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Featured Review: WileyFox Storm

November 18, 2015 - Written By Tom Dawson

When WileyFox came out of nowhere to kick off the Fall with some new, budget-minded Cyanogen OS hardware, they did so with two devices. The Swift, which we were able to review some time ago, and the Storm which we’ve finally got out hands on. The Storm is the more expensive of the two, with a larger 5.5-inch display, beefier internals and altogether more premium feel to it. You wouldn’t be wrong to consider the WileyFox Storm as a Swift++, as they share a lot of common DNA. Still, at just £199.99 this looks like one hell of a smartphone on paper. Full HD Display? Check. Guaranteed software updates? Check. Decent specs? Check. The Storm looks like another winner from WileyFox on paper, but what about in practice? Join me as I try to find out whether the Storm is a good device full-stop or more compromises than plus points.

Specs

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For £200 you wouldn’t expect much, but the Storm delivers in areas that will surprise you. With an octa-core Snapdragon 615 backed up with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage we’re already off to a good start. The Full HD (1920 x 1080) 5.5-inch display is a little “standard” these days, but with dual-SIM support as well as Cyanogen OS onboard things just keep on getting better here. Especially when you factor in that this features a 20-megapixel Sony camera around the back and an 8.0-megapixel shooter upfront. With LTE support as well as good single-band WiFi the performance boxes are mostly ticked. Measuring 155.6mm x 77.3mm x 9.2mm and weighing 155g this is a thin and light (almost too light in the hand) device, which sadly means that just a 2,500 mAh battery was fitted under the hood of the Storm. Still, the spec sheet here is an impressive one, and while the Snapdragon 615 isn’t exactly an award winner it’s a modern, 64-bit processor that should definitely get the job done and then some.

I would have liked to have seen a larger battery in a device at this sort of size, but it’s obvious WileyFox wanted a thin phone rather than one with a large battery. How much that impacts time between charges will depend on how you use it, but this is an area where 3,000 mAh would sound a lot better. The same goes for the single-band WiFi, I have no idea why manufacturers choose to ignore dual-band WiFi in devices like these, but it can make a big difference should you have the WiFi for it.

For those interested in all the full specs, WileyFox themselves have a comprehensive list available here.

Display

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The display here has to be one of the better budget displays I’ve used in quite some time. It’s a large, 5.5-inch panel which puts it in the same league as devices like the LG G4 and OnePlus Two in terms of screen size. Bezels are present either side of the device and they could have been cut back a little bit, but they don’t look too bad. In terms of brightness, the Storm could do with about 10 – 15% extra here, it isn’t exactly dull, but even at max brightness, I was looking for a little more to crank it up just a tad further.

The color of the Storm’s display however, will be hit or miss for a lot of users. For me, it’s a big hit, but that’s because I personally enjoy these warm and saturated colors. They’re not AMOLED-style saturated, and they still look realistic, but because they are so saturated some content can come across a little dark or even dull in places. Objectively however, I can see why some users wouldn’t enjoy this sort of thing and would prefer something a little more realistic in terms of color reproduction. For the majority of what I do on a smartphone, be it reading online or watching YouTube videos this was a pleasant display to use. There was nothing wrong with viewing angles, the only thing you lose looking off-axis would be a little of the backlit (as with the majority of smartphones) and the display is nice and close to the touchscreen. Speaking of which, touch reponse here is really, really good.

An interesting software inclusion here is ‘Live Display’ which is baked into Cyanogen OS and essentially changes the color temperature during certain times of day, or when you feel like changing the mode manually. Long story short, this changes the color temperature and white balance to reduce eye strain. This is particularly welcome at night, where a lot of the blue light that keeps us awake and strains our eyes is filtered out. Sure, there’s a strange color on your display instead of the usual, but for reading or browsing the web it’s a lot more gentle on the eyes.

Overall, the display here is a quality panel, and rivals that of my OnePlus Two, which is more expensive a device. Really, this is a run-of-the-mill 1080p panel that is perhaps a little too warm, nothing spectacular, but nothing to complain about, either.

Design and Build

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When I reviewed the Swift from WileyFox earlier this year, I said that it was an unremarkable looking device, the Storm is an evolution of that, with some niceties thrown in. The front of the device is clean and simple, and the capacitive buttons (which you can choose to use or turn off, should you wish) disappear and reappear with a subtle blue light, with the home button doubling as a notification light and charging indicator. The edges are chamfered in a reverse version to give some needed grip, which the textured back has in abundance. The back panel looks like the Sandstone from OnePlus, but it’s a lot more subtle and smoother than that, I prefer it to the stock OnePlus look and it’s a nice touch on something at this price point.

I like the way the camera lens and its flash is worked in to the device of the device, and even the power and volume rockers have slight chamfered edges with a silver-like flashing to them. My only real gripe about the Storm is that the power button is a little too high up on a device of this size. A power button on anything above 5.0-inches should be closer the the middle of the device, in my opinion, as the easier it is to turn the phone on out of your pocket, the less likely you are to drop it. It also feels a little too light in the hand. Admittedly, I’m used to the heft of my OnePlus Two, but the plastic WileyFox Storm feels disturbingly light. This is more preference than anything else, and you could say the same about the LG G4 while we’re talking about device weight. Nevertheless, the Storm is a good-looking and easy to hold smartphone that looks the part.

