What is the Wileyfox Swift?
The £129 Swift is Britain-based Wileyfox’s first ever smartphone. Like the OnePlus 2, Honor 7 and Moto G (2015) it aims to carve a share of the smartphone market by offering features traditionally seen on phones close to twice its price.
The other key feature is Cyanogen OS, a heavily skinned version of Android that also came with the OnePlus One last year. It promises “unparalleled customisation powers” and “enhanced security” and mostly delivers on that promise, too.
If you like loads of customisation and more control over your privacy then the Wileyfox is worth serious consideration, but its camera and battery life hold it back somewhat.
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Wileyfox Swift – Design and build
141 x 71 x 9.4mm dimensions, 135g weight, dual SIM
From the front the Wileyfox Swift has slightly boxy, monotone black design similar to most affordable handsets. In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a slightly duller version of Motorola's stellar Moto G (2015).
However, when you turn it on its back things begin to get a little more interesting. Unlike many of its competitors the Swift has a detachable backplate that grants access to the phone’s dual-sim, microSD and removable battery.
The fact the battery is removable is in my mind a key positive for the Swift, as it let me carry around a spare power pack for my _phone_ that I could swap in when the first died – my addiction to Peggle and CrunchyRoll means this happens fairly regularly.
I was also fairly enamoured with the Swift backplate’s slightly material feel. Rather than having the smooth plastic finish seen on most affordable handset, the Swift’s back and sides have a material finish.
The finish, combined with the phone’s reasonable 141 x 71 x 9.4mm dimensions and 135g weight, make the Swift comfortable to hold and noticeably easier to get a solid grip on than many competing handsets.
The only issue we noticed with the design, is that the plate is slightly prone to picking up marks, particularly when hit with liquids. An accidental drop of water on the back left a noticeable mark that took a good day to disappear – despite several attempts to wipe it clean.
Wileyfox Swift – Display
5.0-inch, HD, 1280 x 720, 294ppi IPS
The Swift has a 5.0-inch, HD, 1280 x 720, 294ppi IPS display. A few years ago the presence of a 720p screen on an affordable handset would have been impressive, but now it’s fairly standard.
The specifications put the Swift’s display on a par with the £160 Moto G 2015 and slightly below the £125 Vodafone Smart Ultra 6, which comes with a Full HD 1080p screen.
Being honest, I’m slightly sad Wileyfox didn’t give the Swift an Full HD screen. While 720p is more than good enough for general smartphones and I never had any issues reading text or watching video on the Swift, the Swift looks a little fuzzy when compared to some rivals.
That said, I am still reasonably impressed with the Swift’s display. While it’s not the sharpest in town, Wileyfox has loaded the Swift with a nifty LiveDisplay screen calibration tool. The tool lets Swift user’s manually adjust the screen’s RGB and colour temperature (Kelvins).
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The ability to manually adjust the RGB level is a key positive as it means Swift users can set the display to meet their preference, though I can’t see too many users needing to take advantage of the feature.
Out of the box I found the Swift’s screen, while slightly oversaturated, is very good by budget handset standards. Colours look suitably realistic without being overly washed out and my only minor grievance is that whites have a tendency to take on a yellow tinge when viewed from an angle. The phone's brightness maximum brightness is also astounding and during my tests the Wileyfox Swift easily outshined its key rival the Moto G (2015).
The Wileyfox Swift (left) has a much brighter screen than the Moto G (right)
The LiveDisplay also lets you set the Swift to automatically switch to optimise the screen for use in night and day settings.
While this sounds cool, I found in practice the feature just adjusts the screen to push the yellow end of the colour spectrum at night before relaxing it to a more neutral level during the day.
Wileyfox Swift – Software Cyanogen 12.1
The Swift’s most interesting feature is its custom Cyanogen operating system. Cyanogen is a heavily modified version of Android 5.1.1 Lollipop. Wileyfox claims Cyanogen is more customisable and secure than the vanilla version of Android.
While it’s certainly true Cyanogen is more tweakable than the regular Android OS, the customisation features are a mixed bag. Some of the features, such as the ability to customise which application notifications appear on the lockscreen are useful, while others feel slightly superfluous.
