SKK Mobile Prime Review
An unexpected delay
Nearly 12 months ago, I reviewed the Cherry Mobile Life. It had a low price tag of 2,999 Php and it had enough hardware to deliver a respectable smartphone experience. Certainly good enough to coerce feature phone buyers to make a switch. Why wouldn't it? The Life could play games with 3D graphics that are impossible to have an a feature phone, browse the internet quickly, stream YouTube videos, and other things that are basically not possible on a feature phone or on extremely hardware-stricken Android phones. i.e. those 1 Ghz single core Androids being sold for under 2,000 Php.
I was happy back then that Android phones like the Life were penetrating even lower price points, and I was excited as to what we'd get at this same price segment -- the under 3,000 Php segment, one year later. Fast forward one year, which is basically now, I'm surprised that there hasn't been any changes to this segment. You still had small 4.0" phones with bland-looking TN displays, the same MTK6572 chipset, 256 MB to 512 MB of RAM and bland, generic design.
When I got news of the Prime from SKK Mobile, I felt excited again. While it again has the MTK6572, it now has a much larger 5.0" display that's also IPS. It's a step up from what's currently available in the under 3,000 Php segment. Thing is, did they really step it up?
Design and Build Quality
The 'under 3,000 Php' segment is littered with generic looking, chubby-looking devices. The problem is that there are very few phones in this segment with a display larger than 4". Since there is only a small area to fit all the components of the phone, they have difficulty making it thinner. In addition, making a device sturdy and thin at the same time can be costly in terms of materials, design and manufacturing, especially given the area constraints.
The Prime breaks the trend in this segment by having a large 5.0" display and a thin profile. Its overall design is akin to the Oppo Find 7 and the last devices made by then-Sony Ericsson. It's straight, has a slightly curved top and bottom, and has uniform thickness.
Its display is flush and fingers slide right off the edge of the glass. It's visually angular, but maintains roundness at contact points on your palms as the sides aren't flat. The bottom of the phone particularly has a small "chin" just below the capacitive buttons, which combined with thin strip of a chrome-like bumper and slim bezels, wrapping your hands around the phone adds a touch of class and fine feel. It also helps emphasize the phone's svelte figure, which has dimensions of 143 x 71 x 7.5 mm. Indeed, the Prime is surprisingly thin being just 8 mm at its thickest point.
The back is embossed with a very tiny-cross hatched design which prevents the back of the phone from being slippery even if your palms are sweaty. The location of the volume rocker and power buttons are also well thought of. Regardless of whether you hold the phone with your left or right hand, either volume rocker or power button will land right on your thumb or middle finger.
The placement of the micro USB and 3.5 mm port are on top, with only the microphone on the bottom right. The placement of the ports allows you to charge the phone and have earphones plugged in and still have one hand free to hold the other side in landscape mode. Most phones usually have the micro USB and 3.5 mm port on opposite sides. Overall, the Prime is very ergonomic, although I wish the capacitive keys were backlit.
The body is primarily made out of sturdy ABS plastic with a matte lacquer finish while the back cover is made out of a flexible plastic with a slightly rubbery feel that can be bent to some degree without breaking. The overall construction is solid despite its thinness. It feels dense and compact, with the Prime weighing in at 150 grams. It's definitely one of the best built devices in this segment.
There are two SIM card slots which are stacked, one being a mini SIM and the other a micro SIM. Beside the SIM card slots is the micro SD slot. Neither SIM slots or micro SD slot are hot-swappable as the battery blocks the insertion points.
It's one of the nicest looking phones in the 'under 3,000 Php' segment. While most phones in this segment look like toys, the Prime emphasizes sleek, understated sophistication. And depending on which color you choose, it could be chic (in light blue and pink) or executive (in white and black).
