When the Safaricom Yolo arrived in the office I immediately dove on it, claiming it for myself; the chance to review this phone was just too good to pass up on. The Yolo immediately piqued my interest back in January when it was announced, because it was one of the first mobile devices to use an Intel processor. Being the resident silicon junky, here at htxt, it was only right that I have first crack at it. More importantly it was designed and built for one market – Africa. More specifically, Kenya, where it has price of only 10 000 Kenyan Shillings (the equivalent of about US$120).
Firstly, let’s deal with the 800 pound gorilla in the room: the name of the phone, Yolo, is not used because of the popular acronym for ‘You only live once’ but rather because Intel’s first Medfield powered mobile phone was called the Xolo. Since ‘Y’ comes after ‘X’, the Yolo was born.
With its Safaricom guise, the Yolo is a very unassuming smartphone. Its display isn’t even the size of a standard business card and the rest of the bits don’t add much bulk. It fits nicely in the smallest of hands and doesn’t carry the imposing presence that many smartphones insist on, these days. It feels rugged without feeling bulky, and manages to feel a lot more solidly built than its price tag would suggest. Unlike many newer Android phones the Yolo has 4 capacitive buttons crammed below the display: a back key, a home key, an app switcher, and an options key. It makes navigating the interface a bit of a learning experience for Android veterans, but should be a boon for first time users who won’t have to worry about learning the different gestures that these buttons replace.
Intel specs the Yolo with a 1.2GHz single-core processor (which features Hyperthreading) and that’s paired to a minimal 512MB of RAM, and 4GB of on-board storage. The latter can be upgraded by up to 32GB with a microSD card, which will help store photos from the 5-megapixel camera. At full tilt, the Yolo can capture 7 photos in a second, using burst mode, and it’l also record 1080p video. Benchmarking the device on AnTuTu saw the it besting the Galaxy SII and the Galaxy Nexus – surprising, at first, but it’s great to see that today’s entry-level hardware beating yesterday’s flagships.
Picking up the Yolo, I was shocked at how small the display is. In today’s era of 5-inch smartphones it feels a bit out of place, but then again it has the same display size as any iPhone before the iPhone 5, and the same resolution as an iPhone 3GS. At least, then, it inherits the one-handed usability that the Apple devices are famed for.
The Yolo is surprisingly snappy in everyday use and Intel needs to be given kudos for the amount of work it’s done in optimising Android for the Atom line of processors. The Yolo runs on vanilla Android 4.0.4, with no manufacturer customisations like you’d find on Samsung or HTC devices. Lacking those customisations, though, it would have been nice to see Intel roll out an update to a version of the Jelly Bean Android that is available today (not that it makes a difference as to what apps it can run).
The Yolo only syncs new items when the screen is unlocked, which helps the 1500mAh battery easily last a whole day’s use. That said, it’s frustrating having to unlock the device to get new messages from social networks and the like, but it’s also a reminder that many people don’t find the instantaneous nature of social media that appealing.
The Yolo surprised again when browsing through some of the more niche applications and inclusions. The FM radio, for instance, is a South African staple and many phones won’t succeed here for lack of the feature. Intel also included its WiDi wireless display technology in the Yolo, a feature only seen on high end smartphones and notebooks powered by Intel chips. Whether anyone will ever use it is doubtful, but it’s inclusion makes for an interesting surprise.
For its price and capability there is very little out there to match it. Aesthetically it won’t be a crowd favourite, but that’s not what it was designed for. I haven’t played with any phone in the R1 200 range that even comes close to the capability of the Yolo. If I were a Nokia executive I’d be very worried that a device this good exists, at this price point. The Yolo is simply a phenomenal smartphone and I’m loath to ever have to return it.
Battery life: 4/5
Value for money:5/5