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Lenovo Vibe K5 Note Review: Better VR Bundle?

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Lenovo has been making in roads into affordable VR via their budget K series of phones. A few months ago the Chinese firm released the K4 Note, a phablet that came with its own VR headset. Since then Lenovo’s expanded the budget K series, offering the K5 Plus and the K5 Note, which come with VR headsets and Bluetooth controllers. Is the K5 Note worth the scratch for the cash-strapped VR aficionado?

Lenovo VIBE K5 Note

  • 1.8GHz Helio P10 Octa-Core Processor
  • Mali-T860 MP2 GPU
  • 3GB of RAM
  • 5.5-Inch Full HD display  1080×1920 Resolution
  • 32GB of internal storage (expandable up to 128GB)
  • 13-megapixel rear camera with PDAF and 5 Composite Lens
  • 8-megapixel front camera
  • Dual SIM
  • 4G, LTE
  • Bluetooth v4.1, WiFi b/g/n, AGPS, Fingerprint scanner
  • 3500mAh Battery
  • Android Lollipop 5.1
  • Php 11,999.00

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Feels like a premium device with metal body and solid construction

The Vibe K5 Note looks and feels familiar if you’re coming from its predecessor, the K4 Note. Lenovo’s been hard at work trying to unify the design language of their K series of smartphones, and the effort is paying off. But unlike the K4 Note that had a metal frame and plastic back, the K5 Note is mostly made out of metal – only the top and bottom part of the back is made out of plastic, likely for the antennas. Despite that, the phone still feels quite premium and the plastic bits on the the phone aren’t really that obvious.

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The phone’s corners are rounded, and there’s a noticeable curve on the back to make it easier to hold in the hands. It is a little thicker than the K4 Note at 8.49mm, though that may be because of its 3500mAh battery that’s non-removable. Most people won’t really mind that extra chunkiness if it means they get a little more juice at the end of the day. Also located on the back of the phone is the round fingerprint scanner that has beveled edges, LED flash and 13-megapixel rear camera with PDAF. You’ll see the speaker grille on the bottom.

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The volume rocker and power button is on the right side of the phone, while the combination microSD/SIM tray is on the left. On top you’ll see 3.5mm jack, while the bottom holds the USB port. Button placement is good, and the fingerprint scanner is easily reachable with your index finger no matter which hand you use to hold the phone.

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Up front you’ll see the 5.5-inch full HD display, along with the earpiece, LED notification and physical Android navigation keys. The display is nice and bright, with overall good color reproduction and punchy colors. Really we can’t find anything wrong with the display to be completely honest – though it’s not up to par with the nicer panels on more expensive phones.

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Lenovo’s Ant VR headset makes a return, though now it’s paired with a TheaterMax Bluetooth controller. One of the biggest issues of the original TheaterMax bundle in the K4 Note was the lack of a way to trigger the screen when you view interactive VR content.

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This time that’s no longer a concern – the Bluetooth VR controller that comes with the phone has an analog stick and a bevy of buttons that you can use with any VR app or game of your choice.

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Fast performance, though it’s not a gaming machine

Powering the Lenovo K5 Note is MediaTek’s Helio P10 octa-core processor, paired with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of expandable storage. This isn’t the first time we’ve encountered the SoC, and to be honest it’s performance has been lackluster so far, at least in our experience.

Is that the same case with the K5 Note? Not exactly. Gaming with the P10 is doable, though we’d suggest you lower down the graphical settings of more demanding Android games if possible to avoid lagging like crazy – the P10 isn’t exactly known for its gaming chops. For normal use the K5 Note feels smooth, without the stutter and lag that we felt on other P10-equipped smartphones. 3GB of RAM seems to be the sweet spot for the SoC – anything less tends to incur performance penalties and negatively affects user experience.

Speaking of user experience, Lenovo’s K5 Note packs the company’s Vibe UI overlay along with Android 5.1 Lollipop. As of this writing though, the phone has already received an OTA download for Android Marshmallow, which was promised by local Lenovo reps during the local launch of the device around a month ago. Anyway, back to the Vibe UI – it’s not quite as intrusive as other UI overlays *cough* MIUI *cough* and retains the app drawer so all of your apps aren’t laid out in the open. There are quite a few pre-installed apps (AKA bloatware) on the device, but it’s not too bad.

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As for the VR experience, it’s okay, though if you strain hard enough you’ll see the pixels on the full HD display. There’s a reason why companies like Samsung recommend a UHD display for use in VR – because of how the tech works (the eyepieces essentially magnify the display) a UHD display is the way to go, but if you’re not too picky a FHD display works fine as well. The open nature of the glasses also means that you can just press the screen if you’re too lazy to take out the Bluetooth controller to navigate certain VR apps and videos. Lenovo’s TheatherMax tech allows you to enter VR mode even if you’re not using VR apps, splitting the display down the middle. Since it’s certified for VR, the phone has the full suite of gyros and sensors – perfect if you want to capture Pokemon using AR mode.

The lone rear-firing speaker is surprisingly loud, and doesn’t distort even at high volumes, and as an added bonus the phone has HiFi audio as well. The fingerprint scanner is fast and we rarely had to repeat the scan to unlock the phone. Like we mentioned in our other reviews of P10-equipped phones, the new SoC has better LTE and GPS antennas compared to the previous chipsets of MediaTek. Call quality is pretty good too.

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Camera is inconsistent

Just like any budget phone, the biggest weakness of the Vibe K5 Note is the camera. Some of the images taken in bright sunlight look washed out, with a lot of details lost. Surprisingly enough, images taken during a particularly overcast sky with HDR look pretty good, considering the conditions.

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Images taken at 8PM at night with just lighting from overhead lamps similarly look good enough to be shared on social media, though obviously you’ll be dealing with a fair amount of noise on the image as well. Video recording tops out at full HD.

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Enough battery to last you through the day

The Vibe K5 Note packs a 3,500mAh battery which is 200mAh higher than the one in the K4 Note. That’s more than enough juice to get you through the day with moderate use. PCMark Battery benchmark put the phone’s endurance at around 7 hours and 45 minutes.

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Verdict: Another solid multimedia phone from Lenovo

Lenovo’s K5 Note is a marked improvement from the previous iteration offered a few months ago. It has a nicer, more premium-looking body, better processor, higher storage and faster performance compared to the K4 Note. The included VR headset and new Bluetooth controller make it easier than ever for people to begin their VR journey, though at Php 11,990, the K5 Note may be priced a bit too high for first time VR users. We suggest that you try one out before dropping cash on one.

John Nieves

John is a veteran technology and gadget journalist with more than 10 years of experience both in print and online. When not writing about technology, he frequently gets lost in the boonies playing soldier.

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