The Prime does not come with a screen protector out of the box and I strongly suggest having a screen protector attached right after purchase. Here is a checklist of what comes inside the box:
- 1x SKK Mobile Prime
- 1x 1,700 mAh battery
- 1x 1000 mA charger
- 1x USB cable
- 1x Headset
- 1x User's manual
- 1x Warranty card
The Prime is equipped with a 5.0" FWVGA (854x480) display that supports 2 point multitouch. It uses an IPS panel which ensures that the display looks great from any angle. Additionally, IPS panels generally offer true 8-bit color depth and can display up to 16.7 million colors, which means it has a wide color gamut. Inferior TN panels found on most phones in the under 3,000 Php price segment have inferior viewing angles and have 6-bit color depth, offering only up to 262,144 colors which makes them technically less vibrant.
The display's construction is interesting as well. It's definitely not a OGS, but the glass is clear enough and the gap between the glass and panel small enough to give an impression that it is one. It's a cleverly constructed display for such a low priced device, showing us that alternatives to more expensive manufacturing methods are starting to trickle down at this price point. This gives the display great light transmission and clarity.
Combined with its IPS panel, the Prime's display is one of the brightest in this segment, easily twice as bright as competitors equipped with a TN panel. At full brightness, it can reach a little over 400 nits. Unfortunately, the glass used on the display isn't treated with any special coating and glare under sunlight is particularly harsh, so it's a good thing that the display can go very bright which allows it to be usable under sunlight.
Brightness scaling on the brightness bar is quite linear, with 25% of the brightness bar being almost exactly 25% of its maximum brightness. Other phones are far from linear, such as the LG G2 Mini whose actual brightness at 50% of the brightness bar is only 25% of its maximum brightness.
Brightness, White (cd/m²)
SKK Mobile Prime
MyPhone Agua Rio
LG G2 Mini
Apple iPhone 5
Samsung Galaxy Note 3
The quality of the display is slightly above average even against those equipped with IPS panels. Black and white contrast is just average. But color contrast is good, allowing you to discern different shades of the same color evenly and offering a more natural saturation. The display tuning is neutral, but not as laid back as a Sony for instance, which has a preference for lower contrast and very natural tones (read: pared down). Despite its neutral tone, its color temperature is very slightly cold with some green bias.
Overall though, it's a decently calibrated display. Black and white crushing is minimal. Colors are vivid but detailed without being overly punchy or crushed. Color temperature is close to neutral and the display as a whole is easy on the eyes, which makes extended viewing sessions fatigue-free. My only concern is the time it takes for the light sensor to adjust brightness. It takes at least half a minute to adjust brightness accordingly.
FWVGA (854x480) resolution may not seem much, but it's the best you can get in this price segment. Given the 5 inch display, it translates to 196 PPI. I'm normally picky with getting a screen door effect with this kind of pixel density, but the large size and good quality of the display shines through despite the deficit in sharpness. A 4.0" WVGA display may be sharper, but its size makes it arguably less enjoyable. A small bump of the default page zoom to 110% on the browser makes webpages very readable while zoomed out in landscape mode.
All in all, the Prime has the best display I've seen yet in the below 3,000 Php price segment. It's also one of the largest at 5.0", being tied by MyPhone's Rio Fun. However, the Rio Fun uses a vastly inferior TN panel, so a comparison is pointless.
The Prime is powered by a Mediatek MTK6572M, which remains the staple along with the regular MTK6572 at this price segment up until now. It has a dual core Cortex A7 running at 1 Ghz and a Mali-400MP graphics processor running at 500 Mhz. It's also paired with 512 MB of RAM and is running on Android 4.2.2. Funnily though, most apps identify the Prime as being equipped with a MTK6589 running at 1.5 Ghz, which benchmark results will disprove.
Most of the latest graphics benchmarks such as GFXBench and 3DMark now require at least 1 GB of RAM, and thus cannot complete a bench run on the Prime. However, the MTK6572 with 512 MB of RAM setup seems to have aged gracefully as it's still capable of driving an FWVGA display without much issue.
