Price (RRP): $149
I want to start with a compliment – the Aspera Gem 4G dual sim is all you can expect from a $149 phone.
No, it is not a backhander – the Aspera Gem 4G dual sim passes most of our test parameters which admittedly are for testing phones costing several times as much.
Now with the Aspera Gem 4G dual sim, it is important to match expectations with the price – no champagne on a lemonade budget.
- Do you expect blinding speed (1.5Ghz quad-core MediaTek) – No
- Masses of ram/storage (2/16/microSD to 64GB) – No.
- A camera that will perform well in all conditions (8+5MP) – No
- Huge screen with small bezels (5.45-inch with very prominent top, sides and chin) – No
And that is what the Aspera Gem delivers. The more I reviewed the Aspera Gem, the more I decided that that is a ‘what you see is what you get’ device. And to that end, it is not too shoddy.
Aspera Gem 4G dual sim
- Website here
- Price: $149
- Warranty: 1-year
You only need to ask what you need a $149 device to do? We will use FAIL, PASS or EXCEED against test criteria.
Who is Aspera? PASS
Aspera Mobile (website here) is based in Sydney and sells Aspera Easy phones, Rugged phones and Smartphones. The bulk of its products are from $79-199 with the Aspera R8 Rugged at $399.
MobiWire – a Chinese ODM (makes for other brands) makes the Aspera Gem. I suspect it makes much of the Aspera range.
As far as we can ascertain it has C-tick approval and complies with all Australian requirements for warranty and carrier certification. Sales are via Big W, Harvey Norman and online. And being an Aussie company, it complies with ACL for warranty and service.
Screen – PASSable
It is 5.45”, 1440 x 720 (HD), 324ppi, 18:9, LCD screen. It is a Fingerprint magnet and has poor off-angle and daylight viewing. We estimate 200 nits and low contrast as blacks are quite grey (our test suite does not work with MediaTek Power VR GPU).
What more do you need? A screen protector would have been ideal.
Processor, GPU, RAM and Storage
MediaTek MT6739WW, 4 x Cortex A53 300MHz/1.5GHz. The Alcatel 1X and Nokia 1 Plus as well as many lower-cost handsets not sold here use it.
Often compared to a circa 2013 Qualcomm SD 410 but it runs slower and hotter.
It is an older 28nm processor (read thicker and less energy efficient) launched in 2017 for ‘small budget Android devices.’ It has a CAT 4/5 DL/UL (150/50Mbps) modem with AGPS, VoLTE (dual sim but only one active), Wi-Fi N dual-band and BT 4.2 (Aspera claim 5.0 LE but our test software shows 4+).
The GPU is a PowerVR Rogue GE1800. Video encoding is only H.264. Playback will decode HVEC, H.263/264, MP4 and V8/9. It will play very low frame rate mobile games in 720p.
It has 2GB LPDDR3-667 memory and uses over half that at idle. It is not capable of effective multi-tasking. But there is a little secret app installed called Duraspeed by Mediatek. It aggressively (and often indiscriminately) disables background apps to make new apps load faster. But I suspect this slows the overall system speed down. We found a switch to turn it off and limit certain background apps and performance went from very slow to slow.
Storage is 16GB eMMC (11.2GB free and the slowest type of storage) and low-speed expansion is via up to 64GB microSD.
Throttling is particularly evident, and it gets hot under load
Maximum GIPs (instructions per second) is 33,000, and after a minute of use, it drops 35% to 21,000. Not surprisingly, if you place it in front of a fan (Thanks Mr Dyson), it momentarily recovers then goes off the cliff again. Let’s just say heavy loads are not its forte. You should expect this of any $149 phone.
Calls – PASS
LTE bands 1, 3, 5, 7 and 28. All you need here.
Dual sim – both connect to Australian 4G networks, but only one can be active and have data at a time (you can swap but it takes a reboot to enable). It is VoLTE capable (at least on sim 1). We could not find if it supports VoWiFi (likely not) but it supports Google Duo.
Signal strength -91 and -95dBm finding the closest and next closest tower (which is like the Samsung Galaxy Note10). Maximum DL/UL speed was 27/10Mbps (abouit 20% of the Galaxy Note10).
