Aldi's $279 Bauhn Sphere smartphone reviewed
1.9Overall Score
Price (RRP): $279 Manufacturer: Bauhn

Remember when you had to go to a phone store to buy a phone? No more, with phones available everywhere, and Aldi is getting on that with the Sphere, a budget phone for a budget price. Worth it, or is there better value at some other place?

Features

Everyone has a phone, and now it’s Aldi’s time to show us what the company has been working on.

There isn’t an Aldi name, though, with “Bauhn” used, one of Aldi’s many house electronic brands, like Tevion or Medion.

Here in the Bauhn Sphere, you’ll find a 1.3GHz quad-core processor paired with 2GB RAM, 32GB storage, and support for a microSD slot beyond this. Google’s Android 4.4.2 “KitKat” runs here, making it relatively up to date.

Connection options are relatively bare-bone, with WiFi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth, GPS, and 3G connectivity spread out over two SIM slots. A microUSB port is also provided, useful for charging and moving data to and from the Bauhn Sphere.

Cameras are also here, with a 2 megapixel front-facing camera and an 8 megapixel rear camera with auto-focus and a flash.

This sits under a 5 inch high-definition screen, showing a resolution of 1280×720, and a pixel clarity of 294 pixels per inch.

Buttons are normally not found on most Android phones, but Bauhn still has a few soft buttons here, relying multitask, home, and back under the 5 inch screen. There are only two physical buttons, with a volume rocker on the left edge and a power button on the right.

Ports are also found here in the form of a 3.5mm headset jack up top next to a microUSB port, while a microSIM and a miniSIM slot can each be found under the plastic rear cover, as well as a microSD slot.

The battery is removable and is rated for 1800mAh.

Performance

In the hands, the black plastic of the Bauhn Sphere feels cheap and flimsy, but for the price, we’re sure people won’t mind.

It’s not one of those phones that exudes a feeling of something being well built, that’s for sure, but that plastic back comes off after a good and solid prying with your fingernails, and while it’s plastic all the way around, it’s comfortable enough in the hand, complete with buttons on either edge, making it easy to grip and fiddle with both the power and volume when you need to.

Bauhn won’t win any awards for the design, though, and it won’t win even a commendation for the name.

Even though Bauhn calls it there “Sphere,” there is nothing remotely spherical about the smartphone, unless of course you include the small sphere printed on the back, and that’s a circle, not a sphere.

Forget the name, though, because there’s a smartphone here, and it packs in features for a value price, so does Aldi’s Sphere have the potential to take on products from Motorola, Kogan, Huawei, or ZTE?

Based on what we’ve seen, no.

Just… no. Horribly no.

Where to start?

Well, we’ll probably just start with the negatives and how they affect the experience, because it’s the first time we’ve needed to start with the weak points of a phone, and that’s because there are just so many. So, so many.

The aesthetics of the phone are basic enough, and we don’t have a problem with the simple look, black plastic back, and 5 inch high-definition screen, but that’s probably where the niceties stop, and from here on in, our experience with the Bauhn Sphere wasn’t exactly a pleasant one.

For starters, there are three soft buttons on the bottom, but they’re not totally mapped correctly. There’s a multitask button, a home button, and a back button, and we listed these in the features, but these are not what the buttons actually are, or one of them, even.

The multitask button actually works like a menu button, telling us this is actually old hardware — an old phone from before Google ditched the menu button and went with multitasking instead — and that multitask feature works by holding down the home button, not when you press the multitask button.

That’s not a good sign that Bauhn let the Sphere out without checking this basic issue, and we’re a little surprised to see the problem crop up on a KitKat phone, but we’ll progress.

It's Android, sure, and pretty stock, but this has to be one of the weakest Android phones we've ever looked at.

Then there’s the performance, and there are already concerns when we switch it on for the first time, with the screen requiring a basic calibration before working, and letting us see some of the developer specific things, such as app permission management and a name for an audio enhancement feature that hasn’t changed much — “BesAudEnh” — and probably should before it was released.

Move on from here and you’ll find some issues, such as slowness, and lots of it, as the phone struggles to open applications quickly. When you let the phone catch up, it’s not bad, but we found problems as we jumped from apps to the menu, with the phone lagging all the time.

Even the keyboard was a touch frustrating, with Bauhn providing the older Android keyboard from before Google moved to the version with gesture typing. It’s there, mind you, and you can switch to it, you just have to know it’s there, otherwise you’ll be using the old AOSP keyboard with zero gestures and a readily seen slowness as you press each on-screen character.

Frustrating.

Another issue rears its head quickly, and it’s a confusing one: storage, or lack thereof.

In the features, we’re told that the Bauhn Sphere comes with a generous supply of storage, 32GB in fact, as well as a microSD, but Android just has problems seeing it.

Despite the storage system seeing it, and seeing how little is taken up, it’s next to impossible to install apps on the phone, and we’re not talking about a large number.

When we tried to install the basic apps we normally use for our phone test — TripView, Google Play Books, Instagram — we hit a brick wall, with the phone telling us that we had an “insufficient space on the device,” despite there being over 25GB available.

Just… wow, Bauhn.

So what can you use the phone’s generous storage for? Photos, music, and videos, it seems, and there’s a microSD slot using the old “T” badge for Transflash waiting for you in the wings in case you want to expand it more.

Bauhn has even included some apps for you that you cannot get rid of.

Yes, bloatware is here, but it’s the sort of bloatware we’re genuinely surprised at, because while it could be useful to some, we didn’t want it around, and if you don’t, tough luck, because it cannot be removed.