AnTuTu Benchmark 5
Geekbench 3 - Single Core
Geekbench 3 - Multi Core
Linpack - Single Threaded
Linpack - Multi Threaded
Vellamo - Multi Core
Vellamo - Metal
Basemark ES 2.0 Taiji
The MTK6572 is cool and efficient as expected. The rear doesn't heat up anywhere near as much as other processors, even when running a graphics intensive game. Likewise, there is also less heat build up in the battery which means the battery isn't stressed as much and the drain is relatively low, even when the processor is on full load.
Raw processing performance isn't stellar on the Prime, but it's still a very capable phone for casual gaming. Less demanding games like Plants vs Zombies, Clash of Clans and Temple Run 2 run smoothly and without issue on the Prime. Many newer games like GT Racing 2 and Modern Combat 5 are also surprisingly playable, although they're not exactly buttery smooth, but playable nevertheless on low graphics settings. As for emulators, it isn't powerful enough to run PSP games smoothly via PPSSPP. Emulators of the PS1, N64 and Dreamcast, as well as older consoles are playable on the Prime though.
General performance is good and the software is optimized. Moving around the Android interface and running non-intensive apps like the browser and gallery is smooth and lag-free. Transitioning between apps when bringing up the task manager is also surprisingly smooth, although given the amount of RAM it's highly possible that the background app you think you'll resume may simply restart and reload/recover, instead of resuming the state you left it in.
Video decoding performance is a bit of a downer, as Mediatek has apparently downgraded the DSP that handles video decoding on the MTK6572. The Cherry Mobile Life, which also has the MTK6572, was able to handle 1080p H.264 videos via hardware decoding. The Prime could still play the same 1080p videos with hardware decoding, but there were plenty of dropped frames. 720p videos are playable with either software or hardware decoding on the Prime. Also, on MX Player, I had to enable "HW+" instead of "HW" for hardware decoding to work. I assume it has something to do with the change in DSP.
1280x534 @ 24 FPS, AVC High Profile L4.1, with CABAC, 5 reference frames
1280x528 @ 24 FPS, AVC High Profile L4.1, with CABAC, 4 reference frames
1280x528 @ 24 FPS, AVC High Profile L4.1, with CABAC, 8 reference frames
1920x800 @ 24 FPS, AVC High Profile L4.0, with CABAC, 5 reference frames
448 Kbps, 6 channels AC-3
401 Kbps, 6 channels, AAC
395 Kbps, 6 channels, AAC
306 Kbps, 6 channels, AAC
Plays via hardware decoder?
Yes, but plenty of dropped frames
Plays via software decoder?
Yes, but plenty of dropped frames
The Prime is equipped with a 5 megapixel fixed-focus camera which uses the Samsung S5K4ECG 1/4" FSI sensor which has a pixel size of 1.4 μm. Lens aperture is f/2.8.
The camera interface is rather bare, which also highlights the lack of shooting options. Aside from auto mode, there is only panorama shooting mode and smile shot mode which automatically takes a picture when it detects a smiling face within the frame. Manual controls are lacking too, with only white balance, scene mode, color mode and exposure (+/- 3) being available. Since this is a fixed focus camera, you cannot take macro shots either.
Surprisingly, the Prime's 5 megapixel camera is not interpolated. Most "5 megapixel cameras" in the under 3,000 Php price segment are usually interpolated from 2 or 3 megapixel sensors. However, the Samsung S5K4ECG sensor is an older, already out of production model from 2009/2010 which is also found on the first Samsung Galaxy Ace, a phone from early 2011. The built-in DSP on the S5K4ECG also limits the video recording of the Prime to VGA at 15 FPS, which is unfortunate considering the MTK6572 can encode up to 720p30.
Despite a full 5 megapixel sensor, the camera module itself is fixed focus, and the DSP is of poor quality. Images end up being soft and relatively devoid of fine detail because of this. Color detail is bland too. To be fair though, it's actually very usable in decent lighting conditions -- which is something I can't say for a lot of other phones in the under 3,000 Php segment as they can't even capture plate numbers due to a low resolution sensor.
