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Wileyfox Storm Review: The Budget British Flagship

Wileyfox is a brand new company, with only 2 devices on the market, but should you consider either of them? Well if you’re still asking that question you obviously didn’t read my Wileyfox Swift Review  – go do thatThe question you should be asking is how their high-end offering, the £199 Storm fares against the competition and that’s what we’re going to answer.

Disclaimer: The Wileyfox Storm we have in possession was provided to us by Wileyfox for the purposes of this review. We are not being compensated for our opinion and this device is ours for a loan period only. The Storm has been on CM 12.1-YOG4PAS3MG ROM, and has the November Security patch already installed. It was used on the Three UK Network for 2 weeks as our daily driver.

Unboxing

A Fluorescent orange box with the Wileyfox logo is what you’re greeted with when you gaze upon the box for the first time. Below that is but a simple “#Wileyfox ” marking. Above is their website, and on the left of the original view is the Slogan “Powered by Cyanogen” showing us that this is indeed powered by the commercial side of Cyanogen Inc. Lastly on the back we have the regulatory information and another Wileyfox logo and the right side is black, unlike the fluorescent orange of the rest of the box. This signifies that the black piece can be removed.

Removing the Black compartment shows a translucent piece of material emblazoned with the Wileyfox logo. Removing that reveals to us the phone and a foam surround. Removing the foam shows us a piece of card that can be removed under which is another piece of card and the same flat beautiful MicroUSB cable we saw from the Swift. Deeper into the box we go to find regulatory information, a quick start guide and more. No headphones to be seen here unlike the similarly priced Idol 3 from Alcatel OneTouch, which is a bit of a shame, but the Wileyfox Storm doesn’t have the emphasis on audio as that does.

Hardware

The Wileyfox Storm is quite interesting. It is yet another example of what I’m going to affectionately call the 615 reference phone; a Snapdragon 615 processor paired with 2 or 3gb of RAM, and a 5.5″ 1080p Screen etc. Though luckily for me the Storm deviates in a few key areas. It’s forgone the IMX214 optical sensor from Sony and replaced it with the much more capable IMX220. A standard 5mp front facing snapper isn’t good enough for the Storm, so not only does it get an 8mp unit but it also gets a front facing flash for those low-light selfies in those sketchy night clubs you kids like to visit. Here is a bit more of a complete spec list for you junkies:

  1. 5.5″ 1080p IPS LCD Screen
  2. Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 8939
  3. Adreno 405
  4. Android 5.1.1 based Cyanogen OS 12.1
  5. 3GB RAM
  6. 32gb internal ROM
  7. MicroSD card slot capable of 128gb MicroSD Cards
  8. 20mp Sony IMX220 rear camera
  9. 1080p video capture
  10. 720p 60fps Slow motion OR HFR
  11. 480p 90fps Slow motion OF HFR
  12. 8mp front facing camera w/ Front facing flash
  13. 155x77x9mm
  14. 155g
  15. 802.11 a/b/g/n 2.4Ghz WiFi, no 5Ghz
  16. 2500mAh non-removable Li-Ion battery

There is a more complete specification list from Wileyfox themselves; if you click here a PDF will download with the specifications.

SAM_1237The Hardware is actually one of the more interesting aspects of the Storm. It’s incredibly solidly built, more so than other devices at it’s price point such as the Motorola Moto G (for £10 less) or the Idol 3 5.5” at the same price of the Storm. There is no creaking anywhere in the hardware, the buttons don’t wiggle in their chassis, the back cover doesn’t feel hollow and the SIM tray sits snuggly in the side, nice and flush. Wileyfox has put a level of effort into the hardware quality that others haven’t at this price range, and I am impressed.

On the front of the Storm we have a 5.5” 1080p IPS display, and it’s a good display. It gets bright (though not quite as obnoxiously bright as the Swift did), has decent colour reproduction (though the saturation feels like it’s artificially been bumped up a few notches) and the viewing angles are actually pretty great. I did have a few auto-brightness niggles with my unit. For the first few days it just flat-out wouldn’t work. A factory reset later and all was well again, but then a few days later it stopped working once more, so I just disabled it. It could be something I was doing wrong or I could have had a dodgy unit. Either way, it happened and you guys should know although your mileage could vary here.SAM_1227

On the bottom of the front panel we have the 3 capacitive navigation buttons, and as you all know I detest capacitive and physical navigation buttons on Android phones and am of the mind that Google should force OEMs to use software buttons. However the Storm, like the OnePlus One, offers you the capability to disable the capacitive buttons (and without the backlight they’re nearly invisible) and move onto the far superior (in this writers opinion) on-screen virtual buttons. As with all Cyanogen OS devices these buttons are also configurable. One nice addition is the use of the capacitive home button as the notification LED. Multiple colours have popped up so I assume it is a full RGB LED.

