Vernee Apollo Lite review
This review marks our first dealings with Vernee, a Chinese vendor whose products are available to UK customers through GearBest, and so far we're pleasantly surprised. The Apollo Lite is a slimmed-down version of its Apollo flagship, a 2K-screen phone it says was built for VR, but which we believe is not yet actually on sale. The Apollo Lite isn't in quite the same territory, but it does offer very good value at this price point. Also see: Best Chinese phones 2016
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Vernee Apollo Lite review: UK price and availability
The Apollo Lite is available to UK consumers through GearBest. Although you will pay a little more upfront for doing so, we would recommend you buy from the EU- rather than Chinese warehouse, because you won't be liable for import duty when it arrives in the UK and so there won't be any nasty surprises.
The phone is currently on promotion at £160.33 ($199.99), but do note that prices can fluctuate daily at grey-market sites such as this. Read up on the pros and cons of buying grey-market tech before you take the plunge.
An advantage of buying a phone in this way is that it comes SIM-free, so you can use it on whichever UK network you like. The Vernee Apollo Lite supports all 4G bands used in the UK, so cellular connectivity should not be an issue. You might like to pair the Apollo Lite with one of the deals listed in our Best SIM deals article. Also see: Best budget phones 2016
Vernee Apollo Lite review: Design and build
For a budget smartphone the Vernee Apollo Lite's build is mostly good. Although the bezels at top and bottom are rather thick at the sides they are slim, and this paired with a gently curved rear means this 5.5in-screen phablet doesn't feel too large in the hand.
Buying a phone at this price point in the UK will usually mean buying a plastic phone, and sometimes these can feel fragile and toy-like. Vernee says the Apollo Lite has a unibody metal build, and though that's not strictly true it does have a metal frame and rear panel. We love the colouring of our Space Grey review sample (also available in Moonlight Silver), and the metal parts at least feel strong and well made. It's the bits that join the metal with the plastic that are less to our liking.
Whereas these days you might see white stripes at the top and bottom of a unibody metal phone's rear, Vernee instead employs plastic caps at top and bottom to improve the cellular signal. Unfortunately the join between metal and plastic is not flush, and grime will more than likely creep into the gap between the two. See all smartphone reviews
The join between the metal edges and plastic front is also very obvious. It's a shame, because with its chamfered metal edges and 2.5D curved glass screen the end result should feel smooth as you run your finger over the lip of the screen. A plastic rim here spoils that effect for the Apollo Lite.
The Apollo Lite is also on the chunky side for a 2016 phablet at 9.2mm thick, though those chamfered edges make it appear slimmer. It weighs in at a substantial 175g.
Hope is not lost, though: the Apollo Lite has lots in its favour on the design front. While it's only a mono speaker hiding below, we like the symmetrical effect of the twin speaker cutouts either side of the phone's bottom-facing USB-C port. This is a better setup than many a budget phone that places the speaker on the rear of the device, right where sound will be muffled by the palm. Also see: Best smartphones 2016
More interestingly, that USB-C port supports digital audio, which means you can use it for listening to audio. Unlike Apple, though, it hasn't removed the standard headphone jack which sits at the other end of the phone, so you can connect whatever type of headphones you like. Unfortunately we don't have a pair of USB-C headphones in the office with which to try it, and none are supplied in the box, but in theory the fact that you don't have to again convert the digital audio stored on the phone for playback through an analogue headphone jack should result in less compression and better quality.
On the rear is a 16Mp Samsung camera with dual-LED flash, and a fingerprint scanner sitting just below. We like this positioning because it falls naturally under your index finger as you pick up the phone, and it means the front can be left clean without a physical home button in which to house the scanner. You can wake up and immediately begin using the Apollo Lite with this fingerprint scanner, and in our tests we found it worked well.
At the top left edge are two SIM trays, with one used for either microSD (up to 128GB) or a Nano-SIM, and the other a Micro-SIM; the Apollo Lite operates in dual-standby mode. Although it might look less attractive from the outside, we prefer the use of separate SIM trays because it is easier to insert and hold into place just the one card at a time.
Lastly we come to the screen, a generously sized 5.5in panel that we found to offer plenty of detail and good colours, which should make it a good companion for games and video. This is a Sharp IGZO IPS panel with strong viewing angles, and it doesn't place too much strain on the battery. We're not at all surprised by the phone's full-HD resolution of 1920x1080 pixels, and we found text and images to be sufficiently clear. Also see: Best mid-range phones 2016
Next page: Vernee Apollo Lite performance, cameras, software and verdict