Mobicel Air

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“What the hell is a Mobicel?”

Those were actually the first words I uttered upon seeing the box with the Mobicel Air in it, upon its arrival at Stuff Towers. It’s not the sort of name that really comes up when reviewing handsets and on extracting the slim little all-white device from its box, I was fairly unimpressed.

But sometimes first impressions can be wrong and I’m actually pleased to say that I was mostly incorrect with this one. The Mobicel Air is actually the product of a local company, who have been around since 2007, and it works out to being one of the cheapest octa-core handsets (yes, that’s not an error) you’ll get on the market today. Also: one of the thinnest.

Simple But Derivative

Mobicel Air 1When you first look at the Mobicel Air, the first thing that comes to mind is ‘generic’. This 4.8-inch handset looks like a composite of several of the most popular phones on the market today, though it bears a closer resemblance to the Samsung Galaxy S6 than anything else in terms of overall design. – despite the Huawei/Apple influences that can also be seen.

The design is extremely simple, glass on the front and rear, with a strip of metal edging circumnavigating the Air. There’s a headphone and charge port at the bottom, volume rocker and power button on the left-hand side and space for the phone’s microSIM slot on the right. Along the top? Er… nothing. The 8MP rear camera is on the upper left (if the back of the phone is facing you). In front is a 5MP shooter. And it’s skinny throughout, measuring just 5.5mm at its thickest point – which is anywhere along the phone’s length, there are no bulges to be seen.

Looking Inward

Mobicel Air 2Of far more interest is the Mobicel Air’s collection of components. How the heck did they manage to cram an octa-core processor into this teeny little thing? What’s inside the Air? It turns out, a MediaTek MT6592 is living inside, its eight cores running like crazy. Unlike Samsung’s Exynos and other similar eight-core chipsets that consist of two quad-cores squished together, the MT6592 features eight 1.66GHz (1.7GHz, according to Mobicel’s literature) Cortex-A7 cores.

How does it do, that’s the question. So, like any good geek, I have hit the Mobicel Air with Geekbench 3 and come up with a few numbers. Single-core performance pushed out a result of 431, roughly comparable to the performance you’d see from a Samsung Galaxy S III. Multi-core performance though… that’s a kettle of fish of a different shade. The Air returns an overall score for multi of 2268, putting it into Snapdragon 800 or even 801 territory. You know, that chipset that every flagship phone featured not so long ago?

Fair enough, there are eight Cortex-A7 cores here to the SD 800’s quad setup so the Mobicel Air is going to be doing more work to get you near the speed of an LG G3 but you should see a lot of responsiveness from this phone. Should.

If anything, the rest of the Air’s specs are holding it back. There’s only 1GB of RAM in the Air, a mere 16GB (10GB available) of storage with no option for expansion and the graphics performance is less than you’d expect (but still not bad, according to the 33,060 score on AnTuTu) from a chip this fast. If there’s any slow-down, the other specs are where it’s going to be coming from. It’s a bit like dropping a Harrier jet engine into a motorcycle. Sure, it’ll go fast but it’ll also tear off bits that should remain attached.

All The Rest

Mobicel Air 3The Mobicel Air is running a 1,280 x 720 4.8-inch display, which I’ve already mentioned in passing. It’s bright and colourful but it’s not HD – for all that, it’s still a pretty good screen. The battery is a 2,100mAh affair, which doesn’t run down nearly as quickly as you’d think in an octa-core phone. The Cortex-A7 (all eight of them) is quite efficient when it comes to power usage.

Leaving our last two suspects, the 8MP rear and the 5MP front cameras. The rear 8MP shooter doesn’t quite come up to the standards I’m used to seeing from other, similar cameras. There’s plenty of detail, unless you’re in a lacking-light situation, but the phone doesn’t focus as fast as I’d like.

The 5MP camera seems a bit better at this. Either Mobicel have gone for a slightly better sensor for the front cam or my narcissism kicked in when testing out the front cam compared to the rear. Selfie fans have little to worry about, is what I’m trying to say.

Verdict

Look, you’re unlikely to find another octa-core phone at the Mobicel Air’s going rate, which is R3,500. If you’re after processor power on a budget then you might have found your phone. But if you want everything else up to spec as well, you’re going to be paying between R3k and R6.5k for the privilege. I’d be interested to see a similar handset with an HD screen, larger battery and a smidge more RAM from Mobicel, just to see how it does, but for now this is a good phone too. If a bit generic-looking.

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