IMO S budget smartphone review

While there are many excellent high-end smartphones on the market making buying decisions tricky, the budget smartphone purchase is also not an easy choice. There are many, many mid-to-low range smartphones vying for our attention these days, and there are some that stand out in the way they successfully balance value and performance.

Virgin Media has teamed up with a subsidiary of its own parent company Verve Connect, a young smartphone brand called IMO, which does actually stand for ‘in my opinion’. The opinion seems to be that the UK market needs another affordable smartphone.

The IMO S is a pay monthly price plan, higher spec model released at the same time as the (even more) budget, pay-as-you-go-only IMO Q. We have been using the IMO S to see if it can stand up to budget smartphones like the Moto E or the Vodafone Smart Prime 7.

IMO S budget smartphone review: Price and where to buy

The IMO S is available for free on a contract with Virgin Media, and can be bought outright for £99.99 from Amazon. At the time of writing Virgin advertises the IMO S for £8.50 per month, which is slightly misleading. It’s available at this price, but the contract gives you only 250 minutes, unlimited texts and 250MB data. If you want a more realistic plan of 5,000 minutes, unlimited texts and 3GB data it’ll set you back £16.50, which is still good value.

At present the phone is only available on contract through Virgin Media, to both new and existing customers, thanks to IMO’s exclusive deal with the operator. Bear in mind that the handset will be locked to Virgin Media’s network if you decide to buy.

IMO S budget smartphone review: Design and build

The IMO S has the look and feel you’d expect for an affordable piece of tech; it’s weighty, a few shades of black and grey, and actually a tad sturdier than you’d expect. It measures 143.6 x 72 x 9.0mm, and while the iPhone 6s for example is 7.1mm thick, that extra 1.9mm coupled with the stubby design of the IMO S makes it feel infinitely less refined (but it does cost £400 less). It’s much more akin to phones in the same price range, like the Moto E, which is 8.6mm thick.

The 5in screen of the IMO S is surrounded by a normal sized bezel, with normal grey edges to he removable plastic back that snaps on and off the phone to reveal the SIM slot and removable battery. The menu, home and back keys are capacitive buttons under the screen on the lower bezel, with the back key on the right like on Samsung phones, and unlike most Android devices.

So far, so normal. We were struck with just how simple the IMO S is; black, 5in screen, plain back, central camera on the rear, headphone jack on the top, micro USB. If you described the typical modern smartphone to someone who’d never seen one before, this is probably what they would imagine.

There’s a front facing camera with (surprisingly) a flash, and a rear camera with one too, as you’d hope for on a smartphone in 2016, and it’s good to see on a sub-£100 handset.

In the same way, the right edge houses the power/lock button and the volume rocker, while the bottom edge has the microphone, speaker and micro USB port. Weirdly, the bottom edge has two six-pip speaker grills, but only one has a speaker behind it. If you snap the rear casing off, you can see one apparent speaker grill is just a dummy. This is odd, and we’re not sure if this means IMO is trying to make it look like the phone has two speakers or if they’ve just settled for the flaw somewhere in the manufacturing process. Either way, it’s messy and misleading, even if we are nit picking.

It’s not that the IMO S is a badly designed phone, but when you play it this safe it’s hard to get excited about it. Granted, phones like the Moto E or are similarly plain, but the brand affiliation those handsets carry counts for something, leaving the IMO S a purely functional addition to the low end of the smartphone world.

IMO S budget smartphone review: Display

The IMO S has a 5in HD IPS display and the company boasts ‘178 degree viewing angles’. In fairness to the device, the screen is actually sharper than we expected from the spec sheet, and when you zoom into text, the pixilation is pleasingly minimal. This equates to a resolution of 1280 x 720 and coupled with the Android Marshmallow 6.0 OS, apps display in much the same way they do on high-end devices.

In terms of day-to-day use though, the display does fall down slightly. On more occasions than we care to note the touchscreen was unresponsive to taps, even though scrolling wasn’t a problem. Selecting different icons reminded us of problems with the old-style resistive screens of early touchscreen devices that really did require pressure, and there shouldn't be problems like this on a modern capacitive screen.

