So today we are reviewing the Indian startup CREO’s first smartphone, the Mark 1. The CREO Mark 1 was launched in April 2016 following some heavy marketing. They were able to create quite some buzz about the phone prior to the launch, especially by suggesting that they were here to redefine Android. In an exclusive interview that we had with CREO just before the launch of the Mark 1, the company had stated that they believe that although smartphone hardware has evolved well over the years, there’s a lot of work to be done on the software part and CREO wants to make Android more meaningful and useful for the consumers. And their strategy is by the way of providing monthly software updates which would add useful features to the Mark 1.
They even have a tagline – A new phone every month. Let us see how successful has CREO been at improving Android.
The CREO Mark 1 can be placed in between mid-range and top-end devices with the following specs:
- 5.5″ QuadHD LCD display (1440×2560 pixels at 534ppi)
- 1.95GHz Mediatek Helio X10 SoC (Octa-core)
- PoverVR G6200 GPU
- 3GB LPDDR3 RAM
- 21MP primary camera with PDAF (Sony Exmor IMX230 sensor)
- 8MP front-facing camera
- 32GB on-board storage (expandable via microSD)
- 3100 mAh battery
- FuelOS based on Android 5.1.1
To put in short – the Mark 1 is gorgeous! The metal rim running on the sides is clearly inspired from the iPhone 5. But unlike on the iPhone, the rim here is slightly curved. There are three separate circular buttons on the right, for volume up, volume down and power/wake. The positioning of the power/wake button is perfect as your thumb naturally rests on it when you hold the device. On the left are the two SIM slots – the primary one being a micro SIM and the other one a hybrid – nano SIM or microSD. The slots can be accessed using the SIM ejector tool provided. The top has the 3.5mm audio jack and the bottom houses the microUSB connector pin and the symmetrical loudspeaker grill (only the one on the right actually has the speaker).
The front of the Mark 1 has the 5.5″ LCD screen protected by Gorilla Glass 3, with the front-facing camera and the in-call speaker at the top. At the bottom are the three Android capacitive touch buttons, which light up when the screen is turned on, and are invisible otherwise. The back cover is made up of Gorilla Glass 3 and houses the main camera, the dual-LED flash and the secondary microphone at the top of the glass panel. a CREO logo is printed at the centre of the glass. The phone looks quite similar to the OnePlus X from the back. Unfortunately, the back glass is not scratch resistant, and that will affect the looks over time. Lastly, the option to have a personalized message engraved on the edge of the phone is quite cool. CREO has undoubtedly done a fantastic job with the design. The phone looks and feels premium.
Even though the device has some killer looks, we have two concerns with the design here – the phone is a bit slippery due to the glass back and the lack of grooves on the rim, like on the OnePlus X. And at 180 grams, it’s too heavy. 5.5″ devices are in general difficult for single-handed operation, and with its weight, it gets even more difficult with the Mark 1.
Adding to the beauty of the device is the QuadHD LCD screen with 534ppi pixel density. The pixels are impossible to distinguish and the viewing angles are good. Typically, Indian smartphone companies tend to cut corners with the display, but CREO has made no compromise and put in a stunning QuadHD display. At a price point of Rs. 19,999 it makes the Mark 1 the most affordable phone in the market with a 2K display. The auto brightness works well, and the sunlight legibility is good. The brightness range is good, although i would have liked the minimum brightness to be even lower. The display is crisp, offers excellent contrast and is an absolute treat for readers. I found myself reading a lot more articles on the Mark 1 than any other smartphone i have used.
CREO has been talking a lot about the Mark 1’s 21MP camera along with a dual-tone LED flash. It has Phase Detection autofocus and supports 4K video recording. The autofocus is decent and works pretty well. The photos are sharp and very detailed, as expected from a 21MP sensor. Average photo size is about 6.5MB. However, the color tones are somewhat lighter than actual but that seems to be due to the display since the pictures seemed alright when viewed on a PC. Also, there’s a lot of noise when clicking by zooming in. Low light pictures can be termed average at best. My biggest pain point with the Mark 1 camera was image stabilization. I have this condition wherein i can’t keep my hands very steady and a lot of my photos came out blurred. The camera kept popping a message asking me to hold the phone still. I tried my best to keep it still, even then some of the photos came got blurred/distorted.
The front camera is an 8MP snapper and has features like beautification and 3D Photo. It even has a Low/Medium/High setting for the selfie beautification. Nothing exceptional here, but the front camera is good enough for day to day selfies and Instagrams.
The Camera app is simple, not too fancy and has options like 3D Photo, Live Photo, Panorama and live filters.
