OUR EARLY VERDICT
A phone which sets you back less than £100 won’t set the world alight, but for those looking for an inexpensive Android with a pleasing screen and a camera which isn’t total garbage, the Spark may be perfect.
- Great low price
- Solid design
- Reasonable cameras
- Small internal storage
- No NFC
- Can be sluggish
WileyFox is a British smartphone firm which launched in 2015 with two solid, affordable handsets in the Swift and the Storm – and it’s building on its early success at the bottom of the mobile market with a trio of new devices. The most affordable of those is the new WileyFox Spark.
It will set you back just £89.99 SIM-free, and from a quick glance at the spec sheet it looks to be fantastic value for money. There’s a 5-inch display, 1.3GHz quad-core processor, 8MP rear camera and an 8MP front snapper.
The 1GB of RAM is a slight worry, while the 8GB of internal storage isn’t particularly useful – especially as you’ll get just 3.6GB of that to actually use. There is, however a microSD slot in the WileyFox Spark allowing you to expand on the measly internal offering.
The Spark will “adopt” the microSD storage too, meaning the phone will view it as internal memory and thus allow you to save apps, games, photos and anything else to it without issue.
Can a sub-£100/$150 smartphone really deliver a decent experience, or is this a case of cheap and not so cheerful? I got hands on to find out.
DESIGN AND DISPLAY
When it comes to looks WileyFox has played it safe with the Spark – and why shouldn’t it? The traditional black slab has served manufacturers well for years and it’s relatively inexpensive to reproduce.
The Spark isn’t premium in terms of look or feel, but even still it’s solid and stylish. The 5-inch display keeps dimensions to a manageable 143 x 70.4 x 8.65mm, allowing it to fit nicely in the hand.
The rounded corners and ever so slightly curved rear means it’s pleasing in the palm, while the textured rear plastic gives a high level of grip, but risks feeling a little like sandpaper.
One handed use is certainly possible – assuming your hands aren’t on the smaller side – and the power/lock key (on the right) and volume rocker (on the left) fall nicely under thumb and finger.
It’s worth noting that the Spark (and the Spark+ and Spark X) doesn’t sport NFC, which means contactless payments via Android Pay are out of the question. WileyFox took the decision not to include NFC to keep the handset price down, and with Android Pay still being relatively new to the UK it’s unlikely to faze too many prospective purchasers.
The screen boasts a 720 x 1280 resolution, because WileyFox doesn’t deal in anything lower than HD. That’s great, considering the price of this handset, and while the IPS panel doesn’t provide the same colour vibrancy as its AMOLED rival, Android looks crisp and clear.
PERFORMANCE AND INTERFACE
There’s more good news as the WileyFox Spark runs the latest version of Google’s mobile operating system, Android Marshmallow, although that’s been overlaid with Cyanogen OS.
The community-built interface adds a host of extra features and customisations to Android, while maintaining a look which is close to that of Google’s stock platform. There are some differences though.
The app draw icon is the WileyFox logo – which is quite nice – and the app draw itself displays as a vertical list which is divided up alphabetically. It’s almost Windows Phone-like in its implementation, but it works well.
Inside a 1.3GHz quad-core processor is joined by 1GB of RAM, and it’s here we find the Spark’s main weakness. Performance is noticeably sluggish, apps can take time to respond and general navigation isn’t overly smooth.
Again though, considering the price of the Spark I wasn’t expecting lightning fast reflexes, but any new Android phone sporting less than 2GB of RAM these days is always going to struggle at times.
It’s still perfectly usable, and those looking to upgrade from a previous budget Android device are unlikely to find much wrong with the speed of the Spark. For those looking up to fire up intensive games such as Real Racing 3 though, the Spark is probably one to avoid.
CAMERA AND BATTERY
WileyFox has blessed the Spark with an 8MP rear camera, AND an 8MP front snapper – impressive for a sub-£100 smartphone.
The camera app does take a second or so to load up, and shutter speed jumps between fast and not so fast, but in good light with a steady hand I was able to snap a couple of pleasing pics.
Round the front the secondary 8MP camera provides a perfectly serviceable selfie snapper, and overall I’m impressed with the Spark’s early photography potential.
Peel off the rear plastic over of the WileyFox Spark and you’ll find dual-SIM ports, a microSD slot and something which is a rarity in today’s smartphones – a removable battery.
The 2,200mAh power pack should see out a full day on a single charge, although you’ll have to wait for the full review to find out, and some users will certainly be pleased that it can swapped out for a new one.
Considering the WileyFox Spark will set you back just £89.99, it’s a surprisingly strong offering. The design is solid, the screen great and the 8MP cameras a real boon at this price point.
Performance is a worry, and once you start filling up the internal storage the Spark may well be struggling – but if you’re a light user that’s unlikely to be an issue.
This isn’t a phone for enthusiasts on a budget, but it is perfect for those looking for an inexpensive Android smartphone which can offer a pleasing on screen experience and a camera which isn’t total garbage.