Hands on: Lenovo Vibe Shot - a new smartphone for the selfie-obsessed

While the likes of Samsung's new Galaxy S6, the HTC One M9, and Microsoft's new Lumia 640 handsets have dominated many of the headlines from this year's Mobile World Congress, the event is far, far larger than just this tiny handful of devices.

Indeed, Lenovo was among the many other tech giants to have launched new hardware this week, and as I discovered when I visited the company's show stand at MWC this morning, they're especially proud of their new Vibe Shot smartphone.

And it's quite a nice piece of kit, frankly, with a sleek and stylish design that actually manages to look a bit different in a sea of me-too handsets, but not so unusual that it might alienate buyers. Personally, I think Lenovo has done a cracking job here - the Vibe Shot looks lovely, especially from the rear.

Honestly, though, it doesn't feel quite as special when you pick it up - it's not really a disappointment, as such; it's just that the design promised so much that I perhaps expected some sort of transcendent and life-changing experience when I first held it. Really, holding it feels like holding just about any other similarly sized smartphone. Nice, but unremarkable.

Let's take a quick look at the specs that the Vibe Shot offers:

  • 5-inch IPS LCD with Full HD (1920x1080px) resolution
  • 64-bit octa-core 1.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor
  • 3GB RAM
  • 32GB storage (plus microSD support up to 128GB)
  • 16MP rear camera
  • 8MP front-facing camera
  • 2900mAh battery
  • Dual-SIM support
  • Lenovo Vibe UI, based on Android 5.0 Lollipop

These specs are pretty decent in and of themselves - the 5-inch Full HD screen is fairly standard for a higher-end device these days, while the newest-gen Snapdragon 615 processor from Qualcomm promises excellent performance. A point that I've made many times in recent days is that it's more or less impossible to fairly assess a handset's performance from just a few minutes spent with it on a show stand - we'll need to spend some real time with it to be able to pass that kind of judgment.

I can tell you that the Vibe Shot felt about as speedy and silky smooth in use as many flagships - but with barely any data or apps installed on the device, my time with it wasn't exactly representative of real-world performance. Even so, it seems promising, and I'd certainly welcome more time to get to grips with the Vibe Shot to see how it compares with its rivals.

Fingerprint smudges galore!

The main selling point of the Lenovo Vibe Shot isn't its performance, though - this design is focused on one thing: photography. The company's reps told me that imaging was at the core of the handset's entire development - they wanted to create a device with the convenience of a smartphone, but with the imaging prowess of a dedicated camera.

I gave the camera a quick test on Lenovo's bright and vibrant show stand, and I was really very impressed by the deep contrasts, dark blacks, and rich colors that the 16-megapixel sensor picked up. Indeed, it's worth bearing in mind that the company has packed a lot of camera tech into the new handsets.

That 16MP rear camera features a backside-illuminated sensor with infrared autofocus, optical image stabilization, and not one, not two, but three LED flash lights. Lenovo told me that the purpose of this was to improve color balance in light-shots, but in the extremely bright environs of the exhibition center floor, it wasn't entirely practical to put this to the test.

But Lenovo hasn't limited its efforts solely to the Vibe Shot's rear camera - indeed, it's the 8-megapixel selfie cam that the company's reps seemed most proud of. Indeed, Lenovo has added some interesting touches to the device on this front.

One nice feature - albeit an optional extra - is the Vibe X2 Pro Selfie Flash unit, which slots into the headphone jack at the top of the handset to provide a bright ring of light to illuminate your selfies in even the darkest of situations.

It's hardly a must-have, which is why Lenovo isn't including it in the box with the handset - but for those who love their selfies, it may well prove to be an essential accessory. I can tell you that it works from what I was shown, but until I can test it out in a deep, dark cave that has never felt the glow of natural light, I'll have to reserve judgment on just how good it really is.

The device offers basic image capture features for the uninitiated, but for those with more experience in managing photography settings, a physical switch on the side of the handset activates the camera's 'pro' interface, with more granular and detailed settings, such as white balance and ISO levels.

There is also a dedicated camera shutter button on the device - but unlike on Microsoft's Lumia handsets, for example, this button does not activate the camera from the lockscreen. Indeed, I showed my Lumia 930 to the Lenovo reps and product manager to demonstrate how quickly I could remove my camera from my pocket to take a photo, and asked if there was an equivalent user experience for quick image capture on the Vibe Shot.

There then followed a lengthy discussion, in which the PM demonstrated a quick-launch feature - buried in the 'character' (not camera) settings - which allows users to launch the camera almost instantly by double-pressing the volume-down button. Every time they did this, it launched the selfie camera and instantly captured a pic with it. I was assured that it is possible to change the settings to launch the rear camera instead, but I wasn't shown this in action.

Amusingly, none of the Lenovo reps was able to explain why they had chosen to map this function to the volume button, when surely it would make more sense - in terms of making the feature easier to remember for users - to use the camera shutter button on the device instead. Indeed, they seemed rather pleased by the suggestion - so you never know, a future software update may yet make that change based on my feedback!

Lenovo has also added a few apps and baked various features into the OS to help you to get the most out of your photography experience. I'll highlight one of them here, purely because I'm still completely confused by it.

The selfie cam can scan your face and - for reasons I'm still not entirely clear on - it will tell you how old you look, and assign a 'Happiness Index' based on how you currently look.

"36 YEARS OLD"? ARE YOU F*&%ING KIDDING ME?!

According to this feature, I'm 36 years old with a happiness quotient of 30. I'm actually 31, and I have no idea what the happiness figure means, so my general impression of this feature was somewhere between horribly insulted and wholly indifferent. I'm not completely convinced that this was Lenovo's aim.

There are some very interesting features in the Vibe Shot, and paired to its attractive design, there's enough here to have raised my interest. But there are also a few oddities here and there, which hint at a company that's designing products first without necessarily understanding exactly how they're going to be used.

Lenovo's reps mentioned several times how appealing these new selfie features will be for girls and women. Personally, I know more selfie-obsessed men than women, so I find this kind of attitude pretty disappointing - and I wonder how much of that approach may be diluting Lenovo's product development, in the mistaken belief that curious concessions and additions must be made in order to misguidedly pander to the whims of female users.

For now, though, I see enough in the Lenovo Vibe Shot to be quietly intrigued about whether the whole package will be good enough to live with for more than a few minutes. A stylish handset, with some impressive imaging credentials, this is one device that I'd really like to put through its paces in the real world.

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