Its pretty obvious from the trend of mobile phones these days that bigger is better – at least when it comes to the screen. Last year, Samsung’s Galaxy Note set the bar by blurring the line between cellphones and tablets, and its 5.3 inch screen was the biggest yet ever seen on something that was meant to be used as a phone. Then there’s the Galaxy Note 2, which has yet to officially arrive on Philippine shores, boasting of an even bigger 5.5 inch screen. However the original Note still sells for more than Php20k, and the Galaxy Note is expected to retail in excess of Php30k when it eventually does get here. Not exactly budget friendly for those who want the benefits of a big screen and the robust platform of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich or Jelly Bean. Enter the Lenovo S880 with its 5 inch screen, dual SIM functionality and ICS out of the box. That last part is sure to endear it to Filipinos who can afford its Php14,999 price tag. But is the entire package worth it? We’re not just talking about specs here, but the entire user experience. The specs do hold a bit of promise though and are worth a look.
The OS: Android ICS Out of the Box with Few Customizations
One thing I hate about some manufacturers is they try to put too much of their mark on Android. Samsung’s TouchWiz UI is visually okay, but folder creation is a little complicated. HTC’s Sense UI adds a ton of useful functionality but ends up being a little bloated and slower than others. Lenovo took a conservative approach with the S880 by not messing with stock ICS too much.
The most notable tweaks are the customizable Lenovo widget, the icon set, and drop-down notification area. The Lenovo widget, for lack of a better term, is a huge widget that serves as a launchpad for your most-used apps. It’s initially populated by Google apps, but can be customized to launch your favorites. The icon set is circular, and every stock app has been modified so that it has a circular shape. I’m not quite sure if that circular theme is applied to non-stock apps since I haven’t been able to hold one with aftermarket apps or even see a video of one.
By keeping these tweaks minimal, the OS runs just fine on a barely respectable CPU/GPU/RAM configuration. Homescreen transitions and switching from the homescreen to the app drawer is pretty smooth if you haven’t got anything running yet aside from the background processes. It’s nice that they were able to release the Lenovo S880 with ICS out of the box, but despite the software optimizations over Gingerbread 2.3, there are some aspects of operation that are noticeably slower than Gingerbread. For example, the stock Android internet browser on ICS might be much smoother, but navigating through the UI is a bit slow on hardware that isn’t quite top of the shelf like on the S880. I would only recommend ICS if the specs can run it smoothly, and technically, the S880 can, but with barely any wiggle room.
Design and Build Quality: Looks Can Deceive
Update: Thanks to Mobility for clearing up that there is no LED notification light.
While most of the specs are respectable, the S880’s look can deceive people into thinking you’re holding a much more capable device. Obviously, this is a touchscreen phone so the 5 inch screen dominates the device. The bezel is a little thicker on the sides compared to the Galaxy Note, so while the screen is a little smaller, the actual size of the S880 isn’t that much smaller than the Note. The speaker grill for listening to calls while not using a handset is situated at the top of the screen, right above the Lenovo branding and is really close to the edge actually. There’s also the 0.3mp front-facing camera for voice calls or self-portraits, as well as a proximity sensor that turns the screen off when you’re holding the phone during a conversation. The Lenovo S880 has no hardware controls on the front since it uses a four-button layout on the screen itself.
At the top, you’ll find the Micro USB port, the power/lock button, and the 3.5mm headphone jack. The only hardware controls on the right side of the Lenovo S880 is the volume rocker, it’s cleverly integrated into the silver accent line that runs along the entire edge of the phone. The left side is completely bare and the bottom only has the microphone pinhole for voice recording or for capturing your voice while making calls. At the back and slightly toward the top, you’ll find the 5mp autofocus camera, and toward the bottom, you’ll see the silver Lenovo logo. There’s also a tiny pinhole to the right of the rear-facing camera. It could be an ambient noise sensor, but to be honest, I’m not quite sure.
Update: That pinhole is actually for a noise cancellation mic for cancelling out ambient noise and keeping it from interfering with calls. Thanks to Vincent for pointing it out 🙂
Despite the exclusive use of plastic, the Lenovo S880 looks like a premium device while being surprisingly light for its size. It only weighs 200 grams while measuring 142 x 78 x 9.9mm! It comes in either black or white, with the black version bearing a textured back cover while the white version is smooth. Personally, I would go for the black version because the textured surface will make it easier to hold, but if pretty is what you are after then by all means, go for the white one 🙂
The Screen: It’s Big, But…
The 5 inch screen is indeed big, and probably the only thing that matches or exceeds that size is the original Galaxy Note and the upcoming Galaxy Note 2. However it only has a resolution of 800 x 480, which is rather disappointing. The images you’ll see on screen won’t be bad, but they won’t exactly be good either. Then there’s the fact that it doesn’t come with its own version of the S-pen so you can take notes in the conventional manner. Sure, you can buy a capacitive stylus and pair it with an appropriate app, but it’s just not the same.
