LONDON--A new mobile brand made its world debut today when it introduced two phones to a crowded Android field.
Wileyfox is aiming to set the Swift and Storm apart not by their features, which aren't all that unusual, but by their Cyanogen operating systems. An alternate version of Android Lollipop 5.1, Cyanogen OS 12.1 has different features that allow users to customize their phones exactly as they'd like. Of note to those concerned about privacy, the software lets you set app permissions for specific parts of the phone, such as letting an app access your camera but not your contacts.
The Swift, which costs just £129, and the Storm, priced at £199, will be available to pre-order direct from the company this week with deliveries slated for September 22 (for the Swift), with the Storm following sometime in October. So far, they will be on sale in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. There are no plans for a release in the US or Australia as of yet, but those prices convert to around $200 and $315, or AU$280 and AU$435.
The Storm boasts the most powerful features of the two handsets. Behind the 5.5-inch HD display are support for dual SIM cards and 4G LTE networks, a 20-megapixel camera, an 8-megapixel front camera, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage and a microSD card slot (up to 128GB). Powering it all is an octa-core Snapdragon 615 chip and a non-removable 2,500mAh battery (unlike the Swift, whose cell is removable).
The Swift runs on a more modest quad-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon 410 chip. Its features include a 5-inch HD display, dual SIM-card slots and support for 4G LTE networks. There's a 13-megapixel main camera and a 5-megapixel front shooter, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage and a microSD card slot (up to 32GB).
While the Swift and Storm's hardware is nothing we haven't seen before, things do get a little more interesting when you delve into the Cyanogen software, which brings some neat tweaks. There's a wealth of security options to lock your phone down tighter than Farmer Bean's cider reserves, including the power to randomise the numbers displayed on the PIN entry screen and confuse ne'er-do-wells who might try to figure out your passcode by examining the fingerprints on your screen.
You can also customise permissions, deciding exactly what kinds of data particular apps are allowed to use, so you can let them access your camera, say, but not your contacts. The dialler app lets you block numbers, or identify spam calls before you answer -- a feat achieved using crowd-sourced information from third-party service Truecaller.
Elsewhere, the camera offers slow-motion shooting (though not as slow or as smooth as that offered on the iPhone), there are built-in equaliser modes if you want to tinker with its sound, and you can customise the navigation keys that sit along the bottom of the screen.
Although both the Swift and Storm are relatively cheap smartphones, they manage not to feel too tacky. Both have a charcoal grey, matte texture on the back, with some orange accents on the logo and surrounding the camera. The display doesn't match the heady heights of much more luxurious mobiles like the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+, but icons are very crisp, and menus and apps pop open with a buttery smoothness -- although tech advances mean it's highly unusual these days to find a phone that does lag or stutter.
There's a lot to like about these upstart mobiles, and Wileyfox has been smart to ally with Cyanogen, which brings a clutch of features to the phones that you won't find on other Android kit. There's plenty of competition in the realm of cheap phones, however, both from big-name companies such as Motorola and rival upstarts such as OnePlus and Xiaomi.
Editor's note 1.15 p.m. UK: Added hands-on impressions and photos.