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The Cherry Mobile Alpha Luxe

September 26, 2014

My HTC 8s is showing its age and I’ve been looking at options to replace it. The first product I considered was the Lumia 1520. Got intrigued by the size, but decided to pass up on it.

As new products trickle in, my “wants” in a phone specification has been defined- 1GB RAM, quad-core processor, 16 GB internal storage, SD card support, and 5” screen. The Lumia 930 almost fit in nicely, but the lack of SD card support is a big deal for me. When the Lumia 830 was announced, I thought it was the perfect phone for me. It’s got everything I’m looking for...

... but, the iPhone 6 has been announced and became available and yet, there’s no sign of the Lumia 830. I was hoping I would be able to buy it from Singapore on my last visit to the city-state, alas there was no sign of it.

Since the Lumia 930 is available, I played with the units while I was at Microsoft Singapore. Sadly, it didn’t connect with me. I tried the second time the following day, and still I’m not digging it.

I then decided to patiently wait for the Lumia 830 and be done with it. Then my director friend posted one of his recent work on his Facebook page and it was an ad for the local company Cherry Mobile. The Alpha Luxe model fueled my interest, and yesterday I decided to buy one.
At PhP4,999 it’s got an entry-level quad-core processor (8212 chipset), 1GB of RAM, 5” LCD display, 8GB of internal storage, SD card support, and Windows Phone 8.1. I learned from sources that the device is an OEM from Tinno Mobile Technology Corp. The Shenzhen-based company partners with what it calls “Local Kings” or the top business brands in more than 30 countries, and in the Philippines, that is Cherry Mobile.

Physical and build quality

The device as measured is 144mm x 72mm x 9mm (11mm including protruded camera lens), making it even thinner than the Lumia 930. I don’t have a scale so I don’t know its weight. Here it is beside the 5s.


CMAL-vs5s by arnold_cruz, on Flickr

The Alpha Luxe has a build quality I prefer over my Sony Xperia V that creaks when pressed on the sides. The body seems to have a monolithic frame with faux aluminum sides. The buttons have solid feel and not loose.


CMAL-volume by arnold_cruz, on Flickr


CMAL-power by arnold_cruz, on Flickr

The removable pliable plastic back cover is shiny, smooth, and a finger print magnet. This is the part that would get a lot of beating. I purposely did not buy a case, as all my phones do not have cases, including my 5s. I did have a screen protector installed on it. I would have preferred the back cover to have the rubbery feel of the 8s or Xperia V.


CMAL-back-cover by arnold_cruz, on Flickr


CMAL-usb by arnold_cruz, on Flickr

Sound quality

One thing I am more critical over any other feature is the sound quality of the device. At this price point, I do not expect above average performance and I will be pleased with decent output from it. Unlike my Sony Xperia V where I can use the FiiO “Alpen” E17 DAC via USB-on-the-go, I’m out of luck here. Well, basically it’s not a device issue but an OS one.

The in-ear monitors I always have in my bag are the Westone UM1 single-driver model. It has a sensitivity of 114dB/mW @ 25 ohms and I’m pretty sure it will be an easy drive for the Alpha Luxe. The UM1 use standard 3-pole (TRS) 3.5mm mini-stereo plugs so I don’t expect incompatibilities. Putting in Pat Coil’s Schemes & Dreams in the playlist gave me a smile. It’s not bad, it’s actually above average. The sound has good detail and texture, has enough dynamics and slam. I didn’t have to push the Alpha Luxe hard and volume remained at my usual listening level of 16.


CMAL-um1 by arnold_cruz, on Flickr

Next in line for testing is the Urbanears Tanto, a small and lightweight on-ear monitor with microphone and single button controller. It uses a 3.5mm TRRS plug and has worked without an adaptor for the Xperia V, 8S, and 5s. After plugging it into the phone, I heard ticking sound and I knew at that point that I would need an adaptor. Fortunately, the Urbanears package includes a Nokia adaptor. With the adaptor in place, it played music and I was able to play/pause, go to next track and previous track using the button on the controller. The microphone also worked as it should. With 112db/mW @ 32 ohms specification, this should be possible to drive but being supra-aural will require more power. As expected, the volume level required is now 22 insead of 16. I pushed the Alpha Luxe to the maximum of 30 and I was pleased it did not distort. My observation is not a guarantee that it will never distort.


