GHz octa-core processor (8 x 1.69GHz ARM Cortex-A53)
    • Mali 760 MP2 GPU
  • Android 5.1 Lollipop
  • 3GB RAM
  • 32GB internal storage, expandable via microSD (hybrid SIM 2 slot)
  • 13mp autofocus rear-facing camera with LED flash
  • 8mp fixed-focus front camera
  • Up to 4G/LTE
  • Dual SIM (2x micro SIM)
  • WiFi a/b/g/n/ac
  • Bluetooth
  • GPS with A-GPS
  • Infrared remote
  • 2,500mAh battery
  • Price: Php12,999

What’s in the Box?

As if its second screen didn’t already set it apart from any other smartphone I’ve already seen, the Cherry Mobile Taiji also comes in a fairly unique retail box that slides out from a decorative sleeve and opens up like a book. This isn’t an accident either as the box acts as a supplementary manual, highlighting the Taiji’s best features. If you were able to check me out on the Cherry Mobile Show, you’d have seen exactly what I mean 🙂

  • Handset
  • Headset with in-line mic (braided cord, set of small and large replacement buds)
  • Micro USB to USB cable
  • Wall charger
  • SIM ejector tool
  • Quick start guides

Build Quality and Design

The Cherry Mobile Taiji is solidly constructed thanks to its unibody design and a metal frame. The bezels on either side of the screen appear to be pretty slim, but there’s a bit of stealth bezel as well that frames the screen. Above the 5.2 inch display are the earpiece, front camera, and sensors. Below it is a set of capacitive menu buttons, of which the home button doubles as a notification light.

On the left is the SIM tray, which requires an ejector tool to push out. The SIM2 slot is a hybrid slot that can also accept a micro SD card.

To the right are an antenna band and the slim volume rocker and power/lock buttons.

Up top is an infrared blaster that allows the Taiji to double as a remote control for a whole range of appliances, such as TVs and set top players. There’s also a noise-cancelling microphone and an antenna band.

Below is a pair of antenna bands, loudspeakers, and the micro USB port.

Flip the Taiji on its back and you’ll find the 4.7 inch E-ink screen. Above it are the primary camera and its LED flash, as well as Cherry Mobile branding.

Underneath the E-ink display are another set of capacitive menu keys.

While the design is solid and premium to a certain extent, I find both sets of capacitive menu buttons to be difficult to press on occasion because the ones in front don’t light up, save for the home button. The menu keys on the back are at least easier to locate thanks to physical markings on the phone.

Also, the primary home button serving as the notification light is a novel idea, but it sometimes stays lit even when all the notifications have been cleared. Sometimes the home key stays lit after locking the phone and sometimes it doesn’t, and it’s frustratingly inconsistent.

Display

As mentioned, the Taiji comes with a dual display setup, one in front and the other in back. The 5.2 inch Full HD LTPS display in front is where you would normally interact and enjoy multimedia on the Taiji as a smartphone. Thanks to its high 1080 x 1920 resolution, 469ppi pixel density, and LTPS technology, it’s both sharp and has great color reproduction.

The second display though is the Taiji’s main selling point. It’s a 4.7 inch qHD E-ink display meant for reading text more than anything else and is similar to the displays typically found on dedicated eBook readers such as Amazon’s Kindle and Kobo’s Aura range. Unlike the LCD displays we’re accustomed to on our smartphones, the Taiji’s E-ink screen is a monochrome display that mimics the experience of reading on paper. There’s no backlight, allowing you to read even longer than you would on an LCD display, and with less eye stress. It’s also beneficial for battery life since it uses significantly less power than an LCD.

Switching from the front to the rear display is simply a matter of holding down the power button until the menu pops up. Aside from the usual options to Reboot and Power Off, the Taiji will let you choose between one of two modes for the e-Ink screen.

Choosing to simply switch to the secondary screen optimizes the UI for the limitations of e-Ink displays: slow refresh rate. The simplified UI gives you access to the eBook reader, as well as basic phone functions, a monochrome clock, and calendar.

The second option is to Open Mirror Mode. This lets you mirror exactly what you would see if you were using the front screen, except in black and white. That way, you can simply navigate using the familiar Android UI. This isn’t recommended though because of the slow refresh rate, but works if functionality is limited in the other viewing mode.

Software and UI

With most smartphones coming out with Nougat 7.0 these days, the Taiji is unfortunately a bit of a throwback running Lollipop 5.1. At the very least, it hasn’t been heavily modified as you’ll see a mostly stock implementation of Android with a few branded wallpapers and a bit of bloatware.

One thing I’ve begun to hate about Cherry Mobile smartphones these days is the ads that have started to pop up thanks to that bloatware. Disabling the Cherry Fun Club app stops the ads from showing up, but you shouldn’t have to have ads forced on you on a smartphone you’ve already paid for in the first place.

