If you didn’t already know, MBEDDED recently partnered with GearBest to deliver you, the reader, awesome deals on various gadgets like smartphones, tablets, and wearables on a regular basis. So to celebrate the partnership, the online retailer decided to send us over an Android phone that only costs $120. The specs looked pretty impressive, with near-stock Android Marshmallow, an octa-core processor, 3GB of RAM, a 720p display, and more. This device, called the Vernee Thor, even has a fingerprint sensor on the back. It kind of bewildered us how this phone was so cheap. But nonetheless, we’ve now had the phone for a little while and are ready to share our thoughts on what a $120 phone can get you nowadays.
The design of the Vernee Thor is undeniably great. During my testing, I was never reminded that this is a $120 smartphone. With curved 2.5D glass, a nice soft touch back that, while is plastic, doesn’t feel cheap, a 7.9mm thickness factor, and a weight of just 140g, you’d begin to think this phone cost double of what Vernee sells it for. And even though the screen on this guy measures in at 5 inches, the Thor is designed with a footprint ever-so-slightly bigger than that of an iPhone 6s. That means very little bezel and a whole lotta screen.
Regarding the sides of the phone, the Thor’s power and volume buttons, while rather wiggly and not installed with very much precision, are positioned on the right so basically anyone with any size hand can reach them with ease. The entire left side is blank, the bottom includes a microUSB port and microphone, and the top features a 3.5mm headphone jack. Overall, IO on the Thor is really nice.
To touch a bit more on the back of the phone, the Thor’s rear cover is removable which gives you access to two SIM slots alongside a microSD card reader. Unfortunately, the battery isn’t removable, but since it’s rated at 2800mAh, you shouldn’t really pout about that. More on this in a bit…
Also found on the back of the Thor is a loud speaker which is pretty mediocre to say the least. In addition, a fingerprint sensor sits right below the rear camera and flash that’s incredibly convenient to have and is positioned so my index finger naturally sits on it when picking the device up. However, the sensor isn’t perfect as I’ll explain later.
Flipping over the Thor will grant your eyes the sight of a 5-inch 720p IPS display and three capacitive keys (we’ll get to those in the Software section). For a 5-inch phone, 720p is absolutely fine as pixels aren’t as noticeable as they would be on something like a 5.5- or 6-inch screen. Viewing angles, I have to say, are absolutely stellar as you can almost reach a full 180 degree angle without the colors washing out. In addition, colors manage to be a bit over saturated and a tad inaccurate, but this is forgivable when factoring in everything else about the screen.
Oh, and with that 2.5D curved Corning Gorilla Glass 3, this thing is super smooth to swipe on. Just sayin’…
While there’s no doubt that plenty of nicer designs for smartphones could’ve been used in this case, the Thor’s all-plastic approach doesn’t give the impression that this handset is cheap. On the contrary, I feel as though I’d have to pay at least $250 in order to obtain a unit of this phone. From the feel of the soft touch material around the sides and back, the ultra-thin form factor, the rounded corners which sit nicely in your hand, and even the inclusion of the fingerprint sensor, most would believe this phone costs much more than $120. Therefore, I absolutely love the Thor’s design as it’s all around great for the money.
In addition to the phone, GearBest also sent us a case for the Thor to check out. It’s a transparent shell-type cover with a smoke-type tint to it, and overall, I’ve enjoyed it. Sure, it adds a little extra bulk to the phone and boy is it glossy, but overall I’ve liked the case. It’s not my favorite, however it’s remained on the phone since the day I received it.
Specs & Performance
Inside the Vernee Thor is an octa-core MediaTek MT6753 processor clocked in at 1.3GHz. Let me just say that this chipset is absolutely great. Speed is fluid throughout the experience, while I’m pretty sure it’s ultra-fast boot times are aided by this processor. All in all, everything about this chip inside the Thor is great (you know, at least in my testing).
Regarding the RAM, an absolutely staggering (for the price) 3GB of RAM is present. To be honest, I’ve never seen 3GB of RAM inside a smartphone costing less than $200, so this feature is obviously super nice to have and really benefits the MediaTek processor. There’s enough RAM in this guy to navigate in and out of apps very quickly, while only a few withdraws have occurred during my extensive testing. Overall, the RAM count in the Thor is absolutely excellent. Nice job, Vernee!
