Vernee Apollo review
We've been saying VR (virtual reality) is the next big thing for over a year now, but 2017 really will be the year VR comes to phones. Samsung's upcoming Galaxy S8 and LG's G6 are among those expected to come with large, high-resolution screens and meaty processors and GPUs to enable the best mobile VR. Those are Snapdragon phones, so what of MediaTek? (Also read our Vernee Apollo Lite review.)
The current best (available) MediaTek processor is the Helio X25, which is a deca-core chip that combines two clusters of four low-power, efficient Cortex-A53 cores with a high-performance Cortex-A72 duo, and integrates the 850MHz Mali-T880 MP4 GPU. Don't assume the Helio X25 is on par with - or with 10 cores even better than - the quad-core Snapdragon 820/821, which is paired with the Adreno 530 GPU and comes in many of today's flagships; in our benchmarks the Qualcomm chip outdoes it every time. We expect to see a similar situation with the upcoming Helio X30 and Snapdragon 835 - MediaTek X25 processors are ideal for the very best mid-range phones, but not really what we'd class as flagship-level.
The Vernee Apollo is not the first phone to feature the Helio X25 processor (you'll also find handsets from Xiaomi, Meizu, Elephone and LeEco), but it is the first to combine that processor with a 5.5in 2K screen (a high-resolution display is important for VR as the resolution is halved for each eye) and a VR headset in the box.
We say VR headset - it's really just a plastic, buttonless, NFC-less version of the Google Cardboard viewer with a rubber insert that is intended to seal around your face (it was too large to fit our face). It's not Daydream-ready (neither is the Apollo), and the viewer is not especially comfortable in use, though we understand its inclusion given the marketing.
The 2K screen makes the Vernee Apollo a better phone for VR than many others, especially MediaTek phones, though calling it the first MediaTek VR phone is possibly a bit of a stretch. No matter, the Apollo has lots more to offer under £250. Also see: Best Chinese phones 2017
Vernee Apollo review: Price and UK availability
The Apollo is available from a number of Chinese outlets, including Coolicool, TomTop and AliExpress, though the one we recommend is GearBest since you can ship the Apollo from its EU warehouse and therefore avoid any nasty surprises in the form of import duty.
Buying the Apollo from the EU warehouse (£240.50/$299.99) is a little more expensive than buying it from China (£208.43/$259.99), but if you opt for the latter choice you should bear in mind that import duty is calculated at 20 percent of whatever value is written on the shipping paperwork, plus there's an admin fee (in our experience this is £11 through DHL). Potentially, if you buy from China you could get an additional fee of up to £52, and in which case the £240 EU option will cost you less overall and come without the added hassle of paying fees. Buying from China also has some pitfalls, which we have outlined in our separate guide to buying grey-market tech.
The Vernee Apollo is sold on a SIM-free basis, which means you can use it with any UK-based mobile operator and on any tariff you like (see our best SIM deals). It's a dual-SIM phone that can accept a Nano- or Micro-SIM, and supports all three UK 4G bands. If you live elsewhere, check out our guide on how to tell whether a phone is supported by your network.
Vernee Apollo review: Design and build
The Apollo is a nicely designed phone with a 6000-series aluminium body and, as we've already mentioned, a 2K (or Quad-HD) screen. We tested the grey version, which from the rear has nice clean lines with simplistic antenna bands and a slightly protruding camera with a Smart Touch fingerprint scanner below and dual-LED flash to the side.
The sides are slightly curved and with chamfered edges top and bottom, making this 5.5in-screen phablet easier to hold and manageable in a single hand, especially given its weighty 188g body. This also makes it seem thinner than it is, since at 9.3mm it's actually pretty chunky for a flagship phone with only a 3,180mAh battery inside. Also see: Best phones 2016
At the front you find 2.5D curved glass, which would flow smoothly into the metal frame were it not for the black plastic bezel that is very obvious as you run a finger across the surface. We presume this will add strength to the edges of the screen as you routinely take it in and out the VR viewer, though it does nothing for the aesthetics.
The screen itself is decent, and with a 2560x1440-pixel resolution the sharpest of any Chinese phone we've reviewed. The resulting pixel density of 541ppi is very high, well above that of Retina quality, so you'll find no fuzzy text or graphics here. Of course, the primary reason for the high resolution is VR, since it is halved for each eye. Used with a VR viewer each eye will see a still-sharp 1080p resolution.
This is an LTPS display, which is easy on power consumption with decent brightness. Vernee quotes stats such as 500 nits brightness, 1500:1 contrast and 95 percent NTSC gamut. We found no reason to complain about the screen, which can be bright enough to use in direct sunlight and dim enough for night-time use. It's also protected with Gorilla Glass 3.
The Vernee Apollo has a USB-C port at the bottom, which can be used for charging, data transfer and audio. Pleasingly there's also a headphone jack at the top, so along with the built-in speaker you have plenty of audio options. Also see: Best Android phones 2016
A volume rocker and power button are found on the right edge, but rather than a single pin-operated SIM tray on the left there are two. One accepts a single Nano-SIM and the other a Micro-SIM, or you can swap out the Nano-SIM for a microSD card up to 128GB in capacity.
Despite rather a lot of space above and below the screen, which makes the Apollo a rather tall 152mm, the navigation bar is displayed onscreen. You can fiddle around with its layout in the Settings menu.
There probably would have been space under the screen to fit the fingerprint scanner, but we like the rear positioning as it falls naturally under the forefinger as you use the phone, and can be used to both wake and unlock the screen at once. It's a decent scanner, recognising your fingerprint in 0.1s and allegedly becoming more accurate over time.
Vernee Apollo review continues on the next page >>
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