Welcome to our In-depth Lenovo A850 Review 🙂
- Specs and performance
- Design and form factor
- Using the phone
- Pros and cons
Each new edition has offered incremental enhancements. So, for example, the A789 was all but identical to the A780 that preceded it apart from a few factors, such as increasing the number of cores, the addition of a front camera, and bumping up the Android version number to Jelly Bean 4.0.4 from Gingerbread.
After that, came the Lenovo A800 which nudged up the CPU speed from 1 GHz to 1.2 GHz but otherwise left everything else pretty much the same apart from an increase in screen size to 4.5″.
The A820 came out in March last year and we were really impressed by it. It provided perhaps the most substantial increase in technical specifications by jumping from dual core to quad core as well as doubling the amount of RAM. It stuck with the 4.5″ screen form factor but nudged up the resolution giving it the highest pixel density in the entire A-series. The only thing we didn’t like about the A820 was that Lenovo got rid of the front camera as well as the flash but it was still an amazing phone for the price.
Next in the a series was the A830 which was just, as you might predict, a slight improvement upon the A820. It came out a few months later and had exactly the same chipset but the screen size was bumped up to 5 inches even though the resolution stayed the same. It also got a slight increase in battery capacity to cope with the bigger screen and Android 4.2.1.
Specs and performance
But here we are, with the A850 in our hands. How does this improve on the previous editions? The way we see it, Lenovo are aiming at the model of consistent marginal improvement that Apple have mastered.
The A850 doesn’t aim to be a radical Kuhnian paradigm shift – it’s basically a clone of the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and Lenovo are simply slowly but surely nudging things forwards and upwards with each incremental release. So you could say we aren’t exactly looking at the dissolution of the Ptolemaic system or new relativistic way of explaining Newtonian physics.
The 1.3 Ghz quad core A7 processor really makes a difference as does the 533 Mhz Mali-400MP2 GPU and it has to be said that the hardware inside this phone is pretty outstanding. With Antutu scores of over 16,000 it’s hard to fault the performance of the A850 and it can handle most demanding 3D games.
The A850 also comes a hefty 1 GB of RAM, 2 GB of usable storage along with an SD card slot. As already mentioned, the screen is a huge 5.5″ IPS capacitive LCD touchscreeen at 540×960 resolution giving it a pixel density around 200 ppi. The Android version has gone up by the tiniest of notches from 4.2.1 to 4.2.2.
There’s a front facing camera as well as a five megapixel camera on the back of the phone that can take HD videos Of coursem the A850 also includes all the normal connectivity options, radios and senses. It offers wifi, high speed HSPA+ 3G mobile Internet, bluetooth and assisted GPS.
Design and form factor
The form factor is pretty standard for Lenovo – it more or less looks like a scaled up version of the A820 or A830. Don’t be deceived though – the extra screen real estate on this 5.5″ inch model does make a real difference in multifarious ways. Not least because it may be too large to comfortably hold in one hand for some people.
While the phone still has the same smooth glistening back and metallic edging, the extra half an inch makes all the difference. That’s what she said. No but seriously, this is a completely different phone from the A820 and even the A830. The display really is humongous. This means that the whole handset comes in at 153.5mm x 79.3mm x 9.5mm and weighs 184g.
The hardware layout is pretty standard for Lenovo. On the front face we’ve got the usual microphone and speaker, proximity sensors and a VGA-resolution front facing camera. At the bottom of the device are three softkeys including the now familiar Lenovo clover pattern in place of the home key. It is a shame that the buttons are not backlit though.
In terms of physical buttons, Lenovo have stuck to having a single power button at the top of the phone and a volume rocker on the right-hand side. This works well although we’re more used to having a volume key on the left-hand side and a power button on the side rather than the top. The edge is completed with a 3.5 mm headphone jack at the top and the now ubiquitous micro-USB slot at the bottom of the phone.
The reserve side looks “professional” in that it’s stylish but with no real flair to speak of. There’s a minimalist Lenovo logo as well as the back camera and flash and a small speaker grille at the bottom of the phone.
Underneath that unassuming cover are the gory innards of the device. This being a Chinese smartphone we have the standard dual SIM slots both of which take standards SIM cards in this case and only one of which can handle 3G speeds. The battery is large although we honestly would have preferred something bit bulkier as it only packs in 2550 mAh. It still lasted easily one day or normal use in our experience though.
Of course there’s also a micro SD card slot for expanding the quite internal memory capacity. Speaking of which, you only get a miserly 2GB of free space meaning you’ll need to use third-party tools to move apps and games to the SD card to make room.
