There are many Android manufacturers in China that are looking to become the next big thing. Vernee is one of those manufacturers who has been putting together some rather interesting, and impressive smartphones as of late. We've recently reviewed the Vernee Apollo Lite, which was a pretty interesting smartphone, now its time to check out the Vernee Mars, which is a sort of hybrid between a flagship high-end device and a mid-ranger. So the big question is whether it's worth picking up or not, at a retail price of $249 in the US.
Spec-wise, the Vernee Mars features a 5.5-inch 1080p display. That's an IPS panel. It's powered by the MediaTek Helio P10 processor, that's an octa-core 1.8GHz processor, and is paired with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. There is also a micro SD card slot included that doubles as a second SIM card slot. This micro SD card slot supports up to 256GB of additional storage. There is a 3000mAh non-removable battery inside which supports Quick Charge (not Qualcomm's Quick Charge though, since this isn't running a Qualcomm chipset).
The camera on the backside a 13-megapixel camera with flash and auto-focus. While the front camera is a 5-megapixel shooter, and both can shoot video at up to 1080p. We're also looking at WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz. As well as Bluetooth 4.0. For location tracking, the Vernee Mars uses GPS and A-GPS. Other sensors include Gyro, Compass, gravity sensor, ambient light sensor and a touch sensor. It also includes a USB-C port which supports OTG. The dimensions of the Vernee Mars is 151 x 73 x 7.6mm. And it weighs in at 161 grams.
In the Box
Inside the box here, there's not much out of the ordinary. We're looking at the Vernee Mars smartphone, as well as the USB-C to USB-A cable and a wall charger. Now since this is the EU version, we're looking at an EU plug. If you're looking to import this into the US, you'll be able to use this with any charger that you have around your home, just use a USB-C cable and you'll be all set. Additionally, there is all of your usual paperwork, and that's about it for what's in the box.
Looking at the back of the Vernee Mars, it's pretty obvious where they drew inspiration from for their smartphone. It looks very similar to the iPhone, down to the antenna lines and camera placement. It is a full-metal jacket, which is always nice to have as it makes the phone feel more premium than a plastic back. Vernee does have a fingerprint sensor on the Mars handset, although you may never know that it was there. This is because they didn't use a sensor on the backside of the device, which keeps the back looking clean. Instead, there is a button on the side of the phone that is the fingerprint sensor, just below the power button and volume rocker. These buttons are all in basically the right place. They are in a spot where it is easy to use them, without having to reposition your hand on the device.
Vernee has a USB Type-C connector on the bottom of the Mars, it's definitely great to see them adopting USB-C. There's a speaker to the right of the USB-C connector and a single microphone hole on the left side. It looks pretty nice, but definitely not fooling anyone by using multiple holes on the left side for the microphone, like some other smartphones tend to do these days. At the top of the device, you'll find the 3.5mm headphone jack. Perhaps a bigger deal than the company using USB-C here, with everyone opting to remove the 3.5mm headphone jack as of late. Finally, the left side houses the SIM card slot which also has a slot for the micro SD card so you can expand the 32GB of storage that comes inside.
In the hand, the Vernee Mars feels nice and solid. It's a bit thin, but it's not too thin. It's thick enough to still feel nice in the hand, which is always important. However, it is a bit slippery. There's really no way around that, since it is a metal unibody smartphone, and those always tend to be slippery. So you'll probably want to slap it in a case, so that it stays in your hand.
The specs of the display don't seem that impressive. I mean it's a 5.5-inch, 1080p panel here. Where most smartphones these days are sporting 2K or QHD displays, Full HD seems rather low, but the panel that Vernee has here is pretty impressive. It's nice and bright, and just looks amazing overall. And since it is a 1080p panel, it does use less battery than most of the other smartphones around right now.