SAM_1248On the topside of the front panel we have the front facing LED flash, which is becoming more and more commonplace, the earpiece for the phone calls, the ambient light sensor and proximity sensors, and lastly the 8mp front facing camera. This is a busy front face. However due to the black colour of the glass a lot of the protrusions are more likely to fade away into the screen. Lastly we come to a slight oddity on the front of the Storm – the screen protector. Wileyfox have pre-installed a screen protector on the Wileyfox Storm. It wasn’t perfectly positioned either. Mine had numerous bubbles that I had attempted to squeeze out, sadly to no avail.

On the Left hand side of the Wileyfox Storm we have but the humble SIM tray. The Wileyfox Storm has dual SIMs, one being MicroSIM (SIM1) and the other being a NanoSIM OR a MicroSD expansion slot, a nice feature to have. I am not likely to use the second SIM slot or the MicroSD, but it SAM_1224doesn’t interfere with the design so good job Wileyfox. The right hand side has the Power button with a volume rocker above it. These are nice buttons with good tactile feel. My unit doesn’t appear to have any give in the buttons, they don’t wobble if I shake the phone, my only issue with the buttons on the Wileyfox Storm is just how damn high they are on the body. I don’t know what compelled Wileyfox to do this, but it is utterly baffling to me to put these buttons so far up out-of-the-way. Otherwise though, they’re nice buttons.

The top is quite boring, with nothing but a 3.5mm audio jack to note. Nothing else is housed here. No second microphones, nothing. Moving over to the bottom we have slightly more items to discuss. A MicroUSB charging and data port and a Microphone, which I am going to go out on a limb and say is the primary microphone due to its placement.

Lastly we have the rear of the phone. Here’s where we meet the 20mp Sony IMX220 camera, up at the top with the LED flash beneath it. This oblong design is a nice addition on the Wileyfox Storm. It’s higher on the camera part than the flash part. This is a big enough difference to be deliberate and not a manufacturing defect, and it, paired with the not so subtle orange highlight, show that Wileyfox actually do care about some of the little things when it comes to design. Beneath the camera setup we have the Wileyfox logo, and I’m not going to lie to you all, it’s my favourite logo of any technology company. It’s a nice design, it’s also raised and three-dimensional. It looks like a cool little fox logo, and I just loved running my SAM_1231finger over it to feel the indentations and raises. Granted it’s not a deal maker/breaker for many, but it’s the little things you know?

Below the Wileyfox logo we have the Orange “Wileyfox” written branding. It is inoffensive. Beneath that we have the rather large speaker grill and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if the entire of the cutout ended up not being a full-sized speaker would it? Unfortunately, without ripping the back off of a review loaner I can’t really find out. It’s a loud ish speaker, but it is rear facing so not ideal. It gets distorted at the higher levels also but it is a SAM_1265loudspeaker. I’d have preferred them to put it on the bottom than the rear, or even if they put one on the top next to the headphone jack and one next to the USB port. I just don’t particularly like rear facing speakers, but it certainly could be a lot worse and gets the job done in a pinch. Lastly below the speaker Wileyfox have just put the regulatory information here, and I can’t complain about this as it needs to be here, at least for the time being.

Internally the Wileyfox Storm has some nice qualities. The vibrate motors have really good feedback; not too harsh as if it were trying to shake free a surgical pin ( I’m looking at you Lumia 920) but also not so weak that you constantly miss notifications (borderline you, Kazam Tornado 348). It’s an odd thing to think about but so few devices get the vibrate motor perfect, and I can only think of one device to ever get the haptic experience perfect, to this day, and that is the Nokia N9, the fabled MeeGo smartphone from the Finish manufacturer. The Wileyfox Storm does really well for a budget conscious device here.

