Stock Android and Timely Updates at a Lower Price: Infinix Hot 2 Review

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The allure of Android One, as we have stated countless times before, is a pure unadulterated experience on a smartphone. Users don’t get slowed down by unnecessary elements added to the software by the smartphone maker. Neither do they have to live with ugly interfaces and cartoon-like app icons all in the name of being provided with “value add-ons”. But what if you get an Android One smartphone that packs the stock untouched Android experience as envisioned by Google but still has all the signs of lag and stutter that shouldn’t be there?

That has been my experience with the Infinix Hot 2, the first Android One smartphone to hit the African market. It’s good for its price. There’s no denying that. I was very impressed at first and while my experience as a user of the device over the last fortnight hasn’t convinced me that this is a smartphone I’d want to get for myself, my opinion that it is our favourite low-end smartphone in the Kenyan market remains unchanged.

Specifications

  • Display: 5 inch HD (720p)
  • Processor: Quad-core MediaTek MT6580 chip clocked at 1.3 GHz
  • Memory: 1 GB RAM; 16 GB onboard storage (expandable via microSD)
  • Camera: Front: 2 megapixels; Back: 8 megapixels with LED flash
  • Operating System: Android 5.1.1
  • Battery: 2,200mAh
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
  • Network: 3G
  • Others: FM radio, Dual-SIM

Poor Man’s Nexus

Android One has been cheekily christened “poor man’s Nexus” by my friends in the West and rightfully so. We’ve just seen the 2015 Nexus smartphones from Huawei and LG made official by Google. While those are pricey, both buyers of the Nexus 5X and 6P will have something in common with the Infinix Hot 2: they get timely updates.

The new Nexus smartphones will of course arrive with the latest treat from Mountain View, Android Marshmallow, but the Infinix Hot 2 and others in the Android One program are expected to get it not long after. Yes, even before those swanky $800 smartphones you’ve been yearning to get. Poor man’s Nexus or not, that’s a huge plus for a smartphone as basic as the Infinix Hot 2 and it is one of its selling points. So much that one of the first things you get upon unboxing the device and powering it on for the very first time is, you guessed it right, an update, albeit for stability and bug fixes.

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Design

The Infinix Hot 2 looks and feels like a small plastic slab. Bar that 5 inch HD display on the front, the Hot 2 is a full plastic device through and through. There’s some glass-like plastic on the back that is a fingerprint magnet and prone to scratches if you put the phone in the same pants pocket as your keys. They’ll scratch the hell out of it.

Since I said it feels like a small plastic slab, that is not just as a result of the looks. It’s also because of the weight. The Infinix Hot 2 is not light like you may have gotten used to on recent smartphone releases. It is quite heavy but since at 5 inches the screen is bigger, that weight makes it nicer to hold in the hand and you actually feel like you’re using a phone. Seriously.

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The USB port is placed at the top of the device and not the bottom. The speakers on the bottom of the device are just fine and perform as expected. Sound is crisp but could of course get better. However, like the earpiece on top, dust tends to collect down there and you may need to manually clean it from time to time.

There’s an LED on the front for alerting you when you have unread messages, missed calls and other notifications. There are no physical or capacitive keys so instead you have on-screen buttons since this is a pure Android experience device.

The volume rocker is on the right of the device and just below it is the power button.

Display

The 5 inch HD display is good enough for casual needs. You’ll be okay texting on the large display and even consuming media. Just the basics.

The viewing angles are not the best and outdoor visibility is a big problem. Since the Infinix Hot runs stock Android, you get some setbacks like not having automatic brightness settings so you’ll have to go back to the slider on the notification shade when you switch environments from indoors to outdoors.

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There’s no form of protection on the display so if you happen to drop the device on a hard surface, it’ll be up to your lucky stars to determine its fate. You’ll mostly end up with either a shattered display panel or a very scratched back.

Camera

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There’s not much to write home about when it comes to the Infinix Hot 2’s camera. This is because it is pretty basic. It does its work as you may expect of a camera on a $90 phone.

You can get some popping average shots using the 8 megapixel back camera and really grainy selfies when using the 2 megapixel front-facing camera. There’s hardly any middle ground. In good lighting conditions, the images captured are bearable else there’s too much noise. It is worse when you take photos in low light conditions. Yes, even with the flash turned on.

Here is a sample photo:

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More sample images (including a high resolution version of the above sample) can be found here.

Software

Stock Android. Android 5.1.1 Lollipop.

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While stock Android should be something attractive and all, sadly on low-end devices like I have experienced on the Infinix Hot 2, it is not. I’ll explain.

The Infinix Hot 2 is a smartphone meant mostly for entry-level users. Users on a budget. These just want a device that functions well out of the box. No bells and whistles. For the most part, stock Android provides all that. Until you get to the bit where there’s no gallery application that users can identify with. Neither is there a half-decent camera application or a music app (I know, Google Play Music, but no, thanks).

