Monday, July 13, 2015

Review of SGHiTech Excellence Non-Camera Phone

 My search for a fast non-camera phone with minimal lag led me to SGHiTech, a new startup based in Singapore that launched its first phone, the Excellence, in Nov 2014. These are my first impressions after a week of use, with my main references for comparison being the Sony Xperia Z2 and Huawei Honor (non-cam). I will focus on insights that may not have been obvious from reading the phone’s specs.


Advantages

The phone is fast. I can boot up to reach my screen lock in less than 30 seconds, and toggling between messaging or calendar apps with no lag. Swiftkey keyboard also runs smoothly.  This is probably due to the 2GB of RAM as well as minimal bloatware. Out of the box, there were only about 20 apps pre-installed, all of which belonged to Android and none added by SGHiTech. This was my biggest personal criteria is buying a phone, and the reason why I rejected available iNo, Huawei and Phicomm models based on personal experience and the very poor reviews from friends.



The phone looks classy and feels solid. I particularly like the metal bezel along the sides that is reminiscent of an iPhone. The back cover is flexible plastic like the Samsung Galaxy, and is easy to remove and replace.


The box contains everything you need – from a pre-applied screen protector to a custom-made case. Obviously there is no third-party accessory support for this brand new phone, and I like that they have thoughtfully provided everything you might need.


It cost only $300 with free delivery direct from SGHiTech (as of July 2015).

The phone comes with dual-SIM and supports both Mini and Micro SIM cards. This definitely helps people who are swapping the SIM card to a camera phone on weekends, because it opens up the spectrum of phones that can share a SIM card.

As a startup, the company is very responsive to user feedback. According to forums, they have already gone through multiple cycles of firmware upgrades in response to user complaints. More on this later.

Disadvantages

The phone did not work out of the box. This sounds worse than it actually is. My deliveryman told me the first thing I should do is to update the phone, which I did. The next day I was back on the phone with them again, complaining that my calendar was not syncing. They told me to factory reset the phone and install Google Calendar, which would also trigger installation of the Google Apps Framework, and after that it worked.

The screen lacks sensitivity. For some reason, I often have to tap the WhatsApp chat box multiple times in order to bring up the onscreen keyboard. But once the keyboard appears (covering the same part of the screen), I have no problem keying my inputs.

The GPS is very slow and inaccurate. While on a stationery bus, the location icon using Google maps navigation was constantly jumping around. It's good enough for static location-based services like checking in, but unusable for navigation (although I had no plans to navigate using a 4" screen).

The phone does not work with my Moto 360 watch (cannot pair), although I was told it should.

Battery life is not great. With light use, it was able to last me until the end of the day. But I am quite sure I will be charging the phone in the afternoon most days. Still, this compares favourably with most phones I have used recently, except my Sony Xperia which could easily last a day of intense use.

The screen is small. At 4 inches, it’s barely big enough for Whatsapp and Facebook. For now, that is all I need so I was willing to make the tradeoff for speed. The company is launching a 5.5” model at the end of the year, so that is something I’d wait for if my need isn’t urgent.


It’s a significant drop in speed going from LTE down to 3G, so I do most of my downloading over wi-fi instead.

Remarks

What impressed me most about this company was their responsiveness. When I called to complain about my calendar, I ended by suggesting that they should have included some printed instructions with the phone, which would have saved them having to take my call. “We like hearing from our customers”, was the reply, and that was what sold me on this company. 

And I like talking to them too. Their automated answering service will greet you with SGHiTech – Striving for excellence … with pride! That sounds so cheesy it never fails to make me smile, and yet my experience with the product so far suggest that they take their motto very seriously. I trust that they will work hard to continue improving the firmware, and future models.

So here are a few things I wish SGHiTech (or other non-camera phone manufacturers) would do.
  • Pre-install a virus scanner. Since all your customers obviously work in places where security is a key concern, help them out by not providing malware a chance to slip into the phone while it is unprotected.
  • Provide a hardware switch that can either cut off the microphone or the battery. This will save the user the effort of having to disassemble the phone to remove the battery during more classified meetings.
  • Bigger screen, faster speed. Since this is my main phone during weekdays, I’d like to be able to do everything I could with a top-end camera phone, less the camera. This includes all kinds of social media, reading books and news, and for some people may include gaming as well.