Smartphones with built-in TV tuners are nothing new, but the analog tuners that found their way into phones a few years back were nothing short of sucky. These days, there are a few locally-available smartphones that come with digital TV tuners capable of bringing free crystal clear content to your phone. The Cherry Mobile Flare S Play is just one of them, but it’s priced attractively enough for the average Juan to consider it over other mainstream options out there.
What’s in the Box?
The Cherry Mobile Flare S Play comes in the new box design that all higher end Flares come in. Inside, you can expect the usual set of standard accessories, plus a nice freebie:
- Headset with in-line mic
- Wall charger
- USB to micro USB cable
- 2,000mAh battery
- Smart cover
- User manual
- Cherry Play quick start guide
- Screen Protector
Build Quality and Design
While the Flare S Play only sports a 5 inch screen, the body is a little bigger than I’d like thanks to wide bezels and having to accommodate a row of capacitive navigation buttons below the screen. I do appreciate that there’s a notification light though.
A silver accent strip runs along all the edges of the device to give the device a bit of character. On the left, you won’t find any hardware controls, although on the right you’ll find the volume rocker and power/lock button.
On top is the micro USB port and 3.5mm headset jack.
If you look hard enough at the bottom, you’ll find the microphone pinhole.
The back features a raised pattern and a glossy finish, so the Flare S Play doesn’t end up looking like any generic smartphone. There you’ll find the primary camera and its LED flash toward the top, Flare branding in the center, and Cherry Mobile branding and loudspeaker toward the bottom.
One of my favorite things about the Flare S Play is that it comes with a smart cover with a cutout that lets you check the time or for any unread messages and missed calls.
It replaces the regular back cover and is something you’ll want to use if you’re going to watch digital TV a lot since it has a loop for storing the antenna. Using it did hamper one-handed operation a bit, but it’s a neat solution for being able to take the antenna with you.
The Cherry Mobile Flare S Play is equipped with an HD IPS display, which isn’t the best resolution you can get, but is still perfectly serviceable on a 5 inch screen. It isn’t an OGS panel though, so there’s still a slight separation between the display and the surface of the glass on top of it. Thankfully, it’s not noticeable enough to be distracting. As for the screen quality itself, it could use a little more contrast, but the viewing angles are still pretty good.
Software and UI
The Flare S Play runs what is mostly stock Android 5.1 Lollipop out of the box, although there’s a bit of bloatware, such as Kakao Talk and Cherry Mobile’s own suite of pre-installed apps. If you want to change wallpapers, you’ll find that there are a few Cherry Mobile-branded images to choose from as well.
The unmodified UI is an advantage since it’s not slowed down by any extra features, but there’s no theming engine such as on the Flare Selfie, or alternative sorting options for the app drawer. For that kind of extra functionality, you’ll need to install a 3rd party launcher. Also, I was a bit annoyed that the quick toggle for switching on cellular data required an extra keypress.
Benchmarks and Performance
The Flare S Play is powered by the now-dated MT6592, which is a generation older than today’s preferred mainstream MT6753. It does feel noticeably slower when navigating through the UI, and games will certainly take a performance hit since the GPU is dated as well. For comparison’s sake, here are a few benchmark scores from Antutu and Vellamo.
As far as imaging goes, the Flare S Play is perfectly serviceable with its 13mp rear camera with an f/2.4 aperture lens. It doesn’t seem to take the best photos on Auto mode, with resulting images coming out too underexposed for my liking.
Image quality improved significantly when I switched to HDR and this does the trick most of the time.
Entertainment and Gaming
If there’s any reason to get the Cherry Mobile Flare S Play, it’s for the built-in digital TV tuner. If you’re fortunate enough to have good signal coverage in your area, you’ll be able to enjoy all digital TV channels, some of which broadcast in HD. It’s an awesome feature to have, but digital TV doesn’t enjoy nearly as much signal coverage as analog, so realistically, there will be some areas where this feature is practically useless.
One thing though is that signal reception was actually quite poor when using the included antenna. In fact, using a regular headset in its place resulted in better reception and more actual channels being detected.
Of course, you can enjoy other media as well. Watching up to Full HD quality movies from your library is just as enjoyable on the Flare S Play’s 5 inch HD screen. If listening to you MP3s or Spotify is more your thing, the phone also has an audio enhancement feature both for when you’re using your headset or the loudspeaker.
Gaming performance is satisfactory. I ran a trio of my favorite test games: Need for Speed No Limits, Implosion, and Unkilled. They were perfectly playable, although I did have to dial down the graphics settings on Unkilled to keep the framerate up.
The Flare S Play is powered by a removable 2,000mAh battery, which is adequate for the most part. In my time with the phone, I kept 4G and WiFi on, although I didn’t use mobile data or play games a lot. In my normal usage, it averaged 16 hours of uptime per complete charge. If you do plan on playing a lot of games though, it should last about 3 hours and 11 minutes based on GFX Bench’s battery test.
So Should You Buy the Cherry Mobile Flare S Play?
On paper, the Cherry Mobile Flare S Play shares virtually the same specs as the similarly-priced Flare 4 and Flare S4. However, the key difference is that the Flare 4 and S4 come with the newer and faster MT6753 SoC while the Flare S4 Play comes with the older MT6592. That equates to about a 6,000 point difference on Antutu and smoother gameplay on the more graphic intensive games.
Of course, most casual users won’t actually notice the slight performance hit. So if you want a smartphone that really can keep you entertained on the go, even if you’ve gone through all your onboard movies and songs, the Cherry Mobile Flare S Play is awesome for the price.
Cherry Mobile Flare S Play Specs
- 5″ HD IPS display (720 x 1280 resolution, 294ppi)
- 1.7GHz MediaTek MT6592 octa-core processor
- Mali 450 GPU
- Android 5.1 Lollipop
- 2GB RAM
- 16GB internal storage, expandable via microSD
- 4G/LTE, dual SIM (1x mini SIM, 1x micro SIM)
- WiFi b/g/n
- Bluetooth 4.0
- GPS with A-GPS
- 2,000mAh battery