Design and Display are its USP
Battery Life is commendable
Camera fails to impress
InFocus, like many other smartphone makers, had a muted 2017 in India. The company launched only two devices this year and its products were largely overshadowed by similarly priced offerings from the likes of Xiaomi. However, as we draw close to the year, the American smartphone maker, backed by contract manufacturer Foxconn, is preparing to put up a fight.
InFocus clearly sees its Vision 3 smartphone as a big bet to stay competitive, even as new smartphone makers continue to enter the market. “Our new Vision 3 smartphone will give sleepless nights to competitors,” Piyush Puri, VP India and South Asia for InFocus and Sharp Mobile, said at the technical briefing of the smartphone. Puri added that 18:9 screens will be among the main requirements for smartphone buyers next year. So, the company is not waiting until early next year to launch a phone with 18:9 display.
The Vision 3 is the company’s first device to adopt that aspect ratio and does that at a low cost, which will be considerably difficult to match for most smartphone makers. InFocus Vision 3’s ingredients include: a big display, a large battery, a MediaTek chipset, dual cameras and a design that will set it apart. So, the obvious question is whether InFocus has compromised in any other area to offer that taller display at a low price. We review to find out.
InFocus Vision 3 Design and Display
Yes, the InFocus Vision 3’s design does not belong to its price segment. The biggest selling point of the device is the new design language that trims the bezels surrounding the display. Getting rid of bezels has been a common theme among smartphone makers in 2017 but the feature trickling down to the lower end of the price spectrum is remarkable in its own right.
The InFocus Vision 3 features a 5.7-inch HD+ display with a resolution of 1440 x 720 pixels, which translates to 1.03 million pixels. The LCD display on the Vision 3 offers 12.5 percent more pixels than a standard display with 1280 x 720 pixel resolution. Since there are more pixels than usual, the display looks significantly brighter than a traditional 720p panel. The display is also well supported by the auto-brightness setting which manages to optimize the display brightness according to ambient light.
As Puri noted, the display also supports the taller 18:9 aspect ratio. The 2:1 aspect ratio is around 12 percent larger than the 16:9 aspect ratio. In general terms, it is taller in portrait mode and wider in landscape mode and the benefit is evident while checking notifications or running two apps in split-screen mode. However, the vanity of that display disappeared as soon as I played a video on YouTube. Amazon Prime Video and Netflix, two popular OTT video platforms offer an option to zoom into the videos but it often ends up shaving the head of the character. The real essence of that display will come to the forefront only when content creators and app developers take advantage of that extra screen real estate. For now, all you get is a big display and black bars while playing videos. To put things into perspective, the switch from a 16:9 display to an 18:9 display is similar to moving from hatchback to a sedan. The extra legroom and boot space is akin to extra screen real estate, which you’ll appreciate more as you grow with it.
The LCD panel is not the most color accurate one you can find in its price point but the brightness trounces accuracy in this game. I personally think that most smartphone users choose brightness over color accuracy as evident from the Pixel 2 XL display saga. The Vision 3’s display is a pleasure to look at for the most part with adequate brightness and good viewing angles.
The overall design of the phone is nicely complemented by curved edges and a metal back that felt plasticky most times. On the Vision 3, InFocus has chosen to put the volume rocker on the left while power button and SIM tray are located on the right. The power button is textured, which makes it easier to reach while in your pocket. However, I would like to note that it’s high time Android OEMs chose a common standard for alignment of buttons.
The Coolpad Note 3 Lite in 2016 made the fingerprint sensor standard for even an entry-level smartphone and Vision 3 does that for the 18:9 display. The company aims to bring this feature to a sub-Rs 5,000 smartphone and that could be a major achievement.
InFocus Vision 3 Camera
Beyond design and performance, if there is one major selling point for any smartphone then it is the camera. In the last few years, smartphone cameras have matured to such an extent that they’ve turned point and shoot cameras obsolete. In order to achieve top level performance, most smartphone makers are adopting dual rear camera systems and with Vision 3, InFocus is also following that general trend.
The rear camera setup on the Vision 3 comprises of a combination of a 13-megapixel primary sensor and a 5-megapixel secondary sensor. Like many other dual-camera phones in the market, the secondary sensor on Vision 3 is used to add depth effect to pictures. The only problem is that it does so poorly.
The primary 13-megapixel rear shooter takes decent pictures in daylight but the shutter lag is really painful. Every time you press the shutter, the camera takes good few seconds to process the image and save in its photo roll. The experience is so jarring that there were times when the shutter button would just fail to lock, meaning you end up missing that planned shot. I believe it has got more to do with the camera UI than the hardware and InFocus might be able to fix that with software update.
Autofocus, a key component of mobile photography, is slow but unfortunately it is not inaccurate. As far as final images are concerned, the camera has a habit to differently expose the foreground and the background. Even in well-lit scenarios, the pictures ended up looking as if it they were clicked in overcast conditions. The final results are usable but I definitely feel InFocus can do better than this even for the price.
Since the size of a smartphone sensor is considerably smaller than that of a traditional camera, a lot depends on how the software processes these images. On Vision 3, the hardware and software fail to work in tandem and produce a result worthy of appreciation. The primary camera interface gives users an option to shoot pictures either in 4:3 aspect ratio or take advantage of that full screen and shoot pictures in 2:1 aspect ratio. The only major difference is that the standard 4:3 aspect ratio pictures are shot at full 13-megapixel resolution while the resolution of 18:9 pictures drop to 9-megapixels. The drop in resolution is relatively easy to notice with the images producing more noise and the focus becoming too soft.
