A quad-core processor, a 720p display and an 8-megapixel camera in a package worth Rs 13,990 is something people dream about in a world dominated by the Samsung Galaxy S III. Of course, at such a price the quality and user experience is not guaranteed, but that’s what Micromax is trying to prove with the Canvas HD. We put it through the paces, read on to find out if it’s worth the hype.
Micromax is not known for its industrial design. It’s not known for its build quality. Actually that’s one of the reasons people choose brands like Nokia, and Samsung over local Indian brands because they are not sure about the quality of the product even though on paper they are more feature packed.
To just clear the air about the Canvas HD, we like to point out that it is the best Micromax smartphone build quality wise. We will be remiss to point this out because the build is on par with some of the higher end Samsung Galaxy smartphones. What we don’t like is duality of the color palette – Black on the front, White on the back. It looks ungainly, but the build of the phone especially at Rs 13,990 is superb. We will keep pointing out the price in this review because that’s the metric the phone should be judged by, it should not be compared to a phone that costs more than double.
Design wise it takes forward the heritage of the Canvas line of smartphones. To bystanders it also looks similar to the Samsung Galaxy S III, minus the signature home-button, as Micromax opts for a three capacitive key layout, which works perfectly.
The large 5-inch 720p display takes center stage and it converts to a pixel density of 294ppi. On top of the display we have the 2-megapixel camera and the usual suite of sensors. The back is highlighted with the large 8-megapixel camera which is supplemented by a LED flash on the bottom and there is also a speaker on the lower edge. The back plate can be removed quite easily. Once open, one can see the large 2,000mAh battery, the twin SIM card slots and a microSD card slot. On the left we get the twin volume rockers, the top is home to a 3.5mm jack and the microUSB port and the right is home to the power button.
The design of the Micromax Canvas HD does not elicit any emotion. It’s a very boring design, but it scores heavily in terms of its build quality and largely, the design is ergonomic and can be easily held as the curve on the back panel makes it very easy to hold.
The Micromax Canvas HD scores heavily in terms of its hardware spec. It comes equipped with a large 5-inch 720p IPS display, a quad-core MediaTek SoC, which is clocked at 1.2GHz, 1GB of RAM, 4GB of internal memory (Only 1.77GB is available to the user), a microSD card slot, dual-SIM capabilities, a 8-megapixel camera and a 2,000 mAh battery.
When compared to 720p displays on phones like the Galaxy S III, and the HTC One X, then we have to say it is not the best, but for the price it is absolutely fantastic. In fact, apart from the Lava A1000 no other phone in this price range offers such a high-resolution display. The display is pretty washed out and blacks are not very deep, but it has decent viewing angles and is adequately bright when the brightness is bumped. While it may not be the best 720p display in the market, at this price point it is the best one save for the Lava A1000, which we have not tested yet.
Perhaps, the most surprising aspect of the Canvas HD is the 8-megapixel camera. It is surprisingly good and even when compared to the Samsung Galaxy Grand, the Micromax Canvas HD comes out in front. The low-light performance impressed us in particular, as it manages to retain more details and highlights and does not over expose images. Of course the images are grainy and it cannot be compared to an iPhone, but again the image quality is very good for the price. The device even does well while shooting video, but here the low-light performance does suffer a bit. We have a minor quibble with camera UI, which has been heavily customized by Micromax as the flash toggle switch is buried in a nonchalant corner.
The Canvas HD comes loaded with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, which is relatively new. Micromax has lightly skinned the device, so one does not need to deal with intrusive Android skins like TouchWiz and HTC Sense. Now this is pretty subjective as these skins add a few software features, but these come at the cost of the general user experience. The Canvas HD maintains a clean Android ‘Holo’ UI, which is a delight to use save for a feature tweaked icons that look quite cartoonish and a few Micromax apps like the Hook Up messenger, the M!Store, M!Zone+ and M!Live.
Overall, the experience is pretty stock and slick. Another advantage of Android 4.1 is that users get access to apps like Google Now that add improved voice recognition and contextual information based on the users likes and dislikes.
We managed to run in to one glaring hitch with the Canvas HD when we installed the Flipboard app. The launcher started acting up and performance became very unstable. This problem was isolated to Flipboard only, but once installed the app was a pain to remove, but once removed the performance returned to normal.
Micromax did make one notable modification to the pull down menu as it added shortcuts for toggling between Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, 3G, Flight mode, and phone states. On the whole we liked the relatively toned down Android experience on the Canvas HD and we hope that more OEMs will follow suit.
The Canvas HD is powered by MediaTek’s MT6589 SoC, which has four ARM Cortex A7 cores that hum away at 1.2GHz. It works in concert with 1GB of RAM and a PowerVR 5XT GPU. But its performance cannot be compared with competing Nvidia Tegra 3 or Samsung Exynos chipsets that power the HTC One X and the Samsung Galaxy S III, because those chipsets have four ARM Cortex A9 cores. On the other hand, the ARM Cortex A7 SoC on the Canvas HD is more frugal with the way it sips power and that is evident in its battery life. So, it will be unfair to expect performance that will compete with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S III.
In a way we can say its performance is closer to dual-core ARM Cortex A9 chips found on phones like the Samsung Galaxy S II. That said, the Canvas HD just hums along without skipping a beat, though there is an in-tangible lag in its performance, especially if one has used other smartphones with quad-core processors. People living in a dual-core world will not notice it because the general performance of the device falls right between the dual-core ARM Cortex A9 CPUs that were found on the flagship Android smartphones from 2011 and the quad-core ARM Cortex A9 chips in the flagship phones of 2012.
Even when we ran benchmarks our theory was ratified. For instance on the Quadrant benchmark it scored above 4,000. This is well above a dual-core ARM Cortex A9 CPU and well below a quad-core ARM Cortex A9 CPU. Even the web browser performance is quite smooth. Admittedly, the pinch to zoom and scrolling is not as smooth as say the Galaxy Nexus or even the Galaxy S II, but for most purposes it is more than adequate.
The call quality on the Micromax Canvas HD is nothing to write home about. It is at best average. It failed calls in the basement where the iPhone managed to get a signal, but we are guessing that it’s not a deal breaker. The battery life on the Canvas HD is surprisingly good. For our tests we ran a video loop of a 720p copy of Batman Begins and it lasted for 4 hours and 43 minutes. While this may not be extremely impressive, the phone performs very well when it comes to day-to-day usage. It easily lasts a day and our daily usage involved browsing the web, email, social networking, a bit of photography, listening to music, and making a few calls and all this with 3G turned on.
Does the Micromax Canvas HD successfully fulfill the promise of a solid reliable quad-core device with a HD screen at a price under Rs 15,000? For the part yes, save for a few odd software related glitches. Obviously, the screen and the performance just does not compete with some of the top-tier Android smartphones in the market, but then again it’s not supposed to at such a low price. It can get away because it represents incredible value at Rs 13,990. And when one accounts for the fact that it’s a dual-SIM device and has solid battery life then it becomes a no-brainer.
Additionally, it becomes a better option than Windows Phones in the price bracket, because in terms of usability it competes very well and it has the backing of a legion of Android apps on Google Play. Perhaps the only worry would be Micromax’s lackluster after sales service, and if that problem is resolved then, Micromax has a winner at its hands.
Photo Credit: Rohit Sharma