Mint Connect Pearl Neo – This is what an R800 phone looks like

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The Mint Connect Pearl Neo is one of the cheapest Android 7 smartphones that you’ll find on the South African market today. It clocks in at just R800, is available from Pep Stores, and has… pretty much all the bits attached.

Usually when a phone is sub-R1,000 something is missing. Maybe there’s no front camera, perhaps it’s not running Android (at all), or something else has been yanked out to make space for cheap prices. Not so here, but nonetheless you’re going to have to keep the old adage “you get what you pay for” in mind.

Design – Remarkably unremarkable

The Pearl Neo is available in a series of colours but the Stuff review unit was a White+Gold handset. The white bit is the display, which is a 4.1in screen surrounded by a white bezel. The gold bit is the rear plastic panel which pulls off to reveal the battery, SIM and microSD slots. This plastic panel also comprises the edges of the phone, something we’d watch for potential damage. Crack the casing here and you won’t be able to clip the backing back on securely. So… don’t drop it.

The microUSB charge port and headphone jack are at the top of the phone, next to each other, and the volume and power buttons are on the upper right. That’s about it for the physical controls. The front 2.1MP camera is offset from the centre while the 5MP rear camera (with a second, 0.3MP companion) is bracketed by two LED flash units on the phone’s rear. That officially make this the cheapest dual-camera handset you can buy… there’s a reason for that.

Specs – What were you expecting?

There’s a 4.1in display in the Pearl Neo, with a 480 x 854 native resolution. We’re less than thrilled with the display, and not just because we’re used to HD, 2K, and 4K displays. The viewing angles of the Pearl Neo aren’t great and viewing the handset at an ideal angle involves an odd tilt. Viewing the screen off-axis is also a recipe for a headache.

Inner hardware is led by a MediaTek quad-core based on the Cortex A7 chipset, the MT658M. It’s got 1GB of RAM behind it and 8GB of storage (4.2GB of which is available). There’s an option to add some microSD storage and those cards are cheap these days, thankfully. It’s not a great setup for Android 7, to be honest, but the OS runs well enough when you’re not taxing it. No multitasking, you hear?

Performance – Going through the motions

We put the Pearl Neo through our test environments, just for the heck of it. We wanted to see how an R800 phone would do on a benchmark program. The answer? About as well as could be expected.

Geekbench 4 popped out results of 423 for single-core performance and 1217 for multi-core, meaning that this little budget handset isn’t even on the board when it comes to computing power. Similarly, Antutu gave us a score of 21485 which is… miles away from anything competitive. Not that we were expecting anything else from this one. It costs less than a grand.

What we did note from the benchmark apps was a report of the phone’s battery capacity. Two different apps claimed a 1000mAh battery, something contradicted by the handset’s specs list as well as the battery itself, which is marked 2000mAh. We’re hoping this is a software-based reporting error, but it didn’t have much impact on the actual phone usage. You’re going to get about a day of up-time with moderate use. We know the specs are low but you shouldn’t see that with a 1000mAh battery.

Camera – One hidden surprise

It’s not like Mint Connect made a secret of this one but we were still surprised to see that a dual camera was included… though it seems to have been included so that it can be put on the box as a feature. The rear camera is a 5MP main sensor and a second, 0.3MP companion which gives users access to a very limited blur or bokeh mode.

You’d have to be some kind of artist to really make this mode work for you, as well as one possessing hands of steel for steadying your shots. Not that it matters much, the 5MP sensor shows noticeable grain in images shot in all but the very best lighting and even then, a minor zoom will soon show the flaws in your images. But again, you’re paying R800 for this phone. It is supposed to be surprising that the camera works at all. It does, just not amazingly well.

Mint Connect Pearl Neo Verdict

At the end of the day, the price is the thing. For R800 you can have a 4.1in smartphone with Android 7 (though we have to wonder if Android Go wouldn’t have been a better idea), a rudimentary dual rear camera, and enough power that you can get by day-to-day. The display isn’t the greatest we’ve ever seen, a little more RAM would have gone a long way, the onboard storage will fill up fast, and the dual cameras are a gimmick for the box specs list, but it’s cheap enough that you could buy around eighteen of them for the price of a Galaxy S9. For a first-time Android user, you could do worse for more cash.

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