Featured Review: Smartisan T2

Smartisan is a brand that you may not of heard of before. They are a relatively new company, having been founded in 2012. They put out the Smartisan T1 in 2014, and waited nearly 18 months to put out their second-generation flagship. As they wanted to be sure they put out the "perfect" smartphone.

What's unique about the Smartisan T2 and will likely have you scratching your head, is the fact that there is no power button. But there are two volume rockers, one on the left and another on the right. That's definitely something you don't see everyday. Smartisan also has a pretty heavy skin on their smartphone here, which is aptly named Smartisan OS. Does the Smartisan T2 stack up to the competition, despite a pretty high price tag coming out of China? Let's find out.

Specs

The Smartisan T2 is a relatively highly specced smartphone. It sports a 4.95-inch 1920 x 1080 resolution IPS display (although it's marketed as a 5-inch display). Smartisan tossed in the Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor, which is a hexa-core processor. We have four Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 1.44 GHz and two Cortex-A57 cores clocked at 1.8 GHz, along with the Adreno 418 GPU. We have 3GB of RAM for all of your multi-tasking needs. Smartisan offers up the T2 in a 16GB or 32GB model - our model here is the 32GB capacity - and there is no microSD card slot available here. All of this is powered by a 2,670 mAh battery that is non-removable.

Connectivity includes WiFi a/ac/b/g/n, GPS, A-GPS, Bluetooth 4.1 and micro USB 2.0 port. The Smartisan T2 does have 4G LTE connectivity. The bands for the Smartisan T2 are listed below:

GSM 850/900/1800/1900

CDMA 1800/1900

TD-SCDMA 1880-1920

UMTS 800/850/900/1700/1900/2100

LTE 700/1700/1800/1900/2100/2600

Dimensions for the Smartisan T2 are 70.84 mm x 144.55 mm x 7.53 mm. And it weighs in at 146g.

In the box

Inside the box, Smartisan has kept everything pretty simple. We have the phone, obviously as that is what is being sold. We also have a micro USB cable and a USB wall adapter. There's also some paperwork in there that will help you get started. Although, it is mostly in Mandarin since this phone is only sold in China -

The packaging is pretty high-end. It's nice and compact and gives you a pretty good unboxing experience. Something you don't see every day with smartphones.

Display

This is a 1080p display stretched across 5-inches. When compared to other smartphones, especially flagships like the LG G5, Samsung Galaxy S7, Nexus 6P, etc., 1080p doesn't seem like it's good enough anymore. But surprisingly, this panel is one of the best, if not the best full HD panels around. The panel can get quite dim and also gets quite bright. There's no issues with using the phone outside, it doesn't even need to be at full brightness to be able to see it in direct sunlight.

Some people can be a bit picky about the temperature of the display. I actually like the temperature the way it is. But Smartisan has added in a feature that allows users to go ahead and adjust the temperature of the display to how they like it. It's a nice feature to have included, as it allows users to get the perfect display, in their eyes. Just head into Settings > Brightness & Display, and you'll see the option to adjust the color temperature, as well as the font scale. The font scale is important too. Because some of us have better eye-sight than others. So you can choose to make the font smaller or larger, to fit your needs.

The front of the Smartisan T2 isn't quite bezel-less, but the bezels are quite small. They aren't so small that you'll be touching the display by mistake though, as we've seen with a few smartphones already. Speaking of touching the display, the digitizer appears to work really well with the Smartisan T2. We haven't had any times where touching the display didn't register and we needed to do it again. Overall, we were really impressed with the display here, it's clear that Smartisan made sure that they picked out the best display panel they could for the T2.

Hardware and Build

Hardware is where things get a little interesting. See, Smartisan chose not to use a power button on the Smartisan T2. In fact, there are two volume rockers instead. However these can be mapped to suite different needs. For instance, I have the right-side volume rocker for turning the phone on/off and the left side is the volume rocker. But you can also use one to adjust brightness. Which is a good choice too, considering there's no option for brightness in the quick settings within the notification shade.

Smartisan has a former Apple engineer working with them, and it's quite clear by looking at the T2. The Smartisan T2 is a gorgeous looking smartphone. It sort of looks like an Amazon Fire Phone and a OnePlus X went to China and had the Smartisan T2. We have 2.5D Gorilla Glass 3 on the back. Now you may have heard of this "2.5D glass" before on other smartphones. That's because both Xiaomi and Samsung have used it on their recent flagships. The back is curved ever so slightly, in fact, if you look at the back you wouldn't even know it was curved. But holding it in your hand, you can definitely tell it is curved. The back, as I mentioned in the unboxing video, is really clean. All that is back there is the 13-megapixel camera with flash and a small Smartisan logo. Coincidentally, in the same spots that they would be in on an Apple iPhone.

