- Poor screen
- Poor camera
- Poor battery life
- Poor performance
- 4-inch 480 x 800-pixel LCD screen
- 8GB storage
- 1GB RAM
- Quad-core Spreadtrum CPU
- 5-megapixel rear, 2-megapixel front cameras
- Android 5.1
- Manufacturer: IMO Mobile
- Review Price: £49.99/$74.99
WHAT IS THE IMO Q?
The IMO Q is a cheap phone. A really cheap phone, if you shop around enough.
In the UK, for example, it’s been seen on sale for as little as £24.99. At that price, it’s hard to complain about quality issues – but they do exist, and make the IMO Q much less attractive if you’re looking at paying closer to the £50/$50 standard price.
The cameras are poor and the design boring, but the one part that should really put you off is performance. It’s slow enough to be a pain to use much of the time.
IMO Q — DESIGN
A phone this cheap doesn’t need much of a personality to get by, and the only reason friends might take interest in the IMO Q is because they’ve not seen the IMO logo on the back before. It’s a small plastic phone with a metallic grey finish.
It looks and feels like what it is: a simple entry-level phone. A small screen makes its size manageable even for kiddy hands, and the curved back is comfortable enough to hold.
The IMO Q is dull, but perfectly sensible design-wise. For example, it uses soft keys below the screen rather than relying on software buttons. With a small-screen phone like this, that’s a good idea, as it leaves more of the display free for the Android interface.
It’s not an entirely plain grey rectangle either. There’s a subtle two-tone look here, with a lighter bar running down its sides. This attaches to the removable battery cover, under which you find the battery (removable), Micro SIM and microSD card slot. I wouldn’t advise taking the back off too often, though, as one of the clips has already become a bit loose on my review sample.
There’s 8GB of storage, leaving you with a couple of gigabytes onto which you can load apps. That’s not a lot, but is enough for one big game and a bunch of smaller apps.
There are no extra features, though – we’re still way off phones this cheap having things like fingerprint scanners.
IMO Q — SCREEN
The IMO Q also has a basic screen – so basic that it’s quite a rarity. It’s a 4-inch 480 x 800 pixel TN LCD touchscreen.
Most phones use more advanced IPS LCDs, the difference being that TN panels suffer from contrast shift when tilted at certain angles. This makes colours invert with an extreme tilt, and make the screen look either dull or washed-out at a slight tilt. Take a look:
At an extreme angle, the colours invert
The IMO Q only looks right dead-on – a clear sign that we’re dealing with a low-quality phone. Display colours are fairly anaemic too, and the way the image changes as soon as the screen is tilted makes contrast seem poor, even if it is passable when you look at the screen at a perfect 90 degrees. Motion handling is bad as well. Scroll through the settings menu and text becomes almost illegible thanks to, presumably, the slow screen refresh rate or response time.
There’s also no automatic brightness mode. You have to manually alter the brightness slider to suit your environment.
However, I was slightly surprised by how, with most apps, the low 480 x 800-pixel resolution looks fine across the 4-inch screen. Sharpness is worse than on a 5-inch 720p screen like the old Moto G’s, but doesn’t suddenly seem like the phone screen equivalent of Minecraft.
IMO Q — SOFTWARE
The IMO Q has an outdated version of the Android operating system, which is no great surprise for a cheap phone from a small brand. It uses Android 5.1, released in early 2015.
We don’t know of any planned upgrades, and this version may have been picked because it works better with the limited hardware than Android 6.0. But I’m just speculating here.
The feel of the software is similar to standard Android, but the look is a little different. With Android 5.0 Google introduced something called Material Design, a sort of Android-via-IKEA refresh that made everything look friendlier and put the apps drawer on top of a sheet of plain white. This got rid of any legibility issues of app icons clashing with your background.
The IMO Q interface has a clean and simple look, but instead of using a white apps drawer background, it just dims your home screen wallpaper a bit and uses that. It’s a move made by some other custom Android skins, and it works well.
Depending on where you buy your IMO Q from, it might be loaded up with network-supplied apps, but my review sample was not weighed down by such stuff. There are a few extra utility apps, like a torch, file explorer and FM radio, but nothing you’ll instantly wish you could delete.
You’re more likely to complain about the features the interface doesn’t have than any bloatware. Folders can’t be created in the apps drawer, for example, and you have no control over how apps are arranged. They sit in alphabetic order. I’m fine with having no control in these cases.
