Competition in the world of Chinese smartphone manufacturers is fierce. Many Chinese OEMs have moved into the entry-level and mid-range market, offering good specs for super cheap prices. Some OEMs tout their build quality while others sell on the price alone. There are OEMs known for having the thinnest phones on the market and ones for having clones that look like they're the hottest new phone out there. iOcean falls somewhere in between all of these categories, producing devices such as the Rock M6752 that have good build quality, specs that look great on paper and a mid-range price. Does the Rock have what it takes to stand alone in the world of Chinese OEMs, or is it going to get drowned out by the sea of competition that has ensued from within the borders of The Great Wall?
For around $230 iOcean's latest can be yours. The iOcean Rock features some pretty incredible specs for the price, boasting MediaTek's latest 64-bit Octa-core CPU and more, making this a great value for the money. Check out what's under the hood.
- 5.5-inch 1080p LTPS LCD
- MediaTek MT6752 64-bit 1.7GHz Octa-core
- Mali-760 MP2
- 3GB of RAM
- 16GB internal storage, microSD card support
- 2,300mAh battery
- Android 4.4.4
- 13MP rear-facing camera, LED flash
- 5MP front-facing camera
- 154.7mm tall x 76.9mm wide x 8.2mm thick
1080p displays are becoming more and more common in this price category but that doesn't mean it's not nice to see them on a less expensive phone. What was a flagship specification not even 2 years ago is now becoming commonplace on even budget-minded phones, and that's really a refreshing thing to see. As you would expect from a screen that pushes the resolution so high as such a low price point there are a few sacrifices, namely black levels and latency. Ghosting is commonly seen when scrolling, especially in areas of high contrast. It's not enough to ruin the picture by any means and is probably around the same level you'd find on the Galaxy Note 4's AMOLED screen for reference.
Black levels are typical of a cheaper LCD display and come off as a dark grey at any brightness or angle. Viewing angles are fine although the black levels are even worse when viewed from more extreme angles. Color representation is right on point and doesn't feel overly warm or cool. iOcean includes what it calls MiraVision which allows users to tweak every single bit of the display on the phone. Everything from contrast to sharpness, color temperature to saturation and even dynamic contrast. This is a super robust tweaking utility that gives power users the ability to make the display look as they want it.
Hardware and Build
The reason iOcean calls this phone the Rock is because of its build materials. The back of the phone feels like a low-grade sandpaper, giving the plastic back a unique texture while not being very gritty. This back is fully removable as you'll find the removable 2,300mAh battery, dual-SIM card slots and microSD card slot underneath. The phone is ultra light at 158g and borders on feeling a little bit cheap for this size and weight, especially given that it's built entirely out of plastic materials. On the back of the device, you'll find the circular 13MP camera near the top with the single LED flash situated below it, as well as the stereo rear-facing speakers near the bottom of the back side. The bottom of the phone houses the microUSB slot as well as a microphone, and you'll find a noise-cancelling microphone on the top right next to the 3.5mm headset jack too.
The power button is situated on the right side of the device smack dab in the middle with the volume rocker right above it. I found this placement to be super awkward and often accidentally pressed the volume rocker many times instead of the power button. This is a case of iOcean lowering the placement of the power button to make it more one hand friendly, but muscle memory took over as most phones put it significantly higher. I've got the white version of the device but it also comes in black, light blue and pink. The white version has a rather interesting silver face to it which differentiates it a bit from other phones out there.
On the face of the phone you'll find the generous 5.5-inch screen with minimal side bezels and a slightly bulging chin that features no physical or capacitive buttons. iOcean opted for software buttons as stock Android has, and it gives them greater flexibility for themes and other customizations on the fly. You'll also find the front-facing camera above the screen as well as the earpiece and sensors to the right of that.
Performance and Memory
I expected quite a bit out of a device sporting MediaTek's newest 64-bit octa-core chipset running the highest-end 3rd generation Mali T760 GPU, not to mention sporting 3GB of RAM. What I got was a device that felt woefully underpowered, with loads of stuttering, pausing and just a generally annoying experience. After using the device for nearly a full day, I found myself getting infuriated with the delays, errors in typing because of the lag, and just the overall unpleasantness of the experience. Thankfully I remembered that Android 4.4 KitKat shipped with the ability to switch to Google's new runtime, ART, which is supposed to help immensely in this department. Fortunately I was right, and switching to ART made a world of difference, but not having this setting out of the box is going to leave a lot of users frustrated.
