Ausdroid put’s ALDI’s low-cost 4″ smartphone to the test.
This year, 2013, has seen the launch of some fantastic smartphones. So far, we’ve seen the Sony Xperia Z, Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One as the real class-leaders, and Ausdroid has reviewed each of them in depth, and even done a large comparison of each of these three super-phones.
However these three phones had (at the time of launch, at least) one factor that really countered against them for many, many people. That’s the cost. These three smartphones launched with price tags measured in hundreds — the HTC One and Galaxy S4 were each over $800 at launch, and still remain highly priced.
Android can certainly be enjoyed on these devices, but not everyone can afford them. So, from time to time, we like to look at the other end of the market and check out what bang you can get for fewer bucks. Low price smartphones usually mean low quality, performance and generally poor smartphones, but this isn’t always so. Sometimes a gem sneaks by and manages to surprise.
Herewith, the Medion 4″ Smartphone (E4002) sold through ALDI stores nationally. Coming in at a miserly $149, you could be forgiven for thinking that this phone doesn’t deserve to be removed from the box, much less purchased and reviewed by Ausdroid. However, you’d be wrong. We’ve seen in the past that ALDI has released some stonkingly good products at stupidly low prices, and while there are some downfalls (which we’ll discuss in this review), there is also the opportunity to get some great product for not much coin.
We’ve had a play with the Medion 4″ (which we’ll be calling it from now on), and frankly, we’re pretty impressed.
- Low cost – at $149, anyone can afford this.
- 4″ screen is big enough and bright enough.
- Dual SIM means you can have the best of two worlds.
- Just about stock Android experience — very few changes.
- MicroSD slot allows for 32gb expansion — great.
- Comes with a printed instruction manual — great for first time users.
- Android 4.1 only, and not likely to be updated.
- Battery is 1500 mAh, not all that large.
- Screen visibility varies wildly by viewing angle
- Tiny internal storage — not much room for apps at all.
- CPU: 1 GHz Dual Core
- Storage: 2.5 GB – 500MB system, 2GB storage
- RAM: 500MB
- Dimensions: 64 x 126 x 12 mm
- Weight: 137g
- Networks: 2G 850/900/1800/1900, 3G 850/2100
- WiFi: 802.11 b/g/n 2.4GHz
- Cameras: 5MP rear, 0.3MP front
- Screen: 4″
- Expansion: Up to 32GB MicroSD
- Battery: 1500 mAh
In terms of physical measurements, the Medion 4″ is hardly shabby. It’s a compact 64mm x 126mm and only 12mm thick, meaning it’s hardly going to be uncomfortable in pocket or hand. Weighing in at 137 grams, it’s not super heavy either — the HTC One is only a few grams heavier. Making these dimensions far more acceptable are the curved edges around the phone — unlike some phones which have rather sharp edges, making them very uncomfortable to use (we won’t mention the Xperia Z or Huawei P6 here) — the Medion 4″ has nice, smooth, rounded edges making it both very easy and very comfortable to hold. This is a noteworthy point; some lower-cost phones sacrifice this basic consideration and are stupidly uncomfortable to hold or use, and the Medion 4″ simply doesn’t suffer this problem.
Running around the edge of the handset are the power button, micro USB socket and headphone jack on top, and a volume rocker on the left. While not something we’d normally mention, on the bottom of the handset is a fingernail-size slot for removal of the back cover. The cover comes away easily, and inside you can find the 1500 mAh battery (or, the place to install it if you’ve purchased the phone from new), and three slots — two SIM slots and one MicroSD slot.
Two SIM slots? Yes. The leftmost is marked WCDMA/GSM, and this is the slot you’ll want to put your primary SIM in — the one that has the best network coverage and data inclusions basically. The secondary SIM slot is GSM-only, meaning its good for calls and SMS, and maybe a little bit of data, but not much. For me, I experimented with my primary, personal SIM in the primary slot, and my work SIM in the right slot, allowing me to send/receive work calls/messages from the one handset, but using the data features of my primary Telstra SIM for personal use.
On the front of the handset you can find surprising things such as the screen and earpiece, and (in the way of most handsets, even though Android doesn’t need it) three hardware capacitive buttons, being back, home and a menu button. A long press on the home button activates Google Now, and a long press on the menu button activates the multi-tasker.
The Medion 4″ comes with 2.5GB internal storage, however it’s partitioned in an unusual way. Only 500mb is available as ‘internal storage’, the balance is available as ‘phone storage’, which many might know as the /sdcard/ mount. What does this mean in simple terms?
Unfortunately, this means that the phone has a significant limitation. Have a look at the phone’s free space as reported by Linux’s ‘df’ utility:
Filesystem Size Used Free Blksize /dev 236M 52K 236M 4096 /mnt/asec 236M 0K 236M 4096 /mnt/obb 236M 0K 236M 4096 /system 504M 495M 8M 4096 /mnt/cd-rom 1M 1M 0K 2048 /data 503M 151M 351M 4096 /cache 503M 8M 494M 4096 /system/secro 4M 4M 868K 4096 /storage/sdcard0 2G 68M 1G 4096
Each of /cache (i.e. where your browser stores things, Play Music stores music, etc) and /data (where your apps are installed) have, at most, 503MB available. You can also see that having only removed the Medion 4″ from the box and booted it up, only 351MB of the /data partition is available to be used — this is not much, considering that a Chrome update can take up 70mb of that by itself.