The frame here is a metal frame, and it's a dark gray so it matches nicely with the black color of the Smartisan T2. The bottom of the device has a speaker on one side (the left side) and a microphone on the right side. The micro USB port is in the middle. Yes that is a micro USB port, even though it does look like a USB Type-C port. On the top there's the 3.5 mm headphone jack and another microphone hole. Of course you have your volume rocker on the left and right sides. The one on the right side is a bit different, as it has a hole next to it. Why? Well that's simple. It doubles as the SIM card slot. Much like Motorola has done in recent years, the volume rocker is also a SIM card slot, this way there's not another break in the design of the phone. Keeping it looking nice and clean and also minimal. Just use your SIM ejection tool to pop out the volume rocker and you'll be able to pop in your SIM card. It does take a nano SIM, and there is no microSD card slot on offer.

The front of the device has a few unique features as well. Particularly in the earpiece. You'll notice that only one side of the earpiece has holes. And that is because the other side houses all of the sensors. This is also done to keep the design consistent, and it looks really nice, to be honest. To the left of the earpiece is your front-facing camera, and at the bottom of the screen are three rectangular physical buttons. These are not marked - although the middle button does have a notification LED. This makes it so that you are able to remap them to how you want. I've kept it as the back button on the left side and menu on the right (you can't remap it for recents, unfortunately).

The hardware on the Smartisan T2 is pretty sleek. It's one of the more sleeker Android smartphones around, not to mention one of the more unique. How many smartphones out there have two volume rockers? Not many at all. It's not your typical slab of a smartphone, and in many ways, that's a good thing.

Performance and Memory

Here we have a Snapdragon 808 from Qualcomm running the show. That's a quad-core 1.4 GHz and a dual-core 1.8 GHz processor, along with 3GB of RAM. Essentially the internals of the LG G4. Many thought that the LG G4 was pretty slow last year, and I'd have to agree there. But the Smartisan T2 definitely does not feel slow. It's able to zip between apps, and play games with ease. A big reason for this is likely due to the software optimization that Smartisan has done with the T2.

With 3GB of RAM, you'd expect that to be plenty of RAM to get things done without seeing any slow downs at all. Typically, we would have around 500MB to a full gigabyte of space free. Never did we feel the need to clear all of the apps in "Recents", but we did do it, just because we could. Having a clear all button in recents is a pretty good idea, and something that Google recently brought back in the Android N Developer Preview.

Gameplay was about what we'd expect, given the hardware here. We'll talk about the benchmarks in the next section. But gameplay was quite good. We played Marvel: Avengers Alliance 2 on the Smartisan T2 and it ran pretty well and without any issues. We also played Subway Surfers (because who doesn't?) and while that was a less intense game, as far as graphics go, it also ran well on the Snapdragon 808.

Benchmarks

Benchmarks on the Smartisan T2 is an interesting story. While most smartphones will ramp up the processor when running benchmarks, the Smartisan T2 seems to do the opposite. We did reach out to the company to see what the issue was, but we have not gotten a response as to what's going on. So below are the benchmarks we did get, and if there's a future update or a fix for this, we'll be sure to run them again and update this review.

Update: Smartisan confirmed that benchmarking scores should be very low on the T2. Here's their statement as to why:

"When reviewing our units with popular benchmarking tools such as AnTuTu and GeekBench, you may find our scores ridiculously lower than any other Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 808 device. Almost all Android flagship phones cheat in benchmarking*, and several major Chinese smartphone manufacturers have even acquired or sponsored top benchmarking apps for their own interests. We consider such moves inappropriate, and thus deliberately “reverse-optimized” our benchmarking performance, proudly delivering a fast and fluid user experience with record low benchmarking scores. "

Phone Calls and Network 

Perhaps the most surprising part about the Smartisan T2 is the fact that it has full support for AT&T and T-Mobile in the US. It even supports T-Mobile's Band 12 LTE. We were able to toss in our T-Mobile SIM card into the Smartisan T2 and let it run without much of a problem. Although T-Mobile's 4G LTE APN was not set up, that only took a few minutes to get taken care of. However, we did notice that sometimes it would drop the connection to T-Mobile, but not reconnect to the data network. It was a bit odd, especially considering my LG G5 on T-Mobile worked just fine, even with the same SIM card. So it seems like it's a software issue there.