There’s no anti-smudge coating on the screen either, so it’s incredible how much fingerprints show up on it.

IMO S budget smartphone review: Hardware, specs and performance

The IMO S shows its weaknesses further when you look at its specs. It has just 1.5GB RAM coupled with a low-end MediaTek MT6735P processor. In normal use, for low-end task like texting, simple web browsing and basic apps like Facebook Messenger, BBC News and Twitter it is fine. However, wade into video playback or media intensive apps like Snapchat and the response times slow somewhat.

You also won’t be able to fit too many apps on the phone, as it’s only available with 16GB of storage, which equates to 10.59GB available to the user. It has a microSD slot for expandable memory, but only up to an additional 32GB will work.

If you’re looking for a budget smartphone though, chances are that excellent performance isn’t at the top of your wish list. The IMO S is perfectly adequate for everyday tasks but if you’re after lightning quick speeds, you should be considering a smartphone closer to the accepted ‘midrange’ like the lower tier Samsung Galaxy phones like the A3 and J3.

IMO S budget smartphone review: Camera

Unfortunately the camera is where, for us at least, we found the IMO S to be inadequate.We tested a pre-production model so will test the full version as soon as we have one in hand.

While we accept that some individual phones ship with defects, it seems ours had one. Maybe it was because it was a pre-production unit. We will be sure to test a proper one to see if this was just an unfortunate one-off. When using the rear facing 8Mp camera, the screen of our review unit showed interference, as though there were loose internal connections causing vertical flickering lines when using it as a viewfinder.

It happened especially when the camera was launched before usually subsiding, but this is unacceptable for any modern smartphone. Hopefully this is exclusive to our review unit, but it doesn’t bode well. There’s no real way for you to make sure your potential IMO S is affected by this same bug, so that really mars our overall opinion of the phone. Having said that, the below images taken don't show any interference and are actually quite good - which makes it all that much more frustrating. 

There is also a front-facing camera and while didn’t experience the same problem, its 5Mp aren’t much to write home about. It was fine for grainy Skype calls, but the quality for selfies wasn’t great, making it all the more strange that there’s a front facing flash, something rarely seen on even the most expensive smartphones.

IMO S budget smartphone review: Software and apps

The IMO S runs Android Marshmallow 6.0 as very near to the stock Android experience. This is a good thing for budget smartphones, as often the best way to attempt to replicate the positive experience of a high-end device is to mirror its software on cheaper hardware.

At the moment many Android phones are without Android Nougat 7.0, so it’s normal that the IMO S has version 6.0. It barely changes the stock Android experience, with the notification menu and app tray like they appear on Google’s Nexus phones. Google apps are well integrated, and there’s full access to the Play Store for apps, games, music and more.

Verve Connect IMO S: Specs

  • Android Marshmallow 6.0
  • 5in 1280x720 HD IPS display
  • 1.GHz MediaTek MT6735P quad-core processor
  • 1.5GB RAM
  • 16GB storage with microSD up to 32GB
  • 8Mp main camera, dual LED flash
  • 5Mp front-facing camera, single LED flash
  • 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 4G LTE
  • Nano-SIM
  • GPS
  • 1950mAh removable battery
  • 143.6x72x9.0mm
  • Android Marshmallow 6.0
  • 5in 1280x720 HD IPS display
  • 1.GHz MediaTek MT6735P quad-core processor
  • 1.5GB RAM
  • 16GB storage with microSD up to 32GB
  • 8Mp main camera, dual LED flash
  • 5Mp front-facing camera, single LED flash
  • 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 4G LTE
  • Nano-SIM
  • GPS
  • 1950mAh removable battery
  • 143.6x72x9.0mm

OUR VERDICT

As far as affordable smartphones go, the IMO S gets it right by running close to stock Android, letting you enjoy a wealth of apps and content for as little as £8.50 per month. In terms of performance though the camera fault is unacceptable; we will test another production unit to see if our test sample was not up to scratch. Also be warned that it is quite underpowered, and the SIM-free price of £99.99 is a bit too steep. If you really want to spend £100 or less on a smartphone, you should consider the Vodafone Smart Prime 7 or Moto E, as they are better performers with an RRP of £80 each.

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