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.
The camera comes with various shooting modes, including HDR, panorama, and smile shot, which captures a photo when it detects someone is smiling.
The Spark records video in 1080p, but, as with still photos, the finished videos you shoot won't wow you. When you switch to the camcorder in the phone's camera app, it starts recording immediately, which caught me off-guard. There's also a tiny pause button to halt recording, but it's so small you might miss it.
Another issue I have with the camera is that the back lens is located at the top edge of the phone, which makes it hard to frame shots, especially close-ups. Holding the phone with two hands, to get a steady landscape shot, my fingers often covered the lens, and it felt awkward to hold the phone so they didn't get in the way.
I tested the Spark's call quality on T-Mobile's network in San Francisco using a prepaid SIM card, and the phone impressed me. Overall, calls sounded clear, though voices weren't as natural as I'd like. There was some minimal distortion and extraneous noises, but all in all, the phone performed well. My calling partner could hear me well, with very little background noise, even outdoors with a lot of ambient noise.
Many phones struggle with speakerphone calls, producing distorted audio and struggling to pick up your voice even with the microphone close to your mouth. However, the Verykool Spark did well here too -- on a call, my testing partner sounded loud and clear, and he said that I sounded the same, even when I held the phone down and away from me.
What's surprising is that, at full volume, calls on the speaker sounded clear, but when playing music or a video at maximum volume, the audio sounded blown-out at times.
The Spark uses a 1.3GHz quad-core MediaTek processor that's adequate for playing games, streaming video, and launching apps. You won't notice it feeling snappy, but it's not especially sluggish either.
However, the camera app is slow to load, a symptom of the low-end processor. Other apps, including Gmail, Facebook, and the game Riptide GP2 took a few seconds to open as well.
The phone comes with just 1GB of RAM, and 4GB of internal storage, which will fill up fast if you take a lot of photos or download a lot of apps. You can add up to 32GB of extra space with an SD card.
|Average 3G download speed||0.46Mbps|
|Average 3G upload speed||0.81Mbps|
|App download (Temple Run 2)||48.6MB in 4 minutes and 39 seconds|
|CNET mobile site load||5.6 seconds|
|CNET desktop site load||8.7 seconds|
|Restart time||29 seconds|
|Camera boot time||1.7 seconds|
The Spark has a 2,000mAh battery, which, frankly, doesn't keep you going for very long. Verykool says the phone can survive for 240 hours, or 10 days, on standby, and has just five hours of talk time over 3G. If you aren't using the phone much, you can get at least a full day out of it, but once you start launching a few apps, using the camera, or browsing the Internet, the battery will start to drain quickly. On a typical day, where you check your email, play a few games, read online, and browse your social network apps, you'll likely need to top off your battery at some point, or else it will be dead by the evening. In CNET's video battery test, the phone lasted for 5 hours and 30 minutes, which is in line with Verykool's battery metrics.
The Spark is designed to run on 3G data networks, but I was able to pick up HSPA, an earlier version of 4G, on T-Mobile's network in San Francisco. Over that connection, websites took several seconds to load, and apps could take several minutes to download. Though LTE isn't available in every market, I'd still like to have that capability available on the phone.
The Verykool Spark is a great deal at $200 off-contract, and with the dual-SIM option, it can be used around the world. Though I could see it selling well in emerging markets, the US is another story. The market here is already full of low-cost devices that have better internal guts and its feature set, while fitting for its price, has no stand outs.
Still, if the dual-SIM feature is a must for you, the Verykool Spark is one of the better choices out there, compared to the Verykool Black Pearl and the Yezz Andy A4.5 . However, if you're just in the market for a low-cost Android device, Motorola's Moto G costs $199, too, and features better internal specs and a better camera.