Vernee's latest smartphone, the Thor which is a 4G smartphone, has been turning quite a few heads. This smartphone is priced at $99, but the specs that are included are not in that price range. We're looking at specs that you would expect from a smartphone around 3-4 times that price. The Vernee Thor is also a somewhat small smartphone, foregoing the typical "larger is better" mantra that most smartphone makers have been using lately. But the big question is, does the Vernee Thor stack up? Is it worth $99? Well let's find out in our review.
When talking about specs, we're looking at a smartphone with a 5-inch 1280 x 720 resolution display. This is powered by MediaTek's MT6753 processor, which is an octa-core 1.3GHz Cortex-A53 SoC and that is paired with the Mali-T720 GPU. Vernee has also tossed in 3GB of RAM along with 16GB of storage. However there is a micro SD card slot, allowing you to expand storage to about 128GB. Camera-wise, we're looking at a 13-megapixel camera around back which features an f/2.0 aperture, LED Flash and can shoot video at 30 frames per second. The front-facing camera is a 5-megapixel shooter.
Dimensions for the Vernee Thor are 70.3mm x 142mm x 7.9mm, and it weighs in at about 140g. Vernee sells the Thor in both black and gray colors. We have two SIM card slots here, both are micro SIM. As far as band support, the Vernee Thor supports:
When it comes to software, the Vernee Thor is running stock Android 6.0 Marshmallow. There are a few added in features, but for the most part it is stock Android. Of course, we'll talk more about that in the software section of this review. The Thor also includes proximity, light, accelerometer, and fingerprint sensors. Along with GPS and A-GPS for location tracking. For WiFi connectivity we have 802.11 b/g/n.
In the Box
Inside the box, Vernee packs the Thor right on top, so it's the first thing that you see. When I first opened the box, the first thing I thought was that it looked a lot like the Nexus 5, if you gave it a fingerprint sensor. It even has that soft-touch plastic back. Beneath the Thor lays the packet of paperwork, as well as the micro USB to USB Type-A cable and wall adapter. There is no SIM ejection tool included because the back cover pops off of the Vernee Thor which allows you to access the SIM card slots and micro SD card slot. However the battery is still non-removable.
As mentioned, this is a 5-inch 720p or HD display here, it's an IPS display so it does get nice and bright. While outside, and in direct sunlight, the display on the Thor was still very visible. Of course, you did need to turn the display all the way up, but you kinda expect that when it comes to being outside in direct sunlight. The Thor's display does also get pretty dim. Making it great for using in dark rooms without damaging your eyes.
This is a 720p display, but remember that it is also just 5-inches diagonal. Which means it is still pretty pixel dense. We weren't able to see individual pixels in day-to-day use, however if you look hard enough, you'll definitely see them. The blacks in the display are actually fairly dark, but still not as dark as an AMOLED panel would provide. The colors are pretty accurate, and Vernee gives you the option to adjust the display to your liking. In the settings you can choose from a few different modes including Standard, Vivid, and User Mode. Now User Mode allows you to adjust just about every aspect of the display to your liking.
While the display looks good, the digitizer could use some work. For the most part it was pretty good. However, we did notice while playing Stack, that sometimes there is a delay between when you touch the display and the device actually recognizing it. It is still pretty quick, but it is noticeable in games like that. For the most part, we didn't experience any issues though. We did have a few issues in typing, however that was likely due to the phone being much smaller than most other smartphones, and just takes a little bit to get used to.
Hardware & Build Quality
For a smartphone that costs just $99, you don't really expect a whole lot from it. But Vernee has done a great job at giving us a decently built device at a crazy low price. The Vernee Thor is a pretty small device, coming with a 5-inch display and pretty small bezels as well. They also included a fingerprint scanner on the back, something you don't see often with these $99 smartphones. The frame is plastic, but it is the soft-touch plastic material, which is good for a few reasons. One, and probably the most important reason, is that it gives you some extra grip for holding onto the device. It also doesn't leave many fingerprints on the back. Finally, it keeps the cost down for Vernee, allowing them to add better internal specs. Which is what they've done.
The back of the device is removable, which you will find the dual SIM card slots and micro SD card slot beneath it. Unfortunately, the battery is not-removable. But that shouldn't be an issue anyways, as the battery is still quite good and lasts quite a while. On the back side, you have your 13-megapixel camera with LED flash below it. And below that is the fingerprint sensor. The speaker is also on the back, toward the bottom of the smartphone. On the right-hand side, we have a volume rocker and power button with the 3.5mm headphone jack up top and the micro USB port on the bottom. Now with the back being removable, this does make the Vernee Thor feel a bit cheap. Seeing as the back is flimsy, which is quite common for removable backs, but that also means that when you hold the device in certain ways, you can hear it creak a bit. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it will turn some people off.