Having said that, the Smartisan T2 did run on the T-Mobile network for about a week and a half. We made calls, texts, and used data, all without much hassle. Those on the other end said that we came in nice and clear. So there's nothing to worry about on that end.

Sound

On the bottom of the Smartisan T2, you have a speaker grill on either side of the micro USB port. Now while it looks like we have dual speakers here, we actually do not. Similar to what we've seen on other phones, this is to make it look symmetrical. If you cover up the left side speaker, you won't notice a difference, but if you cover up the right side, you won't hear much of anything. Telling us that the speaker is in the right side, and the left side may have a microphone, or just be decorative.

Now the sound coming out of this speaker is pretty decent. Having the volume all the way turned up doesn't appear to distort the sound all that much. But it does get pretty loud, which is pretty awesome. The mids and highs are nice and crystal clear, while the lows can get real deep. This speaker won't rival what you'll find on the HTC 10 or any of the previous HTC One smartphones, however the speaker will keep everyone happy, for watching movies, videos and even listening to music.

Battery life 

We have here a 2,670 mAh battery on the Smartisan T2 which is a pretty decent sized battery, given that it is running the Snapdragon 808 processor and a 5-inch 1080p display. Throughout our use of the smartphone, we were able to get around a full day and sometimes two days - depending on usage of course - before needing to plug in the charger. Standby has been phenomenal on the Smartisan T2. Unplug before bed and checked it in the morning (around 8 hours later) and it was down just 2%. That's almost better than Doze on the Nexus 6P.

With the Smartisan OS, we are unable to show you some concrete numbers of what battery life was like with this phone, unfortunately. So we'll have to guestimate here, with around 3 hours on screen time, and having it unplugged from around 7am to about 11pm that night. That's typically how my usage goes with my daily driver the LG G5, and the Smartisan T2 was able to outlast the LG G5. Which was a nice surprise, given how small the battery is here.

Software

So when we come to the software front on the Smartisan T2, it's quite an interesting thing to talk about. While we do have Android 5.1.1 under the hood, it is running on Smartisan OS v2.6.2 (and we've gotten two updates since receiving the device, so it's nice to see regular updates coming out for this smartphone). The overlay that Smartisan uses is quite heavy. With most smartphones coming out of China, you see a skin that is reminiscent of iOS, and this is sort of the same. It's not quite iOS, but it does have quite a few unique features included. And as there always is, there are a few complaints here, which we'll get out of the way first.

The first complaint with Smartisan OS is the fact that we can't figure out how to turn off the device (not put it into sleep) [Update: Smartisan informed us that you can long-press the home button to open up the standard power/reboot screen and turn off the device]. We've had to resort to long-pressing the home and volume down buttons to reboot it. The other complaint here is the fact that we can't create folders. Now, ordinarily that wouldn't be much of an issue for me. But since there is no app drawer, and there are a lot of pre-installed apps here that are more useful for those actually in China, it would be nice to hide them in a folder. Instead we are stuck with numerous pages of apps on the Smartisan T2. That's really about it.

As mentioned before, the Smartisan T2 does not have a power button. Instead it has two volume rockers with three rectangular buttons below the screen. All of these can be changed, to an extent. So the three physical buttons are always going to be back, home and notification pull down. The only changes that can be made is swapping the back and notification button. These are based on the one-handed options you choose in settings. The home button does double as a recents button if you double tap it, and the notification LED is located in the home button as well. The volume rockers can be changed to do a few different things. The way I have it set up is so that the right volume rocker is sleep/wake and the left is your regular volume. Now you can use one for brightness, which actually comes in quite handy because there's no brightness option for quick settings in the notification pull down.

Now the notification tray is quite different than what you would see on most smartphones. You do have your notifications, and a separate page for quick settings - which are customizable. Quick Settings has all of your usual suspects like Airplane Mode, WiFi, Mobile Data, VPN, Hotspot, Bluetooth, Do Not Disturb, Location, etc. However notifications don't allow you to expand them, like you can in regular Android 5.1.1. For instance, a message from Gmail cannot be expanded to see what it says or to quickly delete or reply to it. Instead, I need to actually go into the app to take care of it. However it does bundle notifications together. For instance, with the App Store, if I have multiple apps downloading, I can them all appear in the same notification, with an arrow to expand them and see what else is downloading. Which is a good implementation, actually. It would be nice to add that to other apps as well.

