The Cherry Mobile Nova
It’s hard to imagine that the Cherry Mobile Nova is getting closer to reach its one year launch anniversary. By that we mean it’s already been in the market for a very long time, in phone years. Back then, the phone launched with decently competitive specs at the PHP 11,500 price tag. With the still-standard 600Mhz processor, and a future-proof 320×480 screen, it remarkably had the specs to be relevant even in today’s cutthroat budget Android marketplace. It’s only limitation at the time was that it shipped with a slightly older version of Android – 2.1 Éclair. Since then, Cherry Mobile have fixed it by diligently releasing an update to bring the device up to speed with Android 2.2 Froyo. And to even up the score with pricing, they’ve brought it down to the current slot of PHP 6,999. But does the year-old phone still hold up today, or has Android technology zoomed past it? Is it still an Android phone that could compete against newer models, or it is bringing up the rear? Find out here in our Cherry Mobile Nova review.
The design of the Nova might be better described as something of an acquired taste (see unboxing here) – if the person’s taste was big 80’s hair and neon pants. While it doesn’t necessarily stand out, positively or negatively, from the long line of black all-touchscreen devices, some parts look less premium and/or less classier than the phones you see today. It is built on soft, smooth plastic that feels light, but doesn’t necessarily feel composed. On the front is the 3.2” display covered by a plastic screen, bordered with bezels. Below it are the four Android capacitive buttons, and under that is a clickable trackball flanked by call and end keys that light up. Interestingly, the front has no notification LED (its on the power button), but the red and green lights on the Call/End keys are used to signify your charging status.
The Nova’s shiny silver spine
Part of the reason why the feel of the Nova seems misplaced is that it uses more of a shiny plastic surface over the popular soft-touch rubbery plastic we’ve been seeing from recent devices. This is more evident by looking at the spine, where a silver strip wraps around the phone. Most phones use a metallic surface here, but the shiny plastic on the Nova looks a smidge less premium. Speaking of the spine, our review unit seemed to creak a little when we squeezed the lower spines together, and we also noticed that the battery can be shaken inside the battery cover, creating a knocking noise. (We solved it by adding a strip of folded paper between the battery and cover.) We didn’t notice these problems on another Nova though, so this could be just an isolated case with our review unit.
The speaker grille is unusually placed at the bottom, which is cool
Speaking of the battery cover, it comes off by sliding downwards – which is a welcome treat to all who hate opening phones with their fingernails. Though, it might come off easily when you take the phone out of tight pockets or bags. The back has the usual amount of badges and ports to make it look interesting, however it would be nice if it weren’t so flat.
That there is not purdy
Any complaints would be considered minor when compared to the buttons on the front. While the capacitive buttons look the part (but don’t light up), the Call and End keys are shaped like squircles (circular squares). If they seem like they’re out of place in modern design, its because they are. While most go for the clean, uninterrupted lines, the Nova’s Call/End buttons are clearly not. They’re located on a large space on the bottom of the front, but the buttons themselves are small and should have either occupied less, or been sized up. They’re a waste of space and they could have at least been designed similar to the Android capacitive buttons above them. The trackball in the middle is a joy to play around with though, as well as use for scrolling. However, we found that if you’re not careful, you’ll end up tapping the capacitive buttons above it – interrupting whatever you were scrolling for in the first place.
The USB cover always gets in the way
Finishing up our tour we find the power/lock button on top. It pulses red when you have notifications – an unusual placement as you’ll need to face the top of your device to you so you’ll know when you have new messages. It is also a little too recessed, so you’ll need to push a little harder into the device to press it. On the left side spine you’ll find the Micro USB port with a plastic cover attached to a rubbery line. This feels a little flimsy and we always felt like it would break off. We also found that the cover always gets in the way when we want to plug the phone in. Maybe this is the reason why most phones don’t use USB covers. There is also a useful two-stage camera key on the right side, but it sits a little too far down the corner to feel perfect.
