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Featured Review: WileyFox Swift

September 28, 2015 - Written By Tom Dawson

You’ve probably read the title of this review and instantly thought who or what is WileyFox? Well, they’re a fresh smartphone brand based out of England who have jumped on the bandwagon of using Cyanogen OS to get hardware out into the market quickly and with all the features people have come to expect; without the high price tag. The WileyFox Swift is one of their first offerings in the smartphone world, and is designed to be excellent value-for-money while also offering users a myriad of features such as a 13-megapixel camera, dual SIM support, expandable storage, 4G LTE and more. So, for £129 or €179 can Britain’s latest upstart deliver upon their ambitious promise? Read on as we try to find out.

Specs

WileyFox’s Swift is a 5.0-inch 720p device powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 64-bit CPU, which is quad-core 1.2 Ghz affair backed up by 2GB of RAM. Speaking of gigabytes, there’s 16GB of included storage here, but this can be expanded using the microSD card slot. There’s a removable 2,500 mAh battery along with a 13-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 5.0-megapixel camera around the front. Running Cyanogen OS 12.1, giving it Android 5.1.1 Lollipop and a few extras rounds out the software side of things. A fairly small device, the Swift measures 141.15 x 71 x 9.37 mm and weighs just 135g and is only available in a ‘Sandstone Black’ color. Even so, this small device manages to squeeze in dual SIM support. Connectivity wise, the Swift supports Bluetooth 4.0, single-band Wi-Fi up to 802.11n and 4G LTE throughout Europe (your mileage may vary outside of Europe).

Below are some shots of what CPU-Z has to say about the nitty-gritty of the Swifts internals.

Display

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The display used in the Swift is a fully-laminated 5.0-inch IPS LCD display with a resolution of 1280 x 720, giving it a pixel density of 294ppi. Right out the gate, I was extremely impressed with the quality of the display here. At this sort of price point, there’s not much you can expect, but I was mightily surprised. Colors are fairly accurate, if not a little washed out and overblown due to the high brightness exhibited by the panel. This is protected by Gorilla Glass 3 and WileyFox offer a service where you can purchase a screen replacement at checkout for just £9.99, which is really great.

WileyFox have said that the display here is fully-laminated, and the display does indeed feel very close to the glass itself, there’s none of the big gap you’d find in other displays here, and it’s a pleasant touchscreen as well, with great touch response. Viewing angles are similarly impressive and the only change you’d notice is that the brightness shifts a little, but colors still stay accurate as always.

It’s not all roses however, as there was quite a bit of light-bleed on the unit I had to play with, and as the display is so bright, things did feel washed out and overpowered by the backlighting quite a bit. Add to that some fairly evident pixels, and it’s clear this is not the best display out there, but considering the accurate colors, bright output and laminated features, this punches well above its weight. This is a great display for a device of this price point, and helps bring the whole experience together really nicely. I’m impressed, and those spending less than £150 on it should be as well.

Design and Build

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The Swift is not an exciting handset. I mean, look at it, it’s an unassuming black oblong with a touchscreen. This however, is perhaps one of its big strengths, after all the less there is to talk about, the less there is to complain about. The slightly-textured panel feels good in hand and you’d never know that this was a removable panel, which is a nice touch. Design wise, this feels as if a Nexus 5 (from 2013) and the OnePlus One had a baby. There’s the same dot design speaker from LG’s second Nexus as well the same speaker grills flanking the microUSB port (which is worked in fairly neatly). Round the back, there’s the ‘Sandstone Black’ back which looks just like the OnePlus One did when it launched.

Buttons and ports wise, things are standard here as well. There’s a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top of the device, a power button and volume rocker on the same right-hand side and a microUSB port at the bottom. That’s it. There are no other buttons here or anything like that, no capacitive buttons on the front, it’s all software keys here, and the lack of extras lead to a clean look.

It’s a shame that there isn’t more of an identity here, but there’s little to complain about the overall look and feel here, it fits in the hand really well, and is a rare device that can be used in one hand with great ease. The rear-facing camera does have just a touch of flare with a slight orange accent, but the WileyFox logo will set this apart from other devices, much like the name will. For fans of minimal and no fuss designs, the Swift will be a delight, and despite its plastic construction it feels solid and is clearly well-made. There’s Gorilla Glass 3 protecting the display and WileyFox clearly think they have a solid device on their hands here, as for just £9.99 at checkout, you can get three years of warranty. A well put together smartphone that’s easy to use in one hand, the Swift is perhaps a little unexciting, but solid and dependable nonetheless.

Performance

Despite the fact that this is running just a Snapdragon 410, there’s 2GB of RAM and Cyanogen OS has proven itself to be speedy in the past. The Swift is no exception, and in many ways really does live up to its name. In real world performance, the Swift puts up a good fight, the UI is nice and snappy, apps open fairly quickly and even light-to-moderate gaming is perfectly doable here. Web browsing is smooth and fluid, the only thing with the Snapdragon 410 is that heavier sites take a little longer for that initial load. The same can be said for heavier apps and games, things just take a little longer to get there.

On the whole, I was certainly surprised with how the Snapdragon 410 performed here, and I have no doubt this was down to Cyanogen OS and the small additions WileyFox have made. Everyday performance is very good for a device of its nature, and while some sites take a little longer to load, and you won’t be playing every 3D game to its fullest, this is an admirable performer and then some.

Benchmarks

We’ve ran the Swift through a number of different benchmarks, and while performance is right where we thought it should be, these low numbers do not do it justice. The AnTuTu result is particularly low, but the Swift lives up to its name more than these numbers would have you believe. Each benchmark took around five minutes or so to complete, aside from the lengthier 3DMark, and the only real down point here was the Adreno 306 GPU, which lags behind newer competition, like the GPU found inside of the Snapdragon 615. Those interested in how the Swift fared throughout Benchmarks from AnTuTu, Geekbench and 3DMark can take a look in the gallery below.