Low light performance is as you'd expect in this price segment: Lots of noise, prone to overexposure and if it's too dark and you won't see a thing because of all the black crushing. There are no ISO or shutter controls, nor is there night mode. It is best to shoot where there is as much light as possible because shooting in low light is pretty useless. The flash, while strong compared to most phones in the under 3,000 Php segment, is only great as a flashlight because the camera demands even more light to capture in very low light or pitch black conditions and it makes the flash useless even under those conditions.
Prime Sample Shot (Good lighting)Click thumbnail to view full-size
Prime Sample Shots (Low light)Click thumbnail to view full-size
Prime Sample Shots (Panorama)Click thumbnail to view full-size
As mentioned earlier, the Prime is only able to record video up to VGA (640x480) resolution at 15 FPS because of the limitations of the camera hardware. Not much can be said except "this is very ancient". None of the technical details are worth mentioning. Even my Nokia 5800 from 5 years ago does VGA recording at 30 FPS. Regardless, below is a sample of the Prime's video recording.
Here's the low down on the SKK Mobile Prime's camera:
- Decent shots in good lighting, but otherwise low detail and representative of phones in this price segment
- Poor low light shooting capabilities, but actually representative of phones in this price segment
- Decent LED flash makes it a good flashlight, but it won't help you much while taking a picture in pitch black conditions.
- Lack of auto focus means you cannot take macro shots
- Little to no manual controls
- Ancient video recording capabilities, maxing out at VGA resolution at 15 FPS. Many phones in this price segment can do better.
Lastly, the front-facing camera is VGA only and making video calls is advised in good lighting.
The Prime is equipped with a 1,700 mAh battery. It's a bit small considering the 5" display, but the efficient processor should make up for the lack of raw capacity in more strenuous tasks like gaming and heavy web browsing.
Starting with this review, I am changing a battery test parameter. The display brightness will no longer be set to 30%. The display will now be calibrated to 150 nits to ensure uniformity since not all devices have the same actual brightness on the brightness bar. Take the LG G2 Mini for instance, which has an actual brightness of only 93 nits at 50% of the brightness bar while the Prime has 211 nits. Also, given the change of this parameter I will no longer be including battery test results from past reviews.
The following are the test conditions for the three tests. Note that the display is calibrated to 150 nits which is 40% of the Prime's brightness bar for all tests and that the battery has been calibrated prior to testing:
- Looping video - a 1 1/2 hour 720p H.264 video is played on loop until the battery level reaches 20%. Hardware decoding is used for the video and software decoding is used for audio. Earphones are plugged and volume is set to maximum.
- 3D gaming - a graphics-intensive 3D game is run on loop until the battery level reaches 20%. Built-in loudspeaker is used and volume is set to 50%.
Battery Test - Results
5 hours 6 minutes
4 hours 12 minutes
3 hours 25 minutes
As expected, the Prime's processor is very frugal as can be seen from the 3D gaming test. Whereas most phones with this battery capacity would drain out in 2 hours or less of 3D gaming, the Prime manages nearly 3 1/2 hours. You can most likely eek out over 4 hours if you fully drain the battery and if you use earphones and brightness settings even lower than what I used. Fully draining the battery is NOT a good idea though. However, the large 5.0" IPS display takes a toll on the relatively small 1,700 mAh battery, producing only average results compared to other devices in this price segment in the video playback and wifi browsing battery test, producing a little over 5 and 4 hours respectively which means that the biggest drain on this device is the display, not the processor.
Standby time is very good and the phone drained less than 5% of the battery bar over the period of 12 hours with a single SIM. This includes an occasional peek at the screen for notifications. In actual use, I can easily get over 4 hours of screen time on a single charge even with heavy use on lower brightness settings. While I'm upset that the display is power hungry and that the Prime could've had at least a 2,000 mAh battery given its size, I still say that its overall battery performance is decent for real world use.
Charging time with the stock 1A charge takes around 1 hour 45 minutes to charge from 20% to full while the device is on standby.