Still, there are some things to like about the massive screen of the Lenovo S880. First, your media consumption experience will be much better. Sure, the text and images won’t be as sharp as the original Note, but that’s certainly a compromise a lot of people will be willing to make just to be able to save a nice chunk of money. It’s still good enough for watching movies, browsing through your image gallery, or surfing the web, and your thumbs will appreciate having so much space for composing text messages and emails, even in portrait mode!
The CPU and GPU: Decent Enough
The Lenovo S880 is powered by a 1GHz MT6575 Cortex-A9 CPU while graphics are handled by the PowerVRTM SGX531 pro 3D GPU. The CPU is manufactured by MediaTek, a known manufacturer of low cost chips for budget devices. It’s actually quite fast and the performance should be comparable to the MSM7227A CPU made by Qualcomm that’s found in phone’s like the Galaxy S Duos and the Optimus L7. However, the Lenovo S880 comes off as a premium device, and some people might find it to be rather sluggish once they try to put it to work. The gaming experience should be decent enough as well, and the Lenovo S880 is capable of playing 3D games quite well enough. However, some of the more taxing games can make it start to lag quite a bit.
Internal Storage: There’s Room Enough for All the Apps You Want to Install
Internal storage is respectable on this once you’ve come to terms that this is a mid-range device masquerading in the body of something more premium. There’s supposed to be 4Gb of ROM, but in reality, it only has 755Mb is available for installing apps while there is 1.85Gb of user accessible internal storage. The rest is likely utilized by the OS itself. Still, you can upgrade your storage by boosting it by up to 32Gb with a MicroSD card.
The Lenovo S880 features dual SIM standby functionality, allowing you to send and receive both calls and text messages from two different lines. Take note that this is different from the dual SIM setup of some other phones that allow you to insert two SIMs at once, but only let you keep one actively on standby at any one time. Unfortunately, this would drain the 2,250mAh a bit faster, but you can go into the settings and switch one of the SIMs off when not in use, or simply stick to using one SIM on the S880.
The Lenovo S880 has a dual camera setup, which is what you would expect from a mid-range device, with the rear shooter being an 5mp autofocus unit while the front facing camera is limited to VGA resolution. The rear-facing camera doesn’t have an LED flash, meaning no low-light photos for you. Of course, it should still take some decent shots, just make sure you have ample lighting. Also, the lens of the rear-facing camera sticks out a bit, so there might be a slightly increased risk of exposing the lens to a bit of bumping and scratching.
Finally, the Lenovo S880 features an FM transmitter that would allow you to have music play on your speakers wirelessly by broadcasting to a specific FM frequency. Not a bad feature to have if you want to listen to the music library on your phone after having grown tired of your favorite FM station’s playlist. This feature is sure to be appreciated by those who own a car and want a hassle-free way of hooking up their song library and listening to it on the road.
Should You Buy It?
You might be giving up the S-pen functionality, but the Lenovo S880 is still a great alternative to the Galaxy Note or Galaxy Note 2 if you don’t want to spend as much for a big screen. The specs and screen size are quite respectable at Php14,995, and the great thing is that you’ll be getting a fairly premium-looking device with enough screen real estate for a great experience while watching videos, surfing the net, or simply going through your collection of eBooks. It might be a tough decision for you to give up a bit in terms in specs for a huge bump in screen size, but after experiencing a screen of that size, I would say that it’s worth it. Plus, there’s this picture:
- 1GHz MT6575 Cortex-A9 CPU
- PowerVRTM SGX531 pro 3D GPU
- Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich
- Dual SIM functionality
- 512Mb RAM
- 4Gb ROM
- Expandable Storage via MicroSD up to 32Gb
- 5″ Capacitive TFT Touchscreen at 800 x 480 resolution
- WCDMA 900/2100 MHz, GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz
- WiFi 802.11 b/g/n
- Bluetooth 2.0, A2DP Bluetooth Stereo
- GPS and A-GPS
- 5Mp Autofocus rear-facing camera, 0.3Mp front-facing camera
- 2,250 mAh Lithium Ion battery
- SRP: Php14,999