Cherry Mobile hasn’t been shy about releasing phone after phone, but this latest one could be their biggest bomb yet. No, it isn’t an octa-core monster, but it”s still pretty respectable in its own right. And when you find out how much it will sell for, you’ll realize just how much of a game changer it can be.
I’m talking about the Cherry Mobile Flare 3, the 3rd generation Flare from a series that’s long been king of the Php4K price point. This price segment isn’t stranger to some great value phones, however, for the longest time, we’ve been pretty much stuck with the kind of specs that you can get for your money in this price segment. I’ve pretty much got it memorized by now: 4 inch WVGA display, 512MB to 1GB RAM, 4GB ROM, and a 5mp primary camera at most.
However, the Cherry Mobile Flare 3 breaks that long-established barrier by delivering significantly better specs while maintaining the Php4K price. You’re getting a phablet-sized screen, more RAM than I’ve ever seen at its price, not to mention more storage. Just how much of an improvement is the Flare 3 over anything else at this price? Read on to find out in my full Cherry Mobile Flare 3 review.
What’s in the Box
The Cherry Mobile Flare 3 comes with a typical the standard retail package from the local brand. Inside the box, you’ll find the following.
- headset with in-line mic
- USB transfer cable
- wall charger, 1A output
- 1,980mAh battery
- quick start guide
The headset is an improvement over most stock headsets that I’ve seen from local brands because it’s construction helps block any sound leakage. The bass is still pretty bad, but at least it’s no longer as flat as the typical earbud type headset.
Build Quality and Design
The Cherry Mobile Flare 3 is larger than any Flare variant that came before it. That shouldn’t be surprising considering it comes with a 5 inch screen whereas older Flare variants came with 4 inch to 4.5 inch screens. The design reminds me of the HTC Butterfly without a horizontal strip running across the back.
The bezels are reasonably small on either side of the 5 inch screen. Above the screen is the earpiece for taking calls, front camera, and ambient light and proximity sensors.
Below the screen are the capacitive navigation keys in an arrangement that should be most familiar to Android users: menu, home and back.
The left side of the phone is devoid of any hardware controls.
The right side is where you’ll find both the power/lock button and volume rocker. There’s also a small notch toward the bottom to help you pry off the back cover with a fingernail.
Up top is the 3.5mm headset jack.
At the bottom is the micro USB port and a small microphone pinhole for voice calls.
At the back, you’ll find the 8mp camera with LED flash. Above it is another small microphone pinhole, this time for noise-cancelling. Toward the middle is the Flare branding while toward the bottom is the Cherry Mobile branding and loudspeaker.
The Cherry Mobile Flare 3 fits nicely in the hand because of its curved back and relatively light body for a 5 inch phone. The candy-color finish reminds me of the Cosmos series, although it also shares a similar flaw with the Cosmos series in that the back cover is uncomfortably thin for comfort.
The Cherry Mobile Flare 3 packs a 5 inch qHD IPS OGS screeen, which is a noticeable upgrade versus the typical 4 inch WVGA screens that you can find at the Php4k price point and below. The image quality is also better than the qHD resolution, 220ppi pixel density would have you believe because of the OGS construction that eliminates the air gap between the display panel and the glass substrate above it. Because the display is closer to the surface of the glass, the resulting image ends up being both brighter and more vibrant while the viewing angles are also improved.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a sensitivity issue on my review unit. More specifically, the screen wasn’t as sensitive toward the edges. This made playing games like Plants vs Zombies 2 a pain in the ass. I’ve asked around if some friends are getting the same issue and will update this review as soon as I get some feedback.
Under the hood of the Cherry Mobile Flare 3 breathes a MediaTek MT6582 SoC with a 1.3GHz quad core CPU and the Mali 400 MP2 GPU. The MT65892 SoC is practically the ideal chip for the Flare 3 because it was designed with qHD to HD screens in mind. The result is an optimized, buttery smooth experience whether you’re simply navigating through the UI, multitasking between apps or playing games.
The relatively good performance is also evidenced in benchmarks. I ran a couple of my favorite benchmarks: Quadrant and Antutu, which both measure different aspects of a device’s operation, such as CPU, GPU, RAM, I/O and overall user experience. I also ran Vellamo, which has 3 different tests that focus on single core, multi-core and browser performance. Here are the results.