After switching to ART the device was as lightning fast as I had hoped, multi-tasking like a beast and never reloading any application even after switching between multiple apps one after the other. iOcean uses a very iOS 7/8 multi-tasking interface complete with vertical thumbnail screenshots of apps and an icon underneath. Scrolling to the right shows all the running apps and there's even a super handy bar underneath each thumbnail that tells you how much RAM each app takes up. Clearing all apps out of memory is a simple click of the sweep button at the bottom of the multi-task screen. Since iOcean uses software buttons with the Recents key you can quickly move in and out of this screen, making multi-tasking a true joy on the Rock.
Moving onto gaming brought me right back into the land of frustration. Many intensive 3D games were impossible to play, with low framerates and sluggish controls because of it. There's definitely some sort of software issue at play here, as running benchmarks like AnTuTu pit the performance of the phone right alongside phones like the OnePlus One, Galaxy S5, HTC OneM8 and Xiaomi Mi4 to name a few. It's possible that this will be fixed in a future release of the software, namely the Android 5.0 Lollipop update that's promised, but until then you'll have to be picky about which 3D games you play on this device.
At 2,300mAh this is a truly tiny battery for the size of the phone. Most phones with a 5.5-inch screen ship with at least a 3,000mAh battery, making this significantly smaller than other competitors' similar sized phones. As such you'd expect the battery to drain pretty quickly and you'd be right. It doesn't help that there's yet again another software issue, this time related to the dual-SIM card capabilities that the Rock offers. With one SIM card inserted the phone keeps looking for that second SIM card even though it's not there. You'll periodically receive warnings that two SIM cards aren't inserted, but there's no obvious way to disable the second slot in the options. As such Cell Standby was frequently the number one reason why my battery would die. I couldn't get through more than 2/3 of a day with a full charge, and that yet again led to more frustrations with the device. Much like the previous section I'm hoping this gets fixed in a later software update, otherwise those out there that want to use the phone with a single SIM are going to find themselves in my shoes.
Phone Calls and Network
Dual-SIM capability is very important in some regions of the world, and the iOcean Rock won't let you down there. There's very robust support here for dual SIM cards including the ability to manage data, calls and messages through individual networks. I found that the iOcean Rock worked perfectly in the US with T-Mobile, giving me a fantastic 3G HSPA+ connection. Download and upload speeds were among the best I've ever seen on T-Mobile's HSPA network, and reception quality was constantly stellar. I never received any dropped calls, even in areas that I can sometimes have a hard time with, and call quality was as good as you would expect from a non-HD Voice call.
The iOcean Rock comes with a very stock looking version of Android that's packed to the brim with extra features. At the time of writing this review it was running Android 4.4.4 KitKat with an update Android 5.0 Lollipop promised soon. The interface is fully themeable through the included theme app, and 6 themes are included. There's no obvious theme store and I'm not entirely sure how to get additional themes, but it's nice to see the support here if you can find themes online. Overall the UI is very zippy and takes no time to load anything, especially once I switched to the ART runtime from the old Dalvik one. Quick toggles is mainly unchanged from AOSP in style and include a number of new toggles to help with dual-SIM capabilities and other convenient things like WiFi AP.
Even stock Google apps remain visually unchanged here, with the dialer, browser, messaging and other apps only receiving a few feature tweaks and additions. All of these things come together to give the Rock a refreshing feel over many other Chinese phones which often feature a very heavy skin and tend to take away many feature from stock Android instead of just adding to them. Because of this iOcean's Android skin quickly has become one of my favorites ever, delivering lots of functionality all while not ruining what's great about Android.