You can see how the phone reports this through the settings app below, and it’s not a pretty picture:
Very quickly, you’ll find that your internal storage will run out if you install more than a handful of apps. The 2.0GB of phone storage is all well and good, but you can’t install apps on it, and this is a significant limitation.
Lights and Sound
The Medion 4″ has an internal speaker that’s perfectly serviceable for playing your ringtones and notification tones, and probably watching a YouTube video in a relatively quiet environment. However, it’s not especially loud, and (sadly) as with most smartphones, the tones are easy to miss if background noise is more than a dull roar. Plug a pair of headphones in, of course, and the audio quality is perfectly enjoyable. Volume is also more than adequate.
The Medion 4″ display is what I really should have expected in a lower-cost handset. Viewed straight on, the display is bright, responsive and doesn’t show any ghosting, jagged edges or poor performance. In fact, it’s a pretty decent screen. However, costs have been minimised here too, and they’re shown in the rather low resolution of the display (just 480×800, or 233 pixels per inch) and the rather poor viewing angles on the screen. From anything more than about 45º the display quickly washes out, whites show as greys, and text becomes very hard to read.
These aren’t show-stoppers, because even high-end phones can feature screens this uninspiring. Even the Xperia Z, Sony’s highlight of the first half of 2013, suffered this problem, but in that case, it was all the more disappointing because it was such a premium device.
The Medion 4″ is a typical quad-band GSM phone and dual-band 850/2100 3G/WCDMA phone, meaning that it will work best on Telstra, and reasonably on Vodafone and probably then Optus. At this price point, it shouldn’t be surprising that it doesn’t support 4G/LTE, but frankly, it’s not missed on this handset. Data performance is quite reasonable, and in fact unremarkable compared to other 3G handsets. Testing on Telstra showed it’s just as fast as anything else — 3G speed is like ADSL modems; they either work, or don’t, there’s just not the middle ground anymore.
Getting onto local connectivity, WiFi 802.11 b/g/n 2.4GHz is included, and is also a strong performer, reaching good signal a good distance away from my wifi router at home. Bluetooth 4.0 is also included, though I didn’t get too much of an opportunity to test this.
You can’t expect the best camera in the world for $149, and you certainly can’t expect a great camera in a $149 smartphone, but with that in mind, the 5 megapixel camera in the Medion 4″ really isn’t that bad. You can see the sample photos I’ve taken below of some things around the neighbourhood.
In particular, night photos are a bit grainy at a full crop, but for viewing on a mobile screen they’re not bad at all, and it takes a perfectly acceptable photo. I wouldn’t be using the Medion 4″ to capture life’s special moments, certainly not if I wanted to keep them for later printing or the like, but for capturing images for social networks like Facebook and Instagram, it’s great. There’s barely any shutter lag in most situations, and the camera setup makes all options easy and quick to access.
However, the camera does produce somewhat dark images, and fast moving subjects, such as young children, tend to blur up (as you can see below).
There’s also a 0.3 megapixel (VGA) front-facing camera for taking fairly ordinary selfies, or perhaps video conferencing, but I didn’t think too much of it.
I’ve become quite fond of the newer versions of Android such as 4.2.2 and 4.3 Jelly Bean, and there aren’t too many manufacturers releasing handsets featuring older versions anymore. Unfortunately, Medion is one of those manufacturers, and the 4″ comes with Android 4.1 only, and at this price point, it seems highly unlikely that it will see an update to anything beyond this. While the phone does have a software update function hidden away in the Settings app, it’s probably wishful thinking to expect Android 4.2, 4.2.2 or 4.3 for this handset. It just won’t happen.
This could, however, be a good decision, because the Medion 4″ is not the most powerful of hardware and later versions of Android might be somewhat slow. The 1 GHz dual core processor is not what I’d call fast by today’s standards, but putting expectation aside, I was pleasantly impressed by the 4″‘s performance. Screens changed quickly, swiping between home screens was fast and without stutter, and even my go-to apps (Chrome, Hangouts and Gmail) worked perfectly quick and without stutter. Hangouts did slow a little when a few conversations were happening at once, but this is as much a function of Hangouts itself (it’s slow on other devices, too) as the (relatively) slow CPU in this handset.
