The Lenovo-Motorola two-brand strategy has been working pretty well for the Chinese smartphone maker in India. And while the company has released a number of smartphones such as the Moto C, Moto G and Moto Z-series in the past one year, Lenovo didn’t see much of action. After launching the K6 Power and K6 Note last year, the company took a pause, and has now released a new smartphone in the K-Note series. Called the K8 Note, the new smartphone brings in major upgrades to the range.
For those wondering what happened to the K7 Note, Lenovo mentioned that it wasn’t killer enough, so they had to scrap it altogether. The new K8 Note brings improvements in the form of a dual-camera setup at the back, upgraded high-resolution front camera with LED flash, deca-core SoC, battery with fast charging and more. The K8 Note is priced at Rs 12,999 (3GB RAM + 32GB storage) and Rs 13,999 (4GB RAM + 64GB storage), and will be available exclusively via Amazon India. Lenovo has sent us the higher end variant with 4GB of RAM and 64GB storage.
The closest competitor to the Lenovo K8 Note is the Redmi Note 4, which has been Xiaomi’s best-selling smartphone online. And while the Redmi Note 4 lacks the dual-camera setup at the back, the Honor 6X and Coolpad Cool 1 do, and are priced well under Rs 15,000. The Lenovo K8 Note also runs the stock Android launcher to offer the clean Android experience, while also making firmware updates easier in the long run. But do these improvements make the K8 Note a worthy smartphone to purchase? We find out.
Lenovo K8 Note – Design
When it comes to design, there isn’t anything new or drastically different, although there are minor refinements. If you put the K8 Note, last year’s K6 Note and the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 next to each other, you won’t be able to tell the difference easily at first glance. Even the back of all the devices look similar – except the company branding and the capsule shaped dual-camera module. ALSO READ: Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 Review
The 5.5-inch full-HD display dominates the front, with the earpiece, front-camera, LED flash and sensors placed above it. The capacitive Android navigation keys for home, back and task switcher are placed below the display. Sadly, they aren’t back-lit, and you are likely to struggle with those keys in the dark.
The back has a metal plate – with the top and bottom half made from plastic. The edges are slightly curved to ensure the smartphone properly fits in your palms. You have the dual-camera setup with dual-LED flash and a fingerprint sensor on the top half, with the Lenovo branding on the bottom half. The micro-USB port for charging and data transfers sits in the bottom, while the 3.5mm audio jack sits on the top.
In terms of buttons – the power / sleep button and the volume rocker sits on the right while the microSD card slot and a dual nano-SIM card tray is placed on the left. Having separate trays is a good addition as you can use two SIM cards as well as a microSD card for expandable storage without having to choose between either. ALSO READ: Coolpad Cool 1 camera review
Lenovo has also added a dedicated media button on the left, just below the SIM and microSD tray. Long pressing the button will play / pause music, whereas double pressing skips the tracks. You can even reconfigure the button to do other tasks – such as take a screenshot, start flashlight, or open a frequently-used app such as WhatsApp, Facebook or Instagram, among others. You can do this by heading over to Settings > Music Key.
Lenovo K8 Note – Specifications and Features
The K8 Note features a 5.5-inch full-HD display with pixel density of 401ppi and 450 nits of brightness. The 2.5D curved glass screen is covered with Corning Gorilla Glass 3 for protection. At the heart of the smartphone runs the 64-bit MediaTek Helio X23 deca-core SoC. ALSO READ: Honor 6X Review
Built on 20nm fabrication, the chipset features four Cortex A53 cores clocked at 1.4GHz, four Cortex A53 cores clocked at 1.8GHz, and two high-power Cortex A72 cores clocked at 2.3GHz. Lenovo’s choice of chipset is quite questionable, especially considering that other smartphones in the range feature the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 SoC, which is built on 14nm fabrication, which is known for its combination of power and energy efficiency.
As mentioned above, the smartphone is offered in two variants – 3GB RAM + 32GB storage and 4GB RAM + 64GB storage, along with a microSD card slot for further expansion. In the photography department, you have a dual-camera setup at the back with a 13-megapixel main sensor and a 5-megapixel secondary sensor. One camera captures photos, whereas the other captures depth information. The camera can do multiple tricks, but more on that later. Up front, you have a 13-megapixel camera with LED flash.
The smartphone is armed with a 4,000mAh battery with fast charging support. Connectivity options include two SIM-card slots, 4G LTE with VoLTE for HD voice calling, GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The K8 Note also comes with a water-repellent nano coating to keep it safe from accidental splashes of water or drizzling rain. Do note – it is water repellent, not waterproof. As far as possible, avoid dunking it in water to avoid damage.
Lenovo K8 Note – Software
Starting with the K8 Note, Lenovo is ditching the custom Vibe UI and going for the near-stock Android launcher instead. The strategy has worked well for Motorola – besides keeping the interface light, it also helps in delivering software updates faster. And for those who prefer customization, there are a lot of themes and launchers available on the Google Play Store to download.
The K8 Note runs on Android 7.1.1 Nougat with the July 2017 security patch. Being near-stock Android, you get all the Nougat goodies such as split-screen view, 3D Touch-like quick app shortcuts, battery life improvements and more. Lenovo has added some customizations though – you get custom app icons, and a couple of software additions.