RAM and Storage
The more RAM, the better. At least, that’s the way it is in most cases. However, there should at least be a bare minimum, and these days, 1GB RAM is the acceptable minimum amount of RAM I would recommend on an Android smartphone. Multitasking and general operation was smooth for the most part. I can’t say I noticed a single instance where an app would force close on me because of low RAM errors.
I’m also pretty happy about the amount of storage that the Flare 3 comes with. While most phones at this price point only come with 4GB of storage, the Flare 3 manages to pack 8GB of storage. The actual difference becomes even more noticeable when you realize that devices with 4GB ROM barely have 2GB of usable storage while the Flare 3 comes with a whopping 6GB of usable storage! What’s more is that the storage is unified, meaning that apps get installed in the same place where you store your files.
Software and UI
The Cherry Mobile Flare 3 runs Android 4.4 KitKat out of the box. I like that there are very minimal customizations to the UI. Actually, aside from the branded wallpapers and stock splash screen on startup, there don’t seem to be any customizations at all.
Telephony and Wireless Connectivity
As a phone, the Flare 3 functions fairly well, although it’s been pretty rare that I’ve encountered phones that had problems performing basic phone functions. The Flare 3 is large and comfortable in the hand thanks to the curved back that allows your hand to wrap around it more naturally. The handset’s size also allows the microphone pinhole to be situated more closely to your mouth while taking and making calls.
The screen’s large size also contributes to more comfortable texting. Folks shouldn’t have a problem typing on it, even in portrait. Text is pretty readable to. The qHD resolution is still pretty sharp, although it probably doesn’t hurt that this is an IPS OGS display that sort of enhances the perceived quality of the onscreen image.
The Flare 3 also comes with a complete set of wireless connectivity options. You get support for up to HSPA+ mobile data speeds, WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS. Unfortunately, you don’t get LTE, but hey, this is a Php4K phone we’re talking about. And anyway, if you want LTE, you’d have to spend at least Php1.5K more for it.
As great as the Flare 3 is, it does have a minor shortcoming. Both the earpiece and the loudspeaker are pretty weak. I would have a difficult time hearing people on the other end when I was answering calls outside and switching to loudspeaker didn’t help much.
On a slightly related note, I would recommend that you guys immediately switch to a different notification ring tone as the default one is rather weak. I would often miss texts from my wife because the default ring tone was so darn weak. Of course, keep in mind that switching to a louder ring tone will only help so much because as I mentioned, the loudspeaker itself is quite weak already.
The Cherry Mobile Flare 3 is equipped with an 8mp rear-facing autofocus camera. Most phones only come with 5mp shooters or worse at this price point, but hey, the Flare 3 is supposed to redefine what you get for Php4K, right? Well, it’s certainly promising on paper but in reality the Flare 3’s rear camera isn’t all that good. Quite frankly, the Cherry Mobile Ultra had a much better 8mp rear camera that managed to produce shots that could rival a dedicated point and shoot. Now, this may seem harsh, but the Flare 3’s camera compares better with a really good webcam.
Here are a few sample shots. The first one is of my favorite test subject, the covered court near my place. You can still distinguish the grill pattern of the barrier, but there’s a lot of low-level noise if you look closely.
Here’s a 100% crop of the same image.
I also made an attempt at an HDR shot of the honey garlic chicken I ordered at Kanto Freestyle Breakfast. HDR combines high and low exposure shots to help create a more balanced exposure throughout the entire image. Quite frankly, it barely seems to have an effect here, though to be fair, the lighting was pretty bad.
Finally, I tried taking a few indoor shots in low lighting. Here’s a shot of a vintage record player in low lighting using the LED flash.
The flash isn’t that strong and barely illuminates the shots where it is used. Still, it’s properly synchronized with the shutter and is better than nothing.
Here are a few more sample shots for you to check out.
