Coolpad Splatter Review
No phone's an island.
Coolpad may not be a brand that many people in the US are familiar with. Even those who’ve heard of it might just write it off as “some generic Chinese brand”, but like Huawei and Oppo, these are sizable players in mobile overseas without much of a US presence.
The Splatter appears to be Coolpad’s second phone to officially reach the US market and is available direct on their website for a penny shy of a $100 USD unlocked. Carrier support appears non-existent so don’t expect to see one in an AT&T store or anywhere else save for secondhand units anytime soon. This is also available on Amazon.com for the original $139 price.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
“Splatter” is a unique name. (Surprise!) I found it initially evoked a feeling of ruggedness and silliness. The Splatter doesn't appear any more or less rugged than a typical smartphone and hardly feels silly - making it feel somewhat misnamed but it’s a name that's nothing if not memorable.
I prefer it to the rather hyperbolic Android naming schemes of old, so at least there's that.
I’m looking at you, Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch.
For $100, what do you get?
Not a bad phone! An unlocked one at that as well with decent band support.
Also included in the packaging is a microUSB cable and wall adapter rated for a fairly pedestrian output of 5 volts, 1 amp.
Coolpad Splatter. The official phone of buying day-old loaves of bread from Jimmy John's for 56 cents.
All one had to do to stand out back in 2013 was have decent performance for the price (which was harder to do then than it sounds) and if you hit that perfect list of compromises, the phone basically sold itself as the legend of its value spread. (See the Lumia 520 and Moto G.) Low-end phones as a class have come a long way in the past few years as I said, and for many, they have become capable daily-drivers instead of their original “I-dropped-my-iPhone-in-the-toilet-so-I-have-to-use-this” role.
And this is why the Splatter can exist as it is, be as competent as it is, and it is also the Splatter’s biggest weakness.
It’s 2018 and its seems like everyone has super bargain-bin phone in their lineup. And when everyone’s super, no one is. [SUB](I'm just hyped for The Incredibles 2.)[/SUB]
The Coolpad Splatter is the phone for people who want maximum bang for minimum buck with extra weight put on minimum buck.
To those used to their fancy Galaxy S’s and iPhones, given their dominance of the historically flagship-centric US smartphone market, the Splatter is an exercise in setting expectations. It can't begin to compete with an American consumer's first phone choice, but it doesn't have to. The same way the $200 HP Stream both can't and doesn't have to go toe-to-toe with a top-end MacBook.
At a price a mere fraction of the cost of a new high-end handset, it's immediately clear that you won’t be getting all of the bells-and-whistles nor the software support of one. Your resident tech geek won’t be left in awe, nobody will marvel at its design or bezels, but that’s not the point - the question that the Splatter and its many competitors ask is: “are the extra four-to-eight Benjamins worth it?”
And if you’re someone who doesn’t care quite as much about bezels and greater numbers, and there’s many of you, it's a tempting proposition.
Coolpad Splatter. The Mitsubishi Mirage of phones.
It brings to the table bargain price, bargain value, with none of the potential risk you might take on when buying used as it includes a warranty. Above all, it’ll still get you there at the end of the day.
While the Splatter’s greatest strength is its sheer value, its greatest weakness, as I may have alluded to, is its direct competitors. It poses a tough case against purchasing a high-end phone for basic users, but when pitted against direct competitors, and even phones edging into the midrange, the Splatter’s appeal begins to waver and the questions begin to fly.
“Why the Splatter and not, say, a Moto E4?”
“Why not spend an extra __ amount and get ___ phone?”
"Why not get an older phone that's used?"
They’re difficult questions, and it comes down to what the user values and specific pricing. I'm someone who doesn't mind buying used, but I also weigh the headache risk as less than the money saved.
The Splatter is a sizable Android handset featuring a utilitarian design.
The exterior consists of a grey plastic back cover, black glass face and black plastic midframe.
The rear features a microphone hole, the Splatter’s main camera, LED flash and a rear-facing speaker of decent loudness and clarity. (just a hair softer than my iPhone SE)
The aforementioned grey cover is adorned with the Coolpad logo and textured with a fine hexagonal pattern, a finish that I find stylish, if subtle. I wouldn't mind seeing this texture elsewhere.
