QMobile entered the smartphone market few weeks ago by announcing couple of Android devices. These devices are shrewdly priced keeping in mind the mass market and are being advertised aggressively to further strengthen the brand and appeal of QMobile keeping in view the entry of the Chinese heavy weight, Huawei.
We got hold of the dual-SIM Android smartphone, QMobile Noir A2 before its official release on August 17, the phone is available for just Rs. 8,900 officially but few dealers are selling for Rs. 8,700 as well. Let’s take a look on specs before embarking on a detailed review:
- Android 2.3 Gingerbread
- 3.5” HVGA capacitive touch screen
- 3.2 MP camera
- VGA Front Camera
- 1 GHz processor
- Wi-Fi b/g/n
- MicroSD card support up to 32 GB
QMobile Noir A2 is packed in the standard rectangular box, it contains the usual contents, which are:
- Hands free
- Data cable
Build & Design
QMobile Noir A2 has a pretty reasonable built, Qmobile has done a wonderful job with the finish keeping in view its price range. The device looks really shiny and solid which is, really cool while the rounded edges and beautiful lines are almost non-existent in a device costing in four figures. Having looked at the positives, it must be mentioned that the device is slippery and thus very prone to slip from your hands, moreover, the touch screen is a thumbprint magnet and we never really saw a clean screen after the first time we got our hands on the device.
QMobile Noir A2 features a 3.5” HVGA capacitive touch screen, which is, as said earlier, a magnet for thumb prints. It is just impossible to touch it with any part of your hand and not leave a huge print; these sometimes result in lesser clarity of screen especially in bright light conditions. The only way to clean such prints is by using a tissue or a cloth, which is very impractical. It should also be noted that the sunlight legibility of screen is poor and an effort is needed to view the screen when directly under the sun, lack of auto-brightness also adds to the woes.
The device has earpiece slit on the top of the front side of the phone with a couple of sensors and a front VGA camera to its left, a tiny notification LED is situated above one of the sensors. At the bottom of the screen are four customary Android touch-sensitive buttons i.e. Home, Settings, Back & Search. A tiny hole for mouth-piece lies at the bottom of the glassed part of the front side. The top of the phone features a 3.5mm audio slot and power button on the top-right, microUSB port for charging and data transfer lies between the two. The bottom and sides have been nicely curved while the front and back sides of the phone are separated by a silver strip. Volume rocker is present on the right side of the phone just below the silver strip.
The real estate at the back is occupied by the back cover which has an interesting pattern printed on it. On the top-centre of the cover is the 3.2 MP camera under which “3.2 MP” is written to make the fact clear. Three slits are present at the bottom-centre which work as speaker which are right under a QMobile logo with an Android symbol. As said earlier, the back side is pretty shiny and slippery which mean that the phone is slippery and an intentional effort is needed at times to prevent the device from slipping from one’s hands.
The user interface featured in Noir A2 is just fine; the lock screen features a lock icon at the centre of the screen which when tapped activates three options in a circle; hence the lock can be dragged in three directions to unlock the phone. Dragging to left unlocks the phone and takes you straight to the messaging app, dragging the lock icon to the right unlocks the phone and takes you straight to the phone app for quick dialing and dragging it upwards unlocks the phone and takes you to the app being used or the home screen being viewed when the phone was locked. A sleek widget at the top of the lock screen shows date, time and battery status and the status bar also appears on top of everything else which is helpful in case of various notifications. The lock and three options related thereto, however, have a distinct low-quality feeling and it would have been better if default (Android) swipe to unlock had been used.
The UI on Noir A2 consists of five home screens which can be swiped sideways to be viewed. The central home screen has a date-time widget and eight icons by default. These icons are divided in two rows, the bottom row contains four shortcuts i.e. Phone, Contacts, Messages and Menu (app tray) and the upper row contains Music, Gallery, Email and Skype shortcuts. The shortcuts in the bottom row cannot be edited and is displayed on all five home screens.
QMobile Noir A2 has all the connectivity options a user in Pakistan needs. Wi-Fi (b/g/n), Bluetooth and GPRS are all there. Bluetooth performs perfectly, GPRS connects without any issue and the speed totally depends on the operator being used but the Wi-Fi reception is not up to the high standards set by other features of the phone. When comparing the Wi-Fi signals being picked by the phone with the signals being received by HTC Explorer and a Windows Phone device by Nokia by laying all three side-by-side, the signals beings picked by Noir were considerably lower than those being picked by both the HTC & Nokia devices, moreover the signals kept dropping resulting in discontinuation of browsing and downloading. The built-in browsers are just fine and can be counted on to browse the internet.
Noir A2 features a 3.2 megapixel camera with no flash, snaps are taken by tapping the on-screen button as there is no hardware camera button. The pictures taken during the day are pretty good but those taken in dim light are below par as expected. Noir has stock Android Gallery which offers features like sharing via Facebook, Messaging, Twitter, Mail, Bluetooth etc. and setting a picture as wallpaper or a contact picture. A hardware camera button would have been a nice addition.