Comms – PASS
Wi-Fi N dual-band (2.4 and 5GHz). On 5Ghz at 2 metres from the router, it gets -42dBm signal strength and 153Mbps (compared to the Note10+ at -31dBm and 1.2Gbps). Let’s just say that Wi-Fi is not for big file transfers.
Micro-USB 2.0 is for charge and data. Data transmission was 120Mbps (theoretical max 480Mbps)
Aspera claims it has BT 5.0 LE with SBC and AAC codecs. Our test software found BT 4+, but regardless it is of little consequence as it seems to only have about a 10 metre BT transmission distance.
We tested the BT with a Sony WH-1000Xm3 that supports all major codecs. It only connected via SBC despite setting it to LDAC (Opus) and AAC in the Developer options.
FM Radio – uses supplied 3.5mm buds. These are generic and have an in-line mic control.
No NFC – not expected at this price so you cannot use Google Pay.
Assisted GPS. Signal acquisition was often two to three minutes from power-up. It was too slow for real-time car navigation often missing the turn by metres before announcing it. It is fine with Google Maps if you are not relying on speed or pinpoint accuracy.
Sound – Fail
- 3.5mm jack and buds
- Earpiece mono speaker
- Single mic
The single earpiece speaker is fine for voice and ring tones reaching 72dB (low but adequate). It does not have a sound signature that we could identify. The frequency response range is simply not there – more optimised for mid-range voice.
Handsfree is adequate, not loud, with callers commenting that we were in a tunnel! There is a single, non-ANC mic.
Sensors – Fail
- 3-axis Accelerometer
- Ambient light sensor
Like a lot of lower-cost devices, it lacks things like an e-compass, gyro or barometer. It was hopeless as a step counter (pedometer) giving wildly inaccurate results over seven days for the same trek.
Security and OS – PASS
Android 9 (no update policy given). Given its 2GB of RAM and its cost, it is unlikely to be upgraded to Android 10.
The security patch is 5 September 2019 – we would expect at least quarterly updates.
Android 9 will work in 2GB but do not expect any speed when opening apps or browsers.
The Fingerprint sensor on the back is finicky with approx. 80% accuracy but as you can’t use Google Pay that is not an issue.
2D Face recognition is extremely patchy. It works in good light taking from seven to 15 seconds. We recommend a PIN to secure it.
Battery – PASS
2500mAh removable. The battery has a low charge/discharge cycle. Our test software indicates 200 cycles or a year or so of daily charging.
- Discharge 300mA at idle means about 8.33 days standby
- Its micro-USB 5V/1A (5W) charger will go from 0-100% in 6 hours. We tried a 5V/2A charger, and it reduced the time by 30%
- Video loop 720p, aeroplane mode – 9 hours
- Under heavy load – 6 hours
- General use – (range over a week) 24 to 33 hours.
Build – PASS
Black plastic chassis and a removable back. Sim x 2 and microSD under the cover. It is quite solid, and apart from no screen protection, it should last the warranted distance.
It has no IP rating. Size 150 x 72.5 x 9.3mm x 168g
Camera – FAIL
- 8MP (3264×2448), f/2.8, 1.12um
- Sensor: Samsung S5K4h7 BSI
- 61.9° FOV
- ISO 100-800
- Contrast Autofocus (not fast)
- HDR or flash (not both – quite common)
- No OIS/EIS or digital stabilisation
- Still or video mode only
- Up to 4X digital zoom
- ZSD (Zero shutter delay switch) – turn it off as it induces noise and darker images
- 14 scenes (basic AI recognition of scenes and recognised a dog as ‘Food’).
- Video: 2.1 1920 x [email protected]
This is a ‘social media’ sensor/camera good for day and office light. It has a narrower field of view than most. The high aperture (f2.8) and small pixels (1.12um) make it ill-suited for low light. The basic AI is post-processor related and tends to induce too much noise into images.
Very soft focus and limited definition (yes, the lens was clean). Way too much noise in the sky/forest.
Outdoor 4x zoom
Digital zoom introduces significant noise and softens definition.