The overall look of Smartisan OS will definitely remind you of iOS. It actually reminds me of a theme I used on my old iPhone 3Gs that was jailbroken back in the day. It does look a bit nice, but in this day and age, it's definitely dated. While a third-party launcher can get back some of the "stock Android" appeal on the Smartisan T2, you'll still be stuck with their look and feel in the rest of the phone. In apps like the settings, camera, messaging, dialer, and such. While the Smartisan OS may not be my favorite looking operating system, it does work really well. The software is fast, and it doesn't lag, and for the most part all of the options are exactly where you'd expect them to be. Giving the user a pretty good experience to say the least.

Camera

When it comes to smartphones, the camera has been the selling point as of late. And in recent years it's been an area where "Chinese" smartphones have struggled. Primarily because they are trying to sell the phone cheaply, and the camera is often something that is overlooked. The rear camera is a 13-megapixel shooter with a f/2.0 aperture. On paper, it appears that it would take some good pictures, and even video. Considering it can do 4K at 30fps and 720p at 120fps. So how did it do?

Well the pictures came out surprisingly well. The ones in broad daylight obviously came out really well, but then again that is expected given the lighting conditions. When you go inside, or are in low-light, that's where the pictures tend to be a bit worse off. You can see some noise in there, but for the most part, the camera takes some really good pictures. While this isn't going to replace your DSLR - nor should any smartphone camera - it's a good camera to keep in your pocket.

On the video side of things, it can record in 480p, 720p, 1080p and 4K. We did a few samples in 4K which came out quite nice. Similar to the camera, when things get a bit dark there's a ton of noise that pops up.

The camera is nice and fast at taking pictures. When you press the shutter button, it takes the picture immediately - even in HDR - which is something we don't always see with smartphone cameras these days. Now the software isn't your typical "Google Camera" type software, it is pretty heavily skinned. But it does work quite well. So on one side you have your shutter, video and gallery buttons. And the opposite side has your flash, settings and button to swap the cameras. Settings is a bit different. Instead of using text to show you what setting is which, it uses pictures. So There's a grid option, one for scanning barcodes, panorama's and much more. It's pretty easy to use, even those that might be technology challenged.

The Good 

Display: The display is perhaps one of the best looking 1080p panels out there. It's not AMOLED, but some might be fooled into thinking it is.

Battery Life: It's not phenomenal, but it's not terrible either. Standby is the real reason you get good battery life, and standby times are pretty amazing here on the Smartisan T2.

Innovation: This phone is different, very different. I can't say that I've ever used or even heard of a phone with two volume rockers, or even no power button. It definitely helps Smartisan stand out from the crowd in an already saturated smartphone market.

The Bad 

Processing Power: This is running the Snapdragon 808, and as we found in other smartphones with that processor, they can run pretty warm and a bit slow. That can be the case here, with certain tasks.

Glass: The front and back is glass, here on the Smartisan T2. It makes for a great looking phone, but you'll want to be careful with this one. So that you don't shatter or scratch up the glass on the front or back.

Expandable Storage: There is none. Smartisan does sell this in 16GB or 32GB storage capacities though. And that should be enough for most people.

Final Thoughts

The Smartisan T2 is definitely a different phone. And that's not a bad thing. As I've said already, in a saturated market Smartisan needed to stand out, and that's exactly what they've done here with the Smartisan T2. This smartphone is one that I would definitely use as my daily driver for an extended amount of time. Even though it does have a pretty heavy skin on there with Smartisan OS.

Should you buy the Smartisan T2?

That depends. The Smartisan T2 is one of the few phones coming out of China that does fully support US LTE bands on AT&T and T-Mobile. So that's a huge point in their favor. But it's not your typical "Chinese" smartphone, because it does cost around $385 to pick up. Smartisan is a new-ish company, so it's hard to say whether they will be updating the Smartisan T2 consistently and whether it'll get Marshmallow. Although with Smartisan OS v2.6.2 on top, you likely wouldn't notice a difference anyway.

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About the Author
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Alexander Maxham

Section Editor
Alex has written for Androidheadlines since 2012 as Editor of the site and traveled the World to many of the biggest Smartphone and Technology events. Alex has a background in Technology and IT and Deep Passion for Everything Android and Google. His specialties lay in Smartphones of all budgets, Accessories, Home Automation and more. Contact him at [email protected]
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