Just like the other MediaTek devices I've reviewed recently with the MTK6582, the Prime is primarily a bright source. It's best paired with bass-centric or V-shaped listening gear that's geared towards the lows. Unlike the previous MediaTeks I reviewed, the treble on the Prime is smooth with a more neutral, but slightly cold sound signature. Mids are pronounced though despite the slightly cold quality of both bass and treble.
Power output is plentiful, perhaps a little too much even especially when you consider that you could raise the output even more through the Mediatek engineering menu. The maximum value is 160 and the default value on the Prime is 148. This makes it a good pair with headphones. My only issue is with IEMs, where maximum volume on introduces unwanted noise and distortions. I find this hardly an issue though as 3 or 2 clicks below the maximum volume is already very loud on most IEMs. There's also a little crosstalk at very high volumes, close to maximum, although most people will hardly notice this.
The Prime is far from being a quality audio player, but less discerning people will find it good enough considering majority of IEMs these days are focused on pumping out thumping bass, and the bass-lite Prime makes a good partner.
Lastly, the Prime is not CTIA compliant. This means that headsets (earphones or headphones with an inline microphone) that work on the iPhone and newer Android phones from major brands (phones from Samsung, Sony, LG, etc. made 2012 or later) will NOT work on the Prime as there is a connection mismatch on the 3.5 mm jack. Both my Apple EarBuds and my Note 3's stock headset didn't work properly on the Prime.
The Prime is equipped with your standard single-band WiFi a, b, g and n. It also has Bluetooth 3.0, WiFi direct, and can also be used as a portable hotspot. Its dual SIM cellular radio is quad band and cover the following GSM frequencies: 850 Mhz, 900 Mhz, 1800 Mhz and 1900 Mhz.
The biggest sin of the Prime is that it only has 2G radio which means its fastest mobile connection is EDGE, where you can expect speeds up to around 50 KBps only. This is very unappealing to people who use their mobile data very frequently, and it's a shame because the Prime's 5.0" display is very good for browsing even full-sized desktop webpages. To offset this speed deficit, it is advised to use a browser like Opera which has an "off-road mode" that compresses up to 90% of data sent to your phone. Personally, I found it to be a life-saver for web browsing on the Prime as pages load reasonably fast on EDGE. However, watching YouTube videos with quality set to higher than 240p leads to endless buffering time on EDGE. To enjoy internet on the Prime, you're forced to use wifi.
Wifi performance is average on the Prime in terms of range and signal strength. Although the signal strength does fluctuate with physical obstructions, it can handle one or two walls at close range (<6 meters) or one wall at longer range (<10 meters) without dropping it entirely, which is okay I believe.
Aside from the light sensor taking forever to adjust brightness, I do have two other quirks with the Prime. One is that while a proximity sensor is present, it doesn't turn off the display when you put the phone to your ear when answering a call. Two is an annoying issue after rooting the device. Rooting the Prime is very easy if you have a PC, as all you'll need is Root Genius. When root access is available, the Prime displays a "System is modified. Please contact manufacturer." every time you open the open the lockscreen. The good part is, the Prime does not need to be rooted for you to put apps on the SD card. You can select whether you want apps installed on the internal memory or the SD card. In my time with the Prime, I barely used the internal memory because everything is installed on the SD card.
In terms of special features or included software, the Prime doesn't have much like most phones in this price segment. The Prime does have a mildly modified launcher which has nice, changeable themes, but still doesn't look as clean as the stock Android launcher. It also does not have USB OTG which means you cannot connect things like flash drives, keyboards and controllers.
Call quality is good, with good noise dampening on both ends of the line despite the lack of a secondary noise cancellation mic. The biggest surprise though is how loud the loudspeaker is, especially on higher pitched noises. Normally smartphones aren't very loud and a common complaint compared to feature phones would be that they sometimes can't hear the phone ring in their pockets. When using simpler ringtones, the Prime can be easily heard in the pocket even in noisy environments.