Gaming on the Thor, while not as good as everyday performance, is relatively okay thanks to the ARM Mali-T720 MP3 GPU. Titles like Stack, Crossy Road, and even Fanatical Football run well, however when getting into more immersive games like Real Racing 3 and Suicide Squad: Special Ops, things get rather studdery. I’m not saying it’s terrible because you can definitely play these games, but the experience won’t be all that great, especially with the multiple dropped frames I noticed.
Getting into storage, the Thor comes in one capacity: 16GB. Sure, this amount isn’t enough for lots of people, but I tend to keep my device’s light anyway, meaning I never install a ton of apps or games. Luckily, there’s a microSD card slot available which can take up to a 128GB card. I popped in an 8GB memory card just to store some music from Apple Music which I found to be very convenient. Overall, plenty will appreciate the inclusion of this slot since not much on-board space is available.
With silky performance throughout, plenty of RAM to tear through social media and even productivity apps like Evernote or Microsoft Word, decent enough gaming performance, and expandable storage, there’s not much else you can ask for after paying just $120. Of course, there’s gotta be a catch, right? A phone that sounds this good can’t be perfect? My friend, this is the unfortunate truth as you’ll learn below.
Unfortunately, the software loaded on the Vernee Thor isn’t very great. In fact, I’ll go as far to say that it pretty much stinks and is by far the biggest let down of this entire device.
Okay, let me slow my roll. First off, the Thor runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow, and not 6.0.1. This means you won’t be getting the newer emojis released at the beginning of 2016 alongside the revived Do Not Disturb option from Android 5.1. Honestly, I really wish the Thor ran 6.0.1 as my opinions on the software would be a bit better. However, this isn’t even the worst of it.
For some odd reason, the flick rate on the Thor is way too fast. Specifically, when you flick your thumb while scrolling through something like an article or the Settings app, all the content moves too quickly across your screen for you to even notice or read anything. Since I received the phone, I’ve gotten two software updates on it, but this issue is still persistent. I have no idea why Vernee doesn’t fix this issue, but it bugs me each time I use the handset. Luckily, you will get used to operating this software in a manner so you don’t miss out on anything while scrolling, but you really shouldn’t have to. Everything should just be as smooth as every other Android device.
With my rant on flick rates aside, the Thor includes a custom-built launcher which interferes with the relatively stock Android experience. Besides this launcher, a custom lock screen is present which, while isn’t much different from the stock Android lock screen, doesn’t let your home screen wallpaper become the one you find when waking the device up. This I find very annoying as I tend to like having a consistent look across my phone, but again this issue can be patched up via a software update that has yet to arrive.
Other than these two tweaks most users probably won’t mind, a few built-in apps like Uber, a secondary Browser, Calendar, and Email client, a backup and restore function, a file manager, and a weird search tool come preloaded on the Thor and can’t be uninstalled. That said, some of them can be disabled like the Jelly Bean-style phone dialer and Uber. And since this phone comes unlocked, there’s no carrier tweaks or bloatware to be seen. So really, preloaded junk on the Thor is relatively minimal, leading to my declaration that even though the way the software works on the Thor is kinda awful, near-stock Android Marshmallow with no custom skin is here. Praise the Lord.
Unfortunately, my take on the Thor’s OS can’t end here, as there’s other problems that interfere with the actual hardware.
For starters, the fingerprint sensor mounted to the back of the phone works great… when I’m not unlocking the handset. For some reason, programming my fingerprints is a very pleasant experience as zero errors occur while doing so. However, when I go and try to unlock the Thor via the lock screen, things get pretty iffy. Sometimes I make it into my phone on the first try, while sometimes the scanner keeps failing so many times that I wind up just typing in my PIN. Overall, I completely blame this issue on the software aboard the Thor as the scanner isn’t supported very well. Again, I believe Vernee could fix this problem with a software update, but that probably won’t happen for a while at this rate.
