Review: Creo Mark 1

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By Alexander Maxham June 01, 2016, 10:02am
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Creo is a new smartphone manufacturer in India, and just last month they announced their very first smartphone in the Creo Mark 1. They were setting out with ambitions to create something "different". Although looking at the Mark 1, there's a lot of similarities to a number of other smartphones on the market already. Creo has set a price point of Rs. 19,999, which is about $296 USD. That's in the more "high-end" range in India's smartphone marketplace, as most of their popular smartphones around Rs. 10,000 or lower.

Can the Creo Mark 1 deliver on its promises of something unique? Or is it just not enough in an already overcrowded smartphone industry? Let's find out in the review.

Specs

The spec sheet on the Creo Mark 1 is actually very respectable. Creo has sourced a 5.5-inch 2560x1440 resolution which gives the Mark 1 about 534 pixels per inch. This is a LCD panel with Gorilla Glass 3.0 to protect the glass from everyday scratches and drops. It's powered by the MediaTek Helio X10 octa-core processor (all eight cores are Cortex-A53) which is clocked at 1.95GHz along with the PowerVR G6200 GPU inside. This is paired with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of built-in storage. Not to mention the micro SD card slot that is also included, and supports up to 200GB (technically it supports 2TB, but those micro SD capacities don't exist just yet). For cameras, we have a 21-megapixel shooter on the back. This is the Sony IMX230 sensor and boasts auto-focus of about half a second. You'll get 4K video as well as slow-motion from this sensor. But more on that in the camera section of our review. The front-facing shooter is a 8-megapixel snapper with an aperture of f/2.0 (same as the rear-facing camera) and 86-degree field of view.

As far as connectivity goes, we have WiFi 802.11 b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0 (Bluetooth Low Energy is also supported), GPS, GLONASS and BEIDOU for GPS, Accelerometer, proximity sensor, LED indicator, gyroscope, FM Receiver, USB OTG and USB 2.0. The Creo Mark 1 is powered by a non-removable 3100mAh battery inside.

The bands supported by the Creo Mark 1 include:

GSM (2G): 850, 900, 1800, 1900

WCDMA (3G): 850, 900, 1900, 2100

TD-LTE (4G): 2300

FDD-LTE (4G): 900, 1800

In the box 

Inside the box, there's not much to brag about here. It's everything you'd expect to find in a box with a new smartphone. On the top we have the Creo Mark 1 wrapped in plastic. Below the tray holding the Mark 1, there is a packet full of documentation for your device. Then we have the wall adapter, micro USB to USB Type-A cable and a SIM ejection tool. No real surprises in the box. Although I will say the presentation of the box and everything inside is definitely top notch. Not something you would expect from a smartphone manufacturer who has made just one smartphone (and this is that one).

Display

As mentioned already, the display is a Quad HD LCD display here. Measured at 5.5-inches diagonally. The display is nice, but it's nothing to really brag about - other than having that many pixels at this price point. There is a bit of a bluish tint to the display, although I didn't notice it at first. So it's likely that most users won't notice it either. While most smartphones offer a way for you to adjust the temperature of the display, Creo does not have that option. However that could arrive in a future update to the Mark 1. This panel does get quite bright, a bit surprising for it being a LCD panel. As these don't typically get this bright. You are able to see it nice and clearly in direct sunlight, always a plus. On the flip side, it can also get nice and dim for those times that you want to use the Mark 1 when you're in bed or in a dark room, and not hurt your eyes.

Other than the bluish tint on the display, there's nothing to complain about with this panel. With a pixel density of 534PPI, you'd expect everything to look crisp and clear, and that's exactly what you get here. We're also happy to report that there are no issues with touch sensitivity on the Creo Mark 1. Often times when we use smartphones coming out of Asia, they will have trouble recognizing when we touch the display. There was none of that going on here. When we touched the display, it worked perfectly, as it should. So that means the digitizer beneath the glass here is top notch.

We would like to see Creo add an option to the Mark 1 that would allow users to adjust the temperature of the display in the settings. It's something that most other smartphone makers have been doing in recent months and it's a feature that most people love to have. Simply because not everyone likes the same temperature display, and this way people can adjust it to their liking. Having said that, the display on the Creo Mark 1 looks amazing. It's no Galaxy S7 Edge display, but for a QHD LCD display, it looks great and performs even better.