Software

As with the Swift, the Wileyfox Storm is using Cyanogen OS as it’s base software build. Cyanogen OS started off as CyanogenMod which was a custom ROM for Android devices that was cleaner, leaner and had a whole swathe of new features for power users. Nowadays Cyanogen OS is a legitimate Android OS. It passes the CTS (Compatibility Test Suite) that Google Requires in order to allow the Google Play Store and the Google Play Services framework to operate upon it. Cyanogen Inc, has a legitimate OS on it’s hands here, and if I may be so bold, I think what Cyanogen OS is doing is what Google should have done with Android from the start, hear me out whilst I dive into this for a second;

Screenshot_2015-11-22-19-26-33Cyanogen Inc, the Company behind Cyanogen OS (and CyanogenMod) control the updates. That is great and that is exactly what Google should have done and is now slowly starting to do (as evidenced by the Android One initiative, and moving apps to the Play Store). Cyanogen Inc allows its partners to lightly customise the interface, but all their modifications are controlled through the built-in and incredibly extensive theming application. If I don’t like the minute adjustments that Wileyfox have made, that is completely fine as I am able to jump into the theming app, navigate to the stock Android theme and enable it. All the orange accents in the OS go back to their shade of Cyan, the Wileyfox logo in the centre of Trebuchet (Cyanogens default launcher) morphs back to the stock grid of dots. Again, this is what Google should have done from the start; allow OEMs to customise, go for it! Some of Android’s best features haven’t come straight from stock but from skins first then Google incorporated them into AOSP, but they must make their customisations adhere to a common theme engine found in the settings that when prompted, lets users go back to stock look and feel. Lastly Cyanogen OS isn’t free of bloat, it has Boxer email, Truecaller for the dialler etc and some audio enhancers, but they can be uninstalled. Let me say it again, this is the experience Google should have delivered from the start.

For the most part, Cyanogen OS is what I would like to call Stock+. It is mostly a stock Android user experience, with some power user tweaks thrown in as well. Except on the Wileyfox Storm there are a few oddities. Most of these power user type features were missing or at least I assumed they were missing. In the time between the Swift and the Storm there have been an update (or a few) to Cyanogen OS, one of which was to hide most of these advanced settings behind a slider on the “about phone” menu. That slider was called “Advanced settings”. Once this had been enabled it felt like I was back on a Cyanogen OS device again, and I went straight into status bar settings and changed the battery indicator to a percentage. If you long for that level of customisation, you’ll have to complete the same steps to be fully happy.

Cyanogen OS is a very powerful OS, and in previous years, it had suffered a bit by being incredibly buggy. Compared to a few months ago when using the Wileyfox Swift, the experience is a night and day difference. Everything feels a bit tighter. The animations all seem that little bit more put together. The guys in Seattle really put the effort into making this a great experience, and despite it still hitting a few speed bumps (it for some reason still trips the “custom ROM” warning on Whatsapp first boot), the Wileyfox Storm doesn’t feel like a device I thought Cyanogen OS was capable of being. There was little to no lag in most of the OS, the included software was stable, the installed apps were incredibly useful (seriously, I love Truecaller) and it just felt great to use.

Well, for the most part. There was still very odd performance glitches on the Wileyfox Storm, some of which are incredibly consistent with other Snapdragon 615 devices (I really wish they hadn’t used this chip) but some were new and exclusive to the Storm. An example as such was swype typing on the Google keyboard. It was incredibly laggy and the trace was a good second or so behind my finger. Far from this being a caching issue resolved after the first or second use, this was consistent from day one, even following a factory reset. I didn’t test any other keyboards, but I just reverted to hunter pecker typing. I don’t know if they’re aware of this issue, but they will be now.

Another slightly strange issue was that Snapchat crashed every time it was entered, if I tried to use the live filters or if I tried to record a video snap. This is slightly more important to fix than the Google Keyboard issue. A lot of people use Snapchat, and a lot of people are using the live filters whilst even more of them are sending Video snaps. I don’t know if the blame lies with Snapchat or Wileyfox/Cyanogen, but either way, it needs fixing and consumers need to know about it.

The last of the strange issues is regarding battery. It isn’t about it’s longevity (that comes later) but about monitoring – it doesn’t exist. I had to use a third-party battery monitoring application in order to get a look at what was using my battery. The message I got when I went into battery section of the settings was “Battery usage Data isn’t available” and I’m not alone. Richard Devine of Android Central and Cam Bunton of 9to5 Google both had this same issue. Again just a little issue that really needs patching as soon as possible, and I’d be very surprised if they didn’t already know about this bug.Screenshot_2015-11-14-11-04-28

Back onto the positives about Cyanogen OS, and there are a lot. lot of the positives in my view come from the fact that it is so close to stock, but of the others, let’s look at the Theme engine. From as far back as I can remember (CM7, so Gingerbread era) CyanogenMod has had a great Theme engine, and it has just gotten better with every iteration. Whilst I still prefer a mostly stock look and feel, one of the few things I do like about the theme engine is that it lets me change the design of the navigation buttons; a small thing but a nice one in my opinion.Screenshot_2015-11-22-19-24-38

I could change the accent colour of the OS, the boot animation, and the lockscreen and homescreen wallpapers can be separate (though I’d like an option to link both). There is so much that is configurable through the settings app, and Cyanogen should be very proud of the configurability it delivers. I truly do believe that Google should take this approach to OEM skinning, as much as the OEMs might not enjoy it.Screenshot_2015-11-22-19-24-47

Battery

This is the section I was looking least forward to writing about. Every device has a downside, and budget conscious ones tend to have more than others, but I can without a doubt say that the worst part of the Wileyfox Storm is it’s endurance, or, lack thereof unfortunately.

