Hands On with Obi Worldphones
Obi Worldphone is a phone company founded by John Scully, former CEO of Apple. Perhaps not surprisingly, the company focuses on design, with attractive phones proudly "designed in San Francisco". They're not selling them in the U.S. just yet, but they have ambitions to sell in their home country soon. They have one high-end phone and their newest model — a mid-ranger — runs a new version of Cyanogen OS. We checked them out. Read on for our impressions.
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The Obi Worldphone MV1 is their newest model, announced here at MWC 2016 in Barcelona. It falls in the middle of Obi's line-up, although Obi focuses on affordable phones, so that means the MV1 is low-end compared to most U.S. phones. It's their cheapest model with 4G LTE.
The MV1 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 210 processor, 5-inch HD display, an 8-megapixel camera, and a memory card slot.
The MV1 is available with standard Android 5 or Cyanogen OS 12, with with Obi's attractive "Lifespeed" skin on top.
The Cyanogen version has a lot of power-use enhancements to the OS, and Cyanogen's new "MOD" system of software modules that integrate deeply with the OS. For example, you can download and add Microsoft's Cortana voice assistant to the MV1. Because it's a Cyanogen "MOD" instead of a traditional Android app, installing Cortana instantly integrates it deeply into the OS and all of the built-in apps, so it works almost exactly like it does in Windows phones. See more about Cyanogen's MOD system in our video tour.
All Obi hardware has a common design language and uses the same high-quality materials. The most distinctive features are the flat metal top and raised screen glass. The flat silver top remind's me of Iceman's haircut in Top Gun. The way the screen is raised makes the "main body" of the phone appear much thinner, a cute trick. It's more than a trick, though. The phones are actually pleasantly thin.
The hardware is very high-quality. While most of the body is plastic, it uses the same kind of high-quality polycarbonate used by Nokia in its best Lumia phones. In fact, the overall design is strikingly similar to the Lumia 900, both in appearance and feel; that's a very good thing. It feels like an indestructible solid block, yet it's thin and light. The side buttons have a similar high-quality feel and work well.
The SF1 is a higher-end phone, sporting a Snapdragon 615 processor, full-HD 5-inch display, up to 3 GB of RAM, and a 13-megapixel Sony Exmor main camera. It runs Android 5.
The design is very similar to the MV1, adding a metal chin at the bottom, but that's about it. All of the same compliments about the design and quality apply.
These two models support LTE, but not in bands that are well-suited to U.S. networks. They are intended for Latin America and Asia.
But Obi is working on entering the U.S. market. They are a U.S. company, after all. They are talking to U.S. carriers about selling Obi phones, and also evaluating the unlocked market. U.S. models may be available toward the end of this year, or possibly early 2017. Assuming they keep up the same design and quality, we'll be excited to see Obi phones come to the U.S. They're one to keep an eye on, for sure.
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