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Wileyfox Spark Review: In Depth

The Good

  • Decent camera in daylight
  • Cyanogen OS
  • Respectable budget screen

The Bad

  • Terrible performance
  • Low light camera action
2.5

Wileyfox Spark Review: At just £89, the Wileyfox Spark is one of the cheapest mobiles you can bag right now, but you’ll be paying the price in other ways. Here’s our full Wileyfox Spark review.

British mobile manufacturer Wileyfox impressed us with its debut smartphones last year, the Wileyfox Swift and the Wileyfox Storm, which offered a slick Cyanogen experience for not much cash. Now Wileyfox is back with three new phones for 2016, all with the ‘Spark’ moniker, and the vanilla Wileyfox Spark is the cheapest at just £89.

Read next: Wilyfox Spark vs Spark+ vs Spark X, what’s the difference?

Sadly, while this is one of the cheapest mobiles we’ve reviewed in recent times, The Spark also struggled to set our world on fire. And with other budget phones like the Vodafone Smart Prime 7 up for grabs for less money, it’s difficult to recommend.

Wileyfox Spark Review: Design

Despite being budget blowers, the Wileyfox phones sport a smart and rather attractive design. From the front, the Wileyfox Spark isn’t particularly stand-out or good looking, but flip it over and you’ll find a pleasingly soft-touch rear that feels better against your palm than cheapy gloss plastic. That velvety finish also offers up decent grip, while the foxhead logo looks undeniably cool.

Pull off the back panel (which isn’t the easiest, especially if you bite your fingernails to bits) and you’ll have access to a removable battery as well as dual SIM card slots. The dual SIM support is particularly handy if you want to use a work and personal SIM in one device (or if you’re having an affair, I guess). You also get a microSD memory card slot, for expanding the Spark’s storage.

Check out our Wileyfox Spark unboxing and specs guide for a closer look at the phone’s design and interface, as well as the internal components.

Wileyfox Spark Review: Screen and media

The Spark’s 5-inch IPS display is perfectly fine for a budget panel. Images are crisp and clear thanks to the 720p resolution, which gives just under 300 pixels packed into every inch of screen space. There’s adaptive brightness, so the screen adjusts according to your surroundings, and on top brightness you’ll have little trouble seeing in bright daylight.

Contrast levels and white accuracy aren’t great, but we’d expect that at this price point. If you want to kick back with YouTube videos on the move, the Spark definitely does the job.

The Wileyfox’s rear-mounted speaker is sadly rather pathetic, pumping out a tinny bit of audio that’s drowned out by pretty much any background noise, including the enthusiastic flatulence of anyone stood nearby. We’d heartily recommend plugging in some headphones if you’re trying to enjoy some music or video.

Wileyfox Spark Review: Features

The Spark is another Cyanogen handset, just like last year’s Swift and Storm, and for us that’s a definite plus. Cyanogen 13 is a highly customisable OS that’s basically a re-jigged version of Android; you can check out our full review of Cyanogen 12.1  //recombu.com/mobile/article/cyanogen-os-121-review-best-features-and-how-to-guide for more info, and version 13 adds further tweaks including cross-feature support (for instance, Skype calling a contact from within the Cyanogen Phone app).

Once again you get the excellent TrueCaller tool which can stop spammers from contacting you, along with privacy tools to keep your apps in bay (now a standard Android feature) and improved PIN security. And if you love changing up the look and feel of your phone every few days/weeks, the Themes app will be your best friend. You can even mix-and-match themes, taking icons from one and wallpapers from another, for instance.

Sadly, Cyanogen really struggles on the Wileyfox Spark, as you’ll see in the next part of our review…

Wileyfox Spark Review: Performance and battery life

Where the Spark really falls on its face is the stunted performance. That on-board Mediatek MT6735 processor has a torrid time with even the most simple operations, not helped by the measly 1GB of RAM that’s stuffed inside. Booting the phone takes an age, while loading an application or flicking through Android’s menus is usually a stuttery, awkward affair.

I even experienced pauses of a few seconds between tapping the Spark’s power button and the phone’s screen finally flickering on when the handset was hibernating, making me wonder if the phone had shut itself down in my pocket.

Considering the likes of the Smart Prime 7 and other sub-£100 smartphones can still manage a smooth everyday experience, there’s really no reason the Spark couldn’t do the same.

On top of the frustrating performance issues, the Wileyfox Spark occasionally bugs out too. For instance, YouTube videos kept zooming in so I could only see a quarter of the video, with no obvious way to correct it. I also had trouble at times transferring files to my Mac, while adding attachments to emails also gave me errors.

Battery life is also rather poor, which just happened to be one of our main complaints with last year’s Swift and Storm. You’ll make it through a full working day only if you take it easy, while streaming video non-stop kills the phone dead in roughly four hours.

Wileyfox Spark Review: Cameras

‘Round the back of the Wileyfox Spark you’ll find an 8-megapixel camera and it’s hands-down one of the best budget cameras we’ve tested lately.

The Spark’s camera app is easy to use for noobs who just want a point-and-shoot experience, while manual controls are on offer for anyone with a bit more confidence. On full auto mode, we managed to take some impressive high-def photos that look good on a big screen. The shutter is pleasingly fast and you get lots of detail crammed into every shot, whether you’re taking up-close macro snaps or capturing a landscape.

Harsh daylight isn’t a problem, but the Spark does understandably struggle in low light, producing very grainy and dark shots. The flash is also spectacularly incompetent, occasionally firing too early and other times simply over-exposing your subject.

Likewise, the 8-megapixel selfie camera is a let-down at times. Often it struggles to focus on your face, so you get a fuzzy shot of your mug while the background remains sharp. And in low light you can again forget about it.

Video quality is as expected, with respectable if not amazing Full HD home movies produced by the rear camera. Of course there’s no kind of image stabilisation, so you’ll want to make sure you don’t shake about too much.

Wileyfox Spark Review: Verdict

The Wileyfox Spark tantalises us with a feature-packed OS that packs some great privacy and personalisation tools, as well as a decent budget display and surprisingly good rear camera (during daylight conditions). That’s why it’s so frustrating that the Spark is one of the slowest, clunkiest phones that we’ve reviewed in quite some time.

Because of that shaky performance, we have to say save your cash and go for the Vodafone Smart Prime 7 if you need a sub-£100 phone. Alternatively, the Spark+ and Spark X, which pack in more memory than the vanilla Spark, might offer better performance – stay tuned for our full reviews.

Specification

Screen size5-inches
Screen resolution1280x720
Weight135g
OSCyanogen 13
Rear Camera8-megapixel
Front camera8-megapixel
ProcessorMediatek
Memory1GB
Storage8GB + microSD
4G LTEYes

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