The device performs reasonably well as far as sound quality is concerned, the sound is loud and clear and the hands free included in the package performs reasonably, hence listening to songs can be fun and you can get a branded hands free if you really love to listen songs on your phone.
The stock messaging app is nice but switching to an alternate solution like Handcent SMS or Go SMS Pro is recommended because features like pop-up incoming messages and blocking messages from unwanted numbers/ contacts are missing. The keyboard is nice and smooth and you can type quite accurately if you are used to typing on touch screen phones with capacitive screens.
The call quality is very good, QMobile Noir A2 offers a crisp and clear sound when performing the most basic function of the phone i.e. call which is altogether forgotten in some of the devices available n the market today. The stock dialer is nice and the soft keys well-spaced. You can dial a number or start punching keys as the phone automatically searches for contact names and numbers as you are punching the keys, this search is flawed as contact names are searched seamlessly but we were amazed to note that the smart search totally ignores the phone numbers stored while searching. We dialed a couple of phone numbers (which were already stored as contacts in the phone) but the smart search did not recognize the number unless we actually started the call, this is quite disgusting as an Android smart phone with Android 2.3 is expected to perform this basic function despite of its price range.
Contacts & SNS Integration
The stock contact app sticks to the basics but unfortunately does not allows joining of contacts and also does not suggest joining of contacts by searching the same phone numbers and names as many of the smartphones manufactured by other companies do. This only adds to the frustration when you are setting up your phone and have to manually join thousands of contacts, that’s why we did not sync it with our main Gmail account which has a contact book of over 1,000 contacts, we simply created another one and added a handful of contacts to avoid the hassle.
SNS integration is one of the core features attracting users toward a smart phone; unfortunately there is a sheer lack of SNS integration in the phone. Contacts from different sources i.e. phone, Google, Facebook cannot be joined and you cannot view the aggregated Social updates of the joined contact right from the contact itself, this feature must be present in a smart phone as the absence can turn-off a lot of potential customers who have used a smart phone before.
QMobile Noir A2 supports the Google Play Store completely and every app supported by its specifications can be installed. Fifteen apps have been pre-installed under QApps in the app drawer which is quite bizarre as none of the apps is a branded or special application limited to QMobile only, even the stock Android apps like Gmail, Maps, Talk, Local, Latitude & Play Store are included in this list. Other apps are:
- Opera Mini
- Yahoo! Messenger
- Yahoo! Mail
- Documents To Go
- MSN Talk Pro
Only the presence of Skype and Opera Mini makes sense in this list of extra apps as these have been used as in marketing the phone, but these too, including others (except Documents To Go) are free and in apps like Yahoo! are redundant. The users could have installed them easily if wanted. Other extra-apps preinstalled in Noir are:
- Angry Birds
- File Manager
- Talking Tom
- Task Manager
One again, these apps are plain useless and could have been installed by users themselves. A lot of space has been taken by these in the internal memory and these cannot be uninstalled, hence a internal memory has just 43 MB free which is enough for only two to three reasonable apps, hence rendering the phone plain useless. The question we want to ask from QMobile is that:
Is a smartphone without apps any good?
Low Internal Storage
In continuation of the previously mentioned point about internal storage, we inadvertently installed Tweetdeck and Google Currents in our phone as part of setting up the phone for use as the primary device to assess the pros and cons of Noir A2. We realized the problem when all the installed apps had updates from Google Play Store and all the apps could not be updated due to lack of internal storage. Moving the two installed apps did not help either and hence the process of updating remained in limbo. Google Current failed to load anything due to the low internal storage and we could not sign-in to Skype. Uninstalling Google Currents freed up some space which enabled us to update Skype and then sign-in to check the quality of front-facing VGA camera which performed reasonably.
So, unfortunately, I personally cannot recommend a phone with such low internal storage and a plethora of useless free apps installed to anybody.
The settings menu has icons reminiscent of older versions of Android. It is interesting to note that information about the phone’s hardware is simply missing from this menu which poses a big question mark to QMobile’s claim of 1 GHz processor. The device did not disappoint as far as the battery is concerned and provided around two days of uptime when used with 5-6 hours of Wi-Fi connectivity per day. This is a real plus as other devices in the same price range fail to last longer than a day.
QMobile Noir A2 adds to the competition in the mass market Android smartphones range available in the Pakistani market as it is the cheapest smart phone being offered by a recognized brand in the local market. The build and design of the device is better to that provided by other Chinese-handset based companies but the low internal storage can come back to haunt the company if it appeals to the youth as the best low-priced smartphone.
- Solid build and nice design
- Android 2.3 Gingerbread
- 3.5” HVGA capacitive touch screen
- 1 GHz processor
- Wi-Fi b/g/n
- 3.5 mm jack
- 12 months warranty
- Lack of solid grip
- Extremely low internal storage
- Skype does not work out of the box
- Touch-screen is a thumb print magnet
- Weak Wi-Fi antenna
- Unimpressive UI
- No SNS integration
- Poor sunlight legibility
- No Gorilla Glass protection
- No dedicated camera key