There is also an option to shoot images in square mode, which is apt for Instagram while another toggle adds option to bring wider perspective to your images. In a quest to add way too many options in the camera UI, InFocus seems to have forgotten that the quality of images matter more than their perspective.
Let’s talk portrait mode. At the launch of iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, Apple SVP Phil Schiller showed a dreamy portrait that had the subject totally locked in focus while the background was blurred. That photo led to launch of the portrait mode effect on smartphones. In the photography world, it is simply referred to as images with shallow depth-of-field. On mainstream cameras, a portrait mode picture with blurred background (or tiny circles) is captured using a lens with fixed focus and a relatively small aperture number. On smartphones, it is done with the help of an additional sensor that captures depth.
On Vision 3, the secondary 5-megapixel sensor accompanying the primary 13-megapixel sensor captures depth information to produce pictures with shallow depth of field. However, the portrait mode pictures always end up blurring details like hair, hand or textures of skin. It manages to blur the background well but does a bit too much by also blurring the subject. I would definitely not recommend shooting portrait mode pictures with this phone.
The camera also supports several other features like PIP mode which allows Vision 3 users to shoot pictures with both the front as well as rear camera simultaneously. Other options include HDR mode, timelapse, beauty mode and manual mode. I think manual mode can be exploited very well to shoot pictures with low noise and adequate amount of details. I observed that manual mode often performed better than the auto setting.
There is also an 8-megapixel front camera which takes decent selfie and also supports portrait mode selfie. The result is basically a mixed bag and often leaned towards a result that I ended up disliking. I am not a fan of selfies and Vision 3’s front shooter doesn’t change that equation in anyway.
You don’t need two or three image sensors to capture the best picture on a smartphone. All you need is one image sensor with fast autofocus and wide aperture to capture images worthy of posting on Instagram. I don’t think it’s too much of an ask at this point in time.
InFocus Performance and Battery Life
On paper, the InFocus Vision 3 seems to offer a lot for its price but it has achieved that by cutting few corners. If there is an area where it disappoints the most then it is performance. Under the hood, there is a quad-core MediaTek MT6737 chipset, 2GB RAM and 16GB internal storage. The optimization seems to be lacking with the device using up over 800MB of that memory even when the phone is left idle. The phone seems to be falling short of memory with apps taking significantly longer to load and sometimes even the homepage takes few seconds to appear.
During my time with the phone, I noticed it takes more than a minute for InFocus Vision 3 to boot up which is disappointing at a time when PCs are being advertised as always-on devices. The lack of performance is also evident with the amount it takes to process images within the camera app. As far as gaming is concerned, the Vision 3 is a good for playing Pokemon Go but it starts to drop frame rates as soon you play intensive games like Shadow Fight 3 and I never succeeded in installing Real Racing 3.
However, people buying the InFocus Vision 3 would be primarily using it for speaking with friends and family on WhatsApp or staying in touch with social connections on Facebook. The device never struggled with these kind of standard tasks that should be considered a saving grace.
The battery life, as one would expect from a 4,000mAh powerpack, is brilliant. Since it was a testing week, I was mostly spending time playing Pokemon Go, watching Grand Tour on Prime Video, some time streaming music and occasional Facebook and Messenger chats. With all of these activity on 4G, the Vision 3 lasted two full days. The screen on time often varied between 4-8 hours and you can push it further by disabling mobile data connection.
InFocus Vision 3 Software
The Vision 3 is less a smartphone and more a display of InFocus’ ambition. The final display of its grand plans is seen in the software department. The smartphone runs Smile UX, a forked Android UI based on Nougat. While most smartphone makers are adopting stock Android, InFocus is introducing its own UI for the first time.
The company believes there is a lot of value an OEM can add by having its own UI even if it comes at a cost of slow software update. The Smile UX brings design tweaks to Android UI and tries to put more controls on the face of users. It is stealing from OnePlus’ excellent software execution called OxygenOS. On Vision 3, you don’t need to download a third-party application to record your screen. The option is available directly from the quick settings menu. The on-screen navigation keys can be tweaked to set multitasking button on the right and back button on the left while there is also a suspension ball with quick access to screen lock, multitasking and screenshot.
Few other notable tweaks include gesture support to launch camera by pressing the power button twice similar to Google Pixel phones and three fingerprint slide to capture screenshot. Of course there are options to speed up your phone, which is definitely useful here and transfer files with an app that shares ideas with ShareIt.
But it does have its own issues like the hotspot option appears turned ON in the quick settings menu even when it is disabled within settings. The phone also seems to be broadcasting IMEI number to a fixed number via SMS. We reached out to the company to seek an answer for this behavior but InFocus didn’t revert back at the time of publication.
After two weeks using InFocus Vision 3, I am convinced that it promises to offer a lot but delivers on very little. The design and display are its biggest asset but it is just a matter of few weeks before other smartphone makers launch devices with similar design and display matching that 18:9 aspect ratio. The battery, another strong asset of Vision 3, will also be reproduced when new devices hit the market next month. The camera and performance are its weakest attributes and this is where InFocus and other smartphone makers need to work. Going forward, a smartphone with plastic back and stellar camera will have more appeal than a device with metal casing and disappointing camera.
Consumers have evolved to such an extent that they know their priorities very well and Vision 3, InFocus seems to have set its priorities on display, design and battery life while software, camera and performance has been passed on as an afterthought. It is clear that there is no point in buying a smartphone with 16:9 display and if your budget is Rs 6,999 and you want to buy a new smartphone tomorrow then Vision 3 seems worth considering. However, if you plan to wait then competition is certainly going to heat up starting next month when the likes of Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo and Lenovo will have new products flooding the market.