Lenovo K8 Note Review: A Killer, in Price and in Deed
Riding High on Stock Android, Dual Cameras
After launching the K6 Note, last year in December, Lenovo has launched added another Note to the family, the Lenovo K8 Note. The Lenovo K Note series has been highly popular in the budget segment, and so powerful is its latest addition, which Lenovo claims it decided to give the K7 Note a miss (no, no superstition here, folks), and directly jumped to the K8 Note.
The K3 Note was the first full HD smartphone in India under Rs. 10,000 from a known brand and its successors took its legacy forward with features like TheaterMax technology, Dolby Atmos audio, and so on. Clearly, the K8 Note has a tough task. Not only does it have to live up to the K Note legacy, but it also has to justify skipping a generation. Does it succeed?
Looks solid…if a little familiar
The Lenovo K8 Note does not look extraordinary. We received the black color variant (with 4GB RAM and 64GB ROM) for our review, and we would say that the company has played it safe in design terms, which is why, although solidly built, the phone does not exactly stand out in the smartphone market in the looks department.
The front of the phone is all about the 5.5-inch full HD display with a 2.5D curved glass which is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 3. The display is bright and colorful and definitely is one of the best we have seen in this price segment, even though it does have rather prominent bezels (we have no problems with that, though). Right below it are three capacitive buttons on the chin of the smartphone for navigation, while the front camera, the earpiece, the physical LED flash and proximity sensor are all placed just above the screen. The phone is totally black from the front which we really like – only the capacitive buttons are slightly dark gray in color, making them stand out. Incidentally, the buttons are not backlit, sadly, which is why we think highlighting them was a good move.
As you will turn the phone around, you will get a metal-hit. The K8 Note comes with a metal unibody with slightly shiny antenna bands placed on the top and the base of the back. Just below the first antenna band comes the feature that will distinguish it from other phones in the market – a unit of primary dual cameras alongside which there is a dual LED flash. The camera unit juts out of the back but did not pick up any scratches in our use. Just below the camera(s), there is a circular fingerprint sensor which works just fine and is fast and accurate enough. Above the second antenna band that is placed near the base, there is a very subtle Lenovo branding. Lenovo, unlike some brands, does not seem desperate to get attention. To be honest, dual cameras apart, the Lenovo K8 Note reminds us a lot of the Redmi Note 4 from the back. The slightly shiny antenna bands, matte back and the placement of the camera and fingerprint sensor, all reminded us of the Redmi Note 4, which is not at all a bad thing because the Note 4 is beautiful (especially the black model…oops, we did it again).
The top of the phone sports the 3.5 mm audio jack, and the base of the phone comes with Micro USB port (Nah, no USB Type-C) and speaker grilles. The left side of the K8 Note holds the dual SIM card (nano) tray and the dedicated microSD card tray – which means you will not have to give up one of the networks on your phone to add additional storage to your smartphone. Hooray, no hybrid SIM slot hassles. The left side also sports the dedicated Music key accented with red (a very small drop of color on the completely black phone, which adds a twist in taste to a traditional recipe). If you are not really THAT big a fan of music, you can also customize this button and use it to perform various functions like launching your favorite app, starting the camera, or simply turning on the flashlight. The right side comes with the volume rocker and a textured power/lock button. The smartphone measures 154.5 x 75.9 x 8.5 mm and weighs 180 grams. It feels a little heavy to hold but can otherwise easily fit in one hand and seems rock solid and slim enough.
No paper tiger
The Lenovo K8 Note is powered by a MediaTek Helio X23 2.3 GHz deca-core processor coupled with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of internal storage, which can be expanded up to 128 GB via microSD card. It ran up a decent score on the AnTuTu benchmark, 82951, which is significantly more than what its competitors have scored. And it is no paper tiger in the specs department – the smartphone sailed through multitasking hurdles that we put in front of it. We switched one app from another, and the phone did not lag or slow down. We jumped from social media apps to games to messaging apps, and the phone did not disappoint us.
The phone also did well in the casual gaming territory – we played games like Subway Surfer, Colour Switch, Temple Run on the smartphone and it worked smoothly. But the real surprise came with its performance in the high-end gaming zone either. While playing games like NFS – No Limits and Asphalt Xtreme, while we did face the odd lag or frame drop, the gaming experience itself was very smooth indeed. Taking into consideration the price of the K8 Note and its specifications, we think the phone is a very creditable performer even in the high-end gaming zone. Yes, it heats up slightly when working through the high-end games but this never seemed to be alarming.
Killing it with dual cameras!
Everyone has been talking about dual cameras for a while and now Lenovo as well. With the introduction K8 Note, the Lenovo has a entered in the field of dual rear cameras. The K8 Note comes with a combination of two sensors on its back. One is the primary sensor of 13-megapixel, and the other is a 5-megapixel sensor which is present to analyze the depth of field and introduce bokeh (read “blurry background”) in the picture. This is similar to the one we saw on the Honor 6X in concept. Now that we are done with the basic preamble, let us get straight to the point. There are two basic modes in the camera app of the Lenovo K8 Note.
1. The Normal mode
2. The Depth-enabled mode
In the Normal mode, the camera module on the Lenovo K8 Note is hands down one of the best we have seen in this segment, in terms of color reproduction and detailing. The rear cameras produce colors that are very close to the reality. The colors in the pictures were not fading or saturating at any point and were very realistic. The camera pretty much knocks it straight out of the park in terms of detail as well. We took close ups, landscapes, portraits, indoor, and outdoor shots and the detailing was on point in most cases and zooming into the picture did not result in pixelation for quite a while. In some close ups, we could even see the reflection of the surroundings in water droplets – it was that good. Another bonus point was the camera’s low light performance. We were stunned to see how well it did even in low light environments. It even handled glare well, and no light seemed to be bleeding out of the boundaries when we pointed it at lamps or light sources. And what’s more, it is super consistent.
