Chinese handset manufacturer Gionee has just gone through a revamp, with a brand new logo and a tagline that now reads Make Smiles. While this might not change much for consumers, it's an important transition for the company. One of the first products to be available in India sporting the new company identity is the Gionee Marathon M5 Plus. This smartphone certainly continues the lineage of the Marathon-series with a large battery, but despite carrying the "Plus" moniker this phone's battery is smaller than that of the original Marathon M5 (Review) that launched last year. Has Gionee decided to try something new with the M5 Plus rather than just relying on the battery? Will the new Marathon M5 Plus be able to trump its predecessors when put through its paces in our review? Let's find out.
Look and feel
When seen from a distance, the M5 Plus looks sturdy and gives the impression that it's an all-metal phone. This, however, isn't the case. The Gionee Marathon M5 Plus has only a metal frame, though this still gives it a sturdy feel when held in the hands. Compared to the 8.6mm thick Marathon M5, Gionee has managed to squeeze the thickness of the M5 Plus down to 8.4mm. Unfortunately, there's no weight loss and both models weigh exactly 211g. In contrast, the Xiaomi Mi Max (Review) which features a massive 6.44-inch display weighs 203 grams.
The Marathon M5 Plus is dominated by the 6-inch full-HD (1080x1920-pixel) Amoled display with 2.5D curved glass that spreads across the front. The high 480dpi pixel density means that text and pictures are sharp. The display is fairly bright and has good colour reproduction. Sunlight legibility is decent, and we had no issues operating the handset in direct sunlight.
Despite being launched at a price point above Rs. 25,000 in India, the Marathon M5 Plus doesn't feature either Corning Gorilla Glass or Asahi glass, which seems like a big miss. A fingerprint scanner is embedded into the physical home button and is easy to reach with a thumb when using the phone with one hand. The front camera is housed in the upper right corner, next to the earpiece.
The rear of the M5 Plus features the primary camera accompanied by an LED flash. The new Gionee logo is embossed right in the middle and looks neat. It's worth noting that the Chinese company also has "Gionee" text branding at the bottom, just above the speaker grille, which might indicate that it isn't quite sure whether people will recognise the new logo. The dual-SIM tray is on the left side, while the right houses the microSD card tray. The M5 Plus supports two Micro-SIMs. The USB Type-C port and 3.5mm audio jack are on the bottom.
Overall, the Marathon M5 Plus feels sturdier than some of the competition it has to face in the market. The large 6-inch screen definitely adds value for those who love watching videos and playing games, but the sheer size and weight of this smartphone sometimes makes it uncomfortable to use with just one hand. We also wish that the Back and Recents buttons were backlit to make them easier to use.
Specifications and software
The Marathon M5 shipped with a quad-core MediaTek MT6735 SoC, and now we see upgraded innards on the Marathon M5 Plus. It is powered by an octa-core MediaTek MT6753 processor clocked at 1.3GHz, coupled with 3GB of RAM. It has 64GB of onboard storage that can be expanded using a microSD card (up to 128GB). The amount of RAM is same as the Marathon M5, but the M5 Plus gets a significant bump in storage.
For software, the Marathon M5 Plus runs the heavily customised Amigo 3.1 skin on top of Android 5.1 Lollipop, which is the same as the Marathon M5 and now quite dated. We took some time to get comfortable with software running on the Gionee Marathon M5 Plus. There were some surprises such as the absence of toggle switches in the dropdown notifications shade - users have to swipe upwards on any screen (including the lock screen) for quick shortcuts to the airplane mode, Wi-Fi, cellular data, Bluetooth, GPS, screen rotation, vibration, sound profile, and extreme battery mode settings. There are also shortcuts to a Super Screenshot tool for taking screenshots, the torch, Fake Calls, Calculator, and Camera.
The Fake Calls feature, as the name suggests, triggers a fake incoming call, which at first seemed odd. It can be used to get out of an awkward situation. On picking up the call, you hear a pre-recorded message that says "Please send the files urgently" which might be a plausible excuse to leave a place. The Fake Calls feature has appeared in older Gionee phones as well.
There are host of pre-loaded apps from Gionee such as the Theme Park that offers options to customise the interface including picking a theme of your choice or setting a new wallpaper.
