Once you get past the silly name, Verykool actually has a pretty commendable mission—to provide low-cost, unlocked cell phones to a U.S. market that’s sorely missing affordable unsubsidized options. The RS90 Vortex ($279.99 direct) is a rugged, Android-powered smartphone that’s compatible with GSM networks like AT&T or T-Mobile. It’s a decent performer and a good value for adrenaline junkies who need a phone that can take some abuse, but it makes some significant sacrifices to reach that low price.
Design and Features
At 5.67 by 2.98 by 0.48 inches (HWD) and 7.1 ounces, the RS90 has the unmistakable chunkiness of a rugged device. That’s heavier and thicker than the Galaxy Note II, and nearly as wide at 5.95 by 3.17 by 0.37 inches and 6.34 ounces. This is no phablet, though; it’s packing a relatively modest 4.5-inch screen. All that heft ostensibly helps the RS90 achieve its IP67 rating, which means it’s fully dustproof and waterproof to one meter for up to 30 minutes. There’s a Power button the left side and Volume controls on the right, with a micro USB port on the bottom and flap covering a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top. Above the display is the VGA-quality front-facing camera and notification light, with capacitive Menu, Home, and Back keys below. I prefer the standard software Android Back, Home, and Recent Apps button arrangement, since the Menu function is typically built into apps. Holding the Home button brings up the list of recent apps.
The 960-by-540-pixel IPS LCD may not be HD, but its 244-pixels-per-inch density looks pretty sharp. The Sony Xperia ZL, for instance, features a gorgeous 5-inch, 1080p display, but also costs $759.99 unlocked—well over twice as much as the RS90. Viewing angles here are good, thanks to the IPS technology, but color reproduction isn’t great. Whites appear too cool, with a near bluish hue that’s more typical of AMOLED panels, and colors look a little dull overall. There’s also some light bleed on the left and right edges of the display, which is more pronounced when viewing from an angle.
There’s a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera around back, and the textured plastic back panel slides off to reveal the 1,800mAh battery and SIM and microSD card slots. The RS90 comes in a single 2GB model, so that last slot is important if you want to store anything locally on the phone. Our 32 and 64GB SanDisk microSD cards worked fine during testing.
The RS90 is unlocked and compatible with GSM networks like AT&T or T-Mobile supporting HSPA 7.2 data on the 850 and 1900MHz bands, and 2G on 850/900/1800/1900MHz bands. Also on board are 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi (2.4GHz band), Bluetooth 2.1, and GPS. There’s no LTE and no higher-speed HSPA+ either—in our tests, the RS90 averaged 1.63Mbps down and 1.82Mbps up. T-Mobile’s faster HSPA+ 42 network averaged 8.5Mbps down and 1.46Mbps up in our Fastest Mobile Networks test, so you’re missing out on significant speed if you opt for the RS90.
The 1,800mAh battery is rated for 9 hours of talk time. Our test was interrupted, but the RS90 turned in 12 hours of 3G talk time with 44 percent battery life remaining. This phone should have no problem lasting all day.
Call Quality and Ruggedness
We tested the RS90 on T-Mobile’s network in New York City. Call quality was decent, with clear voices coming through the earpiece and enough volume to overcome loud environments. The speakerphone is a bit too weak, however, and it was hard to hear outdoors. Calls made with the RS90 sound full with a bit of a digitized tone to voices that can make them sound a bit harsh, and I noticed a slight, but persistent background hiss. Noise cancellation is disappointing, as loud construction outside the PCMag office came through clear during my test calls. The RS90 paired easily with my Jawbone Era headset , and calls sounded good over Bluetooth.
The RS90 is fully waterproof and dust-proof, but not drop-proof. I tested the waterproof rating by submerging the RS90 in a bucket of water. At first it seemed like moisture was penetrating the case. Upon closer inspection, you’ll notice that the back panel isn’t actually sealed, but there’s another sealed panel underneath that covers the battery and microSD card slot. After 30 minutes the RS90 emerged fully functional.
Hardware Performance and Android
The RS90 is powered by a dual-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8625 with 1GB RAM. It’s a modest CPU, and benchmarks were expectedly low across the board. It was handily beaten by the unlocked Google Nexus 4 in nearly every category, scoring 8,107 in the Antutu overall system test to the Nexus 4′s 10,489. The phone notched just 13.85 frames per second to the Nexus 4′s 55.89 in the Taiji graphics test. The RS90 balked at some of the more taxing tests, completely crashing and requiring a hard reset during the GLBenchmark graphics test. Real world performance was also a mixed bag: Apps generally launched swiftly, and the RS90 had no problem switching back and forth between multiple running apps. The Chrome browser crashed a few times with multimedia heavy sites, and there was the occasional force close during testing. None of these were frequent or replicable enough to be a major cause of concern though.
Android 4.0.4 “Ice Cream Sandwich,” which is now three versions behind the current version of Android (4.3) is installed. That means Google Now, Project Butter, and other recent Android improvements are missing here. You still get access to the more than 800,000 apps in Google Play, most of which should work fine on the RS90. It’s also a stock version of Android, so there’s no sign of skins like with Samsung or HTC devices. There’s no carrier bloatware, but there are a few removable preloaded apps, which are mostly useful, including Kingsoft Office and a File Explorer app. You also get all the usual Android perks, like a fast Web browser, excellent email support, and voice-enabled, turn-by-turn GPS directions via Google Maps.
Multimedia, Camera, and Conclusions
Media support is solid. The phone played all of our test audio files and video files without issue. Sound quality is good through wired headphones, but the single rear-facing speaker sounds pretty anemic. Video played back at resolutions up to 1080p with no audio sync issues.
The 5-megapixel, rear-facing camera is pretty mediocre. There are a number of issues holding it back, but the most egregious are its long shutter delay and poor exposure. It can take nearly a second between pressing the on-screen shutter and capturing a photo, which is entirely too long to be reliable. The RS90 struggled with proper exposure and dynamic range, exhibiting blown highlights and underexposed shadows in virtually every outdoor test shot. Indoors, under low light, images looked grainy and a bit soft. Video tops out at 480p and looks pretty awful. Frame rates hover around 15fps in low light and detail is washed away by excessive image noise. The front-facing 0.3-megapixel camera suffices for the occasional video chat, but not much more.
When compared with your typical carrier options, the Verykool RS90 is an underachiever. But this isn’t your typical carrier phone—few unlocked phones can match this low price. The Nexus 4 represents a far better combination of features and performance for the price, but with the Nexus 5 on the horizon, it’s sold out and may not be coming back. The RS90 isn’t cutting edge in any way, but it does offer freedom from contracts, a reasonable set of features, serviceable performance, and a waterproof design for an incredibly low price.
|Phone Capability / Network||GSM|
|Screen Resolution||960 x 540 pixels|
|Dimensions||5.67 x 2.98 x 0.48 inches|
|Video Camera Resolution||1080p|
|Processor Speed||1.2 GHz|
|CPU||Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8260 Dual-Core|
|Total Integrated Storage||2 GB|
|High-Speed Data||EDGE, HSPA 7.2|
|Screen Type||IPS LCD|
|Operating System as Tested||Android 4.0.4|
|Camera Resolution||5-megapixel Rear|
|Screen Pixels Per Inch||244 ppi|
|Bands||850, 900, 1800, 1900|
|Form Factor||Candy Bar|
|Screen Size||4.5 inches|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc