EE Rook review

Budget smartphones are getting better and better and mobile network EE has released the cheapest we've seen in the UK that supports 4G. Here's our full and in-depth EE Rook review. See also: Best budget smartphone 2015.

EE Rook review: Price and competition

IF you're looking for the cheapest 4G phone on the market then you've come to the right place. The EE Rook is available for the paltry sum of £39 if you're already a customer. New EE customers will have to pay £49 and the only catch is that you must top up by at least £10 – but that is credit you can use so it's hardly a catch.

Even at the higher price, it's still a mightily cheap phone with most budget phones with 4G LTE support costing £80-100. Even EE's own Harrier Mini is £99 so the closest rival on price is the impressive Vodafone Smart Prime 6 at £79.

A cheap price tag is good but it doesn't automatically mean you should run to your nearest EE shop and bag a Rook. Sometimes you really get what you pay for so can the EE Rook be bargain basement in price but still be worth using every day?

EE Rook review

EE Rook review: Design and build

As with most budget phones, there's little to say about the EE Rook in terms of design and build which is exciting. It's a typical inexpensive candy bar design with everything you would expect.

The device is small so fits in the hand much easier than most modern phones and it's overly thick either at 10.3mm. A weight of 130g actually helps the Rook to feel solid, which it is and like its bigger brothers, there's a yellow ring around the camera which helps add a little bit of glamour to an otherwise dull phone.

The Rook's rear cover is removable giving access to the card slots and battery which is all good and stays put when you've clipped it in all the way around. Our main gripe is that the rear cover attracts fingerprints and grease meaning it constantly looks grubby and the way the ear piece is recessed at the front is bound to result in a resting place for dust and dirt.

EE Rook review: Hardware, specs and performance

If you don't mind a bog standard phone in terms of look and feel then take a look at what hardware you'll get for £39 or £49.

At 4in, the display is tiny compared with almost every other smartphone around at the moment. Anything under 5in can arguably be described as small so going back to the same size as the iPhone 4S is strange if you've got used to today's average.

As you might expect for under £50, the resolution is just 480 x 800 so things are far from crisp. This is acceptable considering the price but there's something which has a bigger impact on the experience here.

EE Rook review screen

This budget display has seriously poor viewing angles meaning you need to look at the Rook straight on to really see what you're doing. Move the device, or your head, even a small amount and you quickly loose visibility. From the bottom of the phone, it's almost completely white and the opposite is true when looking from the top. Oh and side viewing isn't exactly great either.

Moving on and the Rook is powered by a MediaTek MT6735M 1GHz processor which is quad-core and surprisingly 64-bit, too. This has the 4G modem built-in giving it that all-important feature. There's also 1GB of RAM and apart from the initial setup of the phone, we've found performance to be unexpectedly smooth. Don't try and play any graphically advanced games but titles like Temple Run 2, er, run nicely after a couple of initial hiccups.

It's far from flawless and the Rook does lag when you push it but on the whole it can keep up with most regular tasks. We were impressed with the benchmark results which you can see below and note that it outpaced the Smart Prime 6 and EE Harrier Mini in graphics tests.

We didn't expect any more than 8GB of internal storage and that's what you get with the Rook. There's just 2.5GB available to you out of the box but a Micro-SD card slot alleviates this problem somewhat and can accept up to 32GB memory cards.

Don't expect much in the way of other specs as there's just basic Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth 4.0 so no fancy stuff like NFC for use with EE's Cash on Tap.

As mentioned earlier, the battery is removable and isn't particularly large in capacity at 1500mAh. However, the phone faired pretty well in our benchmark test lasting five hours and 22 minutes with a score of 1890. That's better than the mid-range Sony Xperia M4 Aqua which did four hours and 49 minutes and numerical score of 1932.

We wouldn't have been too shocked to find one or even no cameras on the EE Rook in order to achieve the price, but it has both front and rear shooters. The rear is 5Mp and the front is a very basic VGA resolution. Although there are features such as HDR and panorama available, you're not going to get very good results from the Rook.

EE Rook review software

EE Rook review: Software and apps

It's impressive to find the EE Rook pre-loaded with the latest version of Google's Android operating system, 5.1 Lollipop.

Like the EE Harrier and Harrier Mini, the experience is largely stock Android, or 'vanilla' so the firm has left the OS alone on the whole. This is a good thing but don't go thinking there a no pre-installed apps.

As usual, in order for the price to be so low, there are a number of apps pre-installed on the Rook. These include Lookout, Deezer, Games & Apps plus various apps from Amazon. That's a relatively small list and widgets can be removed from the homescreen panels easily enough but the apps themselves can only be disabled, not uninstalled completely which is a pain considering the small amount of internal storage.

Navigation buttons sit below the screen, which in this case is pretty handy as the 4in display is small enough without having to host a nav bar. It's good to see that one of the buttons is for recent apps and not the out-of-date menu option which we've seen on other phones.  

EE Rook: Specs

  • Android 5.1 Lollipop
  • 4in TFT screen, 480x800
  • MediaTek MT6735M 1GHz quad-core
  • 1GB RAM
  • 8GB storage
  • Micro-SD cards slot (up to 32GB)
  • Wi-Fi 11b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • GPS
  • 1500mAh removable battery
  • 64x126x10.3mm
  • 130g
  • Android 5.1 Lollipop
  • 4in TFT screen, 480x800
  • MediaTek MT6735M 1GHz quad-core
  • 1GB RAM
  • 8GB storage
  • Micro-SD cards slot (up to 32GB)
  • Wi-Fi 11b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • GPS
  • 1500mAh removable battery
  • 64x126x10.3mm
  • 130g

OUR VERDICT

If you don't mind the basic design, the EE Rook isn't a bad little phone at all. We can hardly argue with the price of £39 for existing customers and the performance is better than we expected for a sub-£50 phone. It's mainly the miserable viewing angles of the screen which put us off so you are better off spending a little more if you can afford it.

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