no-1-s6i-2

Featured Review: No. 1 S6i – A Great Clone of a Great Phone

May 24, 2015 - Written By Nick Sutrich

No. 1 is quite a versatile company.  It specializes in inexpensive devices that range the gamut from clones of popular devices to unique and original phones and smart devices.  They’ve sort of become a favorite among the crowd looking to save some serious cash on their next phone and don’t need the fastest phone on the market or the best camera money can buy.  It’s certainly a trade-off of price versus quality of the features, but No. 1 almost always gets the execution right if our experience is anything to go by.  Today we’re going to be looking at their latest clone, the No. 1 S6i, which is a clone of Samsung’s Galaxy S6.  As the S6 has only been out for about a month it’s impressive to see a clone in the wild, much less one that so uncannily resembles the original in every way.  It’s literally 1/5th of the price of a Galaxy S6 yet appears indistinguishable to most people that I’ve introduced it to, so what sort of concessions must No. 1 have made to get such a fine package into such a low price range?  Let’s take a look!

Specs

no-1-s6i-specs

Specs are something always different about clones from their original devices.  Often times a clone is a considerably cheaper version of the original device, looking and feeling the same on the surface but perhaps performing a little differently in the end.

  • 5.1-inch 720p IPS LCD
  • MediaTek MT6582 Quad-Core 1.3GHz processor
  • Mali-400 MP2 GPU
  • 1GB of RAM
  • IR Blaster
  • 8GB internal storage, no microSD card support
  • 2800 mAh Li-Po battery
  • Android 5.0.1 Lollipop
  • 16MP rear-facing camera, Dual-LED flash
  • 5MP front-facing camera
  • 73 x 142 x 6.8mm
  • 155g

The exclusion of microSD card support here is going to hurt some users and ultimately makes this a streaming media-only phone for many.

Display

no-1-s6i-4

At 5.1-inches this display isn’t quite in phablet territory but Samsung has eased the size of the screen up for its regular sized devices into what was once considered phablet territory.  As such the S6i features the same size screen but it isn’t the famous Samsung Super AMOLED display, rather an IPS panel that still does a great job of reproducing everything you need to see on a daily basis.  The screen is seemingly as sharp as can be even though it’s “only” a 720p display, but at this size it’s difficult to say we need more given the trade-off of needing significantly more horsepower to display images at higher resolution.  Colors are superb, latency of the screen is low and there’s little noticeable ghosting at all, and black levels are good for an IPS panel.  Viewing angles are about what can be expected from a panel on a $120 phone and quite honestly are fine for every day use.

Hardware and Build

no-1-s6i-3

This is easily the most impressive part of the whole package, and it’s one that will likely boggle the minds of people who have held both the original Samsung Galaxy S6 and the No. 1 S6i.  The S6i not only looks identical to the Galaxy S6, it absolutely feels identical too.  Metal rounded-off sides hold two glass panels together on the front and back of the device, coming together in an elegant display of engineering excellence.  Just as on the S6 the speaker is on the bottom of the device next to the microUSB port and the 3.5mm headset jack.  This particular configuration is great especially when you need to charge and listen to music since the cables all come from the same direction on the phone.  Up top there’s a lone IR Blaster to control TV’s and other set-top boxes with IR support.  The right side of the device features the metal power button while the left side has the metal volume rocker.  On the back of the device you’ll find the same glass covering with a No. 1 logo underneath the large protruding camera lens, with a flash and heart rate meter found to the right of the camera lens.

The screen has a slight curve to each edge and blends beautifully with the sides, making it feel as if the metal and glass have been fused together.  This also gives swiping in from the left or right of the screen a satisfying tactical feeling, one I found myself sliding while just holding the phone because it felt so nice.  What’s really truly impressive about this is not everything you’ve read so far necessarily, it’s that No. 1 was able to keep this the exact same dimensions as the Galaxy S6, including the incredibly thin frame.  That’s right, the same 6.9mm ultra thin frame is here in all its glory, and gives the phone a quality elegance that can only be achieved with this sort of thinness and build quality.  The same physical and capacitive button combination on Samsung’s devices is found here too, with a large rounded-square physical home button below the screen and the Overview and Back capacitive buttons flaking it on both sides.  The screen itself also features the super thin bezels from the Galaxy S6, meaning the screen-to-body ratio is high with this one.  The digitizer is actually quite good on this phone too, as it caught all my movements and taps even at times that the phone was going slow or lagging, resulting in a pleasant typing experience most of the time.