The 13-May update has brought an image editor called ‘Enhance’ which allows you to add filters, crop, change the brightness/contrast/saturation and other common editing operations. It works well and is easily accessible from the gallery as well as Camera. The update has introduced a new and major issue with the shutter button on the camera app. In many cases, photos just don’t get clicked even after clicking the shutter button multiple times. It is a software issue and i believe should be sorted out with the next update.
Overall, the camera experience is disappointing, but it is up to CREO to improve it through their monthly software updates.
I have been using the Mark 1 as my primary device for the past one week. And the experience has been pretty good so far. The device gets unlocked quickly without any lag and the transitions are fluid. Navigating through the homescreens and the app drawer is buttery smooth. Call quality is among the best I have experienced on an Android device. The three capacitive buttons at the bottom of the screen are very responsive, so are the volume and power physical buttons. The Bluetooth connectivity however seems to have some bugs. Over half of my attempts to transfer media files form the Mark 1 to another Android device failed, especially when transferring multiple files. Also the transfer speed was very slow.
The 3100mAh battery unit on the Mark 1 is good enough, but due to the 2K display, there is a good amount of drain. With moderate usage – half a dozen calls, social media apps, some photographs and music, the battery lasted for around 20-22hrs.
The Gaming performance on the Mark 1, for the most part, was impressive. Certain games like the Subway Surfer seem to have a slight lag when starting up, but once in action, there were no issues at all. The Mark 1 was able to handle multiple games at a time, and switching in between them was very smooth.
There was no significant heating observed while playing games or on heavy usage, although the back portion just below the camera did get quite warm occasionally.
User Interface (FuelOS)
CREO started off with the Mark 1 with the slogan “A New Phone Every Month”. Which basically meant that CREO would provide software updates each month (13th of each month) that would enhance the user experience in terms of new features and improvements in current applications. To start with, the FuleOS on board the Mark 1 is pretty impressive. The FuelOS is based on Android 5.1.1 and is very close to stock Lollipop. CREO has made some useful changes to some of the stock apps. For example, the Dialer app has 5 different tabs – Favorites, Call History, Dial Pad, Contacts and Echo (we will talk about this one soon). The Messaging app categorizes all your messages into 3 tabs – All, People and Business, which I find pretty useful. Gallery app and a File Manager are provided with FuelOS; the file manager is actually CyanogenMod File Manager.
There are 3 other very useful apps developed by CREO which have been included in FuelOS. First one is ‘Echo’ which is basically a software-based answering machine. It just works and I found it to be incredibly useful. The call will be connected from the caller’s end, but will hear the answering machine message and will start recording the message. You can also record your custom message, just like an answering machine. The Echo mode can be enabled by sliding the call button up when you receive a call or by double clicking the power button. You can configure Echo mode to be enabled when you turn the phone on Silent mode, or after 10/15/30 seconds of an incoming call not being answered. The 13th May update also provides the Echo mode enabling based on your Google calendar meetings, isn’t that great?
The second app is the ’Retriever’ which is a theft-detecting system. It sends alerts to your email ID every time a new SIM is inserted. The unique thing here is that this feature works without an active internet connection, and even if your device is factory reset. I did not notice this app until one day I got an email from CREO stating that the SIM on the Mark 1 has been changed (I had changed the SIM). The email mentioned the phone number of the new SIM and also the location coordinates, which when tested were accurate up too 200 metres! Kudos to CREO for this awesome anti-theft feature!
The last of the set is called ‘Sense’ which is like the Spotlight Search on Mac OS, and can be used to search anything on the device, or online. When you enter a search term, it displays results from apps like messages/contacts/calendar which contain the term and also gives you the option to search for it using Google, Play Store, YouTube and Maps. I assume more services will be included in this in future updates, which will make it even more useful.
There’s more – like on the OnePlus devices, the Mark 1 supports lock screen gestures – draw a ‘V’ to turn on the camera flash, ‘C’ for the camera, and double tap to wake. There’s even a gesture for sleep – double tap on the status bar.
So far, I have had only one pain point about the UI – while charging, a red LED is continuously on and the LED does not pulse for any notifications. It’s a minor bug and should be easily resolvable through an update.
So if you have had the patience to read this lengthy and detailed review, you are bound to ask – is it worth the asking price of Rs. 19,999? I would say yes, almost. It might be slightly overpriced if you consider some of the flaws I have listed above, and if you compare it to other devices in the market. CREO set out as an innovator in Android software, and it certainly seems to be on the right track. There’s lots to like about the CREO Mark 1 and even though there is plenty of scope for improvement, I am happy that somebody has tried to put the spotlight back on software, instead of the specs.