Verykool s470 Black Pearl review: Solid performance on a budget
This unlocked, dual-SIM phone has a nice screen and performs well.
In any other company's smartphone lineup, the $230 unlocked Black Pearl would be the budget option. For San Diego-based manufacturer Verykool, it's the premium model.
At its price, the Black Pearl is a great value for what you get. It has a crisp screen, fast processor, dual-SIM capability, and a few software extras that make it more than just another budget Android handset.
The Black Pearl beats the Verykool Vortex in every way. Though it's the company's most expensive model, at $280, and has a water-resistant, rugged exterior, the Vortex is plagued by an out-of-date operating system and an inferior screen.
Despite its name, nothing about the design of the Black Pearl reminds me of an actual pearl. It has a slightly curved rounded body and slick matte back cover, and comes in two colors, black and white. I tested the black model.
Sizewise, it's nearly identical to the Samsung Galaxy S4, just thicker. Officially, the phone measures 5.4 inches tall, 2.7 inches wide, and 0.4 inch deep. It weighs 5.6 ounces, which makes it feel hefty and solid in my hands.
The smooth polycarbonate back cover wraps around the sides of the phone and there's a speaker grille near the bottom. Remove the cover to reveal the battery, two SIM slots, and a microSD card slot. You need to pull out the battery to access either card slot, which is a pain. The dual SIM slots are stacked one on top of the other, with SIM 1 behind SIM 2. The Black Pearl uses full-size SIM cards, which, compared with today's standard micro-SIM, is outdated.
Though overall the phone feels solid, the back cover feels flimsy in places. Occasionally, it would lift up when I plugged in Micro-USB cable. Aside from that, the phone is sturdy. Though there's no official documentation on what kinds of falls it can sustain, I can say that it showed no damage when I accidentally let it fall about 2 feet onto a hard carpeted floor.
The power button is up top, and is built into the back cover. Next to that is the headphone jack. On the bottom, there is a Micro-USB port for charging.
The volume rocker is on the left side and has two raised nubs for volume up and down, making it easy to press without looking at the phone. However, it's a bit too high up on the left side for me to comfortably reach it when I hold the phone up to my ear while on a call.
The Black Pearl sports a 4.7-inch diagonal HD IPS 1,280x720-pixel-resolution (312 ppi) screen, which is on par with other smartphones with similarly sized displays. I was really impressed by the screen; it looks sharp, crisp, and bright.
Additionally, colors look natural and vibrant. My only criticism is that the display can look a little dim on automatic brightness under normal office lighting conditions, but it's remarkably readable in direct sunlight, which is a plus.
OS and features
Though it looks as though the Black Pearl is running a vanilla version of Android Jelly Bean 4.2, there are a few modifications. Verykool included a handful of apps, such as a file manager, a notepad app called NoteBook, a setup guide, and an app called OOBE (short for out-of-box experience).
OOBE helps you tweak a few system settings and toggle between SIM cards if you're using more than one. You can even change the color of each SIM's signal bars, so you can tell them apart. OOBE is not to be confused with the Quick Start Guide, which gives you an onscreen demo of how to use the phone.
There's also a persistent search bar at the top of each home screen that looks just like the standard Google search bar from Ice Cream Sandwich, 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. 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.
In settings, you can quickly change the phone's sound settings by choosing a preset audio profile from General, Silent, Meeting, and Outdoor. You can tweak the settings of General, but the rest have predetermined settings. For instance, Meeting is vibrate-only, while Outdoor has the loudest ring volume level and also vibrates. You can also add your own profiles and set the volume level, key press sounds, and notification tones. Also switch profiles in the Quick Settings drop-down menu.
In that same audio profile section, there's option to enhance the audio on the earpiece for better sound quality during a phone call, though the differences in call quality with it on and off were negligible.
Lastly, there's a stock Android browser preinstalled which has an extra feature; you can pop out a Web page into a smaller window that hangs out on top of the home screen or other apps. You can't resize the window, which is a bummer, but you can move the view around to see every part of the page. This a neat feature that you can find on Samsung and LG phones as well. It's useful for when you need to reference a tidbit of information from Web site -- say a product name or business number -- to use elsewhere, such as while sending an e-mail or entering an address into Google Maps.
Camera and video
There's an 8-megapixel main camera on the back of the phone, which protrudes slightly above the back cover. There's also an LED flash right below the lens. Overall, it takes decent photos, with a few caveats.