As noted, the panel here gets plenty bright, which is great for using it outdoors and such. As you'll want to be able to see the screen when you are outdoors, or else the phone is rather useless. The colors are nice and vivid, although the screen does appear to be a bit cool, compared to other displays we've used recently. Luckily there is MiraVision built in, so you are able to adjust the display to be the temperature you want it to be.
While it is "just a 1080p display", it's not a bad display, and it's one that I could use as a daily driver. It's not as pixel dense as most other smartphones, but it's still good enough, and for $249, that's all you can really ask for, right?
Powering the Vernee Mars, is the MediaTek P10 processor, which is an octa-core SoC and it actually performs pretty well. This is paired with 4GB of RAM, giving you plenty of RAM for using many different apps and other services on the device. The processor is clocked at about 1.8GHz, which isn't all that fast, and it's definitely shown when using the device. It's not so slow that you'll see it lagging or anything like that, but compared to some higher-end smartphones, it is quite a bit slower.
With 4GB of RAM inside, there is plenty of RAM so that you don't have to wait for apps to reload after opening them back up from the recents menu. We often found that we never ran out of RAM with the Mars, which is definitely important, but not surprising. Considering Android can run well with as little as 512MB of RAM, and Vernee is using stock Android here, it's really not surprising at all.
Vernee has also included 32GB of storage inside. That's definitely plenty of storage for the Vernee Mars, and really any smartphone that is marketed as a mid-range device, especially in this price range. There is also a micro SD card slot that supports up to 128GB of storage. Additionally, there is also support for Adoptable Storage, so you'll be able to store apps and such on that micro SD card. Just be sure to not remove the micro SD card when Adoptable Storage is enabled. Otherwise the data on that SD card could become corrupt and the apps saved on it will disappear from the device.
The fingerprint sensor on the Vernee Mars is actually located on the right side of the phone, just below the power button. It's essentially in the spot that your thumb would be touching whenever you pick up the phone. In theory, this should make it easy to use, but also make it minimal, and not interrupt the design of the Vernee Mars smartphone. In fact, it's often times hard to spot it, if you don't know where to look. So Vernee did a great job at including it in the design of the smartphone.
Now the position of the fingerprint sensor is all well and good, but what about how well it works? Well that's even more important than where the sensor is located, right? And well, the sensor isn't perfect. A lot of the time it would not read my finger. Now I think part of that is a user issue, seeing as this is more of a rectangle sensor, compared to the usual circle you find on the backside or even the front of phones that acts as a fingerprint sensor. It takes some getting used too, and after a few days, it did recognize my thumb a whole lot more.
We are looking at Android 6.0 Marshmallow on the Vernee Mars, which does mean that we have Fingerprint API support. Meaning that you can login to various apps and such with the fingerprint sensor instead of using your password. It definitely makes it convenient, especially if you use a password manager like LastPass, or even 1Password.
Phone Calls & Network
The Vernee Mars is a pretty interesting beast. Now this is a smartphone coming out of China, so it's not expected to work real well with the US carriers. However, it doesn't work at all with T-Mobile. It doesn't even support 2G on T-Mobile USA. So we were unable to test data. It also didn't work with their voice network. As such we were also unable to test out phone calls. So if you're in the US, it's probably a good idea to not pick up the Vernee Mars. It's a bit unfortunate, but also pretty much expected, since this isn't made for the US networks.
Below are the bands that the Vernee Mars supports:
GSM 850, 900, 1800
WCDMA 900, 2100
FDD-LTE 800, 1800, 2100, 2600
Vernee has the speaker located on the bottom of the Mars here. Not exactly the best spot to have a speaker, but it isn't exactly a bad place. The speaker gets pretty loud, although the sound is nothing to be excited about. It sounds just a tiny bit tinny, but it's not that noticeable for most people. When watching videos and such, there is no need to worry about your hand covering up the speaker, as it still sounds good, even when being held. Definitely a good thing for anyone that watches a lot of content on their smartphone.
