CREO Launches Update-Focused “Mark 1” in India
We’ve talked about CREO before. The Bangalore (India) based startup wanted to enter into the Indian smartphone, and not get lost in the masses of low and mid end devices in the country. To stand out, the company focused on an aspect that is neglected in India: Updates.
The CREO Mark 1 is CREO’s first smartphone in the market. Keeping the Update USP aside for a minute, the Mark 1 also packs in decent specs to give the user the hardware opportunity for an enjoyable Android experience. Afterall, to get good software, you need good hardware in the first place.
On the front of the Mark 1 is a 5.5″ QHD LCD display, giving the phone a pixel density of 534 ppi. Powering the display is a MediaTek Helio X10 SoC clocked at 8x 1.9GHz. You also get 3GB of RAM, and 32GB of internal storage, which can further be expanded up to 128GB via a microsd card slot. There’s a decent 3,100 mAh non-removable Li-Po charging on board, which supports fast charging (standard unknown as of now) but no wireless charging. The Mark 1 is also a dual SIM phone with 4G connectivity. Notably missing from the hardware package is a fingerprint sensor, but more on this in our device review.
CREO’s second most talked about point in their keynote was the camera on the Mark 1. The rear camera on the Mark 1 is the Sony Exmor IMX 230 sensor, which is the same sensor as on the Sony Xperia Z3+, Motorola Moto X Play and Style and the Droid Turbo 2. The rear camera comes with PDAF and can capture videos at 4K. Another feature addition is the ability to shoot 120fps Slo-Mo videos in Full HD. The front camera is an 8MP shooter, with a few feature additions such as 3D Photos and Live Photo Mode.
The majority of CREO’s keynote was spent talking about the software on the Mark 1. The company organized its whole marketing pitch on the lines of “A New Phone, Every Month”, which refers to the software end of things.
The Mark 1 runs on CREO’s custom OS, called Fuel OS, which is based on Android 5.1 Lollipop. Fuel OS attempts to bring some actually nifty features onto the stock OS. CREO’s modifications are made on top of stock Android, while staying true to its roots. The end result is a software experience that feels familiar but still adds on. It’s not the “stockiest” of Android, but it is devoid of heavy modifications (at this stage) to weigh the UX down.
The current Fuel OS features smart and contextual system-wide search, called Sense. This was demonstrated by being mapped to a double tap on the home button. CREO’s Sense allows you to search across apps, contacts and even phone settings contextually. Previewed on stage were a few searches, such as typing food onto the search bar would give a list of food related apps (and not necessarily apps named “food”) such as Zomato, Faasos and more. Typing in a contacts name would pull up the contact card as well as messages from that contact. Typing in “screenshot” links you to the phone settings related to screenshots. Further, if you type in Customer Support, you pull up information of all of CREO’s service centers nearest to you.
Echo is another of CREO’s addition, and is reminiscent of an answering machine on a phone. The difference between external apps that allow you to do this already and with CREO’s implementation is that CREO has this baked directly into the OS, providing a more (theoretically) seamless and hassle-free experience. Echo works independent of carrier or caller’s phone and will cost you no extra charge other than that of an incoming call (which is usually free of charge at the local level). Echo was demonstrated on stage, and it did what it was supposed to do: ask the caller to leave a message and then store the voice message locally for the user to view later as per his convenience.
Also previewed on stage was Retriever, which is CREO’s version of Android Device Manager, albeit with a few additions. Retriever sends you an email on a new sim insertion even when the phone had been wiped clean. Further, you can also get details of time, location and the phone number of the SIM installed, which should come in really handy in narrowing down in cases of phone theft. To disable the email options (in legitimate usage scenarios like resale of device), there is a “Transfer Phone” option which you need to check/enable before wiping the device.
There are also other features built in, like Notification Manager, Smart inbox for messages (auto filters spam and segregates messages from people and companies), lockscreen gestures, customizable capacitive buttons and smart call forwarding.
CREO’s update plan for the next month (scheduled for 13th of May) was already presented to the audience, namely adding on features like an advanced photo editor, selfie screen flash, Auto Background Data Manager and more customizations and automation to Echo, along with performance enhancements. Updates to the phone will come in differential delta formats (instead of full OS zips), which is inline with current market practices and sensibilities. The feature changelog will be clearly presented on the update screen, along with credits given for the community participants who suggested these features. Further, updates will also bear a community rating, which should give an indication of how well received a particular update was to the users who have already installed it.
Now, when you talk about Android updates and then ship a phone with Android 5.1 in Early 2016, it begs the question: Why not Android 6.0 Marshmallow? We posed this question to a CREO representative, who informed us that this was a decision taken due to constraints of time and effort leading up to the product creation and launch. Android 6.0 is definitely on the cards and on the early roadmap, and they claim that it will come in sooner rather than later. We agree partly on this since developing a phone is a long and drawn out process, and we’re willing to cut them slack with this being their first smartphone. But we will definitely be watching whether or not they can live up to their promises.
We also posed a few more questions to CREO:
- What about the GPL-mandated kernel source code? The kernel source code for the Mark 1 will be released to the public after the device is available for the public. However, the source code will be restricted to mandated bits only, and will be devoid of proprietary code which does not fall under the GPL. That is still better than a lot of what we expect in the market from MediaTek processors, but the wishful thinkers within us hoped for more.
- How long will the device be supported for? CREO mentioned that we can expect 2 years of normal updates for the device, but the team plans to provide update support for the device for as long as the hardware is capable of. Considering that the phone is a mid ranger, expecting support for more than 3 years would be a long shot. We hope that the phone receives atleast for 2 years — anymore would be the icing on the top.
- Will FuelOS make it way onto other devices? This is on the roadmap, though not for the immediate future. Current focus is on the Mark 1, and the products success and the market’s demand will dictate the directions in which FuelOS will expand in.
- Will FuelOS be open sourced? Short answer, no. Long answer, FuelOS is an inhouse development of CREO. It takes in feature requests from the community, but this community includes and is actually averaged on the normal consumer who will not be a coder. This is not a community ROM in the sense that CyanogenMod is, as FuelOS still needs to cater to paying customers who would expect polished updates every time. Since a lot of OEM skins also act as key differentiators in the user experience in the market, CREO passing on this differentiation would honestly be a uneconomical business decision in my opinion. As such, we do not blame them for not opting to go open source. We still wish they did though.
The CREO Mark 1 will be available on CREO’s website as well as on Flipkart for INR 19,999 ($300). You can also engrave a personal message of 40 characters on the side of the device if you order from the CREO website. This facility will be free for the first 2000 users. No concrete date of availability was shared in the keynote, but we will keep you updated for the same.
The Mark 1 from CREO brings an interesting proposition to the Indian market. Will a software focused device actually work in the country? Will the phone survive cut throat competition from absolute bang-for-buck hardware from Chinese OEMs? Or will it tank and prove that specifications still rule the market, and that software is an afterthought? As they say, only time and sales will tell.