What is the Wileyfox Storm?

Following on from the Wileyfox Swift, the Storm is the British brand’s flagship handset. It aims to offer high-end specs for a knock-down price in a similar vein to Chinese upstart OnePlus.

For the £199 entry price you get a decent Snapdragon processor, plenty of RAM, 32GB internal storage and a 1080p display. On paper, it sounds too good to be true.

In many ways, it is. The Wileyfox Storm is a good phone, but it doesn’t quite have the style to match the OnePlus X (also £199), the software experience of the Moto G (£169) nor the sheer bang for your buck of the Moto X Play (£269).

Wileyfox Storm – Design

Design used to be the first thing to fall by the wayside when manufacturers wanted to create affordable phones – just look at Samsung’s long line of mid-range handsets. That’s no longer the case – just look at the gorgeous, glass-backed OnePlus X.

There’s a whiff of style about the Wileyfox Storm, but on many levels it still falls into the trope of budget devices of old.

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Plastic is the material of choice here, but the rear is cloaked in a slightly grippy, textured cover. Wileyfox calls it Sandstone, but it lacks the sandpaper texture of the OnePlus 2.

Surrounded by an orange rim, the camera sensor sits flush on the lower half and then slowly juts out towards the top. This looks odd, a little like the top section has come away from the body. I actually spent a few minutes trying to push it back in because I thought I had damaged it by mistake. It would look much better if the whole sensor were to protrude, keeping everything more uniform.

Below the camera is Wileyfox’s slightly too big and obnoxious fox-face logo. Now come on, with the branding already present in bright orange letters on the rear of the phone, was it really necessary to slap yet another moniker on there too? I think not.

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One thing the Storm does have going for it is that it’s durable. I’ve dropped it a couple of times and it hasn’t picked up so much of a scratch, either on the Gorilla Glass front panel or the plastic rear.

It's a fairly large phone, of a similar size to the Nexus 6P. It seems that, in general, phones are becoming bigger – especially if you're after high-end specs.

Wileyfox Storm – Display

Gracing the front of the Wileyfox Storm is a 5.5-inch Full HD display. It’s an LCD IPS panel and, while the high resolution makes it virtually impossible to pick out individual pixels, it isn't perfect.

Colours aren't accurate, with reds in particular having a much darker hue than they should. In addition, pictures full of dark colours look very muddled, which is a shame when you’re scrolling through your snaps.

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Viewing angles are fine though, with the camera performing well in bright sunlight. There’s even a neat night time mode that turns everything a little pink, making reading before bed far more comfortable on the eyes.

In terms of the competition, the improved resolution puts it above the 720p Moto G. However, this is only by a small margin, since that device has a smaller display, but it can’t match the colour accuracy of the panel used on the Moto X Play.

The handset is also a complete and utter grease magnet. Unlike any other _phone_ I've used, the Storm attracts grime and fingerprints to an annoying degree. If you’re buying it, invest in some cleaning cloths too.

For the price, however, the screen remains impressive. If you want the larger footprint then there really isn't anything else on the market for under £200 that can match it.

Wileyfox Storm – Camera

A _phone_ packing a 20-megapixel Sony f/1.9 sensor, and costing less than £200, seems like a fantastic deal. In practice, however, although you can capture sharp snaps, an ugly app and often frustratingly slow focusing bring the whole package down.

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Cyanogen’s camera app features plenty of settings and options – from altering the ISO to switching exposure modes – but the swiping mechanism to switch from one mode to another is like something out of Windows phone 8. It’s a pain if you're attempting to access a particular mode quickly.

Along with the sluggish auto-focus, HDR mode is even slower – and once the picture has been taken, there’s a good second or so delay before you can do anything else.

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There's plenty of detail here and below and the sensor manages to avoid overexposing the sky. It captures colour well too.

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There's a bit of overexposing going on here, but the colours are accurate and the detail is nice

Picture quality is on the whole pretty impressive – especially for a £199 phone. Shots taken in daylight are packed with detail and the camera does a good job of not overexposing bright colours. Portrait shots display accurate colours and you can even achieve some great-looking pictures with blurry backgrounds.

Lower-light shots aren’t as good, but they're better than the results I've achieved with the Moto X Play. You do need to stick with it, since the shutter speed is a little slow, but keep it still and the results improve.

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Lower light snaps are detailed, as you can see with the lights, but it takes an age to focus and shoot

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Video capture tops out at 1080p and looks fine, if shaky. The front-facing 8-megapixel camera takes good selfies, but again, it’s as slow as the main sensor.

