Today we’re looking at the Obi Worldphone MV1, a £99 phone made by a team of former Apple employees (among others) and led by former Apple CEO John Sculley. As you might expect from ex-Apple folk, the MV1 sports a rather daring design that sets it apart from its budget peers. Let’s take a closer look in our full review.
Most budget phones come in cheap cardboard boxes, but not the MV1 — it feels a lot more premium than you’d expect. You’re treated to your first look of the phone through a clear plastic window, with the phone held in place with a quartet of soft posts. Unhinge the plastic section, and you can free the phone and hold it in your hand for the first time.
Beneath the first layer, you’ll find the usual cache of accessories: micro USB cable and 1A mains adapter (curiously an EU model), but no headphones.
The MV1 looks… different. The phone’s body is square at the top but curved at the bottom, and sports curved sides that remind me of old Lumia handsets. The difference in shapes between top and bottom is claimed to be for reasons of easily differentiating which way is up when the phone is in your pocket — fair enough, I suppose.
The display is raised from the body of the phone, which seems like the opposite of what you’d want to do — any drop will likely hit the screen first. However, it also makes it easier to avoid touching the edges of the display, which is a nice — albeit minor — usability touch. The overall look of the phone is divisive; some loved it and some hated it.
The display measures five inches, and hits a reasonable resolution of 1280 x 720. The IPS display is protected by Gorilla Glass 3, but is quite dim compared to other displays — particularly at an off angle. Colour accuracy is decent, however.
We’d normally expect a 1080p display at most mid-range and higher phones at this size, but going for 720p again is a reasonable cost-saving measure that doesn’t affect usability (and helps battery life). You can still get a comfortable amount on screen.
The phone measures 145 by 73 millimetres and is 8.95 millimetres thick; not too different from higher-end phones on the market. It weighs 149 grams, making it only marginally heavier than Google’s recently released 143 gram Pixel. Finally, the phone is available in black and white in the UK — although an eye-catching red version has also made a few photo appearances.
The MV1 doesn’t have the most impressive spec sheet, but it’s worth listing anyway. There’s a Snapdragon 212 quad-core processor that runs at 1.3GHz, backed by 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. As mentioned earlier, you can increase this by up to 64GB using the Micro SD card slot.
The self-described Worldphone doesn’t disappoint when it comes to network connectivity though, with a long list of bands that should allow for LTE connections across the UK and abroad. Wi-Fi N, Bluetooth 4.1 and a-GPS/GLONASS are also supported; no Wi-Fi ac here! There’s also no NFC, so Android Pay isn’t supported — a shame, even at this price point.
There’s a small groove near the bottom of the back that allows you to remove the rear panel. Inside, you’ll find space for two Micro SIMs, a Micro SD card and the removable 2500mAh battery. Battery life is claimed to be about 5.5 hours of web browsing, and the phone generally just about hits that very low yardstick. You’ll definitely need to charge this phone to make it through a day of heavy use, so investing in a power bank could be a wise idea.
The MV1 is equipped with an 8-megapixel rear camera with an f/2.2 lens, which makes it a little questionable for low-light shooting. The rear camera does support 1080p video recording, but the chipset only allows for 30fps. There’s a 2-megapixel selfie cam up front, not great but certainly good enough for the odd selfie or video chats.
Photos from the rear camera are fine, similar in quality to the hundreds of other Android phones to have come out over the past two or three years that sport the same 8-megapixel sensor. Shots in good light have nice detail and are easily suitable for Instagram, Snapchat and the like, while those in lower light gain the look of an impressionist oil painting.
Ultimately, the Obi doesn’t do anything to differentiate itself from its peers when it comes to the camera — understandable.
Interestingly, the MV1 is one of the few phones to ship with CyanogenMod pre-installed. I last saw this on the OnePlus One, and it’s come a ways since then. The OS is essentially Android Lollipop with more options, and a few special Obi additions like the circular launcher. Jetting around the OS isn’t as fluid as most other Android smartphones, but that seems to be down to the underwhelming processor rather than any software problems — hopefully an update to CyanogenMod 13 and Marshmallow will improve the situation.
Until then, be prepared to experience lag in some unusual places, including the lock screen and the camera viewfinder. Even listening to locally stored music and browsing the web caused a few stutters, and the Halloween Google Doodle was laggy when multiple sprites were on screen. However, apps never crashed or hung completely, so if you’re tolerant of these little delays then you shouldn’t face any major issues.
Obi isn’t exactly a household name, but that could change. The company is doing something daring: bringing innovative industrial design down to incredibly low price points.
There’s a lot of potential behind the concept, made possible by the plateauing of smartphone hardware in recent years. It used to be that there was a big difference in performance between £600 flagship phones and £150 budget phones, but it’s becoming smaller — even the budget Moto G now comes with a processor that would have been top-end just a few years earlier.
In a world where hundreds of low-end phones are released every year by dozens of manufacturers, Obi is doing their best to stand out, and the MV1 is a strong initial step. If you can look beyond the underpowered processor, you’ll find a phone with real charm and the unrivalled utility of CyanogenMod — not a bad deal for £99.