Mar 2, 2018

Blackview S6 Hands-on Review - Philippines

We take a good look at a really strong contender for an entry-level king, the Blackview S6.

When it comes to value in smartphones, it's normal to look to Chinese brands like Xiaomi and Vivo to find some really great deals. Thanks to the strong manufacturing industry in China, Chinese brands are able to offer smartphones with top-notch hardware at very competitive prices. Joining this echelon of ultra-competitive smartphones is Hong Kong-based Blackview, a smartphone company looking to really make a statement in the segment. Today we review the Blackview S6, a smartphone that costs under USD 100 but manages to pack in an impressive array of features and capabilities.

At that price, the Blackview S6 will be competing with a slew of competitors in a very crowded segment, but as you'll see it's very well-equipped to stand out from the crowd. It'll come up against phones like the Nokia 2, the Samsung Galaxy J2 Prime, the Motorola Moto E4, the Vivo Y53, and the Cherry Mobile Desire R7. Can the Blackview S6 offer the best value in this segment? Let's find out.

About Blackview

Blackview is the second largest independent brand in the Blackview International Group. Focusing on affordable smartphones that pack cutting edge hardware beyond what you'd expect, Blackview is making a name for itself in the mobile device segment. Founded in March 2013 by serial entrepreneur David Xu, Blackview advocates that quality doesn't need to cost a fortune.

Blackview pushes for "quality and experience," and their slogan is "Smartphone for everyone." The company adheres to an extremely high standard of design and quality, carefully sifting through each step of the procedure from design to production in order to create a quality smartphone that will provide users the best customer experience.

The Unboxing

The Blackview S6 arrived in the mail with its usual clean white box. It's a small, minimalistic design with nothing but the Blackview branding on the sides and on the top. A faint brick wall-like pattern can be seen on the front if you look closely enough, but the clean design doesn't hint at what's inside the box until you look at the bottom, where you see the fine print in the languages of the countries that Blackview operates in, spanning from Russia to the Ukraine, Italy and Spain, Germany, Malaysia and the Philippines. The model and make is at the bottom, letting you know this box contains the Blackview S6, with Android 7.0 Nougat out of the box and a few other specifications.

Inside you'll find a cardboard insert holding the phone in place. The phone comes with a sticker to protect the screen during shipment, but the box also comes with a tempered glass screen protector and a soft plastic bubble-style case. Lifting the insert gives you access to the 2,000mAh charger and cable underneath, along with an in-ear headset with a microphone for calls. While the IEM is nothing to write home about and has a thin cable, the USB cable is actually USB 3.0 with the blue-tipped plug and has a nice, thick cable that is reassuring in terms of durability.

The Design

Moving to the phone itself, it features the typical Blackview design at this price range, with a smooth powdered metal frame flanked by a plastic rear cover and a large display. It's a classic look, but Blackview chose to embellish the rear cover with a textured geometric design to add some class to the phone. The power button and volume rocker are lined up on the right side of the phone, leaving the left side smooth and unbroken. There are two antenna lines each on the top and bottom sides, sitting in an unobtrusive space, while the bottom end is clean except for two dotted speaker grills and a microphone. The microUSB port has been relocated to the top of the device, which is a good design call and I find it much more convenient, especially when you are propping the phone up on a stand and using it while charging. The headphone jack is right beside the USB port. The phone is 9.7 millimeters thick and is 155mm x 73mm in dimension, and it weights a relatively hefty 217grams, which gives it a solid feel in hand.

The front of the device sports the first big selling point of the S6: a 5.7-inch HD+ IPS display. You wouldn't expect it at this price, but the screen is bold, very bright and has great viewing angles. Even with the brightness set low the screen puts out a lot of light, making it very easy to use even in full daylight outdoors.

