Hands-on: An opening look at Wileyfox’s latest flagship
The Swift 2 X is the top-specced _phone_ in Wileyfox’s latest trio of affordable handsets, sitting above the Swift 2 and Swift 2 Plus. It aims to entice buyers with a new metallic design, improved battery life, sharper screen and NFC support for Google’s Android Pay.
Having gotten some hands-on time with the Swift 2 X, I can confirm it's one of the best-looking and nicest-feeling budget handsets I’ve tried in some time. It's a definite step up from the basic Swift 2 and most other cheap phones.
However, with pricing starting at a modest £219, it targets the same space as Motorola’s stellar Moto G4 Plus – one of a select few phones to achieve TrustedReviews' hallowed 5-star rating.
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With the screen turned off, the Swift 2 X looks all but identical to its cheaper sibling, the Swift 2 – but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The design feels like a mix between an old HTC One and a Huawei Nova, featuring a slightly curved metal back, chamfered edges and a 2.5D glass front. The combination ensures the Swift 2 X is suitably comfortable to hold and makes it feel significantly more expensive than it actually is.
Wileyfox has also done a great job of making the _phone_ tick all the right usability boxes, adding niceties such as a rear-facing fingerprint scanner and the newer USB-C charging port. The fingerprint scanner is a feature missed on most budget phones, and is doubly useful as it can be used to approve Android Pay transactions – which, thanks to the inclusion of NFC, the Swift 2 X supports.
The USB-C adapter means the phone should have better data-transfer speeds than most other sub-£200 phones on the market, which still tend to use the older Micro USB standard. Thanks to the inclusion of Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 it should also let the 3,010mAh battery charge up super-quickly, though I didn’t get a chance to test this during my hands-on.
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Powering it up, I was also pleased by how much better the screen looks than the one on the basic Swift 2. One of the Swift 2’s biggest drawbacks was its use of a 720p panel, which made it feel like a throwback to 2012, when 1080p screens were still considered a serious luxury.
The screen on the Swift 2 X is also a 5.2-inch affair, but with the resolution boosted to 1080p Full HD, which makes this Wileyfox feel much more competitive. It matches the specs of this phone’s key rival, the Moto G4 Plus, which was our budget phone of choice last year. The IPS LCD tech means blacks aren’t the deepest I’ve seen, but whites appeared wonderfully clean during my hands-on – even when compared to the screens of more expensive handsets, such as the Huawei Nova and Alcatel Idol 4S.
The 16-megapixel primary camera, with phase-detection autofocus (PDAF), and 8-megapixel front camera also match the Moto G’s specs. On paper they're pretty much par for the course for a phone in the 2 X’s price bracket.
All this makes the Wileyfox at first glance look like a pretty compelling offer. However, I have two big concerns about the Swift X 2: its CPU and the use of Cyanogen OS.
The Swift 2 X uses the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 CPU as the basic Swift. This, paired with an Adreno 505 GPU and 3GB of RAM, mean that the Swift 2 X is far from a powerhouse device. The Snapdragon 430 in the basic Swift 2, which features a less demanding 720p screen, sometimes feels a little slow, so the fact that Wileyfox hasn’t put a faster component in the 2 X is a little bit concerning. Although, to be fair, I didn’t notice any serious performance issues during my hands-on time.
The use of Cyanogen OS is of bigger concern. Cyanogen is an Android skin designed to offer users improved security and increased customisation options. I was never a big fan of it, as it generally felt a little buggy, and delayed how quickly devices running it could be upgraded to newer versions of Android. In the past, I cut Wileyfox some slack for using it, as Cyanogen had a fairly significant fan base in the modding community.
I can’t do that this time, however, as in December last year Cyanogen closed shop and announced it would be cutting software support for the OS – meaning users will no longer get official performance fixes or security patches.
A Wileyfox spokesman at the 2 X’s London launch told me the company has a team internally offering support for the OS, and promised all of the company’s phones, including older models, will be upgraded to Android Nougat at an unspecified point in Q1 this year. But until that update happens, the use of Cyanogen is a big black mark for the Swift 2 X.
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The Swift 2 X has a lot going for it. The use of metal makes it one of the nicest-looking budget phones I’ve tested in quite some time. Add to this its upgraded 1080p screen, fingerprint scanner and improved battery tech and the Swift X 2 has the chops to be one of the best budget handsets this year.
However, the use of a Snapdragon 430 CPU is a concern, and I can’t help but be worried by its use of Cyanogen. Hopefully Wileyfox will get an upgrade to Android Nougat out sooner rather than later, so Motorola will finally have some serious competition at the lower end of the phone market.