Spice Stellar Pinnacle Pro (Mi-535) Review
Today we have the Spice Pinnacle Pro with us for review.
In today’s day and age of literally hundreds of Android-powered devices in the market, from dozens of manufacturers, will this really stand out? Let’s see. Our Indian smartphone landscape has an overwhelming majority of Samsung devices. You see plenty of Note and Galaxy series devices around you. MicroMax is one local player who has managed to make a mark too. Their recent 5″ Canvas HD was sold out as soon as it launched, with a waiting period of a couple of weeks ever since. Karbonn mobile too has a phone in the Titanium series of the same size. Spice offers something that could potentially be a better buy than either. Specs:
- 1.2GHz Quad Core Processor. This is A5 based and by Mediatek.
- 5.3″ IPS LCD screen with a qHD (960*540) resolution
- 16GB of Internal Space, along with a microSD card
- 2550mAh Lithium Polymer (LiPo) Removable Battery
- Dual SIM, where both SIM’s can be active at the same type
- 8MP Back Camera and 5MP Front Facing Camera, video recording 720p@30fps
- Dual Mics for Audio Supression while recording
- 1GB of RAM
- Running Android 4.2.1 with very little deviation from Stock Android
- Notification LED
- WiFi N, Bluetooth 4.0
- Magnetometer, Proximity Sensor, Ambient Light Sensor, Gyroscope, G-Sensor
- 3.5mm headphone jack and FM Radio
- Weight: 196.3 gms
- Current Selling Price: Rs. 15,000
I have intentionally added the Selling Price of this phone as a Specification, because I feel it is just as important in considering this phone as something like Processor is. You can now bear in mind that this is a phone priced significantly below what other brands may charge for a similar device.
What’s In The Box?
- The device
- USB Charging cable
- Power Adapter
- USB OTG Cable (To connect to USB accesories)
- Flip Cover
Design & Ergonomics
At 5.3″, the phone is big in the hands. It is quite hard, if not impossible, to use it one handed. Initially, we were kind of put off by how heavy the phone was. at virtually 200 grams, its heavier than even the Lumia 920. Within a few days we did get adjusted to the weight though, so it shouldn’t be a deal breaker. The resolution, sadly, isn’t 1080p or 720p, but qHD. In regular use, the lack of 720p isn’t really noticeable. However, when playing HD games like Modern Combat 4, you can make out where 720p would have made the experience more enjoyable.
The top of the device has the 3.5mm audio jack, microUSB slot and the Power Button. This isn’t the best placement of the Power Button as it means being unable to lock your device with one hand. We wish it was on the RHS of the phone, like most devices.
The front of the device is all screen, and looks pitch black when that is off. You have the Front Facing Camera, Ambient Light Sensor and Earpiece at the top, with three Capacitive Keys at the bottom.
The symbols are non standard so one may get confused initially. They are the Options Key, Home Key and Back Key, from left to right. Its disappointing that a phone running Android 4.2 still has an Options key, but it could be a sign that Spice is targeting Samsung Galaxy Series users with this device.
The back of the device houses the 8MP Camera and dual LED Flash. It also has a secondary mic for noise cancellation during video recording.
The bottom of the device has the loudspeaker.
Opening up the back of the device gives you access to the user replaceable 2550mAh LiPo Battery, two full sized SIM card slots and a microSD Slot.
The Right Hand side of the device has the Volume Up and Down Rockers, and the Camera Key. Sadly this is just a one stage camera key, similar to using Volume Keys to click on some phones.
`The Left hand side and the Bottom of the device are bare.
The phone comes bundled with a Flip Cover.
We aren’t fans of Flip Covers in general, but this one is reasonable. It covers the front of the phone, but has a slot open for the earpiece so you can talk on it with the flap shut. Since the notification LED is on the earpiece, you can see it flashing even though the lid is shut.
We were pleasantly surprised with the software on the Pinnacle Pro. If you handed this phone to someone using a Nexus device running stock Android, it is very likely that most won’t realize this isn’t a Nexus device too.