Out of the box, this phone comes installed with just a few apps from Medion, including an Aldi app, an AldiMobile app which allows you to check data usage etc for AldiMobile users, a Medion Outdoor Navigation app and MD Absolute. The Outdoor Navigation map uses OpenStreetMap data and makes the phone behave like a fairly intelligent GPS device, and it’s useful for things like geocaching and outdoor pursuits. It’s not something I had the opportunity to experiment much with, but this phone could certainly make a good companion for outdoor sportsmen; it’s cheap, not easily destroyed, and fairly feature rich. I’m sure Dan would love a phone like this for tough mudding…
MD Absolute is an audio player and basically offers the “3D sound” feature that seems to be part of the laundry list these days. It’s nothing particularly remarkable.
Also included is a trial of Kaspersky Mobile Security, which really isn’t required on an Android smartphone but it does offer some nifty features, like hiding SMS and contacts, blocking unwanted calls and messages, scanning apps and downloads for malware and other nasties and the like.
A mostly stock experience
Medion really haven’t changed much on this handset from stock Android, and this really is a welcome thing. Stock features include the launcher, dialer and SMS apps, as well as the calculator, calendar, contacts, and clock (for example). Really the only features that differ slightly from the stock experience are hidden inside the Settings menu, including options to manage the dual SIMs and a scheduled power on/power off time, which could be pretty useful for managing your phone’s battery life by automatically switching off at night and back on in the morning.
While I didn’t have high expectations, I thought I’d run Quadrant for some basic stats on how the Medion 4″ performed, and for a bit more amusement, I compared this to some of the other higher end handsets we’ve reviewed lately.
Quadrant surprised me by showing somewhere around 50-60 fps for 3D renders with minimal visual stutter. The ‘old faithful’ double helix render showed a little more stutter than other more powerful handsets, and it seems to be the great leveller, but overall the performance simply wasn’t too bad.
|Metric||Medion 4″||Ascend P6||HTC One|
As you can see, the Medion 4″ really doesn’t stack up well against these two handsets, but nor should it. They’re simply not in the same class. In graphics performance, all three were much the same, and while the Medion 4″ had slightly better memory performance than the Ascend P6, that’s about the only metric it did better in.
What you can take from these measurements is that the memory in the Medion 4″ is really not all that quick, and neither is the CPU, but for $149, you’re getting a handset that can hold its own, and is the equal of many phones released just twelve to eighteen months ago at four times the price.
Keyboards.. just why?
I referred above to the mostly stock experience of the Medion 4″, but inexplicably, Medion have decided to include a custom keyboard with this handset. It isn’t perhaps as bad as some other OEM keyboards that I’ve used. It doesn’t lag too much, but its accuracy is not great, and the sizes of some buttons compared to others (e.g. the large emoticon button and large backspace button) mean its very easy to very quickly destroy whatever you’re trying to type.
Fortunately, there are good, free alternatives and I would recommend as an absolute must installing either the Google AOSP keyboard or SwiftKey as one of the first things you do with the Medion 4″. Instantly, typing goes from being a frustrating experience to an easy job with proper auto correct and accurate key recognition.
I just don’t understand why OEMs bother with custom keyboards anymore, and it’s something I’d love to see them just give up on.
Medion 4″ Smartphone
The Medion 4″ Smartphone is a low cost handset that has some great features, and it’s let down by a few incomprehensible shortcomings.
On one hand, you’ve got a phone with reasonable performance, great form factor, stock Android and minimal bloatware. Out of the box, it even comes with a screen protector installed! How good is that?
Also, it’s cheap as chips.
On the other hand, it’s let down by tiny internal storage, meaning you can install a few apps, and then that’s it. The low amount of system RAM (500MB) also lets things down, meaning that if you run a couple of apps at once, you might start to notice a little bit of a delay in things happening.
There’s a few features that are neither special nor poor; the cameras are perfectly adequate, battery life isn’t half bad (the handset lasts a day or two, depending on what you’re doing with it) and unlike many other low-cost handsets, this one doesn’t feel cheap; it’s sturdy and solid, and would probably take a good few knocks before it falls apart.
I expected to be bitterly disappointed with the Medion 4″ smartphone, but I just wasn’t.
There, I said it. It’s not rubbish. It’s not a superphone, either, but nor should it be. This phone works perfectly well for it’s target market, and that’s people who want a cheap mobile phone but don’t want to miss out on having a smartphone. This phone will meet 100% of your average requirements — it will sync your calendar, contacts, and email, and allow you to browse the net with the best mobile browser available (Chrome), communicate with your friends and family using SMS and a dozen social networks, and take photos of your life as it happens.
It might not run the latest 3D games, and you might not be able to install 500mb apps, but frankly, most people don’t do this, and if they did, they’d be wanting a far more powerful phone to do so.
The Medion 4″ is perfect to give your teenage kids, or your grandma, and its great for anyone in between. You could keep it in your purse or your backpack and it won’t get damaged, and if it does get a scratch, who cares? It’s not like you’re damaging a $900 investment; you’re scratching a $150 mobile phone, and that’s exactly what this is. It’s a mobile phone with smartphone features at a mobile phone price.
Would I recommend the Medion 4″? Absolutely I would. If I was on a tighter budget, I’d be using this as my daily driver for sure. I simply can’t think of a better handset you could get for under $200 brand new.