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‘Wily’ is a term that can only be used to describe one animal, the fox whose head is beautifully engraved at the back of Wileyfox smartphones. While foxes are cunning and sly hence the ‘wily’ adjective, there are no traces of such as per my month-long interaction with the Wileyfox Storm.

Maybe the Wileyfox brand is using that to send a message about its aggression going forward. Maybe it’s just a name. That I don’t know. What I do know is that the Wileyfox Storm, one of the two smartphones that Wileyfox is testing the Kenyan mobile waters with, like other Wileyfox devices, attempts to be different. To stand out from the crowd.

Being different or attempting to be different is not a bad thing. In fact, it is the only thing that I ask of all devices entering our market. Haven’t we seen enough of the copycats already? Devices that look like bastard children of other more prominent devices we already know of?

So how different is the Wileyfox Storm from anything you may have seen so far? From my experience, not much when it comes to its looks which are certainly very forgettable but a little different when it comes to the software which I will come to in a bit.

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Specifications

  • Size: 77.3 x 155.6 x 9.2mm
  • Display: 5.5-inch full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) IPS LCD
  • Memory: 3 GB RAM, 32 GB internal storage (expandable via microSD slot)
  • Camera: 20.7 MP main with full HD video recording; 8 MP sensor on the front with HD video recording
  • Processor: Octa-core Snapdragon 615 clocked at 1.5 GHz
  • Operating System: Android 5.1.1 Lollipop
  • Battery: 2,500 mAh (non-removable)
  • Network: 3G, 4G LTE
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, microUSB 2.0
  • Other: FM radio

In the box

The Wileyfox Storm’s packaging is simple. A thin orange and black box with just the device, some user manuals and warranty information and a neatly packaged USB cable. That’s it! No adaptor, no headsets.

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Design

The Wileyfox Storm is a plastic device through and through. As such, like other mid-range smartphones we’ve looked at (cough Xiaomi Redmi Note 2), there’s not much going for it that can inspire some positive words from me. It is not something that is going to excite you when you stare at it from the front when it is lying on a table with the screen fast asleep. Looks are not its strongest point. The same goes for its sibling, the Wileyfox Swift, which I have had the pleasure of interacting with briefly.

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However, things change a little bit when you actually hold the device. With a 5.5-inch display, the Wilefox Storm is not supposed to just feel at home when you first hold it. But it does! The rounded corners and soft-touch plastic back come together seamlessly to make it comfortable to hold the device and even use it with one hand even when the software has not been tweaked to accommodate one-handed mode as we have seen in devices like the Huawei GR5.

Without a logo on the front, the only pronounced features besides the big glass panel are the earpiece at the centre and the LED flash and camera sensor on the left and right respectively.

The capacitive buttons at the bottom of the front glass panel can be easily missed since they only come to life when there’s some interaction with the device. The home capacitive key also lights up periodically when there are notifications. This is to make up for the lack of an LED notification light whose place has been taken by the front-facing flash for selfies. We’ve seen this before. On devices like the Tecno Boom J7.

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The back is not just important because it makes the handling easier thanks to its soft-touch feel but also because it has the imposing camera and dual-LED flash which are in a small vertical visor-like strip with orange accents. The logo at the middle is way too cool to overlook while the Wileyfox branding in orange at the bottom, just above the speaker grille, while easily noticeable, looks indifferent.

Display

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The Wileyfox Storm, as already stated, packs a 5.5-inch full HD IPS LCD display. It’s sharp and crisp enough that reading text won’t be an issue and everything just looks alright. What else can you expect of a 400ppi display anyway? However, it doesn’t fair that well outdoors in full sunlight and cranking up the brightness slider doesn’t help matters though it will get you halfway there.

Camera

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While Wileyfox definitely did try by putting a 20.7-megapixel sensor at the back of the device and another 8-megapixel one on the front, it still wasn’t enough to impress me that much. Of course, at this moment, you all know that there is much more to good photos than the megapixel count, right?

I have a straightforward approach to using smartphone cameras. Since I’m not a camera nerd or whatever photographers go by, my use of smartphone cameras is simple: I need not struggle to get good shots. Just pulling the device from my jeans, opening the camera app and firing away with just a little concentration and (maybe) no shaking of the hands should get me the desired result.

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With the Wileyfox Storm, that resulted in a hit here and a miss there so I don’t know what to make of it, yet, but you can easily tell that it’s not up to scratch. Things don’t get better when HDR is on either and the auto-focus is just too slow. Selfies are a bit better but still not there.

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You can check out the full-sized photos here.

Cyanogen OS

 

The software that the Wileyfox Storm packs is one of the high points of the device. This is because it is quite different from the standard Android experience you usually get on most devices.

We’ve become so used to all the badly done customization to Android that it’s easy to forget what Android should look and feel. The Wileyfox Storm and Cyanogen OS bring that back.

Since Kenya has never been one of those markets where everyone who is not a hardcore Android fan or enthusiast can easily lay their hands on a device with Google’s vision for Android aka Nexus smartphones, the Wileyfox Storm and its sibling the Swift may as well be the closest that most will ever get to Android purity.