Lenovo has added its proprietary Dolby Atmos equalizer to improve the audio experience. It comes with several preset modes – dynamic, music, movies, game, voice and custom options as well. Sure, it does offer an improved audio experience on a good pair of headphones, but if you’re expecting that theatre-like experience – don’t be too hopeful. Another addition is the TheatreMax VR technology which basically splits the screen contents into two halves – be it games, music videos or movies. Unlike before, Lenovo is no longer selling the ANT-VR headsets, instead you can use any of the existing VR headsets easily available to enjoy the experience.
Lenovo has also pre-loaded some apps such as Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint, Word, Outlook, Skype, OneDrive and OneNote. Thankfully, they can be uninstalled too. The phone also comes with Google alternatives to its own apps – you get Google Photos instead of Gallery, Gmail instead of the default Mail app, Google Chrome instead of the default Android browser.
Lenovo K8 Note – Performance
During my usage, I didn’t come across any issues in the day-to-day performance. I mostly use social networking apps such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Messenger and Instagram. I’m also connected on Slack for work related conversations and surf a lot a of sites on Chrome browser. Other than that, I also watch videos on YouTube, TV shows on Amazon Prime Video and Netflix. And occasionally, I do play games such as Asphalt 8: Airborne, Temple Run and Subway Surfers.
The MediaTek Helio X23 SoC along with 4GB of RAM did ensure smooth performance in day-to-day usage. Even with a few apps running in background, Chrome open with seven tabs, and listening to music, the smartphone did not show any signs of lag. Casual games also ran smoothly, however, I did see frame drops when playing graphics intense games such as Asphalt 8: Airborne.
The frame drops are visible and ideally, this is when the high-performance A72 cores are to kick-in, but it doesn’t seem to do the job well. Also, the back of the smartphone gets a little warm. For the first 10 minutes or so the heat is bearable, but then it gets a little uncomfortable to hold.
Battery performance of the smartphone is good. Turbo Charging helps to fully charge the phone in about an-hour-and-forty minutes, while 30 minutes of charging takes the battery close to 50% from near zero. In terms of battery life, with moderate usage, the battery easily lasts for over a day. On occasion, I was able to get about two days of usage, but the phone usually ran for a full day and some, with a screen-on time of over five hours.
Lenovo K8 Note – Dual-camera setup
Now, let’s talk about the key highlight of the smartphone – the dual-camera setup at the back. Among the different types of dual-camera setups, Lenovo has gone with a 13-megapixel snapper for clicking photos and videos, and the secondary 5-megapixel camera which captures depth information. Lenovo has modified the stock camera app and added a few tricks, as dual-camera setups are not officially supported by Google.
To begin with, the camera setup allows you to add DSLR-like depth-of-field effects to your photos. There is a depth mode that lets you vary the aperture between f/2.8 to keep everything in focus, f/1.8 keep subject in focus while background is mildly de-focused, and then there is f/1.2 which adds slightly more blur. Now about the tricks, the photo editor app allows you to refocus even after the picture is taken, crop the foreground and add a different background to it, and you can also keep the foreground colored while the background is black-and-white.
The camera quality is average to be honest. In bright outdoor lighting conditions, the photos look decent, with enough details. Indoor shots are inconsistent, and when there is artificial lighting the quality tends to take a hit, with some grain is visible too. Close-up shots look good at times, and at other times they are completely off in composure.
The dual-camera setup seems like work-in-progress. The depth effect often looks artificial – the depth sensor and software algorithms aren’t able to determine the edges properly, and smudging is easily noticeable. In the images below, if you notice the edges around the hair, you will be able to see the smudging.
As the camera isn’t accurately able to detect edges properly, the feature that lets you add black-and-white effects to the background doesn’t work pretty well too. It also affects the editing feature where you can super impose the foreground over any other background. Lenovo could still make it better by fine-tuning the software, but how much of an improvement it can bring remains to be seen. Look at the samples below.
Low-light performance is again average at best. Some amount of graininess is easily visible, but given the price range the smartphone is placed in, it would be naïve to expect too much. Selfies taken from the front camera also look decent enough to upload on social media. Low-light selfies, despite having an LED flash, suffers from a bit of grain, but again, there’s not too much to complain about considering the price of the K8 Note.
On the whole, the Lenovo K8 Note is a decent smartphone in its price range that has a few hits over misses. The smartphone comes with a good design and build quality, the TheatreMax technology is worth talking about, and Dolby Atmos is a good addition.
The dedicated media button on the left comes in handy for frequently used apps. The water repellent nano coating is a nice addition to safeguard the smartphone from accidental splashes of water or rain. Near-stock Android helps to keep the device running smooth without any hiccups, only issues I noticed was during gaming.
However, I’m disappointed with the performance of the dual-camera setup, especially when it is the USP of the smartphone. There definitely is room for improvement, but how much better it can get is something that remains to be seen. The Coolpad Cool 1 and Honor 6X are other alternatives that you can look for in the same price segment. And if you don’t need the dual-camera setup, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 remains our favorite smartphone at under Rs 15,000.