The Storm, much like the Swift is a device that straddles the line between minimal and well, boring. I love the minimal look here, and this is definitely a step up from the Swift, but I can see why some might consider this a device with little going for it. The less there is however, the less there is to complain about and if you’re the type that prefers a device that don’t quite try that hard, then the Storm is something to consider where looks are concerned.

Performance and Memory

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Even though the Snapdragon 615 is no match for something running a Snapdragon 808 or 810, it’s still a 64-bit octa-core CPU, and WileyFox have thrown in  a generous 3GB of RAM as well. Remember, some devices at this price point are lucky to get their hands on 2GB of RAM, so to see 3GB here is impressive. So too, is the overall performance of the device. Web browsing is nice and smooth, with some quick page loads and responsive scrolling. Android, which is the Cyanogen OS 12 variant, is nice and speedy as well. In fact, I’d say that the Storm was quite a bit more responsive than other Snapdragon 615 device I’ve used this year.

I say that because it exhibits good performance full-stop, rather than the sort of “good for a budget device” sort of performance we see elsewhere. The Snapdragon 615 is not a good chip though, and there are some hiccups here and there, but they’re the sort of hiccups and stutters that I would expect a device at this price point to have. Playing Colin McCrae Rally, one of my favorite games and something I feel represents some middle ground between super-duper 3D graphics and casual gaming, the Storm kept up just fine. It was smooth, with a decently high frame rate throughout. More advanced titles like Dead Trigger and Star Wars: Knights of The Old Republic did struggles a little with some noticeable frame rate drops, but these were few and far between, with a smooth performance overall.

Multitasking is of course an area where this punches well about its weight. 3GB of RAM allows an Android smartphone to keep a lot of apps open and quickly switch between a good handful of them. The Storm zips in and out of apps without a problem, and I was genuinely surprised by how similar the Storm performed to my OnePlus Two running a Snapdragon 810. There’s something really impressive about the Storm’s overall performance, and I’d go so far to say that even power users would be happy with this sort of speed and stability, especially given its low price tag.

Benchmarks

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Not everyone is going to like Benchmarks, but they are an undeniably simple way of rating how well something performs. The scores in an AnTuTu Benchmark for instance, can be weighed up against the phone you’re already using, or other devices at a similar price point. We covered real-world performance above, but this is how the WileyFox Storm performed across a number of tests, including AnTuTu, PCMark, 3DMark and Geekbench. The results paint a fairly middling picture, and considering the device’s price point, this is to be expected. Everyday performance is represented as good, but anything more intensive fall behind and shows that the Storm could really do with some extra grunt here and there.

All results have been captured for viewing in the below gallery:

Camera

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As its primary, rear-facing camera the WileyFox Storm sports a Sony EXMOR IMX220 sensor, which can capture up to 20-megapixel images. Things are just as good when you take a look at the 8.0-megapixel front-facing camera with a dedicated flash. How good this is in practice will depend on your environment, but it takes detailed images and will help in low-light situations. This is impressive for a device of this sort of price, and indeed it is capable of taking very impressive photos, the camera software however, is not. This is the exact same sort of problem I had with the WileyFox Swift when I reviewed it, and I’m sure if this is a Cyanogen OS thing or a WileyFox thing. Either way, the camera experience with the Storm is a frustratingly slow and confusing experience overall. Which is a shame, as the camera is capable of taking such excellent shots as this:

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This sort of performance is not what I’d expect from a device like the WileyFox Storm, and yet it’s exactly what I got. Taking photos however is a frustrating experience. Unfortunately, I was unable to take any screenshots due to some silly setting about the volume and power buttons being used for camera functions getting in the way (even when I had this setting turned off). The icons here feel dated and chunky and they’re not entirely clearly what they all mean. Would the average user think a temperature gauge is the button for white balance? Whilst we’re on the subject of White Balance, it is is generally poor unless lighting conditions are bright. Here in Middle England we’re well into the middle of Fall here and it’s cloudy a lot of the time, but there was more than enough light here to not depict this scene so darkly:

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Above all however, is my concern at how far apart one single step of exposure is. Here’s a shot at +/-0 exposure:

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Below is the same shot but taken with +1 exposure, you’ll notice the drastic difference here. One is too dark and the other comes across as washed out.

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If you’re the patient type however, and are more likely to spend time making sure you end up with a good shot, then this shouldn’t really matter to you much at all. The Storm takes exceptionally good pictures, but they’re not perfect. Everything is either too dark or too light, there’s no in-between and pictures feel overly-sharp and too digital. This is not the natural camera look of the Nexus 5X or the super-sharp detail of the Xperia Z5, but then again the Storm costs less than both of those, by a considerable margin. For those that want to take a look at the full-resolution samples, click the link to Flickr below.