GPS first time lock performance is underwhelming, seeing only two satellites in 3 minutes whereas other MediaTek devices I've tested before would've already locked in with 5 or 6 satellites in view. With internet enabled, either by wifi or mobile data, the A-GPS was able to help the Prime get a fresh lock in 1 minute 23 seconds. Subsequent lock ins within the next few hours of a fresh lock take anywhere between 5 to 20 seconds, even without A-GPS.
The SKK Mobile Prime does some things right, some things wrong, and some just as expected. First, the rights: it has a large, gorgeous 5" FWVGA IPS display. Aside from the large size which usually comes with a price premium, it's also possibly the best display you can buy for under 3,000 Php at the moment. The build and styling of the Prime is something to brag about. It's thin, sleek and surprisingly classy -- unlike the small, chubby, toy-like phones you usually get for the same money. As for things that went awfully wrong, I can only say that the Prime could've been a big hit if it didn't screw up on two things: One, it only has 2G cellular radio. The Prime's nice, big display is great for web browsing and other internet-enabled content, and it's a real downer it doesn't have at 3G data to keep you hooked on the go. That means you'll be dependent on wifi. Two, it only does VGA video recording at 15 FPS. In an age where social media has given citizens nearly the same reach as traditional media outlets, it would be shameful to have an opportunity at a scoop only for it to be rendered useless because of how bad the quality is.
While the Prime is not a definite upgrade in all criterias, and in most of them, it's actually not any better than other phones in its price segment, it does have exemplary qualities that people look for. These are qualities you usually never have in this segment. It's a looker of a phone, and its design and thickness (thinness, rather) doesn't send vibes that this is an el cheapo device. For the casual gamer, it provides 4 hours of fun on a single charge and gaming on the Prime is a treat thanks to the big, beautiful screen that looks great from every angle.
Its main compromise is clear: it doesn't have fast mobile internet, just wifi. It's a huge compromise for many, but the trade off is fair since you get a display, size and build that's not available in this price segment. Sometimes, a cheap, nice looking phone is just what people want. Nice to look at, nice to use, and nice on the wallet. If you can somehow rely on just wifi to cover your internet needs, the SKK Mobile Prime is the entry-level smartphone to get.
+ Big, gorgeous 5.0" IPS display is possibly the best display at this price at the moment
+ Sleek, classy design is provides hints of luxury; also ergonomically well designed
+ Great endurance for gaming
+ Loud loudspeaker
+ Can install applications directly on the SD card
- Lacks 3G connectivity rendering the user dependent on a fast wifi connection for bandwidth intensive tasks
- Video recording maxes out at 640x480 resolution at 15 FPS
- Proximity sensor doesn't turn off screen when you put the phone on your face during a phone call
- Equipped with the MTK6572M, the 'lite' version of the already entry-level MTK6572 processor
SKK Mobile Prime Specs
5.0" FWVGA IPS Display, 854x480 resolution
1.3GHz Mediatek MTK6572M dual core processor
512 MB of RAM
4 GB of ROM, with micro SD slot expandable up to 32GB
5 megapixel rear camera with LED flash
VGA front camera
Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0, GPS
1,700 mAh Baterry
Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean
SRP: 2,999 Php
This section will be continuously updated in the future. Here, I'll include phones that compete best with the SKK Mobile Prime.
MyPhone Rio Fun
Current price: 2,999 Php
MyPhone's Rio Fun competes directly with the SKK Mobile Prime as both have a 2,999 Php price tag, relatively big 5.0" display and are similarly spec'ed. Both are also dual SIM and lack 3G connectivity. The Prime does have a distinct advantages though. The TN panel on the Rio Fun is vastly inferior to the IPS display on the Prime, and its 512 MB ROM is much smaller than the 4 GB ROM on the Prime. Lastly, the Rio Fun does not have GPS functionality. It's the closest phone to the Prime, if only by virtue of display size. But the Rio Fun is clearly outclassed in every department by the Prime.