The CheetahPhone wants you to sacrifice stock Android for battery and speed improvements

The CheetahPhone’s software tweaks are supposed to improve battery and performance, but gains may be offset by dealing with a heavily skinned version of Android

Cheetah Mobile, a name most associated with app development, has teamed up with relatively unknown smartphone brand Cubot to produce a device that utilises its software to best effect. You may have used some Cheetah apps before, Clean Master or Battery Doctor, for example; and seen some improvement in battery consumption, app performance, or overall device speed. By working closely with a manufacturer, Cheetah’s apps will be able to work their magic more effectively, at least that’s the intention.

It’s called the CheetahPhone, and it’s the company’s first major partnership, although it has worked with Samsung in the past to install some of its software tools on the Galaxy S6. Cubot is a Chinese firm that sells phones through Amazon internationally, and working with Cheetah brings it considerably more widespread brand recognition. The back of the phone is co-branded, emphasising the close working relationship between the two.

The phone is highly reminiscent of the Huawei Honor 7, and that’s not a bad thing. The 7.9mm thick body is made of metal and bookended by plastic sections for the antenna. It’s chunky but not fat, and fits in the hand comfortably. The front has a 5-inch 1080p screen that looks excellent, and the device is unlocked using a fingerprint sensor on the rear which sits below the 13-megapixel Samsung camera.

Cubot’s phone is typical of today’s lesser known smartphone brands. It’s well-built, attractive, and has a strong if unsurprising specification. What makes the CheetahPhone different is the software, and while it’s the primary attraction, it will also be the device’s biggest challenge to finding buyers. Android 6.0 Marshmallow is standard, and Cheetah has mostly obscured the OS with its own apps, launcher, and customisations. The benefit to all this, according to Cheetah, is a 38-percent increase in battery life, along with undisclosed speed and efficiency improvements.

Sounds great, but the downside is the CheetahPhone doesn’t have an Android-like UI. It’s full of fun animations and touches, but many may find them distracting or annoying. For example, everywhere you turn there’s the option to activate Cheetah’s apps, which do require some attention before fading into the background, the home screens rotate in an overly flamboyant way, and the app tray is like a big print version of the Android version. None of it’s terrible, just different, and some of the graphical niceties will make you smile they’re so well realized.

If you’ve examined the pictures, you’ll have noticed the little strap hanging down from the top of the screen. Swipe this down and you get a host of trending topics taken from Yahoo. There are listings for recommended apps, and strategically placed ads are also likely. This is where the CheetahPhone really separates itself from other Android phones, and it’s what may turn many off. However, this may be overcome if Cheetah’s software really does improve the phone’s battery and performance. Only a long-term test will provide the answer to that question.

I found the CheetahPhone to be interesting, and that’s not something we often say about mid-range phones from Chinese manufacturers. The software will split opinion, but the hardware is good, and the price is very attractive — just 200 euros in Europe, where it’ll be available around April. A U.S. launch is possible, but far from confirmed. If the phone’s a success, then it won’t be the last CheetahPhone we see either, and it’s not joined at the hip with Cubot, meaning another collaboration may happen.

Highs

  • Smart, well-built phone
  • Cheetah benefits sounds great
  • Well priced
  • Fun, if busy, UI

Lows

  • Sometimes intrusive UI
  • Cheetah benefits untested
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