Everyday, higher specced phones are coming out of the People's Republic of China for lower prices. Many of the smartphones in China that run about the same price as the Moto G4, are much better in terms of specs. And the Vernee Apollo Lite is one of those smartphones. Coming in just above $200 USD (when imported), the Vernee Apollo Lite sports some of the highest-end specs imaginable. But this makes many people think that Vernee may have cut some corners with this smartphone. Did they? We'll find out in our review of the Vernee Apollo Lite.
The only spec that would be considered mid-range here is the display, and that's because the Apollo Lite sports a 5.5-inch full HD (1920x1080 resolution) IPS display. Aside from that, it's powered by the MediaTek Helio X20 deca-core processor, with the Mali-T880 GPU on board. There is 4GB of RAM included with 32GB of internal storage. There is a micro SD card slot which supports up to 128GB of additional storage. This is all powered by a non-removable 3180mAh battery, along with Android 6.0 Marshmallow on the software front.
For optics, we have a Samsung-made s5k3p3 ISOCELL 16-megapixel sensor on the back side which includes phase detection auto-focus and is capable of shooting in 4K. And can shoot 1080p at 60 frames-per-second. The front-facing camera is a 5-megapixel wide-angle sensor.
When it comes to connectivity, we do have WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and A-GPS for location tracking, not to mention an ambient light sensor. There is no NFC included here. Something that is very popular among Chinese-made smartphones. However, there is a USB Type-C port at the bottom of the phone for charging and a fingerprint reader on the backside of the device.
In the Box
Vernee provides you with the typical unboxing experience, for the Apollo Lite. As soon as you open the box, you are greeted with the smartphone, face down. Revealing the beautiful aluminum backside of the Apollo Lite. And it truly is a great looking smartphone. Beneath that, we have the typical paperwork that comes with every smartphone you buy. There is also a USB Type-A to a USB Type-C cable here, since the Apollo Lite does have a USB Type-C connector, as well as a wall adapter. Last but certainly not least, we have a SIM ejection tool here, for getting into the SIM/micro SD card slot.
As noted already, this is an aluminum unibody smartphone, and it feels really nice in the hand. The back is slightly curved, allowing it to feel comfortable in the hand. It also isn't a particularly large smartphone, which means that it'll be less likely to slip out of your hand, which is always a good thing. But in terms of design, there doesn't appear to be anything unique about the Apollo Lite. It's an aluminum unibody design, but it's a bit boring and looks quite a bit like most other smartphones out there that are made of aluminum.
The backside of the Apollo Lite features all the usual suspects. There's the camera in the center, with the dual LED flash to the left of it and a fingerprint reader below that. At the very bottom of the phone, you'll find Vernee's logo as well as it saying "Model: Apollo Lite". The logo is pretty dark, meaning that you won't really see it, especially on our "space gray" color here. The back of the device is mostly plain, which is a great look to have, to be honest.
When it comes to button placement, the power button is on the right-hand side, with the volume rocker slightly above it. Both are in an ideal location. Making it easy to reach them without needing to adjust where your hand is on the device. On the opposite sides are the SIM and micro SD card slots. The bottom houses the USB-C port as well as the speaker and the top has the 3.5mm headphone jack. Definitely nice to see that Vernee isn't following the popular crowd and getting rid of that.
The front of the device is where things get a bit boring. With the large chin and forehead (top and bottom bezels), it makes the device look pretty familiar. That's not always a bad thing, as it does its job here. There are on-screen buttons here, so no physical buttons on the front, leading to a pretty clean front-side for the Apollo Lite.
What we have here on the Apollo Lite is a 5.5-inch 1080p IPS display that is sourced from Sharp. IPS displays are pretty good panels, although AMOLED are widely received as the gold standard for mobile devices. This panel here actually looks quite sharp (no pun intended). It is 1080p which is still decent, 2K or QHD would have been preferred, but there's nothing wrong with 1080p even at 5.5-inches. The display gets nice and bright, and it's more than visible when outdoors and in direct sunlight. Something else that is important with any panel on any smartphone. If you can't see it while you're outside, then it's basically useless.
The multi-touch support is spot on here. We didn't have any issues using the display, nor the display recognizing when and where we touched the display. This may not seem all that important, but it's actually very important. If the panel doesn't recognize your touches on the display, then it results in the phone being slower, and many feel that it is lagging, when it actually isn't. So it's good to see that isn't an issue here.
