Review: Creo Mark 1 Smartphone Is Purely Meant for Its Software
Creo Mark 1 Smartphone. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/<a href="https://twitter.com/2shar">@2shar</a>)
Creo Mark 1 Smartphone. (Photo: The Quint/@2shar)

Review: Creo Mark 1 Smartphone Is Purely Meant for Its Software

It’s been a bit over a month since Bengaluru-based startup Creo launched its maiden device, the Mark 1 and quite a bit longer since we’ve been putting the phone through its paces.

Which makes it about the most perfect time to pen our review of the device. You see, Creo made a rather bold claim at launch – that of delivering a new phone every month.

No, not a new physical device every month, but via a monthly software update cycle that makes your phone better each month you use it. It’s an ambitious approach we can get behind, given just how many brands think that the only software you deserve to get on your phone is the one that it comes with in the box!

Creo Mark 1 Smartphone is not for the butterfingers. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/@2shar)
Creo Mark 1 Smartphone is not for the butterfingers. (Photo: The Quint/@2shar)

Well, a month and a bit down (and more importantly, past their first update), how does the Mark 1 fare, and is it worth the twenty-grand (priced at Rs 19,999) “budget flagship” pricing? Read on to find out…

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Pros:

  • Thoughtful software additions
  • Monthly software updates
  • Stylish, refined design

Cons:

  • Mediocre camera
  • Average battery life
  • No fingerprint sensor
  • Bulky

What’s Good?

Design wise, the Mark 1 is pukka phablet territory - with the broad 5.5-inch display and a pronounced bezel, this one is quite a handful. The design reveals a sense of minimalism and style that is likely to go down well with most, and the use of glass for the rear makes this feel like a really premium device in the hand.

Creo Mark 1 Smartphone gets a 5.5-inch display. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/@2shar)
Creo Mark 1 Smartphone gets a 5.5-inch display. (Photo: The Quint/@2shar)

The ability to laser-engrave your name or a short saying on the side is quite neat as well. Pity that it also makes the phone super slippery, and much like the Mi 5, if there is even the gentlest of slopes and the Mark 1 is on it, it will find a way to slide down via the shortest path to the floor!

The quad-HD display is a bright and punchy number, with a 1440x2560 resolution, and is at par with most popular flagships in its price range. With a MediaTek Helio X10, a 3100mAh battery, 3GB of memory and 32GB of storage that can go up to 128GB if you don’t care for a second SIM.

Volume and power controls on the Creo Mark 1. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/@2shar)
Volume and power controls on the Creo Mark 1. (Photo: The Quint/@2shar)

The spec-sheet checks all the boxes for its price of Rs 19,999 and the phone works lag-free even a couple of months down. But it’s clear Creo’s focus is elsewhere – on the software.

Its custom Android implementation, Fuel OS, looks and feels pretty much like the stock Android 5.1.1 Lollipop it’s built upon, but there are a bunch of nifty tweaks that, dare I say, really add value compared to the bloated Android skins that are the norm for most brands.

Software on the overdrive with Creo Mark 1. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/@2shar)
Software on the overdrive with Creo Mark 1. (Photo: The Quint/@2shar)

For example, there’s a useful messaging app that sorts your messages into categories – different views for bulk business messages (like those that are sent by banks, e-commerce portals etc) and individuals – that de-clutter your SMS inbox.

Or Retriever, an anti-theft mechanism that alerts you if a new SIM is inserted into your Mark 1 and even shows you the location on a map, even if your Mark 1 has been factory reset and the Internet connection is turned off.

Creo Mark 1 smartphone offers dual-SIM slot. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/@2shar)
Creo Mark 1 smartphone offers dual-SIM slot. (Photo: The Quint/@2shar)

Then there’s Sense, a built-in search feature that lets you find stuff inside your messages, local files, contacts…and even offers contextually relevant suggestions from the Internet.

And there’s Echo, a built-in answering machine that stores messages locally on the device, which means it’s available to you no matter where you travel, as long as you have a working cell network.

Personal engraving on the Creo Mark 1. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/@2shar)
Personal engraving on the Creo Mark 1. (Photo: The Quint/@2shar)

With the May 13 update, Creo rolled out not only a bunch of Echo and Sense enhancements, but also added in some new features, such as a Data Manager that tracks data access by apps (including background data usage), a quick-and-light Enhance photo editor and a Selfie Flash that lights up the display during selfies a la the iPhone.

Granted, much of this could be achieved by third-party apps, but from what we’ve seen, the company has taken a sorted, mature approach to adding new features (instead of the throw-the-kitchen-sink-at-it approach by many big brands).

What’s Bad?

The 21-megapixel rear camera isn’t bad, per se, it takes decent outdoor shots and has some nifty panorama, 3D photos and GIF export features, but it’s unreliable, especially in low-light conditions.

There’s no fingerprint scanner, which is something we’re quite used to at the sub 20K price point and really, once you’re used to fingerprint scanners, it’s tough to go back to a phone without one.

We don’t really need a QHD display at this price. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/@2shar)
We don’t really need a QHD display at this price. (Photo: The Quint/@2shar)

The QHD screen, while a nice spec addition at this price point, doesn’t make such a big difference in day-to-day use, and pushing out all those extra pixels on mid-range hardware will impact battery life.

Creo Mark 1 Smartphone. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/@2shar)
Creo Mark 1 Smartphone. (Photo: The Quint/@2shar)

So it is with the Mark 1, which we saw dipping to dangerously low levels around evening after a day of moderate to heavy use. Keep the charger handy.

Why Buy It?

Let’s be clear – the Creo Mark 1 is not for the hardware-obsessed or the spec junkies – there are plenty of other phones that, specs wise, give you more for Rs 19,999 or even lower than that. That said, there’s a lot to like about the Mark 1 – appealing looks, thoughtful software additions and an ambitious goal of delivering new features as the months go by.

(Tushar Kanwar is a technology columnist and commentator and has been contributing for the past 15 years to India’s leading newspapers and magazines. He can be reached on Twitter: @2shar.)

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