The mid-range smartphone market is not what it used to be a year go when hardly any one or two devices would be there offering a blend of everything. Just little less than a year ago, Xiaomi Mi 4i and the Asus Zenfone 2 was launched. These were the only two devices, the poster boy for the mid-range section, offering impressive specifications within the price bracket of Rs 12-15K. The mid-range market, which is now reduced to devices priced less than Rs 12K. You ask who was the disrupter of the mid-range handset market, well it’s easy, it was the Lenovo K3 Note. Not much loved by the critics, but the sales number says it otherwise. The K3 Note was a massive heat among the Indian audience, and that’s why early this month, the company launched its successor the K4 Note in the country.
Lenovo has always been an aggressive player since it first entered into the smartphone business in India. Moving on from pricier handsets, company efficiently launched many handsets in the price range less than Rs 12K. Starting from the A6000, A6000 Plus, A7000 and K3 Note, the Chinese manufacturer has ante up its game in terms of the features on the K4 Note. We have been playing with all those new features for a couple of days now. And we are ready to let you in on our experiences with the device. Dive in, guys.
The fact that Lenovo has completely changed the design of the successor tells that company is interested in bringing its guns to the competition. The brand took the high road to offer its consumers a fresh new design on its upgrade. Although, it’s not too impressive, but it’ll do the trick of having a fresh design. Considering how dull and straightforward K3 Note’s design was it has a better chance of pleasing eyes. Slightly curved on the back side, the device offers good compactness for a 5.5-inch size device, or maybe I’ve got used to the oversized devices, after using Le Max and QiKU Q terra 808 smartphones. Do make a note that K4 Note is thicker than K3 Note as well as weighs slightly more while its 3.8mm thin at the corners due to curved back.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter if the design is impressive or not, sometimes what matters is how practical it is, and I’d say this smartphone is probably one of the best in terms of placing the right components at the right place. The speaker is no more on the back side; it has been moved to the front, as dual speakers on the top and bottom bezels. That’s why it is little longer in size, but no worries, as volume rocker buttons are placed perfectly on the right edge, alongside power rocker key. I can’t say it’s a bezel-less design, but black layers around the display cover it gently and give a good look. There is a capacitive button with the backlit feature, so you can see the three buttons placed just below the display. While the top bezel houses set of sensors and front facing camera module, it’s all between the display and speaker, which also acts as the earpiece when calling.
Moving on to the rear side, the camera module has been moved from the corner to the center of the device, alongside the fingerprint sensor in the same module. There is a dual-tone LED Flash present to assist the rear camera during low light conditions, more on camera features later. On the top corner, you can see the microphone, apart from that there is nothing of importance on the rear side, expect the embedded brand of Lenovo and Dolby Atmos. Opening the back cover, you see a battery, which is warned not to be removed and two SIM card slots. Talking about the edges, the top edge houses 3.5mm audio jack while the bottom jack has microUSB 2.0 port and the secondary microphone. Overall, the design of the handset is pretty good for what was on the predecessor, although, it’s not as sturdy as I expected.
Lenovo might be the first one to offer a Full HD display under the 10K pricing in the country, and that was one of the things to look out for on the K3 Note. But this time, don’t expect the vast improvement, it won’t going to offer a 2K display, although, this time around company claims that it has a wide-view screen with good viewing extended to 178 degrees. The display has a pixel density of 403 PPI (Pixel Per Inch), which makes it a good screen to watch movies or even play high graphics games. With a contrast ratio of 1000:1, the display offers good visibility even under sunlight, keeping in mind, the brightness levels are at highest. So, I guess you could say it’s a good display for media buffs on-the-go.
Although I should warn you that it is quite a fingerprint magnet, meaning once you touch the screen your fingerprint marks would be imprinted on it, and that would indeed disturb your viewing experience. Apart from that, I don’t have any complaints about the device. In the display settings, you could also change the color balance if you don’t like the default mode, as there is a comfort mode and custom mode. While comfort mode claims to protect your eyes when you’re, browsing periods are long, whereas the custom mode would allow you to set each parameter. I would suggest sick to default mode. It has a Corning Gorilla Glass 3 protection, and that’s why it’s resisted the scratches when I put inside my pocket with car keys. Overall, the display is as better as it gets on a mid-range handset.