Indoors office light – 400 lumens
Interestingly the preview message was ‘not enough light’, so we turned on additional warm white overhead LEDs. Colours are washed out (the Sudoku book and the rear appliances are fire engine red and the Avocado in the baclground near the jug is green). There is a lack of crisp definition and considerable noise. The unit does not do bokeh despite having a portrait setting.
Low Light – 50 lumens
The image speaks for itself. Huge noise, no colours and no definition.
Low Light – night mode
Surprisingly it did bring up the brightness but injected way too much noise into the image.
Rear Camera Summary
We could not find Google Lens – that means the processor does not have the AI capabilities
It is what it is. Acceptable daylight shots and forget anything else.
- 4.9MP (2560×1920), f/2.8, 1.12um
- Sensor: GalaxyCore GC5025 (Not related to Samsung)
- 64° FOV
- Fixed focus from 20-180cm
- ISO 100-800
- Fixed focus (no bokeh)
- Video: 2.1MP 1920 x [email protected] (defaults to 1280 x 720)
The sensor is widely used in low-cost devices and has a narrow field of view – good for one person, and again, the high aperture and small pixels make this ill-suited for office and low light.
There is a small, low intensity, 5500-7000K LED flash to its left – that is handy and may help with lower light selfies.
Selfies were noisy (grainy) except in bright sunlight.
GadgetGuy’s take – The $149Aspera Gem 4G Dual sim ‘is what it is’
As I had never reviewed Aspera, I did some research first and read a few reviews on this and other Aspera products.
I was unimpressed at how shallow and repetitious the other reviews were. Clearly none used the product for any length of time, or if at all. Most simply regurgitated the press release. So, if anything that made me more determined to provide accurate statistics and tests. And I admit that is not fair to apply the same tests to a $149 phone because you buy on price, not specs.
Aspera, my advice is to tell it like it is. If you have $149 it needs to be on your shopping list as does Alcatel 1X, Telstra Essential Pro, LG K8, Samsung M10, Moto e4 or Nokia 2.2 (run out and standout!).
It is what it is – a $149, 4G dual sim running Android 9. It has a low visibility screen, perhaps one of the worst cameras I have seen, it is slow, and the GPS lags so badly that it cannot do turn by turn navigation at speed.
But what do we expect of a $149 handset that has taken a value hit by the weak US/AU dollar rate? If this were $99 (as Aspera admits it should have been), it would be exceptional value, even at $129 it might sneak in as one of the better affordable handsets.
There is a huge gap between it and the next level – and frankly, if you had $50 to $150 more, you would get far better value and amenity.
Note this is not Aspera’s fault.
There has been a lot of activity in the pre-paid space and most phones have later tech – larger screens, faster processors, more RAM/Storage, better camera… Look at these (my choice under $200 would be the Mintt Duo 3 or A3 and under $299 the Mintt X3 both with a 2-year warranty).
- Mintt CoolMint Duo 3 ($179)
- Mintt Coolmint A3 ($199)
- Nokia 2.3 ($199) – being reviewed – a significant update over the 2.2
- Realme C2 ($199) – Not reviewed – information here
- Vivo Y12 ($219)
- Samsung Galaxy A20 ($229)
- LG K50 ($249)
- OPPO AX5S ($239)
- Nokia 4.2 (run-out for the next model $249)
- Alcatel 3X ($249)
- Mintt X3 ($269)
- OPPO AX7 ($279)
- Motorola One Macro ($299)
- Realme 5 ($299)
- Vivo Y17 ($299)
- LG Q60 ($299)
As a $149 phone the Aspera Gem 4G dual sim scores relatively well for features versus value. But we suspect that the compromises to get to that price are a step too far.
Spending an extra $50 to $150 will get you so much more. We looked at the specs of its Aspera Swift at $179, and frankly, it too is based on ‘ancient’ tech so it is hard to recommend.
Val Quinn, Channel 7 Sunrise GadgetGuy will bring all the news live from Mobile World Congress, Barcelona, 24-28 February. The theme this year is Limitless Intelligent Connectivity (trying to breathe life into the stillborn 5G). The exhibitors’ list is here