Vernee Mars review
We were impressed with what Vernee was able to offer with its Apollo Lite at under £200, but arguably more so with the Mars. While this octa-core smartphone isn’t as fast as the deca-core Apollo Lite, it has a great build at this price point. Also see: Best Chinese phones 2016 and Best budget phones 2016
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Right now both the Vernee Apollo Lite and Vernee Mars are on offer at GearBest, which offers free shipping to the UK. We recommend selecting the option to buy the Vernee Mars from the EU warehouse, because although you’ll pay more upfront you won’t be liable for any import duty, so there won’t be any nasty surprises. From the EU warehouse the Vernee Mars costs £198.01 ($246.99).
By comparison, there is currently no EU warehouse option for the Vernee Apollo Lite, so you must buy from China. The price is lower at £144.30 ($179.99), but with import duty on top the difference will be much less. Read our advice on buying Chinese tech before you make a decision.
Both phones are sold SIM-free, and support all three 4G bands used in the UK. With a hybrid SIM slot they can support either microSD (up to 128GB) or a second (Nano-) SIM. The primary SIM is a Micro-SIM, although an adaptor is supplied in the box. Also see: Best budget phones 2016
Vernee Mars review: Design and build
Whereas the Apollo Lite majors on performance and less so on design, the Vernee Mars is the complete opposite. It’s not a slow phone by any means (and we’ll talk more about this in the Performance section below), but where it really excels is in design.
From the rear, at least, the Vernee Mars could easily be mistaken for an iPhone 6 - especially in gold as per our review sample. The Mars is built entirely from 6000 series aluminium, with a camera sensor slightly raised from the surface in the top left corner (though not by enough that the phone rocks when placed on a desk). As with the iPhone there are slim antenna stripes visible on the rear to help combat the problem of poor mobile reception in all-metal phones.
But this is no iPhone, and viewed from the front it has a very clean appearance. There is no physical home button, and the Android-standard Home, Back and Multitasking buttons are software keys that sit at the bottom of the screen and are visible only when it is awake. All that breaks up the jet black surface is a speaker, selfie camera and notification LED at the top. See all smartphone reviews
The Mars is one of few phones we’ve seen to sport a fingerprint scanner on its right edge - something we’ve seen on recent Sony phones, but here it sits below the power button rather than integrated to it. This is a fantastic place to place the fingerprint scanner as it is where your thumb or middle finger (depending on whether you are a leftie or a rightie) falls naturally as you hold the phone. In our tests it worked well, living up to its claimed 0.1s recognition speed, and it looks right at home on the Vernee Mars’ smooth metal edges.
Thinly chiseled at the top, this metal edge runs smoothly into the 2.5D curved glass sitting atop the screen. There’s no obvious join here as you run a finger across the surface, which adds to the phone’s aesthetic appeal. Also see: Best smartphones 2016
The screen itself is a 5.5in full in-cell LCD display, protected with Gorilla Glass 3. It has a full-HD resolution of 1920x1080 pixels, which is still not always a given at this price point. Everything on screen seems crystal clear, while viewing angles are very good and colours realistic. Vernee states a 1000:1 contrast ratio, though we’d like to see higher brightness. Again, at this price it’s difficult to complain.
The screen bezels are just 1mm thick at the left and right sides, which helps keep down the overall size. Although this is strictly speaking a phablet, it certainly doesn’t feel as unwieldy as some, measuring 151x73mm with a thinner than the Apollo Lite 7.6mm frame. However, there is a fair amount of space top and bottom, resulting in a screen-to-body ratio of 81 percent. Also see: Best mid-range phones 2016
In common with the Apollo Lite there is a mono speaker grille on the phone’s bottom edge, which is a much preferable position than on the rear (as is the case with many budget phones) where sound is fired exactly where you don’t want it. It, too, sits beside a USB-C port, which supports digital audio. No USB-C (or other) headphones are supplied in the box, so we weren’t able to test the improved quality such a feature is expected to provide, but it’s good to know you can still use a standard pair of headphones with a traditional 3.5mm jack also present.
On the left side is a single slot-loading SIM tray. This is a hybrid tray that can accept either one Nano-SIM and one Micro-SIM, or one Micro-SIM and one microSD card up to 128GB in capacity. Not being able to use two SIMs and microSD at once will be a frustration for some users, but not everyone needs both - and it’s worth pointing out that many UK budget phones offer neither. Also see: Best Android phones 2016