One of the most remarkable trends in the mobile industry over the past year has been the rise of the budget Android smartphones. A person looking for a dual-SIM phone today has literally an ocean of options to choose from.
The budget segment of the Indian smartphone market has seen a slew of new releases of late, with a number of players like Micromax, Karbonn, Spice, Xolo, LG and Samsung among others. Nokia also makes it to the list with its range of popular and affordable Windows Phone 8 devices, such as the Lumia 520 and Lumia 720.
Spice's latest hat throw into the budget smartphone ring, Spice Smart Flo Mettle 5X, supposedly delivers an high-end experience for less than Rs. 7,000. But how well does it fare in reality? We find out, in our review.
The Spice Smart Flo Mettle 5X has relatively standard smartphone looks. It is far from an ultra-slim smartphone and despite being primarily made of plastic, it is on the heavier side. The Smart Flo Mettle 5X weighs 190 grams, which is definitely not lightweight - when one holds the device for longer periods, it does feel a bit bulky.
On the first look, the design of the Smart Flo Mettle 5X seems to be reminiscent of Nokia's dated E-series phones, especially the rear panel. The Smart Flo Mettle 5X's rear panel is removable and includes a metal part in the middle, which is covered with rich plastic, better than the material used on the front panel.
On the other hand, the front panel of Smart Flo Mettle 5X is like any other budget Android smartphone, with the rounded edges making the smartphone fairly comfortable to hold with one hand, considering the screen size, but hard to work with just the thumb, of course.
The front of the Smart Flo Mettle 5X is dominated by the 5-inch display with three capacitive keys lined up below the screen for settings, home and back. However, the buttons are not always backlit, and go off after a while, which we felt was odd. We initially struggled to locate the three buttons below the display for use when it turned off, in situations where there was no light in the room.
In addition, the Smart Flo Mettle 5X also features a notification red light below the three soft touch keys, which lights up when there is a missed call, message, and email. It's worth pointing out that the red notification light is very much visible.
The Smart Flo Mettle 5X's back panel houses an 8-megapixel camera along with a LED flash and the speaker grill is located at the bottom left of the rear panel. There's Spice branding visible on the back of the phone.
The budget phablet comes with dimensions of 148.5x78.9x10.4mm. The Spice Smart Flo Mettle 5X phone only comes in White. There is a Micro-USB port accompanied by a 3.5mm audio headphone port on the top of the device. The power key is located on the right side and the volume rocker key on the left side of the Spice Smart Flo Mettle 5X.
As with most budget Android devices, there is no dedicated camera button on the Spice Smart Flo Mettle 5X either. As of now, almost all Android handset manufacturers do not include a dedicated camera key, except Sony.
The phone has a removable back cover and opening it reveals the battery compartment with dual-SIM card slot and a microSD card slot. The dual-SIM cards are not hot-swappable because they are placed adjacent to the Spice Smart Flo Mettle 5X's battery, while the microSD card can be removed without switching off the device.
Overall, we found the Spice Smart Flo Mettle 5X to be a reasonably good looking device, although we wish it had been a bit lighter and would have had a textured back. The glossy metal back panel on the Spice Smart Flo Mettle 5X, like that of the Pinnacle FHD, tends to slip out of hand, when we used the device for prolonged period.
The Spice Smart Flo Mettle 5X comes with a 5-inch display that has a resolution of 480x854 pixels (FWVGA), which is very much a budget affair. The pixel density stands at 233ppi, which is not too bad for an affordable device. Considering the price at which the Smart Flo Mettle 5X comes, it offers decent value, while it's no surprise that the smartphone's visuals are not as sharp as high-end devices.
The major issue on the display front was the Smart Flo Mettle 5X's rather dull output - we used the smartphone with brightness set at full, and were left unsatisfied. The screen is also extremely reflective. Trying to use the Spice Smart Flo Mettle 5X on a sunny day can prove to be annoying, with brightness set on auto or even full.
Colour reproduction and viewing angles of the Smart Flo Mettle 5X's display are not great. We also observed that the display of the Smart Flo Mettle 5X picked up smudges easily and is also a fingerprint magnet; we had a tough time getting rid of them.
During our review period, we noticed slight distortion along the edges of the Smart Flo Mettle 5X's display while watching videos or even viewing images. Thankfully, we found the touch response of the screen to be decent.
The Spice Smart Flo Mettle 5X sports an 8-megapixel rear autofocus camera and also includes a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera.
