Spice has been struggling to define its place in the mobile domain and somehow has always fallen just a little short of the mark. With their latest offering in the ambitious Stellar Horizon or Mi-500 with its 5-inch display and Dual SIM capabilities, they might have finally made it. Here’s a quick look to see how it turned out.
It’s big! Let’s just get that out of the way. However, in comparison to its competition, the Micromax A100 and Wickleak Whammy Note or even the great and powerful Galaxy Note I and II, the Mi-500 manages to keep it together and stay just a little slimmer in width. It even manages to pull off a rather swanky, refined-looking image with a squared off iPhone meets Galaxy Note style. Weighty as it is (205g), the Horizon does have a feel-good-factor about it when gripped and you’ll most certainly feel it when it's in your pocket. The additional rear panel with attached flip cover adds a touch of “leathery” class to the handset making a little more appealing.
iPhone meets Galaxy Note
The 5-inch display sports a 480 x 800 pixel resolution but somehow the colours just aren’t as vibrant as others in this class. The issue, it seems, is with the contrast ratio. It appears to be a little higher than most and boosting the brightness will only make it worse. The lack of a scratch free glass is also an issue and the flap doesn't help at all. Make sure you get a screen guard for this one. Volume Keys are placed on the right and the handsfree socket, Power/sleep button and micro USB charging/PC connectivity port are all placed on the top. The SIM card slots are placed on either side of the Hot Swap microSD card slot under the rear panel above the rather large 2400 mAh battery. The Mi-500 comes equipped with 4GB of internal storage of which about 3GB is allotted for users.
Feature and Performance
With a 1GHz Dual Core processor under its hood and running ICS in native mode, the Mi-500 appears quite speedy on the surface. It handled well enough through multitasking and multimedia consumption. The benchmark scores (Linpak, Quadrant, AnTuTu), however, proved that at the end of the day, Dual Core or not, the capability of a handset to utilise the processor effectively was not very well met and didn’t quite stand up to devices with lower powered chipsets. Of course the overall user experience was not too bad. Swiping through menus showed that there was still a hint of lag but not enough to make too much of a difference to a lay user. While playing some of the higher end games like N.O.V.A. 3 the lag became more evident.
Multi SIM Management
Spice has incorporated a few UI tweaks to ICS on their Mi-500 handset. Settings like Audio Profile options allow you to customise alerts like one would have done with Symbian devices of old. You also have the option of creating your own preset. Under the Display settings, the Mi-500 allows you to select a few colour modes (that didn’t seem to make any difference at all), choose between a default scene and a work scene and also provisioned the device with a few colour themes. Font sizes could also be adjusted. All of these settings might not be too handy or add any real value to the device but they do allow you to customise your user experience a little more.
The Dual SIM functionality of the handset is well organised and easy to manage. It’s divided up into Master and Slave (no innuendo intended) and allows you to control what each SIM should do for you. You could either select one to strictly manage Internet connectivity while the secondary option would handle calls and messages or vice versa. Setup is simple and easy indicators showcase just what SIM is in use and when.
The stock Android player for ICS is quite decent and has provisions for a 5 band graphic EQ setting, Bass Boost, 3D effects and Reverb. Audio quality was decent however, even with the controls the higher frequencies seemed a little too sharp. Reducing the highs to almost -10 db will ensure the brighter tones do not hinder your experience.
It was quite a comfortable session watching videos on the large display. Although the native player supported quite a few codecs and formats like MPEG4 and even a few AVI files up to 720p, some in the AVI format did not play too well. This was quickly fixed with a simple download of MX Player (free off the Google Play store). However, even with Software Decoding, 1080p video files had issues with playback. When our test videos played, they were out of sync. So Dual Core be damned in this case.
The Mi-500 also features an FM radio that worked quite well in most locations but provided a little too much static while commuting. There’s also an option to record your favourite songs or shows via the settings menu in the player. The Sound Recorder didn’t prove to be too good. Unless you’re within a radius of one foot of the handset, voice clarity is seriously diminished.
The Horizon comes fully loaded with connectivity features. It’s a 3G enabled device with options for tethering or sharing the connection as a Wi-Fi Hotspot. Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth with A2DP and GPS for Google Maps or any other software (with a-GPS) are also provided. Connectivity apps like Facebook, Nimbuzz, News and Weather are thrown in along with the usual addition of Google Apps like YouTube, GTalk, Google Maps with Navigation and Google Search.
Security is a non issue
Misc. Features and Apps
Spice has also included a few extras like a TOI app for news updates. Vault is an app that comes in handy to keep your data like photos, videos, Call Logs, text messages and even a few of those “secret contacts” secure. The app also secretly takes a picture of anyone trying to access the system just so you know who tried to access your files when you were not around. It’s sneaky but effective.
Another security app called NQ Mobile has also been preloaded. It comes bundled with an active Anti Virus function, back up utility, Network manager and an Anti Theft feature as well. To make sure that your precious handset is even more secure, M Tracker has also been added as a separate app. Rail Yatra, an app to track schedules and PNR status among other things is also on board along with an app called Dhingana that gives you access to Bollywood music online. The Spice Gang app is yet another freebie tossed in.
HDR and plenty of other features
The Mi-500’s 5MP AF camera is not one of the handset’s assets. Although it features quite a few handy settings including HDR, Self Timer, ISO settings, Panorama and a multishot pan option that creates a GIF like image, picture quality was not up to par. Images looked decent but not too sharp in native resolution with clustered colours tending to blend in with surroundings. Sony's Tipo with its 3MP camera does a slightly better job in this case.
Not the very best in camera quality
HDR requires a steady hand and colours don't seem as rich as before
Coupled with a 2400 mAh battery, the Spice Mi-500 proved to be quite a usable device through a heavy work day. On an average with both SIMs pulling their weight and plenty of mails, texts, chats and calls all in, the Horizon managed to work out a full office day and a little more into the evening. In our video loop test, we tried something a little different this time around and left 3G running on the 'Slave' SIM. The handset still managed over 3.5 hours of video while downlaoding emails with heavy attachments, updating apps, receiving chats, and other updates and a few calls in between. In our tech2 Loop test we ran the device for one whole loop - 2 hours video, 2 hours audio, 2 hours audio streaming and 1 hour on call. It began the second loop where it ran for just 25 minutes. On an average the Mi-500’s battery proved to be decent.
The Bottom Line and Price in India
The Spice Stellar Horizon Mi-500 is priced at Rs. 12, 499 which seems like a great buy for a Dual Core device with a 5MP camera and a 5-inch display running ICS. It is certainly a secure device thanks to the free apps provided for that purpose. The large display does manage to be very handy for videos and browsing but the lack of vibrant colours can be an issue for some. Battery life is not really an issue and the only thing that is is, the camera. Other than that the Mi-500 is a pretty good piece of hardware that looks good, functions well enough and has quite a few handy features. Even if the handset doesn’t seem to quite utilise the Dual Core processor as well as other devices,it is definitely worthy of consideration.
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