Running the latest iteration of Android, ie: 4.2.1 Jelly Bean (admittedly x.x.1 less than the latest 4.2.2), this phone offers you all the software advantages that Android 4.2 brings, like Fast Uninstall of apps, ability to freeze them etc.
Here are some of the ways I enjoyed the tweaked stock android on the Pinnacle Pro more than vanilla Android 4.2.2:
- The Quick Settings panel gets some welcome tweaks. You can control Screen Rotation, Screen Timeout, Data Connection Toggle and Data Usage directly from the Quick Settings. Also, WiFi and Bluetooth can be toggled On/Off by single pressing the buttons, unlike stock android where you need to long press them. Here are Quick Settings on a Galaxy Nexus, compared to the Pinnacle Pro.
- The dialler looks exactly like the Stock Dialler, but has Smart Dialling/T9 Dialling! This is something we can’t believe stock Android still ignores.
- You can see battery percentage in the status bar at all times, out of the box.
- Other useful tweaks include features that were previously seen in Touchwiz 5 and Cyanogen Mod. Lockscreen Gestures let you jump to apps by simply drawing the symbol for them.
- Flip to Mute lets you silence a call by simply turning the phone upside down.
- Intelligent Answer lets you pick up a call by just holding the device to the ear.
- Pop-Up-Play lets you watch a video while doing something else. Direct call lets you automatically call whichever contact is on your screen by holding up the device to the ear.
Boot Acceleration lets you select which apps should launch at startup.
- Some may find these gimmicky. We particularly enjoyed lockscreen gestures and Direct Calling.
- USB On The Go supported Natively! On the Galaxy Nexus, you need to root and install an app before being able to use your device with USB Accesories. On the Pinnacle Pro, this is supported out of the box.
- What’s more, they even bundle a USB-OTG cable in the box of the phone. We were able to effortlessly transfer files to and from pen drives connected to the phone. External HDD’s drew too much power, and you need to externally power those. USB Keyboard and Mice worked with the phone too.
Unfortunately, though their is no custom manufacturer skin, Spice have installed a lot of bloat-ware on the device. While we understand that companies like pushing certain services on their phones, the very least they can do is allow the bloat-ware to be uninstall-able. The following is the bloat-ware on the Pinnacle Pro:
NQ Mobile Security, CSR Racing, Documents To Go, HiCamera, HiConnect, M Tracker, m-Indicator, OOBE, Quick Reference, Quick Start Guide, SpiceGang, TouchPal Keyboard and Vault.
Luckily, ever since Android 4.1, Google allows us to Disable apps and send them into a Frozen State. This is almost as good as removing them, as they no longer slow the phone down. However, the average consumer will probably never even know that.
The Phone has a system of dealing with Multiple SIM’s, and it works quite well. You can select which SIM should be default for Voice, for Messaging and for Data.
While most devices use Lithium Ion technology, this phone used Lithium Polymer. Here’s how the two technologies are different. The capacity of the battery is 2550mAh. We were pleasantly surprised to see the battery lasting as long as it did on the device. We tried the device in many scenarios. Enjoy the battery graphs below.
Heavy Usage: Look at the Graph Below. Quite heavy usage of the device, with 5 hours 40 minutes of screen on time.
In another instance, the phone went on for 9 hours, out of which the screen was on for 5 hours. This is admittedly much much more than a regular phone user. An average user would use the device for 1.5-3 hours on an average day.
Here’s another day of moderately heavy usage. I enjoyed the phone too much to be able to show you a battery graph with light usage!
Overall the battery life of the device was comfortably better than the average phone. Add the fact that it is completly user replaceable and you have a killer combination to get you through the day!
