On the sidelines of the Flash Plus 2 launch event in the Philippines, Lei Zhang, the company’s top executive in the country, talked about his brand being a new venture under China’s TCL and life after breaking off from Alcatel, the maker of the original Flash smartphone.
Stiffer challenges, of course, lie ahead for him and the Chinese startup — competing in the same space as Alcatel is admittedly among them — but he’s confident the 5.5-inch Plus 2 is just the start of something bigger. And he probably has every right to be, especially if his company’s first effort proves to be a hit with the younger and more tech-savvy audience it is meant for.
The Plus 2 is, first and foremost, a sub-$200 handset that unlike many other products on the bargain table gets plenty of things right. And in markets where price is king, more often than not, that’s a winning formula. Looking at the specs sheet, it’s pretty obvious this phone wants to make a solid impression. Where it falters, however, is in the choices Flash made with regard to designing the product and building it. Still, for P6,990 in the Philippines, or $160 in other countries where it has been made available, the value for money it represents is hard to ignore.
LIGHT ON PRICE, HEAVY ON FEATURES
It starts with the front, where the fingerprint scanner, which doubles as a home button, is located. It’s fast and surprisingly reliable, and what’s more, you can assign up to five fingerprints to specific apps, allowing you to launch, say, Facebook using your forefinger, or Twitter using your pinky. Not many phones on a budget have fingerprint hardware built into their bodies, and fewer make clever use of it. Not even my mighty iPhone can summon Facebook from the lockscreen.
There’s also the 5.5-inch display, which offers generous viewing angles and decent brightness. Text and images appear clean and sharp, thanks to its resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels. However, colors tend to look a bit washed out, even with good lighting. Just below the screen, there are two backlit capacitive buttons for fiddling with the interface. I appreciate that Flash went with a multitask button on the right edge of the navigation bar, rather than making use of a menu button, which is redundant in this age of Android apps with menu shortcuts.
The rear camera takes up to 13-megapixel photos, while the front-facer tops out at 5 megapixels. Neither are particularly impressive, but they get the job done if all you’re after are average shots with decent color reproduction and detail in good light. Here are a few photos taken with the Plus 2’s main and secondary cameras.
But perhaps the most impactful feature of all has less to do with how you use the phone in your hand and more to do during those downtimes when it is tethered to a socket. Because like many higher-tier smartphones these days, the Plus 2 supports fast charging with the supplied wall charger. In our anecdotal experience, a 60-minute charge powers the 3,000mAh battery to 90-percent capacity. It takes another 20 minutes or so to fully replenish the battery. And while that doesn’t sound so great in the larger scheme of things, it goes a long way in making the phone a joy to own.
LACKING GAMING CRED
On paper, the Flash Plus 2 offers a not-too-shabby assortment of specs for the money, running Android 6.0 Marshmallow on an LTE-ready MediaTek Helio P10 system-on-a-chip paired with eight CPU cores and at least 2GB of RAM and 16GB of expandable storage. A flashier variant with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage has been earmarked for release this month.
Day-to-day operation is fine; the near-stock Android interface feels responsive and isn’t overly encumbered by bloatware and visual fluff; and apps run as smoothly as expected given what’s under the hood. Our only issue with regard to performance so far is that the Plus 2 doesn’t work well with games like NBA 2K16 for Android that are more demanding on the graphics processor. Sure, you can say the same about so many other devices, but this is the latest midrange MediaTek processor we’re talking about here, and from a gaming standpoint, it just isn’t up to scratch compared to what’s on offer today.
The Flash Plus 2 has been described as a “more than metal” smartphone on several occasions. But as premium as the brand wants the phone to appear, that’s sadly not the case here. The backplate, which tapers down along the sides, is mostly (but not entirely) made of rigid metal, and that’s about it; every other exposed component is made of plastic, or plastic made to look like metal. The back is removable, too, though swapping out the battery for a spare is out of the question.
To be clear, our point here is not to nitpick design and build choices — because then we would be talking about the chunky bezels framing the display and the dim backlight under the capacitive keys — but when a company goes to great lengths to describe its product as something that goes above and beyond the norm, it better live up to expectations.
We’ve seen a good number of metal phones that retail for under $200, and some of them look and feel comparatively more premium than the Plus 2. Granted, it’s better-designed than a lot of budget handsets out there, so there’s that to consider as well.
IS THE FLASH PLUS 2 YOUR GADGETMATCH?
All things considered, the Plus 2 is a worthy pick for anyone looking for a reasonably priced smartphone with a lot of technology behind it. The only thing keeping us from giving it a glowing recommendation is not what we know about it, but what we don’t know about other devices launching later this year. The all-new, all-different ASUS ZenFone 3, for example, has recently been announced in Taiwan, and is tipped for release in the Philippines and other priority markets in August.