Speakers & Sound 

Like many of the recently announced smartphones, Creo has opted for a speaker on the bottom of the device. So at the bottom there is the micro USB port along with a speaker grill on either side. But wait, only the right side is the actual speaker. The left side is more than likely a microphone, and it looks like a speaker to be symmetrical. Creo isn't the first to do this, and they likely won't be the last either.

The sound quality here on the Mark 1 is rather impressive, actually. As long as you don't cover up that speaker with your hand when watching a video or playing a game - and it will happen. The Mark 1's speaker can get pretty loud, and it won't vibrate the device when it is at max volume. Another good sign that this is a great speaker, to say the least. This isn't high-resolution audio, like what you get in the HTC 10 and even the ZTE Axon Pro, but you'll be satisfied nonetheless.

When it comes to using the 3.5mm headphone jack, the Creo Mark 1 also does a great job. While part of this is up to the pair of cans you plug in (for example, the A-Audio Legacy headphones sounded much better than this pair of Samsung earbuds I have laying around), the rest of it is still the software inside the Creo Mark 1. Now there isn't an equalizer built-in, but there are a few options under Settings > Sound > Sound Enhancement. One of those is Earphone Enhancement, which will enhance the audio over earphones. There's also Speaker Loudness which will boost the speaker volume, and Lossless Bluetooth. This enables high quality output over Bluetooth - not quite the same as high-resolution audio. Finally, you have Surround Sound, which has just two options. Either Movie or Music mode. For the most part, the surround sound settings don't change things all that much.

All in all, the sound quality from the Creo Mark 1 is really impressive. They have definitely done some great work both in terms of hardware and software, and it really shows.

Hardware and Build 

There's no mistake about it, the Creo Mark 1 does look familiar. Some may think it looks like the Amazon Fire Phone, others may think it favors the OnePlus X. I'd say it looks like a larger version of either phone - of course with less cameras than the Fire Phone. So what we have here is a rather large smartphone with a glass back and front. We also have three capacitive buttons on the front - which are not indicated by the normal square, circle and triangle buttons, but rather with three circles. These buttons can be customized to your liking. Basically either having the back button on the right or left. And vice versa for recents. And best of all, we have a metal frame on the Mark 1.

I don't usually say this in reviews, but I actually really like the volume rocker and power button. They are three separate, circular buttons on the right side. The power button has a red line on it, to indicate that it is the power button, and then the two volume buttons are above it. The reason why I like it, is because the volume buttons are two separate buttons. This is important because often times when you have a case on your phone and you try to turn down the volume (or take a screenshot with Volume Down + Power), you'll end up pressing volume up, or vice versa. This makes it a bit tougher to actually do that, and it's a good thing. Creo has also put these three buttons in basically the perfect spot. They are just a tiny bit higher than my fingers are when I'm holding the device, but not to far to where I need to reposition my hand on the device. Definitely important when talking about build quality here.

Creo has the speaker at the bottom, along with the micro USB port. There's no USB Type-C here, unfortunately. That's something that we would have loved to see on this new smartphone, but we can't say we're too surprised to see that omitted. The 3.5mm headphone jack is up top, and on the left side are two SIM card trays. The first one is a nano SIM card slot, which doubles as a micro SD card slot. As mentioned earlier, it can support up to 200GB cards. The second tray is a micro SIM card slot. It would be nice to have them both the same size, but we were able to use them both - with the right adapter. It's a bit weird seeing two slots here, especially when they could have used just one. We don't know the reasoning for using two - for all we know it could be an engineering issue, with not enough room for one longer tray inside.

With the back being a glass back, this means it's going to be a fingerprint magnet. Just like the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge. Not a huge surprise there, really. However, the back is black, and it doesn't show fingerprints as much as some of the colors that Samsung offers up the Galaxy S7 in. Either way, you're going to find yourself wiping down the device quite often, or you'll want to get a case for it. It's also worth pointing out that this is a glass smartphone, which means it's going to slide (maybe Samsung made the right choice in having a protruding camera?). It doesn't slide around as much as my old Nexus 4 or Xperia Z3 did, but it does still slide around a bit.

