As a company, Micromax has had a great run so far, and is the leading home-grown handset vendor in India in terms of market-share. While a lot of factors may have contributed to that success, the most important perhaps, is its large portfolio of offerings that not only boasts some unique features, but is also perceived to be very good value for money. And nothing can highlight this better than the company’s last two major releases, the Canvas 2 A110 and the Canvas HD A116. The latter especially, created a big ripple in the smartphone world when it was launched, not only in India, but internationally as well — and with good reason. Who can ignore the promise of high-end specs at an affordable price… and that’s exactly what the Canvas HD offered.
No surprise then, that its sequel set the interwebs buzzing and the rumor bells ringing even before launch. Such was the frenzy around the upcoming Canvas 4 that the company claimed it received over 4,000 bookings in the first seven hours of opening the pre-order process. And at the launch event, Micromax revealed that it had received confirmations from about 11,500 people willing to lay down dough for the device without knowing its specs or how it looks. If this is true, it only highlights how high the Indian consumers rate value for money for making purchase decisions, as well as their expectations from a brand which had already set a precedent with the Canvas HD.
At least some of the above customers may have been left disappointed after the device was finally unveiled, since it turned out to be an evolutionary upgrade over the existing Canvas HD and not a revolutionary one as many had thought. Allow us to put it through the review grind first to figure out its hits and misses.
Design and Hardware
The dual-SIM Micromax Canvas 4 follows a similar design ethos as countless other candybar touchscreen phones and doesn’t really set our pulses racing. Offered in grey or white, it’s largely made of plastic, but ups the ante in terms of the build thanks to an anodized aluminum band with chamfered edges that runs around the sides. Not only does this bestow the device with a decent build and a reassuring heft, it lends an elegant touch to the overall looks and doubles up as an antenna for wireless communications.
The volume rocker on the left and the power / sleep key on the right are also metallic. These keys have a bit of play, and you can hear them rattle if you shake the handset. The front is the usual mix of the screen with three capacitive keys below it and the earpiece, front cam, sensors and notification LED on top, with no sign of any branding. The curvy back cover is fashioned out of plastic, and sports the camera lens encircled with a silver ring on top left, with an LED flash and the secondary mic alongside.
The camera lens protrudes from the curves slightly and shouts about its 13-megapixel credentials below. There’s a Micromax logo embossed in chrome a little towards the center, while you’ll find more Micromax branding and a speaker hole towards the bottom. As usual, you’ll find the 3.5mm audio socket on top and the micro-USB port at the bottom. The rear panel can be pried open to reveal a pair of SIM slots, a microSD slot and a removable battery. It’s not that we haven’t seen better-built phones, but the Canvas 4 is really the best built device from the Micromax stable, and that bodes well for this handset.[Gallery not found]
The 5-inch IPS display on the Canvas 4 is the same resolution as the one on the Canvas HD, and those who were expecting a full HD screen may be feeling disappointed with the 1,280 x 720 pixels on offer here. In terms of performance, it’s very similar to the Canvas HD’s screen. It’s quite sharp and vibrant, and the colors pop out. The viewing angles are pretty good too, and while it’s a tad reflective, sunlight legibility isn’t too bad either. More than the screen’s performance, the real concern is that the competition has warmed up, and there are other brands available in similar price points that offer devices with full HD screens, so the 720p resolution of the Canvas 4’s display does seem a bit of a raw deal.
We’re almost mid-way through the review and we still haven’t found too many things about the Canvas 4 to shout about. That drought ends with the cameras… yes, both the front and the rear ones. While the front cam is a whopping 5-megapixels, the rear snapper is rated at 13-megapixels, becoming yet another contender in the megapixels race and at par with the biggies such as the Sony Xperia Z, Samsung Galaxy S4 and the LG Optimus G Pro.