On stock Android you get Google’s camera app which is pretty barebones. Like we’ve seen on low-cost devices from the Tecno and Infinix brands, more functionality can be added to the camera application that users can take advantage of. Google Photos is the default photo application. Again, this is pretty basic and while most of us know what to get off it, ordinary users will be best served by just a simple gallery app. Something like QuickPic for instance.

Other issues that arise as a result of using stock Android includes the lack of a mute/vibrate switch. Ordinarily, users are able to switch to various sound profiles conveniently but under Android Lollipop this is not possible as they are limited to just barring notifications for a set duration (a maximum of 8 hours).

An advantage of stock Android on the other hand, is that you don’t get a lot of the annoying add-ons that tend to be bundled with devices like the Infinix Hot 2. Applications that you’re likely to never use. Like Palm Chat and others. There are only two applications outside of Google’s that are bundled on the phone: CarlCare, an app for accessing after-sales service, and Jumia, the online marketplace that Google and Infinix partnered with to sell the Hot 2 across the continent.

Another plus is that you get to do things like add multiple accounts. So you can set up a guest account for your nosy girlfriend to access or another account for your child to play games without interfering with your phone. Since this is a very affordable phone, multiple use cases are well served under such a setting and it is a good thing.

Performance

You’d expect that a device with the most minimum of software alterations would be very snappy and not exhibit any lag, right? Well, you’re wrong. For some strange reasons (optimization perhaps), the Infinix Hot 2 stutters and hangs randomly. It is not annoying and if you don’t spend a lot of your time fiddling with your phone like I do you’ll hardly notice but it is bad enough to make you want to pull out your hair.

Other than the random stuttering, everything else seems fine. I was able to enjoy Asphalt 8: Airborne and for a moment I forgot that I was doing this on a low-cost device. With the stuttering, you may not want to overload it because it won’t handle things well but overall things will be should be just fine.

Battery

Just like the camera, the battery life is neither here nor there. The Infinix Hot 2 is a dual-SIM device and if you take advantage of this and have cellular data turned on most of the time then you’ll need to charge the phone way before the day ends. With minimal use, though, you can manage to squeeze a bit more out of it (you’ll be wise not to count on it).

Normally, there’s some power saving mode of sorts on phones like Infinix Hot 2. However, since this runs stock Android, you’re stuck with the useless stock power saving mode which won’t come to your aid when the battery drops below 10% at midday.

The Good

  • Stock Android. This means updates, updates and more updates. Guaranteed updates. I can’t wait to test Android Marshmallow on the Infinix Hot 2. Yes, stock Android has its shortcomings but it is way better than the ugly user interfaces you’re bound to find on just about every other Android smartphone.
  • Lots of storage space. It is not every day that you get an entry level device with 16 GB onboard storage (and expandable via microSD at that). To some people, 16 GB may not be much but you only need to have used other low-cost phones like the awfully priced Oppo Neo 3 that has just 4 GB memory with just under half of it being user accessible to appreciate what the Infinix Hot 2 brings to the table.
  • The price, of course. At Kshs 9,000, you can’t debate getting this over any other Android device. Unless that other device is the fantastic Tecno Boom J7 or the more “senior” Infinix Hot Note. The only problem? You’ll need to add Ksh 1,000-4,000 more to get either of those and when you’re on a tight budget that is not a luxury you have. Note: Kshs 9,000 is the price if you order the device via Jumia. Walking into any retail shop, you’re likely to find the device priced between Kshs 11,000 and 12,000. At that point, dynamics change.

The Bad

  • The lag! It is annoying when you encounter it. I only had a handful of apps installed and still experienced it. I have no idea what happens when you stretch the device.
  • The battery life could be better but it isn’t.

Final Thoughts

For the longest time ever, it has been hard to find a sub-Ksh 10,000 smartphone running Android worth recommending.

With the Infinix Hot 2, now there’s finally a device one can comfortably recommend at that price range. Only that there are few disclaimers. Like battery life is not guaranteed and as is the case with just about every other low-cost smartphone, corners have been cut in order to guarantee the low pricing. You can see that in the washed out display, the not-so-good camera and the lack of seamlessness you’d expect between hardware and software. However, unlike every other low-cost smartphone that has corners cut to justify the low pricing, the Infinix Hot 2 promises to cater for its user just like Google will take care of someone who spends Ksh 65,000 on a 128 GB Huawei Nexus 6P.

Android One is meant to bring to the smartphone fold the next 1 billion Android users according to Google as it seeks to increase Android’s dominance as well as getting everyone online where they’ll obviously get to use its services. Currently, Android has over 1.4 billion users and with devices like the Infinix Hot 2, its appeal is bound to get even better to the unconnected masses and just about everyone who wants a good deal.

 

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