The 1440 x 720 resolution doesn't sound like much in a world of quad HD smartphones, but the screen is sharp and detailed, and I never felt like it was lacking in definition or resolution, even with the large display. Even better, it's an 18:9 wide aspect ratio display, keeping up with the trendiest screen size of 2017, and the extra screen real estate is great for seeing more on the screen. The screen tends to a little more on the cooler side of the spectrum, and has a more bluish tint compared to warmer displays like you'd find on a Samsung AMOLED panel.

A blue notification LED is found at the upper left corner, which lights up during charging and when notifications come in. The earpiece grill is right in the center above the screen, and the selfie camera is to the right. There are no light sensors here so you'll need to make adjustments to the screen brightness manually.

Looking at the rear of the phone, there is a small slit on lower left corner of the back plate, which allows you to pry the back off like an old school Nokia phone. Opening it reveals why the phone has such a heft: you see a massive 4,000mAh battery nested inside. On top of it are the ports for the SIM card as well as a microSD slot, should you find the onboard storage insufficient.

Lastly, you can find the dual cameras on the upper left, with dual LED flash and a fingerprint scanner situated conveniently near the top, in just the right spot for your index finger. The fingerprint scanner is pretty fast and reliable, and once your fingers are registered they quickly unlock the phone without any fuss.

We received the black unit, but the Blackview S6 comes in three colors: Magic Black, Platinum Gold and Aurora Silver. Each one is tastefully-designed and they all look great, although I'm still partial towards either the black or the gold colors. The Aurora Silver version has black bezels, which break from the overall color white color scheme so keep that in mind when choosing a color.

The Specifications and Performance

Inside the S6 is a MediaTek MT6737 processor, which is a fast, snappy processor and par for the course at this segment. You'll find that it's more than enough to take on the usual smartphone tasks, and it can even handle some light 3D games with the Mali-T720 GPU. Don't expect too much out of it, but the S6 manages to score 30,775 on the AnTuTu V6 benchmark, which is enough to run some light games at a good clip. Flagship devices score well over 100,000, with the iPhone 8 series even hitting 200,000, but for a phone that you can buy for under PHP 6,000 this score is pretty good.

The phone has 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage, and when coupled with the quad-core MT6737 at 1.3Ghz you have a phone that operates really well. In daily use, I tend to keep around five apps open at any given point, including Facebook, Messenger Lite, Viber, Chrome, the camera app, and Gmail. Sometimes I leave Spotify open in the background, and I might open up Instagram to put in a happy post. The S6 is more than capable of handling this kind of load without any problem, and the phone was fast, responsive and other than a few minor hiccups opening some unoptimized website on Chrome, I never felt like I was wading through sluggish molasses while using the phone.

The biggest thing you'll need to get used to with these new-fangled 18:9 widescreen phones is the lack of the physical buttons on the bottom. While many of us are used to this kind of operation on tablets, it's different when you're using a smartphone you hold in just one hand. You need to constantly swipe up from the bottom to reveal the software buttons you need to get back to the home screen, or to switch tabs. It certainly isn't that big a deal, but it was more inconvenient than I would have expected. You get used to it fairly quickly, but it's something common to many of 2018's phones moving forward.

The Android installation on the S6 is very vanilla, and I attribute the snappy operation of the phone to this clean version of Android. Swiping down from the top of the screen reveals the notification bars and the control panel where you can change the brightness, turn on Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, check the battery, and switch on Location Services or the LED flashlight, put on Do Not Disturb and Airplane mode, switch screen orientation, create a WiFi hotspot, and enter the phone configuration menu.

Two things I don't always see on other devices are LiveDisplay and Adobe Captivate. LiveDisplay feature which allows you to control the RGB balance of the screen, and set Day and Night mode profiles for the display. Adobe Captivate allows you to capture whatever is on screen easily.

Camera Quality

When it comes to choosing smartphones, people tend to be very picky about how good the camera is. The Blackview S6 offers a capable 5-megapixel camera for selfies, and a duo of two cameras at the back with a main 8-megapixel lens at f/2.0 aperture and a widescreen 0.3-megapixel secondary lens for wide angle support. The rear camera has a dual-LED flash, but in general the phone is not very good at taking shots in low-light conditions.