While the UI is essentially the same as the Canvas HD, the snapper adds on a few welcome extras such as scene detection, panorama and multi-angle shot modes. You can capture both horizontal or vertical panoramas, while multi-angle shot mode, as the name says, helps capture images in multiple angles and saves them in the Multi Picture Object (MPO) format — one of the formats used by 3D images that can contain multiple JPG files. Other features include HDR and burst modes, a range of color effects and scene modes, along with control over settings like white balance and ISO. A set of filters and effects are also available for video capture.
When it comes to image quality, there’s a world of a difference between the Canvas HD and the Canvas 4, and it’s nothing to do with more megapixels on the latter. Image quality in daylight is pretty good, with the photos turning out slightly over-saturated as far as color reproduction is concerned. The detail levels are good too. However, low light performance isn’t too great, and the shooter churns out noisy pics. Unsurprisingly, the video performance is very similar — with the ones captures in good lighting being decent, but dipping in quality as the light levels go down. Overall, the camera on the Canvas 4 may not be the best we’ve seen till date, but it’s certainly a feature that helps tip the scales in its favor.
Samsung’s generous helping of software features loaded on its recent Galaxy devices such as the S4 is currently the benchmark for any mobile phone vendor looking to differentiate its offerings, especially Android-toting ones. Quite a few manufacturers such as Lava and even LG have come out with products that sport features very similar to Samsung’s — the Lava Iris 504q with its gestures and the LG Optimus G Pro with its Smart screen and Smart video features for example. You know what they say — imitation is the best form of flattery. Micromax’s newest flagship too, unabashedly takes ‘inspiration’ from Samsung as far as some of the software features are concerned.
Much like its predecessor, the Canvas 4 runs Android 4.2.1, which is largely devoid of any skins… but ups the ante in terms of the software tricks it boasts. For starters, the video player comes with a feature called “Pause on look away” — a tag that’s highly descriptive, but in case you didn’t get it, pauses video playback when you look away and resumes automatically when you peer at it again. Next, popup video playback is supported too, another feature we’ve seen on Samsung Galaxy devices… Micromax likes to call it “video pinning“. A popup browser comes pre-installed as well, and lets you browse the web using a tiny, floating window, keeping the remaining screen space available for other activities. Features similar to Sammy’s Direct Call are available too, and allow you to call a contact or accept an incoming call just by bringing the phone close to your face.
There are a variety of pre-loaded goodies along for the ride and include Micromax’s content and gaming hubs, a note-taking app, Kingsoft Office, Hike messenger, a couple of ‘try and buy’ games and Spuul, a movie streaming app. Guarding the device, your data and privacy from the demons of the digital world is an app called M! Security which is powered by NQ Mobile and covers basic backup, find my phone and protection features, while the advanced stuff can be purchased if you’re paranoid about security.[Gallery not found]
Last, but definitely not the least, we’d also like to draw your attention to something that we haven’t seen earlier — and that’s the ‘blow to unlock‘ feature. Enabled via the M! Unlock app, it replaces the default swipe-to-unlock lockscreen with one that prompts you to blow air or shake the phone to unlock — and that’s exactly what it does. While you may look like a nutcase doing it in public, all you need to do is just blow air towards the bottom of the phone, and voila, it’s unlocked! If you aren’t feeling too amorous, you can also shake the device, or tap and hold on the lock icon to gain access, but keep in mind that enabling this feature means you can’t use lockscreen widgets. To test it out, we held the phone directly in front of a fan, and that worked too — so maybe you should keep it disabled if the weather app tells you it’s going to be windy.
Performance and Battery life
The processor is another bone of contention we have with the Canvas 4, since it’s the same 1.2 GHz MediaTek MT6589 quad-core chip that powered its predecessor and as such, doesn’t translate into a significant upgrade, at least in this department. Also on board are a gig of RAM and a PowerVR SGX44 GPU. No surprise then, that the phone’s performance is similar to the Canvas HD — don’t expect fireworks but the going’s reasonably smooth for the most part and routine tasks are handled quite well.
Internal storage is significantly beefed up, and you get 16GB, out of which 10GB is available to use and you can cram more via the microSD slot. USB On-The-Go is another feature we love, and that’s covered along with other connectivity options like Wi-Fi, wireless display mirroring and Bluetooth. As far as battery life is concerned, the removable 2,000 mAh pack offers enough juice to keep the smartphone alive through a workday — no surprises there, nasty or otherwise.
The Micromax Canvas 4 can be yours for Rs. 17,999 (~ $300), and at that price, it becomes the most expensive smartphone from the vendor. In isolation, it’s a compelling proposition. To highlight its positioning as a premium device, Micromax offers it in a plastic box that also includes a flat, tangle-free micro-USB cable and wired headset. An aluminum flip cover is also being provided gratis, but it wasn’t included with our review unit. However, we can’t overlook the competition and judging from what’s on offer in the same price bracket these days, it’s clear that the rivals haven’t just been twiddling their thumbs. The Canvas 4 does a few things right — the build quality, the camera and even the software features that it comes with. On the other hand, it misses out on a couple of critical specs, which involve the processor and the screen resolution, both of which haven’t seen a bump compared to its predecessor. Blame it on heightened expectations after the hullaballoo created in the market by the Canvas HD earlier and then the teaser campaigns run by the company to promote the Canvas 4, but prospective buyers were hoping that the latest device would shake up things yet again with specs that defy the price. And this didn’t happen, since the Canvas 4 turned out to be more an incremental upgrade rather than a revolutionary device.
In the midst of all this, there were also a few reports that said that the Canvas 4 is exactly the same as the BLU One Life, a device sold by a Latin American vendor. The two phones do look exactly the same in terms of looks and specs, and it could be that both vendors are sourcing it from the same OEM. However, we don’t think this bit of news, if it’s true, should be a deal breaker for prospective buyers. What does matter, and immensely so, are the other options available for the same amount of money, and some of them do look more compelling, at least on paper. First up is a device that goes by the name of iBerry Auxus Nuclea N1, and it matches the Canvas 4 in terms of the screen size, the 13-megapixel rear camera and dual-SIM support. However, The Nuclea N1 can boast of a full HD screen and a faster MediaTek MT658T quad-core CPU clocked at 1.5GHz. It also one-ups the Canvas 4 with respect to the front camera which is rated at 8-megapixels, and a higher capacity battery at 2,800 mAh. As a bonus, it also includes four differently colored back panels in the sales pack, though the internal storage is restricted to a mere 4GB. Its price? 15,990 Indian rupees (~ $270). Another challenger is the upcoming Gionee Elife E6, a single SIM device that features a 5-inch, full HD screen, 1.5GHz quad-core CPU, 13-megapixel rear snapper and a whopping 32 gigs of storage. This device is expected to be launched later next month, though the pricing could be somewhat higher than the Canvas 4. Some other devices that offer full HD 5-inch screens in the same price bracket include the Spice Pinnacle FHD, Wickedleak Wammy Passion Z, and the Lemon A4, with the other core specs being similar or better than the Canvas 4.
At first glance, it seems that the specs vs. price juggernaut is moving even faster than Micromax can keep pace with. That said, we’d still like to reserve judgement till the time we can evaluate some of the options we mentioned above for ourselves. Before we declare the Canvas 4 a dud however, maybe we should also consider another angle. As a brand, Micromax has succeeded in making a name for itself in the tough Indian market, and that by itself is no mean feat. To repeat one of our favorite maxims, with great power comes great responsibility, and we hope that the company can justify the faith of its customers by providing top-notch service and support — this being a crucial area of concern for many a buyer. And start with a blank canvas in an attempt to surprise them yet again… pleasantly… with its next flagship offering. As for the Canvas 4 — it may not be for Canvas HD owners, but it’s still a very capable smartphone. A price drop will certainly help, but that’s true for anything and everything out there, right?
Overall Rating: 7.5/10