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Don’t get me wrong, there are many device makers who are shipping devices with minimal alterations to stock Android and retaining the looks as well but still, Cyanogen is Cyanogen and outside Google’s own implementation, this is as clean as clean gets.

We’ve become so used to all the badly done customizations to Android that it’s easy to forget what Android should look and feel. The Wileyfox Storm and Cyanogen OS bring that back. Granted, this is not the purest of Android builds since Cyanogen Inc also has its own idea of how the Android experience should be like, the vision of less clutter and no bloatware is not lost. If anything, it is re-affirmed.

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The Wileyfox Storm arrived late last year running Cyanogen OS 12.1 based on Android 5.1 Lollipop. This is still what you get when you buy the device today since it is yet to get Cyanogen OS 13 which brings Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

There’s bound to be some confusion when it comes to understanding the difference between Cyanogen OS and CyanogenMod which most people have likely heard of or even gone ahead to flash on their devices.

I have slightly tried to explain the differences here but for the sake of this review here’s the one difference that really matters: Cyanogen OS is the commercial version of the software that is built for specific devices.

Unlike CyanogenMod, Cyanogen OS is more efficient and less buggy since all the hardware resources of the devices it is to run on are made available to its developers so that everything runs smoothly. CyanogenMod, on the other hand, only works smoothly based on the much the software is able to take advantage of on the hardware since mostly, it is a community solution that lacks the blessings of the device maker and as such, any access to proprietary resources.

There is a feature called LiveDisplay which when turned on acts much like Night Shift on the current versions of iOS: it changes the display’s temperature depending on the time of day. This had me going slow on my usage of Twilight, the F.lux equivalent accessible to those of us who don’t fancy rooting their devices.

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The Cyanogen dialer’s integration with third-party spam detection and caller identification service Truecaller may be welcome and frowned upon in some quarters. It is all up to the user to decide whether to turn it on or not.

Since the Storm has hardware buttons for navigation purposes, it is quite possible to turn them off from the settings app and use the standard Android on-screen navigation bar instead, something I last experienced on the first generation OnePlus smartphone.

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Cyanogen OS, even with all the fluidity and stability, is not without its quirks. I got a few app freezes and crashes even though, generally, it’s all good.

Performance

Thanks to running Cyanogen OS, the Wileyfox Storm is one of the best mid-range smartphones I have used this year when it comes to performance. The device flies!

Cyanogen OS, and CyanogenMod as well, takes a minimalist approach to how Android is implemented. Just like Google envisioned. As a result, there’s not a lot of resources wasted on unnecessary bundled applications and heavy (and ugly) interfaces. Everything is just standard so that you can tune the device to your own liking.

The extra memory available as a result and the Snapdragon 615 processor the device packs, team up to deliver an experience that is a far cry from what I managed to get from the similarly-priced Huawei GR5.

Battery

If you need a battery warrior, the Wileyfox Storm is not the device to go for. The battery is disappointing. Do you know why that neat white USB cable it comes with is easy to coil and put in your pocket? Because you will need to have it with you everywhere you go. No kidding.

With just mild use, the 2,500mAh battery, will have given up by 2PM and you will need to juice up the device if it is to get you through the day. That kind of capacity is likely “just ok” for the Wileyfox Swift but it is definitely not okay for the Wileyfox Storm.

 

With the kind of blazing performance that the Wileyfox Storm offers, you will be disappointed that you can’t have more of it without worrying that the battery will die on you not long after.

Others

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The Wileyfox Storm’s speaker grille, which is oddly placed at the back of the device while, surprisingly, the Wileyfox Swift has it at the bottom of the device, is not one of the loudest but it gets the job done.

Network reception is fine and making and receiving calls is not an issue. As is browsing on 3G and LTE using the device.

Some gestures are supported. Double tapping the status bar results in the display turning off when enabled in the settings app.

The Good

  • Cyanogen OS. It’s clean, light, stable and simple. The power users can dig in the settings to get more out of the device but for everyone else, the software is ready to go. Just install your favourite apps from the Play Store and go. No need to spend hours trying to use apps to undo the mess created by the device’s makers on the software as you are likely to do on every other device that is either not a Sony or a Nexus-branded smartphone.
  • The device is fast. When I say fast, I know what I’m talking about because I am just from this traumatizing experience.

The Bad

  • The battery!
  • The camera leaves a lot to be desired.

Final Word

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You will fall in love with the Wileyfox Storm not for anything else but its software. It is well executed and with the Wileyfox Swift recently receiving Android Marshmallow, the same is on its way to the Storm, something we can’t say of the other mid-range smartphones we’ve met so far this year. With a little grasp of the ropes, one can even get a taste of Android N courtesy of the many hardworking developers from the XDA and CyanogenMod communities.

However, for a device whose main difference from the rest of the pack comes from the software and there’s not much else to sell when it comes to the hardware that the competition doesn’t already offer, I am left asking for more to justify the Kshs 29,000 price tag.

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