Back in the days, feature phones varied by manufacturer, form factor, quirky designs and price although their “skill set” was basically the same. With the advent of the smartphone however, models quickly fell into a new order of entry/budget, middle and high based on price and most importantly, specifications.
Budget devices usually belong to that particular category of their own based on the very nature of what they are: compromise devices. The principle of their existence is usually found somewhere between how much phone the buyer can get at the lowest price and how many features the OEMs can strip from the mid- and high-end devices without creating a phone that is practically useless or damaging to the brand.
The Halo – an entry-level smartphone from InnJoo – thus has the unenviable role of straddling the lines of price and features while trying to be a worthy competitor in its crowded category.
Duting the process of writing this, we have had the Gold model of the Halo for about a month now and used it extensively and in various scenarios during this period. Here is the review.
As mentioned in the first Impressions post, the InnJoo Halo does look impressive in design, probably thanks to its “rich” champagne hue that somewhat distracts from just how plastic it is and the curvy oblong shape, a variation from the usual boring rectangular form factor we are used to.
Measuring in at 145.6mm long by 72mm wide and coming in at 9.6mm thick, the Halo fits that sweet spot between those who want to scale up to a 5-inch display without necessarily going into phablet category. The subtle curves, size and textured backplate which somehow enhances grip, makes for a pleasant in-hand experience. Looks-wise, it is the usual plain Android slab, but the design team deserve praise for redefining plain.
Noticeably missing from the front of the phone is the light sensor which you can tell has been removed – most likely to save costs. This absence means there are no ambient light settings and you’d have to adjust the display brightness yourself depending on your environment.
Interestingly, this omission does not really affect operations which is a good thing. There is a proximity sensor which I suspect is somehow built into the display itself or hidden under the speaker grille and thankfully it doesn’t get confused when to lock or unlock the display during phone calls unlike another model that was reviewed before.
One of InnJoo’s marketing points for the Halo was the Kevlar-textured backplate, which erroneously makes you think it is made of that material but surprisingly looks like typical plastic. The marketing material doesn’t particularly say if the plate is meant to be made of Kevlar or has a texture that imitates same, but going by our review unit, I’d say it was the latter. That would be disappointing if you were expecting Kevlar strength durability on the device, so I wouldn’t go dropping this phone from a height expecting it not to suffer.
The plastic volume controls and power/unlock buttons by the right hand side have a decent amount of travel on them and are easy to reach for both left and right hand users.
All things considered, the Halo is pretty decent in the looks department and feels really good in the hand but one may have concerns with regards to durability, its build and that snap-on back cover. It will survive but you really can’t tell how well until you drop it.
Since phones have gotten bigger, 5 inches appears to have become the norm in the industry, and the one on the Halo is the FWVGA variety with a resolution of 480 x 854 pixels which you can calculate as 196 pixels per inch. From the resolution here, you can already tell that the pixel density is low (the Innjoo Fire we reviewed before for instance has a 960 x 540 resolution) and this display suffers for it. Icons and fonts are blocky and jagged and visible to the naked eye but the display is still usable. An ARM Mali-400 MP graphics processor renders the screen properly and touch-responsiveness is okay, but could be better.
As is the case with these displays, whites and blacks are basically shades of gray and other colours in the spectrum look muddy. Despite the absence of ambient light settings as discussed earlier, the display is very readable indoors and you can still crank up the display brightness to the highest to improve usage in bright sunlight. It is a fairly decent display but it is is obviously another area where money was saved.
InnJoo has revised their personalised theme and it is a plus that the version of InnUI on this phone is even better polished than the one that shipped on their previous devices. These differences are subtle but useful, like the presence of a dedicated app drawer shortcut which mimics vanilla android on the home screen and an improved screen unlock action with shortcuts that also let you to launch the camera and Google Now with a swipe in different directions. No surprise that these improvements are being worked into software updates for their other brands.
InnUI here runs on top of Android 4.4.2. Yes, you read that right. InnJoo promised the Halo would launch with Lollipop but the review unit did not come with that. The marketing material has been adjusted accordingly to say the Halo is upgradeable to Android 5.1 but no timeline has been given for said update.
Another compromise nonetheless, but for what it is worth, KitKat runs well on the Halo apart from the touch-responsiveness lag mentioned earlier. InnJoo still includes its regular share of bloatware, but you can keep the ones you really use like the Note app and Backup/Restore utility and disable the rest that won’t uninstall.
Software-wise, it is a good thing most of these OEMs are sticking as close to stock Android as possible compared to the atrocious forked OSes they used to run before and if you feel the UI is still not to taste, you can always install your favourite launchers. It is a bit disappointing seeing how InnJoo delayed launching with Lollipop, but it should be interesting to see if they keep their word and how that eventually pans out and if it affects the performance of this phone negatively or positively. For now you just have to keep calm, have a KitKat and keep checking the Update section for an OTA.
Out of the 8GB storage space this device ships with, system data already takes up a quarter of this, so it would be best to store your media onto expandable memory. There is only 1GB RAM on offer here too so one would need to keep an eye on how many apps you have running in the background. The 1.2GHz quad-core ARMv7 processor (a VFPv4 NEON, unlike the MTK ones you usually see on budget phones) and the Mali-400 MP2 graphics processor are in charge of business here and deliver when needed but don’t push them too far or you may risk lag and apps force-closing.
