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Cherry Mobile Defender Review - Toughest Phone Under PHP 10K?

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Back in the 90's when we were in their younger years, mobile phones were penetrating the market like wild fire. These phones were great at what they did, connecting people even on the go. They were built with pinnacle quality in terms of communications and durability. In fact, people still joke about how tough those 90s phones were and how enduring the batteries were!
Cherry Mobile Defender Review
Is it as tough as advertised?

There was this niche market that was seen by several manufacturers that needed high durability phones for specialized circumstances. Samsung, saw this and created the active smartphone line that endured even up until the Samsung Galaxy S7 Active. Cherry mobile decided to follow suit. 

Disclaimer: This unit was borrowed from Cherry Mobile to conduct this review.

Cherry Mobile Defender Specs

Display: 4.7 Inch HD IPS 1280 x 720 resolution at 312 ppi
CPU: 2.0 GHz 64 Bit Helio P10 octa core processor
GPU: Mali T860
RAM: 3 GB
ROM: 32 GB expandable via micro SD card slot up to 32 GB
Back Camera: 18 MP AF w/ AF and LED Flash
Selfie Camera: 8 MP
Battery: 4,500 mAh
OS: Android 6.0 Marshmallow
Connectivity: WiFi, 3G, HSPA+, LTE, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, A GPS, dual SIM
Sensors: Accelerometer, light, proximity, orientation, magnetic, gyroscope, pressure, sound
Others: IP68 water and dust resistance
Price: PHP 9,999

Unboxing / Accessories

Everything found inside
Unboxed with tempered glass, 2A power plug, USB cord, micro USB to USB 2 dongle, screw drivers, extra rubber flaps and documentation!

Out of the box is the standard documentation, power plug, USB cables, OTG cable, and earphones. The one unique accessory is a bag containing screw drivers and extra screws that are used to unscrew the water sealed back plate that covers the sim card tray. They also added extra USB port covers and headphone jack covers! It made it feel like a real rugged person's phone!

Build Quality / Design

Unscrewed!
Unscrewed!

The phone looks like those military grade equipment that was made for the harshest of conditions that you see in movies. At our first hands-on, it felt like it was the most solid phone we've ever held. It felt like those diecast toys that were casted from metal!


It has solid rubberized accents that serve to absorb shocks on their placed areas. You can also see those huge screws all around the phone that adds to its industrial look. The body to screen ratio is clearly not a focus. The phone has the similar area of a 5.5 inch phone and around twice the thickness but only having a 4.7 inch screen. If you are a big guy you will feel at home but smaller hands will have trouble holding the phone.  
3.5mm headphone jack covered by flaps!
3.5mm headphone jack covered by flaps!
USB port covered by rubber flaps!
USB port covered by rubber flaps!
PTT, SOS buttons
PTT, SOS buttons 
Volume and power buttons
Volume and power buttons

Several design choices reduce the phone’s risk for damage. The corners have been cut off to increase shock absorption when hitting at the corners, black raised bezels protect the face of the phone during drops and the ports are all sealed by flexible flap covers.

Only the sides are not plastic being metal instead. I like the metal buttons and sides as they don't feel mushy or will wear out over time, this complementing the toughness of the phone.

On top is the headphone jack that is protected by a rubber flap. The face of the phone has the earpiece, 8 MP selfie cam, 4.7 inch screen and the capacitive buttons: options button, home and back button, similar layout to Samsung. When you hold the options button, you open the recent apps drawer but it is inconsistent. The other buttons work like they do on other phones.  

On the right side are the volume up and down, and power buttons. On the left is a dedicated camera button, S.O.S. button and a Push-to-talk button that is a shortcut for an app. The buttons are all the same size and have not texture to them (except the plastic PTT) making to hard to use blindly. 

Pressing the SOS button and you get audible beeps and a warning about false SOS calls are punishable. So we didn't decide to call SOS but we did screenshot the warning. If there was a way to disable this button, I would recommend the Defender as a child-proof phone.
  
There is a small cover on the back protected by two screws that hides 2 micro SIM slots and a micro SD card slots. The Defender comes with extra screws and a screwdriver. 

Display Quality

5 point touch screen
5 point multitouch 720p display for maximum battery performance!

The 4.7 Inch 5-point multitouch 1280 x 720 resolution with 312 ppi is bright enough but could be brighter. The viewing angles are okay but it could be better. The screen is clearly for utilitarian purpose more than to give the best experience.

There is also an option to switch between  the color modes of normal to vivid colors for those who love their colors saturated. The colors are muted. Blacks levels arent deep.The backlight doesn’t get very bright, which can be a nuisance when under sunlight.

Overall the screen is among the places where Cherry compromised. It could also be a blessing when we look to our battery tests because it may have played a big role in its endurance.

What surprised us is the glove mode! The touch screen becomes more sensitive which makes sense because this phone was meant to work even at the most coldest of climates. It's so sensitive to the point where I can register a touch with the tiniest amount of skin. This sometimes makes errors like long-pressing when you have just touched the screen.