Overall though, the design isn’t as bad as it seems. The plastics keep the phone lightweight and easy to hold. And the combination of size, thickness, and weight makes it feel good when placed against the face for calls. Some buttons and ports are hard to use, but nothing completely detracting. It’s not going to win design awards anytime soon, but in the end the design is just that – a design.
The Cherry Mobile Nova comes out of the box with Android 2.1 Éclair, but we’re going to assume you did your diligence by updating it up to Android 2.2. If you haven’t, you can check out our video helping you bring your phone up to date. With Froyo, the phone becomes your venerable budget Android OS device. You get the traditional side-swiping five homescreens which you can fill with shortcuts and widgets, as well the the up-down scrolling alphabetical app drawer. Froyo is still one of the more widely accepted versions of the OS, and is the basis for most Android apps. This means the Nova will still be relevant for at least the near foreseeable Android future – even more if Cherry Mobile continues to update it.
Despite the mostly stock Android interface, there are some UI niggles, which are probably based more on the hardware. Using our battery percentage widget, we noticed that the software only shows battery portions up to the nearest 10 percent – so you can’t really tell exactly if you have 15% battery or 5%. Also, when we tried a variety of flashlight apps, the camera LED wouldn’t turn on – likely using a different means of activating than what the apps use. The flash still works for taking pictures, so its likely a hardware call that the apps don’t know yet for this specific device. Of course these are very minor things that shouldn’t affect our ratings, but is unusual since all the phones we’ve tried thus far have not had these issues.
The pre-installed keyboard is called TouchPal input, which we’ve seen on other devices as well. (It has T9 alphanumeric for no-look typing.) The traditional QWERTY style is well spaced, responds well, and doesn’t stumble too often when you type quickly with two thumbs. Curiously, the official Android keyboard isn’t installed on the device. So you’ll need to download additional keyboards from the Market if the pre-installed one isn’t to your liking. The Messaging is the same with most stock Android OS devices, with threaded conversations and contact images on the left.
Speaking of contacts, the Nova, if you have Facebook installed, will sync display pictures to people on your list with the same names. This feature isn’t as powerful at detecting which contacts are who like popular Android skins, but assuming you save people’s names the same way they appear in Facebook, you should be ok. As always, we appreciate that its there, as opposed to just seeing a list of default Android contact pictures.
Finally, you can of course, load up on widgets, wallpapers, live wallpapers, custom UIs, and other such UI solutions in the Android Marketplace if you want to improve or change how any part of the interface works.
The stock Android WebKit-based browser is there for your browsing needs – and it performs admirably. Just don’t expect to play any Adobe Flash on your browser – but you can always play YouTube on the supplied YouTube app. Pinch to zoom and scrolling around respond decently and shouldn’t prove to be much of a problem, except for very busy sites.
You get a decent stock assortment of multimedia apps like the Music player, FM radio, gallery, and the usual video applications. Pinch-to-zoom and swiping works great especially in the gallery, with animations looking smooth and zippy. The camera application is also stock, capable of 5MP images and can be illuminated by the LED flash. Pictures that come out were either good, or slightly blurry when it gets a little dark.
Click for full res images (Lower right image showing the “half-flash” effect)
There’s a possibility of being able to take some great images here with a little overexposure happening in bright spots. However, there’s a slight issue with the LED flash that we noticed. It seems to fire at an unusual timing that sometimes catches the camera off-guard, resulting in “half-flashed” images. This only seems to happen if you set the flash to fire manually, and seems to work ok on Auto Flash mode. This being the stock camera app, there are no scene modes to easily get the best settings for your shots – instead you get the usual compensation values, contrast, brightness, and ISO settings to play around with.
The Cherry Mobile Nova records videos at 640×480 (VGA) resolution, at 15 frames per second and mono audio. The resulting quality is pretty good for the budget segment, and should be useful for personal home recordings with family or pets. With only 15 fps though, don’t expect to capture fast movement like sports or active subjects. Still, the video looks decent and its easy to pick out details from subjects – which is always a good thing.