The Marathon M5 Plus sports two homescreens that are filled with plenty of app icons. Gionee ships this phone with UC Browser, which looks neat and worked well when needed. There's also a System Manager app with various tools such as a RAM cleaner, cache cleaner, app manager, app freezer, power manager, and an eco mode.
The M5 Plus also has five pre-loaded games including Bubble Bash 3, Danger Dash, Dragon Mania, Motocross: Trial Extreme, and Spiderman Ultimate Power. Most of these are only free trials, and those who want to continue playing these games need to buy them from Google Play. The messaging app automatically categorises messages into conversations, services, and others.
Of the two Power saving modes, we found the Extreme mode to be really useful when we were running low on battery power during our review period. This feature shows down all functions except the basic phone dialler, contacts, messaging, and clock. We found the Extreme mode to be functional.
Overall, the interface is slightly cluttered with app icons spread across the home screens. There are also plenty of visual effects on the M5 Plus that you can use to give the phone a new look each day.
The best thing that has happened to Android phones of late is the massive increase in the amounts of RAM they now have. This helps reduce lags lags, and that's what we see with the Marathon M5 Plus. Despite having nearly two dozen apps open in the background, this phone didn't lag at all. However, we faced slight delays in opening some apps such as UC Browser, which is the default browser. The GStore and Mood Wallpapers apps sometimes crashed, which was disappointing, but updates released during our review period fixed this.
By checking the Marathon M5 Plus's app switcher at regular intervals, we observed that the phone usually had up to 1GB of RAM free, which is great. It might be running an outdated version of Android, but Amigo UI's cusomisations include a way to keep an eye on apps that are using data or any other resource.
In terms of gaming, the M5 Plus handled heavy graphics games with ease. It also handled calls well without any drops. The fingerprint reader on the home button also responded well most of the time. Keep in mind that, as with other devices, fingerprint recognition will fail if your hands are wet.
The Gionee Marathon M5 Plus got AnTuTu score of 39,405, is lower than that of the year-old Lenovo K3 Note (45,616). Overall, the Marathon M5 Plus fares ok in performance, but taking the price into consideration, we feel it should have been much better. The delays in launch of some apps at times is frustrating and something that's not justifiable at this price.
We liked the quality of the earphones that ship with the Marathon M5 Plus. and the default music app had plenty of settings to tweak. Much like the Marathon M5, the M5 Plus's music player app lets users select the type of earphones they have, and the sound is ostensibly tweaked accordingly.(Tap to see full-size Gionee Marathon M5 Plus sample image)
The Gionee Marathon M5 Plus sports a 13-megapixel autofocus rear camera along with a 5-megapixel fixed-focus front camera. Both sensors seem to be the same as those used in the Marathon M5. The Camera app launches quickly and has plenty of tweaking options to choose from including Face Beauty, which smoothens 'blemishes' and GIF, which shoots multiple frames to form an animation. Unfortunately, shutterbugs will be disappointed to see no Pro mode, which was present in the Marathon M5.(Tap to see full-size Gionee Marathon M5 Plus sample image)
The rear camera took decent images with accurate colours, but there was over-saturation in well-lit conditions, as well as grainy images in low light. Outdoor shots look fine on the screen, but on zooming they lack details.
The 5-megapixel front camera managed to take decent shots only when the lighting was sufficient. Low-light shots from both front cameras had noise. We would have liked the ability to record slow motion videos, but that isn't supported.
In our battery tests, the Marathon M5 Plus trumped the Marathon M4 (Review), but couldn't go past the the beefier Marathon M5. The 5020mAh battery lasted for 21 hours and 52 minutes in our video loop test, which is great. With regular everyday usage, the phone lasted for up to three days without needing to be recharged.
The phone sports a USB Type-C port and it can be charged must faster than the M5 - it took only about three hours to charge from zero to 100 percent, which is acceptable for a battery this size.
At Rs. 26,999, the Gionee Marathon M5 Plus definitely seems like an improvement over the Marathon M5 (Review) even if battery life is a little less. The price seems quite high, but consumers might go the extra mile for features such as the fingerprint reader and USB Type-C port.
When it comes to battery life, the Marathon M5 Plus easily trumps other phones available at the same price level. However, battery life isn't everyone's priority, and this is the phone's sole advantage. The overall experience is not enough for the Marathon M5 Plus to stand a chance against popular phones that are available around the same price such as OnePlus 3 (Review) and Xiaomi Mi 5 (Review).