The cover is also removable and snapping it off grants access to the phone’s 2,500 milliamp-hour battery, microSD card slot and nano-SIM slot as well as exposing a run-of-the-mill black plastic midframe peppered with phillips screws. (I don't plan on opening this one.)
On the left and right edges of the Splatter, you will find the volume and power keys respectively – both have respectable feedback, travel and “clicky-ness.” The top includes a standard 3.5 mm headphone jack placed two-thirds to the right and the bottom, a microUSB port - also on the right side.
The face of the Splatter shows off its sizable 5.5-inch display, notification light, front-facing camera, proximity and ambient light sensors as well as an earpiece and microphone hidden amongst a pattern of dots in the plastic border. Three soft keys adorn the bottom border, which are – left-to-right – multitasking, home, and back. It’s an inverted layout compared to what I expect and I’m not particularly used to seeing this but it’s one I’m starting to see more often and don’t mind the inversion at all.
Under the hood, the Splatter packs...
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 (1.4 GHz, quad-core)
- 2 GB of RAM
- 16 GB of storage + microSD slot
- 5.5" 720p IPS display
- 8 MP rear camera + LED flash
- 5 MP front-facing camera
- 2,500 mAh removable battery
- Accelerometer, ambient light sensor, proximity sensor
- 5.9 ounces, 6.0 x 3.0 x 0.33 inches
Overall these are respectable specifications. The Snapdragon 435 keeps things running at a brisk pace during general use for the most part and I'll be covering performance in some more detail in the next section.
2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage is perfectly sufficient for my needs (barring my music collection) and light users should be fine with it. The multitasking maniac may feel constrained and the media maven will definitely want to throw in a microSD card. Those may want to look elsewhere though unless on the tightest of budgets.
The window into the device is a 5.5-inch, 720p IPS LCD, which I frankly find excellent. Lower resolution panels don't bother me all that much personally. Viewing angles are good, and some backlight brightness inconsistency can be seen if you look hard for it at the edges, but isn't noticeable in day-to-day use. It's a strong point of the Splatter.
Do know that I’m not a VR user and don’t really count pixels. (For example, I would be happy with the excellent 5" 720p panel Microsoft stuck into the Lumia 640 in most any situation.)
An eight megapixel rear camera (with LED flash) and a five megapixel front camera serve as the eyes of this phone. Is it great at capturing photos? It’s objectively not great, but its serviceable. I'll have samples in the next post. Currently I have no video samples.
Battery life is decent, and not anything particularly out-of-the-ordinary.
2 days of light usage (with 2.5 hours Screen-On Time) brought it down to 25% and heavier, more moderate usage lasted through a day. You won't be blown away, but you shouldn't be left stranded on an average day.
I wouldn't dare hand this phone to Mr. Mobile for a day at CES or MWC, but honestly there aren't a lot of phones I would hand to him.
In a nutshell, the Splatter is a well-rounded hardware package for the $100 asking price.
Miscellaneous things to note also are:
- No 5 GHz Wi-Fi, onboard is 802.11b/g/n but no 802.11ac.
- No NFC (so no Android Pay, NFC tags, etc.)
- The specs state "Wi-Fi Calling 2.0" but I haven't been able to use it on Cricket.
- I got LTE on AT&T/Cricket, specifications state it includes LTE bands 2/4/5/12/30 (see the Amazon page for details)
- It’s got GPS!
- The soft keys are printed and not backlit.
- The nano-SIM can be ejected by a sliding lever mechanism, unlike other mechanisms I've seen.
- The microSD card can technically be removed without powering off the phone. Whether it's recommendable without unmounting is something else.
- The notification light has been witnessed as red, green, and an orange/yellow. It appears to not have white, blue or otherwise mix colors.
- Phone calls aren't anything to write home about. They work, the volume may be softer than I expected but it wasn't a problem.
- No biometrics or other fancy features.
- This phone is single-SIM
Running the software show is a close-to-stock clean install of Android 7.0 Nougat with some Amazon Alexa functionality baked in, noticeable with its Alexa lockscreen shortcut and “Coolpad Alexa” app - we'll get into that in a moment.
Other built-in apps (or bloatware if you prefer that term) include:
- Amazon Shopping
- Some Weather app
- The aforementioned Coolpad Alexa
- Coolpad browser – which appears to be a fork or reskin of Chrome
- Sound recorder, which is always welcome
You likely won't care too much about these beyond Amazon's apps but they're there and can be disabled or used as you see fit. I don't care for TopBuzz, but I'm sure somebody out there will.