See also: These are the 10 best Android smartphones on the market
This is largely due to the rather confusing and slightly lacklustre theme system used by Cyanogen.
Cyanogen themes are accessed, downloaded and purchased via a Theme store. There are currently around 100 themes on offer, though more will likely appear in the near future as companies and people are free to create and flog their own custom themes on Cyanogen.
Cyanogen also has a Theme Chooser feature that lets people mix and match elements of themes on the store to create their own frankenstein skin.
While some people may think this sounds great, looking at what’s currently on offer, I found most of the themes are fairly pointless. Flipping through 15 of them, I found they generally did little more than change app icons, slightly rejig the UI and add a few custom widgets – none of which were very useful.
This isn’t necessarily a negative, after all the ability to tweak the UI is something I can see some buyers loving, even if I’m not too bothered about it myself. However, I am slightly concerned it’s going to hamper Wileyfox ability to update Cyanogen to run-on newer versions of Android – like the fast approaching final version of Android M.
This is because Wileyfox will have to tweek Cyanogen’s code to be compatible with the new Android version’s code – a process that will likely take weeks, if not months. Indeed, this was one of the issues with last year's OnePlus One, which also used Cyanogen, and is one of the reasons why OnePlus has switched to its own skin for the OnePlus 2.
This will mean, as was the case with Amazon’s Fire series of devices, which also run on an OS based on Android, Swift users may miss out on useful performance boosting Android updates.
While I’m not totally won over by Cyanogen’s customisation features, I am impressed with its security upgrades. In the post-PRISM world where data protection and privacy are a concern Wileyfox has played a canny trick loading Cyanogen with a variety of useful security tools.
The best of these are Cyanogen’s Privacy Guard, PIN Scramble and Protected Apps services.
Privacy Guard is an app management service that can be accessed in the Swift’s settings. It lets you manually approve which apps can harvest data and which can’t.
PIN Scramble, meanwhile, is a clever feature that makes it harder for thieves, or annoying friends to guess your phone’s unlock code. It works by randomising how numbers are organised on the screen from the lock screen each time the _phone_ wakes from sleep – meaning the code can’t be reconstructed using smudge’s on the screen.
The Protected Apps feature adds a further layer of protection to data stored on the Swift by letting you create password protected application folders. The feature lets you set different passwords for each folder.
For me this is a great for two reasons. First as it stop thieves who successfully crack your unlock code accessing sensitive applications, like work email. Second, for those with young kids or siblings, it lets you stop them accessing inappropriate services – like violent games or titles that let you make in-app purchases.
Wileyfox Swift – Performance
1.2GHz, 64-bit, quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 8916 CPU, Adreno 306 GPU and 2GB of RAM
The Wileyfox Swift features some reasonably impressive hardware for a £129 handset. The phone is powered by a Snapdragon 410 processor, Adreno 306 GPU and 2GB of RAM, putting it on a par with the 16GB Moto G (2015).
Interestingly, despite featuring the same hardware the Swift’s benchmarks are slightly below the Moto G’s.
On Geekbench, which measures a phone’s overall performance, the Swift enjoyed 1,335 multi-core score. On the gaming focused 3DMark benchmark (tested on Icestorm Unlimited) the Swift scored 4,310. By comparison the Moto G boasts a 1,636 multi-core score on Geekbench and 4,418 score on 3DMark.
Performance in real world use is solid but not flawless. Apps open in milliseconds, video streams seamlessly, and web browsing on 4G is a smooth lag-free experience. Every now and then, though, the phone would stall and then inexplicably jump to the bottom of the menu when quickly scrolling through the Swift’s app tray.
On a few very rare occasions the Swift also would unexpectedly exit games I was playing – though being fair to Wileyfox during my week with the device this only happened after prolonged gaming sessions.
Wileyfox Swift – Camera
13-megapixel rear with AF, Samsung S5K3M2 BSI and dual LED Flash, 5-megapixel front
A few years ago, if you showed me the Wileyfox Swift’s camera specs and price I’d have jumped out of my seat with excitement.