At 2500mAh, the Wileyfox Storm has exactly the same size battery as the Wileyfox Swift, a device with a lower power Snapdragon 410, a much easier to push 720p screen among other things, and I wasn’t the happiest with that phones endurance. The Wileyfox Storm was going to have to pull extinct animals out of a hat to impress me in this area, and sadly, it didn’t.

I always made it to the end of the day, but I was very conscious that I would need to plug it in a little earlier than I would like. It isn’t the end of the world for me. If I’m home from work at 5pm and sit in my office with 20 million microUSB cables until 10pm, I can afford to plug it in for a few minutes before I go to bed, although I really shouldn’t have to. I would have been happy to have been given a thicker and heavier phone if Wileyfox had bumped up the battery capacity. Trust me; this device is light so I seriously doubt anyone would knock Wileyfox for adding a bit of weight by adding additional battery capacity.

Hitting 3 hours of Screen on time on my Wileyfox Storm was a struggle, and this is with the device at roughly 50% brightness, often lower. The Wileyfox Storm doesn’t seem to handle idle use too badly (though it could most certainly be much better) but active use just kills the Wileyfox Storm and if you are watching a video you can actively watch the percentage points drop. As the battery life depleted, so did my happiness.

The Wileyfox Storm doesn’t have Qualcomm QuickCharge support sadly, although having an SoC that supports it. Wileyfox just wasn’t able to license it and keep within the price point they were aiming for. I am unaware of another device at this price point that does include QuickCharge, so I can’t blame Wileyfox or Qualcomm for this. So sadly we have a phone that drains quicker than I would like, and that charges slower than I’d like, with no real way (without rooting) to rectify this. I said that the battery life of the Wileyfox Storm was it’s downfall, and it really is.

Connectivity

The Wileyfox Storm is a 4G LTE capable smartphone, as most are nowadays. It’s also Dual-SIM compatible. Dual-4G slots are a welcome addition on the phone and I’m sure the people who need Dual SIM will appreciate the fact that the Wileyfox Storm has them, and handles them so well. You can set which SIM is Data, which one is calling, and which is texting etc. You can make it so it asks every time you make a phone call, which is useful for those people who require a separate work SIM but don’t wish to have a separate phone to have to carry around and charge etc. Just be aware, adding a second SIM will decrease the already paltry battery life of the Storm.

It has Wi-Fi, as all modern phones do too, except it doesn’t support all the modern standards and frequencies. I understand the omission of 802.11ac from the spec list. It’s an expensive thing to add-on a budget conscious device, but the omission of 5Ghz support is an odd one. With the Snapdragon 615 supporting 802.11ac, and AC requiring 5Ghz, the Storm not having 5ghz must come down to a cost cutting measure. This is one I’m not too happy with, seeing as 2.4Ghz is getting ever more crowded.

A MicroUSB port is included on the bottom of the Wileyfox Storm. It’s USB2 based, so none of the weirdness that occurs with MicroUSB 3.0 is here, and on a device that costs £199 I really wasn’t expecting Wileyfox to include a USB Type C port (though much cheaper devices, like the LeTV 1s have USB-C). Them including a MicroUSB port on the Storm had me asking one thing after my experience with the Swift; “Will all my cables fit snug this time?”.

I am pleased to report that yes, with the Storm, Wileyfox have made a MicroUSB port that is just as functional as every other microUSB port on an electronic device. Every cable I own snapped into place as good as MicroUSB can. They didn’t feel shallow, and Wileyfox should be happy that the Storm features a great MicroUSB port after the disaster that was the Swift’s port.

Another omission, which I’m kinda sad about is the lack of NFC. On cheaper devices like the Swift I don’t mind it too much, but the Storm is getting to that price range where I’m starting to want it, despite Android Pay not being here in the UK yet. The Wileyfox Storm not having NFC is a bummer because once Android Pay does arrive, it won’t be able to play, when devices in the same price bracket have it.