Wileyfox Storm – Software and Performance

Instead of running a stock version of Android, the Storm gets its software smarts from Cyanogen 12.1. This heavily modified skin is built upon 5.1.1 Lollipop – no Marshmallow love here, although that’s hardly a surprise – and it certainly boasts many more customisable options than vanilla Android, but many of the visual changes do more harm than good.

Cyanogen’s big play for customisation centres around its theming engine, which includes more than 100 different ways to spruce up the device. Sadly, the majority are boring and ugly. However, with the Theme Chooser you can combine elements from various themes to produce something that's more to your taste.

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On the surface, Cyanogen looks like stock Android. The lockscreen is familiar, as is the persistent Google Search bar stuck to each homescreen. I like that you can now change how many icons are displayed on each page, and there are few varieties of app drawer.

The changes are welcome, although I'm concerned that due to the number of alterations, I might be waiting a while to get a taste of Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

Aside from visual changes, Cyanogen’s real killer features are its slew of privacy controls. I’m a particular fan of the PIN Scrambler, which randomises the layout of the numbers on your lockscreen so that would-be thieves can’t guess your code by the fingerprints left on your screen.

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The Protected Apps setting is impressive too. It allows you to pop a password on a folder to add an extra layer of security. This is particularly useful for those with kids, who may hand over their phone to keep them occupied, but don’t want them to have access to their apps and emails accounts.

Although the suite of privacy features isn't as extensive as that included with the BlackBerry Priv, I appreciate the additions and have found myself using them on a daily basis.

Sadly, I seem to have encountered too many performance issues with the Cyanogen software.

There’s a slight, yet clearly noticeable, delay when opening a folder or pulling up the app drawer. Trying to open apps results in a similar, yet even longer, stutter. I’m sure these issues must be down to software optimisation, since the 1.5GHz Snapdragon 615 processor tucked inside is easily powerful enough to tackle everyday tasks with ease. It’s the same chip adopted by Motorola in the Moto X Play, which is a much stronger performer.

Joining that processor is a very healthy 3GB of RAM – although again, it doesn't seem to offer a massive improvement over devices that include only 2GB. Multitasking is fine, and while less-intensive games run without issues, frame-rate drops and stutters are common in more graphically demanding titles such as Hitman: Sniper and Asphalt 8.

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In our usual benchmarking tests, the Wileyfox Storm easily matched the competition. In AnTuTu, a score of 23,980 put it just below the slightly pricier Moto X Play and cheaper Moto G (2015), but a multi-core Geekbench score of 2,228 beat off both those Motorola phones. It still fell short of the OnePlus X (2,542), however.

The inclusion of 32GB of internal storage is surprising at this price; I’m far more used to seeing 16GB (or even 8GB). In addition, a microSD slot allows this to be expanded by a further 128GB.

The lack of support for 5GHz is a shame, especially for those with jammed up 2.4GHz home networks. However, 4G is present, plus that microSD slot can double as a second SIM slot. Another nice touch.

Wileyfox Storm – Battery and Speakers

2015 has been a great year for phones, but it hasn’t really seen battery tech improve to the same level as screens and processors. Just as in 2014, we’re still having to judge smartphones on whether they last the whole day, rather than two.

In day-to-day use – which consists of lots of emailing, picture taking, bouts of light gaming and some YouTube streaming – the Wileyfox Storm can just about make it from an alarm call at 8am to bedtime at midnight. It was usually down to about 5% at the point I was ready to plug it into the charger at the end of the day, but not quite dead.

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An hour streaming Narcos on Netflix eats through about 10%, while a 30-minute Monument Valley gaming session taking the battery down 13%.

Situated just below the Wileyfox branding on the back, the rear-facing speaker is tinny, quiet and can distort quickly. There's a decent AudioFX app featuring a few EQ settings and preset profiles, but it's much better when used with some decent headphones.

Call quality on the Storm is on-par with most other phones. There weren't any complaints from those on the other end of the line, and voices came through crisp and clear.

Should you buy the Wileyfox Storm?

For a company that didn’t exist before 2015, Wileyfox has done a superb job of pushing out two strong handsets this year. Both the Swift and Storm offer great value for money, but the budget smartphone market is now far tougher to crack than it once was.

I don’t really like the design of the Storm – it’s dull and boring, and lacks a sleek finish. In addition, while Cyanogen has some good customisation and privacy options, it’s slow, with a dodgy camera. I'm also disappointed by the fact that I'm unlikely to see Marshmallow hit anytime soon.

For £199, however, the Storm is good value. It has a sharp display that’s ample for watching movies, produces good pictures and lasts a day without a charge. This handset isn't going to set your heart aflutter, but it's a decent phone that will leave you with plenty of spare change in your wallet.

Verdict

A good value, yet hardly exciting, smartphone. The Storm packs the specs, but it doesn’t always feel like it’s using them to full advantage.

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