Chinese smartphones are certainly becoming more popular these days outside of Asian markets, offering consumers better bang for their buck in terms of performance and features, while putting pressure on existing players in the mobile space. Although those looking to buy a new phone are increasingly being spoilt for choice as far as mainstream phablets are concerned, rugged smartphones could perhaps be emerging as another popular segment. With devices such as Samsung's Galaxy S7 active being an example of flagship devices catering to this particular market segment, it really should not be a surprise that competitors such as NOMU are very keen to carve out a slice of the action for themselves.
NOMU launched its flagship S30 smartphone late last year amongst a trio of devices which includes the S10 and S20. The S30 is by far the largest and heaviest, but all three tout water, dust, and shock resistance as key selling points alongside a notable list of specifications. However, let's focus on what the NOMU S30 delivers at its $250 price point.
MediaTek Helio P10 (MTK6755) 64-bit octa-core CPU:
|5.5", 1080p, 401 ppi, LCD
Corning Gorilla Glass 4
Audio: 3.5mm socket
|162 x 83 x 13.35mm, 260g
Rear: 13MP (16MP interpolation), f/2.0 aperture, LED Flash
|Rear: 1080p @ 30fps
Front: 720p @ 30fps
|Autofocus, continuous shooting, digital zoom, geotagging, panorama, HDR, touch focus
|64GB, expandable to 96GB
Display and body
The S30 includes a 5.5-inch 1080p IPS LCD 1080p, the largest offered amongst its siblings, the S10 and S20, which both have a 5-inch 720p screen. While OLED displays seem to be all the rage these days, with their vibrant colours and deep blacks, the S30 instead includes a tried and tested IPS LCD display made by Sharp, and protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 4.
Though the screen can take a beating and is rated to survive drops from 1.2 metres you could be forgiven for thinking that picture quality may be compromised as a result. However, I'm pleased to say that isn't the case, with the S30's image quality being more than acceptable as far as general performance is concerned.
We are seeing more smartphones go for bezel-less designs or 2.5D displays, but the S30 does not follow that crowd. Even though the left and right bezels are quite reasonable, the top and bottom bezels are somewhat larger than what you'd find on a mainstream smartphone.
Right off the bat, the size and heft of the phone are both quite noticeable. Tipping the scales at 260g, the NOMU S30 is heavier than the Nokia Lumia 1520 at 209g, while sharing somewhat similar dimensions aside from being nearly 5mm thicker. Some of the smartphone's weight is attributed in part to its metal construction incorporating both aluminium and titanium, giving a solid feel to the device, at the same time adding to the perception of its physical robustness. Its elongated octagonal design with rubberised corners also helps to provide both grip and a small amount of cushioning, should the device be dropped.
Also, being an IP68 certified device, the NOMU S30 helps keep moisture and dust out through the use of rubber gaskets on its audio and USB sockets, in addition to the rear compartment housing the micro-SIM and microSD card. The cover for the rear compartment does fasten tight, but it can also present a challenge when you need to unfasten it.
The NOMU S30 includes a 13-megapixel rear camera (incorporating a Sony IMX214 sensor), with an f/2.0 aperture and LED flash in addition to a 5-megapixel front-facing camera with f/2.4 aperture.
Image quality tended to be at its best when capturing still or close up subjects, while action shots or subjects shot from a distance ended up losing detail in the resulting photo. However, the inclusion of optional HDR did help to add an extra pop to shots that would have otherwise been somewhat average.
Shots taken in lower light weren't the best I have seen from a smartphone, with a moderate but noticeable amount of noise present in the subsequent images when using the flash. The use of HDR in such environments did help to enhance colour depth, but it also contributed to image blur if you had anything but steady hands. Unfortunately, just after dusk settles in, wider shots become increasingly difficult to capture, with photos and videos coming out rather murky at best.
Compared to top-shelf smartphones which carry out varying degrees of post-processing to improve the quality of images, the S30's camera isn't in the same league. That's not to say you can't capture good photos or videos, but you'll need very steady hands to minimise blurriness in progressively lower light scenes.
You won't be shooting your best wildlife photographs at night with this smartphone. That said, it's still perfectly fine for taking casual shots, though you're going to have to invest some effort rather than just whipping out the phone for a quick point-and-shoot image, as has become the norm.
Part of the appeal of IP68 certified devices is, quite obviously, resistance to dust and moisture ingress. Having not had one such device in my possession in the past, it did have its initial novelty for things like listening to audiobooks in the shower or eliciting reactions from friends in the local aqua aerobics class when I'd 'drop' the phone in the pool.
However, taking things a step further, I thought I would see how the handset fared when frozen in a block of ice.
In a demonstration of its toughness, the S30 survived and remained powered on during the process. Granted, people generally don't go around intentionally freezing their phones, but for people who do venture out and spend significant time in such temperatures on a regular basis, this could be a feature that may be of interest.
While I didn't subject the phone to a rinse cycle in a washing machine, I did drop the phone countless times onto tiled and carpeted surfaces from about one metre, and the device never skipped a beat. Also, just for the heck of it, I also used the phone on several occasions to smash some oversized chunks of granola on a chopping board without any observable detriment to the screen or general operation of the S30. People may not be as careless or rough in this manner with a smartphone, but it does demonstrate how NOMU's product might stand up in the case of accidental drops and dings.