The Chinese manufacturers are finally focusing on offering better Android skins than before, but Lenovo hasn’t done much improvement in the interface from last year’s series of the handset. It still has the same look and feel. Moreover, it still hasn’t improved a bit in terms of experience, as it lags a lot, not all the time but when you do multitasking, which settles that it is not a great multitasker. Based on the Android Lollipop 5.1 OS version this launcher has the app drawer similar to the default launcher on Lollipop, but that’s it, everything else you see; notification panel, quick settings, system settings, it’s all different. I was quite disappointed by the user experience on this interface; it’s not up to the standard of the Android Lollipop. We think the processor is to blame for this just like in the previous handset, although, the processor is different this time.
Talking about the pre-installed apps on the device, there are not many apps that you could see wouldn’t be useful in any sense. The apps installed by Lenovo includes Step counter, SYNCIt, SHAREIt, User Guide, Gallery, File Browser and MX Player. These are some of the apps that you would find excluding the Google apps, which is a mandatory part of the Android OS. These apps take less than a 1GB of storage space while the user available is around 9GB while the remaining is used by the Operating System. In terms of the appearance, you get a Theme Center to change themes or just wallpapers from the home screen settings. There is not much room for customization in this Android skin, which might be a letdown for users with the need for a lot of personalization. But anyway they can access third-party apps from Google Play Store, which is a good thing as the company didn’t put unnecessary apps in the system.
We did the OTG test on the device, and it supports the OTG drive, but system showed a lot of lag when we attached the drive first time. Copying data from and to the drive was easy, but was quite slow; it can be said it was not on par with other handsets in this range. My overall software experience was a mixture of lags and non-responding apps, despite the average usage. It’s not an ideal device for multitasking that is for sure.
Hardware & Performance
The K4 Note is powered by a MediaTek MT6753 chipset, which is an Octa-core processor clocking at 1.3GHz, which is lower than the speed on K3 Note at 1.7GHz, although, the processor was different, it was MT6752. This MediaTek processor is in direct competition with Snapdragon 615 processor; it was announced at MWC Expo last year. The chipset is coupled with 3GB of RAM, which is a considerable upgrade from 2GB of RAM on its predecessor. The internal storage on this handset is 16GB, which can be expanded up to 128GB via microSD card slot. Talking about the gaming experience, it was pretty smooth from what we gathered by playing a couple of games like Riptide GP2 and Dead Trigger 2. All we can say is that it wasn’t the experience like K3 Note, and that is a good reason to go for this handset. Note that device didn’t heat up a lot even after half an hour of gaming, it was at considerably low temperature, or maybe it’s the winter talking.
Moving on with the benchmarking scores, we tested the device for popular benchmarking tools like Antutu and Vellamo apps. While Antutu score was not over the top, it was on par with other devices having the same processor. Guess, Lenovo didn’t do a lot of work in optimizing its processor for the software part. The Antutu score for K4 Note was 37314 which includes the scores of 3D, UX, CPU, and RAM. Now talking about the Vellamo score, it has three factors and unlike Antutu, it doesn’t offer a collected scoring. The individual score for Metal, Multi-core and Chrome Browser was 1098,1517 and 2739. All the three scores are quite on par with other handsets in a similar range.
We did the browsing test on the device, the large real estate with full HD resolution was a plus for browsing experience, and as well it was quite responsive. The Zoom-in and Zoom-out operations were good too, as we didn’t face any difficulty in doing that. Moving on with the talk of Fingerprint sensor, it is not an ideal place to put the bio-metric sensor on the rear side, I’m so used to it having on the front in the physical button itself. Yes, I use the Samsung Galaxy Note 5. Although I can get along with the sensor being placed on the back just fine, if it’s a responsive one and offers more than just unlocking the device. In the Settings area, you can find an option to turn on the function to take a photo when you put your finger on the sensor. It’s an efficient way to take a selfie, I would say that, but not the captures using the rear camera. Overall, I had a good experience with the fingerprint sensor on this handset, no complaints at all.
The device offers a camera package of the 13-megapixel sensor on the rear and a 5-megapixel sensor on the front, the back is accompanied by the Dual LED CCT Flash while there is no flash supporting the front module. The rear camera has a Phase Detection Auto-Focus support, which means it should offer quicker focusing, although, that doesn’t seem to be the case here. We took the device for a spin to check how the camera modules perform and we were not too happy about that. The focusing seems to be the issue; the PDAF didn’t quite work as advertised, we had to switch to manual focus. Well, what is the point of having pioneered Autofocus technology integrated into the camera modules if they didn’t make good use of it, right? Maybe camera interface is at fault here. But honestly, the camera app was not laggy, and it isn’t the smoothest custom camera app out there in the market, but it should do the work.
