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Obi Worldphone MV1 review: Quirky choices make for a charming smartphone

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  • Editors' rating
    7.5 Very good

Pros

  • Solid construction
  • Unusual design
  • Well designed user interface

Cons

  • Slightly under-powered
  • Unremarkable cameras

Obi Worldphone's smartphones come with a pretty impressive heritage: the company was founded by former Apple CEO John Sculley, and the design is handled by San Francisco-based Ammunition, the firm founded by former Apple industrial design director Robert Brunner, who also designed Dr Dre's Beat headphones.

"There will be 1.4 billion Android phones produced in 2016 alone, so there needs to be a way to stand apart from the pack," said Sculley when the Obi MV1 was launched earlier this year.

As such, Obi Worldphone promises a "luxury, design-led approach" to the entry-level smartphone market -- bringing a touch of 'designed in San Francisco' glamour to handsets that are often rendered in "inferior materials, cheap plastic cookie-cutter designs and lacking any redeeming qualities beyond spec and price," as the company notes.

So how does the Obi MV1 stack up against the company's lofty goals?

obi-mv1-main.jpg

The 5-inch dual-SIM Obi MV1 has an unusual industrial design and runs the Lightspeed UI on Cyanogen OS (12.1.1).

Image: Obi Worldphone

The hardware

The MV1 certainly stands out: the screen has the rounded edges you might see on an iPhone, but this is perched on top of a solid rectangular frame that juts out above the top of the screen, creating quite an odd effect. The company describes this as its "signature elevated screen", but to me it looks as if two different phones have become stuck together in some bizarre industrial accident.

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Despite the odd looks, the MV1 (the name is a nod to Mountain View -- each of the company's handsets are named after a Californian city) has a no-nonsense solid polycarbonate body with a steel frame underneath, giving it a serious feel: at 149g it feels sturdy in the hand and reminiscent of the Lumia range.

In a world of anonymous black slabs, especially in low-end smartphone market, Obi should be applauded for coming up with something that looks a little bit different -- even if in this case different also means a bit strange. Despite its eccentricity, I rapidly warmed to the MV1. The 5-inch display has a resolution of 720 by 1,280 pixels (294ppi), is protected by Gorilla Glass 3, and is good -- although you'll likely need to turn up the default brightness a bit. The cameras -- 8MP rear-facing and 2MP front-facing -- are adequate but entirely unremarkable, and also somewhat slow to respond.

The software

It's not just the hardware design that separates the MV1 from the mainstream. It comes loaded with its own 'Obi Lifespeed' user interface, which you'll encounter as soon as you thumb the power stud: a swirling pink-and-orange ring appears on-screen, surrounding a button comprising throbbing concentric circles. Move this button towards one of the icons on the ring and you can access phone, camera or homescreen direct from the lockscreen.

This sounds weird, but it's really quite useful and the oddity of the design makes you feel like you're handling some weird alien artefact -- which is no bad thing.

The MV1 runs Cyanogen OS (12.1.1), which is built on top of Android 5.1.1 (Lollipop). That means it will still run Android apps and games, but Cyanogen gives you more flexibility in terms of the look and feel: you can buy 'themes' that give you a different boot animations, icons and lock screens, for example.

Cyanogen also gives you some nice additional features like 'PIN scramble', which randomly mixes up the numbers on the virtual keypad so that someone can't guess your PIN just by seeing where you're tapping on the screen, while Truecaller allows you to block incoming spam calls. None of these are must-haves, but they're certainly handy little additions. And compared to the average bloatware-filled Android handset, Cyanogen gives the MV1 a pleasantly clean homescreen. Some of the forthcoming updates for Cyanogen in the form of 'mods' that allow deeper integration of third-party apps into the operating system could make it even more interesting.

Performance

Unlike the Wileyfox Spark (another nicely designed Cyanogen powered budget handset we reviewed recently), the MV1 performed well despite its low price. It scored 337 on single-core and 1,154 on multi-core when tested with Geekbench 3; in terms of real world usage, there was a bit of a pause when opening apps, but casual gaming was fine -- something like Temple Run 2 performed without stutter, although complex 3D gaming might be a step too far for the 1.3GHz Qualcomm MSM8909 Snapdragon 212/Adreno 304 SoC with 2GB of RAM.

Conclusions

Obi Worldphone has the right idea: just because a smartphone is affordable that doesn't mean it should be ugly or badly designed. If you can ignore -- or even find a way to love -- the MV1's slightly out-there look, you'll find a solid and well thought-out package that indicates there's life beyond boring black slabs. And Cyanogen again shows that it's an elegant alternative to stock Android. Considering the price, performance is good, too.


Obi Worldphone MV1 specs

Dimensions
145.6 x72.6 x8.95mm

Weight
149g (with battery)

Display
Five-inch fully laminated IPS, HD 720 x 1280 pixels at 294ppi with Gorilla Glass 3

Operating system
Cyanogen OS 12.1.1 (based on Android Lollipop)

Chipset
Qualcomm MSM8909 Snapdragon 212, 1.3GHz Quad-Core processor, Adreno 304 GPU

Memory
2GB RAM; 16GB internal, expandable up to 64GB via MicroSD

Networks
GSM / WCDMA / HSPA+ / LTE

Communication
Dual Micro SIM (2 separate slots, unlocked); Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Wi-Fi Direct; Bluetooth4.1, A2DP; GPSA-GPS, GLONASS; MicroUSB v2.0

Cameras
8MP rear, 2MP front

Sensors
Accelerometer, proximity, ALS

Battery
2500 mAh Li-Ion battery: Up to 13 days (2G), 16 hours (2G), 5.5/6 hours web browsing (3G/Wi-Fi), Up to 8 hours video


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Specifications

Cellular
Type Smartphone
Processor
Clock Speed 1.3 GHz
Manufacturer Qualcomm
Processor Core Qty Quad-core
Display
Diagonal Size 5.0 in

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