Moving into the system settings menu we find a number of interesting options including a bottom quick action bar much like Apple has on iOS 7/8. This bar feels a bit redundant as it includes many of the same quick toggles as the one found in the top notification bar, but it's nice to have the choice if users prefer that way of accessing quick toggles. Swiping up from the home button still invokes Google Now, which again is a refreshing change from many Chinese phones with software buttons that often disable this feature. There's also a feature called DropZone that brings a floating icon on the screen which lets you quickly get to messages, music, video and for some reason an additional home button.
iOcean packs in what has begun to become a standard started by LG back with the G2: double-tap to wake. In addition to this they've added gestures as the OnePlus One started so you can draw a specific shape denoted in the setting and launch any app you want. The biggest problem with this is that there's no setting to use the proximity sensor before these gestures are recognized. This caused a ton of pocket unlocks for me, and I ended up shutting the service off after pocket dialing half a dozen people in a day.
Lastly we'll cover security features, which are normally quite good on Chinese phones. iOcean doesn't disappoint here either as it includes a built in app permissions section as well as the ability to gain root access with the flip of a switch. The app permissions section gives users granular control over individual app permissions. For example let's say you're using something like Showbox but don't want it gaining access to your location, because in all honesty that's a little creepy. You can disable this individual permission so that the app can function but isn't ever allowed to get your location. The same can be done with any permission, and the phone will ask you what you want to do at the time an app requests information.
Sound output was a mixed bag for me. Stereo speakers are placed on the back of the phone, giving the illusion of more powerful and louder sound. Unfortunately this is only an illusion and I found that these speakers in general were way too quiet to be used for speakerphone or any other use in an area that's all but silent. The sound they delivered was pretty good when I could actually hear them, but they won't be winning any awards for superior audio output.
Bluetooth audio was absolutely stellar coming from the phone, and it's all thanks to a lossless Bluetooth audio setting. This kept the phone from delivering that horrible popping or stuttering that comes from every single smartphone I've ever used. For this reason I stopped using Bluetooth audio in my truck, but this alone would get me to use it again regularly.
General audio output from the phone through the headset jack was definitely disappointing though. There are settings for loudness, surround effect and even a general audio enhancer switch, but nothing I found ever made the audio actually sound good. Even using the equalizer built into the phone only gave me mixed results, with the audio generally sounding very flat and overly bass heavy.
iOcean includes a 13-megapixel camera on the back, which is pretty standard for many Android phones nowadays. The sensor in general is pretty good, pulling average to good shots in every lighting condition. The denoise filter isn't overly aggressive and helps rid the image of an abundance of noise while not muddying up the scene. There's an additional sharpening filter that seems to be added after the denoise filter creating an overall positive effect on the pictures. What you get in the end are some pretty fantastic shots, although there's definitely better phone cameras out there for more money. While I found HDR mode difficult to use given its slow shutter speed, at this price range I think anyone would be hard pressed to find a better shooter.
The software that backs the camera up is impressive as well, and delivers tons of shooting modes and options for those that like to tweak things a bit. Live filters for shooting real-time black and white, sepia and other filters are a quick button press away on the left side, while all the shooting modes are found on a scrollable bar up top. Picture in picture mode mode is always fun, letting you use both the front and back cameras at the same time with options for positioning, resizing and rotating the floating frame. You can switch either camera between these two as well, giving you more real-time photo taking opportunities that don't require any work in post.
There's even motion tracking built in, which is activated by long pressing on any object in the viewfinder. This will keep that object in focus so that you don't have to keep clicking to focus every time you take a picture. There's also a boatload of settings to find on the camera too, everything from digital stabilization, sharpness, hue, contrast, etc. Zero shutter lag means pressing the shutter button takes a picture absolutely instantly with no waiting for the photo to focus or save. Overall this is some incredibly robust software that gives users practically every option they've ever thought of having on a smartphone camera. Check out the gallery below for some example shots.
In general iOcean's Rock leads the pack for the price in specs, software features and picture taking ability. Where you'll find issues here are with performance on intensive 3D games and audio output, although it's likely these issues will be addressed in a future update. Since this phone is officially going to receive Android 5.0 Lollipop it's extremely likely that many issue will be resolved and the update will leave the iOcean Rock feeling like a completely different phone. At $229 this package will be a steal once all the bugs are ironed out, as the hardware packed inside the slim body of the Rock outperforms everything in its price range. The Android 5.0 Lollipop update should be here soon, so if you're looking to pick up the iOcean Rock head over to our trusted partner for the white version here or the black version here.