Keeping in mind that the Smart Flo Mettle 5X is a sub Rs. 10,000 device, we found its camera performance to be par for the segment. The 8-megapixel rear camera takes images with some digital noise, and there is also a loss of detail, even in well-lit conditions. The images clicked by Smart Flo Mettle 5X are good enough for uploading to social networks like Facebook, Twitter etc, but not for much else.
In low-light conditions, images lost their sharpness. This is where the LED flash comes into play, and does manage to fulfil its intended purpose, lighting the scene evenly. The Smart Flo Mettle 5X can record VGA videos (640x480 pixels) too, but the quality is nothing great, with visible noise, and some stuttering.
The 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera on the Smart Flo Mettle 5X comes in handy for selfies though the quality is nothing to be write home about.
The Smart Flo Mettle 5X's camera app comes with a number of shooting modes, including auto, HDR, Panorama, smile shot, landscape and face-detection. The camera app of Smart Flo Mettle 5X also allows users to adjust sharpness, saturation, hue, ISO, and brightness settings.
The Spice Smart Flo Mettle 5X runs Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean out-of-the-box. However, we must point out that the smartphone runs a highly-tweaked version of Android Jelly Bean. Spice seems to have taken the benchmark for other domestic handset makers a step further with its attempt.
In fact, when we first switched on the Smart Flo Mettle 5X, we were not sure if the device was even running Android. If we could remove the Google services and the Play Store app, the Smart Flo Mettle 5X would look like it was running a different operating system, similar to Xiaomi's MiUi interface, which is based on Android. Starting from unlocking the device to searching for apps, the Smart Flo Mettle 5X has a complete makeover.
The Smart Flo Mettle 5X's lockscreen has four panes, one includes the music player controls; second includes weather updates of the current city; third is the main screen which, if slid upwards unlocks the device, and the last houses the camera app launcher.
However, one can get rid of the default Spice lockscreen by opting for Android's original lockscreen, from which users can slide from left to right for unlocking the device, while sliding right to left launches the camera app.
The Smart Flo Mettle 5X's OS doesn't offer the traditional Android home screen - app launcher structure, but in its place, it offers a little similar to the iPhone's and Gionee Elife E7's layout - the Smart Flo Mettle 5X's homescreen is also the app launcher.
We assume for users switching to the Spice Smart Flo Mettle 5X from another Android phone, the arrangement would be a little unsettling for the initial period, but otherwise it might not be much of a problem.
The Smart Flo Mettle 5X can have up to nine homescreen panels, which can be populated with app icons. Notably, the Smart Flo Mettle 5X doesn't support widgets. Thankfully, the weather and time widgets are accessible from the lockscreen.
The notification tray on the Smart Flo Mettle 5X features a settings shortcut, a clear all notifications button, along with expandable notifications (expanded with the two finger pull gesture). It features the same setting toggle shortcuts that are found in stock Android for quick access to airplane mode, battery status, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, data connection, data usage, audio profiles, brightness, screen backlight timeout, and auto rotation.
The Spice Smart Flo Mettle 5X also offers different set colour accent themes that can change the look of the menu lists and some other elements. The phone also features 'smart motion' gesture controls, such as the option of 'flip to mute' incoming calls.
There are plethora of pre-installed apps like Facebook, Hungama, Numbuzz, Super power saver, OLX and WhatsApp. Also on board is the popular instant chat service, BBM. Recently, BlackBerry announced that its cross-platform messaging app, BBM, would be preinstalled on a number of Android smartphones from domestic brands, including Spice starting December 2013.
For cloud computing fans, there is Spice Cloud preloaded on the Smart Flo Mettle 5X, offering 2GB of storage free for the first few initial months. Users need to log-in to the app for using the cloud service.
The Spice Smart Flo Mettle 5X is secured with Netqin Antivirus that takes care of malware attacks; however, it is only available for a limited time. After this, users will need to switch to a premium account. For editing Microsoft's Office files and documents, there is the QuickOffice preinstalled. Spice also preloads a 'power saver mode' on the Smart Flo Mettle 5X that limits processor utilization, and turns off data sync and various connectivity options when the phone's screen is locked for five minutes.
The three capacitive buttons for settings, home and back help in navigating through the Smart Flo Mettle 5X, with the home button also doubling up as an app switcher/ task manager on long press.