Stability & Performance
By far the most impressive part of the software was the complete and consistent lack of lag on the device! We used the phone for almost two weeks, and installed our usual array of apps on the phone. With over three dozen apps installed, some running in the background at all times, the phone performed like a champ. Whenever I pressed the Home button, the device went home, without any stuttering or lag. Subjectively, I found it at least as smooth as, if not smoother than, Android 4.2.2 on my Galaxy Nexus. That really is something. However, it is worth noting that in the ten days I used it, the phone randomly rebooted twice. While its not too significant, its not insignificant either.
According to us, real life performance matters way more than synthetic benchmarks. This phone could smoothly run Modern Combat 4 for us, and that’s more than enough processor and GPU muscle power for virtually any task you can do on an Android device. However,for those of you who want quantifiable numbers, here you go:
For its lower-mid-range pricing, the Pinnacle Pro packs an impressive number of radios. You have 802.11 b/g/n WiFi with Bluetooth 4.0. You have an Ambient Light Sensor for Auto Brightness and a Proximity Sensor for Auto Screen Off while talking. There is a Magnetometer for compass. There is a Gyroscope and G-Sensor for games etc.
One disappointing aspect was the GPS radio, or the lack of strength in it. We tried multiple times, while driving, while walking and while standing still outdoors in clear sky, but we were unable to get an exact GPS Lock on the device. The maximum accuracy it was able to give me wasn’t accurate enough for Google Maps Navigation to deem acceptable to begin Navigation. We even hard reset the phone to see if this problem would be rectified, but sadly it wasn’t.
The device has an 8MP back camera. We weren’t too pleased with quality of images taken with this. Firstly, focussing wasn’t too accurate. We would see the green sign on the screen showing that focus has been locked, but would later see it was incorrectly focussed. Also, the camera algorithm hikes up the ISO too much to try and get as high a shutter speed as possible. Because of this, a distinct graininess exists in nearly all images.
However, we found focussing for close range objects to be excellent. Will work great for documents and pictures of people in close range. Overall the camera is adequate for uploading to Facebook, but not worthy of being called an 8MP Camera. You can check out image samples below (untouched, of course)
One of the highlights of this phone is the Front Camera. Its the only 5MP Front Facing Camera out there (aside from the Spice Pinnacle, its older non-Pro brother) and the image quality is impressive. Focus locking too is fast enough.
Here’s an image taken with the Front Facing Camera.
What’s coolest about the FFC however, is its ultra wide Field of View. It covers an 88 degree Field of View. This makes it great for Video Calling on services like Skype and Hangouts from the phone, as you can fit more people into your frame at the same time. The HTC Butterfly is the only other phone we know with such a wide Field of View. Check out the same image taken from the same place, on the Galaxy Nexus, and then the Pinnacle Pro.
Notice the difference?
Video Quality is acceptable. It can record at a maximum resolution of 720P @ 30 FPS. The file gets encoded and stored in 3GP container. We would have preferred MP4 for its wider compatibility. Audio during video recording is excellent, thanks to the dual microphone system. Watch and listen to the below clip to get a better idea of Video Quality
- The Specs Sheet ticks almost all boxes, from Processor to RAM to Battery to Screen to Storage
- Smooth, lag free and enjoyable software experience, on the latest version of Android (4.2)
- Great Wide Angle Front Facing Camera
- Flip Cover and USB OTG Cable bundled with the phone from Spice
- Great Price Point
- Back Camera leaves a lot to be desired. A lot of grain creeps into images.
- Phone is quite heavy and takes some getting used to.
- Uses the ancient Options Button instead of the Multitasking Button
- At qHD, we wish Screen Resolution would have been 720p.
- Google Now accessible from Lockscreen & Homescreen
When asked about their Sales Strategy, Spice said, “For Pinnacle Pro, we will be using all the channels - be it direct channel through our Distributors, online channel, all Multi brand stores, organized trade and even Online Channel. The idea is to increase the availability of the product for easing the customer purchase process.”
All in all, we will be recommending this phone to people looking for a device around Rs. 15,000, while warning them about its weight and mediocre back camera.
What do you think of the Pinnacle Pro by Spice? Let us know your questions in the comments below.