A huge improvement on Wileyfox’s original Spark, but the X still has some way to go before it beats the Moto G4
Processor: Quad-core 1.3GHz MediaTek 6735, Screen Size: 5.5in, Screen resolution: 1,280 x 720, Rear camera: 13 megapixels, Storage (free): 16GB (11.3GB), Wireless data: 3G, 4G, Dimensions: 154 x 79 x 8.8mm, Weight: 163g, Operating system: Cyanogen 13.0
The Wileyfox Spark was pretty underwhelming when it first launched earlier this year, but the Spark X, its upmarket sibling, is arguably a much better bet. For an extra £20 over the original Spark, you get a larger 5.5in display, 16GB of storage rather than 8GB, double the RAM, a bigger battery and a higher-resolution 13-megapixel camera.
That’s quite the leap from the Spark’s 5in screen, 1GB of RAM and 8-megapixel rear camera, and it makes you wonder why Wileyfox bothered releasing it in the first place. The Spark X still has some things in common with its little brother, namely its overall design, quad-core 1.3GHz MediaTek 6735 processor and 1,280 x 720 resolution, but otherwise it’s a huge improvement in every respect.
The Wileyfox Spark X still quite a chunky handset, measuring 8.8mm at its thinnest point, but its classy soft-touch rear gives it an air of sophistication that many £110 smartphones simply don’t have. Whether you like the bronze fox head and Wileyfox branding on the back will be down to a matter of personal taste – I, for one, am not a huge fan – but at least they’re nicely complemented by the bronze ring surrounding the camera lens and subtle bronze plastic frame framing the phone.
It’s a shame Wileyfox hasn’t seen fit to include a Full HD screen here. The Spark X’s resolution of 720 x 1,280 means it’s less sharp than its 5in sibling due to a lower pixel density.
Its Cyanogen 13 interface still looks crisp enough from a normal viewing distance, but it doesn’t take much before you start noticing its flaws. App icons in homescreen folders are noticeably jaggy, and notification text is a little fuzzy around the edges. To be fair, this would have been perfectly acceptable on a phone this cheap about a year ago, but ever since the £160 Moto G4 rolled into town with its 5.5in, Full HD screen, large budget smartphones have had to try a lot harder to make the grade.
The Spark X falls behind on overall screen quality, too, with our measurements showing that it’s only able to display 85% of the sRGB colour space. This is a step down from the Spark’s 89.8%, and the Moto G4’s 90.0% coverage, and the result is a slightly duller, less vibrant colour palette. The colour temperature is also a little warm for my liking, with whites taking on slight pinkish tinge. That said, its contrast ratio of 1,154:1 is respectable, and with a peak brightness of 563cd/m2, it will remain perfectly readable whether you’re using it indoors or standing outside in direct sunlight.
With a quad-core 1.3GHz MediaTek MT6735 processor and 2GB of RAM at its disposal, the Spark X isn’t the quickest phone in the world, but it’s fast enough to handle some light web browsing and basic menu navigation. It can be a little sluggish on media-heavy websites, but with decent Geekbench 4 scores of 592 and 1,680 in the single- and multi-core tests, it won’t leave you hanging if all you want to do is browse your photo gallery or load up Google Maps.
It’s less adept at playing demanding games, as its rather pitiful score of 441 frames (6.6fps) in GFXBench GL’s Manhattan 3 onscreen benchmark can attest, but simple puzzle games such as Threes ran perfectly well.
The biggest improvement the Spark X makes on the original Spark, though, is its battery life. While its little brother couldn’t even make it to nine hours in our video-playback test, the Spark X put in a much better performance. It lasted 11hrs 4mins when I set the screen brightness to our standard measurement of 170cd/m2 and switched the handset into flight mode. This is still pretty mediocre – the Moto G4 lasted 13hrs 39mins – but at least the Spark X is better equipped to get you through the day than its little brother.
On the back, you’ll find the Spark X’s 13-megapixel camera. Considering it has a fairly narrow aperture of f/2.8, it actually does a decent job for the money. Shooting in Auto mode has a tendency to blow out whites and leave shadows quite dark, but this improved when I switched over to HDR mode. Otherwise, its colour reproduction was good and detail levels were steady throughout.
However, the camera app itself makes it very difficult to frame your pictures accurately. Despite being set to shoot in 4:3, the app’s viewfinder still displays in 16:9, so you never know whether you’ve got everything in the shot. It’s something I’ve complained about on previous Wileyfox phones, so it’s disappointing to see this still hasn’t been fixed.
It’s particularly irritating when you’re taking indoor shots in close quarters, and I constantly had to lean back to fit everything in. The Spark X started showing its limitations indoors as well. Objects were very soft round the edges even in bright lighting conditions, and there wasn’t much contrast between light and dark.
On the plus side, there’s little to no noise and colours were still reasonably bright and vivid. The fur on our stuffed bear was a little greenish, but nothing too troublesome.
For some people, a large part of the Spark X’s appeal will be down to the fact it uses Cyanogen rather than stock Android as its main operating system. Cyanogen is still based on Android, so it’s not too dissimilar in terms of its overall look and menu structure, but it does have a couple of extra features.
The Themes Store, for instance, lets you customise the look of the OS, while Truecaller is built straight into the phone’s dialler, allowing you to block calls and identify unknown callers without having to download an additional app. Another of Cyanogen’s big draws used to be individual app permissions, but this is now part of Android 6 and 7 by default, so it’s not quite so cutting-edge as it once was.
Instead, it’s the smaller touches that give the Spark X a bit of an edge, such as the option to select a left-handed mode when you’re using the phone in landscape mode, and the ability to add additional shortcuts to the power button. A double-press opens the camera, for instance, but you can also use it to end calls.
It’s also possible to configure separate system profiles for when the phone is set to silent or when you’re in your car, allowing you to alter the phone’s notification preferences, screen brightness, lockscreen mode and Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS automatically.
For all its merits, though, there’s still one smartphone that does it all better than the Spark X, and that’s the Moto G4. It is, admittedly, £50 more expensive SIM-free, but I’d say it’s worth the extra cost. Not only are you getting a sharper, higher-quality display, but also a superior camera and longer-lasting battery.
The Spark X is still a good choice if you don’t want to spend much more than £100 on a smartphone (although this might change once I get the new Moto E3 in for review, which has a 5in screen, a splashproof design and costs just £99). However, if you’re looking for the very best budget smartphone that money can buy, the Moto G4 still reigns supreme.