The colors on this IPS display stand out quite vividly. Although blacks aren't as dark as we'd like, that's something you'll really only find on those AMOLED panels that are on smartphones like the Galaxy S7 and Nexus 6P. Otherwise, there's really no complaints with this panel here on the Apollo Lite.
The Apollo Lite is pretty much a power house here. We're looking at a deca-core processor from MediaTek, along with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. The Helio X20 is a tri-cluster processor, which means we have a quad-core set of cores set at a lower clockspeed to make it more efficient when in standby mode. Then there's a slightly faster cluster of four cores that works well for most day-to-day tasks, and finally there's a cluster of two cores that are faster and are capable of handling gameplay and heavier usage. Making it great for providing great battery life as well as impressive performance. It's the best of both worlds ideally.
Now in our day-to-day usage with the Apollo Lite, the Helio X20 did perform as expected. It provided us with some pretty amazing standby time, as well as doing everything that we threw at it without any issues whatsoever. The Apollo Lite worked really well in gameplay and so much more. It was really a joy to use, and the 4GB of RAM really helped things out. Allowing you to keep more apps in memory before it needed to redraw them. While 3GB of RAM is definitely plenty for Android Marshmallow, having that extra gigabyte definitely doesn't hurt. While 32GB of storage is definitely on the low-end of storage these days, it's still plenty, since the pre-installed apps take up so little space on the Apollo Lite, you still have plenty of room.
A fingerprint sensor is rapidly becoming a standard feature in most smartphones, and that's definitely a great thing. As fingerprint sensors allow users to keep their phone much more secure than a simple PIN or password. Not to mention the fact that you can use it to authenticate different apps and services. Much more secure and faster to login than using a password. However, not all fingerprint sensors are the same and perform the same. The fingerprint sensor on the Vernee Apollo Lite is not a pleasant experience, which is pretty unfortunate.
We've been using the Apollo Lite for about a week now, and the fingerprint sensor just isn't good. It often times will take multiple times to authenticate my finger, and sometimes I have to resort to using my pattern to unlock the device, because the sensor just doesn't recognize my finger. It appears that the sensor needs your finger to be placed exactly the way it was when you enrolled it. Which isn't the case with most other smartphones. And even then, it isn't anywhere near perfect. It's easily the biggest flaw in an otherwise amazing smartphone here.
As we mentioned already, the speaker is located on the bottom of the Apollo Lite, next to the USB-C port. It's not the most ideal location for a speaker, but it is a location that has been becoming more and more popular as of late. The speaker here isn't the best, but it's far from the worst. It can sound a bit tinny at times, which isn't the best experience. But it doesn't seem to sound tinny all the time, so there's that. The speaker does get quite loud. In fact, I usually kept the volume about halfway, and found it plenty loud enough for me.
When it comes to the headphone jack, I would say that you get slightly better audio than from the speaker. However a lot of that also depends on the headphones you plug into the jack. I used my Bose SoundTrue On-Ear headphones and got slightly different sounding audio than with my A-Audio Legacy headphones plugged in. So if you have a decent pair of cans, then you'll get some great audio from the Apollo Lite.
When it comes to benchmarks, we ran the usual set of AnTuTu, 3D Mark and Geekbench 4. Over on AnTuTu, it scored 87,584. That's slightly lower than what you'd see on a Snapdragon 820-powered device, but still pretty respectable. The same can be said for its 3D Mark score of 1001. Over on Geekbench, it got a single-core score of 1668, and a multi-core score of 4453.
Phone Calls & Network
So the Vernee Apollo Lite does support LTE, just not America's LTE networks. We did use the device on T-Mobile here in the States and got 2G speeds on-board. Which is about what we expected. The speeds were pretty much the standard as what we've seen with other smartphones coming out of China. When it comes to phone calls, those were decent as well. Remember that because this phone isn't made for T-Mobile or AT&T's network, that there is no support for things like HD Voice, VoLTE and even WiFi Calling. So you're stuck with just regular old phone calls over their voice network.
Below are the bands for the Vernee Apollo Lite:
GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900
WCDMA 900, 2100
FDD-LTE 900, 1800, 2100, 2600
There's a 3180mAh battery inside the Vernee Apollo Lite, which appears to work pretty well at keeping the device going all day long. We were able to go a full day and then some, without needing to recharge the Apollo Lite, which is definitely a good thing. It also shows that the deca-core processor inside is doing exactly what it's marketed to do, and that's provide some astounding standby time. The Vernee Apollo Lite can actually last all night (around 8 hours) on standby and barely lose 1% of its battery. Which is pretty amazing, itself.