One aspect where the Flare 3 excels is as an entertainment device. The screen size and pocket ability make it a great portable media player and the relatively large storage allows you to save a mini music library for on the go. However, it’s the screen that allows the Flare 3 to shine as an entertainment device. Despite the mediocre qHD resolution on paper, the quality of the perceived image is quite good and lends itself well to watching movies, reading books and comics, or just browsing the web.
Unfortunately, the Flare 3 does have a flaw. As mentioned, the loudspeaker is pretty weak, so if you want to use it to entertain friends with your music library, it’s best to pair it with a Bluetooth speaker. Anyway, I’ve never been a fan of using a phone’s built-in loudspeaker since they tend to suck. It’s just that this particular one is especially sucky.
The Cherry Mobile Flare 3 is a pretty capable gaming device thanks to its MT6582 SoC and onboard Mali 400 MP2 GPU. I tested the phone’s gaming capabilities on Nenamark 2 and GFX Benchmark’s T-Rex test. These tests basically run the phone through a single scene that combines a number of graphical effects to see how well it gets rendered.
In addition, I also played a few of my favorite games for testing. Minion Rush is a notoriously heavy game despite its simplistic gameplay because the developers just keep adding more and more features to it with every update. Well, the game rendered pretty well on the Flare 3 as the frame rates were decent. However, there was a noticeable delay between my screen-mashing and what my Minion would do onscreen. For a game that puts your reaction time to the test, that’s a handicap you don’t need.
Another game I tested on this phone was Plants vs Zombies 2. The gameplay is also quite simplistic, but only when you are just starting out. Things can quickly get busy onscreen when you get that “A Huge Wave of Zombies is Approaching”. The Flare 3 handled it quite well. The frame rates did slow down whenever there was a huge wave of zombies, but the frame rates were still playable. It also didn’t hurt that the screen was quite large, making it easier to move plants around to beat the game.
Finally, the last game I tested the Flare on was Modern Combat 4. While Modern Combat 5 is already out, MC4 is still a pretty heavy and gorgeous looking game. The opening cut scene alone when starting a new game looks pretty great, that is, if the phone can render it well enough. For the most part, the Flare 3 was able to keep up with the cut scene, with the video lagging behind the audio only a bit toward the end of it. The frame rates were also fantastic considering this phone only costs Php4K.
While I’m not the heavy user I once was, I still made the best I could with all of the phone’s features and its 1,980mAh battery throughout the entire review period. I’ve used it as a regular phone, read news feeds on WiFi, played some games to while away the time, navigated to some restaurants over the weekend using GPS and mobile data, and even typing out this article on it with the help of a Bluetooth keyboard. I consider myself to be a light user, only consuming 2.06% of the battery every hour. That means the phone can last up to 48 1/2 hours on my normal usage habits.
Of course, I pretty much doubt most people can make the Flare 3 last that long, so I also did a gaming battery test. It basically runs the aforementioned GFX Benchmark T-Rex test 30 times then measures how much battery juice it consumed. This time, the gaming battery test estimated that the Flare 3 would last about 3 hours and 20 minutes in a gaming scenario. Keep in mind that’s straight gaming with no breaks in between.
So Should You Buy the Cherry Mobile Flare 3?
The Cherry Mobile Flare 3 isn’t anything special until you start talking about the price. Then it becomes a game changer. How many phones can offer a 5 inch qHD IPS display, 1GB RAM, 8GB ROM and an 8mp autofocus camera in the Philippine market at Php4K? I’ll tell you right now: None.
Cherry Mobile promised it would redefine the Php4K price point and they almost managed to do so without a hitch. Minor issues like the weak loudspeaker and poor camera performance aside, the Flare 3 is the new standard for what you should be able to get for Php4K.
Cherry Mobile Flare 3 Specs
- 5″ qHD IPS display (540 x 960 resolution, 220ppi)
- 1.3GHz MediaTek MT6582 quad core processor
- Mali 400 MP2 GPU
- Android 4.4 KitKat
- 1GB RAM (960MB user accessible)
- 8GB ROM (6.09GB user accessible, unified with system storage)
- 8mp rear-facing autofocus camera with LED flash
- 3mp fixed focus front camera
- WiFi b/g/n
- Bluetooth 4.0
- GPS with A-GPS
- 1,980mAh battery, removable