CMAL-nok-adaptor by arnold_cruz, on Flickr

Finally, the third headphone I use with my devices is the Harman/Kardon SOHO. Being “Made for iPhone” the removable cord with TRRS plug also won’t work, like the Urbanears. Thankfully, Harman/Kardon includes another cord, with a standard 3.5mm TRS plug and it worked as it should, without the controls of course. Using the Nokia adaptor supplied with the Urbanears unit made the Harman/Kardon cord with the TRRS plug work.


CMAL-hk by arnold_cruz, on Flickr

Over-all, I am happy with the sound quality of the Alpha Luxe.

Display

The 720p LCD display of the Alpha Luxe is good enough for me. The colors are rich and vibrant, but the black level is so-so, specially when compared to the 5s. What surprised me is the degree of angle at which I can still view information from its display.

It doesn’t have the Gorilla Glass protection from Corning Inc., rather it features the Dragontrail Glass from Japanese company Asahi Glass Co. (think window glass of cars). This is an alkali-aluminosilicate sheet glass that is also used in the Sony Xperia Z1, Z2, and Z3 among other manufacturers. I wouldn’t want to go into Dragontrail vs. Gorilla war so I am contented that there was some protection at least.

Camera

Featuring 8 megapixel rear camera and 2 mega pixel front-facing camera, I don’t expect it to have stellar performance. Anything decent is acceptable for me, besides I have too many cameras already.


CMAL-rear-camera by arnold_cruz, on Flickr

There is no f-stop specification for the cameras and the rear camera is supposed to have Auto focus, BSI Sensor, LED Flash, Face detection, and Smile Shot. The Smile Shot didn’t work though. From the EXIF data of photos uploaded to flickr, the f-stop is f/2.2 which should be sufficient for well-lit scenes.

The good thing about the camera though is white balance. Based on the photos I took, it was able to get the white balance good enough in Auto mode. In good lighting conditions it takes nice photos, but as the light availability becomes scarce, the performance drops significantly.

Here are some samples.


CMAL-sample4 by arnold_cruz, on Flickr


CMAL-sample2 by arnold_cruz, on Flickr


CMAL-sample1 by arnold_cruz, on Flickr

Performance

With an entry-level quad-core processor & graphics chip, this ain’t going to be a screamer. But as long as it gives a performance better than the 8S and Xperia V, I’ll be happy.

The Basemark OS II performance of all my devices are tabulated-


I was surprised at two things. One, the memory test is better than the 5s and the graphics was worse than the 8S. It goes to show that the Adreno 302 is much inferior than the Adreno 305 used by both 8S and Xperia V. Benchmark is one thing, the actual usage is another thing, so I can use these results as guidelines to my expectations.

I am no serious gamer and I haven’t even completed stage one of Halo: Spartan Assault on my Surface RT since purchase, but I did play Halo: SA Lite and there was no lag.

Connectivity

With Wi-Fi b/g/n specifications, I am able to connect to all my networks at the office and at home. Streaming videos or music at home from my Sysnology DS413j via Western Digital N900 Central is without hiccup. At the office, connecting to our Cyberoam appliance presents no issues as well. Tethering from my 5s and Xperia V for LTE connectivity is a breeze.

Its radio supports GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 MHz, WCDMA 900 / 2100 MHz up to HSPA+ speeds. It is better than the 8S, and at par with the Xperia V in sensitivity. The Xperia V is better than my 5s.

Dual SIM functionality will be good when I travel so I can have my roaming SIM and country of destination SIM in the same phone from now on.


CMAL-dual-sim by arnold_cruz, on Flickr

The Alpha Luxe also supports Bluetooth 4.0 and I was able to pair it with my Surface RT and transfer a 7.16 MB file in 30 seconds.

There is no NFC or Miracast support.

Experience

In the end, it is the over-all experience that makes me love or hate a device. Having said that, I still miss my HTC Mozart that was snatched from me.

So far, the Alpha Luxe is giving me a pleasurable new experience in all of its 5” of glory. Based on use, this is the biggest form factor I would go for as my thumb barely reach the other end of the keyboard when in swipe mode in one-handed operation. The phone also protrudes from most if not all of my shirt front pockets. I did sit on it, but it was more uncomfortable to me than for the phone.


CMAL-sit-on-it by arnold_cruz, on Flickr