For the near $70 price tag, the Gretel S55 is a well-balanced value of a budget phone
When it comes to the smartphone market China has a large number of vendors that offer devices, which actually makes some sense given that China has one of the largest smartphone markets in the world. Some of the brands are bigger, more well-known brands, such as Xiaomi, Huawei, ZTE, Oppo, OnePlus and others, but then there are many different white box brands that are offering a slew of budget devices such as OUKITEL who is a brand we reviewed last week, or Gretel, whose S55 we’ve been spending the past week or so with to check out the phone and see how it stacks up. With that said, let’s take a closer look at the Gretel S55.
Interestingly enough the Gretel S55 is only a 3G device, which more or less explains why the phone is only around $70, but in this day and age it just seems weird to find a phone which doesn’t support 4G LTE connections as 4G is much more common. Network speed and support aside, the Gretel S55 comes with some specs which seem like a pretty good value for the money. For instance, the S55 may only come with 3G support but it is a phablet so it has a bigger screen coming in at 5.5-inches. On the inside it’s powered by a MediaTek 6580A quad-core processor which is paired with 1GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage space.
For the power the device is carrying a battery with a 2600mAh capacity so it’s not a whole lot but with a lower power processor and a lower resolution 720p HD screen, 2,600mAh should be enough for the battery, though we’ll get more into that in the battery section below. The S55 may be an entry-level budget phone but it still comes with dual rear cameras, with an 8-megapixel sensor and a 0.3-megapixel sensor for the cameras on back, and a 2-megapixel sensor on the front. The S55 also comes equipped with a fingerprint sensor on the back which can be used for unlocking the device, though not for authorizing mobile payments. There is one single speaker for audio, the device uses a micro USB port for charging and data transfer, and it also has a 3.5mm audio port for plugging in headphones. For software the Gretel S55 is running on Android 7.0 Nougat.
In The Box
There isn’t anything too exciting in the box to find but you do get everything you need. Gretel has packaged the phone with the wall charger, a clear silicone case to put onto the phone if you want to use it for protection, and there’s already a screen protector applied to the front of the device.
Hardware & Design
Design wise the Gretel S55 is not the worst-designed phone out there. That said it just doesn’t have anything that makes it look incredibly sleek. It’s an ok phone in terms of the style if you don’t mind the phone looking like a budget device because it’s very clear that it doesn’t cost much to get into a phone like the S55.
On the front of the device you have capacitive keys at the bottom of the phone which seems to be more common in some of these white box devices. The S55 has some pretty large bezels on the front top and bottom which may not be too surprising given the price of the phone, and of course Gretel had to account for the capacitve keys at the bottom. Up at the top the front-facing camera is to the right of the earpiece and there are sensors to the left of it. The left side of the frame is completely bare while the right side of the frame houses both the power button and the volume up and down buttons. Up on the top edge you’ll find the audio port and the charging port, and if you flip things over to the back you can find the dual rear cameras in the top left corner alongside the LED flash, as well as the Speaker down in the bottom left corner of the phone and the Gretel logo at the bottom as well. The phone comes in black, blue, gold and red colors, with us reviewing the red color as you can tell from the pictures.
With this being only a 720p HD display I wasn’t sure what to expect as the HD displays feel like they can be hit or miss in terms of clarity and overall quality, but in reality it wasn’t all that bad. It is easy to tell that the screen is not as sharp as a Full HD display or better, which you might think is always going to be a noticeable difference but you’d be surprised as some HD displays with a 720p screen actually look just about as good as a 1080p Full HD screen. Colors for the display do appear to be fairly accurate, but one thing that was noticed is that the screen does appear a little more muted too. Colors may be fairly accurate but they’re not very bright or vivid, so the screen could do with some contrast being cranked up.
With some phones this is something you can easily do as there would be a setting for configuring the color temperature of the display which usually has a vivid setting to help push the colors off the screen a little bit, but that doesn’t seem to be an option on the S55 so you’re basically stuck with how the colors look on this phone. The nice thing is that the higher you turn the brightness up the less muted things look. It doesn’t change things a ton but it does help. The screen also has good viewing angles and overall there didn’t seem to be any issues with the display’s digitizer as it didn’t really give me any problems with the response when interacting with it. When it comes down to it this is a fine display for the most part for probably a majority of the average users, with the only consumers caring about the quality being those who are more often used to higher resolution screens.
I wasn’t expecting much out of the performance due to the low amount of RAM and the processor used, and I got pretty much what I was anticipating. The device was sluggish when you try to do too much as I often found it lagging when I had too many apps open, and unfortunately it didn’t take too many apps being open in the background for things to become a problem because the phone does only have 1GB of RAM, and that’s not a lot if you’re a heavy user of apps. Multitasking here is possible but you’ll have to pick and choose which apps you want to use during these times a little more carefully as some will be more draining on the energy and resources.
When it came to gaming performance there was mostly the same issue. Some problems with lag based on the game you try to play. With only 1GB of RAM and a low-end quad-core processor, don’t expect to be playing any high-end games with the Gretel S55, but it can run some casual games and those which have been specially optimized for use on lower-powered phones. The Gretel S55 is definitely one of those phones, so you could play some games like Asphalt Nitro, which not only takes up less space than other Asphalt games but it was designed for use on lower-end phones it feels like. As to how it ran the game played relatively fine. Graphics were sort oh choppy and less sharp, but that’s a small price to pay for having a less expensive phone and if the game still runs fine then that’s the more important thing.