In terms of software, we’re still as impressed as ever about Android Jelly Bean so won’t go into too much detail about all the benefits and features it offers. Unfortunately, Lenovo haven’t been kind enough to provide a purely stock experience and have added plenty of their own apps and tweaks to the phone. Some, such as Lenovo Power are genuinely useful and enhance the experience while others are not so well received.
Lenovo seem to have skinned every aspect of the core Android experience including the Play Store, the File Browser and the weird way that they’ve laid out all the different Settings options. Somehow, they even managed to change the loading animation that applies to every single app.
A nice touch that we appreciated was the way that the notifications have their own separate drop-down arrows that allow you to tweak them individually. And the launcher that Lenovo have included has some nice if basic ways of customising themes, icons, animations, etc. One thing we would have liked to have seen is a proper quick settings interface which is sadly non-existent on the A850 out of the box.
All the apps we tried worked pretty seamlessly including the camera which has some nice on-screen display overlays providing you with extra information. It also has a brilliant burst mode feature that allows you to take up to ninety-nine shots in quick succession.
Using the phone
Despite the power under the hood, our major complaint is that the screen is a massive disappointment. And we really can’t emphasise that enough.
We’re not talking Godfather Part III type let downs in that it didn’t really quite live up to the previous editions. We are not even talking the level of disappoint when you find out that Santa Claus is really your parents sneaking around. We’re talking serious, underwhelming, capital-T trauma.
Even worse than when you’re hungover and all you need is nice cup of tea but your freshly brewed cup it ruined by off milk and there’s no way you’re up for getting dressed and schlepping down to the shops. Its poor resolution simply looks crap and dated.
The more we use this phone, the more it got to us. Especially after getting to play around with some of the 1080p full-HD beasts that are doing the rounds these days, it’s a wasted opportunity. We’ve never been particularly quick to complain about being able to see individual pixels on screens and weren’t massively blown away by retina displays, but the poor resolution of the huge screen on the A850 is so bad it is simply distracting.
EDIT (19/02/14): We found a workaround to increase the quality of video playback on YouTube which was one of our main issues with the screen resolution. It turned out that as the phone ships, it’s impossible to view HD videos so the issue of poor pixel density is exacerbated. With this fix in place, the screen is much more usable and doesn’t deserve the condemnation we gave above.
The quality of the camera itself is pretty mediocre with only a five megapixel sensor on the back camera but it’s pretty standard compared to other Lenovo phones with slightly smudged out images when fully zoomed in and lowlight performance that leaves a lot to be desired. Although there doesn’t seem to be any image stabilisation, we were impressed by the incredible lack of shutter lag and the f2.8 aperture is pretty sharp in sunlight.
Having said that, the video performance is also poor with 1080p videos seemingly just scaled up from 960×540 resolution. The front camera does the job for video chats and selfies but the quality is the bare minimum and you left wanting just a bit more.
We were also disappointed that there’s no magnetic compass sensor even though not everyone has a use for it and the phone doesn’t currently seem to support USB on the go.
There’s no denying that the phone offers incredible value for money. Until every phone has a dual SIM slot we won’t stop raving about how incredibly useful this feature is. It really does make such a massive difference and especially due to the physical size of this phone, it’s a fantastically handy feature.
Once again we’re also loving the scheduled power feature in the settings menu that lets you automatically turn your phone on and off at specific times. The battery life on the A850 is pretty decent – it easily lasts a day but it’s not as outstanding as some of the other Chinese phones we’ve reviewed.
Overall, this is a great phone and the worthy successor to the A820. Despite all the flaws, there’s no denying that it blows away most of the competition in terms of value for money and sheer performance. If you think you can deal with low resolution screen and won’t be using it as your main camera then you be more than satisfied with purchasing the A850.
Especially if you think you’ll find the dual SIM capability useful or can’t afford to splash out half a grand a for top end iPhone or Samsung, you might be surprised how much value for money you get by buying from Lenovo.
In summary, the Lenovo A850 may not be the absolute best Chinese smartphone but it’s certainly one of the best 5.5″ inch models and deserves to be the flagship of Lenovo’s A-series.
Mobile Network Comparison‘s Lenovo A850 rating – stars
- Poor screen resolution for a 5.5″ model
- Probably one of the worst cameras we’ve seen recently and definitely the worst video recording quality..
- Small internal memory and could do with a bigger battery.
- No USB-OTG.
- Much cheaper than equivalent smartphones.
- The super useful dual SIM ports.
- Antutu benchmarks over 16,000 from its 1.3 Ghz quad core processor and Mali GPU.
Have you tried the Lenovo A850 or any other Lenovo mobile phones? Would you consider buying one? And what do you want us to review next? If you have any questions or comments about this the Lenovo A850, custom ROMs or this review in general, please let us know in the comments below.
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