Storm Sample Album

Call and Sound Quality

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Everything about the sound quality of the Storm is pretty damn good. Calls sounded good, as good as 2G GSM calls can be these days, but using VoIP services yielded much better results. There’s not much to write home about where voice calls are concerned here, with little to complain about, this is nothing amazing, and it’s nothing awful, either. It gets the job done, is loud enough when used in loudspeaker mode and everyone said my voice sounded just fine to them.

As for listening to music and watching videos, the speaker is a bit of waste of time, really. It works, but the sound is pretty lifeless overall, but it does not distort at high volume levels, which is something a lot of devices suffer from these days. This is not a speaker that you want to be using when listening to your favorite tracks, but for a YouTube video here and there it gets the job done admirably.

Where things are great however, is in the headphone output of the Storm. With Cyanogen OS’ Audio FX available here it’s really easy to tune things to your liking. Music is crisp and you can add or take away as much bass or treble as you want. The presets are fairly generic, but it’s really easy to adjust thing to just the way you want them in order to enjoy your favorite music the way you want.

Software

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The WileyFox Storm is running Cyanogen OS 12.1, which makes this an Android 5.1.1 Lollipop smartphone. This is a real high point of the overall package. Running Cyanogen OS means that this is a device that won’t suffer the budget hardware curse when it comes to software updates, and it’s also nice and speedy, with few included apps. Speaking of which, there’s only really the usual swap-outs of Google’s own apps (the likes of Play Music, Movies, Google Chrome and others are still here though) as well as TrueDialer integration in the phone app and that’s about it. There’s no random apps included that you didn’t ask for, and it’s an incredibly refreshing experience. It’s clean, good-looking and you have the option to choose whatever it its you want on your device.

There are settings and options on whether or not you want to use the onscreen buttons as with most other Android devices, or whether or not you want to change the lights used in the Notification settings and more. When reviewing the software of a device running Android I often think that the less that needs to be said, the better, and that is no more true than with the WileyFox Storm. This is a device that you can use without worry (privacy settings include a permissions restrictor and this had been updated to Android Security Patch November 2015 at the time of writing) by just picking it up and going to town with it. There are some screenshots below, but if you’ve used CyanogenMod or stock Android before, you’ll be right at home with Cyanogen OS 12.1 on the Storm. Even if you’re new to Cyanogen OS, you have little to worry about, everything is so straightforward and easy to use that you’ll have to get used to very little here.

Battery Life

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It is a shame to see that there’s just a 2,500 mAh battery inside this large, 5.5-inch device but of course it’s not all down to how big the battery is in terms of capacity. Even so, this is the sort of battery size we see in devices much smaller than the Storm, and it’s clear that WileyFox sacrificed battery capacity for a thin device, something that has never fared manufacturers well over the years. Even so however, I was impressed with the results of the PCMark battery benchmark. Netting a time of 5 hours and 38 minutes, this actually beat the Xperia Z5 we recently reviewed and it’s a respectable score. Don’t forget however, that this is a benchmark that maxes out the phone until the phone reaches a low-level of battery life. We use this to make sure that all our devices are tested in the same criteria regardless of the reviewer.

Battery life stories are often anecdotal and how I use my phone will be different to how you use yours. I can say however, that idea time here is excellent. If you should leave the Storm on overnight without being plugged in you’ll be surprised at how little battery life you’ll lose over that time. Use anything intensive, like 3D games and turn-by-turn navigation and that battery meter will go down a hell of a hell lot quicker, presumably because there’s not that big a tank here. 2015-11-16 09.13.23

Final Thoughts

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Having reviewed the WileyFox Swift previously, I was already impressed with what this new firm can do at such great price points. The Storm takes this to a whole new level, for £199.99 I have to question why someone would want anything other than this. It has a decent display that, while perhaps a little too warm and saturated, has great viewing angles and is nice and crisp. The camera, while slow and frustrating at times is much better than other devices at this price point and the performance is pretty damn good as well. With 3GB of RAM and a modern 64-bit CPU, the Storm will stay relevant for some time to come, thanks to the Cyanogen OS software on here. Sure, updates will take a little time to become available for this, but they will come, as WileyFox have handed over that responsibility to a firm that has a track record in keeping devices up-to-date. If Cyanogen can keep the OnePlus One updated, a device that famously saw the two companies falling out, then we think they can manage it here with the Storm.

At this sort of price, there’s a lot of competition, but not all of it is actually good. The Motorola Moto G and older OnePlus One devices are safe bets, but the Storm is a safe bet for now as well as next year, and perhaps even the year after that. It’s speedy, it looks good and it performs like a phone that costs twice as much. Sure, it needs a larger battery and a serious speed boost when using the camera, but the rest of the boxes are ticked here and I can honestly say that – minus the sluggish camera – even I, someone used to devices costing two times or more, would be happy using this every day.

Buy The Wileyfox Storm On Amazon