Little-known budget smartphone and tablet maker, Prestigio, gathered the UK's technology press to its bosom yesterday for the UK launch of a £200 iPhone competitor: the Multiphone 5430. The big question of course, is whether it's actually any good or just a poor imitation of Apple and Samsung rivals.
You'd be forgiven for never having heard of Prestigio. It's only been doing smartphones for a year, and Prestigio is the brand name of electronics distributor ASBIS, founded in the Belarussian capital Minsk in 1990, but based in Cyprus since 1995. It's actually pretty well known in Eastern Europe though, thanks to its local roots and the fact it will shift around $2bn worth of PCs, smart displays, tablets, phones and other peripherals this year.
More detailed sales or market share figures are not easy to come by, and the firm certainly wasn't sharing many yesterday. However it did claim to be the third biggest tablet shifter in "some" European countries (some European countries are really rather small, of course). It's had a few phones on sale in the UK for about a year but it's not even claiming one percent of the total smartphone market here just yet - it does reckon it's got as much as 8% of the tablet market though.
One of the many reasons the firm is less well known is the way it takes its phones to market. Clearly lacking any flashy retail stores to rival an Apple outlet, it has to make do with peddling its wares through retailers like Asda, Littlewoods, the QVC shopping channel and electronics and gadgetry store Maplin. But that may actually work in its favour, because those are the sorts of places you might find a market that wants a decent enough smartphone without paying premium prices.
But is the Multiphone 5430 decent enough? In short, yes it most definitely is. We've only had a day to play with ours but we've got one of their dual-SIM phones on a longer term test already and that also proved to be a solid competitor.
The most obvious thing about the new phone is that it's now sporting an Intel chip - the Atom Z240 running at up to 1.2GHz with hyper-threading. The dual-SIM model we've been testing used an ARM Cortex A5 chip, also achieving 1.2GHz. In our tests so far we've seen little difference in real-world performance, and most punters in the £200 price bracket are unlikely to either, in our view. What they may well notice though is that the latest phone of course sports the 'Intel inside' logo, which they could find reassuring, especially if this is their first foray into the smartphone world.
At the launch yesterday the firm was particularly proud of that 'Intel inside' logo, saying it offers a great combination of performance and battery life. We've not been able to put the battery life claims to the test just yet but our dual-SIM model was good for a few days between charges unless you did put two SIMs in it at once, which of course drains the battery almost twice as fast even when in standby mode. The single-SIM Multiphone 5430 won't have that trade-off, and the firm is claiming 400 hours of standby time, 12 hours of talk time, 8 hours of video playback and 4.75 hours of web surfing are possible. We'll let you know if that proves realistic in real-world conditions.
On the outside the phone looks snazzy enough for its price point. It was never going to offer the glass and aluminium of an iPhone when it's priced so keenly, but it's slim enough at 10mm thick, and sports a 4.3 inch multi-touch display that we have found sharp and responsive. You can choose from black or white - we'd go black as the white case it comes with looks like it will get grubby quicker.
The only downside to the back of the phone in our view is the rather large and not hugely attractive Prestigio logo which may put some people off. Since the firm is just breaking into the smartphone market it probably wants its brand and logo to become a talking point among purchasers and their friends and family, and well it might. We'd have preferred subtlety over advertising on the back though.
What comes in the box is good: it not only comes with USB cable and charger but quite a decent carrying case, that you'd have to pay a lot more for with most rivals. It also comes with a pair of earphones, all of which make the £200 price point look even better value.
Back to its innards and you get most of the bells and whistles you'd want in a £200 phone: 400MHz graphics, wireless 802.11 b/g/n (not the latest 802.11ac though), 1GB RAM and microSD memory expansion.
It's got an 8MP rear camera with flash, and a 0.3MP front camera for 'selfies' or video conferencing. The camera and video aren't brilliant to be honest, certainly not as good as you'd find on an Apple or Samsung model. Pictures aren't very sharp and photos are easily under- or over-exposed in tricky lighting situations.
But in a £200 phone you wouldn't expect much more. Prestigio notes that the camera can capture up to 10 images per second and it offers "HD-quality video". If you're into doing quite a bit of photography or video, or intend to use your phone as your sole camera, we'd recommend trying it out in-store to make sure you're happy with the quality before you buy.
Meanwhile the 5430 has the now obligatory accelerometer so you can switch it round into landscape mode very quickly, as well as built-in GPS and an FM radio.
Stereo speakers, dual microphone with noise reduction, reasonable weight at 140g (the iPhone 5 is 112g, iPhone 4 140g and Samsung Galaxy S3 112g).
The phone runs Android Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0, meaning it's a little behind the latest wares from Android - something the assembled hacks made a big deal of at yesterday's launch. To our mind though that was surely to keep to a shipment timetable and to keep costs down - with Apple rumoured to be coming out with a cheaper iPhone, the 5C in September, it won't have wanted to hang around. Besides, who in Littlewoods, Asda or on a shopping channel will care two hoots?
The sort of hobbyists and tech-heads who frequent Maplin might, but equally if they're real smartphone watchers they probably wouldn't be considering a £200 smartphone in the first place. Besides, the firm is promising over-the-air operating system upgrades "in the next few months" for those that care about such things.
Prestigio has made the probably wise move of not 'skinning' the basic Android OS with its own interface - it keeps things simpler, makes it more user-friendly if people are coming from other Android devices and probably helps to keep performance up too, while minimising development costs. At any rate we didn't have a problem with the interface - everything is pretty slick and works as you'd expect, and switching between several apps running at once was smooth and effortless.
All in all then, what's not to like? If you're after an Android-based phone for just under £200 that does nearly everything you want, you won't be disappointed with the Prestigio Multiphone 5430. It may not have the very latest Android OS, nor support the latest 802.11ac wireless standard, but at this price-point we can live with that. It looks good enough on the outside, is competent enough on the inside, and hell, it even gives you a talking point when people ask what on earth that big logo on the back is all about. Recommended.
The good: Looks (up to a point), weight, battery life, Intel inside, £200 price point, brownie-points for choosing something other than Apple or Samsung, Prestigio throws in a decent case to sweeten the deal
The bad: 'Iffy' logo, not the latest Android version, not the latest wireless version, camera and video are only average
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