Performance and Memory

no-1-s6i-perf

Overall performance of the phone ranges from decent to good, with most of the blame likely being put on the software powering the device as well as the fairly low amount of RAM included.  We’ll get into the software bit later but this appears to literally be TouchWiz running on the phone, and with that comes all the quirks that TouchWiz still has to this day.  Samsung did a lot to improve the performance of its infamous Android skin with the Galaxy S6, and while this certainly feels smoother than any Samsung phone running TouchWiz before the S6 debuted it doesn’t quite feel as smooth as the Samsung Galaxy S6 does.  I’ve got to attribute this to two things in particular that have drastically changed from the original device.  First the S6i ships with 1GB of RAM, which is literally 1/3rd of the amount of RAM included on the Galaxy S6. Second we’re looking at a MediaTek MT6582 powering the experience; a processor that’s certainly no slouch when it comes to processing performance but really isn’t anywhere near the power the Exynos 7420 can exhibit.

no-1-s6i-perf-2

The phone is relatively quick, responds nearly immediately to any commands given it, and performs admirably throughout most every day situations.  I found that the phone struggled most when installing apps but overall was a very impressive performer for this price range.    Regular use exhibited enough hitching to be noteworthy but not to completely break the experience.  This is the same chipset we saw on the No. 1 X-Men X1 so it’s no surprise to see that it ran every game I threw at it, including endless runners, racers and first person shooters.  Even multi-tasking was fast and fluid with apps only reloading once quite a few were open, or when opening lots of tabs in Chrome.  Kudos here to No. 1 for including an actual Overview button as well as keeping the multi-tasking vertical scrolling list of apps in place, as it’s superior to other forms of multi-tasking out there and is the way Google designed it to be.

It’s worth noting separately that the storage for the phone is broken up between a 4GB section called Internal Memory that apps are installed to, and a second 8GB section labeled SD Card where data is stored.  There is no expandable storage so while 12GB is likely enough to do basic functions you’re not going to want to store lots of photos or offline music on this device.

Battery Life

no-1-s6i-ui1

Samsung had to bring the battery size down to fit within the thin frame of the Galaxy S6 when compared to the Galaxy S5, but No. 1 was actually able to fit a slightly larger battery inside.  A 2,800mAh battery is pretty typical for this size of a phone and did a pretty decent job of getting through a full day so long as the usage wasn’t too heavy.  I found that installing apps during the initial setup and flipping through all the settings and features during this time resulted in a pretty significant 25% battery life drop over about an hour.  While this type of usage likely won’t be part of your every day routine, it’s worth noting that the phone doesn’t fair well when pushed to the edge of performance for a long period of time.

On the flipside the phone has phenomenal standby time, losing on average only 1 percent battery life per hour when left untouched.  This is great for those going out or at an office where you wouldn’t normally use the phone for hours at a time sometimes, meaning the S6i isn’t likely to be dead at the end of the day for no good reason.  The battery isn’t removable here so there’s no way to just carry around an extra, but any number of the power banks on the market could become your friend if you’re a heavy user.

Phone Calls and Network

no-1-s6i-phone

Using the S6i as a phone gave me no problem, with call quality and reception being just as good as any regular smartphone out there.  The quality of the speaker was great when compared to other speakers in its class without HD Voice support, and the loudspeaker on the back was sufficient for most situations although not particularly loud when cranked up to the max, especially when on the road.  3G HSPA speeds were present on T-Mobile’s network and would be on AT&T’s as well, or any of its MVNO’s like Cricket or Simple Mobile for that matter.  HSPA speeds mean great download speeds, sufficient upload speeds and relatively high pings when compared to LTE.  HSPA is still plenty to stream music or video and browse the web without problems, although the initial handshake for HSPA takes a lot longer than LTE.  This means that initial data loading period will be longer than on an LTE phone, but once it gets going it’s usually indistinguishable from a decent LTE connection in many situations.  This is a single-SIM phone that takes a nano SIM, so be aware of that if you’re rocking something larger like a micro or standard sized SIM card.

Software

no-1-s6i-ui-5

Often times a clone will feature software that’s similar, but not the exact same as the original phone from which it was based on.  What the same can be said about this phone the difference is almost indistinguishable unless you know exactly where to look.  For starters the original heart rate monitor and applicable app are here, functioning just as well as the one found on the Galaxy S6.  WatchOn, the program that tunes the IR blaster on top to your favorite TV or set-top box, is also found here and is fully functioning.  Even S-Voice is here in full form, functioning just as it would on the Galaxy S6, as well as a few pack-in apps like Skype, WeChat, WhatsApp, Twitter and more.  These are all apps many people use on a daily basis and while they can certainly be considered “bloatware” by people who don’t use them, some will likely be happy to have them already on the phone from the get-go.

Among the few actual things to be missing include theme support, which Samsung built into their latest release of TouchWiz, some minor differences in display settings related to Super AMOLED screens, the Kids Mode that Samsung debuted with the Galaxy S5 and multi-window.  Outside of that there’s almost nothing missing from this phone that you would find on the Galaxy S6, which is a pretty incredible feat given how customized Samsung’s software is.  Anyone who’s ever done any ROM cooking or development will certainly appreciate the painstaking effort No. 1 has gone through to make this as authentic as possible.  Even the lock screen has the little bubbles that come off the touch from your finger, giving a fun effect to something normally rudimentary.

There’s even some additions over Samsung’s software such as the double tap to wake feature along with many gestures that can be customized to launch apps by drawing letters on the screen when it’s off.  What’s great about No. 1’s implementation here is that they actually paid attention to usability for this feature unlike so many other OEMs out there.  I say this because you have to pick the phone up and hold it vertically to be able to perform any of the screen-off gestures, ensuring that you will almost never have the phone turn on accidentally in your pocket.  Using the proximity sensor for this is still the best solution but this is better than nothing for sure.

