Meet Wileyfox, an 'edgy' new mobile brand powered by Cyanogen

Launching in London today, the new company is set to take on the smartphone market with budget hardware and unusual Android software.

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Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Wileyfox is a new mobile phone brand powered by Cyanogen. Luke Westaway/CNET

LONDON -- Stand by for a new name in the mobile market: Wileyfox is a whole new smartphone brand launching here today, and at the core is an Android rival called Cyanogen.

Cyanogen is an operating system based on Google's Android, adding different features to give you a more customisable experience to the traditional Android used on phones from more established names such as Samsung.

The two new phones announced today by the UK company are the 5-inch Swift and 5.5-inch Storm. The Swift costs just £129 (about $200 or AU$280) and the Storm £199 (about $315 or AU$435). They're available to preorder direct from the company later this week and will be delivered in October. They'll be on sale in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, but not the US or Australia as yet.

Both are 4G LTE phones powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon processors. The Storm boasts an octa-core Snapdragon 615 chip, while the Swift runs a relatively modest quad-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon 410 chip. Unusually for the UK, both phones have dual SIM slots, meaning you can slot in a cheap second SIM while you're in another country.

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The Wileyfox Swift has a removable battery but the Storm does not. Luke Westaway/CNET

Both also have expandable storage, in contrast to Samsung, whose recent Galaxy phones have stopped offering the feature.

Wileyfox devices use Cyanogen OS 12.1. Among the new features offered by Cyanogen are security features that will appeal to consumers worried about their privacy. The unlock screen can scramble the numbers to make it harder for snoops to spy on your PIN. And if you're alarmed by apps like Spotify that ask for access to unexpected parts of your phone, you can turn on and off individual app permissions. So for example, you can permit an app access to your camera but not your contacts, or require the app to ask each time it wants to use a different part of your phone. It also shows you the last time an app dipped into the further reaches of your phone, which is bound to be an eye-opening experience.

As a new brand, the company needs to carve attention from phone fans. "It's an edgy brand," says industry analyst Ben Wood of CCS Insight, "but it needs to be so it whips up a frenzy of social media interest. That's the lifeblood for brands like this."

When it comes to new players in the mobile space, much of the attention in the past couple of years has been on software as much as hardware, with operating systems Firefox OS, Ubuntu and Cyanogen looking to chisel out some of Android's market share. Following the example of China-based OnePlus , which powers its phones with Android-based OxygenOS software, and previously used Cyanogen, Wileyfox offers both niche software and new hardware.

"OnePlus has shown that there is clear demand for differentiated Android products in an increasingly homogenous market," said industry analyst Geoff Blaber, also of CCS Insight. "With few Cyanogen-based models easily available in Europe, there is a clear opportunity for nimble manufacturers. Cyanogen is steadily gaining momentum and stands to deliver where a long line of other contenders have failed to challenge the Android status quo."

Wileyfox is one of two new mobile hardware brands launching this month, the launches timed around next week's annual technology trade show IFA in Berlin. The other is Gigaset, previously a wireless home phone brand, which is backed by the clout of parent company Siemens and is aiming for a premium market by sponsoring posh events such as Ascot.

The world of mobile phones is already crowded, so the new players have a tough journey ahead. With a wave of new small entrants to the market in recent years, such as OnePlus, Kazam , Xiaomi or Huawei's spin-off brand Honor, there's as much competition as the original smartphone boom when new players such as Apple, Samsung, HTC and the like upended established names such as Nokia.

"Wileyfox is another brand targeting the 'long tail' of the 1.5 billion unit smartphone market," said Wood. "It's a great looking product and the company will be hoping it generates some of the excitement that has accompanied similar products from OnePlus and others."