Having said all of this, the Creo Mark 1 feels rather large in the hand. It is a 5.5-inch display, but it feels much larger than that. They could have made the forehead and chin on the front a bit smaller, seeing as the side bezels are already pretty small. The device does also feel pretty thick. It's 8.7mm thick, which is a little over a full millimeter thicker than most other smartphones. To give you some context, the Galaxy S7 is 7.99mm, the LG G5 is 7.7mm, and the Xiaomi Mi 5 is 7.33mm thick. It's not the thickest smartphone around - the HTC 10 is about 9mm thick, so it is thicker - but you can definitely tell the difference here. It makes it a little uncomfortable to hold, but it is easy to get used too.

Performance and Memory

Inside the Creo Mark 1, we have a slightly old MediaTek Helio X10 processor. The Helio X10 was MediaTek's 2015 flagship processor, and by all accounts, it should be able to keep up with the Snapdragon 810 from 2015 as well. We're looking at eight Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 1.95GHz, along with the PowerVR Rogue G6200 GPU inside. Not necessarily the fastest processor on the market, but not the slowest either. Pair that with 3GB of RAM and you should have a pretty good experience.

For the most part, the experience is pretty good with the Creo Mark 1. However, the device seems a bit slow. It's not lagging or janky, it just feels a bit slow overall. Similar to the LG G4 or Moto X Style, both of which used the Snapdragon 808 processor. Now we did notice some lag, although that was mostly after the device had ran benchmarks, so it was pretty warm. It's expected that devices will lag when they reach a certain temperature, so we aren't too surprised by that.

Having 3GB of RAM may seem like a small amount in today's world - where we have smartphones with 4GB and 6GB of RAM - but 3GB is plenty of RAM in the Mark 1. Seeing as it is running Android 5.1.1 and it's a relatively stock version of Android, there's no real issues with the amount of RAM included. We didn't notice any aggressive closing of open apps - something that Samsung users see a lot of on their flagships - which is a good thing as well.

Overall, the performance of the Creo Mark 1 was quite good. While we were surprised to see the device perform a bit slow, considering it has eight cores clocked at 1.95GHz, the experience as a whole was good. We're unsure if software updates can fix the slowness of the Helio X10, but with Creo pushing out updates every single month, we should see fairly soon.

Benchmarks 

As always, we ran AnTuTu and Geekbench 3 on the Creo Mark 1 (as well as PC Mark to gauge battery life). The scores, which are shown below, were about what we expected. Considering the fact that the Helio X10 processor powering the Creo Mark 1 isn't exactly the most high-end processor - especially by today's standards.

Phone Calls and Network

While we used the Creo Mark 1, we had a T-Mobile SIM card inside. We did have a small issue of getting data to actually work on the device. It turned out that mobile data was turned off by default. So flip that switch and we were all good to go. Since this is a phone from India, it does not have the same bands as a smartphone destined for the US. We were able to get 2G and some 3G bands, but nothing higher than that. Speeds appeared to be pretty much the norm, even on WiFi.

Calls were about what we expected. Others were able to hear us nice and clear, however there is no HD Voice capability on the Creo Mark 1. At least for T-Mobile. We didn't notice any more dropped calls than usual, for being on a 2G or EDGE network.

Battery life

Battery life here was a bit surprising to be honest. We were expecting the Creo Mark 1 to have some pretty decent battery life. Considering we have a 3100mAh battery here powering a 5.5-inch 2560x1440 resolution display. However, battery life was pretty poor. When the Mark 1 is in standby, battery is pretty good. We were able to lose just a percentage or two overnight (about 8 hours) and that's without Doze - since this is running Android 5.1.1 and not Android 6.0 - however Creo does have their own "Standby Intelligent Power Saving" option, which works fairly well. When you actually start using the phone, the battery can drain fairly fast. During the review period, we would get around 2-3 hours of on screen time from the Creo Mark 1. And it was tough to squeeze out a full 3 hours there.

Now charging the battery is another story. While Creo did say that the Mark 1 has "fast charging", it didn't seem all that fast to us. We were unable to use the included wall adapter, seeing as it was not compatible with US outlets. However the included adapter outputs at 2A, which is the same speed as the wall adapter we did use to charge the Mark 1, but it still seemed fairly slow. So you're not going to be able to quickly top off the Creo Mark 1 before heading out for the night, unfortunately.

With the Creo Mark 1 being such a thick device, we think that they could have put an even larger battery inside this device. Users will never complain about a battery being too big - unless the device is crazy thick and hard to hold onto - as we always want our battery to last just a bit longer. Seeing as the Creo Mark 1 is thicker than the Galaxy S7 Edge, and it sports the same size display, they could have likely added another 500mAh to the battery inside.