The camera app doesn’t offer many modes, although, it has a couple of them like Panorama and Effects that should help you in creating some good snapshots as it did us. There is a manual mode option that helps in changing ISO, white balance and saturation level according to need; meanwhile, you can also opt to take captures in 16:9 or 4:3 ratios. Moreover, you can turn on the trivial leveling and guidelines to understand the frame and capture accordingly. The rear camera can capture good shots during daylight, but it’s not pretty when the sun goes down, or the room goes dark. Again, the artificial light helps, but the noise is present while doing so, which makes captures blurry. It isn’t a fancy camera offering stunning captures, but it’ll do the work if you’re a casual smartphone photographer. And if you know your way around photography, then you wouldn’t be getting this smartphone anyway. There are much better smartphones with impressive camera capabilities in this range, such as Xiaomi Mi 4i and Obi Worldphone SF1.
Talking about the video capabilities of the camera, it can take up to 1080p video recordings. We didn’t expect much out of the shoot, as it doesn’t have Optical Image Stabilization. But do make a note that it does have a software image stabilization doing some post processing work to stabilize the footage captures using this handset. The front-facing camera on this smartphone is of 5MP, and it isn’t the wide-angled lens. Moreover, it has fixed focus functionality, no surprise there. But many companies are not offering a good set of features since the generation has become selfie-obsessed. Overall, the camera package on the K4 Note is not better than any average-performing smartphone camera in the mid-range. So, I’ll caution that you get a some other device if you expected a better camera package from this.
The battery capacity is always in question when you’re talking about a smartphone, particularly an Android smartphone. The Lenovo K4 Note has ante-up its game in this section as well, as K3 Note had a 3000mAh capacity battery while its successor boasts a 3300mAh capacity battery. The company claims that Li-Polymer battery can offer a standby time of up to 265 hours and talk time of up to 22 hours. We have been using the device for quite a while now, and our overall experience was good, but the battery life is not as advertised. The battery life isn’t quite impressive when it comes to standby time, as even during the idle time of around seven hours, the percentage drop close to 20%, which is a staggering amount.
This means the app management is weak on this handset, although there is good news, since the device has an excellent battery capacity, it can easily last a day’s charge if that is what you want on the smartphone. Meanwhile, the percentage drop within the usage of 1 hours constant usage showed 4% drop, which is as good as it gets. Overall, these stats are not impressive, except the battery capacity, but easily suggest that you should get a day’s charge out of it despite heavy drains.
The mid-range handsets are known to offer good connectivity options, considering the price. But this year seems to be the time of gearing up the game, since Android Marshmallow would be on many devices this year and hopefully on the K4 Note as well since it has got the NFC functionality. India hasn’t fully utilized the mobile payments services as the United States has, but it can be certainly said that there would be some activities happening this year that would trigger the rise of such services as the nation is going digital. And that’s when the NFC-enabled devices like this would be the key enablers to the rise of such mobile payments.
There is a support of 4G LTE network of highest standards on this device, which means you could experience the high-speed mobile data as well as HD quality audio calls on this handset. We tested out the data speeds and call quality of the smartphone and were quite satisfied with both. Of course, it does depend on the service provider, but if we take our usage of other handsets in consideration with the same provider, it was quite on par with high-end handsets. So, you don’t have to worry about the call drops or low speed, as far as a service provider is good, one shouldn’t have an issue regarding these two connectivity features. Another usual set of connectivity options includes Dual Micro SIM, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS/A-GPS, microUSB 2.0 Port and FM Radio.
The K4 Note is not your average mid-range device since it offers quite a lot of functionalities for a device priced Rs 11,999. But that should not be the reason for the poor software and average package. Despite sporting a decently powerful processor, it fails to impress in multitasking because of mismanagement of the custom interface. We would like to see some updates fixes issues like the accidental crashing of system apps and some improvements in camera apps as well. The UI needs to be polished in order to offer a good user experience. Other than that the overall performance of the device is pretty fine, such as the fingerprint sensor, gaming experience, impressive display, and good battery life. There are tons of alternatives if you’re not convinced that this should be your next handset. The list includes the likes of Coolpad Note 3, Xiaomi Mi 4i and Obi Worldphone SF1 while the LeEco’s Le 1S is also a good contender, but we are yet to review that device, so we would hold on the recommendation of that until we use it as our daily driver.