Security patch level is October 1st, 2017. I reached out to my point of contact and was informed there are no future plans for updating the Splatter beyond that. Android 7.0 is where the Splatter will stay.
I can’t say I’m particularly surprised but I’m still disappointed. Software support in this price range can be… spotty at best. Security-conscious customers would be better served going upmarket.
Overall, the Splatter offers a reasonably fluent experience that I was satisfied with. Snapchat stood out early in my review period as a very poor performer but the problem has since been alleviated after I tested it again after the recent redesign.
The lesser performance inherent to this model appeared to manifest itself largely with longer load times instead of stuttering, which I found reasonable. Straining this phone won't be too difficult to do though, but it’s perfectly competent. If you use this, consider using the Lite versions of some common apps.
Also, thanks to Android 7.0, split-screen functionality and other 7.0 features are here.
Light gaming works fine and 3D games aren't the smoothest, the relatively low resolution surely helps. Casual users should be satisfied.
Also notable is that the default camera is a carbon-copy of the iOS camera app - the UI works about as well here as it does on the iPhone, I just got a kick out of being surprised when laying eyes upon it for the first time. Footage of its UI is available in the third post along with some other clips.
A headline feature of this phone is integration with Amazon Alexa and it’s a nice addition for those who use Alexa but it’s not quite a killer feature.
Coolpad has done a good job making Alexa easier to access with baked-in shortcuts but it still has its limitations. Pressing and holding the square multitasking key serves as a quick shortcut to Alexa, coexisting with Google Assistant and a lockscreen swipe shortcut is also dedicated to Amazon's assistant alongside the camera. Once the app is running, the notification shade also becomes home to another Alexa shortcut in the form of a persistent notification.
It's not entirely clear whether the Snapdragon 435 supports hotwords like "Okay Google" with the display off but that functionality is not present here, nor is there any "Alexa" voice activation functionality offered by Alexa's Android app, so this won't be replacing your Echo anytime soon. It's an excellent on-the-go companion though for places the Echo can't follow.
Overall, it feels like the functionality was bolted-on instead of "baked-in”, but I don't believe it to be a problem as hooking in Alexa deeply would've been a sizable coding undertaking with not much payoff. It's a sizable differentiator with many people knowing about Alexa these days, and it might be just what the Splatter needs in this cutthroat segment.
Miscellaneous software things to note are:
- There is a loud boot and shutdown tune that cannot be silenced. I'm not a fan.
- There are options for scheduled shutdown and startup, I've only seen it in an old Alcatel phone I once obtained. It's pretty nifty but most likely won't use it. I know some would definitely appreciate it though. The startup/shutdown sound might hamper its usefulness.
- The camera app automatically cranks up the brightness when in use, a tiny but much appreciated touch.
- Ambient Display is available.
- The camera app has a standard suite of manual controls.
Coolpad Splatter is a phone that is, in isolation, solid. It brings together what I believe is one of many possible winning combinations of "good enough" at a low price. I began my review period with the Splatter priced at $139 and its value wasn't the slam-dunk I was hoping for, but since the price has been dropped to $99, it becomes a lot more competitive.
Competition is still a large threat to the Splatter. But where the original price made me balk, $99 definitely improves the Splatter's position. The older, popular BLU R1 HD - at the same price - is edged out and the more expensive Moto E4 and E4 Plus are no longer quite as deadly as they were when the Splatter was at $139.
You'd be getting more features with both flavors of Moto E4 and marginally less capable chipsets with all three but as a potential customer, it comes down to what compromises you want and don't want. There's still homework to be done and many more options beyond these four handsets.
But as far as the Splatter is concerned, it might be on its own in a crowded market, but if the price is right, like now more than ever, it's worth checking out.
Be sure to decide how much security patching is worth to you before pulling the trigger. It's the Splatter's fatal flaw in my book, but when we get to prices this low, security patches aren't exactly flowing like they are in higher price groups so expectations do need to be checked.
Coolpad Splatter at Coolpad.us
TL;DR - 5.5" smartphone is inexpensive, capable and a fairly standard low-end model but lacks software support. Competition is stiff in this category but it's recent price drop tips the scale in its favor. Alexa integration is a value-add. Not for everyone, but worth a look.
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