That said, the bokeh bit of the story, which is supposed to be THE USP of the device, is a different tale altogether. Once you switch to depth-enabled mode, you get three options to choose the aperture of the camera lens, which determines the level of bokeh that will be introduced in your pictures. The options are f/2.8, f/1.8 and f/1.2 where f/2.8 offers the shallowest bokeh while f/1.2 offers the deepest (most blurry background in simple English). We preferred the shallowest bokeh amongst the three options as it had minimum chances of things going wrong. We thought the bokeh produced by the Lenovo K8 Note was very inconsistent and more software oriented than hardware generated, notwithstanding the second camera. The bokeh worked in some cases and failed in some. We witnessed the pictures getting bokeh unevenly, and this did not blur out when we increased the bokeh level, and only got more highlighted (pun intended).
Ironically, while the camera was consistent in normal mode, here consistency pretty much went out of the window – often blurring out some part of the picture as well as the subject. Yes, it was great when it worked, but alas, this did not happen all the time. Software update, Lenovo?
The pictures taken in Depth-enabled mode can be later edited with a separate Depth Editor which comes with the Photos app. It allows you to make a selected part of the picture black and white, you can edit the bokeh-ed area and can even change the background of an image. It is no high-end editor but works just fine in most cases.
The Lenovo K8 Note comes with a 13-megapixel front shooter with LED flash placed on the front. The performance of the front camera can be a little inconsistent. In some cases, the pictures turned to be exceptionally well detailed with well-reproduced colors, while in other cases the colors seemed a little faded and the details were pretty much out of the picture (quite literally). The flash on the front works fine but can be a little too harsh at times. The selfie also offers HDR mode and beauty mode. The former makes pictures better, and the latter just makes the subject looks like an anime. ‘nuff said.
All in all, we love the cameras on the Lenovo K8 Note, notwithstanding the slightly slow image processing speed and the frequent exhortations to hold the phone still. The camera app itself comes with minimalistic options (why? Read on). There are options like HDR mode, flash, timer and an icon to switch from Normal mode to Depth-enabled mode on top of the screen while on the base, there is the option to switch cameras, the shutter button, and the four modes namely, Panorama, Professional mode, video and the camera one.
Is that…stock Android? You betcha!
Lenovo’s sister brand, Moto, has been known for the smartphones with stock Android while Lenovo introduced phones with Android and its in-house Vibe UI. But it looks like Lenovo is now following Moto down the stock Android route. The K8 Note is the first phone from Lenovo that comes with stock Android Nougat 7.1.1. And as per Lenovo, the phone will receive regular (faster) updates, too.
This makes the phone UI pretty basic – as well as customizable – as removing the in-house UI layer has taken away all the Vibe UIs features that most of the Lenovo devices came packed with. The move which is seen as a positive one largely because it unclutters the UI makes the device faster and also reduces bloatware has its negative side as well. We missed some of the extra toppings, and the phone felt more like Moto than Lenovo. But it basically all boils down to what you like. Stock Android is the darling of many Android fanboys, but we think some other users might find it well, too plain (Hey, there was not even Lenovo’s own Shareit on the phone out of the box). But this doesn’t mean that Lenovo has given up all the software tricks that it has up its sleeves – the camera app has a depth editor mode as well as depth enabled mode, and remember the customizable Music key we mentioned in the beginning? Essentially, Lenovo has tried to strike a balance between stock Android and additional features, giving stock Android priority. And hey, you can also say, “Ok Google” and get virtual assistance. To be fair, with stock Android, the K8 Note does work very smoothly indeed.
All day battery, Dolby Atmos and TheaterMax
The Lenovo K8 Note comes with 4000 mAh battery with the support for Turbo Charging, and there is a 15W charger that comes along with it. To be fair, while the phone can see up to a day with a single charge under heavy usage and can see slightly more than a day when used moderately, we expected slightly more, given the performance of other devices with similar sized batteries. Turbo Charging is definitely a help and can give you a few hours’ worth of battery life in 15-20 minutes.
The K Note series is known for its multimedia prowess, and the K8 Note delivers in this regard. It comes with Lenovo’s very own TheaterMax technology which takes all the content on your phone and makes it appear as if you are seeing it on massive display – all you need is a pair of simple VR glasses. No special content needed, just hit the power button to activate VR split-screen mode. The phone is sound on the sound front too – Dolby Atmos support on headphones, which also helps with the call quality. And once again, all this actually works. Playing a high-end game on the phone with TheaterMax glasses and headphones plugged in can be quite an experience. Other connectivity options on the phone included; Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB OTG, 4G LTE, FM radio, and GPS.
Verdict: be worried, competition!
If we had to give the K8 Note a dollar for every time it impressed us; we would have been broke by now. At Rs 13,999 for the 4GB RAM/64GB ROM combination, the Lenovo K8 Note definitely comes across as one of the major contenders in its price band. The smartphone has pretty much hit a home run on most of the strikes – the camera, the UI, the multimedia performance, the overall performance…we would not be exaggerating to say that the Lenovo K8 Note has just set a new benchmark for its competition. And it is some pretty stiff competition: the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4, the Honor 6X and even its own brother from another mother, the Moto G5 Plus. We have a word of advice for every phone that is priced in the vicinity of the K8 Note. Be worried. Be VERY worried. For, there’s a Killer Note in town.