IMO Q — PERFORMANCE
General performance is much harder to live with. The IMO Q is slow. Even the most basic of interactions feels laboured, from loading the Chrome web browser to just flicking around the interface.
You’ll often have to wait for the keyboard to catch up with your typing, and I find it hard enough just to type on the tiny screen. It seems there may be more to this than just space, as the outermost characters are at times hard to register, seeming to activate characters nearer the centre, too. The touchscreen’s behaviour seems erratic, borderline broken.
The IMO Q has a combo of not enough RAM (1GB) and an outdated CPU, and the results are really not particularly pleasant. It’s a quad-core Spreadtrum SC7731C chipset, but the cores are the Cortex-A7 type, a lot slower and less efficient than the Cortex-A53s used by more capable budget phones.
In the Geekbench 4 benchmarking test the IMO Q scored just 979 points, just over half of that which the Moto G achieves. In theory it shouldn’t be too far behind the performance of the original Moto G, but the reality seems rather different.
I’m still left wondering whether optimisation – or, rather, the lack of – is partly to blame, though. Gaming is surprisingly palatable, for example, even with more demanding titles such as Dead Trigger and Aphalt 8. Load speeds are terrible, but frame rates during actual play tend not to be too bad at all, given the performance elsewhere.
IMO Q — CAMERA
The IMO Q has cameras that are rather basic, much like every other bit of hardware on the phone. On the back sits a 5-megapixel snapper with no flash and, the real kicker, no autofocus.
This means you can’t really select a subject because the focus is what it is – take it or leave it. It’s not a big problem when shooting landscapes or any photo when your subject is at least a few metres away, but means you can’t take close-ups.
Despite taking focusing out of the process, the IMO Q still isn’t fast to take shots. There’s a lag between pressing the shutter button and the actual capture, particularly if you use the HDR mode or shoot in low light. I’ll hand it to the IMO Q, though – over the years I’ve used some far slower cameras in ultra-cheap phones.
This one is slow enough not to be all that fun, but it is usable.
Image quality is fairly poor, if not any worse than I’d expect from a basic 5-megapixel camera. There’s limited detail, a lot of noise even in most daylight photos and some weird colour casts across shots. It’s the sort of low quality your friends will probably be able to tell even from a quick Facebook post. It doesn’t take a photographer to spot a bad photo.
Whether you should expect more depends on how much you’re going to spend on the IMO Q. At its recommended price, there are much better cameras for just a little more, but at £25/$30 we can hardly complain too loudly.
The IMO Q can also shoot video, at 720p.
The IMO Q managed to make out distinct bricks on this building – not bad – but there’s very obvious purple fringing around the tree branches
There’s a front camera too, another lower-end sensor, but this time with two-megapixel resolution. Like with the rear camera its image quality is fairly rough. As we’re only starting to see reasonable selfie cameras used in somewhat-affordable phones, the quality drop compared to more expensive budget phones may be a bit less obvious.
IMO Q — BATTERY LIFE AND SOUND QUALITY
I don’t expect to see good cameras in a cheap phone, but there’s much less of a price connection with battery life. The IMO Q’s stamina is still poor, though.
While I’ve seen the phone last all day, it seems this is only because the poor keyboard experience and general performance all but stopped me using the thing for browsing, Facebooking and so on. Set to perform a few stamina benchmark tasks, the IMO Q’s battery life appears very poor.
A half-hour of Real Racing 3 takes 33% off the battery, suggesting you’ll only get 90 minutes of gaming from a full charge. That’s dismal. Similarly, streaming video for an hour claims 26% of the battery, suggesting you’ll get under four hours. Bad. The internal speaker is thin and fairly quiet too, so this isn’t exactly a good Netflix machine from any angle.
The IMO has a 1450mAh battery, and it comes with a fairly weak charger that means it takes around four hours to charge fully.
SHOULD YOU BUY THE IMO Q?
How cash-strapped are you? If you find the IMO at a bargain price and really can’t afford any more, it’s certainly one of the cheapest Androids around.
However, thanks to dismal performance it’s really not much fun to use. Every part of it feels slow, from the camera to just tapping between the home screen and the apps menu.
If you must buy a phone as cheap as the IMO Q we won’t judge you. As long as you don’t go out the next day and spend £50/$75 on a shirt you don’t need. Given how much time most of us spend on our phones, we’d suggest getting one that works reasonably well a top priority. A secondhand or refurbished Moto G or Moto E is your best bet.
A cheap phone, but one that’s too slow to be enjoyable to use.