As far as benchmarks go, we ran the usual three benchmarks on the Vernee Mars. Which includes AnTuTu, 3D Mark and Geekbench 4. On Geekbench 4 it scored 662 in the single-core test and 2642 in the multi-core test. On 3D Mark, it scored 420 and AnTuTu, it scored a 48,279 which is enough to put it between the Xiaomi Mi 4S and the Meizu M3. Which is about where it should be, since the Vernee Mars is definitely a mid-range smartphone, even with 4GB of RAM.
Inside the Vernee Mars, there is a 3000mAh non-removable battery. Given the specs included in the Vernee Mars, you would expect this device to have pretty spectacular battery life, and it does. Vernee does also include "Standby Intelligent power saving" which provides some pretty incredible standby times for this smartphone. You are able to let it sit all day and only lose a small amount of battery. Which is definitely nice, if you don't use your phone much during the day (say while you're at work) and need it in the evening and such.
There is a form of quick charge included in the Vernee Mars, unfortunately it is not Qualcomm's Quick Charge, and that is due to the fact that it is not using a Qualcomm chipset. But with a relatively small battery, it shouldn't take too long to charge this battery anyways, so there shouldn't be any issues with charging it up during the day, and at night it'll definitely be charged before you wake up.
The Vernee Mars is running Android 6.0 Marshmallow with the April 1st, 2016 security patch. Which is quite an old patch, considering it is now November. Which sadly means that it likely won't be seeing many updates, if any. Which can be a big deal for some users, especially those that want to be sure that they are protected from different security vulnerabilities.
Vernee has stuck with a pretty much stock Android approach here. Even down to the launcher, which is where most manufacturers will change it up slightly by removing the app drawer. Vernee has left the app drawer, although it is a bit different. Mostly due to the fact that it has a transparent background, versus something like the Google Now Launcher having a white background. The app drawer scrolls vertically as well, so there aren't any pages here. There's also no list of commonly used apps at the top of the app drawer, which has become pretty popular with other smartphones.
Otherwise, everything you'll find here in the Vernee Mars is what you'll find in stock Android or AOSP. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, in fact it's usually a good thing. It's just unfortunate that this smartphone may never get an update, especially since it is already outdated, with Android 7.0 Nougat already being available, and it running Marshmallow. As expected, Marshmallow does run nice and smooth on this smartphone. With the Helio P10 and 4GB of RAM, there's plenty of power inside this smartphone to keep everything running smoothly.
On the back of the Vernee Mars, you'll find a 13-megapixel sensor in the upper left-hand corner and dual LED flash. The camera is decent. It's not mind blowingly good, but it will definitely do the job. The color accuracy from the pictures were pretty spot on, even more spot on when used outdoors. Some pictures are a bit over exposed, but that doesn't happen very often. Which is definitely a good thing. Out of all of the pictures we've taken in the Flickr gallery below, we only got two pictures that were over exposed.
Like the rest of the software, the camera is also pretty plain and simple. There's only the auto and panorama modes, which is rather underwhelming, to be honest. It does at least feature tap to focus, as well as HDR, but no auto HDR which would have been nice to have.
Hardware build seems a bit plain
Outdated security patch
The Vernee Mars is a pretty decent smartphone. Given its price point, it's not too surprising to see that it does have quite a few downsides, with the biggest one being outdated software. Hopefully that's something that Vernee will improve over the next few months. The hardware build quality is pretty top-notch here, and definitely feels nice in the hand.
Should I buy the Vernee Mars smartphone?
This isn't your typical "flagship" smartphone. It is capable of most things, but don't expect it to outperform something like the LG V20, Xiaomi Mi Note 2 or even the Meizu MX6. Remember this is running the MediaTek Helio P10, which is definitely a mid-range chipset, even with 4GB of RAM. The Vernee Mars is a smartphone for those that are looking for something that they can use to check their social media profiles, check their email and such. They can also get some gaming done, but you won't see the best graphics due to the GPU and just a 1080p display.