Of course, the Android Marketplace is always there to give you more bang for your buck. And there’s nearly an unlimited number of games, widgets, and apps you can try out – most of them for free. This is another one of Android’s strengths – the countless amount of apps that you can try without spending any money. Most paid apps also have a simpler free version to check out – so you have a chance to see if you’ll be interested in buying them. And thankfully, Google has allowed us Android users in the Philippines to purchase apps as well. So if you really do want those paid apps, they’re there.
Finally, for all those who don’t plan on updating their Nova to Froyo, you should know that you’ll be missing one of the more popular features in an Android phone today – the WiFi hotspot functionality. Android 2.1 Éclair doesn’t have this feature, so go upgrade now!
PERFORMANCE & HARDWARE
For display specs, the Nova has a respectable 3.2” screen at 320×480 resolution. It’s great that Cherry Mobile has seen it fit to get decent screen specs on the device when they introduced this almost a year ago. The size and resolution still holds up against new budget droids today and should still be competitive in the near future. Brightness and colors are pretty good, though might seem a little washed out compared to higher-tech panels.
Battery performance is still the usual Android smartphone faire, with the phone lasting to about 14-16 hours depending on use. We’ve gotten used to these numbers with most phones so we’re not complaining. If you plan on using a phone for longer periods without charging, you might consider alternatives outside the Android space. (Or get a portable emergency charger.)
Performance on the Nova is strong, at least for a one year old device. It can hold its own for gaming, as we tried it both on Angry Birds and the 3D game Fruit Slice. Both worked fine and performed well, with only a slight hint of frame skip on busy points of the games. We noticed that it had a smaller amount of internal memory at 173MB though. This is only noticeable when exiting large apps like Angry Birds, which causes the homescreen to reload some of its widgets. Scrolling around the menus provide smooth graphical feedback, however they seem to scroll slower than we’re used to. We believe the scroll animation is kept more deliberate, so you can’t zoom past homescreens by quickly flicking your fingers. It’s a very minor thing to notice, but its there. Rounding out the performance you get 167MB of app storage – which is smaller than we’d want, but should do the job for most users. Thankfully, Froyo allows for SD app installs so you can save up on space whenever possible.
In the end, there really are no gamebreaking problems with the Cherry Mobile Nova. It performs admirably and probably even more than what you’d expect from a PHP 6,990 phone. Despite being in the market longer than its other Android counterparts, Cherry Mobile have made great decisions in giving it some future-proof hardware and software updates. Undoubtedly, if it were not for the Android 2.2 upgrade, this phone would have been left in the dust.
There are a few Android phones that started to occupy the same price point and specs that the Nova does over the past year, however none of them have really stood out from the crowd. Dual-SIM users might consider the Cherry Mobile Orbit, but it does lack a graphics chip that prevents it from running intensive games – a feat that the Nova can do pretty easily. LG’s Optimums One is still the closest contender – but it is also close to a year old. Plus, the Nova does have the slight advantage in camera megapixels – 5MP to LG’s 3. With this in mind, the Cherry Mobile Cosmo’s 2MP camera might be the right equivalent. Whichever the case, pointing out any differences between the current crop of budget droids is a practice of very minor nitpicking.
Indistinguishable competition aside, the Nova occupies it’s price point well and is one of the phones that’s easy to recommend. It has handled all of it’s assigned tasks without fail, and if not for some minor issues here and there, could end up being a hard-to-beat device. The design and build quality leaves something to be desired, but its not like there’s a lot of competing phones that you can honestly call premium-looking. It does, however, blend into the blur of multiple budget Android releases. Rest assured though, the Cherry Mobile Nova is a keeper.
We give the Cherry Mobile Nova 3.5/5 Stars. If you paint the phone in metallic gold, then you get 5 stars.
Miscellaneous Note: The Cherry Mobile Nova is an OEM branded Spice Mi-300 and Commtiva Z71.
To see more sample images taken with the phone’s camera, check out the gallery below.
For more pictures of the device and its UI, check out the gallery below.
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