Thankfully, the Halo doesn’t heat up quickly like its predecessor and I think software optimisations are responsible for this. Included games like Asphalt Nitro loaded and ran without stutter but my attempt to run a benchmarking tool – Antutu in this case – yielded inconclusive results. And perchance junk files and obsolete APKs are starting to steal your RAM and ROM storage, you can always run the included clean-up program to tidy things up.
The Halo meets my performance expectations for a budget device, but maybe my expectations weren’t high to begin with and considering I paid the same amount for another white-label budget phone (which shall not be named) that slowed to tectonic plate speed under a month, I daresay the Halo does deliver for what it is worth.
Call Quality and Network
Nothing much to explain here. Call quality on the Halo is par for the course and still does the Fire one up by not sounding so tinny via the earpiece. The speakers are just decent but aren’t that loud and their location behind means some of the sound gets muffled. The camera bump and the curved surface on the backplate do help in raising it on truly flat surfaces so take these into consideration when using the speakerphone during calls.
In terms of network connections, it supports 2G and 3G/WCDMA frequencies as well as WiFi and Bluetooth 2.1. No 4G or Bluetooth 4.0 here, to keep prices down obviously. There are dual SIM slots here but note that one is the once-regular mini SIM while the other is a microSIM so keep the appropriate adapter at hand if you are going to swap SIMs regularly.
The Innjoo Halo sports the same 5-megapixel camera on the back like we saw on the Fire, but unlike that device, its front-facing one has been downgraded to 2-megapixels for your selfies. The camera UI is easy to use with simple toggles for flash and HDR modes as well as slider options for video, photo and panorama options. Many other options have been buried behind the Settings button. It is a good thing that they are there, but navigating back and forth can be a pain if you have to shoot quickly.
Speaking of settings, it is awkward that the only option for photo resolution with that 5-megapixel camera is 2-megapixel photos which is a cause of concern. Interestingly though, you can tweak other settings like ISO, white balance, scene and even take burst photos.
Photo quality is manageable outdoors with sufficient daylight but if you are shooting indoors in poor lighting, prepare for a lot of digital noise. Using flash indoors didn’t help much either. Low-light photos with that selfie camera were practically murky and unusable. Nothing sensational in the video recording mode either even though you can shoot in 1080p or put filter effects prior to recording. If you want to be even more creative, there are time lapses and slow motion effects as well.
Budget phone cameras by default aren’t meant for masterpieces, but I was let down by the quality here. Hopefully, InnJoo releases an update that fixes these issues just like on the Fire which has much better camera improvements now. Until then, I won’t be taking many shots on this one.
A removable 3200mAh Li-polymer battery is the powerhouse here and while there is a 700mAh bump over that found in the Fire, the usage is about the same. The biggest drains I’ve noticed here are the display if it is cranked to the highest brightness and the antenna if it has to do a lot of network searches. There are no power management modes here unless you install a third-party battery booster app, some of which are dodgy.
No use recording battery lifespan here for different use cases since the results were mostly inconclusive. To get near decent battery life on this phone, you’d need light to moderate use and plug in once you get home on a typical day. Heavy tasks like multiple social media accounts, videos, browsing and gaming drained it outright in less than 3 – 5 hours.
The most common culprits are software optimization and sneaky apps that run in the background despite physically killing them and many budget devices are guilty of this because of research and software development cost cuts and the bloatware and services they run in the background targeted at ad generation and marketing.
In summary, use your phone lightly especially once it drops below 50% and keep a charger handy at all times if you are a heavy user.
Extra Features & Accessories
As mentioned in the hands-on post, there still isn’t anything different about InnJoo’s retail packaging despite the cost or class of the phone and the Halo even surprises by having a much better set of red and black earphones than that found on even more expensive models. These ones look much better and are more durable than the regular black ones even though sound quality is about the same: cheap.
The same in-house bloatware apps are regulars on all InnJoo phones. My advice? Disable as many as you can and stick to stock as much as possible. One notable exception is their Green Gallery app which is a combination gallery, photo compressor, duplicate finder and collage maker if you are into that sort of thing. The calculator, clock and calendar apps are as you would find on typical KitKat.
The Halo comes in White, Black and Gold, plus a prototype gray which I actually liked but wasn’t released for retail. Backplates are removable, but considering the fronts are colour-coded to match the back, you can’t really swap colors at will.
InnJoo phones don’t really come with any peripherals so apart from cases and spare batteries, what you see is what you basically get.
Just as stated in the intro, the biggest problem with entry-level devices are that they are compromise devices, and in this case – as in most cases – these compromises show.
On the good side, the Halo looks and feels good for what it costs and is a really good introductory device for people getting their first smartphone or anyone with a tight budget. Just a few months ago, you couldn’t find a 5-inch Android device at this price point, and most of them were glorified feature phones with 512MB RAM.
However, if you are a more advanced user, these same compromises will eventually frustrate you and you are better off bumping up your budget by roughly N5000 more to get a foot in the mid-level device range.
This review wouldn’t be complete of course without the usual pun on InnJoo’s device nomenclature. The Halo will get you into the golden gate of entry-level smartphones, but just past the entrance and no more. It may be fitting for a low-budget digital saint, but you would need a lot more polish to make this Halo shine.