Overall, Spice's attempt to give its latest smartphone a revamped UI is indeed a good sign for future devices, although we felt that the company needs to give some finishing touches to some features, like the unlocking the phone, which are annoying in their difference initially, such as when an upward slide launches the camera. Also, searching for a particular app on the Smart Flo Mettle 5X's homescreen becomes a tedious exercise.
Performance/ Battery Life
The Spice Smart Flo Mettle 5X is powered by a dual-core 1.3GHz processor (unspecified chipset) along with 512MB of RAM. Despite the modest processor speed and limited amount of RAM on the Smart Flo Mettle 5X, itfeels pleasingly responsive to use. The homescreens flip and scroll in a lively way and apps load acceptably quickly.
However, the lack of grunt is noticeable in the Smart Flo Mettle 5X's browser as it can sometimes be slow to render pages, and it often finds heavy graphic games like Temple Run 2, Nun Attack, and Plants Vs Zombies 2 demanding to deal with.
On the other hand, the experience of playing some popular but not so heavy graphics games like Fruit Ninja, Subway Surfers and Angry Birds Friends on the Smart Flo Mettle 5X was acceptable.
Considering the fact that the smartphone comes with a scanty 512MB of RAM, it is not surprising the multi-tasking experience suffers and we experienced lags. It includes 4GB of inbuilt storage out of which roughly 2GB is user-available, although it supports expandable storage up to 32GB via microSD card.
Call quality on the Smart Flo Mettle 5X was excellent on both the SIMs throughout our time with the phone. The phone supports dual-SIM functionality with GSM+GSM. It was also able to get a GPS lock easily while using the Maps app. It's worth pointing out that the Smart Flo Mettle 5X supports 2G network only, and does not support 3G network, which can be considered a big disadvantage for the device. Now, smartphones with 3G support are available in the Indian market at Rs. 6,000.
The native music app on the Smart Flo Mettle 5X can play MP3, MIDI, AAC, AMR and WAV audio formats. The music app in itself looks quite basic but it offers equalizer presets. The quality of audio through the loudspeakers is very good. However, the same cannot be said about the supplied earphones with the smartphone.
Further, we were not able to play full-HD video clips on the Smart Flo Mettle 5X's native video player, but it supported formats like .AVI and .MP4, natively. Using a popular third-party player, we were able to play full-HD and HD videos, however, notably, .MKV videos played without sound.
It packs an 1800mAh battery that according to the company, can deliver up to 4 hours of talktime and up to 150 hours standby time. In our Smart Flo Mettle 5X battery rundown test, we found the battery life to be very impressive.
We were able to get around a day and a half out of the Spice Smart Flo Mettle 5X before it needed to be topped up with juice, which is better than usual for most budget Android phones.
We charged the Smart Flo Mettle 5X in the morning, and with medium to heavy usage, including 1 to 1.5 hours of phone calls; two email accounts configured on the smartphone with push notifications; screen set at maximum brightness; playing some music and watching our favourite video clips through YouTube; Twitter and WhatsApp notifications, the Smart Flo Mettle 5X easily lasted more than a day with the battery status showing 40 percent at the end of the first day.
It's also worth pointing out that we were primarily using mobile data (GPRS and EDGE), and occasionally connected the phone to Wi-Fi. The Smart Flo Mettle 5X was hooked to a 2G network for most of the time. Altering these settings might help in running the Smart Flo Mettle 5X for a longer duration, depending on your usage pattern.
The Spice Smart Flo Mettle 5X is a budget phablet that is capable of handling most routine tasks and does so without burning a hole in consumer's pocket. Yes, the phone does not have a sleek profile but offers acceptable build in the pricing, and comes packed with what we thought was decent hardware for its price point.
Considering that this is an entry level smartphone, the Smart Flo Mettle 5X performs decently. We did have our complaints with the phone however, such as the low-resolution display, not very user-friendly interface, and the lack of 3G support. Yes, in a perfect world, we would have liked a more stock Android experience, a better camera and a better resolution display. But all said and done, we cannot complain about what is being offered when you consider the Rs. 6,500 price of the Smart Flo Mettle 5X.
Those looking for alternatives can try out the Nokia Asha 503 dual-SIM which supports 3G networks or the Xolo A500S which again supports 3G network and is available in the same price segment. One can also go for the Samsung Galaxy Star Pro which is again available in the same price range. However, it too does not support 3G connectivity.
Spice Smart Flo Mettle 5X in pictures