Call Quality and Network Performance

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The Swift may be one of WileyFox’s first Android smartphones but pairing up with Cyanogen has allowed them to use some pretty advanced and established software, and it shows. Calls were handled quickly and caller’s sounded clear and crisp, they were perhaps a little ‘dry’ here, but then again GSM technology has not moved on much in 20 years and there’s no support for VoLTE here, at least not yet. Callers said that I sounded fine, much like I did on other devices, it’s a good sign that the Swift sounds as good as devices that cost three times as much, but there’s no noise cancellation here. As such, busy environments will lead to some stressful phone conversations, and a lot of repeating yourself, that’s if you use the phone at all, of course.

Network performance was as I expected; good but not stellar. Devices like these aren’t built for the fastest speeds in the world, but what I will say is that on WiFi, the Swift performs really well. On 4G networks I was less than impressed, but that could be a mixture of poor coverage and other factors. It’s quick, but it’s not as quick as devices that cost more, which is frankly the way it should be. Either way, the Swift is pretty swift when it comes to phoning home.

Software

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Running the show on the Swift is Cyanogen OS 12.1, which is itself basically Android 5.1.1. If you’re unfamiliar with Cyanogen OS, it’s built from the AOSP (Android Open Source Project) and is essentially stock Android – as you’d find on a Nexus device – with some thoughtful extras thrown in. WileyFox have done very little to Cyanogen OS here, which means if you’ve ever used a recent version of CyanogenMod or Cyanogen OS you’ll know what to expect here.

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The launcher and theme seem to be the only thing that WileyFox have touched here, and you can of course choose whatever theme you want from the Cyanogen Theme repository. The launcher feels like a standard Android launcher, with a myriad of settings you can tweak and a vertical app drawer. This is great, as it makes it nice and easy to find apps and games by name, and tapping on a letter will instantly send you to that section of the list, as well as highlight apps beginning with ‘E’ for instance. The WileyFox theme is light, and mostly brings a little more orange to the Material Design theme Google set out for Android 5.0 Lollipop some time ago.

Other than those few tweaks however, this feels much like stock Android, but of course Cyanogen OS has a number of tricks up its sleeve, and more recently some changed apps. Cyanogen OS is a tweaker’s dream, just by heading off to the Settings menu you can find added settings and choices for all sorts of things, like fine tuning the onscreen buttons and their layout, for instance. Even if you’re not that technically inclined, the extra settings are easily restored and it’s nice to be given more choice, the sort of choice that actually makes a difference to how your device behaves.

There’s really not much to say about Cyanogen OS here, except for the fact that it offers so many more settings and features to stock Android that many might not want to go back. Plus, it’s clean, speedy and it just works. Again, this might be a little unexciting for those that have come Samsung or HTC devices with their fancy skins and added features, but it’s also fairly refreshing and thanks to thousands of different themes on offer, it can look however you want it to.

Camera

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There’s a 13-megapixel camera included in the Swift around the back for taking stills and video, along with a 5.0-megapixel camera around the front for selfies and video calls. The story of how the Swift performs either around the front or back is a weak point, sadly. Shots come out either washed out or over saturated, there’s little middle ground here. You can get some decent results with it if you’re patient with it, and this became a recurring theme, as more often than not I found myself frustrated at the slow speed of the camera app itself, and the overly dramatic difference in exposure that came by choosing a different focus point in the scene.

Photos appear overly-sharp, and have a distinctly ‘digital’ look to them, and by that I mean that there’s not much natural warmth or tone to them, which is a shame. Still, when compared to other budget options, this is perfectly serviceable, and if you take your time you can get some decent shots with the 13.0-megapixel camera. On the whole though, there is room for improvement here.

Low light performance is sadly pretty poor here, the camera takes quite some time to focus, and even then colors are blurred and the overall sharpness and detail is lost. There is a dual-LED flash here, but it really doesn’t help much, and basically just washes out your subject, and depending on how far away you are from the subject or scene, it doesn’t make much of a difference. Below are some low light samples and as you can see, these’s room for improvement.

Battery Life

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When it comes to battery life, the Swift holds its own admirably. To say there’s only a 2,500 mAh removable battery here, I was impressed with how long the Swift will keep going. On idle, this thing sips power, even when connected to a 4G network, the Swift won’t waste the juice you gave it with runaway apps or anything like that. In use, you can get a good 2 – 3 hours of screen time, but when you try and push that Snapdragon 410 is where things start to unravel. The display, even on full brightness, appears to be fairly conservative but gaming and heavy websites will chip away at your remaining juice.

One thing I found interesting was the ability to choose a Battery Mode, including a ‘Performance’ mode, which we’d assume would speed up the practice of emptying a full charge in no time.

Conclusion

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WileyFox might be a newcomer to the game, but they’ve managed to put together an excellent piece of hardware here, with software prowess that comes from Cyanogen. For sheer value for money, the Swift is brilliant. For the £129/€179 price tag, you get a display that’s better than the majority of devices at this price point, along with performance that would suit a lot of users used to higher-end devices. There’s even Dual SIM support as standard for work and play in the same device, expandable storage and a removable battery. Cyanogen OS won’t be for everyone, as it could be considered a little uninspiring for those used to a more adventurous Android system from the likes of Samsung and co, but it has all the right features in the right places.

From a pure hardware standpoint, the Swift is speedy, light and easy to use in one hand. It’s a little bit unexciting as far as pure design goes, but it’s well made and has a great display as well as 4G connectivity. The Swift is great value for money and you get a whole lot of smartphone for your money. Hopefully, the Swift is the first of many great devices to come from WileyFox.