The unlocked Verykool Spark S505, doesn't look like a budget phone at first glance. At just $200, it is a bargain, but its slim profile and solid feel give it a leg up over other handsets in its price range. The design, however is the main story here as its features, others than the two SIM card slots, are forgettable.
The Spark is the latest smartphone in Verykool's lineup, a brand that hails from San Diego-based InfoSonics. Earlier Verykool models have been disappointing -- the s470 Black Pearl is clunky and pricey, while the only standout feature of the RS90 Vortex is that it's waterproof. However, the Spark rises above its predecessors with a price that better matches its specs. The Spark is available in the US and Latin America, but keep in mind that it doesn't support 4G LTE networks.
It would be easy to mistake the Verykool Spark for a Samsung Galaxy S4 -- both have a rounded corners and a smooth back cover with a textured design. They are both around the same thickness, and from the front, they look alike.
However, the Spark has a few of its own traits. First, it has an all-plastic body, and while the silver accent around the edge of the phone looks like metal, it's not. There are no physical buttons on the front display, and the thin but prominent volume rocker and power/lock button take up the right edge. The phone is larger than the S4, which means it's slightly harder to hold one-handed, and when you hold the phone to your ear for a call, you might need to adjust your grip to reach the volume keys.
Officially, the Spark is 5.64 inches tall, 2.81 inches wide, and just 0.32-inch thick (143.50 x 71.60 x 8.25 mm), weighing 3.5 ounces (100 grams). It's at the size where it just barely fits into small pants pockets, but it easily slips into a purse or backpack.
The smooth, polycarbonate back cover slightly wraps around the sides of the phone, and it's especially hard to pry off to reveal the internal slots and battery. Behind it, there's two SIM card slots, one regular sized and one micro, plus a microSD card slot for up to 32GB of storage. You need to pull out the battery to access either SIM slot, or the microSD, which is annoying.
The Spark has a 5-inch, 1,280x720 pixel (293 ppi), touch screen that's bright, colorful, and easily readable in direct sunlight. It could be sharper, but for a midtier phone, it's quite good. That screen size gives you plenty of space to read Web pages and play games.
Interestingly, the phone comes with a screen protector already installed, which is a nice touch that you don't see with other phones. You also get a replacement screen protector.
The Spark is running Android Jelly Bean 4.2, which is nearly two years old and several steps behind the current Android KitKat 4.4. That means it's starting to look outdated and tired next to today's top smartphones. However, Verykool says the phone will eventually get an upgrade to KitKat.
The operating system looks like stock Android, but with a few modifications from Verykool, including tools to manage your SIM cards, such as selecting which card you want to use for phone calls and data, and switching between the two when you want.
The Spark comes with a handful of apps, such as a file manager, a setup guide, and an app called OOBE (short for out-of-box experience). There's also social-messaging app WhatsApp, productivity suite Kingsoft Office, and video-calling app Skype. It comes with most of the stock Google apps, such as Gmail, Google Play, and Maps. Others, including Play Music, and Chrome are missing, but you can download them separately.
Another modification is a paired-down setup program, which helps get your phone ready to use by selecting the language and setting the date and time. However, the Spark doesn't ask you to log in with your Google account or create a new one, which you'll need in order to download apps from Google Play. You'll need to head to settings to add your account manually.
There's also a persistent search bar at the top of each home screen that looks just like the standard Google search bar from Jelly Bean, but when you tap it, it brings up a bare-bones search app that's reminiscent of the Google search widget in Android 2.2 Froyo. However, if you tap the microphone icon, it brings up Google voice search. This is puzzling, because the phone comes with the most recent version of Google search, which includes Google Now, but you can't get to it from that home screen widget. You also can't get rid of that search bar unless you install a different launcher or flash a new ROM. To use Google Now, you can swipe up from the bottom of the screen.
The Spark comes with a 12-megapixel back camera and a 2-megapixel front-facing camera. However, this phone shows the number of megapixels doesn't always matter, because the camera consistently shot mediocre photos.
Like the Verykool Black Pearl, the Spark's camera couldn't consistently produce sharp, well-lit shots. Though the camera has an autofocus, as well as an option to tap the screen to focus manually, both close-up and wide shots weren't always in focus, despite my best efforts to change that.