Vernee has taken to using three capacitive buttons on the front. The home button is a square and is in the middle with a button on either side indicated by a dot. Unfortunately, these cannot be remapped, so your menu button is on the left side and back is on the right. You access recents by long-pressing the Home button. Where the two capacitive buttons on either side of the home button are not labeled as either menu or back buttons, it would be nice for Vernee to allow us to remap these to our liking. For instance, I'd rather have the back button on the left side and the right button be the recents button.
The build quality is not what you would expect from something that is competing with the Galaxy S7, HTC 10, Meizu PRO 6, or Xiaomi Mi 5. But the Vernee Thor is not competing with those. Coming in at a much lower price tag, the Vernee Thor's build quality is actually fairly decent. Of course it has its quirks, but so does every other smartphone out there.
Vernee did put a fingerprint reader on the back of this smartphone, and they probably shouldn't have. The fingerprint reader is really pretty bad. More often than not, I have to resort to using the pattern to unlock the device, as it doesn't recognize my finger about 9 out of 10 times. That's a stark difference from the other fingerprint scanners we've used, like the Meizu PRO 6, Leagoo Shark 1 and many others. While the Thor is running on Android 6.0 Marshmallow and does support the Fingerprint API, it's much more of a hassle than it's worth. Now this could be fixed, or at least made a bit better, with a software update, but right now, it's hard to tell.
Powering the Vernee Thor, we have a MediaTek MT6753 processor, which is a 1.3GHz octa-core processor. It's a fairly popular processor among cheaper Android handsets like the Vernee Thor. And that is due to how well it actually works. The MT6753 here is paired with the Mali-T720 GPU along with 3GB of RAM, which gives the Thor some pretty respectable performance, overall. Obviously this isn't going to compare to anything running the Snapdragon 810 or Snapdragon 820 from Qualcomm, but then again, I wouldn't expect it too.
While using the Vernee Thor, everything seemed to be nice and snappy. There weren't any noticeable slowdowns at all, throughout the system. And with 3GB of RAM there is definitely enough space to keep all of your favorite apps and games open without the smartphone needing to reopen it when you want to jump back into that app.
Inside, there is 16GB of storage by default. Now out of the box, you'll have around 11GB of storage that you can actually use. That's pretty common for smartphones with 16GB of internal storage. Don't forget that there is a micro SD card slot available as well, for expanding this storage. And since it is running Android 6.0 Marshmallow, we also have Adoptable storage available.
When it comes to benchmarks, the Vernee Thor didn't give us any real surprises. We ran Geekbench 3, AnTuTu and 3D Mark on the Vernee Thor, and the scores were pretty predictable. That's actually a good thing, as it shows that there isn't anything funny going on behind the scenes (like cheating in benchmarks). You can see the results below.
Network & Phone Calls
Typically, we put in a T-Mobile US SIM card into the phone that we are testing. We did that with the Vernee Thor, but for some reason it wouldn't connect to the network at all (not even the voice network). Based on the bands the Thor supports, we should get 2G on T-Mobile. But since the phone wouldn't recognize the SIM card at all, we spent most of the review period without a SIM card inside. Thus we were unable to test phone calls as well as data speeds. However, we were able to make some calls over WiFi (using Google Voice through Hangouts), and the experience was basically what you'd expect.
Sound & Speakers
The speaker on the Thor is on the back of the phone. Typically this placement means that the speaker won't be as good as you'd hope. When holding the device in your hand, the sound can get a bit muffled. The same thing happens when you place it down on a table or desk. The speaker, on the bright side, is pretty loud. Now this speaker isn't going to compete with the speaker found on the HTC 10 or even the Samsung Galaxy S7. But it is quite good.
There are a few settings that are available for enhancing the sound from both the speaker and the headphone jack, here on the Vernee Thor. We have BesAudEnh which enhances the audio for the earphone or headphone jack. Then we have the BesLoudness for boosting the volume of the speaker. Finally we have BesSurround which offers two modes, Music Mode and Movie Mode. During our review process, we had BesLoudness enabled and BesSurround set to Music Mode.
Our experience with the speaker has been quite good. Not only is the speaker nice and loud, but the mids are nice and clear as well as the lows having plenty of bass. Great for those that love bass-heavy music.
