Update: Neo N003 Review – Has it been worth the wait?


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The Neo N003 is one of the last current generation phones to launch in China. It boasts an impressive feature set, and has been in development the longest. So how good is it?

Neo N003 Background

The story of the Neo N003 started way back at the start of the year with rumours of a quad-core phone with 5-inch 1920 x 1080 display that would cost just $130 (799 Yuan). This wasn’t a rumoured price but a figure Neo actually gave to us when we asked and one they used to promote the phone.

Months past with very little in the way of Neo N003 news and then finally we got word that it would launch and it would be updated to a 1.5Ghz MT6589T processor. This could have been great news, but in the time that Neo had spent to develop the N003 rivals from iOcean, UMi, FAEA, Zopo and others had already established themselves on the market and easily available!

Neo N003 features

Being the last on the market isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and what Neo had done with their time developing the phone was to add practically every function and feature we could possible want from a current generation phone!

neo n003 review

As mentioned above they had updated the quad-core chipset to a 1.5Ghz MT6589T processor, there is also an option of either 1GB or 2GB RAM, 13 mega-pixel rear camera, 3 mega-pixel front, 5-inch 1920 x 1080 FHD display, a Yamaha audio chip, Android 4.2, Ashahi tempered glass, dual SIM support, OTG, MHL and a 3000mAh battery!

An impressive package, but does the N003 live up to the hype, or is this phone already to late to compete?

Neo N003 specifications

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Neo N003 Unboxing Video

Neo N003 Review

Neo N003 design – Not the prettiest, but one of the best made.

I can only give you my personal opinion, and personally I didn’t really like the look of the Neo N003 from what I had seen in leaked photos and early hands on. When our Neo N003 test phone arrived I didn’t really expect to like it in the flesh either.

neo n003 review

I don’t like the mixture of colours. I would have preferred it if Neo had gone for a black alloy surround rather than the silver one to create the popular ‘Panda’ look as seen on the JiaYu G4 and Xiaomi phones.

neo n003 review

The silver and black together make me think of the old iPhone 3GS which is now a rather old-fashioned device, and I don’t like my leading hardware looking vintage from the get go (retro I can handle).

So from a looks perspective the N003 would be quite low on my list of possible phones, however build quality and finish are more important to me and this is where the N003 does very well!

The Neo is sturdier than similar handset from Zopo, but not quite as stiff as the JiaYu G4 or Xiaomi phones. There is a little flex in the body, but I believe you would have to be of ample frame to break the phone by sitting on it.

neo n003 review

The plastics used on the rear the removal rear are very high quality. There is just enough give for the case to snap on and off easily, but is isn’t a thin or flimsy affair we see on many over phones.

Quality of manufacture is spot on too. Gaps are minimal and everything sits snuggly together.

Looking around the phone we find all the usually buttons and controls in the usual places. Back-lit capacative buttons on the chin, 3 mega-pixel front camera above the screen and by proximity and light sensors (there is also an LED notification light), make up the front of the phone.

neo n003 review

The left hand side houses the power button which can also be used to lock and unlock the display.

neo n003 review

Volume rockers are on the left and are in easy reach of an index finger (right-handed operation) or a thumb (for leftys).

neo n003 review

A slightly protruding 13 mega-pixel camera sits on the rear. The lens is protected by an alloy ring, and there is a single LED flash below it. A interestingly styled rear speaker is also present as are the Neo logo, markings for the camera and an odd slogan reading “With Neo Team Sense”, whatever that might mean.

neo n003 review

Everything is where you would normally expect things, except the micro USB which is there for charging, moving files or USB OTG is at the top of the phone rather than the base and sits next to a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Overall, the Neo N003 isn’t the best looking Android phone on the market but it is better made than most with better materials and fit.

Neo N003 display – Just what you expect from 1080p

neo n003 review

Like many of it’s rivals the Neo N003 has a 5-inch display with a resolution of 1920 x 1080. With a full 1080 HD display you would expect a pretty crisp picture and you will not be disappointed.

Really if you have seen a 5-inch 1080 display on the UMi X2, FAEA F2 or iOcean X7 you will know exactly how good the display is on the Neo.

neo n003 review

It’s been rather sunny here in so I have been able to test the display in some pretty harsh lighting conditions. With the screen on its brightest settings you can easily use the phone in really sunny conditions.

