It might not have attracted the sort of the hype and anticipation that the Samsung Galaxy S8 and the LG G6 have, but there’s no doubt that there was a fair deal of expectation built around the device that many saw as Micromax’s vehicle to return to the upper echelons of the Indian smartphone market. It certainly was the most high-profile launch we had seen from the company for almost a year. And at Rs 24,999, the Dual 5 was also the most expensive handset we had seen from Micromax, indicating that the company was taking a step away from its “high specs at an affordable price” strategy on its comeback. The challenge, of course, was to deliver enough for that price in a market that has become increasingly accustomed to getting decent specs at relatively low prices, thanks to the influx of Chinese players who have usurped territory that was once (oh the irony) Micromax’s. The Dual 5, therefore, faces a daunting task.
Pulling a Qiku (or cheeky) one?
Before we get into the review, we would like to clear our stance on the rumors that the Dual 5 is actually a rebranded Qiku device. This has been neither officially confirmed nor denied but there is no getting away from the fact that the Dual 5 bears a striking semblance to the Qiku 360 Q5 in terms of hardware, design and even software. While this definitely dents the company’s claim about the Dual 5 being a phone designed especially for India by an Indian company, we do not feel it affects the phone itself (in fact our only experience with a Qiku device has been an exceptionally good one). Yes, the “coincidence” will make us inspect statements by the company more carefully but we do not think it actually affects the quality – or otherwise – of the phone itself.
Looking good and decently specced
With that out of the way, let’s return afresh to the Dual 5. We had referred to its appearance and specs in our first impressions of the device. Without repeating ourselves, suffice to say the Dual 5 is the best-looking device to have issued from Micromax’s portals. It is reasonably slim and compact and thanks to its metal build, has a solid feel to it as well. It is eminently flauntable with its rounded edges, although we would once again like to reiterate that we wish it was there in black as well (there is only a gold edition evidently).
And beneath the sleek hood is hardware that is a blend of the middling and the very good – a 5.5-inch full HD Super AMOLED display, 4 GB RAM, 128 GB storage (expandable if you are willing to give up one of the two SIM card slots), two rear 13.0-megapixel cameras (one color and one monochrome) and one front facing one, all of which is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 processor, and relies on a 3200 mAh battery to keep ticking over. Connectivity options include 4G, infrared, Bluetooth, GPS and Wi-Fi. The phone runs on Android 6.0 Marshmallow, with a number of enhancements. It is not a stunningly great spec sheet – the 128 GB storage and AMOLED display apart – but then this is not a phone that is looking to win on specs.
Betting on those dual cameras
What it is looking to score on is, interestingly, an area that has always been considered an Achilles Heel of sorts for Micromax – the cameras. The cameras come with Sony sensors and have f/1.8 apertures, which are impressive on paper. And they certainly deliver in terms of real performance. We got some very good pictures from them in terms of detail and color in not just normal and well-let environs but also, much to our surprise, in low light conditions. Micromax has stressed the bokeh (blurring out background) effect that the two cameras allow the phone to deliver and while we would not call it the best implementation we have seen, it definitely does deliver some very good snaps.
Some of the blurrings seemed way too aggressive and we suspect software plays a prominent role in the process as well, but we do not think too many consumers are going to nitpick in that regard. There is a stack of features out there for those wishing to explore them including a Pro mode, monochrome (called Black and White), slow shutter, anti-haze and macro. There are two modes – Blurry (for Bokeh) and Night (for low light photography) – that are dedicated to the dual camera set up. No, not all of them, work as smoothly as we would have liked – focusing in macro mode was a bit of an issue and we often felt that the camera actually took better photographs in normal mode as compared to the special Night mode, but by and large, it turned in a very good performance indeed.
The front facing camera is a very good one too, although some might find its results a tad over bright indoors (it has a front facing flash too, but we would not advocate using it unless it is really dark). It comes with a number of beauty options and an age guessing feature that placed the author between 25 and 47 years of age at different times.
All in all, in terms of sheer image quality, we would put the Dual 5 right up there with the likes of the OnePlus 3T, the Honor 8 and the Nubia Z11, which for us are the best shooters out there in the sub-Rs 30,000 bracket. Get into the sub-Rs 25,000 zone (to which it belongs) and the Dual 5 gets into a zone of its own. All right, we will say it – Micromax has finally beaten its camera jinx (http://techpp.com/2017/03/27/micromax-dual-camera-jinx/), and pretty much everyone else in the sub-Rs 25,000 price bracket. Does it revolutionize photography, as per its much-hyped claim? Not quite, but it delivers some stunning photographs.
No softie on security!
The cameras might be the stars of the Dual 5 show, but the phone has other strings to its bow. And these mostly come to the fore on the software side, where a number of tweaks can be seen. Micromax has promoted the device as one of the most secure in the market, with a dedicated chip for security. Most notably, the phone has a SecureVault feature, in which the storage of the device is partitioned, and a “secret” area is created where you can store sensitive information. It can be accessed through a password and you can even associate a different fingerprint with it (different from the one that is used to regularly unlock the phone) to further restrict access.
There is also a SafeSwitch feature to prevent theft in which the phone’s buttons lock if the SIM card is pulled out (you can unlock them by entering a password), and will also not shut down (allowing you to track it) – if a password is not entered within an hour, the phone’s data gets wiped off.
Another feature takes pictures of a person who tries to unlock the phone and fails to do so. There is a “freezer” option where one can place apps that one does not use that frequently – they will not attempt to access the Internet or gobble up device resources when in the “freezer.” Swiping up from the home screen also brings you a search option that lets you search the Web as well as apps on the phone and the Google Play store. Handy, we think.
There are a number of apps pre-installed on the device, including apps for themes, speeding up the phone and so on. We can see the “bloatware” brigade getting a bit angst-y about this, although we must confess that we did not find the UI too cluttered by the standards of some manufacturers out there. Yes, the fact that the phone runs on Android Marshmallow (6.0) rather than Nougat is a bit of a letdown, but all said and done, we did not have any complaints about the phone’s UI. Some proofreading of the language in the UI would help though – sentences like “The temperature is proper. You are relieved to use the phone” will give grammar Nazis a fit, and also reflect poorly on the brand.
A generally steady performer
In other respects too, the Dual 5 is a remarkably steady performer. The 5.5-inch Super AMOLED display is great for viewing videos and even reading text and is bright enough to be legible even in sunlight, although we wish the navigation buttons beneath that display had been backlit. The phone comes with a “Smart Key” (on the left of the display) that can be locked to some specific functions, such as torch, recording and taking photographs even when the screen is locked. It can also be used for the camera and for cleaning up apps in the background when the screen is unlocked. We would have liked a bit more choice in this regard, but even in its current avatar, the key is handy.
We have seen some of the geek squad being a trifle miffed about the company’s decision to go with a relatively old Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 chip (similar to the one seen on the Xiaomi Mi Max) on the device, but allied with 4 GB RAM, it turns in a decent performance. No, it won’t smash benchmark scores, but it handled multitasking and even high-end games with a degree of ease. And it does not heat up at all. We would have liked a slightly louder sound on the loudspeaker but sound quality over the headphones is very good indeed. And battery life is decent as well – the 3200 mAh battery saw us through a day of heavy use without too much trouble and the presence of Quick Charge meant that we could get the phone charged up to its full capacity in around an hour or so.
“The best camera phone below Rs 25,000”
It looks good, features some serious camera muscle, has plenty of security features and ticks most of the performance buttons. The big question, of course, is whether this makes the Dual 5 worth its Rs 24,999 price tag. Well, if you are looking for a phone with a very good camera and a truckful of storage, we guess the Dual 5 is on a very strong wicket. It is, in our book, the best camera phone we have seen in the sub-Rs 25,000 category. Expand your phone-y needs beyond photography, however, and the competition will start to close in. Spec lovers will point out that the Lenovo Z2 Plus (Rs 17,999) and the Xiaomi Mi 5 (Rs 22,999) offer Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 devices at lower prices, and there will be those who will also point to the excellent Moto Z Play which comes at the same price as the Dual 5 but offers a very good display and superb battery life, as well as its much-hyped modularity. And of course, if someone is willing to place a few more bucks at the specs altar, the formidable OnePlus 3T inevitably swims into view, as do the Nubia Z11, and the Honor 8 (which is a dual camera phone in its own right and perhaps the best looking device in the sub-Rs 30,000 segment).
From controversies (the Qiku talk will not die down easily) to competition, the Dual 5 has a lot to contend with. To its credit, however, it does not get much wrong and ticks most boxes. No, it is premature to say that the Dual 5 will help Micromax crack the premium phone segment, but it proves that the brand can come out with a product that definitely belongs there.
And that is surely half the battle won.