As such, Aldi is hoping you like — and find useful — catch-up TV apps such as ABC iView, Seven’s Plus7, SBS On Demand, and TenPlay, because they’re here and there’s nothing you can do about it. Can’t uninstall them, can’t remove them from the device; they are part of the Aldi experience.

It’s the same with some news and current affairs apps, too, with the Financial Review, SBS World News, CNN, BBC News and BBC Sport, all apps including on the phone and, well, stuck here, even though we can’t install TripView to check out bus times in Sydney.

Nice work with that, Aldi.

You can also expect Aldi’s catalogue and specials app to be installed and unable to be removed from the Bauhn Sphere, as well as an app for Aldi Mobile, which the company hopes you use for a 3G service.

We’re just amazed that this sort of bloatware is included and isn’t able to be uninstalled.

We get it: Aldi’s phone is meant to be ideal for people who shop at Aldi, and that’s why you get Aldi apps on it. Fine. What about the forced news and catch-up TV apps, and why does the generous storage stop you from installing apps?

Seriously, these are bugs that should not be on a phone available in stores. Just no.

Mobile speeds weren’t terrible, but weren’t great either, operating outside of NextG’s 3.5G and providing speeds ranging from 3Mbps to 6Mbps. It’s not a lot of speed, but if you don’t need much, you’ll be fine.

But the battery isn’t exactly going to win people over with barely a day of life operating with one SIM.

Our battery dropped quite quickly in testing, and that was doing the regular shtick of making phone calls, sending texts, social networking, listening to music, surfing the web, taking photos, and using the product.

That was with one SIM, though, and we have severe doubts over what the battery life would be like with two. Severe doubts.

Beyond these concerns, we’ve had issues with the 3G refusing to kick in to let us browse mobile data, headphone issues where the on-board sound system would send music to the speaker instead of the headphones that were plugged in, swiping down on the notification menu that would jump home screens, the physical power button is hard to click in when you want push it, and some noticeable speed issues when we hit the power button to bring the phone back from standby.

There’s also a rather unusual feature on the back just under the camera lens, and it’s another touch sensor.

Don’t think of this as a fingerprint sensor, because it’s not. Think of it rather as a small touchscreen for taking photos by tapping it with your forefinger, or helping you to flick through the gallery, or pausing and playing songs.

Think of it for these things because that’s all it can do, and it won’t even do it timely, as the phone’s lacklustre performance gets in the way, delaying every action and delivering your rear press in nothing close to real time.

We hate sighing in reviews, but this one demands it. So… *sigh*

To say this phone is a shocker is an understatement: there are so many bugs, we are just astounded Bauhn even boxed it up and sells it on the shelves of a major supermarket.

If it feels like we haven’t touched on the positives of the phone, it’s because there aren’t many, and it’s so much easier to get lost in the issues than enjoy the experience — any: bad, good — offered by the Bauhn Sphere.

One positive is that it will be found in a supermarket. That’s like a positive, though given how Aldi stuff is generally a “while stocks last” sort of thing, that may not be a positive feature overall.

The screen also isn’t terrible either, providing a high definition display in a 5 inch format for a budget price, though because of the weak performance, you probably won’t even get to use the screen for all it’s worth. It also picks up oil and smudges from your fingers a little too easily, but Bauhn does leave a screen protector on the phone out of the box giving you something with a bit of resistance here. We’d leave it on (we took ours off), as it actually makes the screen feel better on the fingers.

Another positive is that the SIM technology it uses not only allows for two SIMs on a 3G network, but it’s both old and relatively new, with microSIM and miniSIM (the latter of these is what most people regard as a regular SIM, even though it’s technically a smaller miniSIM).

For people with older button based phones, this could provide them with an easy upgrade path due to this taking the same miniSIM technology, as well as offering them something to work with overseas, since microSIMs are more easily found than the older and larger miniSIM format.

Image from the Bauhn Sphere's camera

Conclusion

We’re not normally down on budget devices.

Budget devices are often fantastic, as they allow big companies a chance to get value packed hardware to customers who don’t necessarily want to spend an arm or a leg to have a phone that does similar thing to a big name one, just without all the grunt that comes from spending big wads of cash.

We’ve seen some great budget phones in the past, including models made by Huawei and Motorola, and even one Kogan and BenQ collaborated for.

It’s a shame, too, because Aldi could have made this to be an excellent budget phone. It could have made an inexpensive phone with lots of storage and enough room to move when you go overseas with that whole dual-SIM thing. It could have made a device that truly takes on the Motorola G for 2014, because the features are similar enough that the two could really do battle.

But Aldi’s Bauhn Sphere isn’t a good phone. It’s not even a phone worth checking out at your local supermarket.

Look at the eggs, the yoghurt, the cheese, and the meat, and skip the phone.

Aldi's $279 Bauhn Sphere smartphone reviewed
Price (RRP): $279 Manufacturer: Bauhn
Available in a supermarket; Supports both micro- and miniSIM;
Multitask button not mapped correctly and still functioning like a menu button, leaving multitask under the home button; Virtually no space on the phone, and yet reports 32GB storage; Headphones aren't always picked up and will almost always play audio through speakers; Terrible system performance; Weak day long battery life with one SIM, and we're concerned what this would be like with two!; Little customisation or firming of the Android operating system, leaving you with app monitor notifications generally meant for developers and a keyboard that feels out of date compared to what Google's current stock Android keyboard is; Low-end 3G performance; Bundled with so many bloatware apps, you'll never complain about the bloatware other phones come with;
Overall
Features
Value for money
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1.9Overall Score
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