I have more on this subject below, but regarding the camera on the Thor, taking pictures is just awful. On your screen, the picture will look absolutely terrible regardless whether you have good lighting or not. Things appear muddy and overall extremely blurry. However, after you take a picture and view it later, you’ll notice that the picture looks 10x better than you originally anticipated. The sharpness will have been brought up, the saturation will look much better, and overall clearness will be on point. The reason for the poor viewfinder on the Thor is no doubt thanks to the faulty software. Bad communication between it and the actual camera hardware is present constantly, and there’s no way to fix it other than a software update.
Last but not least, let’s talk about those capacitive buttons. There’s three keys mounted to the bottom of the Thor’s front side, and while I usually enjoy hardware navigation, I haven’t been very stoked about what this phone brings to the table. For instance, the home button must be held down in order to access your recent apps, while the back button is on the right and an unnecessary menu button is on the left. Unfortunately, you can’t reprogram these keys even though two of them are just dots, so by far this is one of the biggest annoyances of the entire handset.
Oh yeah, and thanks to that long press of the home button to access recent apps, you can’t bring up Google Now on Tap. At all. 😐
Even though I nearly hate the software on the Vernee Thor, I can’t say it’s unbearable as you can live with it. For instance, I now know how to control the scrolling speed so things don’t just dart past me, while I’ve assured myself that photos and videos I take with the cameras will look much better after I take them. But with a number of flaws and unnecessary tweaks around the entire OS, I’ve overall been very disappointed by what the Thor’s like to use software wise.
On the back of the Thor, you’ll find a 13MP camera with an f/2.0 aperture, LED flash, HDR, and autofocus. Surprisingly, this camera is really good for $120. Photos come our crystal clear (most of the time, while plenty of saturation, sharpening, and clarity is present. Here’s a gallery of some pics I took with the rear camera:
Video on the Thor is rated at 1080p good for 30fps. Quality is decent enough to call it good, however it’s by no means great.
On the front of the Thor is a 5MP camera that can shoot 480p video. There’s not much special here, but it does offer enough to satisfy your selfie needs.
While the cameras on the Thor aren’t anything special, they are extremely great for the price. Of course, Vernee could’ve installed better sensors, but then the price probably would’ve had to increase. Therefore, I think you’re getting the most for your money in this case, even though video isn’t fantastic.
Battery life on the Vernee Thor, I have to say, has been great. I can easily get through a full day’s worth of use (about 4 hours of screen-on time) thanks to the 2800mAh cell on board, while sometimes I can begin pushing two days. Unfortunately, you won’t be getting much more than that, but one day is usually good enough for most people, including myself.
A microUSB port is on the bottom of the Thor for charging. The box of the handset claims there’s fast charging, but I haven’t been able to test this feature out since I was sent a European wall adapter and not a US unit. That said, charging the Thor’s battery from 0 to 100% takes about 2 hours using a simple Samsung wall wart. This is by far a shining feature of the Thor since this is faster than most phones in the $150 price range. And the best part? Vernee didn’t have to sacrifice valuable battery size to decrease charging times. Smart.
Overall, I’ve been satisfied with the battery life of the Vernee Thor. By no means is it the best I’ve ever experienced, but it’s nevertheless been great for me and my needs. Of course, everyone will experience various battery life times as everyone uses their phones in a unique way, but at least for me, a day is what I can get through with the Thor.
All in all, the Vernee Thor is a great phone for just $120. The build quality is stellar, the display is spot on, the processor is nice and speedy, the RAM will surpass anyone’s expectations, and the cameras are pretty good if not great. Even though the software is dreadful most of the time, at least it’s near-stock Android Marshmallow and not Lollipop or something. My final verdict? I give the Vernee Thor a 7.5/10 on a scale of 1 to 10 with exceptions made for the software, gaming performance, and video capture quality. And to answer your question, yes the Thor can be improved in many ways, with the main way being the software. Otherwise, the price would have to go up, which isn’t what Vernee wants to do.
Pricing & Availability
The Vernee Thor is currently available for $119.99 over on GearBest.com unlocked in Grace Black or Metal Gray.
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