But with Motorola having launched the Moto G – a budget smartphone with camera specs close to matching the £500 Nexus 6 – mere weeks ago, the appearance of a 13-megapixel sensor on the Swift isn’t quite as special as it might have been. Moreover, while the Wileyfox is competent enough, the Moto G is in a different league.
Cyanogen OS features a custom camera application that adds a wealth of preset camera modes designed to optimise the camera for specific lighting conditions as well as various Instagram-like filters.
Highlights include high dynamic range (HDR), action and night modes and aqua, sepia and posterize filters.
For avid photographers, it also has manual controls for the camera’s for things like the exposure, white balance and ISO.
Shooting in regular light conditions with the camera in automatic, photos taken on the Swift are impressive. While not on a par with flagship smartphone cameras, photos were mostly usable and adequate for sharing on social media.
However, moving into low light, the Swift’s camera did begin to struggle. Despite featuring a Samsung-made back-illuminated sensor (BSI), the Swift’s camera performance rapidly declines in low light.
Using the camera in a dimly lit bar with the flash turned off, shots taken on the Swift generally looked dirty and suffered from pixelation, though this is hardly a problem exclusive to the Swift.
But the Swift suffers in comparison to the Moto G (2015). As the shots below show, the Swift sometimes struggles to pick the right while balance in scenes. Below you can see how it gives this shot a heavy blue-ish tone, while the Moto G captures a far more faithful shot with a correct, neutral tone.
Overall, while the Wileyfox can take good photos in some conditions, it isn't as consistent or reliable as the Moto G. If taking decent photos is a high priority for you, the Moto G is the obvious choice.
Wileyfox Swift – Battery Life
Removable 2,500mAh battery
Battery life is one area all smartphones struggle with. To date, I’m yet to find a handset that can consistently last two days moderate use off one charge. Sadly, the Swift doesn’t change this.
Wileyfox lists the Swift’s battery as offering users eight hours life off one charge. Burning the battery by constantly looping a video file stored on the Swift, with Wi-Fi off and the screen brightness set to 70%, the handset lasted seven hours on my first test, eight on my second and seven hours, 45 mins on my third.
The score is disappointing and puts the Swift behind the Moto G, which lasted nine hours running the same test.
WIth real world use the the Swift’s battery life proved at best average and I had to charge it every day.
Regular use entailed listening to music on the way to and from work, regularly checking my email and social media feeds, making and taking a few calls and watching a cheeky episode or two of Gilmore Girls on Netflix – I regret nothing, it’s a good show.
With heavier use however, the Swift’s battery outright leaks its charge. Playing games on the Swift I found its battery regularly as much as 20% per hour.
Wileyfox Swift – Sound and call quality
Wileyfox made a big deal about Swift users’ ability to customise the phone’s sound levels using the custom AudioFX feature.
The feature lets Swift owners optimise the phone’s sound levels for specific genres of music. AudioFX presets include everything everything from Rock and Metal settings, to classical, folk, R&B and Jazz settings.
For true audiophiles AudioFX also has separate Bass and Virtualizer digital dials the user can access to customise the presets, as well as full manual controls that can be used to create custom sound profiles.
Testing the feature, I found it was fairly useful when paired with headphones, but less so on the phone’s internal speaker which as well as not being all too loud, has a tendency to distort when cranked. The speaker also sounds slightly tinny, even when the bass is manually cranked using AudioFX.
Outside of this, call quality was fairly good and both the phone’s speaker and microphone were good enough for me to hear and speak to people using the Swift in busy, and loud, London streets hassle free.
Should I buy a Wileyfox Swift?
If you're a privacy focused buyer on a budget, the Swift is one of the best sub-£150 smartphones on the market and will meet most of your needs. But that's quite a specific niche and for everyone else there are better options out there.
The Motorola Moto G (2015) is the obvious alternative. While the Wileyfox Swift has a brighter, more impressive screen, it can't match the Moto G for battery life or camera quality. Indeed, the Moto G has a much better, more consistent camera.
Moreover, the Cyanogen OS-skin means it’s unlikely the Swift will receive timely updates to new versions of Android – another problem the Moto G doesn't have.
It's a good first attempt from a new entrant to the phone market, but the Wileyfox can't quite match the best budget phones just yet.