In most of my test photos, the Black Pearl's camera struggled to take clear, well-lit shots. Though the camera has an autofocus, with an option to tap the screen to manually focus, close-up shots didn't always turn out sharp. That led to photos with very small focus areas with anything not in focus looking blurry. Also, the camera had a hard time capturing color variations in close-ups as well.
Landscape shots look clear and well-lit, but again, some areas end up looking blurry and out of focus.
In CNET's standard studio shot, colors look true and detail shows up well, though the white backdrop shows up beige.
There's also a 2-megapixel front-facing camera for video chats and selfies. The photos and video I captured with it looked clear and bright.
The back camera can also shoot HD video in 1080p at 30 frames per second. I didn't have many complaints here, as the videos I shot were sharp and clear.
The camera UI is nearly identical to the one on the Alcatel One Touch Fierce, and as a result, is just as confusing. On one side of the viewfinder, there's a row of icons that represent different scene options. Some are obvious, such as HDR and panorama shot, while others, like the star and the box with the heart, are less so. The only way to find out what each scene does is to tap and hold the icon until the helper text appears.
Also, just like on the One Touch Fierce, when you tap on the video icon to switch to video mode, the camera automatically starts recording. Most phones switch into video mode and then give you a big red record button to start shooting, so it's jarring here to have the phone start recording without that extra step.
The Black Pearl is an unlocked dual-SIM phone that can be used on any GSM network worldwide. In the US, that means it will work on AT&T and T-Mobile. You can't use it on a CDMA network, so that means it won't work on Verizon Wireless, Sprint, MetroPCS, Cricket, or U.S. Cellular. I tested the phone on T-Mobile's network in San Francisco.
Dual-SIM phones, which aren't available on any US carrier and thus must be purchased unlocked, allow you to have two phone numbers and two cellular service plans running on the same phone. They are useful while traveling, and allow you to have both a business and personal line on the same device.
Call quality on the Black Pearl is overall pretty good. On one call to another cell phone on T-Mobile's network, my test caller's voice sounded a bit muffled, but otherwise there was no static or dropped words. She said I sounded clear and she couldn't hear any background noise, even though I was in a crowded public space.
Verykool Black Pearl call quality sample Listen now:
In another test call, this time to a landline, the person on the other end said that I sounded far away and a bit tinny, but not so much that it was distracting.
The only major issue I encountered was with the speakerphone. Unless I held the microphone right next to my mouth, my tester said I sounded too far away. Also, the speaker itself is very quiet even at the highest volume, and I couldn't hear it at all while standing outdoors next to a busy street. Indoors, the sound was faint even in a quiet area at maximum volume.
Inside, the Black Pearl has a 1.2GHz processor, which is slightly slower than what competing phones have, but still performs well.
Opening apps feels fast and snappy, and though the game Temple Run 2 took a very long time to download over the HSPA+ connection, it ran without any glitches or problems.
Testing on T-Mobile's network in San Francisco, I was only able to get 4G HSPA+ speeds, since the phone doesn't support LTE. That means, depending on your carrier, browsing Web sites and downloading apps can be slow.
The phone packs a 2,000mAh battery, which Verykool says should last for 10 hours of 3G talk time, and for 12.5 days on standby. Anecdotally, the battery didn't drain either particularly slowly or quickly while I testing the phone and you should be able to get through the day on a single charge. During our battery drain test for continuous video playback, it lasted 8.18 hours.
Though the unlocked Verykool Black Pearl doesn't have the latest top-notch specs, at $229.99 unlocked and off-contract, it's a great value. Its admirable screen, sturdy design, dual-SIM capabilities, and unique software features make it worth a look if you're in the market for a budget handset.
If you're willing to go on-contract, there are many affordable options. But for those seeking an unlocked phone, the Black Pearl is one of the least expensive options available. For instance, one of our top unlocked smartphone picks, the HTC One Google Play Edition, costs $549. Likewise, the highly rated unlocked Sony Xperia Z has an MSRP of $549.99.
The only unlocked handset that comes close to the Black Pearl's price tag is the Nexus 5, the most notable unlocked phone of late. It costs $349, or $120 more than the Black Pearl. If you can afford that, I recommend you buy the Nexus 5, because it's full of top-of-the-line specs and is running the latest version of Android. If you can't swing the extra cost, the Black Pearl is a compelling alternative.