Let’s be honest: BenQ is probably the last name you would associate smartphones with. The company, however, is trying to change this with the BenQ B502, a mid-range smartphone that offers pretty decent specifications at an affordable price. How affordable? Only RM499. However, is it the best bang for buck Android smartphone in the market?
In terms of outward appearance, the BenQ B502 looks just like any other smartphone in the market, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. BenQ obviously did not try too hard to differentiate itself from the market, which can be a smart thing to do considering that it is still relatively unknown in the smartphone industry.
That being said, the B502 has a pretty minimalistic front with capacitive buttons right below the display. The back cover has a really nice soft touch to it that gives the impression of a well-thought-out material choice. Although it feels really nice to the touch, it can get quite slippery.
The side buttons are business as usual. The power button is placed right below the volume rocker, which, needless to say, is just asking to be accidentally pressed when you’re trying to lower down the volume instead of locking the phone. Although I can imagine it only takes time to get used to, it’s still quite an annoyance.
Small complaints aside, the BenQ B502 is surprisingly thin at only 6.99mm. Weighing just 125 grams, it is also quite a light device. If you’re looking for a pocket-friendly phone, the B502 is the perfect candidate.
Based on the hardware table above, the BenQ B502 is a lower mid-range device with a few standout specifications here and there, especially the 13MP rear camera. Sure, megapixel count isn’t everything, but it’s not every day you see such a shooter in a budget smartphone.
The other notable mention is the 2GB of RAM, which proved to be useful during my time with the smartphone. I can switch from one application to another without worrying that one of them will be force closed due to RAM shortage.
The B502’s slim profile of 6.99mm doesn’t come without any sacrifice. In this case, it’s the smartphone’s paltry 1,800mAh battery. Throughout my time with this smartphone, I have struggled to squeeze out one day’s worth of battery life out it. All I mainly do throughout a typical day of usage is web browsing, checking up on my Facebook, and instant messaging. If I throw in a few gaming sessions in between, I’d be left with a dead phone by the time the sun sets.
However, it’s not all that bad. The B502 charges up just as quickly as its battery drains. If you carry around a power bank with you, it shouldn’t take too long to charge it up. It’s still no excuse for BenQ to fit in such a small battery inside the B502 though.
Although BenQ has its own Q Home UI on top of Android 4.4.2 KitKat running on the B502, certain aspects of the user interface are directly taken from stock Android, which is a pleasant surprise. The notification shade is definitely stock Android, and so is the recent apps page, which can be accessed with a double tap of the home button. In my opinion, this is a very well-thought-out shortcut.
In other aspects, the Q Home UI is just like any other major Chinese Android skins. The app drawer is missing and a boatload of bloatware is present, which isn’t too much of a surprise. All in all, the B502’s software is a mixture of stock Android with some touch-ups by BenQ. Although I wouldn’t say it’s better than stock Android, it does seem relatively lightweight in comparison to other Android skins. Browsing around the interface proved to be a smooth experience, and I rather like the transition effect when switching between app pages.
The 13MP snapper of the BenQ B502 actually performs adequately; assuming you have good lighting conditions. It may not be the best camera out there, but considering how much the smartphone costs, you can’t exactly complain.
With enough lighting, the B502 camera definitely doesn’t disappoint. Pictures come out sharp with fairly accurate colour reproduction. That being said, I do have one gripe with it: the HDR mode.
The thing is, even the slightest amount of movement will blur out the final image with HDR enabled. But once you get it right, the result is pretty impressive. Just make sure you have a very steady set of hands if you plan to do a lot of shooting with HDR enabled.
Here is where the BenQ B502 shows its weakness and why it only costs RM499. Although the Mediatek MT6582 processor performs adequately well in other aspects (such as light gaming and instant messaging), the same can’t be say when it comes to using it to surf the Internet.
Honestly, I can’t put my finger around the issue. Whenever I surf any website with the Chrome browser, the smartphone would periodically freeze. The only way to “unfreeze” it is to either wait it out, or to lock and unlock the phone. I can’t even describe how frustrating it was to browse the web with this phone.
The non-responding issue isn’t isolated to web browsing either. Occasionally, the B502 wouldn’t wake up from sleep when I pressed the power button. I actually thought to myself if I had accidentally powered down the phone as it wasn’t responding. After several clicks of the power button, it finally woke up. Oddly enough, this can be solved by simply rebooting the phone, although it would still happen again randomly.
Finally, there’s the issue with the screen itself. BenQ did not specify if the B502 has a glass or plastic screen, which led me to believe that it is actually the latter. Other smartphones which definitely have glass screens feel noticeably smoother than the B502’s screen. On top of that, the touchscreen wouldn’t register my touch at times.
Other than these negatives, the BenQ B502 does have several plus points. The HD IPS display is relatively sharp with very good viewing angles, and the audio is noticeably loud, even at its lowest setting. The speaker placement at the back of the device, however, could have been better.
The BenQ B502 could have been one of the better Android smartphone in the market with its affordable price tag. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t perform well enough to be the obvious choice when someone asks “what is the best bang for buck Android smartphone out there?”
It’s also worth comparing the B502 against one of its main competition, the Xiaomi Redmi 2. The Redmi 2 trumps the B502 in several aspects, including a bigger battery capacity of 2,200mAh, a newer Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 processor, dual-LTE support over the B502’s slower HSPA+, and most of all, a cheaper price tag of RM449. However, the B502 is slimmer at 6.99mm than the Redmi 2’s 9.4mm body, along with a larger display and RAM capacity.
With everything considered, the B502 isn’t an awfully bad smartphone; it just needs to have its software polished. If the issues that I have outlined can be simply solved with a minor OTA update, BenQ could have a winner with the B502. However, that leaves us with a rather interesting question: how efficient is BenQ when it comes to issuing timely Android updates?