Stock Android, with a catch
Often the bane of many an Android device owner is the myriad of launchers and experiences thrust upon them by manufacturers. The S30 deviates from that by offering a stock Android 6.0 Marshmallow experience out of the box, along with the expected array of Google services.
One of the included Google services is, of course, Android Pay, Google's mobile payment service. At the time of writing, the NOMU S30 does have a problem, though. Given that the device is running a developer kernel, the service's SafetyNet API is triggered, ultimately preventing activation. According to the company, there are plans to fix it, but no precise timeframes were provided. However, I was able to use the tap-and-pay services using the apps provided by NAB and Commbank without any issues.
Otherwise, NOMU has pretty much left Android as is, without adding any extra bloat that needlessly uses up the 64GB onboard storage.
Charging, battery life, and micro-USB
During this transitional period in electronics, we are still seeing smartphones including micro-USB rather than the latest and greatest USB Type-C that affords the convenience of an orientation agnostic connector, and higher power throughputs. While the NOMU S30 does lack a Type-C connector, it at least attempts to make up for it as far as power delivery is concerned.
First up, the phone supports 'Pump Express 3.0', which is MediaTek's fast charging standard. It is worthy of note that a compatible fast charger is included in the box, and is capable of outputting 1.67A at 5, 7, and 9V, as well as 1.25A at 12V. Given that the NOMU S30 packs a generous 5,000mAh battery, charging it up using a standard USB connection via a computer can take a little while. In my tests using the fast charger, a full recharge took just over 3 hours which, for those who recharge their phones overnight, shouldn't be a dealbreaker.
In my general usage using the default settings, the battery easily lasted 1.5 days. This was with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and two SIM cards in operation with my Fitbit also connected. The phone ran out of juice just before I wrapped up work for the day and so I waited until I got home to connect the device to its fast charger. It took just a little more than three hours to fully recharge the device from its depleted state.
However, the fact that the battery is non-removable, likely to help minimize points of moisture ingress into the device, means that there is no option to swap in a spare battery. Furthermore, when the battery eventually wears out, replacing the internal one could end up compromising its ability to resist water and dust. At $250, however, it may end up being more economical to replace the phone with a more recent model, and responsibly recycle the old one.
The NOMU S30 forgoes a Qualcomm SoC, and instead includes the MediaTek Helio P10 found in the ZTE Nubia Z11 Max (albeit the MTK6755M variant, clocked at 1.8GHz) and also in the forthcoming, and fairly similarly specced, HTC One X10. The 64-bit SoC, paired with a generous 4GB RAM, ensures that the smartphone keeps up while you're multitasking, and also when playing games. In fact, aside from the brief period after booting up the device, the S30 ran smoothly and flawlessly.
My typical daily usage involved using Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Slack, Twitter, WhatsApp, Outlook, PowerPoint, and Excel, with some periodic usage of Audible, Netflix, and Spotify. I also set up my regular SIM card (installed in the first SIM slot), for voice calls only (operating at 2G), while I used a 4G mobile broadband SIM in the second available slot.
I tested out gaming performance in a few games, including Asphalt 8: Airborne and Bullet Force. While both games were absolutely playable, graphics in Asphalt 8 weren't as silky smooth as I would have preferred. However, the S30 was able to hold up in the gaming department with no instances of crashing or hard freezing when playing graphics-intensive titles.
First and foremost, it's pretty clear that the NOMU S30 touts its toughness as the primary selling point and, I'm happy to say that it seems to deliver on that front as far as my general testing was concerned. This might appeal to those who work in electronics-unfriendly conditions like construction, or in various other outdoor occupations. Outside of work scenarios, the phone can be suitable for those who may be somewhat accident prone with their gadgets, or are maybe looking for a secondary device to use at the beach or around the pool without fear of sand or liquid ruining the device.
The large screen puts the S30 firmly in phablet territory, but unlike an iPhone or Galaxy S handset, the device is chunky, with weight to match. As opposed to a few of the other rugged smartphones, some effort has been put into ensuring that the S30 does not attract undue attention, with its black exterior and patterned back. However, the sheer size of the device may have potential buyers looking elsewhere, either at the smaller S10 and S20 devices from NOMU, or from another manufacturer.
The phone's dual-SIM capability is also another key benefit, allowing users to receive calls on either SIM (but on only one SIM at any given time), along with the option to choose either SIM to provide a cellular data connection. However, the SIM not selected to provide data ends up connecting, at best, to 2G networks. This means that in countries such as Australia, the dual-SIM capability effectively becomes useless when the last of the 2G networks shut down later this year. This may be something to keep in mind when buying any dual-SIM handset in the coming years.
At $250, the NOMU S30 does offer a value proposition, particularly when compared to the likes of more expensive solutions from competing manufacturers. It packs enough power and storage to handle most tasks thrown at it with relative ease, at the same time being able to stand up to punishment that would consign most other smartphones to their ultimate demise, or requiring expensive repairs.