Keep in mind that our battery life experience as well as benchmarks were done without a SIM card inside, as well as on WiFi only the entire time. Having said that, battery life appeared to be pretty good. We weren't able to kill the phone in a full day, and could easily squeak out about 4 hours of on screen time if we really tried. We consistently got between 2 and 3 hours of on screen time each day. Which was pretty decent. It would likely be different if it were connected to a network.
Having said that, we did run PC Mark on the Vernee Thor as a battery benchmark. And the Vernee Thor did really well. Putting up better times than most of the phones we've recently reviewed. Including the HTC 10, Creo Mark 1, Meizu PRO 6 and a few others. That's something that we definitely like to see.
There's no fast charging technology included here. Which means the Thor does charge a bit slower, but that isn't necessarily a deal breaker though. Seeing as the Thor does have a somewhat small battery, rated at 2800mAh capacity. It doesn't take long to charge it from 0 to 100%.
In terms of software, what we have here on the Vernee Thor is pretty minimal. Vernee is running a mostly stock Android experience here for their users. And that's something we are definitely a fan of. The Thor is running on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, which is currently the latest version of Android. There's really just a couple of apps pre-installed on the Thor, aside from the typical apps and Google apps that are always there. These include a Backup & Restore app, which as the name says, allows you to backup and restore your content pretty easily. The other app is the FM Radio. By plugging in a pair of headphones, you'll be able to listen to your local FM radio stations. This is a feature that is very popular in emerging markets, which is where the Thor is targeting.
Vernee has also included a "Turbo Download" mode. Allowing you to use both your WiFi network and mobile network to get the fastest speed possible for downloading files and such. It's a simple, but very useful feature. Keep in mind that because this is using both your mobile network and WiFi network, that you may incur data charges if you don't have an unlimited data plan. We also have the ability to schedule when the phone will turn off and back on. This way you can have the phone turn off at night when you're asleep and let it boot back up in the morning before you wake up. The reason why rebooting your smartphone is a big deal, is because it can make things faster. So if you ever notice that your smartphone is slowing down, just do a simple reboot and you'll likely notice a difference.
While Vernee did essentially just take AOSP and slap it onto the Thor here, that's not necessarily a bad thing. It does appear that Vernee did do some work with the software here, as it does feel quite optimized. The overall experience on the Thor is very fast. Animations are nice and fast - likely due to different settings in the Developer Settings - as well as switching between apps. The entire OS feels very fast. Something we are always happy to report, especially on lower-end smartphones such as the Vernee Thor.
On the back of the Vernee Thor, we have a 13-megapixel shooter with an aperture of f/2.0. This is fairly good in terms of specs for a smartphone that costs just $99. The real question is about how well the processing of the pictures are. And fortunately, this is another box that the Thor checks. Many of the pictures we took with the Vernee Thor during our time with it, came out quite nice. The Thor does well outside, and even in direct sunlight, it doesn't appear to blow some objects out, like other smartphone cameras do in its class. When it comes to low-light and indoor pictures, the camera still works quite well. It's not going to stack up to what you get out of the LG G5, Samsung Galaxy S7 or the HTC 10, but for what you're paying for, it's actually really good.
As far as the camera UI goes, we're looking at a pretty minimal UI. On the right side there is your shutter as well as record button for video. There's also your settings on the left side of the record and shutter buttons and gallery on the right. It's pretty simple, making it easy for anyone to use. Especially important given the target audience of the Vernee Thor here.
The price of $99
Size, being a 5-inch smartphone it's small but not too small
No support for US Carriers (this is pretty much expected, given that it is a smartphone out of China, but still needs to be mentioned).
Fingerprint sensor is almost useless.
Capacitive buttons are not customizable.
The Vernee Thor isn't the smartphone for everyone, but it is a smartphone that will do just about anything you need it too without paying an arm and a leg for it. There are a few issues with the Thor here, but most of them aren't deal breakers - aside from the Fingerprint scanner issue. Hopefully Vernee can fix that issue up in a future software update or two (we did get one during our review process, but it didn't change how accurate the fingerprint sensor was).
Should You Buy the Vernee Thor?
I would say that you should buy the Vernee Thor if you aren't a hardcore user. If you just need a phone that can check your email, use to browse Facebook, Twitter, etc., and even play a few games. Then this is a good smartphone to pick up. But if you're looking for an alternative to a flagship smartphone that costs around $600+, you're going to be disappointed.