Colours, brightness and viewing are all on par with rivals such as the Zopo ZP980 and Zopo C2, however for touch sensitivity, responsiveness and accuracy the N003 is better than the current Zopo options, and is very reactive us use.

Neo N003 performance – Surprising for 1GB, gamers will still want more.

As the Neo Advanced with 2GB RAM wasn’t yet available when we received our phone for review we were sent the 1GB RAM phone. The Neo N003 basic is the same phone as the Advanced with with only 4GB memory and 1GB RAM.

Although the Neo does feel quite responsive in most situations there is some notable lag now and then when moving from one screen to another. This is particular notable on the the home screen and in the apps draw, but it seems to only really affect these areas and in app scrolling is good.

Update: At the request of Evgenij I have installed and tested Nova Launcher to see if the lag persists. With Nova launcher installed the Neo is lag free and more more responsive when swiping through the home screen.

With only 1GB RAM launching games can take a little time too, but once things are up and running performance is acceptable.

In the below video we test Rip Tide GP2. The Neo N003 handles the game play very well, but if you take a good look at the water effects, speed blurs etc it doesn’t look to us that the Neo N003 Basic can handle everything which is going on in the screen as fluidly as a phone with more RAM. It doesn’t spoil game play, but it is something to be aware of if you were to buy the Basic option.

Benchmarks aren’t really a fair way to judge a phone, but they are a useful tool and give us some solid number to look at.

neo n003 antutu

In Antutu version 3.4 the Neo N003 basic manages a benchmark score of 13,323.

neo n003 vellamo benchmark

Vellamo scores are as follows. HTML5: 1544. Metal: 488.

neo n003 epic citadel benchmark

While running these benchmarks or playing games a little heat is generated on the rear of the Neo N003 just below the left hand side of the rear facing camera. The increase in temperature is especially notable when gaming or running benchmarks such as Epic Citadel, speaking of which the N003 managed an average FPS of 45.7.

neo n003 nenamark benchmark

Nenamark 2 FPS benchmark gave at top score of 34.1fps.

neo n003 3dgl benchmark

Finally, we ran 3D mark for you gamers out there who might be considering the an N003 Basic. For Ice Storm Extreme the Neo managed 1847 where as the regular Ice Storm test it faired better with a benchmark of 3597.

In a nut shell the Neo N003 Basic is fine for most users, but if you hate lag and want faster app loading you would be wise to spend the extra on the 2GB RAM Advanced version.

Camera quality – Great photos, great video!

neo n003 photo sample

Most of the current crop of Chinese MT6589T phones offer very similar hardware, the Neo N003 is no different and has a 13 mega-pixel rear camera but only a 3 mega-pixel front. For us 3 mega-pixel is more than enough for Skype video calls, and as we don’t take any self portraits it is more than enough camera.

The rear camera is what I was most interested in, would it be able to capture great photos at a seconds notice? Would clarity and focus be an issue? Would the images appear washed out with too much white balance?

Below is a selection of photos taken with the N003 on bright sunny days and also during the night. As usual you can download full size untouched images here.

neo n003 photo sample

neo n003 photo sample

neo n003 photo sample

I’m an really happy with the image quality the Neo manages to record. Colours look great, clarity is perfect and focus is spot on.

neo n003 photo sample

Earlier this year I took the UMi X2 and JiaYu G4 for a camera shootout at the Qingdao Auto-show, had the N003 been available at the same time it would have been easily my go to device and a clear winner.

Not only does the Neo get great photos it also manages to focus quickly and capture and save the image in no time. Even taking photos of my children riding their scooters at speed the Neo performed better than I expected!

neo n003 photo sample

neo n003 photo sample

Low light images are also handled well, but the N003 isn’t a phone you would want to use to capture photos of you and your friends hitting up the bars at night. Night or dark in door photos are noisy, and the LED flash is pretty useless unless you only want the very center of the image to by seen.

neo n003 photo sample

So overall taking photos (as long as it isn’t too dark) is a great experience with the Neo N003, but how about video? Again the UMi X2 and JiaYu G4 suffered from the focus which continually adjusted and hunted making any video captured terrible to watch and unusable. So what about video on the N003?

The video above was captured on the phones highest resolution (1920 x 1080) on with and recorded on a sunny day, and as you can see the video is really rather good! In fact I will go as far to say the Neo N003 is the current Chinese MTK phone video champ!