Benchmarks and Performance

Under the hood of the Taiji beats the heart of the MediaTek’s MT6752’s 1.7GHz octa-core CPU. It’s a fairly old chip now, although it’s still a capable one that can handle some of the heavier games and apps on the Play Store. Navigating through the UI is quick and snappy and there’s minimal load times for what’s considered to be a midrange handset.

The benchmarks are respectable as well as it manages to break the 40K mark in Antutu.

Connectivity

Thanks to its MT6752 SoC from MediaTek, the Taiji is capable of up to 4G/LTE connectivity, allowing users the benefit of faster overall access to the internet when they’re not tethered to a WiFi hotspot. You’re also getting the rest of the usual wireless connectivity options, such as WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS.

While this does look good on paper, the Taiji does inherit the shortcomings of its SoC. MediaTek chips have typically had weak reception, whether it’s connecting to the internet via cellular data or WiFi, or even maintaining a strong GPS lock. It’s not as bad on the Taiji, but it’s still a noticeable weak point.

Camera

The Taiji is equipped with a 13mp autofocus camera with an LED flash on the back and an 8mp fixed focus camera for selfies. At this price point, you should at least expect decent camera performance. Here are a few samples I took with the phone.

Landscape

This first landscape shot was shot around 10AM in broad sunlight. While the amount of detail is encouraging, the colors are a bit washed out. The next shot was in the afternoon in a heavily shaded park thanks to the trees. I used HDR mode to help resolve more details in the shadows. Unfortunately, the result wasn’t that encouraging as I ended up with a shot that was hardly any better than when I had HDR turned off.

Macro

I was pleasantly surprised though when I started taking macro shots. Smartphone camera sensors don’t perform anywhere close to those on DSLR and mirrorless, but by focusing on subjects up close, it’s possible to achieve the depth of field effect on the Taiji that blurs the background.

Indoor

The Taiji continues to exhibit inconsistencies with color reproduction in adequate to bright lighting. When I took the first shot, I imagined the colors would pop on camera. Alas, it wasn’t the case. In ambient lighting though, the colors appear to be fairly accurate. Here’s a shot of the Flare P1 Plus that I had given away about a month ago.

Front Camera

Finally, there’s the 8mp front camera. It’s a perfectly serviceable no-frills camera with a lens that’s wide enough to mostly capture everyone in a groufie.

Overall, the Taiji’s camera setup is serviceable but nothing exceptional. At the very least, you’ll be able to capture a lot of shots you’d be okay with sharing on social media.

Gaming and Multimedia

While the Taiji is primarily an eBook consumption device, it’s still a capable multimedia player thanks to its Full HD LTPS display and large storage. It might not be the largest, but it makes up for it with great color reproduction, contrast, and pixel density that translates well whether browsing your image gallery or watching movies.

Enjoying audio via loudspeakers is never recommended, but the Taiji comes with a surprisingly strong set of speakers at the bottom. The sound may not be as full, but at least it’s loud. And if it’s any consolation, the bundled in-ear headset is actually quite good.

As a gaming device though, the Taiji suffers. Not because of its SoC as the MT6752 is actually fairly good in terms of gaming performance. The reason I wouldn’t recommend the Taiji for gaming is because it gets really hot to the touch. Because of its dual screens, it isn’t able to dissipate heat as effectively.

Battery Life

With most midrange smartphones breaking the 3,000mAh mark, the Taiji is held back by a 2,500mAh battery. Sure, the rear e-Ink display helps save power especially when primarily reading eBooks and other text content. However, if you tend to use it mostly as a smartphone, you’ll see just how much of a shortcoming its battery is.

So Should You Buy the Cherry Mobile Taiji?

While the Cherry Mobile Taiji is no doubt a niche device, having a second e-Ink display primarily for extended reading is beneficial to both your eyes and battery life. You can use the secondary display when you’re reading text-heavy content then switch to the primary display for anything else. The Taiji might not have been limited by the niche it carved out for itself though had it come with at least a 3,000mAh+ battery and Nougat 7.0. If you’re not a heavy reader, using it primarily as a smartphone requires you to charge more often in a day and the 2 year old version of Android means you’re missing out on features that other current smartphones already have. Still, the Taiji manages to bring the benefits of two different kinds of displays at the Php13k price point, which is not bad at all.

About The Author

Back when I started MobileTechPinoy in 2012, phablets weren't a thing yet. I enjoyed the stares I got from iPhone owners whenever I whipped out my Samsung Galaxy Note at the time. I'm much more budget-conscious these days though and am perfectly fine with using phones from any of our locally brands.

  • Catherine Vargas

    Wow! Kindly include me on your list in case you’ll have this lovely phone for a raffle. Appreciate your in-depth review 😉