This is the first time we’re reviewing a Vernee smartphone on TechRadar Pro. The Chinese mobile manufacturer may be one of the smaller players, but it’s a big fish in that particular pond, with a prominent presence at this year’s Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona.
Amongst the dozen or so smartphones that the company currently produces is one that caught our eye earlier this year. The Active is Vernee’s flagship model and comes with some shockingly impressive hardware specifications – especially in this price bracket.
The Vernee Active reminded us of an old favorite, the Motorola Razr M from 2012. It has a curved front screen that rises above the protective bumper by a fraction of a millimeter, and is actually curvier at the back, giving the illusion that it’s thinner than it really is. Vernee refers to it as a double 2.5D curve design.
The back, however, is a dead ringer for the aforementioned Motorola smartphone. It uses the same material (Kevlar) and has the same pattern as the Razr M. An aluminum alloy and TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane) frame with six sides, four corners and reinforced screws ensures that the device is not only light, but also shock-resistant.
The fascia has a single front-facing camera with dedicated capacitive buttons, something that shaves off a few millimeters from the screen diagonal, as this is real-estate that can’t be used by the OS for display. On the left is the SIM/microSD tray and a smart button, while the right side hosts a volume rocker and the power button.
The speaker and a USB Type-C connector are located at the bottom of the phone, while on the top you’ll find the headphone jack. Both input ports are located behind removable flaps. The fingerprint sensor and the rear camera sensor (with a flash LED) can be found at the back of the device.
At 157 x 80 x 11.2mm with a weight of just under 200g, it is a well-built smartphone with a lot of character and a premium feel. It’s surprisingly streamlined for an IP68-rated device with a 5.5-inch display.
As with most super-smartphones from China, this one is powered by a Helio P25 (MediaTek MT6757CD) processor with 6GB of RAM, a staggering 128GB of on-board storage and a 5.5-inch Full HD JDI in-cell display covered with Gorilla Glass.
There are a couple of points to note: the cameras are 13-megapixel and 5-megapixel respectively, interpolating to 16-megapixel and 8-megapixel. The device supports dual SIM, dual standby and a microSD card, though not all three at the same time.
As expected, it comes with 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 and a dual navigation system. NFC is a surprising addition, but one that has become more common in recent times, at least in more expensive models.
The Active runs Android 7.1 with Vernee’s very own VOS overlay – this adds some interesting features like a pop-up wheel that delivers shortcuts, including one that starts an extreme power saving mode which extends the phone’s life to 620 hours (essentially turning it into an expensive feature phone). A fast charger (9V2A) will provide up to 87% of the battery’s capacity in an hour.
The screen of the Active was bright enough even in daylight, and we didn’t encounter any lag or sluggishness in our tests. All in all, the Active performed as well as other handsets that use the same hardware combination, as you would expect.
There are plenty of rivals in this arena like the Doogee S60, the Ulefone Armor 2, the AGM X2 and the BlackView BV9000 Pro, all of which (bar the last one) are in our best rugged smartphone of 2018 roundup.
The AGM X2 is the most expensive of the lot, but it’s also the phone with the most spectacular set of features including dual rear cameras and a VOCC detector, while the Armor 2 is the next cheapest of this group of top-notch rugged smartphones.
The Active possesses something that other competitors in the same price bracket don’t have – namely style. It is one of the few rugged smartphones that doesn’t actually feel ‘rugged’, but more like a normal handset. It is particularly well designed and whoever chose to use Kevlar for the rear cover deserves a pat on the back.
Vernee has managed to deliver a balanced solution for a niche market. The Active has all the features you’d expect from a mid-range smartphone – except for the price tag which is ridiculously low for a device with 6GB of system memory and 128GB on-board storage.
The only suggestion we’d have for the design team, looking to the next iteration, would be to push the screen surface further inside, in order to better prevent any potential damage when the smartphone falls on a hard surface and lands on its front.
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