Camera

Aside from battery, this is not a section I was looking forward to writing all that much either. Let me get this clear, the Wileyfox Storm does not have a bad camera, but it is not a faultless camera by any means. The Sony IMX220 sensor is a really good sensor. It is the (very slight) predecessor to the IMX230 in the Moto X Play and the X Style. Despite this being a good sensor, Wileyfox and Cyanogen seem to have stumbled when it comes to post processing and the software.

Screenshot_2015-11-22-19-26-00Let’s start off with the most egregious but easily changeable issue, the camera app. As i said in my Wileyfox Swift review, Cyanogens Camera app is not good. It looks like it’s been pulled straight out of Android 4.0, and apart from its looks, it just isn’t all that intuitive either. This is remedied by quickly hopping over to the Google Play store and downloading a camera app of your choice (I chose the Google Camera) and then bobs your teapot (or something like that), you get nice viewfinder that whilst not perfect, is certainly nicer than what Cyanogen give you.

The other problem is just that the ISP from the snapdragon 615 isn’t all that great, and we saw the same problem with the Moto X Play, another Snapdragon 615 device with an IMX2X0 camera. It’s relatively good in perfect bright lighting; focus is snappy, though shutter speed should and hopefully can be dealt with in a small OTA. Quickly shooting photos in succession can make the phone lock up very quickly, and just forget about burst shots, they pretty much won’t be usable. When you remove the plentiful amount of light the Wileyfox Storm starts to suffer more, just like the X Play did, and the Idol 3 (still with a SD615, but with the Older IMX214 camera). Focus times become measurable in seconds rather than fractions of a second whilst focus misses are more common than perfect focus shots once light is lost. On top of this we have the bad Cyanogen Camera app, which I personally feel needs a complete ground up rebuild, and the post processing side needs some serious looking at.

This isn’t to say the Wileyfox Storm has a bad actual camera. I already stated in the beginning of this section that it doesn’t, but it does have many faults, and for it to get those great shots it does demand you have patience, and perfect environments for it. Frankly, most of the time the lighting isn’t perfect, so you better have a steady hand, because without OIS (optical image stabilisation) every shake and stutter is going to be transferred to that final image.

Here are some Shots taken with the Wileyfox Storm, and a lot of them are nice. The camera does have one oddity in this regard, HDR. As with older devices like the OnePlus One, HDR is very aggressive on the Wileyfox Storm, and I’m starting to think it might be a Cyanogen OS thing. The OnePlus One on Oxygen OS doesn’t have the Same issues, so Cyanogen might just be a tad exposure swing happy.

 

 

The Wileyfox site states that the Storm can take 1080p 90fps video, and in my testing that was just not true. 90fps was only available on 480p video, and 60fps was on 720p only. Those are both available for HFR (high frame rate) or Slow motion. This is very disappointing to me, but it’s not something I can change, and I’m not sure that Wileyfox can change it either.

Conclusion

Now it comes to the hard part of any review, the conclusion. Should you or shouldn’t you buy it, and with the Storm, although that’s still a hard decision, in the end I have to give it a “buy” as long as you know that you’ll be able to get to a power outlet or have a portable battery near you. The Wileyfox Storm is a great device that I really wouldn’t mind owning. Sure it has it’s issues, and some are more painful than others (that battery comes to mind, and the hit and miss camera being another), but if you can live with those, you get a phone that going to be constantly upgraded with great software, with a great in hand feel and build quality.

Wileyfox have really put together a great feeling phone with the Storm, and despite it’s size I really liked it, and really wish I didn’t have to send it back. It might have been big, with weirdly placed buttons, but most of the time it was rock solid and stupid fast, even with a snapdragon 615. The battery might not have lasted the longest, but whilst it did I was having a pretty stellar time with the Storm.

So Should you buy it? Of course! As long as you can live with the less than stellar battery and the inconsistent camera, because truly aside from those minor quibbles, it’s a seriously great phone, for a seriously great price. Furthermore, it’s nice to see a UK startup delivering this level of quality. We expect more of the same from Wileyfox.

Wileyfox Storm

£199
8.5

Screen

9.0/10

Performance

9.0/10

Build Quality

9.5/10

Camera

7.5/10

Battery

7.5/10

Pros

  • So light
  • So thin
  • Mostly responsive
  • Cyanogen OS is pretty great
  • Design

Cons

  • middling Battery Life
  • inconsistent camera performance
  • weird CyanogenOS bugs

About Domenico Lamberti

Technology has been a big part of my life for years, whether it be ripping the family computer apart to see how it worked, playing with the new phones that Dad brought home from work. Senior Reviewer for MTT.

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