Now when it comes to charging the Apollo Lite, it does come with its own "Pump Express Plus 3.0" charger, which is said to make it charge much faster than the conventional chargers. Unfortunately, that charger is made for EU plugs, and since we are in the US, that charger doesn't work for us. We used it with a Quick Charge 3.0 charger, and it appears to charge pretty quickly. Now this isn't to say it charges as quickly as a Quick Charge 3.0 device, but it's definitely faster than a conventional charger.
Vernee has typically kept to using a relatively stock version of Android. And they've done the same here with the Apollo Lite. We're looking at Android 6.0 Marshmallow with the July 5th, 2016 security patch - a pretty old security patch at this point. There's no word on when or if this will receive Android 7.0 Nougat. However, given the somewhat old security patch, I wouldn't count on seeing it anytime soon.
Despite it sporting a relatively stock Android experience, there are a few changes here from the stock Android that Google shipped to AOSP last year. One of those is the ability to change the navigation bar. There are four options to choose from here. Which ultimately switch the recent and back buttons. However, there is the option to add a notification shade pull down to the right side. This is a useful option on larger smartphones, but not really needed on this 5.5-inch device. There is also the ability to hide the navigation bar, and have even more screen real estate, which can be pretty helpful.
Something else that usually changes among these smartphones, is the launcher. The launcher is quite plain here. Those in the West will be happy to know that it does indeed come with an app drawer. But that's about it for the launcher. It's a 4x5 grid of icons (both on the home screen and in the app drawer), and Google search is not front and center. It's a very plain launcher as you can see. But, you can still grab a third-party launcher from the Google Play Store and place it on your Apollo Lite, which is definitely a good thing. The only setting here is the ability to turn on auto-rotate for the launcher.
Software in general is pretty plain, but when you think about it, that is actually how Vernee is able to keep the price nice and low on this smartphone. Since they don't really have to spend any time, money and other resources on developing the software for this device. It would be nice to see it launch with the Google Now Launcher, but we do also have to remember that Vernee is based in China and Google is banned there. So their users, primarily, won't be using Google services anyways. Hopefully, Vernee can get Android 7.0 Nougat sent out to the Apollo Lite soon, with these specs, it should perform quite well.
The plain user experience carries on over to the camera app. It's very barebones with just a few features. In fact, the only modes are video, auto and panorama. So when we say its "very barebones" we really mean it. You do have a slew of filters available, as well as HDR and the peace sign gesture for taking selfies. Otherwise, there's nothing special about the camera app here. Which isn't a big deal. The big deal is whether the pictures that come from this camera are good or not.
Well, the pictures, are, okay. A lot of the pictures appear to be pretty "soft". They aren't as sharp as you would expect, even from a smartphone camera in this day and age. Of course, it only appears to be "soft" in less-then-stellar lighting. When using it outdoors in direct sunlight, or even on a cloudy day, the camera actually performs pretty well. That's a bit of an interesting issue, and it's something that we haven't seen before on other smartphone cameras. So it could be possible that a software update can fix this for users. Other than that, the colors seem to be about right here. Not over-exposed and not over-saturated. But pretty accurate. Which is also a good thing for a camera. Those that want over-saturated photos can achieve that with photo editing apps like Snapseed.
Look & feel
Camera is somewhat disappointing
Fingerprint sensor is also disappointing
There are quite a few things that we disliked about the Vernee Apollo Lite, but do those outweigh the great things about the smartphone? That depends on what you're looking for in a smartphone. If you're someone that just uses a phone for playing occasional games, checking Twitter, Facebook, etc., and don't need a fingerprint sensor and don't use the camera that often, then the Apollo Light is a fantastic smartphone to check out and purchase. It's a great looking smartphone, with fantastic software and even better battery life. Sure there are some issues with the phone, but then again, there are issues with every single smartphone out there. This is why the "perfect smartphone" does not yet exist, and likely won't ever exist.
Should I buy the Vernee Apollo Lite?
Keep in mind that the Vernee Apollo Lite is a smartphone that costs around $200 to import to the US. That's a pretty low price, especially when you think about this thing sporting an aluminum build, a deca-core processor, 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. That's pretty impressive. Is the Apollo Lite a great smartphone? Probably not, but it is a good one, and definitely worth picking up.