Battery Life

Nearly 14.5 HOURS!!!!!
Nearly 14.5 HOURS!!!!!

The Defender has a 4,500 mAh non-removable battery with a benchmark reading of at least 14 hours! In real world usage of calls, text, messaging, social media and LTE video streaming, I get home at 8 pm with at least 40 percent of battery left. 
Crazy good battery life!
You can stretch that even more if you just use the phone for just calls and text and this truly will be the best hardcore survival phone for the price! Depending on the person, the battery can last two full days if they don't use it as heavily as I did.

Charging time from 0 to 100 percent uses up at least 2.5 hours of charging time with the month we spent with it. So we recommend charging this over night. 

Audio Quality

The speakers at the back
The speakers at the back

The speakers is at the bottom right side of the backplate. When the phone is laid flat on its back the audio from the speakers are muffled which makes the less than stellar sound of the phone even worse.

This occurs even at its highest volume. The sounds are flat with average clarity and a small sound stage. It is clear that audio is one of the places cherry mobile chose to trade off to get to that price point.

Plugging a pair of earphones help but the internal drivers aren't that good to push the audio quality to above average levels.

The microphone on the other hand is decent. I have never experienced complaints from calls I made with the TELCO or with Facebook or Viber.

Camera

The 18 MP main camera behind
The 18 MP main camera behind

The phone is equipped with a 18 MP AF w/ AF and LED Flash at the back. The camera app can take pictures with HDR, panorama, filters and picture in picture mode.


You can control the exposure by tapping the area you want to be in focus and adjust the exposure by moving your finger from side to side to your desired exposure. It doesn't appear to have manual mode which would be a problem for photography enthusiasts. For most people, it wouldn't matter because the pictures are decent straight from camera.

What we found useful is the zero shutter lag, the anti shake and the 40 shot burst mode which worked well but don't expect the images to blow your mind.

The camera performed okay. The images are sharp but the depth rendition and colors can be improved. We found that this is another side where cherry cut corners. 

The low light images are sharp too but they have noticeably high grain from noise and the colors are washed out. We understand that they didn't make it into a priority as this is a survival phone but it would have been nice to be able to take above average pictures.

Rear Camera Samples

HDR test
HDR test
Daylight
Daylight
Close-up w/ background blur
Close-up w/ background blur
Indoor
Indoor
Lowlight
Lowlight
Flash mode
Flash mode

The 8MP secondary camera performs way below the main camera itself. It needs more details, punch in colors, and depth. We hope cherry improves this the next time.

Selfie Camera Samples

Selfie daylight
Selfie daylight
Selfie indoor
Selfie indoor 
Selfie lowlight
Selfie lowlight



The results from the selfie camera are similar to the main camera albeit at a lower megapixel count. What surprised us is that both the main camera and the secondary camera can take videos with the EIS turned on. The main camera can record up to 1080p while the secondary can take up to 640 x 480 VGA videos. I just wish the colors were a little better.

Performance

Antutu and Geekbench score
Antutu and Geekbench score

With an Antutu score of at least 49K, it is bound to crush texting, calling, e-mail, word processing and the like! We also tried watching 720p at 60fps on YouTube without problem! Every day tasks with the phone are snappy and are responsive with barely no lag. The 3 GB RAM helps a lot when we have multiple apps in the background and multiple chrome tabs at the same time. 
AR works for Pokemon GO
AR works for Pokemon GO

We also never noticed the phone heating up even though it is technically insulated to the brim. We wonder how the heat is dissipated

The 720p resolution to us is a little bit of a trade off to reach longer battery life which we enjoy because when you buy this phone you want it to last and you don't really get it for media consumption anyway. The screen is bright enough to see what's on screen during the day but it would be better if it was a little brighter just in case.
Near Stock Goodness!
Near Stock Goodness!

It is running a near stock android experience with added features that has been standard in cherry mobile products. What we liked were the added hardware buttons like the SOS button for easy access should that moment comes and for when you do get the chance to use the weather resistance at cold climates is the glove mode!
The glove mode and multi touch gestures!
The glove mode and multi touch gestures!

Phone connectivity is very good as well. LTE, 3G, HSPA and Edge are all represented well and we have never experienced problems with calls, texts and data browsing with it. We find this a very compelling phone!

Pros - TOUGH as a tank, battery life is long, build quality is top notch, survived water and drop tortures, SOS button can be a life saver, comes with a USB dongle
Cons - Cameras and audio could be improved, no LED notification

Verdict

Even though the screen is a 5 point multi touch 720P display, the audio isn't great and the cameras could be improved we consider this the best TOUGH phone on the market for the price. We love the stock android experience with the little touches cherry made. If you enjoy the outdoors or you just want the piece of mind that your phone will survive most of what the world can throw at it, this is the phone for you! It was obvious the trade offs were made to make sure the phone survives for as long as it possibly can.

Build / Design - 4.5
Display - 3.5
Audio - 3
Battery - 4.5
Camera - 3.75
Performance - 3.75
Average - 3.83
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