In broad daylight, the phone can take some pretty impressive shots. While the phone's cameras aren't going to match the quality of a more expensive mid-range or flagship device, you can take some really good photos if you have a steady hand and pay careful attention to lighting. That said, I would rely more on the rear cameras than the front camera.

Here are some images from the selfie camera. The front camera tends to over expose and doesn't do well in overly-bright conditions. Yet at the same time it has trouble focusing in low-light conditions and comes out blurry indoors. I am not sure if there was a software issue with the front camera, but I generally couldn't get a good shot with it no matter what I did. This is surprising because my hands-on review wtih the Blackview A7 some time back managed some better shots, though they were still pretty mediocre. All in all, I would take a pass on shooting selfies with the S6 unless absolutely necessary.

The rear cameras on the other hand are much more capable. Under normal indoor lighting conditions, they managed to take some sharp images. The camera tends to be cool, and doesn't capture a lot of warmth in the image, so do keep that in mind. If the lighting isn't very good, you need to make sure to keep a steady hand, or the image will not come out sharp.

Here is a shot taken in poor low-light conditions indoors. You can still manage some really good subject photography with a steady hand. This image was shot inside a dimly-lit room with poor lighting.

Here's another shot in an even more dimly-lit room. Even in these conditions the camera is still able to keep up and produce passable shots on small objects.

Here's a food shot in less-than-ideal lighting conditions at a mall's cafeteria.

Taking shots outdoors was a mixed bag. In dimmer light like during the afternoon, the shots aren't that impressive.

But around noontime or mid-morning you can get some nice images.

Taking shots at night is a no-no, unless you have a good source of lighting. Here's a night shot with some decent lighting. Even with the light, you can see the image tends to overexpose around the bright light and it muddies up the image.

Under really poor lighting conditions, all you get is a black image with bad detail and lots of artifacts, so you'll need to take your night shots with careful attention to composition.

Finally, you can do some really impressive product photography if you have some good lighting. Here are decently lit shot taken indoors.

Standard setting with and without flash
Bokeh effect setting with and without flash
Bokeh effect and standard setting without flash

One of my peeves with the phone's camera is the lack of proper controls. The S6 doesn't have exposure control for the cameras unless you go inside the camera settings, meaning it's more difficult to get the right shots because you can't adjust the exposure of the shots at the same time see the adjustments. This seems unusual given that the Blackview A7 had exposure controls whle using the camera app, but even without them you can still take some really good images as you can see from the gallery.

Conclusion

After two weeks with the phone, I can say that the Blackview S6 exceeds my expectations for a sub-USD 100 phone. It was a pleasure using the large 18:9 display, something that you'd have to pay in the PHP 20,000 or more range last year. Today, manufacturers like Blackview give us that special ultra-widescreen experience at a fraction of the cost. In a segment where it's still very common to have low-resolution tiny 4-inch 480p displays, the screen on the Blackview S6 is a true winner. You'd normally have to pay twice or thrice as much for a display like this on a rival like the OPPO A83 or the Vivo V7.

The battery life was really good, and the phone went on like a champ for two days before I needed to charge. I even used the phone as a reference unit running several apps for a tabletop RPG game and used it all day without needing to take a break for the charge, with heavy use running through the information. It's a great phone for anyone on a budget, and it would definitely make any child happy, as long as they didn't worship at the Church of Apple.

If you are the type to keep two phones, this could help cover that other phone you use on your significant other's phone network while you keep your own original post-paid line. With its very capable dual-main camera, vibrant screen and snappy performance, the Blackview S6 is a great choice for anyone looking for value in their device, whether you use it as your main phone, a backup or secondary phone, or a phone for the kids.

You can buy the Blackview S6 from AliExpress.com, and you can also check for more listings available locally from Priceprice.com.

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