Cherry Mobile’s M1 may not look it, but it’s a glimpse into MediaTek’s future. The chipmaker has long played second fiddle to Qualcomm in terms of processor performance, and has been (somewhat) unfairly regarded as a budget player in the system-on-a-chip market.
That’s quickly changing. MediaTek’s processors have started to climb up the food chain, appearing not only in budget phones and local brands, but in high-profile international devices as well. The company’s current processor flagship, the deca-core Helio X20, is the processor powering Cherry Mobile’s latest flagship device, the M1. Today we’ll be taking a look at the M1 and the processor powering it to see if the new processor is really all it’s cracked up to be.
Cherry Mobile M1 specs
- Deca-core MediaTek Helio X20 processor
- 4GB RAM
- 5.5-inch full HD display, 1920 x 1080 resolution
- 32GB of internal storage
- 21-megapixel Sony IMX 230 sensor, phase detection AF, dual LED flash
- 8-megapixel front facing camera
- Dual SIM
- WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, A-GPS, USB Type-C, Fingerprint scanner
- Android 6.0 Marshmallow
- 3600mAh battery
Generic design is boring and derivative
There’s no sugarcoating this – for a phone that’s supposed to be a flagship device, the M1 sure looks like a run-of-the-mill budget phone. No premium metal and glass design here folks, just boring old plastic meant to look a little like metal. That’s not to say that the M1 is ugly – we’ve certainly seen homelier phones in the past – but the M1 could have been easier on the eyes, especially since it’s supposed to be a flagship smartphone.
Despite its generic looks, the M1 feels sturdily built. There’s no major gaps or lapses in build quality with the review device that was sent to us, which somewhat offsets the less than appealing looks of the phone. Rounded corners and a curved back allows users to hold on to the phone easier one handed, and the frame, while plastic, has a nice silver color that approximates the look for a metal frame.
The hybrid SIM slot is on the left side of the M1, while the power button and volume rocker is on the right. On top lies the 3.5mm jack.
The phone uses a new USB Type-C connector, which is a first for the brand.
On the rear of the phone sits the 21-megapixel rear camera, along with the dual LED flash and fingerprint scanner. The phone’s back panel may look to be removable, but sadly that’s not the case. The placement of the fingerprint scanner is smack dab where your index fingers sit when you hold the phone. The placement of both the volume and power keys allow you to press them with either hand without you needing to adjust your grip.
Up front, you’ll see the 8-megapixel front camera with LED flash, along with the 5.5-inch full HD display with Asahi Dragontrail Glass protection. The more eagle-eyed among you may have already spotted the front facing speakers located on the bottom and top of the phone. Unfortunately, only the bottom one is the real speaker – the top grille is for the earpiece for the phone.
Display quality for the device is good, without the telltale signs of light leak that we see in less expensive models. Sunlight legibility is good, and the phone’s viewing angles are generous. Image reproduction is also pretty good, though we would have liked it more if the screen was punchier.
Helio X20 scores top marks in synthetic benchmarks but struggles in real world use
Like we said ealier, Cherry Mobile’s M1 is the first phone we’ve encountered that sports MediaTek’s top of the line Helio X20 deca-core processor. A Mali-T880 GPU provides graphical number-crunching. Topping things off is 4GB of RAM (another first for a phone offered by a local company) and 32GB of expandable storage.
So, does the deca-core monster deliver the goods? Not exactly. While the M1 felt incredibly fast and fluid with Android 6.0 Marshmallow, the processor stumbled a little bit when we were using it with games like Asphalt 8 and Modern Combat 5. There were some spots in both games where the frames dropped down enough to be noticeable, which should be the case.
The Helio X20 also exhibited thermal issues, though not in the way you think. Playing games won’t raise the temperature of the phone over “slightly warm” territory, though we were shocked to discover the phone roasting while we were just downloading an update to Asphalt 8. We’re not sure what’s going on here exactly, but our guess would be that MediaTek’s software for its modem might need some more work.
Moving on to sound quality, the M1 had better than average sound despite only having a single front-facing speaker, though sound tended to get distorted at higher volumes. GPS performance was fine – the same goes for LTE as well. Call quality was good.
21-megapixel camera is inconsistent
The Cherry Mobile M1’s 21-megapixel Sony IMX230 sensor isn’t unknown to us. We’ve seen the same sensor on Lenovo’s much more expensive Vibe X3 and a whole host of other phones. From what we’ve seen on those phones, the camera should be able to produce good photos as long as you do your part.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Many of the images had blown-out highlights, and some images looked to have had weird metering issues even in bright sunlight. From what we’re seeing, it looks like the camera’s software isn’t fully optimized which may be causing the issues. The good news is that software tweaks can potentially fix the camera problems and bring the performance of the M1 to par with other similarly equipped smartphones.
Helio X20 is a battery hog
There’s no other way to put it – MediaTek’s newest monster is a battery hog. Running PCMark’s battery benchmark only netted us 5 hours and 37 minutes, way below what we expected from the phone’s 3600mAh battery. Again we’re thinking that poor software optimization may be the culprit here, since MediaTek has long been saying that the Helio X20 consumes far less battery than a typical phone.
Verdict: A flawed phone, but can still be saved by software tweaks
Cherry Mobile’s M1 could have been a showcase of what MediaTek’s Helio X20 deca-core processor could do. Instead, it highlighted the new SoC’s teething problems, problems that can (and should) be fixed by software updates. Hopefully Cherry Mobile addresses the problems that we encountered during the review.
The Cherry Mobile M1 is priced at Php 11,999.