Battery Life – Great, even with my bad habits!

If you have read any phone review I have put together you will know by now that I don’t go out of my way to preserve the power in my phone. I constantly have WIFI, GPS and 3G switched on and my email accounts push messages to me as and when they arrive. I also have either QQ or WeChat running in the background too, that plus I’m a heavy web browser a lot of which is handled over 3G.

neo n003 review

In fact the only power saving measure I have is that the screen is only on full when outside, I turn it down to around %50 for the rest of the time.

So with that in mind I am happy to report the N003 has pretty impressive battery life, which is not really a surprise after seeing the thickness of that 3000mAh battery which rests in side the belly of the phone!

After a few charges and recharges I was able to get the through the day with juice to spare on the N003, but if you do have better habits than I do you will likely get better results.

On the other hand if you are a gamer, use the GPS for running apps or navigation and like to listen to music with the built from your phone, your mileage is going to vary.

Connectivity – Perfect, expect for the usual GPS bugs.

When you buy an Android smartphone you expect, WIFI, 3G, GPS, Bluetooth etc to work right of the box. Well the Neo N003 get’s 3 out of the 4 right. As usual with a Mediatek powered phone the GPS was extremely slow to lock on the first time, and not really that quick in following test.

neo n003 review

Thankfully there are a few tips, one of which was published by Eduardo from GizChina.es. Using Eduardo Mediatek GPS fix solved the slow GPS with the Neo N003 making it much faster to lock on to your location and it also seemed a more accurate too.

Browsing the web over WIFI and 3G are handled flawlessly, and speed of website rendering is really impressive.

I use China Unicom WCDMA on my phones and I always have a signal no matter where I go, but this is due to the number of antennas there are in China (on a recent trip to the UK I noticed how much better the Chinese 3G networks actually are!), and call quality is great with no dropped calls.

Speakers – Good

The cool looking external rear speaker on the rear of the Neo isn’t the loudest we have heard from a Chinese phone, but it is more than enough to make a nuisance of yourself if you were to play games on a bus without earbuds.

Clarity is about right phone a phone of this price. It isn’t as clear and nice to listen to as say a Meizu phone, but again it does the job.

jiayu ear phones

I tested the Neo with a pair of JiaYu Wooden earbuds (which are actually very good) and performance is really great through the 3.5mm headphone jack. The sound from the JiaYu earphones makes anything sound good though so I can’t really comment on how the Yamaha amp improves things.

Conclusion – The most feature packed and polished MTK phone to date!

The Neo N003 is a feature packed phone, OTG, MHL, 1080 display, quad-core processor, 13 mega-pixel camera etc, and rather than just plugging in all the best features and selling the phone, Neo have actually taken the time to develop it in to easily one of the better performing and easy to live with Mediatek phones of the year!

Update: It is a shame we weren’t sent the 2GB RAM version of the Neo N003 so we could see what this phone is really capable of,  but if you can live with the short lag , the lag issue can be fixed by installing an alternate launcher such as Nova Launcher,  and don’t mind the slower app loading times you could just about get away with the basic if you had to get a phone now, if you can spend a little extra then I would go for the 2GB model.

neo n003 review

We tested the N003 over a week and used it as our main phone the only issue we had was the slow GPS (which we fixed) and one odd time the phone decided to just turn off (something which we have been unable to replicate). As Chinese Mediatek phones go I will say that this is the best to date, in fact the only thing which would stop me from buying the N003 is the fact I don’t like the design, and I would want the Advanced version.

But, with the Neo launched so late is this phone still worth buying? According to insider news 8-core phones could be on sale as early as January, so we should skip the N003 and buy one of those right? I would say no. The first batch of quad-core phones this year were a little buggy, all plagued with delays and all received processor updates in a matter of months, what’s to say the same won’t happen next year?

The Neo N003 might be one of the latest phones to launch this year, but it is also the most enjoyable. If you choose to go for the 2GB Neo N003 as your phone it should be more than enough device, with all the functions you could want to last you until the sorted 8-core Mediatek phones launch around this time next year!

To answer the question “Has it been worth the wait?”, the answer is “Most definitely yes!”.

Thanks to ChinaPadMall.com who lent us this Neo N003 Basic for review.

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