Unlocking your phones and other devices has become so much easier with the implementation of fingerprint sensors. A few years ago you wouldn’t find fingerprint sensors on many phones at all, and now you’ll even find them on devices which cost less than a hundred bucks. The Gretel S55’s fingerprint sensor doesn’t seem like the best or fastest fingerprint sensor on the market but it did seem to work generally all of the time. Having not experienced any issues with it first hand I’d say that the sensor used is pretty decent, though some might feel that it not only needs to be accurate but also fast enough to warrant using it, and some may feel that it isn’t fast enough here. That said it will get the job done so if you’re less concerned with speed then this will suffice.
With just a 2,600mAh battery inside of the Gretel S55 it seemed like I might not be able to get a whole lot of use out of the phone before I needed to charge it again, at least not compared to some other devices which have even just a few hundred more mAh in terms of capacity. Because the phone doesn’t use USB Type-C to charge it does take a bit longer to charge up the battery, and this is unfortunate because the battery doesn’t last throughout the day. On occasion I was able to get it to last until the end of the work day, but I was needing a charge halfway through the evening and before I got home. On average the screen on time was about four and half hours, which isn’t the worst and it will likely be more than that for those who don’t use the phone too heavily or change other factors like turning down the brightness, but in the end it’s likely that most users would be charging this device before the day is over. Battery life isn’t terrible but it isn’t a strong point of the phone.
Phone Calls & Network
If you remember from the beginning of the review we said that this is only a 3G enabled device, and it is, which is going to limit the usefulness of the phone for some people, and perhaps quite a few as most people likely want the best data speeds they can get. That is unless 3G is really all they have available in their area. The Gretel S55 not only doesn’t support 3G but it also doesn’t support U.S. networks, so it can’t be used as a device for here in the states. The list of supported network frequencies is below if you’re interested to know what they are.
Benchmark tests aren’t the definitive guide for figuring out a device is going to perform during everyday use, but they do paint a nice picture of what you can kind of expect. For this we ran the Gretel S55 through three different benchmark tests, which includes AnTuTu, 3DMark for the graphics, and then Geekbench 4. If you’re interested in seeing the scores of each of those tests you can do so by looking at the screenshots from each in the gallery down below.
Audio quality here is about as good as it can be with just a single speaker and a budget that results in a $70 phone when it comes to market. The sound does get loud enough for videos and games and music and anything else, but it isn’t supremely good quality sound. It works and it does the job but it’s not fantastic. The short of it is that if you want better quality audio when using the Gretel S55, you’ll need to plug in headphones, or connect it to a speaker either through a 3.5mm audio jack or through a Bluetooth wireless connection.
Gretel doesn’t really have any fully baked, specialized user interface like some manufacturers do, but there are some things about the software on this phone which are extra software features. Mostly the UI looks like stock Android from AOSP builds, but if you enter into the settings menu you can find options for gestures, screen wake options that launch apps or shortcuts when draw something like the letter C on the display from a sleeping lock screen, and the device has DuraSpeed which just like on the OUKITEL device we reviewed last week will restrict background apps to a degree so that the performance and speed of the foreground app can be boosted to run better. Beyond that, the software is pretty basic in all other areas. It’s Android Nougat so you do get Google Assistant which is a big plus because it will make using the phone easier from time to time. If you’re looking for a bunch of extra software features though, you won’t find them here.
Since this is a phone with a dual rear camera setup the camera does offer some extra cool stuff like the bokeh feature, which is using the secondary 0.3-megapixel camera on the back to achieve the looks for that effect. The camera also has a standard photo and video mode. As well as an HDR button for trying to squeeze out more contrast from the colors in your photos. It also may not look like it but the camera does offer some color effects too, such as mono, sepia, negative, and aqua to name a few. It also has things that most smartphone cameras will have like face detection and anti-shake features to help images look better, though those will only take things so far as this is a pretty low-end camera sensor. It’s only 8-megapixels for one, and when you zoom in on photos even just a little bit where the image was in good lighting, you can still see a fair amount of noise where the image isn’t as clear or sharp. This isn’t the end of the world if the camera is going to be less of a used app on the phone, but it’s worth knowing that you shouldn’t expect the pictures to be some of the best images from a smartphone you’ll ever get. The camera also didn’t perform too well in lower lighting so it was hard to get a good photo when it was either dark or starting to get dark. This is a bit of a let down but in the end it is a really inexpensive phone and that’s what you have to remember. It also wasn’t too bad as we have seen plenty worse, and really for around $70 things aren’t too bad.
Big 5.5-inch display
Dual rear camera setup for a low cost
3.5mm audio port
Only supports 3G networks
Doesn’t support U.S. networks
No NFC for mobile payments
Uses micro USB instead of USB Type-C
Performance could have been better
Camera doesn’t do well in low-light
Just like there are no shortages of smartphones period, there’s no shortage of options in the budget category and Gretel is willing to deliver on this front. While the S55 may not be extremely high-end and come with all the bells and whistles, it does serve its purpose and there is a large market out there for phones at this end of the spectrum. For the near $70 price tag, the Gretel S55 is a well-balanced value of a budget phone.
Should you buy the Gretel S55?
If you live in the U.S. it’s hard to recommend this as a phone you should buy. If you need a device for use out of the U.S. and you’re going to be in an area which doesn’t get anything but 3G and below, or if you don’t mind not having 4G LTE, then this isn’t a bad device for the price. If however you want something that does offer 4G, and comes with better quality specs and more features, there are other phones out there to choose from even in the same price range.