Reviewing a low cost Android smartphone is possibly the toughest assignment for a tech blogger. ‘One size fits all‘ doesn’t really hold good for smartphones. But then, we keep seeing helluva lot of Android smartphones at different price points from several manufacturers every other week. One cannot expect a $200 smartphone to perform like a $700 one. So the key for a low-end smartphone manufacturer is to strike a balance between features and compromises, while ensuring that the user experience is not hampered. Let’s find out if Lava S12 has managed to strike that balance.
Lava Mobiles are traditionally known for their affordable low-end feature phones in India. This is the first time they have come out with an Android smartphone with an aim to keep their ‘affordability’ motto intact.
Lava S12 – Looks, Design & Specifications
Lava S12 looks nothing like any of its competitor models. It aims to stand-out from the competition with an off-beat curvy design. The phone’s back cover has been given a brown leathery finish which provides extra grip in addition to the professional looks. The front panel has a glossy black bezel with physical buttons for back, menu, home and search. People who have used an android phone before might take some time to get used to these buttons which are in reverse order as compared to other most android phones. The icons on top of the buttons are back-lit and ca confuse some people who might think them as touchscreen buttons.
The sides though have got silver grey aluminum finish which feels cheap and plasticky, specially near the micro USB and microSD slots. But overall, the phone is one of the best looking ones we have seen in its price range.
As for the hardware, Lava S12 is powered by a 600 MHz Qualcomm 7227 processor and comes with a 3.2″ capacitive touch screen with a decent 480×320 resolution. It has a 5 megapixel camera, sadly without LED flash, but comes with a physical camera button. Lava S12 is powered by a 1300mAh battery which promises quite a good battery performance in standby (more on this later). It has a pretty good set of speakers. Lava has worked with companies like SRS and Dolby Digital to enhance their sound technology and that shows when you put on the earphones included in the box. My biggest gripe about Lava S12′s hardware is the below par internal memory which is limited at 120 MB.
Lava S12 is powered by Android 2.2 Froyo, which is quite a disappointment for a phone launched in Q3 2011. But then, credits must be given to their software R&D team which has carefully meddled with Froyo’s interface while ensuring optimal performance.
Lava S12 – Features & Performance
As I mentioned before, the key for a low end smartphone is to strike the right balance between features and performance. A phone can boast of lot many features on paper, but what matters the most is how well it performs in real-world scenarios.
3D User interface
This has to be the biggest USP of Lava S12. Lava has teamed up with SPB software, the developer of SPB Shell 3D home launcher and together they have tightly integrated the 3D UI into the phone. As you might know, SPB Shell 3D is extremely graphic heavy, but on Lava S12 you get a buttery-smooth performance! Check out the video demo to know what it is all about.
Impressive! Isn’t it? The 3D UI transforms the home screen into a virtual 3D space and offers 16 customizable home screens, which can be modified by the user as per his/her requirements and interests.
The Lava team has clearly put enough efforts behind the camera sensors. The 5 megapixel camera comes with fixed focus and a dedicated camera button which can be really handy at times. But it lacks LED flash which has become a necessity these days. The lack of auto focus is seen at some places, but the work put behind the sensors shows up when shooting outdoors.
Below is a comparison pic of Lava S12 camera as compared to that of Samsung Galaxy Pop and HTC Wildfire (click to enlarge). The first one is an outdoor pic under bright sunlight. You can see that the image is over-exposed by HTC Wildfire, while Galaxy Pop lacks color uniformity. Lava S12 does a decent job at retaining the colors without over-exposing the image.
The second comparison pic (click to enlarge) is of the images taken indoors under artificial lights. Samsung Galaxy Pop struggles to filter the noise, while HTC Wildfire has improper white-balance. Lava S12 again does a great job at retaining those green, black & white colors while filtering out the noise.
With so much efforts put into the sensors, it’s a shame that Lava failed to provide the flash & auto-focus for S12. Still, it has one of the best cameras I have seen for phones in this price point.
There isn’t much to talk about here as Lava S12 comes with the default Android music and video players. But one thing worth mentioning is the earphone sound quality. As mentioned before, Lava has teamed up with SRS and Dolby Digital to provide good stereo surround quality sound in Lava S12. The video recording is just VGA quality, as you would expect from a phone in this price range.
At 1300mAh, Lava S12 boasts a battery bigger than most of the android phones in this price range. But the integrated 3D UI does drain the battery faster, there by negating the bigger size. With heavy usage (3G, video playback, WiFi etc), the battery lasted for about 14 hours, while with normal usage it lasted for a day and a half. I must say, that’s pretty impressive for an android smartphone!
Connectivity & Storage
Lava S12 comes with the basic connectivity options like WiFi (with hotspot), 3G (with HSDPA speeds of 7.2 Mbps and HSUPA speeds of 384 kbps), Bluetooth 2.1 and A-GPS.
You would get a 2GB microSD card when you buy the phone. Lava S12 supports upto 32GB of external storage. Internal memory is restricted to 120MB which isn’t enough if you are a heavy app user. In case you don’t like any of those pre-loaded apps, it is better to chuck them off.
Lava has teamed up with quite a lot of Indian services for their first android smartphone. There are pre-loaded apps like Times of India, Bookmyshow, Saavn, Moneycontrol, SlideIT keyboard, TuneWiki, Nimbuzz, ngpay, Office Suite, Facebook, Twitter and Zenga TV.
ZengaTV is a premium android app which lets you watch Live TV on your android smartphone. It has loads of Indian channels in its repertoire like MTV, Colors, UTV Bindass, UTV Movies, CNN-IBN, Headlines Today and many more. Lava has teamed up with ZengaTV to provide the app for free for one year. Below is a demo of the app.
Lava S12 is priced at Rs.9999, but is currently retailing at around Rs.8000 (US $160). At this price, it is competing with the big brands like HTC Wildfire, LG Optimus One, Samsung Galaxy Pop and others. That’s a tough competition for an Indian brand, but Lava S12 does offer a stiff fight with its impressive battery life, 3D UI and build quality. Though the camera sensors are good, the absence of auto-focus and Flash pulls down the performance a bit.
Overall Lava S12 is worth considering if you are on tight budget and looking to buy an android phone at Rs 8000-9000 price range. It does strike a good balance with feature offerings and performance.