Software

I'm a big fan of the software here on the Creo Mark 1. As mentioned before, it is Android 5.1.1, and Creo has added their own UI on top. Which they have named "Fuel OS". We currently have Fuel OS version 1.1.0.0 at the time of writing this review. So everything about the software will be based on that version. Creo does update the device every month. We had an update waiting for us out of the box, and have gotten another one since. So it's safe to say that they mean business when it comes to updates.

Creo has basically taken the "Motorola approach" to software here. We essentially have a stock Android build of Android 5.1.1 on the Mark 1. With a few changes from Creo. One of the features that Creo has included is "Echo". Now Echo is a mode which will send all of your calls to voicemail immediately. Without ringing your phone at all. You can think of it as "Do Not Disturb" but better. With Echo you are able to change the greeting for each caller, you can also set personal welcome messages. This is a much better option than the "None" mode that is included in Android 5.0.

Sense is another feature that Creo has included here, it can be activated by double tapping the home button on the Mark 1. It's sort of like Google Now and the Spotlight search on Mac OS. Within Sense you are able to do your calculations without needing to open the calculator. You can also add contacts and even search for your WhatsApp contacts and send messages through Sense. Making things much easier. With Notifications 2.0 on the Creo Mark 1, they have included a genius feature. Have you ever gotten notifications from an app that you don't care to get? Well with Notifications 2.0, you can easily block or mute these apps from sending you notifications on your phone. Simply swipe your notification to the left and then tap the "Mute App" option on the right. It's just that simple.

Often times software can be a complaint of ours when talking about a smartphone coming out of Asia. Although we have to say that Creo did a fantastic job here with the Creo Mark 1 and we're excited to see their upcoming devices as well. Having stock Android 5.1.1 here with a few tweaks from Creo, makes things much easier. And it should mean faster updates. However we can't finish out the software section without talking about the elephant in the room. And that is Android 6.0 Marshmallow? Google launched Marshmallow in October 2015, we should have it here on the Creo Mark 1 by now. Hopefully we'll see it hit the device rather soon.

Camera

When it comes to the camera, we have a Sony IMX230 sensor, which is a 21-megapixel shooter. It's the same sensor that has been used in recent flagships like the Sony Xperia Z3, Motorola Moto X Style/Pure Edition and even the Motorola Droid Turbo. It's a pretty good sensor, but it looks like Creo is need of some help when it comes to the camera software. Some of the pictures coming from the Creo Mark 1 just do not look that great. There are a few that were taken outside in direct sunlight, and the background looks fairly grainy. Indoor shots sometimes come out great, other times, not so much. There are some pictures that came out quite good. So the camera isn't all bad, it's just not always good.

There are a few modes available in the camera here. Of course, the one you'll use most of the time is "Quick Photo". It's the default mode and what is used for most pictures. We also have Panorama, which gets you a panoramic view of what you are seeing, as you'd expect. Live Photo is also here, it basically allows you to get a short video. We did use it for a few pictures in this review, there's nothing that special about it, to be honest. There is also 3D Photo, which appears to be a lot like Photo Sphere.

The camera can be decent, but at other times it can be pretty bad. This can likely be fixed in a future software update, which we are hoping comes sooner rather than later.

The Good 

The Size

Build Quality

Software

Speaker and sound

The Bad

Camera can be a bit hit or miss

Display isn't as sharp as you'd expect

No Marshmallow

Final Thoughts 

The Creo Mark 1 comes at an interesting price point. It's priced at Rs. 19,999 in India, which is right around $300 USD. It's an interesting price point because that's right where most high-end flagships are priced. The Creo Mark 1 can make the argument for being high-end, but it does fall short of things like the iPhone 6S, Samsung Galaxy S7 and newly released HTC 10. However, for a local company, the Creo Mark 1 hits the spot, and delivers at just about everything. There are a few issues with the device, from our perspective, but no smartphone is perfect. So you'll have to take the good with the bad.

Should you buy the Creo Mark 1?

That always depends on what your needs are. If you are just looking for a device that can run all of the latest apps and games, as well as giving you a decent camera (sometimes) and a large display. Then the Creo Mark 1 is definitely a good choice.

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June 01, 2016, 10:02am
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