All of the TouchWiz styling is present here including the signature blue that Samsung users have become accustomed to, as well as the old-school quick toggles present in the notification bar.  You’ll find a horizontal scrolling row of 9 settings and tasks to use, each of which is a simple toggle.  There’s no way to customize this list and unfortunately pressing and holding one of the buttons doesn’t take you to the full settings panel, either with WiFi or Bluetooth for example.  This is irritating but at least there’s a settings cog in the top right that takes you to these settings in just two additional clicks.  Full proper Lollipop notification support is here including one-finger expansion of notifications with actions attached to them when possible.  Everything from the Dialer to the Messaging app, Browser and Camera look either the same or nearly identical to their Samsung counterparts and function in the same manner as well.  Overall this is a fantastic experience with no visual change over Samsung’s newest TouchWiz and features plenty of stock Android Lollipop features as well.

Sound

no-1-s6i-music

Overall the sound output was pretty good, especially for this price range.  Audio coming out of either the 3.5mm headset jack or via Bluetooth was great, with highs and mids coming out crystal clear and vibrant.  Oddly enough I seemed to have some issues with the lows where there just didn’t seem to be enough volume to kick the bass in full force.  Volume overall was pretty low too, equalizer on or off, and I found myself continually pressing the volume up button even though it was on max.  It’s possible that this could be addressed in a future update but it was odd nonetheless.   On the bright side the audio wasn’t tinny or hollow as I’ve heard from plenty of other phones at this price range, which gives me hope for future updates to address any shortcomings here.

Sounds from the speaker on the bottom of the device were pretty low and generally hollow sounding, as if the speaker was placed somewhere inside the phone rather than at the edge where the speaker grill was.  It was certainly loud and clear enough to get the point across when playing games or watching videos, but if you’re in an area with lots of noise it’ll be impossible to hear the sound out of it at all.  At least the quality isn’t bad though

Camera

no-1-s6i-camera

Generally speaking a phone in the sub-$150 price range almost never has what can be called a great camera.  Some border on good but almost never cross the line over into great.  The S6i certainly falls in this category and while you probably won’t say wow at any single picture taken with the phone the photos from it really aren’t bad at all.  In fact the low light photos trounce many phones in the price range, as often times the sensors used in these phones are absolutely tiny and can’t perform unless there’s massive amounts of sunlight.  You’ll see that even indoors during the evening the colors are accurate and details are good, with faint amounts of noise compared to others in this price range.

The viewfinder is a lower framerate than I would have preferred, making it a little more difficult to get the shot than on some others phones because it doesn’t feel like the image on the screen is keeping up with the action.  The shutter did a better job of capturing the action though, often times getting pretty good images of my fast moving one year old boy even indoors.  Having an easy to access burst mode helps this quite a bit too, as holding down the shutter button takes dozens of shots per second and sorts them into neat little categories in the gallery for easy viewing and organizing later.  HDR tends to either overexpose shots too much or just generally not do too much to the image, and given the ghost images from the slow shutter and the long processing time I’d recommend just not using this mode at all.

As far as features are concerned this definitely isn’t the same camera software that Samsung packs on the Galaxy S6, rather a revised version of the camera software we’ve seen features on many other Chinese phones this year and from No. 1.  That means there’s plenty of options to choose from for photo and video modes including granular control over sharpness, hue, saturation and other properties of the image before it’s taken.  Video quality was just as good as the pictures too, giving great performance and framerate as well as producing clear HD video that’s actually worthy of being called HD.  It’s still in the odd 3GP format instead of MPEG or another generally higher quality format, but the bitrate is higher than other phones I’ve used that prefer this format.  Check the camera samples below to make your own judgement.

Conclusion

no-1-s6i-1

Without having exhausted our options on all the phones out there in this price range, the No. 1 S6i is absolutely among the top-tier when it comes to phones under $120.  The build quality is something thought to only be on phones five times its price, and this helps considerably when thinking about the small shortcomings the phone actually has.  The processor packed inside does a great job at handling most tasks given to it, and performs admirably in games, video playback and general computing.  Multi-tasking was generally fast and responsive too, with a dedicated Overview button for quick multi-tasking, but only 1GB of RAM is going to hold back moving between games and other apps without reloading.  Battery life was average with some sharp drops if lots of intensive tasks were being used, and there’s no expandable storage found inside so what you see is what you get.

The screen is certainly above average for this price range and delivers a fantastic viewing experience no matter how you cut it.  Sound output was good to great via the headset and Bluetooth, however the speaker on the unit itself was a little too quiet and far away sounding for my liking.  Overall the performance and build quality of this device, coupled with the above average camera for this price range makes this an easy recommendation to anyone looking for a new phone on the cheap.  Clones come in all different shapes and sizes but this one is absolutely true to form, keeping much of the feeling and look of the S6 while providing value that’s not often seen in phones of this price point.  If you’re looking to pick one up please check out the product page for the No. 1 S6i below, as it has many retailers that No. 1 has partnered with as well as any sales that might be going on for the device.